Memory, Drama, and Loving What You Learn


From ACA's Curriculum Director, Elizabeth Jones: --------------------------------------------

Thud, thud, thud. The marching can be heard from down the hall. As I approach the vibrating classroom, stories leak out through the cracks in the door. I can't help but peek through the window to find a single girl admonishing her parading classmates:

“Go forth, go forth, Lars Porsena,—

Go forth, beloved of Heaven! Go, and return in glory

To Clusium’s royal dome, And hang round Nurscia’s altars The golden shields of Rome!”

As she finishes with a flourish, the next student in line jumps forward, and the story continues.  But I continue down the hallway.

Within just a few steps, I am thrust forward from ancient Rome into the early days of the American Revolution where a similar classroom scene unfolds -- but this time, with Paul Revere and his horse.

Peering through the glass I see not just one student, but the entire class parading around the room with these familiar words:

"Listen my children and you shall hear Of the midnight ride of Paul Revere, On the eighteenth of April, in Seventy-five . . . ."

I chant silently along with this fragment recalled from my own elementary school days, a pleasant reminder of the value of good rhythm for aiding in long-term memory.  Yet the chanting has just begun.  Little do I know, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow has more to say. 130 lines to be precise. And this class knows every one of them! Certainly a student falters here and there, having not yet mastered the next line. But his peers are a great support as they pretend to mount their steeds and set their eyes to the tower of the Old North Church off in the corner of the room, using physical cues to aid their memory.

And in all of this I am reminded of ACA's wonderful purpose.  In classical education, we see students' work come alive through robust and challenging poems, songs, rhymes, and sound-offs that both teach the material and wedge it deep into the heart and mind. Among energetic peers, classmates learn to lead with passion, develop a quick memory, and become creative students -- some of whom are already adding the perfect motion to make a tricky section memorable.  And in the other subjects -- mathematics, the sciences, geography, music, Latin, language arts, and the rest -- it is clear that there is real life and joy in the middle of all of them.

I never cease to be amazed at the mind’s capacity for memory and at the exuberance brought to life through the telling and retelling of a story in the classroom. At ACA, our students are learning to climb mountains, conquer giants, succeed in meeting an outrageous goal, and do it all with zeal.  These are skills for life.  In the end, our students will know a good deal of mathematics, poetry, world history, and science, and they'll be able to really understand them, not as disconnected subjects with tests to pass, but as that which is universally true and beautiful, for the glory of God and the good of all people.

-------------------------- Elizabeth Jones is Curriculum Director and Art instructor at Augustine Classical Academy. She and husband Jason have three children at ACA  (Sean, Piper, and Martyn) and Elizabeth was one of the school's founders in 2010.