24 February 2010

Faith, Arts, and Education: Classical Ed. part 4

A while ago I posted a rather negative analysis (well, really more like a series of questions) in response to a visit I made to a Classical School. Well, I don’t want to leave a bad impression, because my visit was really extraordinarily pleasant. I just had to mention those startling aspects first, because my whole shtick right now is kind of to find the holes in various educational methods and institutions so that I can dream up the perfect school. My big dream and prayer is to be able to implement at least the majority of the ideas that are created through this process of visiting, analyzing, and blogging. When and where, though, are a total mystery to all but the Divinity. And meanwhile, I try to uphold a high standard of teaching in myself and studying in my students, implementing as much unity as I can in my two current classes.

So then. The first and perhaps most important positive of this visit to a Classical school was simply how gracious the administration was in hosting me, showing me around, taking me to classes, introducing me to teachers, answering my questions during their few free minutes walking down halls, etc. (a teacher has not a moment free during the day, nor really any other time neither!).

And this attitude of courtesy extended through the school, down to the youngest children. The very first class I observed was kindergarten, and those tiny humans all stood up upon my entrance, and recited in unison, “Good Morning, Visitor!” The kindergarten teacher admonished them that they hadn’t said it well enough (my sloppy 21st-century etiquette didn’t catch the nature of the infraction), so they had to try again! I felt as awkward and uncultured as if I’d stepped into an Austen novel! But that’s a good thing. By the third class, I was prepared for this and could respond with a polite good morning thank you very much. Boys are required to open doors for girls. Students have to answer, “Yes, Mr. so-and-so” or “Yes, Mrs. So-and-so” when they are corrected or reprimanded.

Next, even though I critiqued the mindlessness with which some of the repetitions of material were performed, the very fact of the repetition and the vast memorization is impressive. Those children (and the teachers!) had an awful lot of material crammed in their little heads. I sat in on a 1st or 2nd grade class—I think it was first—that was reviewing their Latin declensions. Whew! Now that’s classical Classical, if you know what I mean. Miniature people in plaid skirts, navy trousers, and white Oxfords, reciting Latin verbs in unison. Just exactly right.

And they had an awful lot of Scripture memorized. Here’s a neat moment that I got to see. In that same class, 1st grade I think, the teacher was a very young, energetic girl with tons of energy and enthusiasm. She got all into acting out the Bible verses; they have a series of gestures that they do while they recite the verses to aid memorization, almost like sign language. I wonder is that standard or did she make them up? Anyway, she was having the kids recite a Psalm when one child said, “Look, there’s a rainbow!” The sunlight just hit the window in such a way that the glass became a prism and behold, there was indeed a rainbow on the wall. The wise teacher took the cue and asked the children what the rainbow signified. They told her of God’s promise to Noah. She went right on, using the moment, and asked them to see how much they remembered of the memory work from Genesis. Right then and there they went on to recite sizable portions of chapters from Genesis! Whew. Good work.

And then at the end of the day I visited an older class that was a unification of history and literature. Perfect. That’s just right. They were studying Herodotus; heavy stuff! It was maps and readings and discussion of the political situation. Very nice.

So, I’m still intrigued and intend to look further. Thanks to those who have aided me thus far!

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