Recently our entire high school of 125 students and a handful of teachers saw Thornton Wilder's play Our Town at a local university, free I might add. For a play written in 1938, it was indeed a snapshot of its time, approaching mid-century America post World War I and the Great Depression. After the country had seen so much loss of life (and quality of life), it was no wonder that a certain hopelessness invaded the story. In essence, Wilder simplistically depicted the passing of time in the place and people of Grover's Corner, Americana. Yes, Americana.
As summer days speed by, and a new year’s round of classes draws nearer, teachers have the leisure—so often pressed out amidst the demands of the school year!—to think more broadly and deeply about the content, method, and objectives of their courses and teaching practices.
Last June I enjoyed the great delight of attending my first Society for Classical Learning Conference, which was held in Dallas, Texas. There were a number of excellent plenaries and presentations, some of which have continued to spark conversation. I also had the privilege of speaking on formal rhetoric curriculum. In hindsight I tried to pack far too much detail into the time, and as a result my presentation suffered from a lack of helpful, clarifying examples. (Thankfully there were fewer than ten folks in the room who had to suffer through the abstraction!)
Being 17 years old, one might think that I would not have much to say in favor of education. In fact, I am certain that many people who will read this article assume that I would prefer to spend my time bashing the school system from my social media outlets and blog. However, in writing this article I intend to do just the opposite.
It should be of urgent concern that the meaning of the English word “belief,” an indispensable lens for both the confession of faith and cultivation of wisdom, has profoundly evolved. In his work Faith and Belief, Wilfred Cantwell Smith outlines this dilemma:
Allow me to tell you The Fable of the Fearsome √2, a proud irrational number with an unsettlingly sinister story behind it.
Feel free to share this story with the little children whom you tuck in. Please note that this is, like any respectable fairytale, the stuff of legend. Furthermore, as is a storyteller’s prerogative, I’ve taken a few minor liberties—mostly with respect to vocabulary—in retelling the legend.
What follows is a loose paraphrase of a conversation I lately had with my daughters about some fine new horse toys they received as gifts. I believe that Marjorie Williams, who wrote The Velveteen Rabbit, and whose work I reference to my children, was both a metaphysician and a proverbialist. So far as her proverbs are concerned, a few notable counterexamples are allowable, but are not sufficient to debunk her wisdom.
Gibbs: I would like to talk to you about your new horse toys.
Your problem, said my priest, is that you do not know God. Several months ago, after I made confession, my priest delivered this diagnosis, which I found a shock and a relief. During the confession which I had just delivered, I admitted that my mind constantly wandered during the liturgy, that I did not pray as often as I should, that I did not regularly set before myself the life of Christ and the saints. I also confessed that God was little more than my foul-weather friend, a Thing I turned to in times of fear and sickness.
Classicism fits comfortably in the city, with its suggestions of the polis, arts, architecture, academia, and culture; and it fits comfortably in the country, with its evocations of quietude, contemplation, tradition, and permanence. But in the suburbs—the place, increasingly, that most of us call home—isn’t classicism rather an ill fit? Can it be taught, practiced, and lived out, with integrity, in the landscape of strip malls and subdivisions?
Around ten years ago, I spent a little time claiming to be a pacifist, and then one day I took a look at myself and said, “In what sense are you a pacifist? Be honest. You’re not a pacifist.” Aside from a few dozen comments I had made on social media, and a few arguments I could summarize, there was simply no evidence that I was a pacifist. At best, I simply no longer enjoyed violent movies as much as I had as a teenager.