Standing on the Shoulders: Voices from the Past that Inform the Present

Standing on the Shoulders: Voices from the Past that Inform the Present

Written by David Seibel | 10.1.2019

In this series, we will put before you some quotes from scholar-practitioners of the past that can educate and equip the problem-solvers and servant-leaders of today.

Mortimer J. Adler was a popular American philosopher, author, and educator, who worked at various prestigious universities, like Columbia and the University of Chicago, as well as educational institutions, like the Encyclopædia Britannica, and his own Institute for Philosophical Research. When he died in 2001 (aged precisely 98 and a half years old), he left behind a massive body of work in service of making philosophy more accessible to the masses.

Most people first encounter when reading his book, How to Read a Book. Although Adler does not appeal to many modern sensibilities, he does labor to be practical and clear. His work has been formidable for me in not only how I read and study, but who I seek to learn from and who I am willing to teach. He is fond of saying that the best education is the one that should be available to all. Enjoy the following quotes from Adler.

“In the case of good books, the point is not to see how many of them you can get through, but how many can get through to you.” – How to Mark a Book

“In the case of good books, the point is not to see how many of them you can get through, but how many can get through to you.” – How to Mark a Book

This quote is the academic’s version of that coffee mug saying, “It is not the number of breaths that you take but the number of moments that take your breath away.” [A difficult quote to track to its source but I suspect it was either Brittney Spears or Christina Aguilera.]

The words on the page should not pass before our eyes like water through a pipe but rather, the process of reading should be similar to digesting or like a tea bag steeping in hot water. For the chemistry of our brain’s hot water to be changed, the pages must steep in our minds.

“The purpose of learning is growth, and our minds, unlike our bodies, can continue growing as we continue to live.”

“The purpose of learning is growth, and our minds, unlike our bodies, can continue growing as we continue to live.”

Although we all stop getting taller at some point, we don’t need to stop growing in our intellectual height. The number of gray-haired sentimentalist baby-boomer grandparents is way too high. Whenever I meet someone older who has taken their growth (spiritual, intellectual, and otherwise) seriously, I try to spend as much time as I possibly can with them. Many people have experience, but they don’t have experiences that they have sucked the marrow from and deeply reflected upon. Schooling is what happens K-12, but education is what happens the rest of your life.

“Not to engage in this pursuit of ideas is to live like ants instead of like men.”

“Not to engage in this pursuit of ideas is to live like ants instead of like men.”

Dogs bark and so do humans on occasion. The difference though is this: German Shepherds don’t reflect at the end of the day pondering, “Was my barking today helpful? Was I helpful in conveying my message to the dog next door? How could I improve? What, after all, is my purpose anyway?”

The human was designed to be nourished at the banquet of ideas on truth, goodness, and beauty. These ideals are commonly known as the Transcendentals, and the best way to understand them is that they have the effect of ending-the-trance (get it?). In a world obsessed with measuring and counting and quantifying and standardizing and professionalizing, it is mentally and emotionally refreshing to be educated in good ideas as an end in themselves.

“For more than 40 years, a controlling insight in my educational philosophy has been the recognition that no one has ever been – no one can ever be – educated in school or college.”

“For more than 40 years, a controlling insight in my educational philosophy has been the recognition that no one has ever been – no one can ever be – educated in school or college.”

In this essay, Adler demonstrates that immaturity and lack of experience are what keep the learning from sinking deep into students’ character. As many have tongue-in-cheek said, ‘Education is wasted upon the youth.’ Adler goes on to say, “The reason is simply that youth itself – immaturity – is an insuperable obstacle to becoming educated.” He argues that they lack the sound judgment that comes with age; he says education begins in your 40s! So what is the point of schools in his perspective?

“The very best thing for our schools to do is to prepare the young for continued learning in later life by giving them the skills of learning and the love of it.”

As Head of School at Coram Deo Academy, Dave Seibel aims to cultivate a generation of scholar-disciples who are passionate about learning. He is husband to Brooke and father of four future Coram Deo students. He is a graduate of Wabash College, Marian University and in final Master of Divinity course at Southern Seminary.

As Head of School at Coram Deo Academy, Dave Seibel aims to cultivate a generation of scholar-disciples who are passionate about learning. He is husband to Brooke and father of four future Coram Deo students. He is a graduate of Wabash College, Marian University and in final Master of Divinity course at Southern Seminary.

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