n Book II of Plato’s Republic, Socrates declares that the true philosopher will not be angry with his pupils if they do not understand him. Any educator who has stood in front of a classroom of students not really willing or able to listen has more than once wondered why Socrates would not show at least some measure of frustration. In Book VII of the “Republic,” in what is perhaps the most breathtaking imagery in the entire corpus of philosophy, Socrates speculates that education is not what every generation’s sophisticates image. They claim that they can impart knowledge to their students. Socrates suggests otherwise; the true educator knows that in order for his students to move from fashionable opinions to knowledge, something more mysterious than mere teaching must occur. That is why he cannot be angry with his students. At most, the true educator can help turn the student towards knowledge.

What might that involve? Look to Fr. James Schall, S.J., a great admirer of Plato, for guidance. Consider his classroom. It is a place of face-to-face conversation, guided by a master, intended first to patiently turn his students towards the authors he has them read. I dare say, however, that that is only the preparatory work, akin to figuring out what sort of supplies you must bring if you are to embark on a great hunt. The hunt itself is undertaken through the conversation that occurs in the classroom. Fr.Schall asks his students about this or that argument, this or that author, this or that point of comparison. He does this with patience; he does this with cheer — as the philosopher must. And at the end of the hour, his students walk out knowing that something has happened to them, even if they cannot quite say what it was.

Many years later, his students ponder their education and now finally understand that what they learned in Fr. Schall’s class has led them to spin off in a direction they might not have otherwise taken. Or perhaps they are doing what they intended, but in a slightly different way — with more reverence, with more wonder, with more humility, with more love. And this all has happened because, yes, they were turned by being in the classroom, involved in the great conversation, with the great master, withFr. Schall.

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