[an address given to Odyssey Charter School on Feburary 25, 2010 to inaugurate a new school director]
We often talk about the hows of education: How should we teach writing? How should we teach mathematics? How should we teach science? And so forth. Curricula and pedagogies address the how of education. Hows are important, for without effective hows, we won’t be doing our job as educators.
But more important than the how of education is the why of education. The why of education has been largely forgotten, assumed, or has been appropriated by businesses and other special interests. And this is the real tragedy of our time, for without a compelling why, no matter how good the how is, we will not be sharing with our children their full human potential.
So I want to consider for a moment the question, “Why do we educate our children?” This may be an uncomfortable question if you’ve never done so.
I think there are many valid reasons we educate children, some of them obviously practical: so they can get a good job someday, so they can manage a household someday, so they don’t get ripped off when they do business with other people.
Other reasons may not be so obviously practical. Why take calculus if you’re not going into science or engineering? Why read Shakespeare if you only want to be an accountant? Why learn what Plato’s notion of the Good and the True were if you’re not going into philosophy? Why learn a Bach fugue when you have no musical inclinations? And why in the Dickens would you read Dickens if all you want to do in life is get a decent paying job and raise a family?
Aristotle showed us that all knowledge can be divided and categorized, and our educational system is still feeling the effects of this division and specialization. But real education comes when you understand that knowledge has far more power when you don’t cut it up, but instead follow all of its connections and secret passages, and see the beautiful patterns of the whole.
This is why the founders of Odyssey believe a classical education is special. Good things rub off on us when we spend time with the great thinkers and writers of history. You may not always agree with a great thinker, but once you sincerely attempt to address the great thinker’s arguments, you put yourself on a path to a higher plane of humanity. And by learning broadly—all things from chemistry to physics, Latin to philosophy, art to mathematics—you begin to acquire a taste for learning in general, and a sense of a higher purpose in life.
Odyssey Charter School was founded on the belief that a broad and classically-based education is the best way to form a young mind into something that will be able to know what to do with anything that is thrown at it in the future.
A man or woman with a mind able to analyze new information critically and fairly, along with whatever other gifts they may have, will not only be able to better discern truth from error, but will be a powerful and creative force for good in the world.
How many of today’s problems exist because as a society we never learned to write well and so we communicate poorly, causing deep misunderstandings? How many of us never learned to look outside of our own culture, making us self-centered and small-minded, and so we hastily judge and listen poorly to people who are different from us? Or how many of us are stymied when faced with challenging or complex problems and so throw up our hands in despair because we never learned to think well.
These are the ills and trends of our culture and our world that Odyssey Charter School exists to counter. By teaching our students the best that humanity has to offer, they will be far better equipped to reject error as they strive to create a higher, nobler and more virtuous world, starting with themselves.
But Odyssey cannot do it alone; we need parents who also believe in education and who understand that school is not day-care, and who know that real education is what happens in the home.
The purpose of the Board of Trustees of Odyssey Charter School is to ensure that the school is accomplishing its mission and goals, that each student become a life-long learner through a classically-based curriculum. The board does this by hiring a competent CEO and holding him or her accountable for the achievement of the school.
When Odyssey’s board began interviewing director candidates, the most important thing we were looking for was someone who understood what a classical education looked like and knew how to convey that kind of education to young minds. We were delighted when Mr. Lockhart interviewed for the position. It didn’t take long for us to realize that we had a candidate who not only knew how to run a school from a logistical standpoint, but also someone who has been schooled in the classics and himself a model of a continuous-learner.
Odyssey Charter School was founded on the belief that the great, ongoing conversation of thoughts, ideas, music, science, mathematics, and art is worth studying, preserving and passing on; that our students can understand, converse about, and become significant threads in this great tapestry we call human history. And we believe in Mr. Keith Lockhart’s ability to execute this mission passionately and competently. Welcome Mr. Lockhart.
A man may take to drink because he feels himself to be a failure, and then fail all the more completely because he drinks. It is rather the same thing that is happening to the English language. It becomes ugly and inaccurate because our thoughts are foolish, but the slovenliness of our language makes it easier for us to have foolish thoughts. The point is that the process is reversible. Modern English, especially written English, is full of bad habits which spread by imitation and which can be avoided if one is willing to take the necessary trouble. If one gets rid of these habits one can think more clearly, and to think clearly is a necessary first step toward political regeneration: so that the fight against bad English is not frivolous and is not the exclusive concern of professional writers.
Anyone? Anyone? George Orwell, 1946 [link]. Read on:
As I have tried to show, modern writing at its worst does not consist in picking out words for the sake of their meaning and inventing images in order to make the meaning clearer. It consists in gumming together long strips of words which have already been set in order by someone else, and making the results presentable by sheer humbug. The attraction of this way of writing is that it is easy. It is easier — even quicker, once you have the habit — to say In my opinion it is not an unjustifiable assumption that than to say I think. If you use ready-made phrases, you not only don’t have to hunt about for the words; you also don’t have to bother with the rhythms of your sentences since these phrases are generally so arranged as to be more or less euphonious.
My own experience tells me that bad writing is always a result of one of two factors: 1) the author is uneducated and doesn’t know how to write or 2) the author is lazy.
The first problem can be solved with practice and hard work: anyone can learn to write well if they’ll care enough to read what they’ve written and change it until the words are right. Good elementary and secondary school teachers who understand and can teach this are as angels from heaven. The second problem is solved when the intended audience stops reading and goes elsewhere.
The other day, I went to Chinese Restaurant with some cow-orkers for some Nice Chinese Food. Why do these things tickle me so?
