I will be posting a series of video clips of an interview on classical education I helped facilitate with author and philosopher James K. A. Smith (Desiring the Kingdom, Imagining the Kingdom). The audio of this interview was posted over a year ago on this blog–now we can post the video too. Dr. Smith is compelling, personal and pithy…. so enjoy.
While at a convention this March, I talked with two homeschooling moms I have known for several years now–having seen them for successive years at this same convention in Ohio. A year or two ago, they attended one of my seminars on schole (Greek for contemplation, reflection, leisure), ironically the root for our word for school. They surprised me by announcing that they and some other moms and formed a reading and support group that they called “Schole Sisters.” I think I smiled, nodded my head and kept talking (we talking about something else), but inside I was leaping about. Here was a group of very busy homeschooling moms finding regular time to slow down, read and talk about the things that matter most. Not only are they trying to do provide for schole in their homeschools, but they they are setting aside time to provide it for themselves.
Is this possible in America today? Can we slow down and really think–about anything? When I see 20 and 30-something moms earnestly seeking, reading, conversing and then acting to recover classical education in their homes and lives my heart does leap with hope. I see their kids too every year…and they are cause for hope and happiness. These homeschooling conventions, for these reasons, leave me exhausted and exhilarated, and remind me that I need my own regular dose of schole.
Could there be a Schole Sisters group in your future? Here is the recipe: Gather three or more like-minded souls and commit to meet together every two weeks for two and half hours. Select a great book (a classic, a book attested to be excellent). Read before gathering. Take notes and prepare questions (write in the book!). Prepare good food and drink. Choose a beautiful setting that is quiet, with no distractions. Discuss, converse, talk. Laugh. Go slow. Repeat.
For more on the meaning of schole, see my article “Learning and Leisure: Developing A School of Schole” and read Joseph Pieper’s book, Leisure, The Basis of Culture.
I have started offering some “webinar” training using Google’s live broadcast service (Google Hangouts)–and so far the approach is working fairly well. Readers of this blog can access this training by following the link below to my Google Channel. Currently, I have two training sessions archived–one on how to teach the informal fallacies and another on how to teach Latin to students in grades 2-6. Here is the link to those training sessions (each about an hour long):
Yes, everyone can now broadcast via their own channel, giving CBS, ABC and NBC a real run for their money….
Sequestration–The Latin Word De Jour
For the last few months we have been hearing a good bit about the threat of a looming sequestration that both political parties formerly approved but presently fear. President Obama has just referred to sequestration as a meat cleaver, that no one should wield. What is this dreaded sequestration? And more importantly for readers of this blog—what is its Latin roots?
Let’s start with the Latin. The Latin word sequestrum means a deposit, and the word sequester (a noun) means either a depositary or the person (a trustee) who holds a deposit between two parties in dispute, until the dispute is settled. Finally there is a late Latin verb sequestare, which means to put in the hands of a trustee or into a depositary.
So that’s the Latin. Now we can see how our English words came about… Our word sequester is a verb, though it is spelled exactly like the Latin noun. Our English verb sequester has a few connotations:
- To “deposit” yourself or another to a place of peace and solitude. Monks, for example, lead a sequestered life.
- To simply withdraw or separate as in the sentence, He sequestered himself from the rest of the party and went downstairs to the basement alone.
- In legal matters, it can mean that we “withdraw” or “separate” someone’s property or money for a period of time, often until legal claims are satisfied.
In our current political and economic debate, we are using the words sequester and sequestration in sense 3, above. Congress previously passed a bill that specified that huge sums of money (that normally would be spent) would be sequestered (held in “deposit”or “cut”) and not be spent. ABC news describes it this way: “The dreaded “sequester” amounts to across-the-board budget cuts that will strike in March barring an agreement on deficit reduction.” This form of sequestration is practically speaking a spending freeze – a freeze that is binding until congress passes a budget. Once congress passes a budget, the legal issue will be satisfied and the sequestration (spending freeze) will be lifted—the sequestration will be sequestered.
My prediction: a budget will be passed (even if after a short period in which sequestration kicks in). Neither party wants sequestration, but both will play the issue to their best advantage during another stretch of political theater. While this lamentable, we do get to play with words and learn some Latin.
The world begins at a kitchen table. No matter what, we must eat to live. / The gifts of earth are brought and prepared, set on the table. So it has been since creation, and it will go on. /We chase chickens or dogs away from it. Babies teethe at the corners. They scrape their knees under it. /It is here that children are given instructions on what it means to be human. We make men at it, we make women.
–Joy Harjo, Perhaps the World Ends Here
Good educators know the importance of finding time to slow down and contemplate important truths in order to know them, and to some degree to possess them. Parents (and parent educators) also know that reflection and good conversation are critical to raising our kids well. The opportunity for good conversation should come to us daily–at the table. Is you table still the center of your home? I would love to hear how.
