Over the past few posts, we’ve been looking at four unusual home schooling qualities that we hope to foster in our children, especially those older kids who have substantially mastered the three skills of the classical trivium and are ready to advance towards supervised independent study of subjects. What four home schooling qualities are we cultivating? We want our rising classical scholars to:
- Master the material
- Exhibit self-discipline
- Interpret meaning
- Influence culture
Insightful interpretation comes after a full knowledge and understanding of the topic is mastered. You cannot effectively interpret the facts if you know nothing about the underlying causes. The maestro who can bring a musical score to life or the Indy Car driver who can observe the signs of an engine problem have both learned how to interpret meaning because they have exercised self-discipline to become masters of their material. Your home schooling children have been observing and accumulating knowledge for years. Now it’s time to interpret the knowledge.
The Simple Question
How can you explain the home schooling concept of interpretation to your high school teens? Some people use the word interpretation as a synonym for translation as in determining the original intent of a foreign language text or conversation. Others use the word interpretation to describe the process of personalizing a dramatic script for public performance. For classical Christian homeschool students and parents, interpretation boils down to one simple question.
What does it mean?
“It” can be an idea, a spoken word, or a deed. The question is the same whether you are reading a text, listening to a conversation, or watching live and recorded action. What is the meaning of this chapter, this lecture, or this documentary?
To interpret is to understand the central message, themes, or truths
Knowing facts is not enough for our home school kids. Train them to ask the simple question (“what does it mean?”) by consistently asking them to tell you what “it” means as you supervise their work.
The Not-So-Simple Answer
You have enough life experience to know that asking a simple question does not always result in receiving a simple answer. Such is the case with interpretation. The answer is not always clear, nor is the answer always quickly obtained. Sometimes it takes a lot of pondering, exploring, dissecting, and reassembling to figure out the meaning of an idea, word, or deed. Often, especially in the case of the classics, the definitive meaning changes or deepens as each new generation reads and interprets the text while bringing their own perspectives to the material. The classics are considered timeless because they discuss some of the most important questions about being human, so don’t expect simple answers.
For a high school teen tackling the unabridged classics, understanding the central message takes time and careful thought. In the early childhood years, you have given them the three foundational tools so that they can thoughtfully analyze the possible messages and use the English language to effectively communicate their understanding by summarizing an abstract, composing an essay, or narrating the major points.
But effective communication is not a one-way street. If your kids write or narrate their understanding, you have to be available to listen to their points and ask questions about the idea. They need your participation so that they can wrestle with any counterpoints that you might suggest. Conversations are crucial to clear understanding.
Supervise the Quest for Truth
Many Christian home school parents avoid discussing ideas which are controversial. I have a dear friend who protected her homeschooled daughter from certain ideas while she was living at home. When her daughter left for college, her faith was shattered because she internalized these new ideas as truth. This young woman now calls herself an atheist and is outraged that her parents withheld the “truth.” My friend’s heart is broken with grief and self-doubt. Should she have discussed both sides of evolution with her daughter? Would things have turned out differently if she and her husband had seriously talked about the opposing position instead of indignantly dismissing the counterpoints as rubbish?
Take this opportunity, while your kids are still living at home, to shepherd them in the discovery of truth. Introduce them to the classics. Don’t be afraid to talk about all the possibilities of meaning. Help them exercise their thinking skills while under your care. If you have trained them in righteousness and not just religion, then they should be able to distinguish truth from falsehood.
“My child, if you accept my words and treasure up my commandments within you, making your ear attentive to wisdom and inclining your heart to understanding; if you indeed cry out for insight, and raise your voice for understanding; if you seek it like silver, and search for it as for hidden treasures- then you will understand the fear of the LORD and find the knowledge of God.
For the LORD gives wisdom; from his mouth come knowledge and understanding; he stores up sound wisdom for the upright; he is a shield to those who walk blamelessly, guarding the paths of justice and preserving the way of his faithful ones.
Then you will understand righteousness and justice and equity, every good path; for wisdom will come into your heart, and knowledge will be pleasant to your soul; prudence will watch over you; and understanding will guard you.” (Proverbs 2:1-11 NRSV)
You don’t have to share the point of view of every writer or speaker, but you can learn from those with other viewpoints. Most of the people that your adult children will encounter when they leave your safe home will have viewpoints about the meaning of life that are drastically different from your own. Prepare your home school children now, while under your tutelage, to use their language, thinking, and communication skills to interpret meaning, using the classics as their laboratory, so that when they are finally finished homeschooling, they are ready to respond to the world’s biggest questions with wisdom, understanding, and knowledge.