The last day of the 2017-2018 school year was a poignant one for me, to say the least. Most last days are, of course, but this one found me on the verge of a cross-country move which would all but guarantee that I would never see some of my fifth-graders again. We had come through a long, often hard year that I would neither then nor now trade for love or money. We were a tight bunch, frankly, and we loved one another in ways that only divine goodness could explain.
In June, Joshua Gibbs offered a critique of the typical classical school senior thesis program and proposed an alternative. It seems likely that his primary goal was not to advocate for the demise of senior thesis programs but rather to extol the value of the study and creation of proverbs, a proposition with which I have no quarrel. To the extent that he is seriously proposing proverbs replace senior theses, however, his article requires a response.
I will confess that I am not a fan of speedreading strategies, though I have some experience practicing them. In eighth grade, I decided to take a class on speedreading at the classical school I attended. Here are the main points I remember from the class:
Our middle school students are memorizing Poe’s “The Raven,” one of the most well-known American poems, wherein the author grieves over his lost love, Lenore. I shared with my students an interesting facet of the poem: Poe’s refusal and dismissal of the supernatural. As Poe grieves for Lenore, he receives a visit from the spirit world in the form of a raven. Before acknowledging the raven’s identity, the poet reasons through a series of denials.
Throughout Western history, the ancient Greeks have been praised for their intellectual, artistic, and political achievements. But compliment the Greeks today, and you’ll likely hear one of the following objections: “But the Greeks owned slaves who did all their work for them while they philosophized and sculpted marble.” Or, “But there are plenty of ancient cultures just as amazing—Chinese, African, Meso-American—if Westerners would only stop being partial to their own culture.”
If you asked Edgar Allan Poe this question, he would give you a definitive “no.” Remember that classic daguerreotype of Poe? The one where he looks like he just spent the night harassed by a legion of bed bugs? Picture that humorless face, and then read this:
“The world is in a great dream and but few are awake in it.”
There’s a picture of Pitcairn Island stuck to the side of my refrigerator. It’s actually a postcard sent to my youngest son by one of his buddies who had the thrill of cruising with his family to that historic place. Pitcairn Island became the famous refuge of mutineer Fletcher Christian some time in the late 1700s, along with several other dissenting crew members of the HMS Bounty.