The most impressive students I had over my 30 years of teaching were…


…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.


  1. Despite the seriousness of his perspective, I had to laugh when I read ‘D-, Too much love in the home”….I think I am going to enjoy reading this book. Thanks for the recommendation..


  2. This one is is my wish list pile, after I have read about twenty more books, it will enter my reading pile. Thanks for boosting it. It looked good, now I know it is.


  3. Also enjoyed mimijk’ laugh, in my writing I am centering on angst and getting away from all of that love stuff.


  4. WMS. This one sounds like a winner, DK. Into the pile it goes…. 🙂


  5. Is this the cycle of life? We are born and raised to believe we are significant. Only in life and experience do we discover we aren’t. What if it were the other way around?


  6. fascinating – he and i see education so very differently, though what he says is brilliant. and i’m sure all of their training, under duress, led them to master the science of education, the mechanics, the analysis, but what about the art of education? i believe that learning, whether constrained or not, should lead us to have minds of our own, to question, to feel, to challenge and not always to accept what is put before us, without going deeper, and that includes feelings, instincts…. i will certainly add this to my stack…


    • I KNEW you were going here. That’s what makes us so unique. I’m so aligned with his thinking – yet there are many gentle souls like you out there that our young children are blessed to have as a teacher. Bravo Beth, Bravo.


  7. Reblogged this on A Simple, Village Undertaker and commented:
    A cogent observation via David….worth the read


  8. Interesting. I look forward to reading it.


  9. Although I was educated in some of the better public schools in NY state in the 60’s and 70’s, I still regret not having enough of a classic education. Anything worth doing requires discipline to learn skill and technique, which comes from the ability to momentarily suspend one’s own perspective to take in the subjectivity of another.

    This man and I would get along very well. Thanks for sharing him with us David!


  10. I was raised in the Mr. Rogers generation and told all my life that I was special, that you are special, that everyone’s special.

    If that’s not obviously untrue, then I don’t know what is!


  11. Michael Zahaby says:

    You’re describing me.



  1. […] The most impressive students I had over my 30 years of teaching were…. […]


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