Michelle Graves, 5th Grade Humanities
“How am I ever going to use this?” Older students may say things like this when struggling with an assignment in, say, Latin, math, or literature. The question can also come up when it’s time for athletic drills. At first we do our best to give sound reasons and encouragement. Last year in morning assembly, for example, Head of School, Neil Anderson, talked to the upper school students about doing hard things in school. He compared it to football players training by lifting weights. The movements of the body pumping iron are not the same as those needed to get the football over the goal line. But lifting weights makes you strong, and that strength can be applied strategically on the field.
Academic Dean, John Scholl, taking another tack, told students about how he disliked Latin in his boyhood. He had no idea then that he would eventually use these skills to read medieval manuscripts in Italy and even serve as a Latin teacher himself. “You don’t know right now,” he said, “what might someday be useful to you.” Even if students do have an idea of their life’s work, they don’t know what training will prepare them for that work. Would they really be willing to complete similarly hard studies right now if they were sure to prove useful? You can cite evidence showing the general benefits of reading classical literature, being bilingual, learning math, and doing reps. But often our students are not satisfied with these rationales. Students may actually be struggling with something deeper, a materialist error. One false assumption is that things exist just to be used by us. Another delusion is that our purpose is to succeed in classes, activities, and jobs.
Only the Gospel can answer the deeper longing hidden in our students’ complaints. Jesus succeeded perfectly for them. Jesus atoned perfectly for their failures. He is always ready to help in time of need. In His right hand are joys for evermore. When we approach our studies trusting in the Lord, the pressure is relieved. We are not working to justify ourselves but to savor the bounty of our Savior. He shows Himself everywhere in truth, beauty, and goodness. We pray for school days like this. But what can we say or do to help when our students are just not feeling it? In the middle of a crisis, not much. It is best to delay arguments until after school hours.
One of the luxuries of home schooling is that there is more time to pursue other studies when assigned work is finished. “Want to investigate possible careers, son, and the special studies they will entail? I’ll help you do that when your assignments are done.”
We can also help our students by catching them experiencing joy in all sorts of “useless” pursuits. Show them that they don’t really believe their own spurious arguments.
Of course students are sensitive to our hypocrisy. Do they see us delighting, or at least continuing, in challenging intellectual pursuits? We also need grace to live out the lifelong pursuit of wisdom we want for them.
Can you make time to savor a poem called “The Reader,” by Richard Wilbur? Read on, or listen to the poet himself at minute 2:10 here: http://www.kwls.org/audio/richard_wilbur_2003/)
She is going back, these days, to the great stories
That charmed her younger mind. A shaded light
Shines on the nape half-shadowed by her curls,
And a page turns now with a scuffing sound.
Onward they come again, the orphans reaching
For a first handhold in a stony world,
The young provincials who at last look down
On the city’s maze, and will descend into it,
The serious girl, once more, who would live nobly,
The sly one who aspires to marry so,
The young man bent on glory, and that other
Who seeks a burden. Knowing as she does
What will become of them in bloody field
Or Tuscan garden, it may be that at times
She sees their first and final selves at once,
As a god might to whom all time is now.
Or, having lived so much herself, perhaps
She meets them this time with a wiser eye,
Noting that Julien’s calculating head
Is from the first too severed from his heart.
But the true wonder of it is that she,
For all that she may know of consequences,
Still turns enchanted to the next bright page
Like some Natasha in the ballroom door—
Caught in the flow of things wherever bound,
The blind delight of being, ready still
To enter life on life and see them through.