Learning Tears

I thought I would wait until I was in the right mood to write this one, but it has finally occurred to me that I wouldn’t know “the mood” if it marched into my room and smacked me up side the head. So here I am. Still full from lunch, in a little bit of a hurry, and writing.

I’ve always been a crier. I am not, on average, sadder than most, and I’ve certainly been given a very good life—the deeper parts of me are just constantly in touch with the surface parts, and that’s all there is to it. Many people who read this blog know that already. A close friend once told me cheerfully that she would be surprised to have a conversation of any great length with me in which I didn’t tear up at some point. I know I’ve found a true friend when I can begin to cry in their presence and absolutely nothing in their manner toward me changes. And as with any activity one participates in with frequency, I’ve tried to become good at crying. I mix tears liberally with self-effacing laughter, I almost never ruin my make-up, and I rarely sniffle.

But a change has come over my weeping in the last year or so. Perhaps it is the release of no longer teaching and needing to hold the feelings in all day, or the occasionally overwhelming changes wrought by my move to Vancouver, but ultimately I think it may be evidence of a more gut-level shift. Whatever the case, my tears are more and more often mixed nowadays. They are no longer merely sad or hurt or tired. There is often a piece of them, sometimes a sizable piece, which I might call awe. And several times in the last year, I can remember crying for joy.

I did not fully admit this change to myself until this summer, I think. In both of the classes I took earlier in the summer (on the Psalms and on George Herbert) I found myself moved to tears, spoken to, intruded upon by Love. I’m taking a class this week on the theology of desire and it will very probably happen again. The crying may get in the way of taking notes.

Tears have been a part of my rhythm of life for so long, but it never occurred to me that they could be part of learning, that they were complex or strong enough to bear connections not only to my own sticky inward minutiae, but to whole sunny shafts of the hope of glory. But, of course, it seems inappropriate, unseemly to cry during a lecture. Tears make others worried and uncomfortable. People so often feel pressure to do or console or fix. They are unlikely to understand my act of crying simply as evidence of my tuition dollars at work, that it means I am being educated. 

But I must rely on the well-practiced silence of my tears, and not allow myself to be waylaid or cowed by the potential concern of others. The tears which leave that tough, tangible residue on my cheekbones are busy teaching impossibilities, and often Gospel ones. They gather up and weave close the threads of things I once presumed to be far distant from each other: sadness and joy, discipline and gentleness, need and abundance, and my slow-beating heart and the God-made-man who came here, close enough to touch, and died for it.

The Here and Now

All through college I heard so much about the importance of place, of the dirt beneath your feet, of opening your eyes as wide as they’ll go and looking watchfully at the walls and horizons which surround you. And now I’m back in Greensboro, probably for good. Back in the muggy air that hugs me, sleeping in my childhood bedroom, getting up each morning and driving to the place I could drive to in my sleep. I love security, so in my eyes, all of this is very good.

But time is place too, in a sense. A place I can’t return to. I lie in bed at night, and remember that there is no big sister on the other side of the room to keep me awake talking endlessly about her day. I now meet friends for drinks on the same corner to which I used to walk to pick up ginger ale when my mom had the flu.

During teacher workweek at Caldwell, I sat in almost the exact same spot in the lunchroom where I used to pour chocolate milk all over my pizza to impress the other second graders. My new desk is in the back corner of a classroom which I routinely bathed with tears over Geometry and Precalc. And I remember standing up near the whiteboard there during play practice one day and teaching ourselves how to use chopsticks, with whiteboard markers. I can look out the doorway into the hall and see the locker I stood next to hyperventilating when my friend was rushed to the hospital at the end of one school day.

The room I teach in is the same one in which, during my freshman year, I used to sit in the back corner during class, with a messy spiral notebook, the smudged pencil which was the beginning of my first novella. When I stand to face my students I stand in almost the exact spot where, on the night of my senior prank we put a little tub of baby chicks. I remember curling up on the hard floor with my sweater a few yards away and trying to sleep, while they cheeped softly for hours.

Sometimes I feel a little like Ebenezer Scrooge standing and watching the jumbled ghosts of my past. Don’t take the metaphor too hard, though. Because while those shadows play there are very real people in front of me with their own, quite solid pencils and spiral notebooks in their hands. And behind me there are completely tangible whiteboard markers that I really ought to be using.

