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ChatGPT Will Force Us To Be More Classical

Over the years, I’ve spoken with a handful of parents who have insisted that their eighth-grade sons did not know what sex was. When a teacher is confronted with such painful naivete, there is really only one pious thing to do, which is to repent of all the ways in which you have been painfully naïve, as well.

Case in point: ChatGPT.

If your students are old enough to know what sex is, they are using ChatGPT. Not every last one of them, but more of them than you would think. They are using ChatGPT not only to write their theses and term papers, but to do math and science homework, as well. “Not my students,” you say. “My students don’t even know what ChatGPT is.” Sure. Right. And neither do they know what the birds and bees are.

Given ChatGPT’s sudden, unforeseeable intrusion into our lives several months ago, teachers and administrators across the country have spent the latter half of the school year playing catch-up—and, from most accounts I’ve heard, they have been roundly defeated. We now have the summer to sort out what policies we’re going to put in place next year which will keep us from getting our classical Christian butts kicked again.

Here’s the thing, though: ChatGPT is a huge boon to the classical Christian world. Why? Because it’s going to force us all to be more classical. For starters, it’s going to mean fewer five-paragraph essays assigned as homework. There’s no assignment in the world more overvalued than the five-paragraph essay. Actually, ChatGPT is going to mean less homework in general, which is going to force teachers to use their class time better. It’s going to mean more oral examinations, more memorization projects—it’s going to mean less work which involves laptops.

This week, my sophomore humanities students took their final exam, which was a lengthy recitation from the first canto of the Divine Comedy. The classical Christian world needs more recitation assignments. The recitation assignment is the most classical kind of assessment there is. It can’t be faked. Can’t be cheated. It’s real. It involves the memory. It’s formative. And, by God, a teacher just can’t help loving his students more after he’s heard them recite beautiful poetry by heart.

As you’re sorting out your ChatGPT policies for next year, I would like to offer a few words of advice.

First, anyone who suggests classical schools need to “lean in to ChatGPT” ought to be sent to the salt mines. What is it about using the phrase “lean in” that makes modern people feel like they’re offering real solutions? Nine times out of ten, “leaning in” just means syncretism. We don’t need to lean in to ChatGPT. We need to lean as hard against the spirit of the age as it leans against us, as Flannery O’Connor said somewhere.

Second, for the time being, we need zero tolerance policies against ChatGPT. Using ChatGPT at all for school work ought to mean a zero in the course. There may be a viable use for the thing at some point in the future, but for now, it needs to be under a complete and total ban. We need at least a three-year moratorium on ChatGPT before we begin to consider rightful use.

And third, anyone who thinks that the way around ChatGPT is another bullet point on the school honor code is delusional. Sorry, but some things have to change. Homework needs to change. Writing assignments need to change. We need to take ChatGPT for what it is: a referendum on modern, non-classical teaching. Best case scenario: your school implements assessment practices which literally make it impossible to use ChatGPT. My friends, ChatGPT could be the best thing to happen to your classroom since catechisms.

4 thoughts on “ChatGPT Will Force Us To Be More Classical”

  1. Joshua Butcher

    “First, anyone who suggests classical schools need to “lean in to ChatGPT” ought to be sent to the salt mines.”


    Also, if you aren’t tied to an online teaching format, write more things by hand.

  2. Jacob Douvier

    I was just thinking through what changes I need to make for the coming year in light of these new tools. I am grateful I already have my 7th graders do nearly all of their composition assignments in-class. I have had modest success with oral exams in the past and think I will need to lean into it more in the future.

  3. There used to be these things called pens and pencils. Back when this new thing called the keyboard was invented I argued it was going to destroy handwriting and then writing. Maybe it’s time for a comeback. I wouldn’t be opposed to quill pens, but people would need to take it a step further and learn a bit about the art of living and I’m not sure we have time in the day for that.

  4. Cynthia Marshall

    I ended the year with sixth grade students writing an outline to a literature prompt in class AND TURNING IT IN at the end of the period. Previously, I would have said to keep outlines for the next day. It let me see how they were thinking with no chance to go home and modify. Next day, having my critiques, students used these to answer the prompt in class. I saw them working more diligently as opposed to having an “I’ll do it tonight 😉 because [excuse].” And it was clear why some pushed back. I plan to have more of these types of assignments in place of multi-day literature response packets. I feel it was very effective for all.

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