Mario Isn’t So Tough
Long after most of the civilized world became obsessed by it, our family decided to invest in the infamous Nintendo game machine. It was just the plain old Mario I kind, before Sega and even before the now virtually antiquated 64 version. We even used a TV to play it on! (For you grandparents, this is the equivalent of recalling days of walking to school five miles each day, up hill both ways.) The problem came when anyone over thirty tried to play it. At least that’s the logical assumption I came to, since I was over thirty and didn’t stand a chance of doing nearly as well on it as even my youngest child. Therefore, I assume ALL adults had trouble with it.
But my kids, particularly Seth, could and did repeatedly whip right through it. I think he mastered it as I was taking the game box packaging out to the garbage can. But he was patient when I played it and would point out why I got shrunk once again. “You forgot to jump and bump that spot with his head,” he would calmly point out. “But there’s nothing but blue SKY there!” I would mildly respond, as Mario cheerily leaped to his death yet again. “Well, you just have to KNOW where to jump,” was Seth’s confident reply.
The computer age has probably generated more comments and anecdotes like the one above than there are blond jokes. Who hasn’t heard a parent say, with some obvious pride in his voice, “Yes, junior figured out our new 3,000 gig, 900 meg ram, artificial intelligence-loaded PC much faster than we could. So we’re letting him do our taxes on it this year.” Or words to that effect.
Is this phenomenon unique to mankind with the advent of computers? Or do parents always respond with incredulity when seeing their kids do more than they did at the same age (or even older)? I submit the latter is universally true. Whatever we as parents experienced in our tender, formative years naturally, but unfortunately, becomes the template we hold up to our own children’s experiences. It’s natural because that was the only childhood we knew; it’s unfortunate because our children may just be able to do and learn more than we did, but we can discourage them in our comparisons. For instance, the classic, “When I was your age…” can have a particularly negative affect when applied to educational standards. Yet, we say we want more for our children then we received, but do we really?
The classical, Christian school resurgence has spawned a rather strange but predictable side-effect among parents. In most places where the idea of starting a school based on this philosophy takes root, there is, as in the parable of the sower, an almost immediate enthusiastic embracing of the idea. Parents spring up and cry with joy when they see and hear the first fruits of their children’s learning in the grammar stage. The rhyming, chanting, singing, and memorization seem to almost work miracles of instruction. “That’s my Johnny parsing that sentence!” We’re so very proud! Gee, we think (or actually say) that the only Latin I ever learned was ‘pig-latin!’ But after a few years, an ominous change seems to take place. “Hey, they’re making my little Johnny WORK! I sure never had to do that much homework or study so hard for a test or write such a long paper or…” (Exactly!) What was initially welcomed with joy now seems burdensome and possibly repellent to us.
Certainly classical schools can, in their zeal to excel, place too great a burden too quickly on the backs or minds of young students. But I have to be candid with you; after observing our own as well as many other similar schools across the United States, the conclusion I have come to is this: This type of education is much harder on the parents than it is on the children. As parents, we are compelled to protect our children from all sorts of aches, pains, illnesses, and burdens. So it is natural to be concerned for them when schoolwork seems overwhelming. The problem is that we have not resisted the laziness of our age to the shedding of blood, to re-phrase a good verse. Or, in other, less dramatic terms perhaps, our threshold for the pain of academic work is often much lower than that of our own children. Remember: this is the only childhood they know. They have no experience with anything different from what they are receiving. If they are loved and consistently supported through the years, this will be as natural to them as the pets they own. Whereas, when we compare our memories with their current experiences, we tend to forget that children can frequently rise to expectations never presented to us. Classical education, like anything truly valuable, does require work to acquire, and lots of it. The wonderful advantage of such an education comes because not only do children naturally accept it but classical education, taught well, also naturally fits the child. Grammar techniques appeal to young, eager learners, logical instruction challenges and channels young teens’ feistiness, and rhetorical skills equip young adults to be confident and knowledgeable in front of others – a matter of some concern to that age.
Classical education is not “fun,” but it fits. It isn’t easy, but it does cut with the grain. It is work that over and over again is proving its worth. Ask our grads and their parents. The patient hardship endured by the parents over the years has been of great benefit to their children, as it should be. Such are the blessings of one generation to another. For these young ones, Mario is nothing compared to what they are capable of, if we can hang on!