Thomas Jefferson Education
So, this was the conference that last year first sparked my interest in my own education. I will also add here, the powder to this spark was the Classical Conversations practicuum in June 2011 and reading (within days of the practicuum) A Thomas Jefferson Education. And I cannot forget also the painful pruning of God: being removed from management at work. This was not due to any failure on my part, but a flattening of the reporting structure. There could have been some lack of confidence in me from some, but my performance review was outstanding. I took it as an insult–precisely because this position had become an idol and source of pride in my life. I am very achievement oriented, and this position consumed my mind and planning. Many of the skills I learned during that year of management were very valuable, and I use them now with my family and others. I did come to see that this was a bone fide pruning, and it helped me to see that there was a greater purpose at work. This vacancy of work focus provided room and wind to my growing love of self-education.
Back to the NCHE Conference: As I looked around the conference and listened to the wisdom of the speakers, it really occured to me that I must get more involved in my children’s education. My attitude had been “my wife’s got this.” I worked hard 40-50 hours a week and my off time was my off time. Not that I segregated myself from everyone else, but I didn’t think to direct the home. I wanted to pursue my own interests, at times exclusively.
Part of my current activities are to read to the kids as often as possible. Before basketball season, and definitely through the summer, I read to them every day. Right now I am reading Treasure Island, and either my wife or I read the Bible to the younger kids every evening.
Another part is being able to talk through current events or science or history. With my knowledge now of intelligent design, I can talk about the details of life. It has also renewed my interest in what is going on in academia, which, through rote routine scientific work, had atrophied. (I am a scientist, but I am more specialized to techniques. My knowledge of the current research is actually limited.) We just finished watching the Horatio Hornblower series, and used that as ground to discussion. In general, I now try to stop to discuss what is going on and bring meaning to as much as possible. For instance, when we were watching The Spiderwick Chronicles, I stopped the movie and asked my kids what they thought of the family dynamics at the beginning of the film. We discussed divorce, how it affects everyone, how there are families who experience this all the time, and how Jesus could provide the healing.
Another part of our home now is a focus on music. With our involvement in Dave Ramsey’s Financial Peace University, we have paid off more debt and have prioritized our money to better things. We are still not completely out of debt, but we have been able to provide piano lessons for the kids for the past year, and now want to pursue violin/guitar with the two oldest. This is real investment!
With regard to money, we have set up a chore chart and allowed the kids to earn money, and through this they have learned both the value of money and how to manage it. When the want candy or gum, they buy it. When they want toys, they save and buy it. Just yesterday, my oldest daughter (who gets more, and also is responsible to buy her own clothes) was talking about a beautiful dress that was $40. She was shocked and outraged that something so simple was that expensive! That was music to my ears!
By really evaluating the holes in my education, remembering the passion and wonder I sometimes had for learning, I have sought to provide a good structure here at home, or at least give input. By being involved, I am able to give both my wife as teacher and my kids (especially my 14-year-old) both advice and direction in organizing the day and week, skills essential for college and beyond.
So, to say the least (which I didn’t), I am very excited for this year’s conference!!
Today was a full day of small-scale purification at work, which afforded me ample snippets of time in order to read. I perused Saturday’s Wall Street Journal and also was able to read one of the articles I had printed from the American Science Affiliation. The article was by Dennis Venema and was a review of a book I have just purchased and want to read, Signature in the Cell by Stephen C. Meyer. The author is a proponent of Intelligent Design, and I believe coined the phrase, I think.
The title of this short post became clear to me as I read Venema’s article. First, it was a critical review of the book and pointed out the flaws in Meyer’s arguments. I was not really expecting that. It was not done out of disrespect, but out of scientific necessity. I had assumed that Signature was going to be a source of authority for me and that it would be flawless. Also, this article strained my scientific knowledge base. It made me feel ignorant. Which I am. But with the amount of reading and application I have been doing, I…well, I obviously started to think highly of myself…and I did feel my pride deflated. I realized, again, that my self-education is going to require work (not just reading) and serious thought and a certain level of mastery of subjects.
So, as was presented in “A Thomas Jefferson Education,” George Wythe had his students write an essay every day. I don’t think I can do that, since I am not really at this full-time, but I think I will use this blog to essay about what I am learning, and of course, these sorts of meditations.
