Sunday, April 20, 2008

Spring and Winter Co-Mingle

Winter's nandina berries and spring's azalea.

Great Books High Schools

Winslow Homer's Country Schoolroom

This June my daughter will be graduating from Trinity School at Meadow View in Falls Church, Virginia. This is a "great books" high school. I sent my daughter here in 8th grade on the basis of the reading list. I have not been disappointed. I can vouch that she has read all of the listed material. From 9th grade on, history and literature are combined in a 2-hour daily seminar called Humane Letters. Books are read and discussed. When my daughter came home from her first day of Humane Letters in 9th grade, she was ecstatic: "I can't believe it. You sit around and drink coffee with your friends and talk about a book!" Not that my daughter is an avid reader or a zealous student.

Mostly, I wanted my daughter to go to Trinity for reason of the 11th grade reading list on the Greeks, including Aristotle and Plato. As in most Great Books schools, there is only one curriculum and no electives.

In Humane Letters, the students discuss the readings in class in the Socratic dialogue method, in which the teacher poses questions. They also write essays on each major reading. Essay writing is a major concern at Trinity--and the children are taught a very rigorous method of writing essays starting in grade 8, with the approach becoming more complicated and abstract in progression with the grade.

Trinity is a Christian school, and Catholic and Protestant doctrine is taught for each faith. The New and Old Testaments are also taught. I told my daughter early on that I could not let her go to a school in which God--the Creator and basis of all knowledge--is banned. She has always attended small Catholic or Christian schools that were intellectually rigorous and were not certified. (With Mr. Obama as President, such schools would be banned.)

Winslow Homer's Blackboard

Like many smaller Christian or non-Diocesan Catholic schools, Trinity plant and equipment is not the greatest, but the school's class size is very small (girls and boys are taught in separate classes), and each student receives all the attention and help they could possibly need.

I think my daughter has received a very good education at all of these uncertified schools. At Trinity, I am overjoyed with the struggles she has gone through to write her essays over the last years. I remember at one point, I nearly started laughing out loud at her determination to get the thesis of an essay right--not because she was in any way comical, but because I felt such joy at her ability to take ideas seriously and fight for the truth. The willingness to struggle to find the truth is what Trinity has given her.

The Great Books high school curriculum can be replicated in many environments. I hope that many more schools such as Trinity are founded all over the country. The small school with a rigorous and challenging curriculum with dedicated teachers--that's the ticket to bringing our educational system back to life, I believe, and ending the demoralizing de-schooling trends that have cut our children short.

Trinity has shown me that young people are very capable of understanding profound ideas and taking them seriously. I also believe that before young people start studying every other culture in the world they should have a thorough understanding of their own. This gives a solid basis for a child to enter college where more often than not, attacking Western civilization is the "politically correct" norm.

A fair number of graduates from Trinity at Meadow View go on to service our country, entering the Naval Academy, West Point, the Coast Guard Academy, Virginia Military Institute, and going through college on ROTC scholarships. My daughter will be entering the University of Pennsylvania School of Nursing in the fall.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Violence on the Playground and Against Teachers

Winslow Homer's Snap the Whip

This week two stories have drawn national attention that indicate a breakdown of discipline in public schools. One is the case of a teacher in the Baltimore city school system who was assaulted by a student. The case prompted the Baltimore Sun to probe the extent to which city teachers are subjected to violent behavior from students and what the consequences are for the perpetrator when the violence is reported.

The second is a report in today's Washington Post that a principal has been forced to prohibit children from playing tag during recess, because it had become a game of "intense aggression" resulting in injuries--this in an elementary school in up-scale McLean, Virginia.

To me both of these stories shine a light on not only the state of our schools but the kind of culture that is producing violence as a way of life for children--both poor and not-poor. It also raises the issue of the breakdown of discipline in the country's public schools. In my view, we are reaping the results of a prevailing culture that views inconoclasm, subversion, and rebellion as politically correct. By this I do not mean the probing and questioning of ideas or values that enter into the meaningful back and forth between children and parents and children and teachers. I mean the predisposition to resist and flout any rule or norm or morality simply because it is a rule and the individual wants to resist any boundaries. Of course, children who resist boundaries and find that indeed the boundaries stretch with their unruly will often push, are in fact invited to push, to the next level of misbehavior. Lack of common-sense discipline also feeds a child's insecurity, since a child is smart enough to know that something is out of whack if he or she is running the show. This insecurity, in turn, makes it very difficult for a child to concentrate--to work--because the child feels anxious and unsafe.

Kay S. Hymowitz, who writes on family issues for the City Journal, wrote "Who Killed School Discipline" in 2000, which sheds some light on the way in which teachers and principals have been backed into the corner and forced to accept indiscipline and violence in the schools.

There is a lot to think about how to revitalize our country's schools so that we produce educated adults who are able to meet their responsibilities as future parents, and I invite any and all comments.

Monday, April 7, 2008

And Another Cheerful Note

I made this dress for another sweet niece who just turned 8 years old. Her name is Sam, and she is as smart as a whip. The fabric is a cotton knit I bought many years ago because I loved it for a little girl. The pattern is Simplicity 3866. It took a lot less time than my first dress, and the knit was very easy to work with.