The Time to Go to School
August 9, 2017
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“And the final outcome of education, I suppose we’d say, is a single newly finished person, who is either good or the opposite.”
Plato, Republic

Thinking about education is one of the most central and thorny of questions for parents. This time of year is usually a time of change and of implementation of ‘educational’ plans.

It is helpful to remember that for Plato and Aristotle ‘education’ referred to the entire project of forming the young into adults. They certainly appreciated the academic side of such formation. They also never reduced education to what we think of when we say ‘education’ or ‘schooling.’

The young are always being formed, and thus educated in the Greek sense, one way or the other. Plato and Aristotle were particularly aware that currents and customs in a culture are forming how the young think, desire, move, and act, for better or worse. When broader cultural currents are negative, the strain on a household is substantial. Parents of necessity must be seriously intentional about how to form their children.

The more academic part of education is often a source of particular stress—especially when it seems to come in conflict with other aspects of the formation of the young. For instance, how do we discern whether, where, and when to send away our children?

Such a difficult question will not admit of an easy answer. Several principles should be at work here, and different households will come to different answers in their particular situations. Setting aside for later a fuller consideration of this thorny issue, here we might remind ourselves of a few points.

First, our home should be a center of energy and life. The central aspects of ‘education’ can and should be going on in the home, by virtue of the nature and intensity of the life lived there. In our culture, this will require being intentional about home life.

Second, this time of year there will probably be some pain in transitioning from summer activities to the post-summer more ‘normal’ schedule, and the things associated with ‘school’—whether we have discerned that our children’s schooling should take them outside the home, or not.

In the end parents will need to strike a remarkable balance: on the one hand, we want our household to fill our children’s lives, truly being a vibrant home where we can be and grow together. At the same time, our children’s ultimate destiny does not lie within these walls, and at the appropriate times and in the appropriate ways, we must be ready to give them over to other persons and contexts, where they even more fully become themselves.

At whatever stage we are, this time of year gives us occasion to reflect upon and feel these things more deeply.

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Plato (427-347 B.C.), a student of Socrates, and teacher of Aristotle, is considered one of the greatest philosophers of all time. The Republic is one of the most widely read and influential of all books.

Image: Der Schulspaziergang, (The School Walk) by Albert Anker (1831-1910)

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