Educational Philosophy, Mother's Education

Bacchus and the Collegiate Scholar

October 11, 2016 by Brandy Vencel

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
Party schools are nothing new, and college students were worshiping at the altar of Bacchus six hundred years ago, just as they often do today.

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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10 Comments

  • Reply Thoughtworthy (Antifragile, Humble Pie, November Challenge, and MORE!) | Afterthoughts November 1, 2019 at 2:41 am

    […] Apparently, Bacchus and wisdom don’t go together … and never have. […]

  • Reply Brandy Vencel October 17, 2016 at 2:23 pm

    So, people! Here is an interesting thing: on page 18, we are told this:

    Following the custom of Barzizza and Guarino he [Vittornio] receives into his own house a number of students … who board with him, presiding thus over a student family… This privilege, which seems to have been common to the regents of most universities of the time, was ordinarily regarded merely as a profitable means of livelihood.

    Woodward goes on to explain that Vittorino saw it as more than that. Regardless, I wonder if this is one possible option to the dormitory problem? We have houses, presided over by professors. Students living in community with faculty — it’s an interesting thing, even though all of us, I’m sure, could immediately seem some of the dangers of this.

  • Reply Liz Wine October 14, 2016 at 3:06 pm

    So I haven’t been reading this book, but this topic reminded me of when I was reading a fiction book that talked about the different Oxford Colleges.

    From wikipedia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Colleges_of_the_University_of_Oxford

    “A typical college consists of a hall for dining, a chapel, a library, a college bar, senior, middle (postgraduate), and junior common rooms, rooms for 200–400 undergraduates as well as lodgings for the head of the college and other dons. College buildings range from the medieval to modern buildings, but most are made up of interlinked quadrangles (courtyards), with a lodge controlling entry from the outside.”

    I wish I had that type of environment in college! Mine was very much typical dorm style, but there wasn’t a lot of community built in place. People had their cliques, and did their own thing. I felt lonely a lot of the time. It wasn’t until Graduate school where I was living on my own, that I actually felt like I had more community. Sometimes living in a building full of “strangers” can feel isolating.

    • Reply Brandy Vencel October 14, 2016 at 3:45 pm

      That is fascinating! I know it would be asking SO much more of professors and other staff to live on campus, but I can see why that was done. This is where Harry Potter had it right, I guess. 🙂

  • Reply Meghan October 14, 2016 at 7:14 am

    I am not reading along in the book, but am definitely enjoying reading the discussion. I wanted to throw in my own experience. I attended the University of Michigan, and the experience there is absolutely one of hotel-style dorms with resident advisors who range from compassionate and caring to almost totally absent (mine tended to be the latter). BUT I did live and study in this one dorm that also housed what was called just “The Residential College” and it was a smaller school inside of the larger Literature, Science and Arts college. I lived on a hall with guys, and there were certainly no limits on anyone’s behavior, and the prevailing culture of the RC was even more liberal than the university at large, I will say, oddly enough, I came awfully close to getting what might be called a pagan classical education! I didn’t know it at the time, of course, but there is something to be said for being in such a small living/learning environment with all the same people and studying continually under the same professors. One of my professors could certainly have been called my Master–I took every class of hers I could, even audited one after graduating! So even though it wasn’t religious in the slightest, I do think simply the environment of this place somehow cultivated a real call to learning, discussion, and relationship that I absolutely did not and do not see in the state university setting.

    • Reply Brandy Vencel October 14, 2016 at 8:02 am

      Oh, that makes so much sense. Yours sounds like a fascinating experience, to say the least!

  • Reply Missy October 11, 2016 at 6:34 pm

    I also picked up on the theme of “crazy college” life. I think this is one reason that schools like Yale, Harvard and similar were broken into smaller “residential colleges” or “houses”. http://www.library.yale.edu/mssa/YHO/Piersons/resCollege_Coed.html The intent was that professors or mentors would help oversee and develop relationships among a smaller group of students. Harry Potter, and I think English boarding schools and early American ones, had the same idea. That was NOT a part of my college dorm experience (by the time I left we had males and females on the same hall. My brother’s college had co-ed bathrooms – showers included – that was in 2000!).

    I ran a small high school boarding program for a short time (at a local Catholic school). I wanted to develop this type of feel but we just didn’t have enough adults or school buy in to do that. The students needed it; but, the system wasn’t set up to support it. I have “read ahead” and this does greatly impact how he develops the school he does lead.

    One common “innovative strategy” in large public schools is to try to create smaller clusters so that teachers can better watch over the child’s whole development. Size just makes it tough to do that.

    Interesting and wise about New College. What do students from out of town do though??

    Personally, I was interested in the links between scholars and the sense of community (although apparently not always harmonious) that they had. There was still a sense of “I was taught under this person” and that meant something. That is lost these days just because of the sheer size of our undertaking. I think some artists still have that sense of “who did you study under?” and maybe some specializations.

    I think this is happening in the Classical Education sub-culture a little bit – are you influenced by Andrew Kern, Susan Wise Bauer, Mason (Karen Glass), Leigh Lowe, Stratford Caldecott, Jain and Clark, Dorothy Sayers, Bluedorn or Leigh Bortins? Not that you know them personally; but, what take on Classical thought do you lean towards? Some of these are obviously interconnected but their books and work provide a way for us to sit under a mentor in this business of education.

    Thanks so much for bringing this man and his work to our attention.

    • Reply Brandy Vencel October 11, 2016 at 7:43 pm

      Oh, Missy! You have so many interesting thoughts here! And I think it was fascinating that you worked at a boarding school. I also love your connection at the end about who you studied under/who you are influenced by.

      Good question about what out-of-town students do at New College. {My husband has family there, so our son can likely live with them.} My understanding is that the school is owned or in relationship with a Presbyterian church and people within the church will rent rooms to students, which is supposed to enable them to be more closely tied to the life within the parish as a whole. BUT, they also divide the students into four houses! I didn’t know that when I wrote the article — I stumbled on it sometime today when I was thinking about something else. I am sad to say, however, that they do NOT have a sorting hat. I was totally bummed about that. 😉

      Hey! I was just thinking: someday, when someone says, “Who are you influenced by? Andrew Kern? Karen Glass?” We will be able to say, “Oh, some guy named Vittorino da Feltre!” 😉

      • Reply Claire October 18, 2016 at 12:38 am

        “What do students from out of town do though??” Here in Tasmania, my uni experience was entirely in shared private rental. We do have dorm type accommodation available but for me it was too expensive. I’m not sure why share houses don’t seem to happen in the US?
        (I spent one year in a four bedroom, one bathroom house with three guys. Completely platonic and safe. That was the year DH and I got engaged. It was a great year. So I don’t really find the idea of co-ed showers all that shocking, either lol!)

        • Reply Brandy Vencel October 18, 2016 at 7:16 am

          My university actually required all students to live on campus until their junior year, with the exception of local residents living at home. After that, there *were* some who lived off campus in shared apartments, but that was rare. Cultural, maybe? Or also, it might have been because public transportation — at least here in California — and traffic make commuting a bear, so living on campus also had its practical benefits.

          I think the shocking part about co-ed showers is that they are often more like gym showers, with multiple people showering at time. So, yes, it wouldn’t be nearly as shocking to have a girl go in and use the shower and then leave and then a boy do the same, but in this situation it’s all of them showering at the same time! With that said, I noticed that a couple of the schools that did coed bathrooms when I was in college are now back to segregated showers, so that is something. 🙂

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