A Conversation about Standardized Testing

I recently had the privilege of recording my first Quiddity podcast for the CiRCE Institute with David Kern.  We had a conversation about standardized testing and classical education.  Take a listen HERE!

No Place for the Stagnant

“Having now had an opportunity to study schools as a headmaster as well as a teacher, I would argue that the teacher, not the curriculum, needs to be the focus of reform.  The greatest value of the curriculum proposed in this book, I now believe, is that it sustains and nurtures teachers as practitioners of the art of learning while discouraging non-learners from entering the profession…The classroom should be no place for teachers who are afraid of change, who are willing to talk about ideas ad nauseum but unwilling or unable to act on them, to experiment, to grow, to absorb new disciplines, to teach beyond themselves, their college lecture notes, their State-approved lesson plans, their textbooks.”

– David V. Hicks, in the 1990 preface of Norms & Nobility

Every teacher wants to be comfortable with their subject, courses, and routine.  We like to know what to expect and that is good and understandable.  After all, the first law of teaching according to John Milton Gregory is that the teacher must be fully equipped with the knowledge they wish to communicate.  We have to know what we are talking about, and we must know it well enough to arouse interest in our students and communicate clearly and effectively.

Yet the desire for comfort can morph into stagnation.  Rather than possessing healthy confidence, we can become entrenched in unwitting laziness.  Do we call our students to challenge themselves, to do hard things while we watch?  Or do we model what it means to be a learner, a lifelong student?

To sound the cry of “Excelsior!” while sitting contentedly in our current level of knowledge smacks of hypocrisy, and we all know that “Do as I say, not as I do” never works.

Summertime ought to be more than a break for us teachers.  A time of refreshment, certainly, but we must see it as a time for challenging ourselves as well.  Redeem the time.  Grow and stretch yourself (and not just from an abundance of naps).

  • If at all possible, attend a conference.  I hear there’s a great one coming up in Louisville.  The CiRCE Conference, “A Contemplation of Creation,” will be held from July 18th-21st.
  • Whittle down the reading list.  Every teacher I know has a list of books they’ve been meaning to read – all those books you wish you would have read when you were younger, if you had received a classical education.  If not now, when?
  • Study beyond your comfort zone.  Being a history teacher, several of my students have confessed that they simply aren’t “math people.”  Of course, I do my best to squash such artificial, dangerous assumptions…while maintaining them for myself.  Don’t know Latin?  Pick up a copy of Wheelock’s.  Not a “math person”?  Visit the Khan Academy online for some free instruction.

Do for yourself what you challenge your students to do.  Sharpen your mind.  Read, grow, study, and learn always.  Let it never be said of you that you teach because you will not do.

From my weekly column for the Circe Institute – 6/25/12

“The Emperor’s Handbook”

The “must read” list, like the making of books, never ends.  The Meditations of Marcus Aurelius hardly stands as a newcomer to that list, yet its place has been lifted by the recent translation from Scot and David Hicks.  Accessible, accurate, and consistent with the sense of Marcus, The Emperor’s Handbook provides inspiration and endless fodder for reflection.

Cover of

Marcus speaks of the valuable lessons and benefits gained from others – “Thanks to my great-grandfather, I didn’t have to waste my time in the public schools but had good tutors at home instead and learned that one cannot spend too much money on such things.”  From Rusticus, Marcus was taught “to read books for detailed understanding and not to settle for general summaries or accept uncritically the opinions of reviewers” (don’t take my word for it, read the book).

The text proves particularly valuable for headmasters and other leaders, providing rich guidance for those who shepherd others, yet doing so in a way that addresses everyman.

  • “First thing every morning tell yourself: today I am going to meet a busybody, an ingrate, a bully, a liar, a schemer, and a boor.  Ignorance of good and evil has made them what they are.  But I know that the good is by nature beautiful and the bad ugly, and I know that these wrong-doers are by nature my brothers, not by blood or breeding, but by being similarly endowed with reason and sharing in the divine.”
  • “Your days are numbered.  Use them to throw open the windows of your soul to the sun.  If you do not, the sun will soon set, and you with it.”
  • “Because you have chosen not to respect yourself, you have made your happiness subject to the opinions others have of you.”
  • “Not knowing what other people are thinking is not the cause of much human misery, but failing to understand the workings of one’s own mind is bound to lead to unhappiness.”
  • “Nothing will sooner prevent your true spirit from flourishing or be more difficult to root out than the distraction of a divided loyalty.  Nothing whatsoever – neither popularity, nor wealth, nor power, nor the pleasures of the flesh, nor anything of the sort – should compete in your affection for the good that flows from reason and neighborliness.”
  • “There is no present advantage in anything that may someday force you to break your word, or to lose respect for yourself, or to hate, suspect, or curse another, or to pretend to be other than you are, or to lust after what you’d be ashamed to seek openly.”

And, while Marcus’s seemingly contradictory advice is true – “You don’t have time to reread your diaries, or the lives of the ancient Greeks and Romans” – you ought to make time to read this one.  A short book, but not a quick read, The Emperor’s Handbook is a challenge and delight.  Don’t bother with the highlighters, you don’t have enough.

Reprinted from my weekly column for The Circe Institute.

Rush Limbaugh – A Progressive on Education

by Martin Cothran (MemoriaPress.com)

Recently, Rush Limbaugh tied his whole brain, not just half of it, behind his back. In the process he ended up sounding a whole lot like the cultural barbarians he claims to be fighting.

Limbaugh, channeling his inner Gradgrind (see Hard Times by Charles Dickens), launched a tirade today against classical education, saying that a classical studies degree from college is a “worthless degree.” Provoked by a sign-carrying Wall Street occupier who bemoaned her “useless” classical studies degree and her resulting lack of employment, the conservative talk show host charged colleges with scamming students by not telling them that their degrees in classical studies are “worthless” and won’t result in being able to find a job.

“Can you tell me where you would go to apply for a job with a classical studies degree?” asked Limbaugh. “[S]omebody at the university ought to say, ‘Babe, you are wasting your time in a nothing major, we are stealing your money, you’re going to be qualified for jack excrement when you get out of here.’”

Click HERE to read the rest of the article!