My daughter, Alison, has always been voraciously verbal. Once, as a tiny two-year-old, she curled up next to me on the couch, insisting that I read my book aloud. When I obliged with lines from Virgil’s Aeneid, expecting her to sate her curiosity and wander away, she stayed. For about twenty minutes, we were two souls, spellbound—she by the poetry and I by her childlike allegiance to it.
PARENT: I would like my son to begin studying a foreign language. I am considering Latin or ancient Greek, but I am leaning more towards a modern language. I know you are studying and teaching ancient Greek; what are your thoughts?
TEACHER: That’s great that you are considering ancient Greek and Latin! Why are you leaning towards a modern language?
I once asked my godfather what poem I should memorise, and he told me, “Choose carefully because it will change the landscape of your soul.”
"By gazing on and contemplating things in a regular arrangement and always in the same condition, that neither do nor suffer injustice among themselves, all disposed in order in accord with reason, they imitate these things and take on their likeness as much as possible. Or do you imagine there’s another way for anyone not to imitate whatever he dwells with and admires” (Republic, Book VI, 500c)?
We become what we behold, it is said. Which is, of course, a wittier and and more quotable way of saying what Socrates said above.
I judged Prospero once. However, this morning when I savagely arose from my bed, hunched from achy sleep, my Caliban shell offered a new knowledge. I am Prospero. Even worse, I am Prospero in a Caliban body (as I struggled to straighten myself). In the style of my teen pupils, I offered my spring apprentice essay on The Tempest to my mentor, harshly judging Prospero and his decision to use magic to manipulate people and his surroundings.
In part one of this series we looked at relationship as a prerequisite to assessment. In his book Norms and Nobility, David Hicks says “Knowledge – the activity of learning – gives teacher and student a common ground for friendship – while accentuating their unequal status.” This friendship, whether between parent and child, teacher and student, or mentor and apprentice, can offer a rich environment for the cultivation of knowledge and skills, and ultimately wisdom and virtue.
Part 2: Response - The Expectations During Assessment
I am sometimes asked by my extended family members or friends, “so why are you doing this?” referring to the Apprenticeship program through the Circe Institute. As I approach my graduation from the three-year program, I thought I’d put down why I did join the Apprenticeship program, what I have gained from it.
When I first began teaching other people’s children, the thought of assessing their work filled me with no small amount of dread. Even back then, when it was simply known as “grading”, I became anxious at the thought of telling others that their work had, or had not, met the standard. Why oh why hadn’t I decided to teach math? You either get it right or you don’t. Yes or no. Correct or incorrect. Vainly I searched for encouragement from other Language Arts teachers. The advice ranged from the humorous (“Throw the papers on the stairs.
Reverend Dr. Frank Prescott, founder and recently retired rector of the venerable all-boys school Justin Martyr, has been taking a walk with his young protege, the convalescent Brian Aspinwall. They were walking along the river, near the home of Dr. Prescott’s daughter, where, at Dr. Prescott’s insistence, Brian is residing while he returns to health. Dr. Prescott is not merely presiding over a younger man’s recovery from pneumonia; he is successfully speaking new life into Brian’s troubled soul and weakened faith.
I want a classical education, desperately. Together, my wife and I have given one to our three children, all of whom have continued in it to one degree or another. They all have seemed to thrive in it, too. I did not get a classical education. I have, to some extent, recovered one over the years, although sometimes it feels more like I've gotten an education that is about classical education rather than one that is itself classical.