Our scene is a high school acting class in late November. Twenty-nine students sit at their desks, all watching a thirtieth who walks up to the front of the room to rehearse a monologue. She is to recite a two-minute passage from Wuthering Heights. The part has been well researched: the actress has a good grasp on the plot of the book and the monologue’s place within the story. She understands the action of the scene and she sympathizes with her character emotionally. Everyone in the room is excited, as the actress has some talent and has been fun to watch in previous scenes.
Around thirty years ago, a movement began to restore classical education in American elementary schools and high schools. The first stage of the restoration of classical education was the recovery of classical texts. Around fifteen years ago, the second stage undertook the recovery of classical pedagogy. Today, I believe a third stage is underway. We have begun the recovery of classical assessment, grading, and class management.
Amongst the greatest gifts a classical school can bestow upon its students is the opportunity to become skilled in the use of words.
It’s May, and the world is finally awake. The campus of EDUCRAT STATE hums like a hive. Outside the dormitory, the day is all daffodils and spring zephyrs, but inside 303 WEST HALL a storm-cloud of academic fear brews. Dreading an impending final in literature, sophomore Joe Schmo peruses a SparkNotes article on Herman Melville’s classic whaling adventure. Travelling through time to rescue Joe from this perilous, ethical fog, Socrates materializes on the couch—quite unexpectedly.
SOCRATES: Hey, Joe. What are you up to?
A poem by Joshua Gibbs
Betrayal revealed terminal illness soberly
diagnosed infidelities illuminated
accidentally pious superstitions doubted
for a lifetime then confirmed
suddenly in blood
on the doorstep
such horrors never fail to draw
this lament from our lips:
I should have known
But this is not the judgment
of the soul
for the soul responds:
but you did know
The deepest wisdom of humanity apart from Christ is tragedy, both as a concept as well as realized in art. Oswald Chambers, while contemplating the book of Job, understood this and oft repeated it throughout his theological writings:
As a literature teacher, parents often tell me, "I want my son to become a better writer over the course of the year." While it is not inappropriate to tell the literature teacher this, a literature class is not a writing class. It is the responsibility of every teacher of every subject (from rhetoric to English to biology) to discipline students in the art of writing.
Standing in the dry heat of a desert, surrounded by dun-colored mountains, desperately wishing that I could communicate with the children we were serving was the moment I first seriously considered learning Spanish. I was on a mission trip to Mexico. Not knowing Spanish as challenging as we served alongside long-term missionaries to an indigenous people group. After the trip, I began studying but quickly gave up.
I recently went to the grocery store and parked beside a car which was more full of garbage than any other car I have ever seen. Fast food bags, busted electronic gear, appliances, wadded up clothes, and empty bottles filled the passenger’s seat and the back seat nearly to the roof. Walking behind the car, the bumper was plastered with half a dozen stickers declaring sympathy for a predictably grouped set of political and social causes. For my present purposes, whether or not these political causes veered Right or Left does not much matter.
Rain poured from the densely clouded sky for what seemed like the fortieth straight day. It had already been the rainiest season in recorded history and there appeared to be little break in sight. The clouds darkened everything, making it feel much earlier than it was.
I rose, mumbling my complaints at the weather, and dressed to exercise in hopes it would make me feel a bit better. The kids were just stirring, following my bad example of griping at rain, while my wife tried her best to motivate them to complete chores.