As the beginning of another school year looms in front of us, and as I attempt to align enough ducks to guard against any irreparable meltdowns during the first several weeks of class, I find myself, yet again, thinking more about the broad teleological nature of this work rather than some of the specifics of my lesson plans. Surely the former informs the latter, but perhaps there is a degree to which I should shut down the armchair philosophizing long enough to tighten a few practical nuts and bolts.
I live in two very different worlds. On one hand, I am a father of four who supports and helps in the homeschooling of our children with a Christian and classical approach. On the other, I have spent my entire professional career in public education as a K-12 teacher and university professor. Perhaps because of this immersion into two very distinct settings, I have been able to bring them to bear on each other. I want to share in this short article one of the wonderful overlaps that few may have seriously looked at.
Right belief and right action are necessary aspects of growing in virtue. Intellect and knowledge alone cannot save. If knowledge does not reach to the level of the heart and action, we are left with smart people who are intelligent in their sinning and in their avoidance of consequences. The same is true with language—with the action and belief that is inherently present in words.
The great secret, as C.S. Lewis asserted years ago, is that God is a hedonist at heart. God tells us to say no to many things, but only that we may say yes to higher and better things! God instructs us to say no to avarice and prodigality in order that we may say yes to generosity; He commands that we say no to selfishness and self-centeredness so that we may say yes to love and community.
I vividly remember sitting in a dim school auditorium my junior year of high school, pencil positioned to take the PSAT when all test-takers were required to copy out a pledge promising that no cheating would take place. The requirement? The pledge had to be written in cursive. One by one, students’ hands went up as they asked, “How do you write in cursive?” “How do you make a capital ‘i’?” and “Are all the letters supposed to be connected?”
Where does literature fit in a well-ordered life?
That’s a question I try to get my students to ask on the last day of “Civilization and Literature,” a core humanities course I teach at Grove City College. A small percentage of these young men and women will never teach a literary text. The lion’s share never blink at the prospect of a PhD in English. (And thank heaven, since someone needs to keep the world running.) What part will the classics play in their lives five years from now, ten years from now, twenty?
One. The teacher of virtue and the stand-up comedian very nearly have the same job: both stand before a room full of people and tell stories and make observations which highlight the absurdities and idiosyncrasies of the human condition. The comedian gauges the audience by observing slight alterations in human faces. He must clock the mood of the audience, measure the volume of responses to certain stories and wager how far the audience is willing to go on dicier subjects, and determine if they are clued in to subtle cues which set up jokes later in the set.
Today we pursue episodic happiness with a tenacious, if not illogical, commitment. Yet despite our attachment to it, the modern notion of happiness is rather novel.
The following is adapted from a talk I gave at the Convocation service at Greyfriars Classical Academy in North Carolina.
A brief address to the student body on the subject of our daily prayer and hymn-singing, which the upper school performs first thing every morning.
How many of you have been to a wedding, a funeral, or a memorial service in the last several years?