In a humorous sort of way the phrase “back to school” probably evokes more varied emotions than any other phrase we might utter. Some students, enjoying the freedom of summer and contemplate with some chagrin the binding schedule of school. Some parents can’t wait for school to start and get the minute-by-minute responsibility of watching, entertaining and otherwise caring for their children into the hands of the school staff. Of course, these two extremes are not the only emotions…thankfully.
Most of our childhood experiences (assuming that most of the readers of this are adults) are that of having summer off from formal schooling and we, no doubt, have a very clear sense of the emotions we felt when we were faced with going back to school. A quick tally from many of you would, almost certainly, reveal that there were many and mixed thoughts and emotions tied to the event of going back to school.
Home schools commonly have less formal divisions between when school is in session and when it is not. Such vagary can communicate to students that learning is not isolated to the classroom—a very important lesson to learn if we want our students to be life-long learners.
It might be fun to pursue a discussion on all the emotional responses with which we are familiar relating to the beginning of another school year. Unfortunately, that will have to wait for another time. What we want to encourage here is responsible planning and preparation to make beginnings (and ends) enjoyable, productive and beneficial. Because without adequate preparation and planning we have virtually no chance of being as successful as we would given proper attention to these concerns.
We talk a good game about classical Christian education and the Trivium. But, have we thought to apply the model to an overview for the student at the beginning of the year? We believe that grammar school students are quite content to memorize and drill. Helping them understand how and why we are going to do certain things does not seem particularly important. Not like it does for dialectic and rhetoric students. It would seem that setting and communicating clear expectations for what they will be doing in school over the course of the school year would be right in line with the stage in the Trivium where they are. Have your students every asked you “Why is that important?” or Why do we have to do that?” Why not answer these questions before they are answered?
Here’s what I mean. Let’s say you are going to teach the great books using our Omnibus I text. Simply throwing that heavy book at the student with the reading assignment from Genesis (which is where it starts) on the first day of school with little other background or explanation offered will hardly set the stage for maximum benefit. Now, I realize this is common sense and most of us would give some further explanation. However, I doubt many would take the time to explain to the students why we will be studying these books in this way, what we hope to accomplish over the course of the school year, how they will relate to other disciplines (subjects) we will be studying, etc.
I will never forget the opportunity I had to teach Recovering the Lost Tools of Learning by Douglas Wilson to rhetoric students at Veritas Academy. Nearly all of them expressed gratitude and how much it helped them understand why we do what we do when we do it at school. The whole school now made sense! We must be very careful not to take for granted what should be very obvious. File this under the problem of “losing site of the forest for the trees.”
Another (and related) concern is our own planning. If we don’t take the time to plan out our goals and objectives, pace and process we will be like the man who backed out of his driveway having forgotten where he was headed. There are roads for him to follow that will limit where he can go somewhat like the limitations our curricular materials provide us. But, if he doesn’t know where he was headed he will most certainly not get there. The materials we select will take us some place—the place that the author intended. Is that OK? Is it enough? Again, a catch phrase applies; “trust but verify.” I hope you trust us with the materials you obtain form us. We take our responsibility in the selection process quite seriously. But I hope that you plan the use of them well to the ends that you seek. And, more importantly, I hope you know the ends that you seek.
Planning is a very important use of time that will pay great dividends.
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