Blog - "Fiddling While Rome Learns"
Fiddling While Rome Learns
A good education is one that leaves its student grateful. How many times can you remember having a teacher that brought you to feel nothing other than gratefulness for what you had learned?
I imagine that in the perfect world, every school would consist of only teachers that brought students to be this way. But a good school is a place with more than just a few good teachers. I think that a good school is one that strives to ask and answer, “how do we work systematically to create grateful students?”
I think about teaching for gratefulness from the perspective of teaching History. How would a good school teach History systematically (from kindergarten to high school) so that it leaves its students feeling grateful by the end?
It seems to me as though the system must work in a progressive fashion.
I think the progression goes something like this. There is no one on this earth more prone to wonder than young children. For this reason, young children are most well-equipped to wonder at the wisdom of people like king Solomon and Odysseus, the courage of people like Regulus and George Washington, and the faith of people like Abraham and Perpetua. Despite this natural advantage of young children, many schools today seem to replace rich stories such as these—in the name of practicality—with the immediate and the tangible, with questions like what is a mailman and how is my family different than a family in Asia. If you don’t believe me, go look at a social studies book.
After this initial phase of telling rich stories of the past, it would seem fitting to give students a sense of order for these stories. This would enable them to place the stories in the context of the great and glorious civilizations that rose and fell before the one we live in today. I work to accomplish this mostly in middle school, through a four-year cycle that goes from ancient history to the 20th Century. Students in middle school are ready to begin grappling with the larger picture. Yet the story of western civilization has been replaced by many today with world history and stories of great western oppression—how land was stolen from natives, how masses of people were enslaved by the colonists, how women overcame subjection and earned the right to vote, and how we have all become much better than we ever were through the civil rights movement. While many people who came before us seemed grateful to observe that we stand on the shoulders of giants, this switcheroo in curriculum has been most efficient at bringing us to resent those very shoulders.
Once students have seen the big picture, it becomes fitting—if our goal is to foster gratefulness—to bring students to appreciate the actual words and thoughts of the people who were heroes and villains inside the stories and civilizations they learned about in their youth. Primary sources. This period of study—call it early high school—includes a richer and more challenging body of texts. But it is Pericles' Funeral Oration that comes brings us closer to the experience that was the Peloponnesian War; it is Thomas Paine’s Common Sense that brings us closer to the experience that was the American Revolution. After the middle years, students reach a point where they are able to read and understand texts and ideas that are deeper and more complex than the secondary sources they learned from in grade school.
Despite this human development, many places forgo this opportune time to study primary sources with courses like (I know of at least one in our area) “Defining Moments in Political History.” In this, students are tasked with acquiring a more in-depth “philosophical” look at systemic oppression. The end of this is, of course, to become "woke"—to see one’s self as not only better than those in the past but also those in the present who fail to see what one has learned to see. On the other end of the spectrum, there are AP classes that are offered to teach the history 500 years in 2 hours, in order to make students feel like have mastered complicated subjects well enough to skip them in college.
Finally, I have come to believe that a good school goes even one step further than teaching primary sources. It is not enough to let students expect that as English-speaking Americans, everyone and everything must make itself digestible to them. Greek, Latin, German, French… any language that is useful for digging into many of the primary sources that were read at an earlier stage of education. It is an act of humility and respect to take the time to learn the language of another, in order to understand a person in his language. How cool is it to think that you can have the very same thought in the very same language cross your mind as the thought that crossed the mind of an ancient Greek or an ancient Roman 2000 years ago—not to mention the vocabulary that these languages build us up to understand. I cannot put into words how grateful I am that I have a job where I get to read real Latin literature with my 8th graders, where we get to laugh at Roman jokes in the language of the Romans. While all students can grow to to appreciate the past at this level, this is about the time in education when—for many—the main focus becomes getting a job and blaming the educational institutions that one came from as places that taught them nothing practical.
In the name of Jesus. Amen.
It’s the day many of you have been waiting for, but you didn’t even know it. Do you know what today is? It is nine months until…Christmas! That’s right. If it hasn’t been on your mind recently, it should be now. Today is March 25, the twenty-fifth day of the third month of the year. In nine months, it will be the twenty-fifth day of the twelfth month of the year, December 25.
Now before you get your hopes up, there are no presents to download today. Today is about the true meaning of Christmas. It is the day that we celebrate the day when Mary, the Mother of our Lord, found out that she would be the Mother of our Lord. As the readings make clear to us, God had determined to save mankind by being born of a woman, in a unique way. Jesus, the savior of the world, would have God as his Father and a virgin, Mary, as his mother. He would be God with Us, Immanuel. He would save his people from their sins. He would be the Son of David, but his reign would be eternal.
The Annunciation teaches us a number of important Christian lessons. The first is that God chose to save the world by causing his Son, the Lord Jesus, to take on human flesh first as a baby. Remember Adam? We have no baby pictures. He was created as a man. Jesus, the redeemer of the world, and the Bible calls him the “second Adam.” If we had pictures from that time, he would have baby pictures. God took on flesh and did so first as an infant in the womb.
Secondly it teaches us about the humility, that is the humble nature, of Mary, the mother of God. It was a miraculous thing, that she would be the mother of God. It was a crazy thing. Who would believe it? However Mary did. She trusted in God and rejoiced that she was chosen to be the theotokos, the God bearer.
Lastly it teaches us that God is not afraid to be with us. He comes to be with us, to live with us, to die for us and to share with us his eternal life. God is not a God who is far off. God is with us. He is still “Immanuel,” God with us. Jesus still comes to us with his flesh and blood in the Lord’s Supper. Jesus still comes to us through preaching to comfort and sustain us with the bread from heaven.
