Have you ever embarked on a task only to ask yourself, “What have I gotten myself into?” When my daughter, Sage, was very young, I decided to paint her room a beautiful sage green. I quickly headed down to the local home improvement store to grab a roller brush and a gallon of paint. With sheer excitement, I began painting. What about drop cloths, painter’s tape, brushes, and the amount of paint? Exactly! After countless trips back to the home improvement store for more paint and tools, my excitement waned to the point of hurriedness, resentment, and exhaustion. To this day, whenever I walk into her room, the spots around her windows where the paint peeled off because I purchased the wrong tape and the careless green splotches on the white ceiling remind me of my blunder.
Jesus tells potential disciples in Luke, chapter fourteen, that every man considers the cost before beginning a task, whether building a tower or going into battle. Likewise, Proverbs 14 instructs that a wise, sensible, or prudent person “considers his steps.” As I learn more about classical education each year*, I try to apply, layer upon layer, the things that I discover. This year it is the idea of previewing when I study something, taking the time to consider the cost. We have only a certain amount of time with which to do the things required of us. If you are a parent, that looks vastly different from person to person. Even for the student that can look dramatically different. Classical Conversations students each have four days at home to work prior to their seminar day. They also have demands on their time related to extracurricular activities: dance at 2:30 p.m., soccer at 4:00 p.m. three days per week, choir rehearsal at 10:00 a.m., baseball practice and tournaments, swim team practice and meets, music lessons and recitals, work, chores, and so on. God orchestrates our days, but we choose whether to follow His plan. Maybe we woke up late because we stayed up late the night before to attend a friend’s birthday party or to watch a great movie with the family or to chat online too long. Whatever the case may be, whenever we begin a task we have to look realistically at both the time we have and the resources available.
I have learned that when I pick up a literature book, the first thing I do is look at the title, the names and number of chapters, the number of pages, and the appendices. I must ask myself, “Can I complete this today, will it take me a week, two weeks, or will I be able to complete it at all?” For a student, this may require going to the parent for help in figuring out their dilemma. Many students think it is a sign of weakness to admit they may not have time or cannot distinguish if the task is possible. The Latin term for distinguish is cernere, which means “to see, separate, sift, choose.” The Greek root is ker, pertaining to the head. The student is aware they are having trouble using their head to sift through their options or to discern the correct course of action. I would argue they are aware of their inability to judge rightly. Unfortunately, this can lead to self-deprecation. On the contrary, students should be encouraged that showing they have considered the cost and then sought wise counsel is evidence of the sensibility God exhorts in Proverbs and Luke.
Subjects such as science, math, Latin, and logic all need a preview. Allowing the student time to consider the cost is valuable for formulating a plan so that together student and parent can develop accountability, reach out for guidance from the tutor, or ask for ideas from another classmate. Additionally, it allows the student to determine whether additional resources and help will be required to complete the assignment. Maybe they need to visit Khan Academy, use the Apologia book extras, or utilize resources the tutor has provided.
Similarly, debate and other research subjects need preview time. A preliminary search on a topic will reveal how much information a student will need to sort through, determine whether there are significant authoritative resources available, and even help determine whether a book(s) they need is available at the library or is there a waiting list for the book(s).
In Challenge A, students learn how to outline a chapter using It Couldn’t Just Happen. They learn how to first preview by noting titles, sections, figures, tables, captions, and so on. This skill can be applied to any lesson they begin. Previewing a Latin lesson helps them immediately discover the lesson objectives. Reading over the exercises before sitting down with pencil and paper will allow them to not only practice reading in Latin, but also to get a feel for what they already know and do not know. Knowing the amount of vocabulary as well as the number of English to Latin and Latin to English sentences can help them plan their study week. In science, students typically have two weeks to complete a module, which is usually ample time. However, some modules are denser in vocabulary than others and may require extra time before moving on to the study guide or the exam. Some concepts may be familiar to them from previous Challenge levels or the Foundations memory work while others are completely new (novus is Latin for “new”). As a novus at something, they may need to plan on going outside of the book for extra help.
Remember that classical education is concerned first and foremost with the skill of learning. If we want our students to become independent, humble, lifelong learners, we can teach them to consider their steps before they begin a task and to ask themselves, “What’s this going to cost me?”