Classical Education and Dignified Leisure Must Be Supported at Home

Terrence Moore

August 1, 2003

Teachers and parents must work together to make education effectual. To ensure that students’ learning takes place in both the school and the home, parents should:

  • demonstrate good character;

  • help their children develop effective study skills and work habits;

  • oversee their progress in reading, writing, and mathematics in the early grades;

  • encourage students of all ages by asking questions and discussing what they have learned on a regular basis;

  • hold high expectations of student performance.

Most important, parents should create in the home an environment conducive to study. A serious education requires students to engage in serious work at home. The exercises, reading assignments, and test preparation that rigorous schools require of their students are not busy work. This private study guarantees that they will be prepared for the learning that takes place in class. Unfortunately, the modern world presents all sorts of distractions to youth: television, music, video games, the internet. These rivals for students’ attention compromise real learning. It is therefore essential that students have at home a place to work for a couple of hours of the day free from the distractions of other people or the clamor of the various media. Teachers cannot police students’ behavior outside of school; parents must. The following considerations might help parents to ensure their children’s success and to foster in their children habits and pursuits that ennoble them.

Television is a distraction. The notion that one can study while watching television is a complete illusion. The t.v. should be turned off while the student is studying. Moreover, watching too much television compromises the child’s imagination. Reading, drawing, and observing natural phenomena, on the other hand, are activities that feed the child’s imagination and invite him to pursue further studies. Therefore the amount of time spent in front of the television should be restricted. One show per day is probably enough. Movies are rather different than television. Classic films of the past and the present can be both entertaining and educational. Watching movie after movie, however, can be as destructive to the imagination as television. Parents might also recommend movies not found in the “new releases” section of the video store. It is astounding that today’s youth have not seen “Rocky” or “Jaws,” much less “High Noon” or “Citizen Kane.” For a good understanding of television, Neil Postman’s Amusing Ourselves to Death is essential.

Music speaks directly to the passions. It can inspire us to fall in love, fight a battle, or act with dignity. Music can also invite us to hate other people, engage in sex and drugs, or commit suicide. We must therefore be careful what sorts of music children listen to. The prospect of twelve-year-old girls in tight pants gyrating to a song that begins “I like big butts” would appear outrageous to any other age in history but has become entirely normal today. Parents should consequently monitor not only the amount of time children spend listening to music but the quality of that music. While studying, students need to turn music off unless it is entirely unobtrusive. Admittedly, children might fight hard on this one. Parents might wish to read the appropriate sections of Allan Bloom’s The Closing of the American Mind and William Kilpatrick’s Why Johnny Can’t Tell Right from Wrong to see what is at stake in this cultural battle.

Video games are entirely useless. The time they consume in the student’s day should be restricted. It should also be obvious that children should not be allowed to move from one mind-numbing activity to another, each with its own limit: one television show, followed by a CD, followed by a half hour of video games, followed by an hour on the phone with friends. Computers certainly have their advantages. But unrestricted use of the internet and e-mail is highly questionable.

These suggested restrictions are not meant to spoil young people’s fun or to deny them rest from a busy day. Rather, educated adults have a higher conception of leisure than do most children and teenagers. Young people must, of course, be given a degree of freedom, including free time. At the same time, they ought to be guided towards activities that develop their minds, bodies, and character. Most mature adults regret the time they spent as children watching television. This time could have been used to learn an instrument, write poetry, paint, conduct experiments, read, play chess, or practice a sport. We hope that our students will not have similar regrets.

Terrence Moore studied history and political science at The University of Chicago and later earned a Ph.D. in history from The University of Edinburgh in Scotland. Moore served as a Lieutenant in the U. S. Marine Corps and was an assistant professor of history at Ashland University in Ohio. He is now Principal of Ridgeview Classical Schools.