The good teacher tells his students what they must do. You must pray. You must repent. You must go to Church. You must give to the poor. You must be honest with yourself. Given rather common theological convictions of our day, the claim, “You must give to the poor” or “You must pray” can be confusing. When the teacher says, “You must give to the poor,” some students are apt to assume there is a silent “in order to be saved” attached to the end of the command. In conversations about Christian duties, students often assume teachers are teaching them how to be saved.
While I maintain a massive library of 20th century music, and a modest library of 20th century films, when I stand behind a lectern, I generally advocate for old things. New things are rather easy for us to enjoy, for they are made for us and by us and “no man ever hated his own body.” But old things are much harder to like because they are made by strangers. The past is another country, and we are always struggling to learn the language.
What does it mean to give a student a book?
When the teacher hands the student the Book, this is the sacrament of education. While the school exists to teach virtue, the most fundamental act of the school is putting Books into student’s hands. Books are the icons of virtue. The handing down of Books is the beginning of teaching virtue.
When the teacher of virtue puts the Book into the hand of the student, the teacher necessarily says:
I often write “Dig deeper” in the margins of student essays. What does it mean to “dig deeper”?
“Dig deeper” means:
Do not be satisfied with the first thesis which comes to mind. Whatever thesis you first arrive at, assume such a thesis, if well defended, will earn you a C. Take your first thesis and ask yourself, “How can I make this better?” When I write "Dig deeper" in the margins, it means you probably wrote the first thing which came to mind.
What makes a thesis better? Particularity, certainty, distinction, deceptive simplicity.
The good teacher is similar enough with his students to scare them. The good teacher is dissimilar enough with his students to scare them. The good teacher understands how delicate the balance is between similarity and dissimilarity.
Many classical Christian schools have literature programs which progress chronologically, and so as students progress through high school, they are taught evermore lately written books. By the time senior year rolls around, the student is often reading books written within the lifetime of his grandparents.
While I am not opposed to teaching 20th century literature to seniors, I would offer a series of cautions about doing so. If your school has a 20th century lit curriculum for seniors, I commend the following cautions:
When we speak of justice, we may be speaking of several things. I offer a very limited discussion of just two kinds of justice:
Let us say that arbitrary justice is justice imposed by an outside agent. A teenage son breaks curfew by just a few minutes and his father says, “You are grounded for two weeks.” The father might have grounded his son for one week, or three weeks, or merely said, “Do not do it again.” There is nothing about the infraction which logically necessitates two weeks of grounding.
I recently sorted through a bunch of old thoughts. Here are a few I would like to pursue further.
September 27, 2015: Stories of time travel became popular around the time credit became easily accessible. Credit allows us to travel into the future for what we want most. Credit is money from the future.
September 25, 2015: If there is none born of woman greater than John the Baptist, and John said, "I must decrease that Christ may increase," then it's not really important to "be yourself."
How long do you need?
How long do you need to think?
How long do you need to think about unimportant things?
Do unimportant things only reveal themselves as important things if you look at them long enough?
How long can you ask someone to look at something before they get bored with it?
How long can you ask someone to look at something before they can really see it?
We have all made our resolutions and soon we will have broken our resolutions. We are all guilty of thinking that attaining virtue is as simple and quick as muttering a few righteous incantations over our own souls in the privacy of our heads. But if overcoming problems with drink, drugs, violence, lies, and sex were as simple as silently muttering, “I will not get drunk anymore,” we did not need to wait until the end of the year. Certainly we had a free half-second back in April in which to suddenly become holy and good. And so January becomes even bleaker than it otherwise need be.