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A Latin Lesson

I come today bearing a Latin lesson you never knew you wanted (or maybe don’t want at all). "Non scholæ sed vitæ." This phrase comes from Seneca the Younger’s Moral Letters to Lucilius around 65 AD, according to my good friend, Wikipedia. The full phrase is actually "non scholæ sed vitæ discimus," translated as, “We learn [such literature] not for life but for classtime.” It was (in essence) a response to a student complaining that mastering literature was a waste of time and they should have a more practical education. Something that will help them get a job, I suppose. The mentor was saying, “Get a life on your own time, in school you learn about school things.” (I’m paraphrasing, of course.) “Why is this phrase the subtitle of Libraries of Hope’s newsletter?” you may ask. “This sounds like the opposite of what Well-Educated Heart is trying to do!” To that I say--you’re right. So let’s take our Latin phrase history one step further. In the early 19th century, Hungary and Germany took the original up a notch and amended it to "non scholæ, sed vitæ discendum est--We must learn not for school but for life.” They agreed with young Lucilius that school ought to teach you how to “life.” So for better or for worse, that’s what they did. A much more practical approach to schooling wherein everyone is given the tools needed to succeed in life. (Think compulsory attendance, standardized education, and national testing.) “I still don’t understand why you’re telling me any of this,” you say. Okay, okay. Hear me out. I think it’s time this phrase takes another turn. The Hungarians and Germans did it, why can’t we? Let’s commandeer it for our own purposes. Non scholæ sed vitæ. “We do not learn for school, but for life.” But not that kind of life. Not so I can get a better job and make more money (though there’s nothing here stopping you from doing that, too). A better, richer, more beautiful life. The kind of life that helps you see the immense beauty in the world around you. To wonder, to imagine, to explore and discover. The kind of life that allows you to empathize with those you meet, from all walks of life. To see the vast array of richness in different cultures throughout history. The kind of life that lets you feel, not just go through the motions. Yes, we also need to learn how to “life.” Heart and mind, remember? But let’s always strive to make sure our lifelong learning is at least partly focused on that other kind of life. The heart life. Because hearts matter, too. And that’s why we’re here. To help you do just that. So...non scholæ sed vitæ.

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