I embarked on something this fall that has cemented the classical education model in my mind. At 52, and being a fairly proficient musician (on piano, woodwinds and OK on guitar), I decided to learn a new instrument. I am determined to learn the violin well enough to play in our church. And after a month of lessons I have to say that this is SO HARD! Why? Well, I am 52 and I have been thrust back into the grammar stage of learning. What is the grammar stage, you ask? Well, it is the very beginning. Even Julie Andrews sang of this when trying to teach her soon-to-be ‘step children’ to sing….”Let’s start at the very beginning, a very good place to start. When you read you begin with A,B,C, when you sing you begin with Do Re Me.” She described the Classical Education in a song in The Sound of Music. The grammar stage is the beginning, and right now I am learning all the very basic things about where the notes are on the neck of the violin. I am learning correct terminology, correct placement, how to hold the bow, how to move the bow…I could go on and on. But these are absolutely necessary in order to obtain the very best sound out of this instrument. Unfortunately, this is not a process to hurry or skip over. Success in the other stages (the Logic and Rhetoric stages) is built on this stage. I want to be a good violin player NOW, not in a year or two years…NOW! But I must be patient and practice. Unfortunately, this classical model of learning is so counter-cultural. We have fast food, speed reading, ‘learn a language in a week’ programs, and when we are sick, we want fast drugs to speed healing. We are not satisfied to allow time, practice, memorization and hard work to be a part of our lives.
Now let me return to the classroom. As children sit in the ‘grammar stage,’ it is imperative that we teach them the basic grammar of the subject. Children must understand counting, adding, subtraction, fractions, decimals, etc. before they can move into interpreting word problems. They should be reminded of these things every day and should practice, recite, memorize. But, if we see a little ‘giftedness’ in them, we want to jump ahead to the next math book. NO!!!! In languages, children must understand the alphabet and how letters blend together into various sounds. In history, they must understand the story of history from beginning to present and should hear that story multiple times, building on their understanding each time, finally learning to interpret historical events and learning how to respond. This is true for every subject, instrument or sport that we want to learn.
So, for now, I am stuck with “Twinkle Twinkle, Little Star” and the G scale. I still squeak quite a bit and have to stop between every song to re-position my hands. And the kicker in all this???? My instructor is a sweet 8th grader, who has moved through all the stages of learning violin and is quite the virtuoso on this instrument. Isn’t life a beautiful thing? I am teaching this young lady history and logic and she is teaching me the violin. The grammar stage isn’t just for kids…it’s for all of us, but we can learn ANYTHING when we start there!