Classical education seeks to return to the old paths of wisdom and finds nourishment from those excellencies and virtues which our predecessors judged worthy of preserving. It is not concerned with the transient or ephemeral, but sends its roots into deeper soil. Thus, classical schools devote much time to the reading of old books as they cultivate a posture of respect and admiration towards the best of what has been thought or said.
If my 37th year had an album title, it would be “Variations on the Theme of Waiting.” And it would be full of surprising melodic turns, and soft resolutions. The returns on investments I didn’t mean to make have been humbling and bountiful.
I have not been particularly patient; I have mostly indulged in worry over these things. But God chose the timing of several aspects of our homeschool, and the fruit of his wisdom nudges me, not as a rebuke, but as an invitation to wonder at its beauty.
God is always right.
Here are some things he has been right about.
Survey a number of parents on the most important aspect of a school, and the majority will say “community.” Community is a fashionable word. Everyone talks about building community, being in community, or doing life together. Because man is a political animal, this is perfectly reasonable. Yet, like many trends, the word is often used without a sensible definition. Communities are founded upon something. There is a glue which binds them. Much like bricks without mortar, a people cannot cohere without something holding them together.
Frankly, I only listened to John Mays because I was painting a cabinet and had at least another coat ahead of me. The last day of access to the Greater Homeschool Convention recordings compelled me to listen as long as I held a paintbrush.
I wish I could say that this quote was true for me as I grew up but it was not. I grew up in a five bedroom house with a TV in each bedroom, and two TVs in the living room, one for entertainment and another for video games. As a child I was surrounded by screens and books were difficult to find. As a matter of fact the only books I recall in my house could be found in the upstairs hall cupboard. Yes, in the dusty dark hallway, behind the closed cupboard doors lay a pile of disorganized books.
In the beginning, Yahweh established the Day of Rest as part of the rhythm of life. It is sometimes difficult for us to properly rest in our culture; it is perhaps equally true to say that it is easier than ever to rest in our modern world. All in all, we are bad stewards of time. We do not understand either Work or Rest: work has become “hustle” and rest has become “binge”. Yet the men and women we admire did not waste their time; we waste our time using their inventions. We are lost, wandering through the worldwide wilderness.
At some point upon entering 9th grade, the mindset of the student changes. Previously, he may have considered grades a curiosity, but now they are a badge of pride or shame. The new obsession with grades is not entirely internal, as parents also look towards college and its guardians: SATs and scholarships. While parents and students may once have accepted that a classical education is meant to nourish the soul in wisdom and virtue, they now confess the real goal is higher test scores and better colleges.
During my first year as a teacher, I moved to a Manhattan neighborhood that was a subway ride away from all my friends. My neighbors and I never learned each other’s names during the two years I lived there. I waved at them from my patio and they waved back from their balcony, but only once or twice. I shared one wall with a stranger I never even met.
“Watch me. Now you try.” These five words are constantly repeated by parents to their children. But they are for people of every age. We are mimetic creatures who learn by imitation. Every good baseball coach teaches a batting stance by modeling one for the athlete. Preachers provide examples and illustrations so their congregants can apply theological truths. Parents read stories and fables to their children which provide models for emulation. Because we learn by imitation, teaching is inescapably mimetic.
I distinctly remember the realization as the camera shutters clicked. We had gathered to bury our grandfather, and now we posed for posterity. Suddenly I realized that with this funerary passage, something new had happened, something I had never experienced before. The oldest generation had vanished, and each succeeding generation, without being consulted, had simply moved up. Nobody asked if this would be alright with them. It just happened. This meant our parents--impossible!--would be the next to die. Plucked from the grandchild group, we cousins were the new parents.