Every Christmas, the Torrey Academy tutors get together for a Christmas party, and the main event at this party is reading aloud G.K. Chesterton’s Ballad of the White Horse. It’s not a particularly Christmasy tale (it’s about King Alfred’s defeat of Guthram and his Danes at Ethandune) but it is beautifully written and both heart-wrenching and hopeful. It’s always wonderful to be able to read a book of your own choosing during Christmas break, but it’s even more delightful to read a book aloud with your friends, and that is why we chose a poetry reading to begin our Christmas celebrations. You all, unfortunately, won’t fit into the Torrey office to join us for our reading, but I can offer suggestions for texts you will enjoy reading at home. The following list consists of books particularly conducive to an evening spent together with family or friends around a fire at home, or, since we’re in Southern California, perhaps around a bonfire ring at the beach.
- Tolkien’s Letters from Father Christmas. This book is a collection of letters from Father Christmas that Tolkien wrote for his own children over twenty years, which were delivered to them each Christmas. They contain tales of the various adventures and travails of Father Christmas and his helpers, including one particularly unlucky North Pole Bear. Some editions contain Tolkien’s own delightful illustrations.
- Dorothy Sayers’ The Man Born to Be King. This series of twelve short plays on the life of Jesus were originally broadcast as radio plays on the BBC from 1941–1942. The plays begin with the birth of Jesus, and continue through his death and resurrection. Though only the first few are properly about the Christmas story, it is good to be reminded of the entire story of Jesus’ incarnation that began with his birth in Bethlehem.
- Plato’s Meno. This might seem like an odd suggestion for Christmas reading. However, it is an excellent dialogue to spark discussions about virtue and education, which I think is great for any time of year. Additionally, Platonic dialogues are delightfully written, and their dialectic form make them particularly suited for reading aloud.
- John Greenleaf Whittier’s epic poem Snowbound. This poem is particularly fitting since Biola’s neighboring city, Whittier, is named after him, but most residents I’ve asked haven’t read anything by him. Whittier was one of the Fireside Poets, along with Longfellow and others, so named for their works’ suitability to be read by families together by the fireside. Snowbound is perhaps not quite as good as Longfellow’s The Song of Hiawatha or Evangeline, but it does raise interesting questions about the pull of nostalgia in a time of change, as the poem was written about a dying way of life at the end of the Civil War. This pull of nostalgia is often particularly felt at Christmas, and Whittier’s poem gives voice to some of those deeply held feelings.
- Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. Yes, this story is familiar to everyone, and perhaps even feels a little cliché to some. However, reading Dickens’ actual words is a different experience from watching a movie adaptation, and movies are how most of us are familiar with the story. Dickens is a great story-teller, and since this is a shorter novella, it’s perfect for reading out loud.
Should students care about General Education?
As a teacher, I’ve heard numerous students claim such things as, “I am only going to be an electrician, so I don’t need a college degree” or “I’m planning on just staying home with my kids, so I don’t really need an education.” These statements are troubling, for more than one reason.
The first is tangential to my point, but worth noting: using language such as “only” or “just” to describe your future occupation does a disservice to it and to you as a pursuant of it. Our society would be in serious trouble if we had no electricians or mechanics or janitors, and taking care of a home is a much bigger job than the word “just” implies. Jobs that keep society running are important.
A similar problem happens in the reverse; I’ve heard students say, “I am going to be a physicist, so why should I read Shakespeare?” The “only” is implied here; it may be true that you will become a physicist, but surely you won’t just be a physicist and have no other duties or interests. Everyone—electricians, mechanics, physicists, teachers, parents—are humans, and, as humans, you need more than just vocational training to flourish. Read more
We were all told as children that we “knew better than that” if we persisted in acting upon a belief that ran contrary to reality. Children learn about gravity and know better than to try to fly by jumping off the roof. Children learn that monsters aren’t real, and they should know better than to be afraid of what might be under the bed. Many keep using the phrase as a way to explain how much they think they know about the world, often with a derisive connotation. Indeed, some who do not profess the Christian faith use this language when describing why they do not believe in Jesus; they “know better” than to think a man born in the Middle East two thousand years ago is actually God. Read more
In Torrey Academy, we love taking students on meaningful field trips. We think that by visiting authentic places¹, students can learn more about the text or topic of study they are interacting with in class. As a homeschool parent, there are a number of great field trips available to you. The Torrey Academy tutors have compiled a short list of suggested activities for Spring Break, along with some discussion questions that you can talk about as a family. Of course, this list is focused on Los Angeles, as it’s our home base, but online parents can perhaps be inspired to find similar activities in their hometowns. Read more
A question that is often addressed in Torrey Academy staff meetings is, “what’s the best way to teach our students?” What is the business, if you will, of education? How we answer this question determines what we do with our students in our classrooms. On this point, Dorothy Sayers, in The Mind of the Maker, declares that “It is the business of education to wait upon Pentecost.”1 We at Torrey Academy agree with this wholeheartedly, but it sounds a bit strange; are we really waiting for tongues of flame to descend upon our heads in a Torrey class? Of course not. (At least, this hasn’t happened yet.) Sayers does not use “Pentecost” as the historical descent of the Holy Spirit after the Ascension, but the idea of Pentecost does paint a picture of what we are waiting for.
So what is Pentecost? At the historical Pentecost, it was the descent of the Holy Spirit and subsequent illumination of the disciples. Sayers uses the term to mean an epiphany, a revelation of an idea that illuminates students’ minds. If the business of education is waiting for Pentecost, educators must wait for the ideas presented in texts and discussion to work upon students’ minds until they have such an epiphany. Read more