Socializing Kids for the Life of the Mind

When I was younger, I used to find most guys my own age boring: they were just not intellectually stimulating. John Hobbins discusses the need to make intellectual enquiry attractive to young men:

Reconfiguring education to privilege the life of the mind and make it just as attractive to men as to women to cultivate it and make it foundational to a vocation is not rocket science. It needs to begin in elementary school, middle school, and high school. For example, things like the study of the classics, the classical languages, the Bible, and philosophy, could be re-introduced to the middle and high school levels. In the wasteland of American education, I find it necessary to send my teenage children to college beginning their junior year in order pick up things like philosophy and Latin. We read things like Tolstoy and Dostoevsky on the side, authors considered to be too deep and too long for high schoolers. This is absolutely not the case for at least a third of the students, but they are being disadvantaged in a one-size-fits-all socialization process.

I’m trying to remember what got me into the ‘school stuff’. What John seems to be saying is that challenge is key, and that students will respond to the challenge. And maybe this is particularly true for male students, that challenge makes things more attractive – is this related to triangular desire? There’s an Amadis of Gaul somewhere, I know it.


Certainly it’ll be useless to pander to what boys think they want. They may like military history, but this must not come at the expense of intellectual, literary, social and œconomic history. War itself, we know, is grounded in the dynamics of ordinary life, which is bound together by ritual and idea. Behind Hannibal’s elephants at Cannae are the needs of republics and empires, and alliances and enmities, and suspicion and struggle. We see that as Rome grows it can’t survive without gladiatorial games fuelled by conquest. We consider justice: seeing that things seem to work in practice (as Rome did for some centuries), we ask whether they work in theory, because the incoherent systems will collapse.

But this, this brings us to larger issues. We seek to form (and to be) men who desire wisdom, who love justice, who know beauty. This is, after all, a more expansive mission than just cramming information:

I know a planet where there is a certain red-faced gentleman. He has never smelled a flower. He has never looked at a star. He has never loved any one. He has never done anything in his life but add up figures. And all day he says over and over, just like you: ‘I am busy with matters of consequence!’ And that makes him swell up with pride. But he is not a man – he is a mushroom!

First capture the imagination. Inculcate a moral imagination.


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