“We cannot pursue a classical and Christian education as a fad. We are not purchasing intellectual hula hoops for the kids.” ~ Douglas Wilson
For many, the introduction to Trinity Classical School came in the context of an Information Meeting. I love Information Meetings. I love them because they give me a platform to speak about some of my greatest passions (Christ, worship, family, education, etc.) and to try to convert families in Houston towards a Christ-centered, classical vision of education.
Information Meetings are also quite dangerous. The reality is, classical education sells. When it is articulated well it typically scratches people where they are itching, whether they are grieving their own education or frustrated with what they are experiencing in a progressive school. While I am happy to scratch, I am nervous about the short sell. Many of us are the type who are easily excited by new and challenging ventures without fully considering the cost. Show me a documentary of a marathon runner and I’ll have my shoes laced up by time the credits roll, forgetting that I have a wife, a bunch of kids, a job, a church, and need to be willing to beat the sun out of bed. Or, if I’m struggling to get back into running, I may feel I just need a new pair of running shoes, as if the shoes will run for me.
“A classical and Christian education is not a package-deal. No one supplier or textbook publisher will provide you everything you need in a 50 pound box, delivered by UPS. Western culture weighs more than this…” (Callihan, Jones, Wilson; Classical Education and the Homeschool). I would also add that no one classical school, administration, or set of teachers, can supply this either. The danger, to be more explicit, is that we get sold on university-style, classical education as a great option for our children, but forget what it is asking of us as administrators, teachers, and most importantly… parents.
Of the many things classical education is asking of us, there are two that reign supreme: reading and teaching.
We cannot be involved in education without reading. For one, students learn much through imitation. If we want our children to read, which we do, it is crucial for them to see us read. This is true of the school staff, although harder to model, but even more important for parents. Teachers can allude to what they are reading at home or even converse openly (in older grades) about what is being read in leisure time. For parents, it’s simple: do your children ever see you read? Christian parents should know the value of being seen reading their Bibles. In other contexts this could be interpreted as pharisaical publicized spirituality. But we know that in the home, we want our children to “catch us” reading our Bibles so they are shaped by what we value. This is actually one reason I am not a huge fan of digital reading. You might by digging into 1 John on your iPad, but for all your kids know, you are emotionally involved in an intense game of Angry Birds. When we don’t read, we are in danger of being hypocritical with our children as we attempt to train them to value and enjoy reading in their education. A child’s love for reading will be shaped much more from a parent’s model than a teacher’s.
Also, as we try to consistently drill in, the quality of books read is most important. Modeling Bible-reading is essential, but then to spend the rest of your leisure reading People Magazine would be counterproductive. Nor is the idea to read Moby Dick as a good model reader, all the while despising what you are reading. As adults we should value spending time in literature that is rich, thought provoking, creativity stimulating, theologically challenging, historically informative, intelligently humorous, etc. If you did not read the Great Books in your own education, and you want to be involved in a classical and university-style school, you will want to get a head start if you have any intentions of conversing with your student in the classics, let alone teaching them. You must be a reader to be a teacher.
As we move into the second semester of this school year, it is a good time to remember that co-teachers (parents) need to pursue professional development just as teachers do. Just because the school teacher is taking the lead in curriculum does not mean the co-teacher should abdicate all of the “real” teaching to the teacher. Teaching is hard work and requires preparation to be done well. Novels should be read prior to teaching them and then reread along with the student. Lessons should be studied ahead of time and taught in a planned manner to students. Even if a student is progressing well and increasing in ability to complete lessons alone, the co-teacher should still be involved 80% of the time, teaching and correcting as the student works.
In the early grammar years it is fairly simple to “wing it”. In the upper grammar years it is tempting to allow your student to complete their work without much of your help so you can tend to other things. But students will tend to not take it seriously if you do not. They will also begin to pick up on the fact that you do not feel like working, so neither do they. We all remember having hypocritical teachers who asked much of us but put little effort in themselves. It is difficult to want to do good work for these teachers. Conversely, we were motivated to work for teachers who were by our side until we grasped concepts or who we could tell read our papers thoroughly and provided substantial feedback.
This process requires time and effort, but ultimately, it is far more enjoyable and incredibly more fruitful. You will enjoy home days that are planned and that you have prepared for. Your children will enjoy them too. On a practical note, go back and carefully read the introductions to all of your curricula and also the resources we have put out as a school. These documents will serve as philosophical refreshers. You may be surprised to find things you are neglecting that you didn’t realize.
Typically, one of two things can happen at the mid-year point. Things that you have been negligent of will slip further and further away. Or you will gain some resolve to conduct more dynamic homeschool days through reading, studying, preparing, and taking your students deeper into their academic disciplines. I would encourage you toward the latter.
I do not say this to scare you, but within the university-style school, your student’s academic “success” is largely contingent upon you. You are at TCS because you have felt the conviction to educate your children and I pray that your passion and energy for this will be renewed. If you are tempted to roll your eyes at this as you consider it in light of multiple children, housework, and the grueling homeday trenches… consider unrolling your eyes, commit to re-evaluating your home days, and start with some simple changes in your teaching commitments. All of us can aim a little higher.
For more stimulation in this area, consider starting with two short reads: The Seven Laws of Teaching, by John Milton Gregory, and Classical Education and the Homeschool, by Wes Callihan, Douglas Jones, and Douglas Wilson.