For the last several years, I have argued that most of the literature curriculum should be read aloud in class by the teacher. As the book is read aloud, the teacher should explain it, interpret it, preach it, question himself, and question his students. Nearly two decades in the classroom has taught me that the quality of student reading at home is generally very low. Students read in a hurry, they read in the car on the way to school while the radio plays, they read in thirty second bursts between sending and receiving texts.
Could there be a primary criterion used to best evaluate the educational vision, methods, and curricula for students? With so many choices currently available in such a variety of formats, how can we determine which we most want to embrace in our homes and in our schools? Surrounded as we are by a multitude of approaches, programs, and techniques – all clamoring for our time, attention, and purchasing power – we need to focus on one vital truth: People are the point.
“For I speak to you Gentiles; inasmuch as I am an apostle to the Gentiles, I magnify my ministry, if by any means I may provoke to jealousy those who are my flesh and save some of them. For if their being cast away is the reconciling of the world, what will their acceptance be but life from the dead?” Rom. 11:13-15, NKJV
One of classical education’s biggest draws in our current age of distraction is its unabashed focus on beauty. James Ranieri’s recent articles for Circe highlight a nuance in classical thinking. Yes, we teach kids how to think, but we also “teach kids what and how to love.” Philosophically, I find this call to molding my students’ affections among the most honorable vocations. Pedagogically, I struggle.
If anyone who comes [to join the monastery] shall have persevered in knocking for admission and after four or five days shall have been found patiently to bear all the injuries inflicted upon him… let entrance be granted him.
-from The Rule of St. St. Benedict
Parent: I am very interested in having my child attend this school.
St. Benedict: No, you’re not.
Parent: I’m sorry, what?
St. Benedict: You seem very kind, and we are all busy people, so I don’t want to waste your time. This school isn’t for you.
Nearly every modern edition of a classic text opens with a short biography of the author. Consequently, most literature teachers feel it is their duty to cover this biography with their class, or else to lecture through the life of the author, before beginning to read the text at hand. The importance of an author’s biography to an author’s work is so deeply assumed, most teachers have never had to explain it.
“Simon, son of John, do you love me?” With these words thrice spoken just days after Simon Peter had spoken words of betrayal and denial, Jesus asks the question that would become the guiding line throughout the rest of Peter’s life and ministry.
“Lord, you know that I love you,” Peter replies.
“If you love me, feed my lambs,” Jesus tells him.
“Do what you love, and you will never work a day in your life.” Enjoyment certainly makes the job easier. This is why many trades have work songs that can be sung by laborers as they work in the shop or field. Work invites levity and joy, and difficult labor does not prohibit cheerfulness. So, while education is difficult work, we should also encourage delight in studies. But what is important about this proverb is that the joy comes from the work itself, not from outside.
That broken fence in yonder row has needed mending for so long. But I am loath to close what has become a gate to does and fawns and other wild things who don’t know that the fence was built to keep them out and who take its brokenness as an invitation to invade this human world of manicured grass and strategic planting. They wonder, not overmuch, at these contrivances and are able to use only what has become useless—that broken fence, their access to a world that is theirs still, though they have no need of ownership.
A rather common scene in the life of a first-year humanities teacher involves the receipt of an extensive document—an instruction manual, really—which purports to be a nuanced description of “how to teach this class.”