It is a mark of education to abhor the cliché. The educated person, the cultured person, feels repulsed by the outworn attempts at expression that pervade kitschy art, radio hits, social exchanges, and campaign-trail patriotism. These all bear witness to George Orwell’s claim in “Politics and the English Language” that “Modern writing at its worst . . .
It has become the fashion—almost, even, the mark of humility—to begin any communication of strong emotion with the tag, Words cannot express. As in, words cannot express how grateful I am, how sorry I am, how excited I am; words cannot express my surprise, my delight, my anger; words cannot express how much I regret, or how much I forgive, or how much I love.
I have been learning, this month, to make sourdough bread. Perhaps you’ve eaten it. I doubt, though, you know what it takes to bake it; I, at least, did not.
December twenty-eighth is, in the liturgy of the church, the Feast of the Holy Innocents, the day of remembrance for the multitude of children—“all that were in Bethlehem, and in all the coasts thereof, from two years old and under”—who were slaughtered by King Herod as he sought to squelch the rumored threat of a newborn King.
The Book of Common Prayer offers a prayer for this day:
Three weeks of another year’s Advent are past; the one that’s left is just a few days long—Christmas Day itself peeks ‘round the corner. The three weeks behind me have already been framed and filled and formed by a dozen dear traditions, from sacred to silly; the few days ahead hold the most cherished, even holy, traditions of all.
From Thanksgiving through to Christmas, our tables boast their finest display of the year.
“As Grandmother’s biographer, I’d have to guess she was never really happy after, say, her thirty-seventh year, the last year when she lived an idyll in Boise Canyon.”
“But she lived a long time after that,” Ellen said.
“She lived to be ninety-one.”
“But she wasn’t happy.”
“She wasn’t unhappy, either. Do you have to be one or the other?”
Driving home from school one day, I passed a sight that smacked of Flannery O’Connor. In the drab parking lot of a storefront church was pitched a small white tent; within the tent sat a bearded man in a lawn chair; and beside the man was propped a sign that read “Need Prayer?” Save for this, the parking lot was empty, and the bearded man meditated in the calm shade of his tent and his solitude like a modern Jonah beneath his vine. I almost looked twice for a briefcase of Bibles or a rat-colored truck.
“If a human being were a machine . . . the work of the educator would be simply to adopt a good working system or set of systems. But the educator has to deal with a self-acting, self-developing being, and his business is to guide, and assist in, the production of the latent good in that being, the dissipation of the latent evil, the preparation of the child to take his place in the world at his best, with every capacity for good that is in him developed into a power.”
“How to help your students fall in love with classical education” is a common theme of the classical renewal’s spokesmen. “How to help them once they do” is a more rare, yet equally pressing, issue.