“When am I ever going to use this?” This question has plagued educators for generations. Students constantly demand a justification for the utility of their studies. No subject is immune from this assault. Technocrats would rather replace Algebra II with Microsoft Excel. Grammar can be shortened or eliminated because we learn to speak before learning grammar. The fine arts are especially vulnerable to the “starving artist” trope; you can’t eat art. Yet a true education will resist this creeping pragmatism and reach for higher ends.
I am often plagued with nightmares. They are vivid, violent, and visceral.
The other night, I dreamed that I was in a public plaza full of people: Some were milling around, some were protesting, and some were rioting. It was chaotic and loud. I was trying to leave with a group of people, and something made me turn around and head back. When I did, a man with a gun came after me. I grabbed a chair and held it up between us, but he knocked me to the ground, put his gun to my neck, pulled the trigger, and then walked away.
“And when he came to the other side, to the country of the Gadarenes, two demon-possessed men met him, coming out of the tombs, so fierce that no one could pass that way. And behold, they cried out, “What have you to do with us, O Son of God?
Hamlet is a play that ponders, among other things, the human urge to direct. In the context of a play, a director has the power to lead and guide the actors to fulfill his vision. A play within the play, commissioned by the Danish Prince, is a central catalyst of the plot (“The play’s the thing/Wherein I’ll catch the conscience of the king”).
So far in this series we have explored what habit training is in part 1, and how it is done in part 2. In this final article, we will explore the why question. Perhaps you have read Simon Sinek’s Start with Why, and like me you are convinced of his thesis. Maybe this article should have gone first. I decided on this order (what, how, why) because before we could actually get to the why, we needed to clearly define what it is we’re talking about regarding habit training.
Freedom is gained only through discipline. Discipline is regular, continual effort to enact self-governance in some way. Discipline comes in many shapes and sizes, from budgeting to exercise to reading. In each of these examples, one applies oneself to self-govern in order to enjoy a future freedom. We budget in order to enjoy financial freedom. We exercise to be free from health problems. We read to be free from ignorance. Discipline, though, is not easy.
As classical Christian educators, we place a high value on cultivating such qualities as wisdom, virtue, and piety in the students God brings into our care. A question that has challenged educators down through the ages has been how to effectively train students in these qualities. Do we put on the hard press, systematically breaking down their wills so that we achieve the kind of conformity one would expect of a military drill camp? Seems a bit extreme and dehumanizing. Do we create elaborate schemes of rewards and punishments?
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.