“Another Sort of Learning” – An Interactive Book Review: Part the First

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One of my student’s parents gave me a couple of books for Christmas (I could spend a thousand words just praising such blessed people.  Ah, “book-givers” how I love thee!).  One of them was Sheed’s “Theology for Beginners” and the other was “Another Sort of Learning” by James V. Schall, S.J. (PhD, Georgetown).  I would like to review Sheed’s book, but that will have to wait for later.  In the mean time, I think that Schall’s work warrants a chapter by chapter discussion – Oprah book club style.  So, allow me to say this, I am not often impressed enough with a book to demand that people read it.  However, you need to buy this book and read it, because you may not be likely to stumble across it on your own.  There seems to be a mythical quality about his work that causes it to slip through the grasp of most academics (probably because nobody wants to cite it, as its full title is, Another Sort of Learning: Selected Essays on How Finally to Acquire an Education While Still in College or Anywhere Else: Containing Some Belated Advice about How to Employ Your Leisure Time When Ultimate Questions Remain Perplexing in Spite of Your Highest Earned Academic Degree, Together with Sundry Book Lists Nowhere Else in Captivity to Be Found).  In other words, it’s a great collection of essays about being a student and an educator, right up our alleys.  So, go buy it, NOW! (and don’t complain about your school reading load Hunt, we are taking this one chapter by 7 page, chapter AND don’t complain that it doesn’t have any hippy agricultural crap in it Stambaugh, because there is plenty of material on social justice and political theory)  😉

Chapter One: “Another Sort of Learning”

“One day a student of mine, Mr. Thomas Smith, came up to me  after class to show me a present he had just bought for his brother’s birthday.  At the time, his brother was a graduate student at Catholic University.  On seeing the book Mr. Smith had bought, I could hardly believe my eyes, for Mr. Smith had somehow found, in a used book store in Washington, a well-preserved first volume of an 1850 edition of Boswell’s Life of Johnson, the cover of which I damaged in my enthusiasm over it.  There is just nothing better than Boswell’s Life of Johnson, so I could participate in Mr. Smith’s pleasure at finding such a gem to give to his own brother on his birthday.”

As such, Schall launches into a wonderful reverie on the joys and benefits of trolling used book stores.  The point being, of course, that if you think finishing a degree is what makes you “educated,” then you are delusional in the worst way – one who thinks himself (herself) educated, but in reality is quite ignorant.

The whole chapter brings to mind an experience that I had at used book store in Springfield, MO – but, sadly, with a much different outcome.  I was trolling through the shelves of the local Christian, used bookstore (as you know the “bible belt” has “Christian” everything – it was enough to make one crazy) when I came to a set of Calvin’s “Institutes.”  They were hard bound and in excellent condition.  I opened the cover to volume one and read the inscription with utter horror.  It read, “Dear Ignorant Ingrate (my name for him), I am so pleased with your progress.  Please, accept this addition to your library from me – With Warmest Regards, Vernon Purdy” 

Dr. Purdy was my mentor, he was one of the only people I felt loved me in the middle of Bible College, and he had never deigned to buy a set of books for me.  He also passed away at the age of 48 after he had a brain aneurism in his home.  I drove 14 hours to attend the funeral and cried like I was one of the children he left behind.  I still get emotional thinking about the contribution he made to my life, and I still get pissed thinking about the student that sold off a personal gift from a man I admired.

Oh, I didn’t buy the books.

But I will buy this book written by Dr. Purdy, and published posthumously.




  1. “don’t complain that it doesn’t have any hippy agricultural crap in it Stambaugh, because there is plenty of material on social justice and political theory”

    Watch it, Wamsley.

    Both of the books you mentioned sound interesting (you also mentioned Life of Johnson, but I’ve already done that one), Dr. Purdy’s book is like $90. That’s also the price of one of my old professor’s book, it’s probably a conspiracy.


  2. don’t go getting testy, fellas – I used the winking smiley face, the winking smiley face fixes everything.


  3. “Dr. Purdy’s book is like $90. That’s also the price of one of my old professor’s book, it’s probably a conspiracy.”

    I think the conspiracy is the age old tactic of keeping scholarship out of the hands of the uninitiated.


  4. Just remember that the Jesuits educated most of Europe’s elite for centuries. And look where that got us.

    Jesuits focus on the mind, Franciscans focus on the heart, Dominicans focus on the will copyrighted by QB.


  5. I am so pleased to see that you have been introduced to this lovely book. I bought Fr. Schall’s book the year it came out. I was a college freshman and lent it to a friend, who lent it to a friend, etc. 15 years later it finally made it’s way back to me after inspiring six people who’d read it during the intervening years to carry on with their education and obtain their PhD’s. Not many books have that kind of influence.


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