When I was a seventh grade English teacher, I had my students read great literature. And yet, the classes’ evaluation of the likes of Shakespeare, Bunyan, Dumas, Tolstoy, and Dickinson was often no more critically incisive than, “They’re boring.” This opinion is exasperating but predictable in immature readers. And yet, for all my frustration with my students, I often find myself reading and assessing literature in exactly the same way.
It is May, which means that classical schools across the country are finalizing plans for graduation ceremonies, setting calendars for next year, determining schedules for summer school, and trying to figure out what to do with a few senior boys whose theses were laughably bad.
The following article was originally published in FORMA Journal.
Every American should work in food service for a few years before marrying. So many of the virtues Americans claim come from playing team sports can be acquired far more easily working the registers at Burger King. One learns tolerance and longsuffering and humility. A man cannot truly understand how rude Americans are, how ridiculous, how entitled, until he has been paid next to nothing to serve his fellow countrymen French fries and shakes.
A cord of three strands is not easily broken, the ancient proverb says. The proverb was recalled by the Preacher in Ecclesiastes; it was recalled nearly 2,000 years earlier in the oldest written story we have as a human race—The Epic of Gilgamesh. The proverb speaks of friendship. In both texts, it’s embedded amongst praise for two friends.
“All slang is metaphor, and all metaphor is poetry” - G. K. Chesterton
Our Lord tells us that all manner of sin is forgivable save blasphemy of the Holy Spirit. To blaspheme God—broadly speaking—is to degrade, disregard, and deny His essence and being in some way. A man is able, though—even allowed—to “speak a word against the Son of Man,” and be forgiven it, but is strongly cautioned to be mindful of how he speaks of the Spirit of God: “it shall not be forgiven him, either in this age or in the age to come.”
As I sat down to write this, my daughter asked me what I was writing about. Adequately explaining virtue to a 9-year-old seemed like it might take more time than I wanted to devote at the moment, so I simply said, “I’m writing about how argument can be good.” She instantly responded vehemently with, “No, it can’t!? Arguing is a bad thing?!”
Student: I know how you feel about the matter, but I’m thinking about going to a secular college next year.
Gibbs: How come?
Student: I don’t want to live in a bubble. If I don’t go to a secular college, I’m worried I’ll go through my whole life without ever knowing anything about other people’s views.
Gibbs: Huh. You think college is your last chance to encounter “other people’s views”?
Student: Sort of.
My father was a lifelong educator and one of the founding fathers of the International Baccalaureate. In the 1960s, at its inception, he brought the IB to Iranzamin Tehran International School in Tehran, Iran—one of the first seven schools around the world to implement it. My mother, too, was a teacher of music for decades. The result? I was raised in a household where talk about educational vision and practice happened almost every day.
I’m not the kind of person who always wants a baby. As a child, I didn’t “play house.” As a teen, I didn’t babysit other people’s children, and I didn’t enjoy my mom signing me up for nursery duty at church. The blessedness of bearing and raising children is more a belief that has grown in me with my faith than it is a primal urge I have. Hearing Mary’s Magnificat in a liturgical context has enforced this belief: “you have lifted up the lowly.” This is the trajectory of Christ’s Incarnate Life and the life of every believer and the life of the world. From death unto life.