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Cheryl Floyd

Distracted from Delight

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I came across this article by Josh Gibbs about the home being necessary to a classical education. https://www.circeinstitute.org/blog/classical-education-demands-classical-home

Even though he’s referring to the disconnect between home and the classical school, are there ways in which we at home detract and distract from our own efforts to inculcate classical education, virtue, and schole’? 

I know I can over-schedule, then “fail” because I wasn’t realistic with my expectations of our time, attention, and abilities. I don’t apply that work ethic Josh refers to in our housework as a team, a habit, a concrete opportunity to prepare to work abstractly with diligence.

I do try to make sure most of what we watch and read can be approached with humane observations.  

What about your day-to-day practices? 

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I really enjoyed this article. It's an interesting thought--that a classical education, in the sense of "ordering the affections" can't be achieved without some support for the ideas and ideals beyond the school. I don't think it's perfection that we need (because that's impossible). But I keep thinking about what key principles, what central thoughts would create the best atmosphere.

Humane observations can be made about many things, some of which might be deemed fairly unworthy. When my oldest two were teens, we watched through several seasons of "24" together. It turned out to be the catalyst for some of our best discussions. All the characters make choices, constantly. Anyone want to count how many times in a season someone says, "I don't have a choice?" But they do. We discussed their alternatives, and with that show, one of the great things is that you see the consequence of a choice played out pretty quickly. We had a great time coming up with choices they might have chosen, and discussing the false dichotomy of "this or that"--as if only two choices were possible (sometimes, but not always). We often joked that the best choice, in many cases, would have been to sleep on it and do something "tomorrow," which isn't possible in "24." We would discuss how the choices showed good or bad judgment, good or bad character, concern for self or for others.

It was actually pretty great, and my 28 year old son--Marine and police officer--still talks about doing that together. It turned out to be one of the most formative things we did--and it wasn't school or culture or fine art. But it was very human.



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I think the words of Deuteronomy 6 apply well to the consideration of cultivating virtue: "And these words which I command you today shall be in your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, when you walk by the way, when you lie down, and when you rise up.  You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates."

There is teaching that goes on continually in the most mundane moments of life, and that constitutes formation. Later in the chapter it also indicates that all of the liturgies that God commands shall serve as prompts for teaching: when the children ask "why do we do these things" the parents narrate the history of God's salvation in the Exodus.

The pedagogy arising out of Deuteronomy six is thorough, proactive, and responsive: it prepares for and responds to every situation, it provides habits that prompt further explanation upon maturation, and it does so in the context of God's ordination (His law and commandments applied to the circumstances into which He brings His people).

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Thank you for your response, Karen. I agree that when I watch or read things with my kids, we talk about the choices and consequences of the characters. Every thing we read and watch isn't some literary mathematically morally problem and solution. That isn't reality. It's not even biblical. Jonah doesn't end with a harmony. It's almost like a sentence that ends with a preposition and no object, or a minor chord that doesn't resolve. And we see it and feel it so that we know it isn't ok or good. We shouldn't be like Jonah. 

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I'm coming back to this idea of how we unintentionally distract our children from what we want them to delight in - those true, good, and beautiful things right? I know I can spend more concentrated time thinking about work, doing work, and needing less time to use up physical energy. But I have noticed a few things as an adult human being that are true because I'm human, not because I'm an adult:

I need to get up and move around throughout the day. Sometimes I need to do a small amount of strenuous exercise. This helps me to be more attentive because I've gotten ride of pent-up energy, and I've engaged my energy to come to the forefront. Rather than making me more hyper, it calms me down, even though it wakes me up. Sometimes I just need to think about something different for a while, use a different set of thinking skills. When I come back to the original work I seem to be able to tackle it more thoroughly. 

If I spend too much time looking at a screen and clicking around on various articles, blogs, posts, and game spots, my eyes do not want to focus on one singular work, especially if it's long and complicated. And by complicated, I just mean it takes more time and attention than the quick reads and flitting about I do online. It short-circuits my ability to follow a train of thought past a few steps. Online I can click on something different if I don't like what I'm reading, get bored, or don't understand it. But this becomes an intellectual habit. I've noticed the more I spend in one book, or on one work, for an extended time period, and finish it, the better I get at following through and understanding other involved work. 

If these observations are true for us as adults, though maybe to a lesser extent as we grow up, what are the implications for children, or for us as we teach children? 

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Cheryl, I think what you've written is a challenge for all of us. I'm reminded of Simone Weil's "Reflections on the Right Use of School Studies With a View to the Love of God." She argues that "the development of the faculty of attention forms the real object and almost the sole interest of studies":


The Key to a Christian conception of studies is the realisation that prayer consists of attention. It is the orientation of all the attention of which the soul is capable towards God. The quality of attention counts for much in the quality of the prayer. Warmth of heart cannot make up for it.

It is the highest part of the attention only which makes contact with God, when prayer is intense and pure enough for such a contact to be established; but the whole attention is turned towards God.

Of course school exercises only develop a lower kind of attention. Nevertheless they are extremely effective in increasing the power of attention which will be available at the time of
prayer, on condition that they are carried out with a view to this purpose and this purpose alone...


Part of what I find interesting about Weil's argument is that she is so much less concerned about the content of what is being read or studied than she is about whether we are engaging in study in such a way as to improve our ability to attend to what is before us. If ever there were a system put into place to undermine this goal, it would be the internet. The way every website is set up with advertisements and links everywhere, we can't read one article without being prompted to think, "maybe I should be reading something else instead." And maybe (probably, in fact) there actually better things out there we could be reading. But are we "increasing the power of attention" by the way we browse the internet? For me, usually not.

Edited by Patrick
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That is  great reminder. I love Weil's point about attention as well. And it is so true about being on the internet or carrying around a phone at all. It's like we are constantly tempted to think we could be "doing" something better at any moment than what we are actually doing if we just browse our phone. 

I want my kids to look outside while we are driving, not down at a screen. But I do the same thing when I'm the passenger, because you know, I'm reading classical things... ick. 

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