That quote is from an Opinion article in the Washington Post last week by Cornel West and Jeremy Tate titled, Howard University’s removal of classics is a spiritual catastrophe. I share it as a reminder to parents, and an encouragement to teachers, that our work to cultivate within our students the wisdom and virtue necessary to discover and fulfill their God-given potential is noble and true, excellent and praiseworthy.
Through our curriculum and pedagogy, Academy teachers seek to form souls through conversations about living more intensely, more critically, and more compassionately. Classical education holds to the original meaning of the word education from the Latin ex-ducere or “to bring out, to draw out.” Teachers draw our students into the great conversation and bring out what matters over what is fleeting. Their goal is to cultivate discipline and virtue in students, so they learn to direct their souls well.
Plato imagines virtue as the ability to govern one’s own soul, implying that discipline is good. Yet that presupposition is opposite of cultural prognostication that difficult and challenging experiences wither one’s soul. Culture today fears discipline more than decadence, correction more than corruption. Instead of promoting the long process of educated discipline, messages say there’s another way to build civilization: enlightened self-interest pursuing what is agreeable. Many feel that challenges and struggles are obstacles to an agreeable experience rather than opportunities for growth.
To illustrate the virtue of self-control, St. Paul wrote to the Corinthians using the metaphor of an athlete preparing himself for a race: “Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one receives the price? So run that you may obtain it. Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable one. So I do not run aimlessly; I do not box as one beating in the air. But I discipline my body and keep it under control.”
Parents want their children to govern their own souls, but virtue isn’t only about restraining impulses. It is mostly, or especially, about giving them vision to love good. We can’t just take things away. We must give our children something better. At JH Classical Academy our teachers seek to restrain unhealthy impulses, but more importantly they desire to inspire students to recognize and love what is good and train them to pursue that good with courage and joy.
Teaching is a difficult calling. During teacher appreciation week, I thank you for the countless ways you have affirmed their tireless work toward true education: “to create human beings of courage, vision and civic virtue.”
Mrs. Polly J. Friess