And so I teach and I think about the shadows and the reality and the way this reality will soon fade into shadows. And then I think about the great reality, which is this: God is faithful. God is faithful to have brought me back to place in which I cannot ignore His perpetual goodness to me. I grew up in here and every corner is marked and scuffed by my fears and aches. I look at them and I see Him. In the memories of my hardheadedness, I see His patience, of my cruelty, His sacrifice, of my pains, no matter how small, His abundant and overflowing grace. I see His faithfulness in each place and each time, in each here and each now.

And so tomorrow, I continue to teach history. Not my history, thank God, but His. Always His.




I slept for twelve hours last night and I’ve got an attractive bass cough. I’m not sick, it’s just been a full week.

I spent a huge amount of time with my classical ed classmates, trying to figure out what to do about our midterm and our class and our lives. By having us spend so much outside-class-time together, Dr. Edwards has kind of created a monster. I’m tempted to try to write you some hefty, ideological entry, because that has been my week. But yesterday, after our Hamlet discussion, when I told Dr. Dixon that I’ve just been in a really critical mood lately, he said, “Yes. You have.” So instead, I will be gentle.

Since I’ve seen you last, I’ve written an Easter poem, done my laundry, gotten a cuddle-wrap in the mail from my Grandma, walked Pinchalong, and cleaned and cluttered my desk several times over. I’ve had an interview for a summer job, planned for an independent study, cleaned up when a four-year-old didn’t make it to the toilet, gotten an apartment for next year, stayed up till three talking, and found rides to and from school for Easter break. Since I’ve seen you last, I’ve been blessed.

And now I am sitting here, not knowing what else to tell you, which is unusual. Usually I write my entries before I actually write them, if you know what I mean.

I guess the purpose of this is to tell you again (though I’ve told you before) that after twenty years, God’s goodness is still large and small, unexpected and regular. There’s no need to say anything more spectacular than that, and there never will be.

Writing: On Living Up and Going From There

It’s been longer than I meant it to. That happens in writing. In the interim I intended to write a Valentine’s Day entry from which you can thank God for sparing you, and an entry on my trip to Staunton to see Shakespeare, which would’ve mostly been gushing, so if you imagine “!!!” and “!!!!!!!” you’ll about have the jist. But I’m not writing about either of those things tonight. That, too, happens in writing.

I find it hard to explain myself, and what I do, and why, without talking about my family. I’ve noticed since being at college that people either are a product of their home, or strangely, simply, they are not. I am my parents’ daughter. I cry more than they do, I need more hugs, and I am lazier, but I am theirs.

There is no poet I love whom they did not love first. They are responsible for the dear and the unread portions of my bookshelf and for my ability to find a book fast on the library shelves. For my first few semesters here I sent them every paper I wrote. I do not remember who taught me my letters, but my mom and my dad taught me my words.

On school mornings my small-town-Midwest-raised mother told us, without pretense, to “make haste!” and now in her many emails she tells me to “persist” and to “strive.” My mama is a verb person. My daddy like adjectives, I think. The first time he called me “svelte,” he made me look it up in the dictionary. We read Shakespeare and Thackery and Dickens and Rosetti. We sang and we talked and we were silent.

Every birthday, a parent (usually my dad, who’s into that sort of thing) writes a poem in cramped black ink. One of my favorites, from my sixth birthday, is a chronicle of all the things they’d like to give me, most of them extravagant, all of them silly. I easily remember the last lines, I’ve read them so often.

“But I am a dad and I mainly have words

And they say that we love you and though it’s absurd

That little black marks could do something so hard,

They’ll always, yes, always, smile up from this card.”

And so, even three states away, they do.

And so, years and miles later, I write. I have been given words, and I try to use them.

I had a little crisis yesterday. It occurred me for the first time (I like being sure, so I’ve never given myself much a chance to change my mind) that I might not want to teach. I might want to write. Really write.

I will not sit here and tell you that I love learning. I hope I do, but I’m simply not sure. I will tell you that I love words, that I love stories, that I love a bound book for what it is, a blank piece of paper for what it can be, a pen for the smudge it makes on the side of my hand. I love going into the shower starry-eyed, and coming out a half hour later with a subplot. (I did that last night.)

So what I am doing, at the moment, is being a student (after some tears yesterday, I confirmed that with my mother.) What I will be doing in year and a half is unsure. (Oh, oh, oh, how I like being sure, though…) I may be teaching, but I will be writing.

