Here is a brief summary of the students in a typical middle-school classroom: These few have to take pills just to function, or so they are told. These few are overweight and miserable at the ripe old age of twelve. These few can’t put down their smart phones. These few are raging bundles of energy because they are expected to sit still and be quiet all day. These other few are bored out of their minds. The teacher is trying to teach, but no one is interested. Why? Maybe they learned this last year, or maybe last quarter, and no new challenge is brought forth. Maybe the curriculum is so disconnected from everything else they are learning that they don’t see the significance. Maybe it’s this way in their next period as well.
We are doing something wrong. My sons have never been challenged by any of their teachers. Not once. If they have read the classics, it is because I gave them books. If they know who Machiavelli and Dante are, it is because those names are familiar in our house. So what are they doing at school all day? Ridiculing their lackluster teachers on Instagram. Arguing with these same teachers over the nonsense that is common core mathematics. Being sent to the principal’s office for gutting a textbook and gluing a copy of The Hobbit inside the cover. They are bored.
We are underestimating our children. They do not need medication to pay attention – they need something interesting to engage their minds. They need to be challenged. They need suitable outlets for both mental and physical energy. The model for Classical Education may provide what they need. Divided into three phases of four years each, the Classical Education model repeats instruction of various subjects rooted in the major historical cycles but within those phases the approach to those cycles is altered to meet the growing demands of the developing mind.
Take mythology, for instance. Children love these stories and should hear them from a variety of cultures at a young age. This is when the foundation is laid and the stories are memorized not by recitation but by hearing them in different contexts, by playing games, by building a small Trojan Horse, by enjoying and even imitating what they are learning. In the next phase, a more literate approach is welcomed and by the third phase, the original texts are easily absorbed and engaged. Look to Homer’s Odyssey. If this is taught from day one, any graduate will know the story well. He will know how it influenced western civilization. He will know how it influences story-tellers even today. Add to this hands-on experience, like stringing a stiff bow as in the closing scene, or building a scale model of a Greek ship, and that story will resonate for life.
Why is that important? Our civilization is based on our Classics. If we undermine our foundation, we fall. If we understand our foundation and build on it accordingly, we thrive. Understanding the past is key to understanding the present and that is how a better future is made. This seems such common sense that it should not be an issue, and yet countless times my son has come home and told me he just watched a video in class. Image learning is passive. Image learning is not a challenge to most minds. Engaging a text on a page and bringing it to life oneself is a challenge, and that is how minds grow. Connecting this story to that story across subjects and eras is a challenge, and that is how minds are sharpened.
Sharpen your children’s minds as you sharpen a blade. Sharpen your arrows! Go outside and shoot. Tell them about the Battle for Agincourt, a battle won by archers and immortalized in Shakespeare’s Henry V. History, literature, theater, politics, and what might be a life-saving skill have just been learned. These are the moments young minds remember. If the schools are not providing these moments, make them yourself. Sharpen those blades before another dulls them to uselessness.