Saturday, November 21, 2015

Back to the Greeks: The Platypus Reads Part CCLXXXVIII

It's been a long time since I last taught the history and literature of Ancient Greece. I'm used to being a consultant on the subject for other teachers, but this year I finally find myself back in the saddle again. We've just finished a tour through Homer's Iliad and are set to discuss Book III of the Odyssey next week. The method I use to discuss the books is rooted in the master of key concepts/terms; a college level way of teaching the books that my colleague and I adapted for use in high school. Thus, we go hunting in each book of the Iliad for Menos, Arete, Kleos, an Aresteia, an Agon, Kratos, The Best of the Achaeans, a Geras, The Burial of the Dead, Hubris, and discuss the material in light of these concepts. The result has been highly fruitful and the students made much better sense of the Iliad and its world than the last time I taught the book. I've taken up the approach in my own notes, and now my teacher's edition of the Odyssey is pleasantly filled with references to Xenia, Agon of Logoi, Nostos, Metis, Oikos, Compound Your Pains, Fathers and Sons, Mothers and Sons, Divine Protector, Divine Antagonist, and the like. This practice (paired with proper reading of the secondary sources) has dramatically increased my own understanding of the underlying structure of the Odyssey as well as shifting some of my notions of the book's key concerns.

So what does all this add up to? As a teacher at a Classical School, the three stages of Grammar, Logic, and Rhetoric can become a sort of fetish. Grammar becomes a thing for K-6th, Logic for 7th-8th, and Rhetoric for those uppity high-schoolers. This is to woefully misunderstand the Trivium (which was a course of study mainly created for the mastery of the Latin language). Every subject has its Grammar, Logic, and Rhetoric. We don't pass through these as three stages, but wield them as three tools: Ms. Sayers' "Tools of Learning". When my students seek to understand works as remote and complex as the Iliad and Odyssey, it makes no sense to ignore the necessary grammar simply because they're Rhetoric students. In fact, if Ms. Sayers' op-ed is right, then it's a fatal mistake. Instead, students must begin with the basic grammar of these works, look for how these key concepts logically relate to each other through class discussion, and then in discussion, written essays, speeches, and creative compositions, articulate their thoughts and findings as rhetoric.

So that's what I've been learning this semester. Class dismissed.

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