The Classical Difference

Classically Grounded: English-Literature at PPA

When one considers their English experience in school, a plethora of memories may be conjured. Some positive, some negative, and many, most likely, utterly underwhelming. As a product of public school, my own memories of my English education are that of all-consuming boredom. The irony of this is downright comedic, considering my chosen field of study in college was, in fact, English. However, barring a few classes taught by some exceptional teachers, I spent most of my formative years indifferent and unengaged in my English curriculum.

               What was the reason? A lack of interest? No, my appetite for reading and writing was voracious from the time I first learned both. A less-than-stellar attitude? From middle school to high school… I can admit that fault. However, there were exceptions—certain novels and plays assigned, particular writing projects from those aforementioned teachers—by which I was enthralled. Ultimately, my withdrawal stemmed mostly from limited scope and flat-lined material. Novels were given which held no greater meaning, no inspiring ideals, but simply checked a box on a yearly curriculum list. Writing assignments focused on uniform, strictly regimented research and no original thought. It seemed like with every year, an invisible bar was lowered further to ensure every student could meet the same, flimsy objectives. This bred boredom, laziness, and banality—none of which prepare a young person well for the world beyond graduation.

               These are the issues so often faced with schools and educators today, and we have been witnessing the consequences for years. The question is no longer why does it happen, but how do we remedy it? Classical education states that English and Literature serve a higher purpose. English—down to grammar rules and practices—should be inspiring. Students are engaged because of a circular teaching method. Subjects tie into one other, giving students a well-rounded understanding of why things work this way and how it all connects. At Providence, this style of integrative teaching permeates every lesson, class, and grade-level. Most importantly, it is all laid on the foundation of Christ. We learn because God created us to learn and to be curious. We read novels in which we can examine and understand characters and themes that display—or, in other cases, do not display—Christlike traits. We write to develop and hone critical thought, not just to regurgitate a Wikipedia article skimmed at twelve o’clock the night before. How can you engage a student in grammar lessons? Show them the importance of grammar and how each rule creates an ordered system. How can you develop a love for reading? Give them something to love—books which are good, beautiful, and true. How can you teach them the importance of writing? Show them writers who understood the difference between a meaningful literary work and, as Shakespeare so eloquently put it, “a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.”

               Perhaps what is most inspiring about English education at Providence is not the curriculum or methods themselves, but the love for the subject the educators exude with each lesson. An impression was made on me when I first stepped into this school and has stuck with me for three years: At Providence, students are taught that which is worth learning, and the leadership and staff discern what is worth learning by God-given standards. That, I believe, is what best inspires and impassions students.

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