When I am offered a hand to shake, I shake it. Granted, only a few close friends still present their hands for shaking, but I wouldn’t turn down the hand of a stranger, either. I didn’t know how much I liked handshakes until people began offering me their elbows back in March— which I found odd at first, but now find genuinely dispiriting. I say this not to shame anyone who has offered me an elbow in the last six months, because a number of kind and generous people have good-naturedly presented me an elbow to bump since the pandemic began. They meant well, I know.
I ran across a quote recently that has been widely—and falsely—attributed to Theodore Roosevelt: “Do what you can, with what you’ve got, where you are.” The quote was actually referenced by Roosevelt in his autobiography, but the person he quotes is one Squire Bill Widener, a community servant who lived a rather obscure, but nonetheless valuable, life. This quote has been precisely what I needed to hear as school has begun.
Is teaching an art or a science? Such a question seeks to determine if there is a repeatable method to be followed in teaching—a formula to be applied—or if teaching is a matter of intuition, judgment, and inspiration. If a science governed by rigid rules, then anyone could be a teacher so long as he could learn and apply the technique. If an art, then every teacher must dedicate himself to his subject, audience, and craft in order to cultivate mastery. Teaching is a challenging profession requiring long study and practice.
This week, CiRCE podcasts contemplated Marilynne Robinson's novel, Home, a proverb from Dante, Act I of The Merchant of Venice, the active life and the contemplative life, ways of adapting to the various needs of individual students, and a new CiRCE publication. Be sure to subscribe, rate, and review, wherever you like to listen to podcasts!
In his work Till We Have Faces, C. S. Lewis reminds us that we are untrue beings veiled even from our own sight by all manner of things. The reason Orual is incapable of hearing from the gods is because she is not speaking truthfully; the reason she cannot see the gods is because she does not yet have a true face. Orual realizes this and lets her audience in on this revelation: “I saw well why the gods do not speak to us openly, nor let us answer. Till that word can be dug out of us, why should they hear the babble that we think we mean?
As the father of a fourth grader and a sixth grader, I have learned to take the reports my children offer about school with a grain of salt. Occasionally, my children lie. At other times, they embellish and exaggerate. They do a slapdash job paraphrasing the words of others. They add details and nuances they wish were true. Their summaries often leave out significant facts.
"By gazing on and contemplating things in a regular arrangement and always in the same condition, that neither do nor suffer injustice among themselves, all disposed in order in accord with reason, they imitate these things and take on their likeness as much as possible. Or do you imagine there’s another way for anyone not to imitate whatever he dwells with and admires” (Republic, Book VI, 500c)?
We become what we behold, it is said. Which is, of course, a wittier and and more quotable way of saying what Socrates said above.
Parent: How was school?
Student: Fine. How was your day?
Parent: Fine. What happened at school?
Student: Subjects, lunch. Same stuff that happens every day.
Parent: You always give rather vague answers when I ask about school.
Student: That’s because the questions you ask are rather vague.
Parent: I asked what happened at school. How is that vague?
Student: I answered, didn’t I? Subjects, lunch.
Parent: A two-word answer?
Student: For a four-word question.
This week, CiRCE podcasts contemplated Ernest Hemingway's The Sun Also Rises, hunger for knowledge, Act I of The Merchant of Venice, the active life and the contemplative life, ways to adapt a truly classical education to a modern system, and a new CiRCE publication. Be sure to subscribe, rate, and review, wherever you like to listen to podcasts!
As a classical educator, I frequently observe the necessity of logic in the life of the student. Despite this truth, my students still bemoan both its practice and study, especially in the early days of the school year. Yet, nothing is more essential than “studying the tools” of classical education. To put it another way, there is nothing so needed in our classroom, than “learning to breathe, classically.”