I am still haunted by my first round of parent-teacher conferences, which was more than fifteen years ago now. I had more than forty conferences that first year, though I can now only recall two. Two extremes. And of the two conferences I can recall, I don’t remember all that much. I only remember the opening remark made from the other side of the table.
In the first meeting, a mother began with, “You’ve probably noticed my daughter is very special.”
In the second meeting, a mother and father sat down and the father asked, “So, what are we doing wrong?”
This was a long time ago. The students we discussed that day are now in their early 30s. The last time I checked—and it’s been awhile—the young woman whose mother began with “You’ve probably noticed…” wasn’t doing very well. At very least, her social media account didn’t look like she was trying to impress the sort of men who want to get married and settle down. This was many years ago, though, and perhaps things have changed. On the other hand, the father who began by asking what he was doing wrong has raised not just one but four very happy, productive, pious children.
I think the second set of parents had a better understanding of what a school is. The first conference began like an award ceremony.
Inasmuch as a classical education is about properly reordering our affections, it’s not much like a banquet—despite how popular this metaphor has become in recent years. It’s really not a banquet unless there’s actual food and actual wine and the master caters to the desires of the guests—though I have to tell my students they can’t bring coffee into class, and neither do I provide them with coffee. When people dine in my home, though, I’ll make them coffee just because they ask, even if I’m worried they’ll spill it on the sofa.
In fact, a classical school is more like Mt. Purgatory, which is a hospital, a place where the sick go to be made well.
There’s not much point in going to the doctor just to tell him how healthy you are. What does a physician care for those who are well? Besides, the best doctors are marked not by how delicious their medicines are, but by how effective.