Skip to content
Catholic Online Logo

By Deal W. Hudson

5/6/2014 (2 years ago)

Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

At the end of the day, the teacher becomes only an occasion for learning, a stimulus to go out and learn it for yourself.

I've often wondered why I worked better with some teachers more than others. Some of my teachers I found personally very appealing, but I would find myself struggling with what they wanted me to know and how to get an angle on knowing it.  While others, perhaps not appealing at all, were able to find their way to my mind in a more direct route. 

The best students know when enough is enough - their docility has its limits.  They know, as St. Thomas Aquinas once said, the knower is the first cause of learning.

The best students know when enough is enough - their docility has its limits. They know, as St. Thomas Aquinas once said, the knower is the first cause of learning.

Highlights

By Deal W. Hudson

Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

5/6/2014 (2 years ago)

Published in U.S.

Keywords: study, student, learning, education, experience, docility, docilitas, virtue, Deal W. Hudson


WASHINGTON,DC (Catholic Online) - I've often wondered why I worked better with some teachers more than others. Some of my teachers I found personally very appealing, but I would find myself struggling with what they wanted me to know and how to get an angle on knowing it.  While others, perhaps not appealing at all, were able to find their way to my mind in a more direct route. 

The problem was, what was thought to be the cardinal virtue for the student - docilitas - we know the word in its English form, docility, meaning responsive, easily taught, or receptive.  Sometimes docility is taken as a synonym for aptitude, which is misleading. An aptitude can be limited to a few discreet subjects while docility means a person is, well, very teachable.

I've always been a very docile, if sometimes naughty, student.  I was eager to learn, often had my hand up, loved to read and write, and always wanted the teacher to call on me. Yes, I was a bit of a show off! There was that spring day in 3rd grade at Mt. Vernon Elementary School when the teacher was facing the board. I was able to take every book out of every desk in the room and toss them out the window onto the lawn below.  I did say I was naughty!

Whenever I have struggled to learn, I've come to the conclusion that I was trying too hard, that is, I was too docile.  Docilitas is indeed a virtue, but how easy it is to forget that the human virtues lie in the mean.  My excess of docility led to three obstacles to learning: eagerness to please the teacher; going to the extreme in carrying out instructions; and the anxiety of not doing either of the first two. 

A good example is the Yoga for Golfers class I took last year to become more flexible.  There were three of us, all middle-aged, squatting in front of a perfectly shaped 25-year old.  It was only later that I realized the instructor was not an experienced teacher, especially with beginners.  Even though it was very painful, I made myself copy every move she asked us to make.  The guys to each side eventually gave up, but not me. I was determined to please the teacher. The only person who was really pleased was my chiropractor who got three office visits to undo the damage! 

If a golf instructor tells me to turn my left hip back and around I will practically throw myself on the ground to prove I can do it. I recall when I was learning to shoot skeet, I didn't say a word through the entire lesson in spite of the fact that my left shoulder became painful and inflamed.  When the instructor saw me rubbing it afterward, he asked to take a look.  "Why didn't you say anything? Your shoulder is black and blue!" He took a look at my grandfather's 16-gauge shotgun, put in a shell and fired it to feel the kick.  All he did was shake his head and hand it back, saying, "Either get a pad for that stock or bring a different gun, next time." 

The best students know when enough is enough - their docility has its limits.  They know, as St. Thomas Aquinas once said, the knower is the first cause of learning. Good students realize that the mind is not an empty receptacle into which the teacher pours knowledge. Rather they allow the teacher to activate the knowing power of the mind to meet the teacher halfway, where the actions of teaching and learning combine to lift both to a higher level. While the student does overdo it, the teacher doesn't treat the student as a passive note-taker. Plato and Socrates called it the process of dialectic (διαλεκτική).

At the end of the day, the teacher becomes only an occasion for learning, a stimulus to go out and learn it for yourself.  An ethics teacher can define the cardinal virtues for you, but it's up to each individual, over many years, to put that knowledge into practice. As the later great golfer Ben Hogan replied when asked for his "secret" to such magnificent ball striking - "The secret's in the dirt!" Understood simply, Hogan was saying we all have to learn things for ourselves, by hard practice, by the experiences of success and failure. 

I'm not sure why I overdid myself with docility for so long.  Was I simply trying to please, to show off, to make good grades or elevate my performance? What kept me in the posture, in spite of the growing body of evidence against it? I kept telling myself I was doing the right thing by listening so closely, following instructions to the letter, and watching for the teacher's approval.  None of that really mattered, as it turned out: What mattered were the hours and days I spent "in the dirt," learning it for myself.

© Deal W. Hudson, Ph.D

-----
Deal W. Hudson is president of the Morley Institute of Church and Culture, Senior Editor and Movie Critic at Catholic Online, and former publisher and editor of Crisis Magazine.This column and subsequent contributions are an excerpt from a forthcoming book. Dr. Hudson's new radio show, Church and Culture, is heard on the Ave Maria Radio Network.

