The first time a young teacher fields a complaint from an angry parent about their child’s grades is a formative experience. Actually, “formative” doesn’t begin to cover it. It is more like the moment Zeus had to choose between two different piles of meat— bones overlaid in fat, or choice cuts wrapped in offal— and the pile he chose became the divine portion forever, while the other pile became mankind’s eternal lot in the sacrificial system.
Teacher: I have heard that you sometimes use the saying, “Fake it till you make it,” when teaching your students about the pursuit of virtue.
Gibbs: That is true.
Teacher: In a time when the church has such remarkable problems with hypocrisy, I find it rather disturbing you would exhort your students to fake virtue.
Gibbs: Would you say that hypocrisy is the church’s biggest problem today?
Gibbs: Would you say it’s a problem you have?
Teacher: I’m very aware of my temptations to hypocrisy and I’m working on it.
Classical educators like myself frequently talk of inspiring wonder and “irrigating deserts,” which is all well and good, but unless students understand that wonder must take place within the boundaries established by traditional Christian dogmas and creeds, inspiring wonder is reckless. Children need room to play, but inspiring wonder without also teaching that some things aren’t up for debate is like loosing little children to explore, create, and discover on a busy interstate.
Author's forward: If you are disappointed that a post with such a title is nothing more than a short story, I do not blame you. Money is a divisive subject, but fiction is ambiguous, and what is the point of reading anything which does not warrant a strong response? And yet, the ambiguity of fiction also has curative properties that defy reason, just as a sad face is good for the heart.
Parents in their thirties and forties have a curious habit of calling Legos “good toys,” which is generally not the way they describe toy trucks, dolls, tops, jacks, and so forth. Trucks and dolls might be good toys, but children of the 80s and 90s speak of Legos with the same reverential tone and conviction other people use when speaking of “a good man” or “a good woman.” And yet, the same people who commend Legos as “good toys” usually go on to qualify the claim by disparaging many Lego sets of recent years, especially the ones which are based on movie franchises.
What do classical teachers want from headmasters?
They want both leadership and leeway, although just about every employee wants those things. They want brave administrators who aren’t afraid to discipline the sons and daughters of prominent families, although nepotism and favoritism are a vexation to employees in every line of work. Teachers want good pay and benefits, too, but good pay is a universal human desire. So what classical thing do classical teachers want from headmasters and principals?
I don’t normally show my children new movies, but earlier this week we watched Tomorrowland (2015) and five days later, I’m still sore about it. While I normally show them classic movies, 80s movies, or movies they’ve seen fifty times already, Tomorrowland looked promising. It was directed by Brad Bird and written by the usually-thoughtful Damon Lindelof, whose work on Lost and Prometheus I admire. And it stars George Clooney, who has a fairly reliable eye for a good script. I took these three names as an auspicious sign.
Having quit Facebook six months ago, I have no idea what my thousand or so friends think of the pandemic. They don’t know what I think of it, either. So far as my own opinions go, this is for the best. My feelings about the pandemic have changed quite a bit in the last eight weeks.
Note: At more than 4500 words, this is the longest essay I have ever published in this column. Were my subject less worthy, I would not waste readers' time with this meticulous unpacking of a somewhat obscure 1990 film. However, I have been carrying a torch for John Patrick Shanley's masterpiece for over half my life, and am delighted to here tell you as much about it as I can.