Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Maurice Baring on Leisure in Education

(Wow, that title is really a mouthful.)

I just received my first issue of StAR magazine a few days ago. I was amused to find a reproduction of the same painting of Chesterton, Belloc and Baring as appeared in the last issue of Gilbert Magazine. It was placed in the middle of the first article I read (naturally), which was by Fr. James Schall on "Baring's Eton". Eton is a famous English prep school (even I had heard of it before!) which Baring attended in his teens beginning in the late 1880s.

Schall discovered an essay Baring wrote about his years there and I wanted to share just a little of Schall's thoughts on this essay...

Baring makes a very unexpected conclusion from these reflections on gamesmanship at Eton. "The beauty of the existing system is that the worship and importance of games gives those who did not excel in games, or who are fond, if not of study, of books, the leisure and the opportunity to cultivate their own tastes". Baring included himself in this latter happy group. I particularly like that distinction between "study" and "books" as object of our fondness. We need both "leisure" and "opportunity" to develop our "tastes", itself another very good term that guides what we read and hear and, indeed, play.

This marvelous freedom was well appreciated by Baring. "A boy can spend hours in the school library reading Monte Cristo if he wants to. Nobody cares. But supposing everyone cared and thought it a disgrace not to like Pindar, nobody would be allowed to read Monte Cristo or Sherlock Holmes. The tyranny of the intellect is the worst of all. The rule of the intellectuals is far severer than that of the athletes". Such reflections, drawn from the library and playing fields of Eton, are well worth our intense reflection. One forgets that one of the real dangers of what are called "good schools" is the danger of leaving no time to their students for the important things, among which, no doubt, are Monte Cristo and Sherlock Holmes.

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