We rush in and we rush out. Running a household is quite a challenge, certainly as challenging as running a small business. The metaphor seems appropriate—in many ways our households resemble a business. We have budgets and inventory to manage, supplies to purchase and repairs to make. We are busy with our family business. But we all must stop to eat, and we eat at a table.
Ah, if it weren’t for our need for food, would we even slow down? But food will slow us down, even the aroma of a casserole in the oven or a steak on the grill will give us pause. The good smells, the chatter in the kitchen, the clink of plates and glasses placed on the table, they pull on each member of the family until we arrive together at one place, the table. We are hungry after all, we are human.
As the poem by Joy Harjo makes plain, we gather at the table not only to eat and live. We gather among gifts brought and prepared. At the table we acknowledge our daily need, met by the gift of our benevolent God, and we learn to thank him, faced squarely with the reality that he feeds us or we die. We learn to thank the graciousness and care of the cook who brings the food and those who set the table and who clean up. At the table we stop for a while and talk, listen, laugh and sometimes cry. Are we not civilized at the table? Isn’t it there that we learn to wait and share, to listen and pray? Are not problems solved there, our dreams for the future schemed and laid bare? Could we not say that the table is our first school of Christian discipleship? It is not there that our fathers read from the Scripture, there that we sing and pray, and there that we are instructed?
Some of us eat alone. There are practices, soccer games, rehearsals and music lessons. There are church meetings, book groups and Bible studies. Dinner is in the fridge, you can warm it up when you get home. The family should be able to eat together on Friday night, unless you have to work late again.
Jesus ordained a sacrament at a table, telling his church to eat and “do this in remembrance of me.” We meet Christ as a community at his table, when we celebrate the Lord’s Supper. Can we not remember him and each other at our own table and in a profound way make it also his? Dinner is waiting and no matter what we must eat to live.
Below is a small article I wrote when I served as a classical school headmaster… and following is an audio seminar I often give on this subject of loving what must be done. I hope it may be of some use to classical educators here and there. –CP
I am sure that most of you, like me, have fought hard to overcome a perpetual desire to relax and procrastinate when important tasks loomed. Those of you who have never battled with procrastination–well, your problems are obviously of another sort. In college, I recall several who transformed the practice of putting things off into art. Do you remember the guy in your dorm hall who wouldn’t begin his term paper till the night before it was due–and somehow still got an A? These types make it tempting for all of us.
The etymology of procrastination is worth examining: the word comes from the Latin pro ( forward, on behalf of) and cras (tomorrow). Therefore, at its root, the word means pro-tomorrow. Remember the maxim of the slacker: Why do today what you can put off until tomorrow? In contrast, we find encouragement of a different sort from the German poet Goethe: Cease endlessly striving for what you would like to do and learn to love what must be done.
I can sure do with a little more Goethe; and I am forced to reason that my children must need his advice, too. Many voices call for our attention–and not all of them bad. Sure, there are the typical scoundrels calling for us: hours of mindless TV programs, on-line surfing and chit-chat and other forms of “entertainment” that do little to exalt our minds or souls (no wonder Christopher Wren called TV “chewing gum” for the eyes). There are some good TV programs available too–some unusually good programs on the History Channel. We must admit, too, that amidst the ocean of drivel on the internet there are some exceptionally good sites and resources. Rejecting good things for what is best can be sorely difficult–should the family stay home tonight or take off for a church service or activity?
Finding a routine helps–for the routine answers the questions before they come up. Yes, we are going for a walk this afternoon–we always do. Yes, we will start homework after dinner–that is our routine. Crafting the routine, of course, is not necessarily easy. I know many of you have great, thoughtful, tested and re-tooled routines (could you send me a copy?). Some of you with younger children (or maybe only one young child) are probably still working on crafting your family rhythm and pattern. Establishing a routine that works well is an ongoing enterprise, that keeps answering the question of what must go, stay or be added.
Once we have created a workable routine, another challenges becomes clear. How do we maintain momentum, energy, stability and peace? At least part of the answer comes from Goethe: we should love those things we must do. Once our daily tasks become beloved tasks, the routine become less routine. This, I believe, is something we can pass on to our children, like an attitude, for Goethe is encouraging a mindset not an activity. If they see some measure of joy as we cook, clean, mow and repair, they are apt to find it easier to love (in a manner of speaking) clearing their plates, bathing and doing homework. Strange as it is, they usually grow up to be like us.
Education, after all, is largely a matter of routine. Nothing is mastered without regular visitation, review and study. And education never stops. If we can, we should cast the work our students do at CCA as a labor of love, a life-long love, and we should love what they do too. Education will have its high moments, its epiphanies, break-throughs and moments of joy–much like a marriage. But the larger tranquility of a good education comes from it regular labor of worksheets, translations and reading assignments, in the same way a good marriage grows on preparing a meal, raking the lawn and taking a walk.
