“Because I could not stop for death, he kindly stopped for me.” These words are perhaps so familiar to us that we might miss the offense it bears against the meaning of Easter.
Boys are not quite right.
“Normal” boys do inexplicable things – from swinging on vines over dry, rocky creek beds to sword-fighting with trees. When he was only 4, my nephew would crouch into a three-point stance, say “hut-hut” and charge into furniture and walls while pretending to play football. My son, Ian, and his friend, Jaxson, make a game of running into one another to see which one falls; each round punctuated by thunderous laughter. Only on occasion do we waste our breath with a call to “be careful, boys!” or “watch that table!”
Throughout this last year, I have enjoyed reading a variety of beautiful stories on the Daily Gathering; we read and discussed the story of a rabbit who desired to be real, a Mermaid who sought an immortal soul, and a cowboy who lassoed a tornado. These, and many other stories, have brought the participants into a world of fairies and giants, witches and kings, and wonder and joy; they have taught the students how to attend through imagination, narration, discussion, and comparison.
Pedagogues from Isocrates in Antiquity through Isidore in the Middle Ages believed that arts must be learned by theory, imitation, and practice. By theory students learn knowledge of the art: its nature, its purpose, and its means for advancement. By imitation students emulate the finest producers and products of the art. By practice students compose their own products of the art. The order of theory, imitation, and practice varies.
For the time being, it seems there will always be a dozen classical schools on the cusp of opening in this country. The group of people intent on founding a school have innumerable tasks before them. They must find a place for the school to meet, determine the curriculum, draft a mission statement, design a logo—not to mention all the legal concerns, banking concerns, and so forth. All these issues are vital because they ensure the stability of the school. Nonetheless, whether a school can deliver a classical education to students ultimately depends on its teachers.
“Of all the animals, the boy is the most unmanageable.” - Plato
For the third time that day, William slowly walked down the long stone hallway, past the statue of Michael the archangel, to the principal’s office. After two bouts of “horseplay” ended with a good talking to and one paddling, he dared to pull Emily’s pigtails. Now, as we all knew, the funeral dirge had begun. His father would be called and William would soon wish for the comparative gentleness of the principal’s paddle. Even Mrs. Walters, our fifth grade teacher, and little Emily seemed to empathize.
An esteemed coworker of mine, whose teaching career has spanned multiple classical schools, recently remarked that no school she had been a part of was able to successfully implement an upper school dress code. This statement is not shocking when you take into account constantly changing fashion trends that often push the boundaries of a dress code, systemizing the reporting of dress code violations, re-evaluating punishments for different violations, and navigating parent complaints about said punishments.
We do not need an innovation to solve the complex problems of modern society. We simply need to, like the Prodigal Son, turn around and head home. In fact, as I have written previously, we need “a return to permanence, a fixedness on objective reality, and the formation of citizens who seek to conform their souls to that objective reality.” The Fall of Man was an innovation. The Fall was a new way, “to be like God, knowing good and evil.” The Fall was a rejection of the old way, an obedience to the hierarchy of essences in objectivity: man as image bearer reflecting God, not being God.
The Dangerous Weapon of Illiteracy
Reading is risky business. Throughout history, oppressors have wielded the weapon of illiteracy against those they sought to silence. Yet, like rays of sun breaking through dark thunderclouds, rogue freedom-seekers found ways to teach themselves to read, a skill that would change not only a few single lives, but the entire course of history.
In his memoir, African American Frederick Douglass recalls the end of his brief childhood lessons in reading:
I lay on my back, staring at the sky with my feet above me on the hill. My bike flew overhead - that much I knew - but where it landed was a mystery. The ditch crept up on me, as tends to happen on unfamiliar roads, while I was trying my best to keep up with my friend Michael. He knew the curve like the back of his hand, but I approached it way too fast and hit the embankment, flipped over my handlebars, and landed with a considerable thud.