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On Comfort and Learning to Be Human



Guest writer Nathan Hansen is a senior at New St. Andrews College in Moscow, Idaho, is classically educated, and is the son of Cor Deo’s sixth grade teacher, Barbara Hansen.

I have often gotten into conversations with Nice People (note that I don’t call them Good People; Good People are like Nice People, but they hate lying) who ask me what my major is. Seasoned small-talker that I am, I rattle off, “I’m majoring in Liberal Arts and Culture. That’s a long-winded way of saying that I’m studying classical languages and literature,” without skipping a beat.

At this point, the Nice Person will say “Oh.” Then (and here enters the cute ironic half-sneer that I’ve come to regard as an old friend), “What sort of job do you get with that?” One intimated to me once that it was a good thing that I had a low-paying, dead-end job, since that would prepare me well for a long life of disappointment.

But these people misunderstand the purpose of education entirely. Modern American society can be imagined as a car factory, and in a car factory, everything is carved into a very certain shape and fitted into a particular, special spot that it ought never move from. If it does, everything breaks down. American education has become like this. The purpose of education in America today is to train you with a very certain set of skills so that you can go get a Nice office job and buy a Nice house and a Nice car and then retire to a Nice nursing home with your Nice wife and wait for your Nice death.

This is the life of a machine. The life of a specialized part in a series of cog wheels. And as Robert A. Heinlein once put it, “specialization is for worms.”

The purpose of education is to teach us to be human. We are not meant merely for a Nice life. A Nice life is a Nice way of saying “a living death,” because it seeks, above all else, security and comfort.

The purpose of education is to teach us to be human. We are not meant merely for a Nice life. A Nice life is a Nice way of saying “a living death,” because it seeks, above all else, security and comfort. A very long time ago, Good Men recognized that a Nice life was a thing to be avoided, not embraced. And so Classical Education was born.

When I went to college, I was a boy who wanted to be comfortable. But I also had an inner yearning to be significant. To have a purpose and fulfill it. If you will, I had the intrinsic desire of every boy to go forth and slay dragons. I wanted to be glorious. But at college, I learned that in order to be glorious, you have to be willing to accept suffering. My classical education, in fact, can fairly be characterized as me learning that a statement as old and seemingly trite as “no pain, no gain,” was actually a moral axiom, and the eternal wisdom of the ages. I found that it was the negative inverse of a universal principle: “Glory is essentially agonistic.” Teach a man this axiom, and teach him to take up his cross and carry it, and you have taught him the first skill in being successful as Man, the last and greatest glory of the incredible world that we inhabit.

Classical education did not teach me a living. It has taught me life. It has taught me the grand secret that greatness lies on the other side of pain. It has taught me the immortal mystery that the one who wanted the joy that empty comfort promises got it, not by being a Nice person, but by being a Good one, who despised shame and took even death on a cross for the sake of that joy.