F.R. Duplantier reporting Behind The Headlines

Week of:
April 2, 2000
Courtship Should Be a Required Course

F.R. Duplantier

by: F.R. Duplantier

Young people today are getting all the wrong messages about love and marriage.

During their many years as professors at the University of Chicago, Leon and Amy Kass have "paid increasing attention to the opinions and . . . the practices of [their] students regarding matters of love and marriage. Repeatedly," they lament, "we have heard their skepticism about marriage and family life. We have watched many of them, well beyond their college years, bumble along from one unsatisfactory relationship to the next, and we are often profoundly saddened by the thought that they are in danger of missing out on one of life's greatest adventures. . . ."

The Kasses lament "the fact that we come to life and love increasingly burdened by theory, not to say ideology." They complain that "we live in the grip of image and opinion makers, often shallow and thoughtless, who deliberately and massively interpose themselves between us and 'real life.' Academic theorists redescribe all human relations in terms of economic models or power politics," the Kasses note; "ideologically driven redefinitions of sex and marriage spill over from the academy into the general culture; psychologists and other experts redescribe life and love in sterile jargon; movies, television, and advertising saturate our senses with titillating or shocking images; and the talk shows, filled with shameless chatter about the most intimate matters, reveal how much of private life has been deformed and dehumanized by all our theorizing and manipulation."

Happily married for nearly 40 years, Leon and Amy Kass decided to offer a college course on courtship, to try to instill in their students a realistic appreciation for the value and benefits of lifelong marriage and to help them recognize the best approach for achieving it. Their new book from the University of Notre Dame Press, entitled Wing to Wing, Oar to Oar, is a collection of readings for the course featuring some of the world's greatest authors and philosophers, from Homer and Herodotus to Jane Austen and Ben Franklin. In their introduction to the book, the Kasses emphasize that the youth of today are "not entirely to blame" for their amorous ineptitude. "For we -- their parents, teachers, and the larger society -- have poorly prepared them to get themselves well married. Strangely," they observe, "even in the midst of all the current concern about 'family values' and the breakup of marriages, very little attention is being paid to what makes for marital success. Still less are we attending to the ways and mores of entering into marriage." Wooing and courting have "all but disappeared," Leon and Amy Kass contend. "Today there are no socially prescribed forms of conduct that help guide young men and women in the direction of matrimony." The Kasses compiled their anthology on courtship as "a response to this cultural silence. It is," they declare, "quite frankly and unapologetically, a pro-marriage anthology intended to help young people of marriageable age . . . think about the meaning, purpose, and virtues of marriage and, especially, how one might go about finding and winning the right one to marry."