As people new to classical education consider buying in, they sometimes fear that if they put their children in a classical school, somehow those little souls will be weighed down under such a load of old books, old subjects, and old methods, that they too will become unnaturally old, withered, crusty souls, full of ancient history and Latin conjugations, but left without a drop of spirit, spunk, or spontaneity.
While this fear is common and understandable, it arises largely out of a mistaken assumption, which is that if you direct children to learn something they have no immediate interest in, they will be bored, and then, if forced to continue plodding through, they will eventually conform to the subject matter and become boring themselves.
Now this idea might be true if the subject is truly boring, i.e., a subject antithetical to goodness, truth, and beauty, e.g., pornography, drivel on TV, the obscene and hateful lyrics found in much “gangsta rap.” However, in schools that understand classical education and competently offer it to students, the result in students’ hearts is not an arid desert of banality, but rich soil fertile for joy.
When teachers direct students to attend and concentrate on good content, they will usually find it difficult before they find it interesting. A classical educator knows it, but he also knows that, although students can’t appreciate it right away, they will—as long as he resists the temptation to give up teaching students and tries to entertain them instead.
Many educators who get their degree or certification are told that in order for students to learn they have to first be entertained. The opposite is true. When teachers constrain students to fix their attention on an object, such as a phonogram or addition fact, students bite through the hard crust of an unfamiliar and uninteresting piece of knowledge and, sooner or later, taste the sweet morsel at the center.
Yesterday, I sat my five-year-old down for a quick phonics lesson (we’re working on prepping him for Kindergarten). The lesson was on blending “a” and “m” to make the word “am,” and learning the word “I.” About ten minutes in, the novelty had worn off and my son was getting restless; he’d been working on a cardboard building project beforehand and wanted to return to it. Nevertheless, I directed him back to the lesson.
We’d now gotten to line 8, where he had to read aloud the words “I am.” He said the words. He said them again. Then it happened. His eyes opened wide (with long eyelashes, the effect was particularly strong), and he looked at me and said, “Daddy, that says ‘I am’! I read that!” And with all the energy and speed that his five-year-old spirit could channel, he lit into the next line.
We do children a disservice when we deny them good, fruitful labor and give instant gratification instead. A teacher asked me the other day if I could recommend any fun activities or YouTube videos that would help him teach Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde in his literature class. I replied, “No. I can’t point you to any fun activities, but I can point you to Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. And if you truly want your students to learn and enjoy literature, you should point them there, too.”
The sad fact is that many of us who teach grew up under this very same thinking, which claims to make learning fun, but which tries to do so at the sacrifice of learning. This ideology has become so pervasive that even classical educators are often sucked into believing it.
That is one reason CLSA exists: to train and equip teachers so that they have the competence and courage to lead students in the disciplined and difficult pursuit of goodness, truth, and beauty.
Tomorrow, you’ll have the chance to learn from one of our expert teachers, Martin Cothran, as he trains us in the tough but terribly relevant and rewarding subject of Logic. If you want to catch a greater vision for what classical education can give to students, come and join us at 5:00 PM (EST) for the live webinar with Martin (we’ll send you a link once you sign up).