Scholé in Upper School

Scholé is an important concept at all levels of education, but perhaps especially so in the upper school years (the dialectic and rhetoric stages, i.e., grades 6+). Upper school students devote more of their time to their studies, which necessarily explore more difficult content in greater depth. During the upper school years, many students are responsible for eight or more subjects at a time, resulting in jam-packed schedules with classes, homework, projects, and extracurricular activities. On any given day, ask your average upper school student whether she feels stressed about what she has to get done, and I would venture a guess that just about each one will answer “yes” without hesitation. This feeling of frenzy is not limited to upper school students and is often shared by their teachers and parents (especially the parents who are their teachers). After all, college applications are just around the corner—cue the anxiety overload.

It seems that scholé is more important than ever in these upper school years. But how in the world do we find scholé in the upper school? Most parents and teachers (and parent-teachers) would agree that they would love to see their upper school students experience academic excellence in a peaceful, contemplative way. Yet when it comes down to the nitty-gritty, chemistry is still chemistry (stoichiometry is no walk in the park!).

Implementing scholé in the upper school is difficult. It’s messy, sometimes counterintuitive, and involves a bit of trial and error. But it’s not impossible, and many people are working hard to achieve it. With collaboration, we can spread the wisdom that has been gleaned on this topic and can help one another toward this notion of rest that students, parents, and teachers are desperate for (whether they realize it or not).

To that end, we’ve created a forum on ScholeGroups.com dedicated to this topic. We would love for you to join the conversation so that we can identify particular areas of need, seek answers together, and glean wisdom from one another. To get the ball rolling, here are some practical applications to consider when seeking scholé in the upper school:

  1. Textbooks aren’t designed to be covered front to back. This came as a shock to me. I was homeschooled K-12, and I can hardly remember a time we successfully completed an entire textbook. But when my mother chose to exclude certain content, I always felt that we had failed to meet the standards of the authorities on education, whoever they were. Her reminders that she was the principal of our homeschool and could make this executive decision didn’t provide much comfort to me. But as it turns out, publishers design textbooks to cover every aspect of the subject that they think teachers in any scenario might want to cover. They don’t expect one class/student to cover every page—in fact, they discourage it! Take a moment to let that sink in.
  2. Aim for the bull’s-eye. While it may come as a relief to realize that you aren’t expected to cover the entire textbook, that realization also comes with the importtarget-colorant follow-up question, “So what do we cover?” It is helpful to view each subject as a target: It’s most important to master the bull’s-eye, and any additional information that you cover on the outer circles is a bonus. Notice the language of mastery here. It’s not enough to cover the bull’s-eye material in a rushed, check-it-off-the-list manner. Dr. Perrin recommends that the central material should be the focus of the class about 80% of the time, and it should be learned deeply and thoroughly—it should be mastered.

    Another important follow-up question: How do we know what material comprises the “bull’s-eye material”? This is a difficult question and requires some experience to answer. Masters of their craft know what is central to their work and can identify which material to carve away. But homeschool parents are often learning on-the-go, and it can be overwhelming and intimidating to look at a curriculum and decide which bits are essential and which can be skipped. This is where collaboration comes in. Teaching Roman history? Ask around and find someone who is familiar with the content you are considering. Get his input. Post a question on the Scholé Groups forum. With hundreds of families already members of Scholé Groups across the country, there is likely someone who has experience in the area in which you are seeking guidance.

  3. Spend most of your time digging wells. It is also important to consider the method in which you cover that essential material. Dr. Perrin has a helpful analogy for this one: covering the material should be like digging wells. Occasionally, he says, you can give the survey of the landscape or look at the flowers along the way, but he encourages teachers to spend the majority of their time “digging deep wells” with their students. Say, for example, that you’re teaching a literature unit on Shakespeare. The first step is identifying the wells-colorbull’s-eye. You might decide that the bull’s-eye for this unit is Shakespeare’s understanding and representation of human nature. You might spend two or three days giving an overview of Shakespeare’s life, his influence, and a brief summary of his repertoire (considering along the way how each of these ties in to the bull’s-eye). But if you spend five weeks completely devoted to King Lear, asking students to step into different character’s shoes and to consider the character’s thoughts and actions, you would cultivate engagement, love, and appreciation for Shakespeare in a way that rushing through three plays in that same time frame never could. In addition, students would gain a much deeper understanding of the bull’s-eye material.

    Digging a well like this not only enables deep engagement but also cultivates enjoyment. The water of these “deep wells,” Dr. Perrin explains, refreshes the soul. And when students experience this delight, they want to discover the subject and perhaps even pursue it on their own time. A student who rushed through as many Shakespeare plays as could be crammed into a unit won’t likely pick up Hamlet over the summer. A student who had the chance to truly grasp and enjoy one play just might pick up another in his free time.

These brief thoughts only scratch the surface of a very dense topic, and they are meant to spark discussion. What has your experience teaching upper school been like? What are specific areas that cause frustration for you? Have you found methods for implementing scholé? Please share on the forum!

Emily_HeadshotBW400x400Emily Price is the eLearning Coordinator at Classical Academic Press and also a lower school writing instructor online at Scholé Academy. Emily earned her BA in philosophy and English literature from Messiah College and spent a semester studying abroad at the University of Oxford. As a young adult, she delights in pursuing a truly classical education and finds joy in the beauty of great books and thoughtful friends.