[Note: You can skip the next 6 paragraphs or so to the mildly amusing anecdote if you don’t like my seemingly endless diatribes. If you don’t like my mildly amusing anecdotes either, you can jump right to the final 4 or 5 paragraphs and enjoy my grandiose moralizing.]
When I bought my scooter last March, a lot of people asked about it. What kind is it? Is it fast? What kind of mileage do you get? Where’s the clutch? Can I ride it? (answers: “a Genuine Buddy”, “60-65 mph on a straightaway”, “90-ish mpg”, “it’s a continuous clutch—just twist and go”, and “no.”).
(a photograph of my erstwhile office)
But the best question has been, “Why did you buy that scooter and not some other kind?” I’ve mostly handwaved my way through that question with something like “I researched it for two years” yadda, yadda, yadda. It’s true that other people who have owned multiple scooters really like it, and that influenced me. There’s also the great support group and local service shop. But every major brand has its loyal following: these reasons are not completely unique to my scooter.
In reality, you’re fairly safe with any scooter from not-China: Kymco, Honda, Yamaha, Genuine, Sym, Lambretta, Bajaj, etc. These are all good brands that have been around for a long time. The Chinese scooters you see for sale on every other corner of major thoroughfares are what the cognoscenti call “disposable scooters.” They usually offer 90 day warranties, which I’m told you’re lucky to make it through without incident. If you go to any scooter shop that’s been around for more than a year or two, you’ll find dozens of these sub-$1000 disposables in the junkyard behind the shop and none for sale in the shop itself.
The owners and mechanics of good scooter shops will tell you what the Chinese scooters are made of: $%*#@! In layman’s terms, this means they’re made of inexpensive plastic parts and poor quality, brittle metals that are not designed to last long under heat or stress. They’re the scooter equivalent pressboard furniture: it may do just fine for you if you don’t move it far or often. And keep it out of the rain.
[I’m not bagging on China. I love China (sometimes). Most of the nice things I own were assembled in or have parts from China. But Chinese-made scooters are terrible. Ride a few of them and then ride something from the list above and you’ll see what I mean. Talk to scooter mechanics, ask around. There’s a reason they’re so cheap.]
Another reason I bought a Buddy was the 2 year warranty and roadside assistance (at no extra cost). I always thought roadside assistance was for sissies. I’d never needed it for my car (I somehow always managed to find a phone and call someone), but today I was proven wrong. I am proud to say that roadside assistance is awesome.
I’m cruising north on Geneva Road this afternoon. A dump truck in the left lane and an 18-wheeler ahead of me in the right lane. The truck in my lane is drifting occasionally into the shoulder and stirring up a lot of dust and gravel. My face is being pelted with little objects, so I start to slow a little and BAM and then rat-tat-tat-tat-tat over and over. Something is making a terrible noise in my rear wheel. I slow down and pull off the road. The rat-tat-tat stops, but I dismount to see what’s going on.
Protruding from the rear tire is about a half-inch of a rusty nail. Crud. Air is already hissing from the tire, so I pull the whole thing out. Three-freaking-inches of nail. It was nearly all the way in. Crud. I think I can make it another quarter mile—maybe.
I turn on the hazard blinkers and creep along the shoulder until I get to the next gas station. I can feel the rear tire is completely flat before I get there, so I walk it from the curb to the building and park it on the sidewalk in front of the store. A nice guy on a skateboard mentions a scooter shop nearby (which isn’t there anymore actually, but he didn’t know that, so I just thanked him). We chat a little bit. Then I remember a month or so ago getting my roadside assistance card in the mail:
I call the number, and a pleasant voice asks, “Are you in a safe location?” Sweet. “You bet I am.”
In another minute she’s asked for my policy number and verified all of my information. She asks for my location and where I want it towed. I walk into the air-conditioned convenience store to get out of the 90°+ heat. The guy with the skateboard is charging his cell phone from an outlet behind the garbage can. “Things ok?” he asks.
“Yeah,” I say. “I remembered I have roadside assistance.”
“Awesome!” he says. Then he turns away to make a call now that he’s got some juice in his phone.
15 minutes later and the tow truck is there. I sign a paper saying that Larry’s Towing has my scooter. In 30 minutes the truck is on its way to The Scooter Lounge (“the best scooter shop in the universe!”). No charge for any of this—it’s all part of the package. For 2 years. It also covers car rental, but I don’t need that today (I’m hanging out at the gas station’s convenience store writing this until my wife picks me up).
But this essay isn’t really about scooters and flat tires. It’s about quality. There are companies that care first about what they do, and there are companies that care first about making money. Some folks think that you can do the latter without doing the former, and I think in the short term they’re often right: you can fool some of the people some of the time.
While most people care about quality in something, whether it’s the TV shows they watch or the beer they drink, many people don’t seem to care about quality in most things. They’re going to buy the cheapest things over and over, rather than wait and save up for something better. It just doesn’t matter to them.
I don’t know if there’s any correlation between people who don’t care about using quality things and people who don’t care about creating quality things (or doing quality work) but I know that people who care about making quality almost universally appreciate it in the things they use themselves: their cars, homes, food, clothing, music, furniture, plumbing, computers, software, tools, and even scooters.
This is not to say that everything we have must be the best. We make do with many things and budget constraints often force us to temper what’s important to us. But the things that are important should be of adequate quality to give satisfaction.
It’s also important to keep in mind that tastes change over time, often for the better: what was satisfying to you at one time may not satisfy you later on (e.g., making dough by hand used to be great, but a Bosch makes making bread oh-so-much more fun). Having quality nearby makes making more quality enjoyable.
coip |koyp| verb create a forgery of abysmal quality : she coiped and pasted the email, but all of the accented characters were totally horked.