“I have been given a pile of bricks,” I jotted down this summer as I was reviewing the new state standards to which the curriculum needs to be aligned, “and instructed to cover up a window.” I sighed, and then wrote next to it: “I will have to turn the bricks onto their sides and make an arch out of them, so there is some hope of light coming through.”
The kind of mistakes you make in your first year of teaching are almost entirely unavoidable. Fate decrees that every rookie teacher must stick his foot in his mouth a dozen times, get accustomed to the taste of crow, and often remark to himself angrily, “Won’t do that again.” Such moments endear a man to his profession, though, because they show him that teaching is not merely the transfer of knowledge from one brain to another, but a ballet which requires academic, social, and psychological acumen.
“Say the truth no matter what,” advises Jordan Peterson in a podcast with Joe Rogan. That advice sounded patronizing to me, a teacher, a person whose vocation is to tell the truth. Had I ever stood in front of my students and refused to tell the truth? Had I ever deliberately tried to deceive them? I assumed Peterson was speaking to those shady political groups or prosperity preachers who spread fake news and false promises.
“You never know how much you really believe anything until its truth or falsehood becomes a matter of life and death to you. It is easy to say you believe a rope to be strong and sound as long as you are merely using it to cord a box. But suppose you had to hang by that rope over a precipice. Wouldn't you then first discover how much you really trusted it?” - C. S. Lewis
Parent: Given the profound importance of recent events, I wondered what changes you planned on making to your curriculum for the coming year.
Gibbs: That’s a question traditionalists have been asked for over two hundred years now. Ever since the French Revolution, there has been an endless succession of “profoundly important recent events” that are supposed to make people like me give up teaching old books.
Parent: That sounds a little sarcastic.
What is Latin? This probably seems like a useless question as most people of a certain language have heard of “Latin.” That said, when you tell people that you teach Latin you get all kinds of perplexed looks and then an assortment of odd questions which follow: “do you speak it?”; “are you fluent?”; “are you Catholic?”; and in some cases, “isn’t that a dead language?” Sometimes people might have a little more familiarity with the language and then they assume that you teach the language so that students can get a higher SAT score or be prepared for law school or medical school.
Parent: Now that my son is attending a classical school, is it fair to expect great things of him?
Gibbs: What do you mean by “great”?
Parent: I’m not asking if he’s going to become a senator or a CEO. I know classical educators conceive of greatness more broadly and deeply than that. But will my son climb Mount Everest? Will a classical education make him want to do such things? Will it make him want to write a novel? Is it fair to expect a classical education will make my son an interesting person?
Gibbs: Do you know some uninteresting people?
This week, CiRCE podcasts contemplated how God taught Adam in the garden, a new CiRCE publication, prayer and study, Ernest Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises, happiness and the modern man, Shakespeare’s play Coriolanus, technology in the classroom, and life and death during Queen Victoria's reign. Be sure to subscribe, rate, and review, wherever you like to listen to podcasts!
There’s a dark irony within our current educational institutions. It appears as if the very time in which we began to place a heavy emphasis on test scores and practical skills is exactly when our schools and students started heading downhill. Don’t misunderstand me. I do not mean to imply that there was once a “glory day” for schooling, as if everything was once perfect and has only recently begun to break down. Nor do I wish to claim that an emphasis on testing and practicality is somehow the only factor contributing to poor education.