“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.
“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?
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.
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.
You know those moments where you come across a really simple idea and it explains so much that you see it everywhere, when things that used to make you wonder now make you go, "et tu, aliquid!" (which is a goofy way of saying, "even you, whatever!") so then you become annoying to everybody around you because you can easily identify how this thing sorts everything else by its relation to this one thing?
I had one of those and it's making me kind of annoying I(n a new, particular way that is).
I want a classical education, desperately. Together, my wife and I have given one to our three children, all of whom have continued in it to one degree or another. They all have seemed to thrive in it, too. I did not get a classical education. I have, to some extent, recovered one over the years, although sometimes it feels more like I've gotten an education that is about classical education rather than one that is itself classical.
“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.
In a recent blog post, Joshua Gibbs suggests that “What the Coronavirus Means for Classical Schools” is nothing less than a test of their true worth. That test lies in schools' potential temporary transition to remote learning. If students can receive remotely everything which their teachers would have sought to give them in class, then, Mr. Gibbs suggests, the school may not be offering the education it ought to.