I am not always sure that I know how to become a better teacher. But I know how to become a better writer. When I graduated from high school my parents gave me a volume of C.S. Lewis and my Dad wrote on the inside “Always say what you mean.” That is the best advice for writing that I know.

So here is what I mean: I do not know if I can teach. I do not know if I can live off my writing. I do not know if I can live up to my parents as my imaginings tell me I should. I do not know, in fact, if I can live up to any of my imaginings. But I am learning what grace means. I am learning all the adjectives that make it visible and present, and I am learning my place among them. And God willing, I will spend the rest of my life writing them out in cramped black ink, as my parents have taught me.


Anyone who knows me well knows that this entry has always been inevitable, and the last few weeks have provided me with the perfect opportunity to write it at long last. Over Grove City’s intersession I did a two week internship at my dear old alma mater, and what follows is a “reflective essay” I turned in yesterday to the people at Grove City. Beware—it’s long. I have lots of thoughts…

I started at Caldwell in the fall of 1997, almost sixteen years ago. My connection with the school is older than that of all of the administration, and most of the faculty. I remember when each building was built, when each modular disappeared. I have cried in almost every room on the second story of the Smith Building, and I know the name of every Caldwell graduate before me. My name is written in sharpie in an undisclosed location on school property. I think it says something idiotic next to it like, “Class of 2010—Lifer.” So it’s nearly impossible to distance myself from these boys with the t-shirts under their polos and the girls whose shirts won’t stay tucked into their skorts, who straighten their hair and clip in a big navy bow. But perhaps distance would be more of a hindrance than a help just now.

Caldwell’s strength has always been closeness. They call themselves (or should I say we call ourselves?) a community school. Teachers and administration love their students, and with sometimes-necessary encouragement from the faculty, the students love each other. This has not changed, and I pray it never will. I stepped in for Mrs. Upper when she had a family crisis, was reminded en masse by my math teachers of the silly things I used to write on my test when I couldn’t do the work, and, best of all, I got to be with Mrs. Liebmann when she got the call saying that, for the fifth year in a row, her scans are clear. She does not have cancer.

Because of these people, Caldwell has never suffered for kind hands and free hugs, but what has always been a struggle, I think, is excellence. Particularly at the end of my high school career, I got quite a fair number of A’s that I knew, even at the time, I had not earned, and in the past two weeks, I witnessed, on occasion, some pretty dismal student work. Soft grades overflow from the teachers’ kind hearts and pens, and what’s missing is a desire not simply for the happiness of the student, but a desire that they be good, and generous, and wise. They will find it hard to become men and women who live in God’s grace if they feel entitled to kindness.

The key to excellence in Caldwell’s case may simply be revitalizing their classical foundation. The Sayers essay is an Appendix in the school handbook, and still required reading, I think, for new families. The tenants of a classical school have come and gone in the time I have known and loved this school, but they are raising their head again. A little manifesto entitled “Standards of Excellence” is posted in nearly every room in the Rhetoric school, including, oddly enough, the staff bathrooms. When I was in high school, Latin wasn’t offered above eighth grade, but now it’s on the curriculum straight through graduation, for those who want it, a move of which Dorothy Sayers would approve. Also, in the years, since I’ve left they’ve played around with a humanities program in the Dialectic and Rhetoric school, which currently means that the history, literature, Bible, rhetoric, and writing teachers all collaborate to a great degree. Aside from the almighty senior thesis, which has been around for a while, Rhetoric students now have a regular oral component to their humanities exams. I am also pleased to announce, that, though I never noticed it much in my time there as a student, the Trivium is quite alive and fairly well.

I didn’t spend a huge amount of time in the grammar school, but when I did, it was oddly refreshing. I read a Jan Brett book called The Hat to three groups of kindergarteners and three groups of first graders. They were enthralled by the pictures and several insisted on counting the empty clothespins on the clothesline with each new page, and reporting back. They are indeed Sayers’ little Poll-parrots. I only wish I’d known their names so that when I needed one of them to turn around and stop talking I could’ve said something more than “Honey. Honey. HONEY.” I also got to read with some fourth graders, and for reasons unknown, the teacher, who is a good friend, gave me all boys. They listened well, were bright, and every single one of them was eager to read aloud. I wonder when it is that boys stop publically caring about school, stop raising their hands when a question is asked.

