The most important moment in a blogging career comes surprisingly close to the beginning. By the time a blogger has published a dozen articles, he will have already developed a decent sense for what people want to read. When he looks back over the first twelve articles, he will quickly be able to size up what made the popular ones popular and what made the unpopular ones easy for everyone to pass over. And then comes the temptation to only write what people want to hear.
Social media has given rise to a host of seasonal debates among American Christians. Is Christmas too commercialized? Was Christmas originally a pagan holiday? Is Easter still a pagan holiday? Should Christians celebrate Halloween? Should Protestants celebrate Lent? Of course, in any debate over such questions there is also a healthy contingent of people who prefer to not take a position, but to scold everyone engaged in the debate about manners and “more important issues.” For my money, the scolds are usually the most sanctimonious of all, but who am I kidding?
Every pianist has been told at some point that the secret to beautiful performance is staying relaxed. This does not mean working less hard. It means working only the muscles that are supposed to be working while eliminating tension everywhere else. Relaxation is an important piano technique because it makes an incredible difference in the sound the instrument produces. Much of a piano is made of wood, a living material, which responds to slight differences in touch. This is a beautiful metaphor for teaching and learning.
“How to help your students fall in love with classical education” is a common theme of the classical renewal’s spokesmen. “How to help them once they do” is a more rare, yet equally pressing, issue.
Parent: There’s a lot of changes at school this year.
Gibbs: What’s changed?
Parent: All of a sudden, several upper school classes are beginning the day with catechisms. The school has switched from offering Spanish to offering Greek. The report cards at this school used to be fairly straight forward, but I hear that’s changing this year.
Gibbs: I see.
Parent: Look, don’t take this the wrong way, but I have to ask: are you just experimenting on my kids? So much is in a state of flux.
I distrust the concept of originality. An artist, author, educator, theologian, or philosopher who strives to be original is apt to spend far more time thinking of themselves than their field of study or their audience. The motivation to be different, to stand out, to make a place at the table can become a powerful impulse that demands ever greater attention and self-preservation. Striving to be original by necessity ignores or rebels against the history and development of a field.
I have scruples against calling myself a Writer, capitalized, but I echo Augustine in “profess[ing] to be one of those who, by profiting, write, and by writing profit.” Never especially disciplined or consistent in my writing efforts, never attempting any grand projects, yet over the years I have accumulated piles of notebooks, loose papers, and flash drives full of words I felt compelled to write when met by beauty too strong to forget or thoughts too tangled to untie.
If you have not read Josh Gibbs’ article on classroom décor, do it. My teachers were blessed with training this week from one of our writing curriculum publishers and for us, the article could not have been timelier. Our trainer spoke of the necessity of hanging paper word lists on the walls for our students to create a “word rich” environment and object permanence. What to do? As a headmaster who never taught in grammar school, this can be difficult.
In the early 1900s the educational system in America was in the throes of transitioning to a “progressive” education. There were also a number of theological debates raging in the halls of seminaries, the pages of theological journals, and in the pulpits of the nation. The issues ranged from origins, to the nature of revelation, to the nature of Jesus and salvation. At the root of the debate was one singular question: “What relationship is there between faith and reason?”
With classes resuming next week across the country, it seemed a good time to revisit the most common delusions which beset American classical institutions. It seemed prudent to bypass those delusions which are commonly acknowledged (grades, grade levels) among classical educators in media outlets such as this and to move directly to second-tier delusions which often go unaddressed. As such, I offer the following five observations.