Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Wednesday with Words: Trivium Skills and Humor: Essential for Teachers

This past week I read the first section of Trivium Mastery by Diane Lockman.  I appreciate her no nonsense approach and obvious study of classical education from the roots up.  She rightly questions Dorothy Sayers' but especially the "neo" -classical education movement with it's 3 step approach that grew out of her essay (which Andrew Kern's recent talk is trying to encourage me to think of a different term for it).  She clearly explains why this interpretation is not what those of the past would have understood education to mean.

I do understand why she is not a "mainstream" classical education author because she reduces everything to skills.  There is a classical body of knowledge worth learning but she seems willing to forgo that as long as we are teaching children how to read, think and speak.  For me, who can get lost in big ideas and love it, her simplification is helpful.  Her reduction to skills provided the tools I need to better see the path and coach my children in these skill areas.  I have a pretty good handle on facts and enjoy discussions about truth and have tons of thoughts about worthy content - but skills - a bit tougher for this mama. So, God provides!

She also does a GREAT job breaking down the 5 Cannons by tying it to the historical practice but also helping you realize what that means for speech and composition today. I see many curricula try to simplify these ideas or give you bite size pieces but this is the best overview.

I am also reading through The Art of Teaching from Gilbert Highet (a more philosophical approach to teaching).  Be warned, some of the examples early in the book might grate against our politically correct norms, but that doesn't invalidate his experience.  He seems like the traditional classics professor in an overstuffed chair with a pipe giving you advice from his years of experience at Columbia - but he is the good kind - who tells stories.  He had a whole section on humor which was refreshing. 

He asserts that a sense of humor is a necessary quality of good teacher, but not for the reasons I would have assumed.  His reasoning is wonderful. 
The real purpose of humor in teaching is deeper and more worthy.  It is to link the pupils and the teacher, and to link them through enjoyment.  A very wise old teacher once said: "I consider a day's teaching is wasted if we do not all have one hearty laugh."  He meant that when people laugh together, they cease to be young and old, master and pupils, workers and driver, jailer and prisoners, they become a single group of human beings enjoying its existence. 
Isn't that good!  Then I reflect on my own teaching and our atmosphere around here and well . . .  I need to loosen up a bit.  We have been laughing more recently and it is good for us (my oldest and I watched The Sandlot on Mother's Day and that won me HUGE points).  Highet recognizes gregariousness and love of play as inherent characteristics of students and encourages the teacher to use this to his advantage. This is a small section, soon he dives into more traditional material about concentration and preparation, etc.  He does see it as key to doing what comes next well though. 

He ends his exploration of humor and teaching (where, among other things, he explains that sarcasm and belittling are NOT the humor he is advocating) with this thought: 
Togetherness is the essence of teaching. 
Thinking about that makes me reconsider my priorities!  It makes me think of the Ambleside International people's refrain  "It is good to be me here with you."   I think we all need that in our lives.

See what others are reading over at Ladydusk.


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