I only got to be in the dialectic school for one afternoon. Elspeth Glasgow, Grove City grad extraordinaire, had me in to help lead a discussion her seventh graders were having on whether or not Abraham was lying when he said Sarah was his sister. The half of the class I had always had at least three or four hands wiggling in the air at once. None of them seemed the least shy about contradicting each other. We talked about the difference between lies and deceit, and they gave some fairly impressive examples of falsehoods and evasive language. Occasionally, I could see their native “pertness” giving way to real intelligence and thoughtfulness.

I spent most of my two weeks in the Rhetoric school, and the majority of that time in Mrs. Liebmann’s room, which got me very familiar with the freshmen and the juniors. One momentous day I took score for six back-to-back exam review games and learned everyone’s names pretty thoroughly, I hope that in some small way this helped me blend in with the community Mr. Greer is working so hard to further in the Rhetoric school. The first day of exams the administration brought in a popcorn machine for a snack between periods. And for the second day, Mr. Greer bought fifteen boxes of brownie mix and some eggs and asked the teachers to take them home and make a couple batches. You know what? They did. Happily. But then again, these are the people who plan on chaperoning a “Rhetoric Retreat” this Thursday and Friday, who are going to share cabins with these students, watch them do the polar bear plunge, and oversee the making of bubble gum sculptures. God help and bless them.

This is supposed to be what Sayers calls the poetic stage, but so many of them are not there yet, or have certainly not arrived there with a vision or purpose. I suppose that’s the teacher’s job to give. Mrs Liebmann’s method of encouragement in this area is to require commonplace books. They have to copy twenty or thirty quotes which they like each week, and write a short response to one of them. I got to grade a couple batches of these, and I found them more interesting and touching than I expected. One boy whom I had watch cut up in class began, “This is a quote from my sister’s calendar” and proceeded to write in earnest about the ways his own classmates spread sunshine and cheer. Multiple girls poured out their worries about friends and image and fear. The exercise is clearly a good place to begin in self-expression. The students have to ask themselves, “If I am to be this sort of person, whose shoulders ought I stand on? Which words will I hold most dear? I think this is true and good and beautiful, but why?”

One of Caldwell’s most beloved programs in past several years is the choral program, presided over by Mrs. Twigg. I sat in on both concert choir and Caldwell Singers, the auditioned group, and sang along. I had forgotten what hard work it is. I have no idea how I had enough energy to do that three times a week in high school. Halfway through concert choir I stopped singing and just watched. I looked around at the kids and wondered if they knew it made them a better person. I wondered if they knew what they were saying when they called a song beautiful. I wondered how often this evident patience and hard work extended beyond their harmony. But I supposed that even if, like me, they had to wait a few years for all the benefits of art to begin to manifest themselves, the risers and the filing cabinets of sheet music would not be in vain.

This last stage of the trivium is the hardest, I am sure. You are suddenly accountable for more than your work or even what you say, but for yourself. All of a sudden you must be a self who is worth being and expressing. Other people require it of you and, more frighteningly, you find you require it of yourself. It is easier for many of them to simply not try, or look as if they don’t care. A group of ninth graders I had told me that yes, of course they had read for the discussion that day, but it had been before Christmas so they didn’t remember any of it. I told them that was just as good as not reading at all. They were missing the point on purpose. They are old enough to know that living by the letter of the law alone will not suffice. One of the reasons I found the lower schools so refreshing, is that I did not really have to try to get the kids’ attention. They were told to listen and engage, and so they did. The rhetoric kids, however, make you work for it, and I need plenty of practice and patience. In The Seven Laws of Teaching Gregory lists ways of “kindling and maintaining” attention, which I am far from internalizing.

But they are missing so very much when they don’t heed both their teachers and their text. I observed a class of juniors who were having a very solemn discussion on “To His Coy Mistress.” I was just sitting in the corner, and didn’t think I ought to monopolize the conversation, but as I listened them discuss the speaker’s worldview, and the logical syllogisms of his argument, which are all well and good, I wanted to say, “You guys. This is funny. Isn’t this funny? Just a little bit? He’s got an in-joke with the audience, and he’s all pleased with himself and thinks she’s going to fall for it, and we’re laughing right back because we know she probably won’t.” I didn’t say anything, though. Perhaps I should have. Perhaps they need more help to see these things than I think.

