In his book Vittorino da Feltre and Other Humanist Educators, William Woodward tells us that in 1414, Guarino da Verona had this to say about the state of student life at the University of Padua:
The tutelary deity of the Paduan students is Bacchus: they celebrate his feast, not annually, but daily, and indeed more than once a day. How different from the School of Socrates or the Academy of Plato!p. 9
Woodward went on to say that it wasn’t just the morality of the thing that bothered the professors — it was also the huge amount of work there was to be done! The scholars were wasting precious days and hours — even years.
We are later told that this had quite the impact on Vittorino:
Vittorino derived from his experience there his lifelong conviction that the critical years of youth demand first of all close and watchful care: and that this can hardly be secured amid the distractions or temptations of a university city.p. 10
I guess today’s party schools are nothing new, after all?
I am reminded of New College Franklin. My oldest has his eye on this school, and truly I’ve been watching it since he was just a little tyke and it wasn’t even a college yet — just a gleam in a founder’s eye. At New College, they don’t have dorms yet, and they won’t until they are able to do them well. The New College website says:
New College Franklin does not currently offer traditional dormitories and has no plans to until or unless we possess the resources to pursue creative ways to live in Christian community while avoiding an impersonal dorm-culture. Our concern with this dorm-culture is that students are disconnected from healthy community and the Godly leadership of faculty and the wider parish. We believe in the possibility and the advantages of covenantal academic communities in the form of residential colleges, but these mixed-use, integrated residences would be familial and less wooden than the hotel environment of most modern dorms.
I respect this about New College.
Biola University dorms were pretty well controlled when my husband and I were there. Of course there was room for improvement, but still. I remember people I’d gone to high school with making negative comments about the university’s “tight” controls: no males in female rooms (and vice versa) except during certain visiting hours, and then only with the door open at least 45 degrees; no alcohol consumption (most of us weren’t of age anyhow); and so on and so forth. Looking back, I see what a protection this was for us. The campus was a safe place, and university life was overall a very healthy thing to participate in.
Now, in Padua at the time, Woodward tells us, the students were as young as 14. Obviously, even more guidance is needed at those ages. But I find it interesting that nothing is new, that party schools have always been, and they are not — nor have they ever been — a place to grow true scholars.
Wisdom and Bacchus cannot coexist, I suppose we could say.
I think this will be an interesting stream of thought to keep on our radar as we progress in the book — though working with younger students, Charlotte Mason’s thoughts on atmosphere seem to apply here. I find it interesting that New College Franklin dreams of dorms that are more “familial,” for Charlotte Mason asserted that the family was the natural learning environment for the child. While college students are, of course, becoming adults, at family-like atmosphere makes sense for bridging that gap to adulthood.
At the same time, the atmosphere of a university is going to be different from the nurseries Charlotte Mason so famously described.
Let’s try to keep our eye on this theme, for if and when we get more insight into what the ideal might be.
Extra Discussion Questions*:
- Have you noticed anything concerning the atmosphere theme thus far in your reading?
- What other themes are you tracing as you go along?
*I said “extra” because it’s not like you are limited to these. 🙂
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