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.”
“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.