…The most impressive students I had over my 30 years of university teaching were those I encountered when I first began, in the early 1970s, who almost all turned out to have been put through Catholic schools, during a time when priests and nuns still taught and Catholic education hadn’t become indistinguishable from secular education. Many of these kids resented what they felt was the excessive constraint, with an element of fear added, of their education. Most failed to realize that it was this very constraint—and maybe a touch of the fear, too—that forced them to learn Latin, to acquire and understand grammar, to pick up the rudiments of arguing well, that had made them as smart as they were…
..So often in my literature classes students told me what they “felt” about a novel, or a particular character in a novel. I tried, ever so gently, to tell them that no one cared what they felt; the trick was to discover not one’s feelings but what the author had put into the book, its moral weight and its resultant power. In essay courses, many of these same students turned in papers upon which I wished to—but did not—write: “D-, Too much love in the home.” I knew where they came by their sense of their own deep significance and that this sense was utterly false to any conceivable reality. Despite what their parents had been telling them from the very outset of their lives, they were not significant. Significance has to be earned, and it is earned only through achievement. Besides, one of the first things that people who really are significant seem to know is that, in the grander scheme, they are themselves really quite insignificant.
~ Joseph Epstein, A Literary Education and Other Essays
Thank you Michael Wade for your recommendation of Epstein’s new book: A Literary Education and Other Essays. I’m half way through and loving it. Joseph Epstein, 77, was born in Chicago. He is an essayist, short story writer, and editor. In 2003, he was awarded a National Humanities Medal by the National Endowment for the Humanities.