“Faith is the art of holding on to things your reason has once accepted, in spite of your changing moods.” – C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity
I don’t know about you, but my moods too often dictate the state of schooling in my house. Right around this time every year, I grow weary and long for the hot, lazy summer in which I get to indulge in reading, gardening, and project-ing. But I know I can’t stop yet. I can’t let tiredness and weariness, my feelings and emotions, determine my grasp, my “holding on to” of school. If we allow our moods, our emotions, to control us, we will not reach our goals. C. S. Lewis paints a clear image of what we are to do: we are to practice the art of holding on, in spite of our moods. David, exhausted and running for his life, practices this sentiment by commanding his soul to do what it ought, despite the circumstances and his emotions, reminding himself in the Psalms to, “Praise the Lord.” Christian, in Pilgrim’s Progress, after seeing his burden roll down into “yon sepulcher” while at the foot of the cross, states his incredulity that it is gone, because he still feels it. The Shining One responds, “’Tis the way of dumb, brute beasts to live guided by their feelings. But if you wish to understand reality, you must not consult with yours.” Let us learn from the wisdom of our predecessors and mentors; let us not make decisions from a place of tiredness and worn-out emotions. Let us rather hold on, run the race, and finish the year strong!
In light of “holding on” and finishing strong, how can we complete the final objectives of our school year through assessment and activities, and then begin planning for next school year?
In order to assess our students, we must first know the measure to which we are comparing them; in other words, what is our goal? Without a clear objective, we cannot assess whether or not we and our students are hitting that target. First and foremost, we must identify our primary goals as nurturing them in the image of God, helping them grow in knowledge, understanding, and wisdom, and equipping them for their service in the Kingdom. We do have secondary goals that are utilitarian in nature, but if we pursue the primary goals, the secondary ones will be met. Our assessment should be in harmony with these objectives. So, what does that look like? Assessment should be according to clearly laid out expectations. In the Challenge levels, these expectations conform to the five canons of rhetoric: invention, arrangement, elocution, memory, and delivery. Our feedback must be narrow, specific, and for the purpose of edifying and coaching. We want to make sure to give God the glory for our students’ strengths and to praise them for their hard work and diligence. And finally, we want to be one of many voices speaking into their lives; they should also receive feedback from their peers, from their directors, and from themselves. All these parameters will help lead to edifying, godly assessment.
The final activities vary, depending on your children’s level in Classical Conversations, but across the Challenge levels, there are papers to complete, blue book assessments for which to prepare, and daily assignments to keep up with. Don’t neglect the other rhetorical events, either. These are their debates, individual events, speeches, and presentations. Let the students feel the importance of them as they wrap up their year’s Challenge experience and ready themselves to move on to the next phase of their lives. Keeping students motivated to complete all these tasks with birds chirping and sunshine streaming can be a very real challenge. One of the best methods I’ve found is to keep reminding the students what we are about. Milton said, “The chief end of education is to repair the ruin of our first parents.” In other words, their education helps sew together the torn fragments of relationship with God; we can know more about Him through His general revelation, His creation. All the subjects we study point us to Him. Of course, this may only inspire and motivate older students, so younger students should be reminded of the reward that awaits the completion of their hard work: summer break! Often, in the difficult spring season, I offer smaller, more frequent rewards for jobs well done because I know how hard it can be to attend, to “hold on.” These can be trips to the ice cream store, reading outside, a day at the park or zoo. Scripture reminds us that “The worker deserves his wages” (Luke 10:7 NIV), so I model that for my children by letting them reap the fruit of their labor.
Now that we have a plan for finishing strong, let’s turn our attention to next year. As parents, we need to have a vision (Proverbs 29:18) for continuing the challenging road of homeschooling through high school. So, what is a vision? Simply put, it is a snapshot of a clear and preferable future. Our role is to see that snapshot, to envision what our student’s future can look like if they continue in Classical Conversations. There are several ways to picture that vision. Visit upper level Challenge classes to see what a day looks like. Observe the richness of student-led discussion, get a glimpse into the exploration and discovery of seeing God’s created world in science. Explore the reasons behind studying various subjects like history, economics, theology, and ancient literature; read C. S. Lewis’ chapter, “On the Reading of Old Books,” in God in the Dock, or watch the Romans Road videos on CC Connected. Plan out your goals for your students. Determine what you are striving for and see how Challenge fulfills those goals. Finally, attend a three-day Practicum in your area. There is nothing like it for getting a shot in the arm of renewed energy, vision, and training.
So, hold on! Don’t grow weary in doing good. Remember the things your reason has once accepted—your vision—and finish strong! “Now to him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you blameless before the presence of his glory with great joy, to the only God, our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion, and authority, before all time and now and forever. Amen” (Jude 24:25 NIV).