No one is more cautious about the value of words than professional writers. Having made a career of speaking for large and small crowds, and having written three books, a hundred film reviews, four hundred essays for this website— and having undertaken my fourteenth year of marriage— I would say I am skeptical of the idea that the best way for people to sort out their problems is to “just sit down and talk.”
Teacher: For history tests, I have my students make a cheat sheet that I allow them to use. It works great.
Gibbs: What’s on the cheat sheet?
Teacher: They’re allowed to put whatever information they like on the cheat sheet.
Gibbs: I would put passages of Scripture and quotes from Herodotus, Thucydides, and Horace on my cheat sheet.
Teacher: Well, those kind of quotes wouldn’t do you much good.
Gibbs: How come?
Teacher: Because I don’t ask about those things on history tests.
Parent: We’ve had a rough start to this school year.
Gibbs: Tell me more.
Parent: Well, Adrian was disappointed with the grade he received on his Virgil essay. He didn’t entirely understand your comments.
Gibbs: What kind of comments did he receive on it?
Parent: You said a lot of his observations were too obvious and that his essay was poorly arranged, poorly argued, and that it contained a lot of filler.
Gibbs: Are those comments so hard to understand?
As a classical educator, I often hear parents say, “I want my child to get the education I never received.” This is a fine and noble sentiment. When I was a child, I watched entirely too much television and now I want to give my children a love of books I never received. At the same time, I still watch entirely too much television now. Old habits die hard, but this is no excuse. Likewise, “I want my child to receive the education I never received” is a noble sentiment to have as a parent, it is also a bit unnecessary.
In 1984, Keva Rosenfeld took a documentary crew into Torrance High School in Los Angeles County and spent a year in the surfy, sunlit cultural trenches. Torrance was a model for the school depicted in Fast Times at Ridgemont High and the campus has been used for a half dozen teen flicks you’re better off not remembering. What Rosenfeld found was not terribly interesting at the time, and shortly after All American High was publicly shown, the reels were set aside and then lost for three decades.
For a job, I talk to teenagers all day. I read to them, lecture them, ask them questions, listen to them talk. I stare into their faces all day and gauge their interest in what I am saying based on their eyes, their mouths, and their posture. I rarely gauge their interest based on what they say, for teenagers like talking to each other, but do not much like talking to adults (I know, your teenager is different).
“At a school like this one, you hear quite a bit about the importance of having a servant’s heart. In fact, you hear enough about service that you might be quite tired of the subject by now and think that adults only speak to you of service because it means less work for themselves. After all, when teachers talk of service, they are usually asking students to do things which will make their own lives easier. “Service” usually means picking up trash on the quad, moving and setting up chairs for assemblies, and tidying the men’s room before leaving.
The most fashionable critiques of any institution will always be the ones people from within the institution borrow from those on the outside. The thrill which comes from conversing with one’s peers and casually letting drop a little cool approval of detractors and naysayers, then watching the faithful turn their heads in confusion and dismay, is more than many postmodern men can pass up.
While Americans have been bemoaning the loss of “sir” and “ma'am” for forty years now, these greetings are not entirely absent from American society. Like most Americans with a car and a blue blazer, the poor and homeless regularly ask me for money. On street corners, they ask with signs. In parking lots and gas stations, they ask directly. When they ask directly, they call me “sir.”
Is there such a thing as a straight A student? Yes and no.
There are students who, by the time they graduate high school, have received nothing but A’s on their report cards. However, I doubt that the straight A student is a kind of student. I don’t think the straight A student is natural, as though some students get A’s the way that birds fly or fish swim. Put another way, if a sophomore with a 4.0 GPA received a low C on a semester exam, I wouldn’t think something was wrong. I wouldn’t say something unnatural had happened.