Occasionally, I am a little self-conscious of the fact that I have what some would call academic “guilty pleasures.” I like to read for pleasure works by and about Winston Churchill. I also enjoy books on 18th and 19th century British naval history. There have been times that I feel I should apologize to people when I share an obscure fact about Winston Churchill such as his favorite military outfit or when I know what the British naval term “first rate ship of the line” means. If my educational discipline was history (which it is not) then my pleasure reading might be seen as acceptable. These snippets of information which I have derived from my reading are what for years my family has called “founts of useless information.” These are the type of things that CS Lewis would call evidence of a good education.
In a speech given to the English Society at Oxford called “Our English Syllabus,” CS Lewis discusses what it truly means to educate someone. To educate an individual was to enable them to become the type of person who contributed to both his own happiness and to the happiness of the society in which he lived. Ultimately, education leads a man to a life of leisure, not a life of vocation.
It is not the belief of Lewis that one should have no vocational training, but that the true purpose for one’s life cannot be actualized within a vocation. Lewis points out animals are only focused on their vocation. They are the perfect working professionals. They would, if they could speak, “only talk shop” to one another. Lewis states, “Lions cannot stop hunting, nor the beaver building dams, nor the bee making honey.” Conversely, for humans vocation should only be seen as a means to free us up to pursue a life of leisure.
When I think of leisure I do not usually think of education. I usually think about sitting on the beach drinking some tropical fruit concoction poured into a coconut with an umbrella sticking out of the top. For Lewis the goal of education is to bring a human to the point where one has the basics skills needed to live well and think well. Once the basic skills are mastered (Lewis believed this should happen ideally before you started university) you are ready to begin to pursue leisure. For one to be at a point of leisure one must be concerned for and pursue knowledge for its own sake.
Many times I find that students are embarrassed by their excitement over their pursuit of knowledge for its own sake. They are often looked down upon by people who see education as only a pragmatic means to a vocational end. Students need to understand this excitement is indicative of a soul that has begun to engage in the pursuit of leisure which is essential for humans to truly flourish.
I am now off to spend some leisure time with Winston Churchill’s The Second World War.