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.
As we listened to Genesis 1 on an audio Bible last week while piecing together a puzzle, my son remarked, “It’s saying the same thing over and over.” He was referring, of course, to the repeated line at the end of each day of creation, “And there was evening, and there was morning…”
“Well,” I responded, “That’s the refrain. The creation account is like poetry. There is order and rhythm to it.”
One of humanity’s most endearing qualities is our ability to discover things, driven by an almost insatiable curiosity that seems to manifest itself early in our lives. We have a desire to explore and learn about the world in which we live. This curiosity has sent us to the moon, to the top of Mount Everest, and to the depths of the ocean. Through technology, we have gazed into the far reaches of the universe and taken pictures of the inexpressible beauty found there.
As our foray into virtual teaching begins to lose its novelty, I’d like to offer some practical tips and tricks for maintaining a cohesive classroom environment online. I’ve previously written on some of the pertinent philosophies behind virtual teaching, defending it as a fit environment for nurturing learners.
Consider Asynchronous Learning
Medieval authors consistently amaze with their apparent ability to remember everything. How did Boethius compose The Consolation of Philosophy from a prison cell? He fills his work with classical allusions and direct quotations all without his library, Wikipedia, or the internet. Boethius, while brilliant, is by no means an exception. Dante could reportedly recite the entire Aeneid. Yet medievals also had various helps for their memory; one of their greatest was the commonplace book.
This morning an article was posted on the website, Axios, pointing out that CEO's from across the nation are meeting with the White House and "in private conversations and pleas to President Trump, are warning of economic catastrophe if American doesn't begin planning for a phased return to work as soon as May."
One line in particular drove home the dilemma of the article to me:
"Several are debating going public with this concern, but fear the optics and timing look discordant."
Like it or not, a kind of Lent has greeted everyone this season, albeit in the forms of forced social-distancing and the compulsory self-denial of certain goods or activities. (Blessed are they who have trampolines?) For Christians who don’t observe the historic church practice, consider it a forced Lent. For those who do observe Lent, the recent weeks of sheltering at home serve only to extend or intensify the great fast.