My actual experiences at the front of the classroom were sometimes challenging. Of all of Gregory’s seven laws I struggle the most with the language of teaching. I am at college right now, where I am always trying to sound smarter and more elevated, but in front of high school kids it is really only imperative that they understand, not that I seem brilliant. I got along fairly well most of the time with the three periods of ninth graders I had. They are friendly and patient, though I was momentarily stumped for correct words when a girl innocently asked me to explain what a brothel was. Leading the senior’s Great Divorce discussions was harder. Mr. Greer was sitting right there and those kids were freshmen when I was a senior. Some of them are friends. It was hard to be Socratic and bright, to ask the right questions even when there are so many kind faces eager to give a helpful answer.

The most encouraging results I saw were, predictably, not results inspired by my teaching. I watched Marie Conner give an excellent explanation of the Hays Code and Mrs. Liebmann give a lecture I know she loves on Romanesque and Gothic architecture. I could see that they grasped not only the facts, but the awe, the unbelievable scope. The real proof of learning was evident in the oral exams I sat through. I sat in on one section each of ninth, tenth, and eleventh grades, most of whom were proficient in varying degrees. About a week beforehand the kids are given the list of twenty-some questions, and on the day of reckoning they have to pick one out of a hat, take notes and marshal their thoughts for five minutes, then sit attentively through the rest of their classmates’ 3-5 minutes speeches. Waiting their turn was the hardest, I think. They are still kids. It all serves not only as an assessment, a benchmark, but it fulfills Gregory’s law of “review and application.” Of course, not everything stated with certainty from the front of the classroom that day was quite right. Apparently, though I was not there for it, one student claimed the Africans brought over jazz in the early nineteenth century, and as for what I did witness, particularly with one of my favorite plays, I often had to resist the urge to run up and help and correct and explain. One student, whose family both Caldwell and I know of old, got up, did a very good job, and in the midst of his talk made a crack about “a classically-trained scholar like myself.” I know he was mostly joking, lightening the exam-day mood, but I wonder what else that meant to him. I’m sure he could explain the trivium in his sleep, because he’s been through it himself, but what else does he know? I’m curious. Maybe I should have asked.

Perhaps my most useful activity in the past few weeks, though it was small in retrospect, was the grading I did. I graded a set of non-AP essays on Huck Finn. I could tell who had tried and who could have tried harder. I graded a set of poetry annotation assignments, a whole slew of vocab quizzes, and bits and pieces of different humanities exams. It is clear that I am hard, perhaps too hard. Mrs. K got calls from parents complaining about the strict grading of the poetry assignments, but if she doesn’t mind then neither do I. I am young and new, and I heard that we are all like this. We grow out of it. But I hope I never grow out of a commitment to excellence, to giving feedback, encouragement, and challenges. I hope never to take the easy way out. I hope to treat language with care, and teach my students that it is imperative they do the same.

I wanted to work with senior thesis while I was there and didn’t get a chance, because the kids haven’t really started on it. Thesis was my favorite part of senior year. Huge paper, oral defense, study what you love: glory, glory, glory. I did, however, get to sit in on a writing curriculum meeting. Michael Hicks, one of those early Caldwell grads whose name I’ve known forever, was hired over the summer to teach writing, but right before school started he was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma. So while he underwent treatments all semester, Debbie Holcombe, the mother of one of the ninth graders, stepped in. The meeting was a passing of the torch now that he is recovering. They both clearly cared a great deal that these students wrote well, that they knew lots of words and used them to say things worth saying. They desired a deep connection between meaning and language. They discussed, what is, in fact, one of Sayers’ main points, the desperate need for logical progression in student thinking. These kids took logic back in the day, but they have not yet learnt to apply it.

Many Caldwell students have, in fact, been living on what Sayers calls “educational capital” for a long time. They are nice kids with nice parents, but unless we and they work, and work hard, for something more, niceness will be worse than worthless. It will be the lie which keeps them from Grace. I want desperately for these kids to be excellent, good, reverent. But how do we get from here to there? I know very little of what is, I’m sure, the ponderous answer to that question, but I know that we must teach them, and in turn ourselves, that we are not made to be our own gods. We can plan, and take action, but we must take great care not to live upon what Lewis calls the “fixed land.” We must simply get up into each morning as it is given us, teach, learn, and worship without ceasing. If only my school does that faithfully, academic excellence and every other good thing will follow as it ought.

