Blog - "Fiddling While Rome Learns"
Fiddling While Rome Learns
It is not surprising to hear that our nation’s children are performing low on history proficiency tests. Our educational system has set us up for that result. For many years, the focus in elementary schools has been on math and language arts because the state testing standards hold the most weight in those subject areas. As a result, schools and teachers have made history a low priority beginning in the foundational years of elementary school. But this is only the beginning of the problem.
History has been replaced by social studies during the foundational years of elementary school. Social studies deals with the social aspects of our society, focusing on community and citizenship. Instead of using these foundational years to develop a strong understanding of our history, we focus more on our current society and culture.
When history is taught in schools, namely in the later middle school and high school years, it is taught through limited means, focusing only on certain key historical figures and events and addressing issues through the lens of our current culture. Our attitude toward our nation’s history these days is a negative one that dwells on the mistakes of our past. We take less pride in our nation’s historical accomplishments and put an emphasis on its shortcomings.
The result of this approach is disappointing. We shun our past and attempt to erase any negative reminders of that past by tearing down statues and changing the names of buildings. This selective approach to history not only limits us in our understanding of our past, but creates in us a resentment of it.
Our nation is losing its memory and, as a result, we are losing our future. Our future comes from our past, both our successes and our failures. When we minimize what we teach in history and ignore parts of our past, we do not have the means to lay a proper foundation for our future based on the experiences of our past. We do not see the full picture or understand both sides of each story to help us to fully interpret what happened and why. We have a divided approach to history and, therefore, we lack the benefits of a shared history.
In his essay "On History," President John F. Kennedy wrote, “History, after all, is the memory of a nation. Just as memory enables the individual to learn, to choose goals and stick to them, to avoid making the same mistake twice—in short, to grow—so history is the means by which a nation establishes its sense of identity and purpose. The future arises out of the past, and a country’s history is a statement of the values and hopes which, having forged what has gone before, will now forecast what is to come.” We learn the collective history of our nation because it helps us to understand the timeline of events that lead us to our present and continues to pave the way for our future.
Our classical Lutheran education at MLS does not follow the common educational approach. Instead of social studies, we thoroughly teach history from kindergarten to eighth grade. We begin with our nation’s history in kindergarten, setting the timeline of events of our country from before its beginnings to the present. The students at this age drink up all of the knowledge they learn about historical people and events of our country and are excited and curious as they learn about them. They discover common traits of some of our great leaders and learn about both accomplishments and losses in our nation’s history. They learn about symbols and monuments that were created to honor our nation and its leaders.
In first through fourth grade, our students study history from the beginning of time to the present, establishing a timeline of events, incorporating the geography of places where these events occurred, and gathering information about people and events significant to each of the time periods. We continue to set the foundation of both our nation’s history and the history of the world through these formative years through a gathering of knowledge.
By the time this foundation is set by middle school, our students are ready to take what they have learned to the next level. Understanding the timeline of events and drawing from their knowledge of history, students at the logic level study history through a variety of ways. Through the use of primary sources, they delve into the writings and thoughts of different leaders of a particular period of history. Rather than a textbook, students choose a variety of sources on the different topics being studied and research these events, eventually writing about them.
As our students continue to study history and discover our rich past, they are better able to understand the workings of their world and make connections between current events and events of our past. The study of history helps to preserve our nation’s memory and provide an account of our past, an understanding of our present, and a direction for our future.
*This blog is inspired by “A Nation with No Memory Has No Future” by Joseph Pearce, The Imaginative Conservative, https://theimaginativeconservative.org/2020/01/nation-with-no-memory-has-no-future-joseph-pearce.html, and “On History” by President John F. Kennedy, American Heritage, https://www.americanheritage.com/history.
A Peek into the Second Grade Classroom
You leave the office, walk down the hall, come as far as the library, you look to the right and see our second grade classroom. As you peer in, you see a room that shows “time standing still”. The Math Meeting time board shows a March calendar bordered by student-made Trinitarian shamrocks. Time is standing still. Mrs. Gaub’s block calendar on her desk says, March 12th. Here we are, May 12th is upon us, and “we’ve continued our pursuit of knowledge online for the past two months.”