Once we have created a routine and learned to love it, we can also find yet even further comfort in knowing that a regular part of our routine must be to break from it. We call these breaks of routine by various names, such as “dinner out,” “week-ends” and “vacations.” These can be holy days in their own right, those special routines that are special largely because they are not daily, and because they are a ritual of celebration. And we celebrate with the most poignant joy when our work is done (the hay is in the barn, the homework is all done–let’s go to dinner). Put another way, when we work well, we rest well.
Click the play button below to have a listen to the seminar.
In the past two years on the speaking circuit, I have given about six different talks on classical education. Of these six, one of them consistently hits a nerve–the talk entitled “The Lighter Side of Education: How to Relax, Enjoy and Laugh And Still Be A Parent Educator.” This talk always draws the biggest crowds and the strongest response, and I think it is because most of us pine for levity in our lives that are typically filled with American frenzy. I recently heard John O’Donahue (in an interview) say that stress is a distorted relationship with time, and no doubt most us struggle to get time right. In this talk I call forth Chesterton who says a man should take his mission but not himself seriously, and that angels can fly because they take themselves lightly. For what it is worth, I thought I would post this talk for my readers. Click the play button below for a listen.
Your feedback and ideas for improvement are welcomed–
A student taking the Classical Studies minor must take 21 credit hours of courses (from several departments) from the following offerings: Classical and Christian Education, Foundations of Cultural Anthropology, History and Appreciation of Art, Old Testament Literature and History, New Testament Literature and History, Historical and Philosophical Foundations of Education, Introduction to New Testament Greek (I and II), Readings in New Testament Greek (I and II), The Ancient World, Medieval Europe, The Rise of Christianity, Byzantium and Islam, Alexander the Great and the Hellenistic World, Elementary Latin (I and II), Intermediate Latin (I and II), Reading Latin, Classical Literature in Translation, Plato and Aristotle, Augustine and Aquinas, Classical Political Thought, Theories of Communication, Rhetorical Theory and Criticism. Ready to go back to college?
A student taking the Classical Christian Education minor will do all the work of the Classical Studies minor plus do a two credit internship at a classical Christian school. Students can do the internship during the month of January (J-term) or during the month of May. Already five GCC students are fanning out to CC schools this January for their internships.
This development should warm the hearts of classical school advocates. Another important college has recognized the growing importance (and size) of the classical Christian school renewal and is now helping prepare students to teach at classical Christian schools or homeschools. Naturally CC administrators and educators should take a close look at Grove City and these two new minors.
There is another reason this news warms my heart–that takes the form of a disclaimer: My oldest daughter is a junior English major at Grove City and by all accounts is receiving a superb education, and will likely become a teacher at CC school. I have also had the chance to meet and consult with some of the faculty leading these new minors–and have every reason to believe they will serve exceedingly well. Here is a link to Grove City College where you can explore and learn more about the college: Grove City College Website
Just last week I mentioned Joe Paterno in my blog post responding to Rush Limbaugh’s critique of “classical studies.” I mentioned Joe because he himself was classically-educated. There is a chapter in his autobiography entitled “Joe Knows Latin.” He even patterned his football team off the Spartan army: like the Spartans each players performs for the team, not himself; a touchdown is scored by the team, by the center as much as the quarterback. Note the jerseys and helmets–no names on the jerseys, no stars and stickers on the helmets. The Nittany Lions are Lions indeed, but Spartans too.
Most of us know of the Spartans famous stand at Thermopylae–how 300 Spartans led by king Leonidas held off the huge force of advancing Persians long enough to save the rest of Greek army that was able to retreat. Leonidas and the Spartans were all killed, dying glorious deaths. It appears now that Joe is making his last Spartan stand, though his enemies have not been invaders but but a traitor within the ranks–a traitor he was not willing to bring fully to justice. And so the king of the Spartans at Penn State is falling, but not so gloriously as we had hoped. On the spot where the Spartans died at Thermopylae there was erected a stone lion and an engraved stone that reads, “O stranger, go tell the Spartans that here we lie, having fulfilled their orders.” What do we now make of the stone lion on the campus of Penn State, and what epigraph will we write for Joe?
I must conclude with a personal irony. I live in central Pennsylvania; two of my brothers-in-law are Penn State graduates. I consult with a classical school in State College. But I have never been to a Penn State football game. This Wednesday, however, I was offered a ticket for the first time ever (my father-in-law was given two). Over lunch on Wednesday, we made plans to go see the Nebraska game–my father-in-law will be taking my son Noah to this historic game–his first college football game ever. The Spartans will be there, but not their king.