A robust classical education demands the formation of courage. As such, we ought to attend more fully and intently to the development of courage in the classroom. Without courage, classical education is a shadow of its former self, desiring virtue but remaining unable to attain it. Of course, classical education aims for Good, but it also acknowledges that students will regularly experience the ugly reality of everyday life. They will come face-to-face with the monsters of a post-Eden world. Courage, therefore, is not only necessary or helpful but urgent.
Sorting out the wretched confusion which now surrounds questions about sex and gender requires both intellectual work and theological work. However, it also requires physical work, and I can think of none better than teaching students to dance. When I refer to “dance,” I am referring to something quite old-fashioned: square dancing, English country dances, waltzes, reels, and so forth.
“The basic purpose of a liberal arts education is to liberate the human being to exercise his or her potential to the fullest.” – Barbara M. White
Much of “education” has become the lengthy, dull shadow of the factory system. We want predictable, consistent results so we demand expensive, complex methods.
But I must ask: how can the logos be confined to method? Ought we to try?
Consider the following quotes from those who wondered the same:
Recently my husband and I purchased 35 acres of land. Most of the land is wooded, but around the woods paths cut into the landscape. I adore walking down these trails. Every time I visit I look to see what new wonders can be found. Are there fresh animal tracks today? Can I detect remnants of our neighbor, Mr. Bunny? I look for freshly ripened dewberries and observe the wildflowers cloaking the trails. Most of all, I bask in the growth of the plants: ostrich ferns, hydrangea bushes, fig-trees, and pear trees, to name a few.
Reading and discussing a book is easy, putting a book aside is difficult. After a class has spent four weeks reading Frankenstein, Pride & Prejudice, A Farewell To Arms, or what have you, what do you do? How do you say “goodbye”? While I am sympathetic to classes which bid farewell to this or that book with a themed party, such parties aren’t exactly doable six or seven times a year.
If you put a pull-up bar in the gym, students—more boys than girls—will line up to try it. Many of them will fail, and many will not be able to do very many or as many as the boy who did the most. Some may not even be able to reach the bar but will have to jump for it to have even a chance. Nevertheless, they will try – and try repeatedly.
In Norms and Nobility, Hicks notes Socrates' use of the term dialectic, “the form of the activity of thinking – the mind’s habit of challenging the thoughts and observations originating in itself or in other minds and of engaging in a desultory dialogue with itself until the issues are resolved.” This process of discovery lies at the heart of classical education. Unfortunately, all too often, we reduce dialectic to logical syllogisms (a component of dialectic, but not the whole) and teach children to compose syllogisms on paper, thinking we’ve taught them dialectic.
“But what about you?” he asked. “Who do you say I am?”
Essentially, Jesus is asking a question of definition. Define me, Peter. Who am I? The point wasn’t to have Peter regurgitate the right answer but for him to wrestle with the concept of who Jesus was in order to reach a definition on his own.
This is what Aristotle referred to as the common topic of definition.
For the last several years, I have argued that most of the literature curriculum should be read aloud in class by the teacher. As the book is read aloud, the teacher should explain it, interpret it, preach it, question himself, and question his students. Nearly two decades in the classroom has taught me that the quality of student reading at home is generally very low. Students read in a hurry, they read in the car on the way to school while the radio plays, they read in thirty second bursts between sending and receiving texts.