Let us continue to look around the classroom. We see a Poetry Tree - a mainstay in second grade room. We memorize a poem each month as we continue to learn at the “grammar level.” The recitations of “The Topsy, Turvy, World” by William Brighty Rands, which is a definite student favorite, and several poems by Longfellow, Stevenson, and Field help the children to accumulate a rich vocabulary. They learn the cadence to the melody of the vowels, metaphor and simile, as well as the emotion behind the poet’s writing.
As we continue to look around the classroom, we see a rich source of books for leisure reading, when students complete their written work. Another option is “Drawing Warm-Ups,” a grammar level packet of drawing instruction and practice that the children do that reinforces learning the elements of shape. This is an exercise to develop careful observation and, later on, an appreciation for the beauty and structure of pieces of Art. A poster of “Babar The Elephant,” including elements of other famous paintings, shows us how these simple lines and circles can be discovered in masterpieces.
Now turn to the front of the room. There, framing the whiteboard, we see the counting strips. These are a centerpiece of learning number-sense. We begin tackling multiplication, which helps us learn products quickly as we recite and sing the multiples of two through twelve. Patterns in math stimulate our number sense and prepare us for the abstract thinking needed for mental math, and the next phase of learning in our liberal arts education.
While peering into the classroom in the early morning, we are gathered around the piano, singing during our opening devotion time. We sing the weekly hymn and catechism lesson through song. We love to sing every chance we get! In the afternoon, you will hear grammar chants of adverbs, adjectives, prepositions and helping verbs!
Another glance in our room you hear short, precise sounds of our phonetic alphabet. We recite our phonograms and words, syllable-by- syllable to tackle spelling and reading. When we encounter new words in Literature, History, or Science, we know we can break the words down into syllables. Phonics rules we put to memory help us in our own writing as we add a suffix to a word which begins with a vowel.
Perusing the room for students work, you will see work displayed which is edited for our “personal best” in manuscript writing and eventually, cursive writing. We learn the elements of cursive, the five strokes, and put them to use while making each letter. And, yes, you may even see the students talking to themselves, they may be saying, “start with a short upswing, pull straight down to the baseline, finish with a tiny upswing”.
You may even see us leave our classroom to go to another classroom and be filled with the Grammar of History, Latin, and Art. Learning spatial relations (geometry) is a characteristic of an educated person. In the book, Classical Education: the Movement Sweeping America, Veith and Kern write, “Someone who is educated should be able to handle numbers (mathematics), science (astronomy), aesthetics (music), and spatial relations (geometry),” (14). So we learn the geography (maps) and architecture of the time period being studied in History and Art. Latin requires mental gymnastics that ultimately strengthens the mind. We also leave the room to strengthen our bodies in physical education class.
Most importantly, we will be found in the church for daily chapel, or inside the room with our Bible storybooks in hand. We focus on God’s Word given to us about His only Son, our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. It is here that we not only learn about all God has done for us, but we receive forgiveness for all our sins as we gather in our Lord’s House.
All the learning we do in our room is centered in Scripture. It guides our learning of history, our world and nature, the Bible verses we memorize, and the hymns we sing. Most importantly, we give God the glory for our redemption through Christ who died and rose for all mankind.
So here we are, May 12 is tomorrow, and, to the naked eye, the second grade classroom looks lifeless and deserted, stuck on March 12. But the learning has not stopped. The second grade students are excelling in all areas of our curriculum in a different classroom. The ‘new’ classroom looks like the inside of each student’s home.
When I volunteered to write an article on this important topic, we were not in COVID quarantine. “The Importance of a Pleasant Atmosphere in the Home” has since taken on a whole new meaning.
With most of us being at home 24/7, taking care of and “homeschooling” our children, this topic is certainly relative to our home environments today. Can we really create a pleasant home environment amid the chaos and new routines?
