I have been learning, this month, to make sourdough bread. Perhaps you’ve eaten it. I doubt, though, you know what it takes to bake it; I, at least, did not.
Driving home from school one day, I passed a sight that smacked of Flannery O’Connor. In the drab parking lot of a storefront church was pitched a small white tent; within the tent sat a bearded man in a lawn chair; and beside the man was propped a sign that read “Need Prayer?” Save for this, the parking lot was empty, and the bearded man meditated in the calm shade of his tent and his solitude like a modern Jonah beneath his vine. I almost looked twice for a briefcase of Bibles or a rat-colored truck.
“If a human being were a machine . . . the work of the educator would be simply to adopt a good working system or set of systems. But the educator has to deal with a self-acting, self-developing being, and his business is to guide, and assist in, the production of the latent good in that being, the dissipation of the latent evil, the preparation of the child to take his place in the world at his best, with every capacity for good that is in him developed into a power.”
“How to help your students fall in love with classical education” is a common theme of the classical renewal’s spokesmen. “How to help them once they do” is a more rare, yet equally pressing, issue.
Amongst the greatest gifts a classical school can bestow upon its students is the opportunity to become skilled in the use of words.
As a student, I earned spending money by tutoring rather than babysitting. As a teacher, I ventured into high school rather than elementary classrooms. After church on Sundays, I join lively conversations with my congregation’s teenagers, but end tongue-tied after a few minutes’ talk with the toddlers. Though I’ve certainly never sought to avoid the company of young children, circumstance and inclination have generally put me in that of older ones instead.
The beginning of springtime, when the fleeting beauty of the outdoors sometimes overshadows the perpetual urgency of lessons, is a good time to be reading Charlotte Mason, who insisted that time spent outside is integral to the child's formation and education.
For classical educators striving to “integrate the disciplines,” music provides an invaluable instrument of integration. Music studies harmonize with every core discipline of the curriculum: the music of various periods vocalizes the movements of history, the formal structures of music correspond to the formal structures of poetry, the theory of music applies principles of mathematics, the physics of music makes audible the laws of science. Music even bridges education’s theoretical and technical divide, as it can be both contemplated with the mind and practiced with the hands.
“Good taste” is not, as most debates regarding the phrase assume, a term in the logical sense—a discreet idea signified by words. It will, for this reason, fare badly in argument; anyone who has tried for five minutes to defend the notion of “good taste” against the aesthetic relativist recalls the exasperating embarrassment of finding himself unable to define, let alone defend, the principle of which he nevertheless remains convinced.
My favorite nineteenth-century novel, George Eliot’s Middlemarch, spins its plot from this premise: What happens when a person of fervent ideals is born into a place and age that cannot support them?