The Pierian Spring
“A little learning,” wrote Alexander Pope, “is a dangerous thing.” What constitutes a little? What constitutes a lot? The amount of learning that an individual can acquire will vary according to that individual, both in their natural abilities and in their circumstances. Some will have more time for leisure—that is, school and study—than others who must dedicate their time to work, family, and particular demands of vocation.
And yet in a sense, learning is part of the vocation of man’s nature. No one is excused from the pursuit of the Truth.; least of all those that are given the opportunity to pursue it most fully.
That is why there is something unnerving about the curriculum of many contemporary liberal arts schools. Were all of the students entering their undergraduate careers previously well-grounded in the traditional trivium—grammar, logic, and rhetoric—then perhaps something efficacious could be done in a mere handful of classes oriented towards the truth itself. But when one enters from a public high school, and is given no more than three or four philosophy classes, when literature is a course taken either because it is mandated or it seems a curious elective, when theology and history are given foundations in a young soul but no structure is erected upon them, when a student seeks an education pertinent to life in the world and therefore races through his core classes, then something has gone wrong.
Can a school rightfully lay claim to the liberal arts when the humanities compose less than half of the overall number of necessary credit hours for graduation? If someone enters a school with the intention of becoming a business major, a psychology major, or a science major, what view are they going to have towards three semesters’ worth of courses in the humanities? Will they be deterred from entering the school by their presence, or will they simply view them as a minor impediment? Will they be disposed to embrace the subject matters, to seek excellence in the classroom, or will they merely consider such classes as a means to an end?
“A little learning is a dangerous thing;
drink deep, or taste not the Pierian Spring:
there shallow draughts intoxicate the brain,
and drinking largely sobers us again.”