As we are well-aware, a child’s home environment has a profound impact on learning and behavior in school (see “The Impact of Home Environment” https://www.focusonthefamily.com/parenting/the-impact-of-home-environment/).
Well, school is now at home, so trying to create that pleasant environment may be tougher than we think. We all want the best for our children, and that most definitely includes good behavior. Before this much-despised quarantine and back in the “good old’ days” when your children were at school, you probably asked the question, “How was your day?” or “Were you good in class?” Now you are asking yourselves those same questions! How was your day?
If you did not already have a calm, pleasant environment at home, you may be struggling to find routines that work: balancing schoolwork, parental work-from-home duties, and quality family time. This task has probably seemed overwhelming to many!
This pandemic quarantine is unprecedented, and we have been coping as best we can to make our long “at-home” days work. Gone are the days of 8-plus hours at school, rushing to plan dinner, and making time for homework and downtime (if any is left). As a result of the mandated “stay-at-home”, many of you have become closer as a family and have enjoyed having this added time together. But maybe some of you are thinking, “I can’t wait for everything to get back to normal.”
So, what is “normal”? As of right now, we know that it is not rushing out the door to get to school on time, heading to work, or rushing to after-school activities. “Normal” may be a calmer, more relaxed start to the day where you sit down and have breakfast together before starting the day. You might even have time to sit down for dinner together.
You are probably thinking to yourself, “We are already together all day, every day!” But many of these hours can still feel stressful with the monitoring of Zoom chats, doing math worksheets, or writing reports. So, yes, it is still important to create that special “down time” to relax together.
Parents are the best role models for their children, and the examples set at home will either encourage or discourage them. Our home and family are where we should feel most comfortable. Children learn by imitation, so it is important to set a positive and loving environment, yet still set boundaries and expectations.
Being organized at home can go a long way in creating a pleasant environment. To minimize chaos, try designating personal spaces for everyone. Each family member should have their own special place in which to put things such as backpacks, bags, books, schoolwork and personal items, like tablets and phones. Having that sense of organization will lessen arguments and reduce anxiety about where things are when you need them. Create a simple flow for your days. Print your schedule or routine and post it where everyone can see it. Take a few minutes each day to tidy up the house as a family. Do morning chores before breakfast and evening chores after dinner (see “Create a Pleasant Atmosphere,” https://classicallyhomeschooling.com/pleasant-atmosphere/). Working together can create that sense of responsibility and satisfaction in helping one another.
As a classical school, Memorial Lutheran School teaches the good, true and beautiful. How can we best translate this emphasis into our home environments?
One important way in which to fill your home with goodness, truth and beauty, is to gather as a family in prayer and for family devotions. These are the things your children will remember. They will remember their home as a place of love, kindness and especially, the love of Christ. Your children will likely grow into adults who will want to create this same type of home for their families. Start and end your day with prayer. As Matthew 18:20 tells us, “For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them.”
This really resonates with me. I fondly remember growing up, attending church every Sunday, getting together with my grandparents, and sitting at the lunch table talking about the importance of keeping Jesus front and center in your daily life. As the Bible tells us, “Train up a child in the way he should go, and he will not depart from it,” (Proverbs 22:6).
Another important way in which to create and maintain a pleasant environment in the home is to eliminate the negative influences that endanger young children and teens. Most of today’s television programs are not family-friendly and can be hazardous to a child’s well-being. Because children learn by imitation, watching shows that are contrary to Christian values can result in behavior that is not God-pleasing. What we as parents exhibit to children, is what they will remember, and how they will pattern their behavior. When a family shares Christian principles and values, they grow together (see “The Importance of Home and Family,” https://www.meaningfullife.com/home-and-family/).
Now that we are experiencing this constant togetherness, take time to play board games, work on puzzles (good for any age level), go outside in the nice weather for walks and bike rides, or draw in the driveway with sidewalk chalk.