I was very surprised at how much I liked the book “Ishmael” by E.D.E.N. Southworth. We had just purchased some books from Lamplighter Publishing, and this was book of the year one year. Based on that, I decided to read it. I was not prepared for how rich the description and narrative would be. At first, with the tale of Nora and Herman, I was put off by this seemingly petty girl and the forward young heir, but was drawn into the story quickly. The development of the characters was so well done, at times I wanted to pray for them as if they actually existed and their troubles were present day!
This was an apt book for me to read, at the start of a journey into the classics. Prior to this book, I read “A Thomas Jefferson Education” by Oliver DeMille. To summarize this book quickly: classics and mentoring. It has become my goal to educate myself and stop wasting breath on so much amusement. What better character to read about, at the start of this expedition, than Ishmael Worth! There are a few qualities I would like to reflect upon, and hopefully apply to my own life.
The first quality I admired in Ishmael is his diligence. This boy took advantage of every opportunity he was given, fulfilling DeMille’s statement that only students truly educate themselves. Teacher’s may inspire, but students only learn when they apply themselves. As a child, he worked for the professor of odd jobs to get his start to education. In his dedication to protecting Mr. Middleton’s carriage from the Burghe boys, he was gifted his precious “History of America” book, of which he studied and whose characters molded Ishmael’s personality. When at Mr. Middleton’s school, he applied himself at once to his lessons, memorizing three when only assigned one. True, he did not see school as a chore, but as a love affair, but coming from nothing, he realized the value of what he had and took advantage of every opportunity. It seemed to have an avalanche effect on his life; the more he applied himself, the more he learned; the more he learned, the greater the pleasure and gratitude; and this lead again to greater application of his energy. When he goes to live with Reuben Gray, he gains access to a few law books which he reads. When he gains access to the law library of Judge Merlin, he applies himself, and even, though employed as a schoolmaster, walks to the local courthouse to observe proceedings. In the end, Ishmael has educated himself to the level that he very successfully passes the Washington bar exam.
None of this would have been possible if not for the unfailing integrity of Ishmael. Ishmael makes decisions that I would not make. He makes no compromise when compromise is both logical and not sinful. He would not accept reward for having integrity. He would not borrow money from the wallet of Mr. Middleton, found in the snow, even when he and Hannah were starving. He would rather sell the most precious item in the world, his “History of America,” rather than take any of the money. He did what was right exclusively. He saved the no-good Burghe boys at risk of his own life. He refused to take the brief of Mr. Brown, his very first of his career as a lawyer which could have “secured his future,” instead electing to represent the defendant in the case free of charge. This was his duty to God, and indeed it inspires me to strive for greater heights.
Under both these qualities runs bedrock of morality and gratitude. He read of Washington, Monroe and Putnam, and could have easily admired them from afar as great men who attained great fame. No, Ishmael did not stop there, but actively and relentlessly applied these standards to his own conduct. He applied the teachings of the Bible to his own heart and mind, and accepted nothing less than strict right action. He also gave glory to God for everything. He was thankful for a mere book to read and reread. He was thankful for the jobs he was able to perform, for the opportunity to attend Mr. Middleton’s school, and for the opportunities to study and practice law. Having come from nothing, his perspective was tuned to seeing the difference in attitudes between privilege and poverty. Even those he loved, like Mr. Middleton and Judge Merlin, he would not yield his moral compass to their counsel. Even when he became successful, he could have easily just transitioned into the complacent and ignorant morality of the rich but did not.
Ishmael is the hero of my journey into education. As I sit here, nearly forty-two years old, I have such a yearning for the classical education I never received. I sorely have desired it over the years, and at times I have pursued it. Never have I stayed the course, though, as Ishmael did. But education has be built on the foundation of morality, of truly reflecting on what is good and suffering for what is right. As I recently heard Mark Hamby state, education is built on virtue and that if you look at children that do not have a good education, it is usually because there is a lack of character. Based on my propensity for amusement, it is not a mystery why my journey has been so discontinuous. May God grant me the character of Ishmael and may I suffer to do good and right no matter the trials. May I be diligent, moral and grateful.