In my fourteen years as a teacher, I have received dozens of Starbucks gift cards from students, and let me say that I have loved each and every one of them. I never tire of coffee, especially coffee I do not have to pay for. I adore handmade Christmas presents, as well, and I can usually give a good home to cookies, candy, chocolate, and pumpkin bread. Once, for Christmas, a student gave me a banana-sized beanbag full of rice which could be warmed in a microwave, then hung around one’s neck for comfort and relaxation. It was an absolute delight.
“There’s no magic in this series.”
Nothing focuses my anticipation and sustains my contemplation so well throughout the Advent season as do daily readings. In keeping with traditions set by my family when I was little, I find that beginning or ending each day with a time to ponder the mysteries of the Incarnation binds all the other festivities of parties, music, festal foods, and flashy colors together into meaningful jubilation, when otherwise they would fall apart in overwrought frenzy.
An obese man wants to lose weight. He hires a personal trainer and a nutritionist and informs them he wants to go from 300 pounds to 200. “I am willing to diet and exercise,” he tells them earnestly. The obese man purchases an expensive program with the personal trainer, whom he sees five days a week. The nutritionist advises the obese man on meal plans, and he begins eating grains for breakfast, a salad for lunch, and lean white meat and vegetables for dinner. He jogs a mile every morning, then works with his trainer at the gym for ninety minutes.
The medieval trivium has been central to the American classical education movement of the past three decades. For many of us it is our defining concept, our method against public school madness, even our child psychology. And so it may surprise us to discover that in a book subtitled An Introduction to the History of Classical Education, the trivium is not once mentioned. The title of this book may also surprise us: Vittorino da Feltre and Other Humanist Educators. Don’t worry, this isn’t the secular, atheistic humanism of our own day.
One does not typically find graffiti on beautiful buildings. Rather, vandals are far more apt to graffiti ugly buildings, and if a certain section of town has much graffiti, it is also probably full of buildings in which little care was given to appearance in the first place. The function of a cathedral is exactly the same as the function of a Best Buy: both keep the rain off, the wind out, and mark interiority off from nature. In this way, both the cathedral and the Best Buy have four walls, a roof, and doors which can be locked.
After a disastrous round of Take Your Daughter To Work Day, Michael Scott is giving the camera a run-down on how to manage children when he drops the following gem: “I don't get why parents are always complaining about how tough it is to raise kids. You joke around with them, you give them pizza, you give them candy, you let them live their lives. They're adults, for God's sake.” You can learn a lot about being a good teacher by watching The Office and doing the opposite of what Michael Scott does.
Have you ever seen football players fool around after losing a game—playing catch, running routes, general horseplay? Probably not. Such a thing is a sure sign they did not give everything they had during the game. It is a coach’s job to train his players through practice and virtue to leave everything on the field. The game is too important and demands such a level of respect that a player simply must give his best.
Everybody loves to learn. Nobody needs to be taught how to love learning.
Some people love sports and learn all the stats, names, and jersey numbers of the players. Some people love video games and learn all the special moves and cheat codes. Some people love getting high and memorize dosages, side effects, and chemical compounds. Some people love wisdom and memorize the proverbs of Solomon. The concern of the teacher is thus not whether his students love learning, but whether they love good things.
For as long as I remember, I have turned to words to bestow names, and through them meaning, on my experiences. Yet for the past five weeks, since the birth of our first child, this chain of significance seems reversed: in every day with our baby boy, new experiences uncover treasures of meaning in words I thought I had already mined.
One of these words forms the central metaphor of the brief and beautiful Psalm 131:
Lord, my heart is not haughty, nor mine eyes lofty: neither do I exercise myself in great matters, or in things too high for me.