Nine months are left until once again we put up our trees and sing Christmas carols. Don’t forget in the meantime that every day we can rejoice that our Lord Jesus became man and died for our sins. Don’t forget that throughout the year, even when it still seems so far away, it is important to remember that God became man to save man. And the greatest gift of all, regardless of the season or the month is that he did it.
God bless you and keep you as you learn at home.
In the name of Jesus. Amen.
A Principle of Classical Pedagogy: Wonder and Curiosity
By Mr. Josh Brisby, M.Ed.
Folks who are somewhat familiar with the principles of the pedagogy of classical education are probably familiar with concepts such as the Trivium, educating in stages, the Romans and the Greeks and their contributions, a focus on hard copy books, a focus on worldview, and similar ideas. But as classical educators, one of the things we desire to inspire is a sense of wonder and a sense of curiosity. The Romans and the Greeks both desired to know the “why” and the “how” of things. They continued to explore, allowing nothing to hinder them or to stop them. It was in this endeavor that they continued to enjoy the freedom of this unhindered exploration.
As teachers, our desire is to inspire our students. One of the ways a student will become inspired is if he or she sees the enthusiasm of learning in us the teachers. There should never come a time when we think we are finished exploring. There should never come a time when we should think that we have “arrived,” as it were. In fact, even after Christ returns, we will still be exploring. We will be learning constantly and continually about our God, who is infinite. We will never be able to exhaust the fullness of Him, or of His creation, or of the richness of the forgiveness of our sins that He wrought for us on the Cross, which He delivers to us in Holy Baptism, Holy Absolution, and in His Holy Supper.
An excellent example of the importance of never having arrived in our exploration, wonder, and curiosity is discussed in John Steinbeck’s The Red Pony. The book discusses the concept of “westering.” Westering is the concept of the European explorers always discovering and moving westward. At the end of the book, the main character, a young boy named Jody, enjoys hearing his grandfather tell tales of his own crossing of the Great Plains. However, Jody’s father is cold and dry, and just wants to keep things at a surface level. So, Jody’s father is uninterested in hearing his father-in-law’s stories. Finally, and sadly, the grandfather just “gives up,” admitting that his explorations are over. Yet, he remembers that the whole process of westering was the wonder and the curiosity, and when he found the mountains, the discovery was just as glorious as the westering itself.
But, then he says that when they arrived at the sea, their explorations were just “done.” We are furthermore told that this made Jody sad as well—and rightfully so. The grandfather notes that “ Westering has died out of the people. Westering isn't a hunger any more. It's all done,” (Steinbeck, The Red Pony, 94).
We live in a day and age where wonder and curiosity have died out. It is not often found in people. Our fast-paced, fast-food, microwave, technological society wants us to refuse to slow down and contemplate. It wants everything to be quick. Author Ray Bradbury predicted a time, in his iconic work Fahrenheit 451, when slowing down and thinking and wondering in curiosity would be lost. We have reached that time in technological America. Instead of using technology as a tool, we have become dependent upon it. The joy of reading, contemplating, thinking, and discovering has been lost.
We think we have arrived at the ocean.
But like Jody correctly noted in Steinbeck’s novel, if we have arrived at the ocean, we can grab our boats.
Here at Memorial Lutheran School, we desire to inspire that continued wonder and curiosity of unhindered exploration. There may be an ocean in the way, but as the Stoic philosophers said, “The obstacle is the way.”
Will the ocean stop you?
Grace, mercy, and peace are yours from God our father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
In a world gone crazy with pandemics and toilet paper shortages, the canceling of every kind of gathering and event imaginable, and the kicker – the real kicker here – the closing of DisneyWorld, DisneyLand, and all things Disney, as horrible as that is (and all these closings and such, as bad as that is for the folks who count on these places and events to make a living), we think to ourselves: self, things must really be bad. Disney, whose only concern is overcharging its customers and making more money than anybody can imagine, has closed in light of this pandemic. Like many, we overreact. These things don’t make sense. We worry. We fear. In many ways we feel like strangers in our home towns. We have to fight over parking places and wrestle for hand sanitizer and pizza rolls.
Repent of your worry. Repent of your doubting God and his love and care for you. Repent! You are not strangers. You who were once far off, are now brought near. You have been adopted.
You are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone. (Ephesians 2:19-20)
We must not fear these uncertain times. We are a people of God, a people of faith in our Lord Jesus Christ. Times like these should not surprise us. Earlier in the school year, we heard reading after reading, sermon after sermon about the end times, this should not surprise us!
Well, we have a news flash for those news channels that bring you news flashes: Your future is not uncertain. You have the promise of forgiveness of sins, and if you have the forgiveness of sins, you have life and eternal salvation. So do not fear; rejoice! There is nothing that can separate us from the love of Christ.
Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? As it is written, “For your sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.” No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:35-39)
May God grant us faithful strength and courage; the same faithful strength and courage that He granted to countless generations before us. Our Lord forgives and strengthens us with His cornerstone Who is Christ Jesus and His Word and His Sacraments. His Word of forgiveness, His washing of forgiveness, and His meal of forgiveness: these are all Christ for you. In times of peace and calm, in times of chaos and uncertainty, the unchanging love of Jesus Christ is for you. The world may flutter about, worried about this or that. But we come to the Lord’s house. We listen to his word. We dine on his body and blood. We pray, we sing hymns, and we live in the sure and certain reality of the forgiveness of sins in Jesus Christ our Lord.
Thanks be to God!