Or you can just simply give each other hugs. Yes, you can give those in your household a big hug! Just be sure to use the “virtual hugs" for your neighbors and friends!
In closing, remember that it is important to treat your children and others with kindness and Christian love. Tell your family and loved ones often that you love them. Create that warmth and love that results in the pleasant home environment that is so vitally important in today’s world. The surety of Jesus’ love will provide comfort in these troubled times.
“Making sense of a chaotic world…”
While we experience a global pandemic, it’s a fitting time to discuss this topic. Chances are you’ve read other posts over the past several weeks that have attempted to do this: make sense of a chaotic world. Maybe some of them have turned out to help, and maybe some have increased your anxiety (for me, most often the latter). This topic has always seemed to be at the forefront of my mind (and presumably, yours since you’re reading this), and it’s been there long before COVID-19.
Within the last few months, and with each passing day, everything in the world began to look different. The impact of COVID-19 on education specifically, has brought the world to re-evaluate what we previously understood education to be. Zoom, webinars, blackboard, remote meetings; while these are not new, they were certainly not the norm for everyone. Now, a remote classroom is currently the only type of classroom. It’s all new and uncertain, which can feel chaotic.
Nevertheless, as I’ve personally attempted to make sense of our chaotic world, I’ve realized how the chaos highlights the importance of education and specifically a classical education. Living in a chaotic world highlights classical education’s most basic principles of science and art – and the relationship between the two.
I’m not a trained educator, and I’m by no means an expert in classical education. However, I am a product of it. I have distinct memories of my first run-in with classical education: a nervous little second grader, crying at the dining room table while attempting to memorize Bible verses, poems, and the Gettysburg Address for Friday tests. This first exposure to the ground-rules of knowledge, grammar, mathematics, music, logic; while difficult, provided a foundation for my continued growth.
Fast-forward two decades: I’ve earned a degree in Middle East Studies, I’ve completed my military service, and I’ve begun a career in a start-up company. As I’ve reflected on my experiences, what I see now is that the world has always been new, uncertain, and truly chaotic. But, my foundation in the basic principles of classical education enabled me to navigate it.
I’ve come to understand life and vocations as the continual balancing of the science and art sitting at the heart of classical education. Science provides the structures in which art can be created. Art is the way in which we choose to make sense of newness and uncertainty in the world.
My second-grade tears were the result of the struggle to learn the science: the basic elements of a word, musical notes in a scale, the construction of a sentence, the timeline of our history and those who came before us, the ways they constructed their sentences. This basic understanding of science, the structures, the processes, the laws, was my foundation. Within these frameworks, I could then create the art: the thoughts, the arguments, the ideas.
From my classical education came the ability to learn the structure of the problem and create a solution: learn the science and create the art.
It didn’t end in second grade. Through college I learned philosophy, history, politics, and music. With an inter-disciplinary approach, I crafted a thesis linking them all into an understanding of how hip-hop shapes cultures in the Middle East through similar mechanisms as it did in the Bronx, NY. Through my military career, I learned the effective range of weapons, how to structure a command, and use a radio. With an understanding of these capabilities, I crafted plans and performed actions I hoped were adaptable and flexible enough to withstand an ever-changing situation. Through my transition into a civilian career, I learned a new business lexicon, how to use productivity tools, and the form and function of my company’s product. With collaboration across our teams, I helped craft unique solutions to drive scalability and efficiency throughout the company. I’m humbled by the knowledge that this process will continue as the world presents new and uncertain challenges.
This balance between science and art shapes the way we perceive our world and grow in our vocations. Because the world will always feel chaotic, the need to learn new disciplines, structures, and science will always remain. It is with those building blocks of knowledge that we can create ideas, solve problems, and produce the art that will help us make sense of what is new and uncertain.
Classical education builds a foundation of knowledge and shows a rich history of ideas. Most importantly though, it teaches the process of life-long learning through a continual balancing of both science and art. And that is how we make sense of a chaotic world.
Learn the science. Create the art. Repeat.