It’s hard to say what good teachers do.
But it’s easy to say what bad students don’t do.
They don’t read the material!
A few months back, I complained to my friend Ken Colston, a retired teacher, that many of the essay answers I was getting from my Homeschool Connections students were padded, meandering pieces that made me wonder if the students had even read the material they were busy pontificating about. “The only way to make sure they’re actually reading the material you’ve assigned is to give them multiple-choice tests,” Ken suggested. “This will avoid the deliberate vagueness of essay answers.”
And he’s right. And what have I learned from the multiple-choice quizzes I now routinely give in some of my Homeschool Conenctions courses?
I’ve learned that at least a third of my students in each class are simply not bothering to read the material. “Well, Dad,” says my daughter Kerry, “Why would you be surprised? They’re just kids. Colin and I never read the material,” Kerry adds, referring to her brother Colin and their school careers.
But we are fallen men and what Kerry is describing may be “school”. But it ain’t skool.
Let me explain.
Last week I posted about my play Socrates Meets Jesus . Not long after, I was contacted a former student of mine, who is now in college, and who emailed me expressing her frustration over Plato’s dialogue Phaedo, which is about the immortality of the soul. She was making the mistake of trying to read Plato with a kind of literal fundamentalism, missing the poetry and the vision while looking for a philosophic system.
I responded by turning to Eric Voegelin, a writer who has served as a gateway to Plato for me, and I pulled these quotations from Voegelin (Order and History, Volume III). Voegelin is writing about Socrates and his followers, but the things he says are really about any good teacher and any eager student (the etymology of the word student comes from “to be eager”, by the way) …
To create existential community through developing the other man’s true humanity in the image of his own—that is the work of the Socratic Eros …
“The Socratic Eros” is the soul’s desire for what is beyond. What Voegelin says above is simply that a “school” is a community, an “existential community”, a group of people joined together for a higher purpose.
It reminds me of playwright Arthur Miller, who distinguished between theaters, which he called “buildings for rent, real estate” and theatre. Miller says, “A Theatre is people; a collection of talented people, including playwrights, directors, actors, and scene designers, who share a common outlook upon art and life, and are permanently joined together for the purpose of producing dramatic art.” In other words a theatre is an “existential community”, a group of people united in seeking that which is beyond themselves.
And what is the Church but a similar “existential community”, a koinonia? True, most of our parishes don’t function as groups of people who (as Arthur Millers says about theatre) “share a common outlook upon art and life”. Most parishes I’ve been to in my extensive travels are filled with people who don’t seem to share a common outlook upon anything. But abusus non tollit usum – the abuse of a thing does not invalidate its proper use. The true Church is not just a gathering of strangers who may or may not know why they’re there, but an “existential community”, a group of people living together toward a common end.
In like manner, one could say that “schools” are “buildings for rent, real estate”, while a “Skool” (to parody Miller’s use of “theater” with an R-E at the end) is “a people: a collection of students who are joined together for a higher purpose”.
Voegelin speaks of Plato on the desire for immortality, which can take the form of people wishing to procreate and have heirs, so that they have physical beings who outlive them. But there is a desire for “spiritual procreation” as well …
Those in whom [the desire to procreate] is spiritual rejuvenate themselves through procreation in the souls of young men [or young women], that is, through loving, tending, and developing the best in them. That is the force that animates the world of the Platonic dialogue. The older man, Socrates, speaks to the younger man and, through the power of his soul, awakens in him the echoing desire for the Good. The Idea of the Good, evoked in the communion of the dialogue, ﬁlls the souls of those who participate in the evocative act. And thus it becomes the sacramental bond between them and creates the nucleus of the new society.
Of course that’s not just any good teacher and eager student, that’s (ideally) a writer and a reader, an artist and a viewer, Christ and the Apostles.