The End of Education

I promised more on education, and look, here is comes–finally! What follows is a book review I wrote for my Foundations of Education class on Neil Postman’s The End of Education. It contains alot of my opinions on the subject, some time in the next month, before I forget everything I learned, (!!!) I will post a nice long discussion of my dear friend, John Taylor Gatto, and the conspiracies he’s convinced me of. Anyway, enjoy…

In the epilogue to his book The End of Education, Neil Postman points out that despite the semi-apocalyptic title, “I offer this book in good faith, if not as much confidence as one would wish. My faith is that school will endure since no one has invented a better way to introduce the young to the world of learning; that the public school will endure since no one has invented a better way to create a public; and that childhood will survive because without it we must lose our sense of what it means to be an adult.” In other words, though through much of the book he sets forth various possible reforms, many of them radical and a few admittedly near impossible, his primary purpose is to give hope. He wants to hear no more whining guff about the failure of the school system; he simply wants people to be willing to back up to the beginning and try again. He wants them to re-evaluate not how, when, where, and by whom their children are educated, but why. If one chooses the right purpose for education, he points out optimistically, the rest will follow in due course.

Postman was educated at the famous Teacher’s College of Columbia University and now chairs the Department of Culture and Communication at New York University. He once taught as both an elementary and secondary school teacher and has published about twenty books on the subject of education. If there is a man who has thought long and hard about America’s school system, it is he. He begins The End of Education with his grounding philosophy that school must be based upon something bigger than itself to be of any worth.  American schools must have what he calls “a god,” a thing to serve, and by which to be served—an ultimate idea strong enough to bear the weight of millions. “Without a narrative, life has no meaning. Without meaning, learning has no purpose. Without a purpose, schools are houses of detention, not attention.” And so Postman, seeing urgency in his search, plunges in to find which gods fail and which gods “will serve.”

His gods that fail seem obvious as such to any real thinker. We have seen communism, Nazism, and fascism fail in awful and grandiose ways throughout history. A market economy is far too hollow a god to accomplish anything but greed, yet this lord called “Economic Utility” is one to which we very often find our school system offering its first fruits. There is the god of consumership which Charles Schulz so clearly preaches against in “A Charlie Brown Christmas,” and the god of technology is another one whose power the school system leans upon far too often, usually with a high degree of self-righteousness. Postman seems to be skimming over all of these simply as a sort of precaution against those of his readers who have not yet learned to think and feel simultaneously. For who could truly look at a child and knowingly proclaim that his master for the next twelve years (and probably for all eternity) ought to be one of the above?

Postman therefore spends the rest of his book describing “gods that may serve.” He has five separate proposals of what could be done to make school an institution worthy of its emphasis. Many of his ideas are hugely refreshing. He sketches pictures of five different futures in which America’s students are lively thinkers and in which the classroom is only the beginning of so many great things.

In his defense of “Spaceship Earth,” Postman tells a fable of a city at risk which solves its problems by turning its students into happy, capable community workers. “This made many people unhappy, for many reasons, but most of all because no one could tell the dumb children from the smart children anymore.” What a pleasantly snarky retort to those who care more about a child’s brain than the child himself. Under the lordship of “The Fallen Angel” Postman suggests that a teacher would stand in front of his class on his first day and say, “I am going to make you all members of Accuracy in Academia. Your task is to make sure that none of my errors goes by unnoticed. At the beginning of each class, I will, in fact, ask you to reveal whatever errors I made in the previous session. You must, of course say why these are errors…” etc. Subsequently, with hard work, America’s students would learn to differentiate between bosh and worthwhile knowledge. They would forever be evaluating and re-evaluating even what they themselves had always assumed.

On it goes: good idea after good idea. Under the god of “The American Experiment” students would learn what our nation was originally meant to stand for, and under “The Law of Diversity” by studying a great cross-section of culture they would learn the inherent value of all humanity. Postman even argues that the god of “Word Weavers/World Makers” would cause students to love words in such a way that the things they say would be worth hearing. Each new revelatory idea is worthy of a standing ovation.

And yet, it is not enough. It is not nearly enough. It is as if Postman has started off jubilantly in the right direction and then stopped halfway to the real destination to turn around and call back, “Look how far I came! Isn’t it fantastic?” He speaks of community, but what about love? He sings the praises of good solid facts, but does not mention truth itself. Honor and Freedom are worthy of celebration, but where do they come from? Why is all of humanity worth loving despite differences? Please, Dr. Postman, tell exactly what worthwhile things one can say with careful words. He has let the book end at the climax of his argument. He gives the reader no proper conclusion of what the world ought to be. His suggestions are only “gods that may serve” and truthfully, none of them do, because none of them are worth serving in return. Each promises that answers exist, but could not tell what they are.

