As a great lover of conversation, I am also skeptical of its ultimate value. My love of conversation is not the romantic sort, nor is conversation my Beatrice. Andre Dubus once wrote, “I need and want to give the intimacy we achieve with words. But words are complex: at times too powerful or fragile or simply wrong… And words are sometimes autonomous little demons who like to form their own parade and march away, leaving us behind.” The fact that words can sometimes be “autonomous little demons” was one of the reasons I quit social media several years ago.
While the rising popularity of classical Christian education means the average family’s classical buy-in is far lower than it was twenty years ago, there are also a few classical schools that are doubling down on their classical convictions. “If stylus and paper were good enough for Plato, they’re good enough for us,” reads the technology policy at St. Francis Classical in Pensacola, Florida.
A Charlie Brown Christmas is not like other Christmas movies. For over half a century, A Charlie Brown Christmas has been playing a game of chicken and we tune in every year to watch it win again. When will CBS finally cave and remove Linus’s recitation of Luke 2? When will the story of Christ’s birth finally be replaced with some spineless pablum about equality, teamwork, and oblique references to fashionable politics? “Surely this will be the year they cut it,” we say, folding our arms as the spotlight falls on Linus.
Summer break always feels too long to me. Christmas break never feels long enough. The school year always resumes just a day or two after New Year’s, the bleakest holiday of the year, and my mood invariably follows this bleakness. Janus is an ironic god whose second face is entirely unnecessary, for he sees the same things in the past that he sees in the future.
I teach the same books over and over and over again.
Americans are an overpraised people. The excess of praise in the average American’s life begins quite young, for not only do we give medals for twelfth place in youth soccer leagues, there are also graduation ceremonies which conclude kindergarten and sixth grade (and eighth grade), three or four levels to the school honor roll, participation ribbons, non-participation ribbons, and the sort of good old-fashioned grade inflation which now ensures every last student in this country is well above average.
Ms. Morgan assigned her students a one-thousand-word essay on Frankenstein, due at the end of the semester. In her class of twelve, one student essay was quite brilliant, another essay a little less so, half a dozen were satisfactory, and four were poor. This was the typical spread, though. The four students who had written poor essays on Frankenstein had written poor essays on Jane Eyre and Oliver Twist, as well. Ms. Morgan spent around three hours of her evening grading the poor essays. Red ink covered each page. She circled misspelled words.
Suppose you wanted to become a professional chef and so you began investigating culinary schools you might attend. You find that culinary schools are like every other sort of school, which is to say they have marketing teams, logos, taglines, advertising campaigns, and so forth. The tagline of one school is, “Good taste can be learned.” Another is, “Food is culture,” and a third claims, “From our kitchens to the finest restaurants in the world.” Because none of these taglines is particularly striking, none really registers in your memory.
Sorting out the wretched confusion which now surrounds questions about sex and gender requires both intellectual work and theological work. However, it also requires physical work, and I can think of none better than teaching students to dance. When I refer to “dance,” I am referring to something quite old-fashioned: square dancing, English country dances, waltzes, reels, and so forth.
Reading and discussing a book is easy, putting a book aside is difficult. After a class has spent four weeks reading Frankenstein, Pride & Prejudice, A Farewell To Arms, or what have you, what do you do? How do you say “goodbye”? While I am sympathetic to classes which bid farewell to this or that book with a themed party, such parties aren’t exactly doable six or seven times a year.