This post is a continuation of our current four-part series ‘Principles at work in the Classical Homeschool.‘ This blog series is about several situations I have faced over the last few years and some of the things I have learned from them. Many of the things I learned and discovered about myself as a homeschooling mom and teacher are common temptations we all face as we seek to make sense of practicing the classical tradition in our homeschools. I am beginning to learn I am not alone, and I hope you know that too. It is a real struggle to feel like we are the only ones who screw up and get it wrong. Well, you are not, and neither am I. In this post, I share some of the mistakes I made when I first started leading literature discussions, what two important principles I learned from them, and how it has changed my teaching.
DIALECTIC & SOCRATIC DISCUSSIONS
I remember the first time I taught a high school literature discussion. My only experience with such a discussion had been what I experienced in the CiRCE Apprenticeship. Therefore, that was the ideal I had in my head. I imagined that everyone who stepped foot in a classical literature and writing class would be just as motivated and excited about learning like the other apprentices, and I was. Ha! I wanted so badly for it to be epic. Alas, it was not. As I began to see the reality of classroom life unfold I started to become fearful, I was a fraud. I was afraid that I was a horrible teacher and instead of responding with repentance and seeking the Lord’s help I started trying to be “brilliant.” I tried to force what I thought were the most exciting topics in the work and was hurt when people did not respond with lots of discussion and excitement.
I had many misunderstandings and issues, but there were a few that, when I saw what I was doing and stopped it, it made the biggest difference.
My first problem was that I was trying to answer questions that the students had not asked. Secondly, where there was a glimmer of a discussion happening, I micromanaged it because I did not trust the truth to be enough. I did not trust that my children and students would be reasonable with the truth and make it their own. I also was slightly tortured by any silence lasting longer than 3 seconds.
As I worked through these tensions, I was profoundly impacted by what I read in Chapter 1 of Norms & Nobility. I soon came to see that one of the principles within those pages helped bring harmony to the tension I faced. What I learned is that classical education is a spirit of inquiry.
Principle: Classical education is a spirit of inquiry
“Classical education is not preeminently, of a specific time or place. It stands instead for a spirit of inquiry and a form of instruction concerned with the development of style through language and of conscience through myth. The key word here is inquiry.” –David Hicks, Norms & Nobility
Hicks goes on to discuss the parts of this spirit of inquiry. In its basic form is includes first a general curiosity. A curiosity that resembles wonder, a feast, or a play date with life. Next there is the imaginative hypothesis. Not in a modern scientific sense, but in the sense that all questions are welcome. The important part is that the questions stem from the curiosity of the student; this allows for the student to be the one asking the question. All questions are welcome. Hicks mentions, “Questions that possess a wisdom apart from answers” as being particularly useful for our normative goals. Questions of is and ought. The last part of this spirit of inquiry is the method in testing them. Again, this does not point to a modern scientific way of testing, but rather an entire realm of the liberal arts is fair game. One may discover their answer through observation, reason, religious experiences, an artistic experience, or in some other way. All of these are valid forms of inquiry giving us different insights into the question at hand.
Through the principle of the spirit of inquiry I learned that when I lead a discussion, I need to invite students into a playful encounter with the work. Only then will the intrinsic question be birthed within them with a desire to explore. Then my questions will not be annoying or burdensome, but a relief and a help. The invitation is everything because the inquiry is everything.
Learning more about a spirit of Inquiry:
Article: Embrace a Spirit of Inquiry
Article: Classical Teaching Page
Book: Norms & Nobility by David Hicks
ASKING & ANSWERING REAL QUESTIONS
Our discussion of the spirit of inquiry leads us to another problem I had. I mentioned it a little bit above when I said I had a hard time enduring silence during a discussion. At first, I thought the silence was the problem, but soon enough I saw that it was I with the problem. I assumed that the silence meant disinterest or disengagement. I had no idea how necessary silence was. Not because of the intrinsic sanctity of silence, but because of what was happening in the silence. Of course, sometimes silence can mean that someone is checked out, but often it means they are the most engaged in the ways that count most. Hicks talks about a host of ideas and principles that relate to this reality in his Chapter on ‘The Necessity of Dogma.’ Silence was and is necessary because it is part of the ever-important dialectic process.
Principle: Classical education is the dialectical process of resolving tensions.
“We have already seen that Socrates identified dialectic as the form of the activity of thinking –the mind’s habit of challenging the thoughts and observations originating in itself or other minds and of engaging in a desultory dialogue with itself until the issues are resolved.” –David Hicks, Norms & Nobility
Resolving these tensions is all about the harmony we intrinsically long for. This is a deeply personal and communal thing. It involves silence, discussion, and trust between parent and child, teacher and student, friend and friend.
For much of history, man has been exploring this idea of tension and harmony. The one and the many, principles and particulars, first things and second things, the real vs. the ideal, unity and diversity, and the knowledge of good and evil vs. the experience of life. We all long for harmony, but the unity we were created for has become a disintegration. A disintegration of soul and spirit, God and man, creation and life. That is, until the Incarnation. The process of wrestling through the tension is our way of seeing the incarnation in everything.
The more I think about it, the more I am convinced tension is necessary, as well as silence. Now, at least, much of the time, when I am in the middle of a discussion not only is silence less concerning, but the struggle of watching another person wrestle through something is a bit more bearable. I now longer try to “save them.” They need to be there, just like I need to be there.
Learning more about wrestling through the tensions:
Conference talks: A Contemplation of Harmony, by The CiRCE Institute
Expanding wisdom, extending grace,