It was years ago, before I ever looked into homeschooling. Back before “Classical Education” was ever a part of my vocabulary. Before Dorothy Sayers and Charlotte Mason and even discussions about Christian worldview, or worldview in general. It was in the wide open air – at an outdoor theater in my early 20’s that I first realized something was missing. A man I was dating (and later would marry) took me to see “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” at an outdoor theater in Spring Green, Wisconsin. It was really a double date, with a couple long-ago separated. We sat through the first half of the performance, me mesmerized, and fighting for the guys to quit their whispering. I was in a world and language a bit foreign, but friendly. At the intermission, attendees joked about how they had no idea what was going on, and while I was able to follow the story line, I knew what they were alluding to. The problem was, that you had to think. Not just listen, but process a different way of speaking, and stay engaged in a story line. It was work to stay engaged.
A few years later, I would attend another showing, that would reaffirm my first assessment – the reason why people had trouble following the storyline of the plays is because they had lost the ability to think. Later, I would read C.S. Lewis and A.W. Tozer and J.I. Packer, and notice how chewing on words that were chosen so carefully by the author required time and patience, and consideration – something in short demand these days.
In a world full of texts and Twitter which limits debate to soundbites, where are the great conversations? Who has time to listen to full development of thought? Indeed, media is touted to be created with “constant movement” in mind. Even “still frames” are no longer still, but rather slowly zooming in or out, lest they lose the attention of the viewer.
A few weeks ago, Ken Ham and Bill Nye debated whether creationism was a viable model for origins, and I was surprised – not at the debate itself, but at the discussion surrounding whether the debate should happen at all. It has become most apparent that one of the tragedies of America today is the inability to have conversations. I am not referring to the ability to speak about a topic, but rather the ability to discuss two ideas without attacking the other party. Whatever happened to discussing matters just for the sake of discussion?
All of this has left me wondering…
Why is it that these Conversations are so obviously absent from daily life?
It is known that to be able to debate, you have to have a working knowledge of the topic at hand. More than that, you have to have a sort of mastery of it. To accurately express your thoughts to others, you have to be able to make connections among various ideas confidently, and be able to express them in a way that would be considered by your audience or opponent. In addition, you must be able to process things quickly.
The information has to be processed in the brain – not on Google. You have to know facts – not slander, and enough confidence to admit when you’re wrong – not arrogance that renders you unable to accept truth. You have to ask questions – the right ones, and listen – not pontificating and bringing in unrelated information.
This, my friends is why we do not debate. Because we are not equipped to do so. Indeed, we are raising whole generations who spend more time chasing after a non-reality through “reality TV” and celebrities, at the complete expense of fully understanding the reality of what was, what is, and what is to come. The majority of the population today was raised in an educational system that segregated subjects – math, science, history, english, economics. This compartmentalized approach makes education focus more on regurgitating information for the short term, with no real understanding of how all things relate to each other.
“For we let our young men and women go out unarmed, in a day when armor was never so neccessary. By teaching them all to read we have left them at the mercy of the printed word. By the invention of film and the radio (and may I add internet here), we have made certain that no aversion to reading shall secure them the incessant battery of words, word, words. They do not know what the words mean; they do not know how to ward them off or blunt their edge or fling them back; they are a prey to word in their emotions instead of being the masters of them in their intellects. We who were scandalized in 1940 when young men were sent to fight tanks with rifles, are not scandalized when young men and women are sent into the world to fight massed propaganda with a smattering of ‘subjects’…” ~ Dorothy Sayers, The Lost Tools of Learning
When I was working in the corporate world, we sponsored a local scholarship. The deadline came and passed, and no applications were given to us. I called the local school scholarship office, and the person in charge said that the reason there were no applicants was because I had requested they write an 800 word essay on what they thought they would be doing ten years from now. He suggested I drop the essay requirement and let them hand in their standard forms. The thing is, I wasn’t even requiring a research paper. It was just a “dreamy” sort of paper. They could have written anything. But they didn’t. Partly because we had graduated students who could not write confidently. And partly because we had accepted their laziness rather than demanding that their own self-motivation match the requirements of the workplace they would soon be entering. How has this possibly happened? Don’t the youth of today have something to say?
More importantly than lamenting the lack of conversations around us, is the question that it demands be asked:
How do we prepare our kids to be able to have great conversations, and be willing to discuss ideas?
I believe that a classical education strives to do just that. For us, right now we are building the foundation of knowledge through the Classical Conversations Program. We will move onto logic and look at ways people try to convince us of things, or distract us from the topic. Like the magician making a scene to distract his audience from what is happening behind the curtain, once we can spot these communication techniques, it will be easier to decipher truth from falsehood. Then lastly come the big challenge – to use this informaiton to communicate with others, to unwrap and combine and divide information and to learn how to package it back up to express clearly what is intended. Now that I have begun to read some of the books at the Challenge level, I have a vision for what we are building towards, and I am so excited to join my children on this journey to take back ground that has been lost, and to engage our culture, encouraging them to think deeply and examine ideas below the surface. I can see the “conversations” that will take place..
-in the minds of my children
-around our dinner table
-in the communities they live in.
-in the hearts of those they meet when they use this ability to spread the most important truth – a man on a cross – and us all declared righteous.