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A Reflection on the CiRCE Apprenticeship

I am sometimes asked by my extended family members or friends, “so why are you doing this?” referring to the Apprenticeship program through the CiRCE Institute. As I approach my graduation from the three-year program, I thought I’d put down why I did join the Apprenticeship program, and what I have gained from it.

When I first thought of embarking on the three-year Apprenticeship journey I just felt that I wanted a firehose approach to learning how to classically educate my own and others’ children. I was sad that I had just begun to understand how many books I had passed up because I did not possess the skills to read or appreciate them. I had missed out on philosophy completely. I had given up on my love for Shakespeare due to lack of time and mental energy as our four children were born, and then due to lack of a community with whom to read him. Now that the youngest child was not in diapers anymore and I was sleeping through the night, and now that we were enrolled with a group dedicated to classically educating children at home, I wanted to find out what I had missed and begin focusing my path for the future. I wasn’t sure what opportunities (if any) going through the Apprenticeship would open for me, but I had heard a former Apprentice state that it “makes you a better human.” Who doesn’t want to be a better human?

So, after weighing the cost in time and money, I took the plunge and wrote my application essay. Now three years have passed. I’m about to graduate from this lovely program and I wanted to sit down and try to put into words what it has given me. It is hard to find a place to start! I AM a better person I think. I hope!

First of all, we are required to write essays. We write most of the essays for LTW I, II, and III. Through this taxing process, I gained empathy for my students. It causes you to have to think! Invention is difficult, and because we go through the entire process of writing an essay from invention to elocution we gain firsthand experience of how difficult it is, and thus we learn compassion for our students’ struggles and establish a ground of fellowship through struggling with them. This has proven invaluable to me as I can now say, “I’ve been there. Let me show you the way.” Because our essays were assessed, and because we had to assess our mentees’ essays, we grew in confidence in how to give an assessment of our students’ essays from authority and love.

In the Apprenticeship we read hard books together! Reading Norms and Nobility, Wendell Berry, Shakespeare, Homer, Virgil, Plato, and others together with our Head Mentor and our community of Apprentices sharpened my skills at picking out big ideas, questions, details, and following arguments. Learning from others together in community is gold.

Because we are required to post on our community forum, Canvas, and also in the LTW forums, we grow in the arts of thinking and writing concisely and beautifully. Posting was difficult for me, and still I am not a stellar writer. However, through practice, I did grow in this area. Posting in a forum is not natural for me. I’m far more inclined to sit back and see what I can glean from others than I am to ever offer what I can to them. The Apprenticeship has changed that.

The tools I have learned and honed in the Apprenticeship have impacted my class directly. I have learned how to include all students, from the over-sharers to the ones who’d rather never share. Finding the big ideas in literature and coming to class prepared to facilitate a discussion around those ideas has caused our class time to bloom. Studying Plato has taught me how to create a hospitable atmosphere of honest and direct discussion wherein we can seek truth together, or I can lovingly lead a student out of error and to truth. Studying Plato has also taught me that I’d like to spend more years studying Plato.

The retreats for the Apprenticeship are lovely. I wish I could capture that experience for you in words. Since all the webinars/discussions for the year take place online, meeting twice a year in person allowed us to build relationships on a deeper level. I was terrified when I arrived at my first one. Terrified to be around these smart people and that I would somehow be found wanting. Terrified to teach a lesson to people I was sure were more knowledgeable about Lost Tools and teaching in general than I was. It turns out my fears were groundless.

My head mentor, Renee, was welcoming and her demeanor put my fears to rest. The second and third-year Apprentices were genuine, loving, and real, and in no way made us feel inferior. Rather they drew us out and caused us to want to be part of the conversation. The teaching was stressful at first because I made it that way. I wanted to do it perfectly. I soon let it sink in that honest assessment is a gift to me. If someone had a suggestion for me it was only to help me communicate a lesson with more clarity. Because we also had to assess our mentees for two years, we learned to listen closely for the mimetic steps. This trained my ears and brain and helped me assess my students and also myself in a more productive manner. Eating meals together, teaching, and devotion time are fabulous ways to get to know, encourage, and be encouraged by, fellow Apprentices.

When I got to the Apprenticeship I did not like poetry. I didn’t understand it at all. I couldn’t explain to anyone why it was important. We had to bring a poem and lead a discussion about it with our fellow Apprentices. Several people took their turn before mine came, and my world opened up. Reading a poem through, talking about it, questioning it, and pondering it together helped me see the beauty and the point of poetry. Poetic language helps us “see” ideas/truth or even “feel” them in a deeper way than we can with prose. In our family now we are reading more poetry around the dinner table. I gave a poetry book to my mom, who I realized had always said she loved poetry but never really read it. She came to Sunday dinner with it in her hand, and proceeded to read one she loved. My husband now reads and loves poetry. And my children, by reading poems with us and seeing their elders take delight in it, now have the eyes of their imaginations opened to the beauty of poetic language and how it presents us with powerful images.

It’s impossible to quantify what I’ve gained from the Apprenticeship experience and a little frustrating to try because I know there are deep changes to my soul that have been wrought over these three years, and those won’t be things I can just put into words for anyone who asks. But through writing essays, reading excellent books, posting frequently to communicate with others, and gathering for fellowship, teaching, encouragement, and fun, I have changed. I have loved participating in this program with my wonderful Head Mentor Renee, and Camille, and all the lovely apprentices who have also changed me forever. I am beyond grateful.

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