It is about that time. It generally only takes a few weeks at the start of the school year for disillusionment to set in: midterms are distributed, first papers are submitted, detentions are scheduled, parent meetings are called, budget lines are sinking, and the weaknesses of our summer planning are exposed. The flaws of our students, their parents, our colleagues, and our administration are no longer hidden by the banners, the shiny notebooks, the new white-soled shoes, and the smiling faces of back to school. Now the real task begins.
The first quarter is over. Report cards are out, and parent-teacher conferences are over. My students and I have memorized two poems and are working on another; we have memorized a psalm, an Irish folk song, several annoying grammar songs that never cease to be at the forefront of my mind; we finished Little House in the Big Woods and began The Trumpet of the Swan (this class is full of good readers); and we have completed many math lessons, history chapters, spelling tests, Bible stories, grammar pages, and handwriting.
In the preface to his translation of Plato’s Republic, Allan Bloom defends literal translations against contemporary conventions, which attempt to update old authors like Plato to modern standards. Bloom’s insights portray the kind of humility, deference, and intellectual curiosity indicative of the classical mind—the qualities classical teachers desire to embody before and impress upon their students.
In That Hideous Strength, the final book in Lewis’ Space Trilogy, a recurring motif is the lure of the Inner Circle. As usual, Lewis has profound insights into the all the ways we compromise our character and slide ever so slowly into evil—hardly even realizing that we are doing it.
I’ve been thinking about this theme as I prepare to teach That Hideous Strength again. And today I ran across this passage in Lewis’ The Weight of Glory, where he spells out explicitly the idea he is trying to show us in his novel:
Our youngest son is just now beginning to communicate vocally. His older sister is forming sentences and learning new words every day, but we are just as pleased with the occasional grunt or squeal we get out of him. On one level, we are excited because this means that he is developing normally—something we never want to take for granted. But on an entirely different level, it also means that each day we are closer to hearing him describe his world in a way that we can understand. He is slowly learning to use his words.
I was having a conversation with my sister recently and the talk turned to female friendships. I asked her if she had found a community of friends yet in her new hometown; in particular I wondered if she had found some women with which to connect. She said that she had met some ladies, but I could tell by the tone of her voice that she wasn’t entirely enthused.
One of the hardest things about getting older is the decreasing time ahead of you to catch up on reading. Even reading one hundred books a year for the next twenty years is not going to do it. I feel about my To-Be-Read pile as my husband does about the salaries of major league baseball players. He would have to work for one hundred and fifty years or more to make what some of those guys make in one year. It is not a hopeful thought.
This summer, we lived in England for five weeks. My husband’s job requires travel, and we soaked it up. We set off on what we believed would be a merry idyll before school began.
Eager for a unique experience, we rented a narrowboat, which is a type of houseboat, roughly forty feet long and seven feet wide, equipped with tiny beds, kitchens, bathrooms and sitting rooms. They are like floating RVs, designed to navigate inland canals.
By definition a fairy tale has a happy ending. There is no such thing as a tragic fairy tale. If a tale ends in tragedy, it is not a fairy tale; it is a cautionary tale. And yet you may have read some “fairy tales” that don’t have happy endings. That’s because the author deliberately changed the fairy tale to a cautionary tale.
Fairy tales are literary versions of folk tales that have been around for centuries. Details change over time and across cultures, but the basic story line always remains the same—in particular, the happy ending remains consistent across every version.
Every August, as I compile lists and books for another year of homeschooling, I reflect on educational philosophies and regroup for a fresh attack on the field of academe. As I create my children’s class lists and create course syllabi, I am struck by the sheer volume of reading that I will oversee and wonder how in the world I will ever find the time to stay ahead of them, let alone master the material.