Maybe they lie with Socrates’ truth, goodness and beauty, or Cicero’s good man? Ought there to be a god of virtue or a god of ethos? Those are closer and better than Postman’s attempts, but not yet far and good enough.  Throughout history, what narratives have inspired a good education? Gentility, nobility and ego are some of the best answers, but one cannot take them seriously here and now in America. Let there be no more nonsense about “gods.” Are not all these things mere pale, faulty imitations of the God? For hundreds of years, the most learned men lived quietly in cloisters, viewing their education not as a way to serve themselves, but as a way to serve their Lord. If one is to worship a “narrative,” let it be one of rebellious humans and the ultimate sacrifice made to redeem them. If  America is to educate her children well, then go ahead, pull out all the stops and give them the best there is. Why would one hold it back?

Of course, this is not practical. If there are to be public schools, which it seems there must, teachers cannot preach the gospel outright. Yet, there is no reason it cannot be the gloriously subversive driving force, the “god” that is actually God. Postman is dreaming big; not a single one of his ideas is likely to come into effect. Actually a single one of his ideas is not worth the effort. As impossible as it seems, America’s schools must have all of them: a strong community, a passion for accuracy, patriotism, diversity in curriculum, and careful stewardship of words.  Within each of these must reside a whisper of love and truth. Each must simply point farther down the road to the ultimate “Why?” The student who has come to love learning will venture there himself, on his own time, and behind the huge pulsating interrogative, he will find the true answer waiting for him as it, or He, has been all his life. That is the true end and purpose of education.

Education, Part I

I just got back from meeting with a woman who might hire me to tutor her son. I told her my two biggest passions are books and people. That’s how it’s been for while now…maybe all my life, though I have come to care about good clothes and good food too. But there is an extra little bandit of an interest who has been crawling his way up to the top of my affections for a while, and now that he is settled in comfortably, I suppose I shall finally have to acknowledge him.

I love what happens when one puts people and books together, that is to say, I care deeply about education. I want to both learn and teach for the rest of my life. And I have lots of opinions about how to do it. Lots. I thought I might as well share them here in several parts, a la Mrs. Liebmann. They are a hodgepodge of discoveries and decisions I’ve made throughout my last year of high school, and the beginning of this year. Thanks to Senior Thesis and Dr. Edward’s Found Ed class for making me think.

Let me just say that I think the single biggest problem with education today is that students take it for granted. Really, most of them outright resent it. They have no idea of the huge blessing being conferred upon them when they are simply taught their letters. They are being given learning, the biggest gift a human society can muster (though not all of it is quality…) and they choose to, well, just not. Even those of us in college often forget. Here, I so often want to take people by the shoulders and shake them, and say, “Why are you here?!?  What, because it’s the next step, and you didn’t know what else do the year after graduation? Because you wanted to be qualified?” There is no sense in going to college unless you plan on loving learning. It makes me really quite angry to think that there are students, even at Grove City, who hold assignments and hard tests against their teachers, as if it was not something they were paying thousands of dollars fo, as if these people with their PhDs and scholarly books were simply dumb.

Well, now that that is out of the way, I’m going to run in the opposite direction. Some professors (a very few, mind you, and certainly not my dear Drs Hodgkins) are dumb. Some kids’ college tuition is being paid for by their parents, and they have no choice in the matter. And many, many people I know would probably rather just go ahead and start their career now,  but no one is going to hire them without a bachelor’s. Stupid college. It’s just unavoidable for all us middle class kids, who care about getting anywhere in life. I, currently, have a dumb professor. That’s a cruel and maybe untrue thing to say, but it’s what I think every time I walk into his class. It is too late to drop it, and it’s a necessary credit. But I will never ever have him again, so could I maybe possibly try a little benevolence and patience? Mmmmm, yes. I could. I could also try to learn a little history despite his jumbled teaching, and be thankful for the opportunity to…well, I haven’t figured out to what yet, but maybe that’ll come. Anyway, just remember that it is no sin to be patient when the person or situation probably doesn’t deserve it, and neither is it unholy to pretend interest in class which extends beyond the tested material. Isn’t it true that if we act Christ-like for long enough, we will begin to reflect him?

Next entry, I think I’ll bash the school system. Aren’t you excited?