Mythology and philosophy were the two pillars that established early society. Without them, the world would have remained an infinite wilderness of cracks and crags with darkness all around; mythology and philosophy brought light to an otherwise abysmal landscape, and it was good. Early humanity gathered round the fire to dispense their didactic tales about the stars and trees, antelopes and the sea, legendary men and women from unknown lands, fantastical gods and goddesses who warred in the sky and breached the threshold of the heavens to bestow gifts and punishments to mankind.
Many parents have offered rewards to their child in order to form a habit. If the child makes his bed every day for a month, he gets ice cream. The goal is that he will continue to make his bed even after devouring the prize. But how often does the child take the reward and then fall back into the same undisciplined lifestyle? He had no interest in forming a habit; he just wanted ice cream and would jump through any hoops to get it. Because the child only valued ice cream, the reward short-circuited genuine habit formation.
A tale of two teachers.
Vinegar. On the second day of class, Margot forgot her math book. Her teacher Miss Thomas realized this immediately and asked, “Margot, where is your book?” Margot said she had forgotten it. Miss Thomas said, “Well, try to remember it tomorrow,” and then told Margot’s partner to share with her.
What I learned from John Milton, master psychologist.
Student: It’s one in the morning. I’m never going to commit all these formulas to memory.
Satan: That’s true.
Student: I’m going to fail the geometry test tomorrow.
Satan: That’s not necessarily true.
Student: What do you mean?
Satan: Just enter the formulas into your watch. During the test, check your watch if you need to.
Student: But that would be cheating.
When I am offered a hand to shake, I shake it. Granted, only a few close friends still present their hands for shaking, but I wouldn’t turn down the hand of a stranger, either. I didn’t know how much I liked handshakes until people began offering me their elbows back in March— which I found odd at first, but now find genuinely dispiriting. I say this not to shame anyone who has offered me an elbow in the last six months, because a number of kind and generous people have good-naturedly presented me an elbow to bump since the pandemic began. They meant well, I know.
I ran across a quote recently that has been widely—and falsely—attributed to Theodore Roosevelt: “Do what you can, with what you’ve got, where you are.” The quote was actually referenced by Roosevelt in his autobiography, but the person he quotes is one Squire Bill Widener, a community servant who lived a rather obscure, but nonetheless valuable, life. This quote has been precisely what I needed to hear as school has begun.
Is teaching an art or a science? Such a question seeks to determine if there is a repeatable method to be followed in teaching—a formula to be applied—or if teaching is a matter of intuition, judgment, and inspiration. If a science governed by rigid rules, then anyone could be a teacher so long as he could learn and apply the technique. If an art, then every teacher must dedicate himself to his subject, audience, and craft in order to cultivate mastery. Teaching is a challenging profession requiring long study and practice.
This week, CiRCE podcasts contemplated Marilynne Robinson's novel, Home, a proverb from Dante, Act I of The Merchant of Venice, the active life and the contemplative life, ways of adapting to the various needs of individual students, and a new CiRCE publication. Be sure to subscribe, rate, and review, wherever you like to listen to podcasts!
In his work Till We Have Faces, C. S. Lewis reminds us that we are untrue beings veiled even from our own sight by all manner of things. The reason Orual is incapable of hearing from the gods is because she is not speaking truthfully; the reason she cannot see the gods is because she does not yet have a true face. Orual realizes this and lets her audience in on this revelation: “I saw well why the gods do not speak to us openly, nor let us answer. Till that word can be dug out of us, why should they hear the babble that we think we mean?
As the father of a fourth grader and a sixth grader, I have learned to take the reports my children offer about school with a grain of salt. Occasionally, my children lie. At other times, they embellish and exaggerate. They do a slapdash job paraphrasing the words of others. They add details and nuances they wish were true. Their summaries often leave out significant facts.