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Classical Education: Having our Kids do Hard Things that are Good

Posted by Joy Hale and John Rutherford on Jun 6, 2018 10:20:00 AM

the value of doing hard things

My children have attended a classical Christian school for over a decade.  Even though I am still learning what classical Christian education is, I can say that I agree wholeheartedly with author Andrew Kern’s definition of classical education as the cultivation of wisdom and virtue.   But what exactly does the cultivation of wisdom and virtue look like? Take this example from the novel, To Kill a Mockingbird

Mrs. Dubose was just plain nasty.  She screamed at Jem and Scout every day as they walked by.  One of those days, Jem lost his temper and destroyed her flower bed.  As a punishment, Atticus made Jem read to Mrs. Dubose every afternoon.  It was the absolute last place Jem wanted to be.  It was pure misery.  It was dark and smelled like rot.  And she started every session with a long string of insults.  In the end, Mrs. Dubose dies and Jem walks away with just a little bit more courage and character.  Jem had to do hard things to get to his wisdom and virtue.  Turns out Mrs. Dubose was a drug addict, and only wanted to die being free from her addiction.  Jem helped her achieve this through his reluctant reading sessions. He didn’t even know what he was doing or why until after she was gone.  He did know he REALLY didn’t want to do it. 

Similar to this story, students don’t often understand the value of doing hard things and how it affects who they are deep down in their soul. Maybe you have heard the following questions, or questions like them, from your student:

Why must I take Latin?

Why must I participate in speech meet?

Why must I run that basketball drill again? 

Why must I practice viola?

the classical beauty of a child doing difficult things

They must do these things to cultivate the soil of their hearts for truth, goodness, and beauty. And our souls can only grow as we submit to a course of learning that reveals the splendor of the world God has made. So, armed with this understanding, how do we answer the questions above when our kids ask them?

In learning a foreign language, students understand the world is much bigger than themselves. There are people that are different, but different is not bad. It is an opportunity to create perspective, empathy, and humility in the souls of our kids. And submitting oneself to learning a foreign language, particularly Latin, means that one does not have to rely on someone else for help. This is truly liberating, since most major thinkers from Ancient Rome through the Renaissance wrote in Latin. A knowledge of Latin unlocks a treasure trove of thought on a multitude of subjects that inculcates both wisdom and virtue in the hearts of our students. 

Public speaking is the number one fear ahead of death!  Learning how to speak well and with ease to a group is rare in our modern world, but it is a powerful tool for influence. The beauty of the gospel shines even brighter with well-chosen words. And remember, at Covenant, it is called “Rhetoric school” for a reason. In Rhetoric school students learn the elements of persuasive rhetoric, and they get plenty of practice over the course of their Rhetoric school career.

why students should do hard things

Participating in sports teaches our students excellence comes through surrender, even when they do not want to.  And when they surrender, something wonderful happens as their abilities are transformed into something beautiful. They can now make something that once looked hard and make it look easy. Think about those Olympic athletes.

Playing a musical instrument requires much discipline, which again is a call to submission. And when our students submit, they are submitting to a call to make something sound beautiful. And when they do this, they are learning what it takes to produce something beautiful, and not just in music, in all things.

Isn’t this what we want for our kids? Wisdom and virtue are learned through submitting to a call that will teach them many skills, but more importantly, it will make their souls wise and virtuous.

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Topics: Education