Studies Burdensome to Youth

One may wish to be learned in old age, but it is not easy to achieve this unless we have nurtured learning in ourselves from our earliest years with zealous effort.  So we need to prepare in youth those consolations which can bring delight in honorable old age; studies which are burdensome to youth will be pleasant relaxations to age.  In this sense they are truly great bulwarks, whether we seek a remedy against sloth or solace in the face of worry and care. Piero Paolo Vergerio, “Character and Studies Befitting a Free-Born Youth,” in The Great Tradition: Classic Readings on What It Means to Be An Educated Human Being, ed. Richard M. Gamble. Wilmington 2007, p. 316. [Emphasis added]

The learning one obtains in youth brings consolation in one’s old age.  This is a reason why memorization at the grammar stage of learning lays the foundation for higher cognitive skills: logic and rhetoric.  In our youth this learning seems like drudgery, but without it no one can read or enjoy philosophy in one’s old age.

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2 Responses to Studies Burdensome to Youth

  1. Aaron Christiansen says:

    This section from Vergerio which we read for Renaissance and Reformation was excellent. It brings up some questions about the nature of learning.
    Is a student’s path through grammar, logic, and rhetoric in a given subject truly so linear? Even young minds reach for philosophy.

    Now a young mind without enough grammar might/will misconstrue the philosophy of others, and will commit an atrocious amount of errors; but if a philosophy is only an idea and grammar is the tool that implements it, they must always work hand in hand. A young mind starved of philosophy loses direction, purpose, and, using Vergerio’s word, zeal. In the same way an old mind starved of grammar loses potency. A linear way of teaching these equally important parts of a person’s education simply over-estimates human memory.

    Most of the time people (of all ages) have either forgotten where they are going, or how to get there. For those minds stuck in some monotonous grind, this concept from Vergerio is precisely the philosophy they need. They don’t need to continue working mindlessly until they reach the point where they can handle or form a philosophy of where they are going. They need to work zealously with a good destination in mind, and with the understanding/wisdom/philosophy that all hard work bears fruit.

    If then philosophy and rhetoric are so entwined, do they actually progress without the other? If so, then at the secondary and post-secondary levels of learning you should find very capable and teachable students who have few opinions of their own to interfere. If not, then in the same place, all the contrary philosophy that the students must have learned apart from their oblivious grammar teachers confounds the efforts of their later philosophy teachers. Furthermore their lack of joint philosophical training probably means their grammar is not up to par either.

    So then foundations of all three: Grammar, Logic, and Rhetoric must be laid together in the beginning and built up together throughout life.

    Another pertinent question might be: Why am I not studying for your final tomorrow right now?
    To that I have no good answer.

  2. Excellent questions and ideas. Grammar lays a foundation upon which to build. As pupils become older (around 10-12) they begin to ask questions. At this point, a teacher must introduce logic. Rhetoric follows naturally from the combination of grammar and logic.

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