---


'Help give every student and teacher Free resources for a world-class moral Catholic education'


Copyright 2017 - Distributed by THE CALIFORNIA NETWORK

Pope Francis Prayer Intentions for DECEMBER 2016
Universal:
End to Child-Soldiers: That the scandal of child-soldiers may be eliminated the world over.
Evangelization: Europe: That the peoples of Europe may rediscover the beauty, goodness, and truth of the Gospel which gives joy and hope to life.



Comments


More U.S.

Honoring Dr. Martin Luther King Jr, Pro-Life Christian Leader and Hero Watch

Image of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Christian Leader

By Deacon Keith Fournier

On January 27, 2017, the annual March for Life will take place once again in Washington, DC. On January 16th we commemorate a great Christian and Human Rights Leader, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. He was assassinated in 1968 for defending the fundamental truth of ... continue reading


Pope Francis cited in one bishop's call for change - Will it help? Watch

Image of Pope Francis has been calling for help on behalf of immigrants for years.

By Kevin Jones (CNA/EWTN News)

The upcoming inauguration of President-elect Donald Trump has raised questions about the future of immigration reform, but the nation's Catholic bishops remain hopeful. Washington D.C. (CNA/EWTN News) - "We also find it important that we engage the present incoming ... continue reading


'The Greatest Show on Earth' to pack up for the last time after 146 years Watch

Image of The Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Baily Circus will close after 146 years (Todd Hesler).

By Nikki Crawford (CALIFORNIA NETWORK)

The Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Baily Circus announced they would be closing up shop for the final time this May after 146 years of bringing magic to families across the country. LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - Everyone knows the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & ... continue reading


Christianity on the decline under Obama, pop media, and atheist persecution Watch

Image of A church is burned in full-scale effigy at the Burning Man festival, an expression of pop culture.

By David Drudge (CALIFORNIA NETWORK)

Atheism and agnosticism gained a boost during Obama's presidency as the number of people claiming no religious affiliation rose during his administration. LOS ANGELES, CA (California Network) - The Pew Research Center has released a report which states, "When it comes ... continue reading


Catholic hospital under fire for practicing religious freedoms Watch

Image of A Catholic hospital may be forced to compromise its religious rights.

By Kevin J. Jones (CNA/EWTN News)

A Catholic hospital faces an anti-discrimination lawsuit for cancelling a surgery to remove a uterus from a female who identifies as a man. The surgery was meant to treat gender dysphoria. Paterson, NJ (CNA/EWTN News) - "This case involves whether a Catholic hospital ... continue reading


Why does the Catholic University of America have a collection of over 600 Ethiopian magic scrolls? Watch

Image of Hundreds of Ethiopian religious scrolls now reside in Washington D.C.

By Adelaide Mena (CNA/EWTN News)

With a recent gift of more than 600 handmade leather manuscripts, the Catholic University of America is now home to one of the most important collections of Ethiopian religious manuscripts in the United States. Washington D.C. (CNA/EWTN News) - The collection includes ... continue reading


Rest in Peace Father Michael Scanlan. My First Spiritual Father Has Died Watch

Image of Fr Michael Scanlan, T.O.R., when I knew him.

By Deacon Keith Fournier

My heart is broken. My eyes are blurred from the tears I have shed. I lost a spiritual father. At least I lost him from this life. But, heaven has gained a new champion. The Church has gained a powerful intercessor. Dance that Irish jig my friend, my father, my ... continue reading


Why Was Jesus Baptized and What Does that Baptism REALLY Mean? Watch

Image of The Baptism of Jesus in the Jordan is also called the Theophany, or manifestation of God in the Christian Tradition.

By Deacon Keith Fournier

This deeper significance is the reason for the Baptism of Jesus and its baptismal connection for us is why, in the Orthodox and Eastern Catholic Churches, the clergy often lead the faithful to rivers and entire rivers are blessed on this day! One of the first ... continue reading


Planned Parenthood cons millions from public health programs - New report tells all Watch

Image of Planned Parenthood is a con.

By Matt Hadro (CNA/EWTN News)

Audits showing Planned Parenthood's alleged misuse of federal funds are further proof that the organization should be barred from receiving federal money, pro-life advocates say. Washington D.C. (CNA/EWTN News) - "The extent of waste and abuse in the nation's family ... continue reading


Solemnity of the Epiphany of the Lord: As the Magi Seek, So Should We Watch

Image of

By Deacon F. K. Bartels

The first sentence of this Sunday's gospel (Mt 2:1-12) presents us with a contrast between three figures: Jesus, Herod the Great, and the magi who search the night for the focal point of a star's light, the newborn king of the Jews. Herod stands in between, not as a ... continue reading


All U.S. News

Newsletters

Newsletter Sign Up icon

Stay up to date with the latest news, information, and special offers

Subscribe to Catholic OnlineYouTube Channel

Daily Readings

Reading 1, Hebrews 6:10-20
10 God would not be so unjust as to forget all you have done, the love ... Read More

Psalm, Psalms 111:1-2, 4-5, 9-10
1 Alleluia! I give thanks to Yahweh with all my heart, in the ... Read More

Gospel, Mark 2:23-28
23 It happened that one Sabbath day he was taking a walk through the ... Read More

Saint of the Day

Saint of the Day for January 17th, 2017 Image

St. Anthony the Abbot
January 17: Two Greek philosophers ventured out into the ... Read More