When Your Students Hate a Classic via Circe

Josh Gibbs offers a good response, perhaps a bit more substantive than the usual standby, “You’ll thank me someday.”

Reading a classic ought to be a profound experience. I wish that reading this book had been a profound experience, though there’s no point in pretending you all liked this.

Hopefully you can name a few classics which have been of profound spiritual value to you. Perhaps after reading The Consolation of Philosophy, you were able to confess some sin to your parents, or yourself, which you did not previously believe you had the courage to confess. Or perhaps you have recalled the struggles of Odysseus to return home and understood your own reticence to return home on a Friday evening.

Perhaps a certain classic work has put you into blessed, consoling communion with the ancient things of man. And yet, perhaps there are some classics which you simply do not enjoy and do not gain from.

In this case, a different line of thought is required:

We also read the classics—even the classics we hate and which profit us nothing—for others, for those we have never met.

Let us say you loved Boethius, but not Bede. Let us say you loved Augustine, but not Chrysostom. Let us say you loved Frankenstein, but not Dracula. Somewhere in the past, in another school and another time and another country, someone like yourself was forced to read Boethius and hated him. Someone was forced to read Augustine and hated him. Someone was compelled with the threat of bad grades to read Dracula and loathed every florid, Romantic page of it. The classics you love are in your hands today because students before you— many of whom did not understand them, and did not profit from them— read them anyway and vindicated them as part of the Western Canon. There are times when reading the classics does you real spiritual good, but there are also times when you read the classics for the benefit of those who will come after you. Your reading of difficult, uninspiring books is pure self-sacrifice. You do not understand why the world needs Dante (whom you can’t stand), you do not understand why the world needs St. Anselm (who is impossible), but the same teachers who put Augustine (whom you love) in your hands have insisted the Future needs Dante and Anselm— and if you don’t read Dante and Anselm, there’s a real sense in which you don’t get Augustine. Read the rest at Circe.

St Augustine Teaching in Rome 1465 Fresco Apsidal chapel, Sant’Agostino, San Gimignano

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