During our Christmas visit to my husband’s family and the home where he grew up, we spent an afternoon rummaging through closets and sheds, stirring up dust and memories. Amongst the stowed-away treasures were his first “guitar,” carved by his grandpa from a piece of wood; the leather baseball mitt he donned every Saturday through years of Little League games; a fleet of toy cars; and about a half-a-dozen largish boxes of fishing tackle.
“Do we have to do Latin?” Students gloomily contemplate its grammar charts, teachers of other subjects wonder what it’s doing in the curriculum, and homeschooling parents find it a constant thorn in their sides. Do we study Latin as a mental exercise, like math? To improve our English? To get a higher SAT score? Many of us aren’t sure, and we wish we could do something useful instead of studying a dead language.
Any debate about the merit of It’s A Wonderful Life is, by this point, largely superfluous. While there is no cinematic equivalent of Homer, if there were, it would be Capra’s 1946 Christmas classic. 72 years is a long time for a pop culture artifact to last. Consider for a moment that the best-selling book of 1946 was Frederic Wakeman’s The Hucksters, and that title has never been reprinted. First editions currently sell on Amazon for about a dollar.
A child has very few rights to demand of his mother and father, but a child does have the right of custom: it is fair that a child claim the same treatment today which he received yesterday, provided there are not extenuating circumstances. It is not right that a parent arbitrarily revoke this or that custom which has hitherto governed the home. If a child is accustomed to hearing a story before bed, his father cannot withhold a story for no good reason, or for specious reasons.
Shortly after I ventured into social media many years ago, I discovered this poem by Emily Dickinson:
I’m Nobody! Who are you?
Are you – Nobody – too?
Then there’s a pair of us!
Don’t tell! They’d advertise – you know!
How dreary – to be – Somebody!
How public – like a Frog –
To tell one’s name – the livelong June –
To an admiring Bog!
What is Homer’s Odyssey about?
As a little child, I unreservedly loved Christmas, but about the time I entered high school, I often found myself depressed around the end of the year. Christmas break means far more free time than usual, and Idaho winters were typically harsh and bleak, which meant I usually spent that free time indoors, where there was little to inhibit endless self-reflection.
Come senior year, students ought to be reading the best books in the curriculum. Having arrived at the height of their intellectual powers, at least so far as high school is concerned, students should be diving into the books which will do them the most good over the spiritually disorienting four years which follow. Senior year, they ought to be reading Homer and Virgil, Milton, Plato, Dante, Augustine. Let us admit that there are classics and there are classics.
Between Thanksgiving and Christmas, Americans speak more about tradition than they do at any other time of the year. A great volume of traditions are fixed to December 25th than any other day in the calendar, and these traditions range from highly personal to ecclesiastical. Traditional foods should be prepared, traditional colors worn, traditional hymns sung, traditional stories read.
Occasionally, academics need a good lampooning. Perhaps often.