It's a new school year and, as always, I can feel the excitement bubbling through the air, in both students and faculty. We have a new campus (some parts so new as to be not quite yet in actual existence!), new schedules, new classes, new students and teachers... It's a whirlwind of novelty such that Mr. Bergeron and I still had to consider carefully where to find the faculty work room this morning!
You can hear, too, the usual human responses to change, which typically amount to either awe or angst. Grumbling is par for the course among most adolescents (and, alas, many adults), but you can nevertheless feel and hear, among many, the more positive moods of amazement, thanksgiving, and joy.
"Be joyful" is one of the short-hand rules for my classroom. Many new students comment that they haven't heard such a directive since kindergarten or very early elementary. I mourn a bit when I hear such stories: all too often educators, when confronted with child-like exuberance, squash it in the interest of discipline rather than attempting to channel it into worthwhile expressions and activities. A great religious figure once said, "Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven." And we find that puckish humor, wide-ranging attention, and cultivation of wonder in many successful scientists, from Albert Einstein to Richard Feynman, and in writers from Shakespeare to Twain.
"I am responsible for the quality of my own education," is the first of the Aristoi Core Beliefs posted in every classroom -- and I draw attention to it from every student on the first day. Education requires responsibility, and responsibility requires attention. Joy is a great director of attention, both more potent and more pleasant than fear. And so I cultivate enthusiasm, and awe, and appreciation, not as sources of distraction and destruction in the classroom, but as keys for the memorization and consolidation of human knowledge, as guidestars to direct us toward the unity of knowledge.
"Student" comes from the Latin studium, meaning enthusiasm or zeal. And though "discipline" comes from discipulus, "student," the Latin word for "school" is ludus -- which also means "game." An unordered riot is not a successful amusement. Games, whether on the field or on the board, require an understanding of and respect for rules, an adult capacity for self-restraint and social behavior, and the ability to identify and learn from mistakes. But, by definition, they should also be fun.
Achieving such a balance in the classroom is, to be sure, a sometimes tenuous tightrope to walk. But it seems clear to me, from Latin roots and historical precedent, a thoroughly classical approach.