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Plutarch: A Lesson in Patience by Nancy Elliott

24 Jul 2017 12:39 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

I am ridiculously in love with teaching Plutarch.  Honestly, it’s a little bit weird.  My husband affectionately (albeit a little jealously) refers to him as “my boyfriend.”  “Hey how was your day?  Oh never mind, you’re with him again.”  It is truly a labor of love, because there is nothing about teaching Plutarch that could be termed “instant gratification,” at least not for me.  It is absolutely unglamorous and humbling.  But I love it nonetheless.  

Often, I will ask what I think is a fantastic open-ended question, and as I scan the faces in our group all eyes lower and I am left with the sound of crickets chirping.  What went wrong?  Was it a poor question?  Now I am perfectly capable of asking ineffective questions, and frequently do, but maybe my question just needs time to germinate?  As a dutiful CMer I know on one level it’s the latter, but the longer I facilitate the Plutarch conversation the more I “know” it’s the latter.  “We feed upon the thoughts of other minds; and thought applied to thought generates thought and we become more thoughtful. No one need invite us to reason, compare, imagine; the mind, like the body, digests its proper food, and it must have the labour of digestion or it ceases to function” (Mason, 1989/1925, p. 26).  So I let them digest their food.

I have realized I think of each child as possessing keys.  I get a glimpse of the germination process when one of the questions becomes a door whose lock fits a key someone already has in their possession.  It’s electric when a few of them realize they have a key to the same door.  These are inner “fist-pumping” moments.  I play it cool, but I really want to run around the room jumping, screaming, and laughing.  Plutarch is shaping them!  I cannot measure how much, but that’s not the point, is it?!?  According to Adler (1940), Plutarch’s “original intention in writing had been to instruct others, he said, but in the course of the work he discovered that more and more it was he himself who was deriving profit and stimulation from ‘lodging these men one after the other in his house.’” (p. 246).  Personally, I also find that this is happening for me – that I am deriving profit and stimulation from lodging these men in my house.  This has made me realize I am also a host.  I invite these children and these “lives” into our space and I mix and mingle with them both, making introductions and leaving them to hopefully forge a relationship.  “Hey, have you met so-and-so, you should really get to know him.  I think you’ll find him interesting.”  This is a science of relations education.  Watching these young people create these new relationships is so exciting and in-the-core-of-my-soul-gratifying to me.  I think the reason I love facilitating Plutarch so much is that I get to participate with the Holy Spirit in the process of equipping the 10 to 16 year olds in our co-op group.  Watching them think deeply and draw conclusions about life, man, free will and its outcomes, and their contribution as citizens truly feeds my soul.  

But, it is slow going.  It is a lesson in both patience and delayed gratification for me.  It is the subject above all others that consistently reminds me that “there is no education but self-education” (Mason, 1989/1925, p. 26).  It is humbling, because I care so deeply about each of them and their growth, and I want the time to “feel” fruitful but it isn’t about me.  

As I mentioned earlier oftentimes our time together is quiet, and that grand conversation that I was anticipating, sigh, there go those crickets again.  So I just let it lie and I wait.  Wait for the Holy Spirit to do what He does.  When it comes to the part I play in all this, I pray and ask Him to help me be a gracious host by leading me to the questions that will facilitate a connection between their minds and Plutarch’s, and ultimately the minds of the lives we are studying.  Then, casting out those seeds, I trust that what should take root, will take root . . . even if I will never get to see it.  

Adler, M. J. (1940).  How to read a book.   NYC: Simon & Schuster, Inc.

Mason, C. (1989). An essay towards a philosophy of education. Wheaton:  Tyndale House. (Original work published in 1925)


  • 26 Jul 2017 8:48 AM | Anonymous member
    "This has made me realize I am also a host. I invite these children and these “lives” into our space and I mix and mingle with them both, making introductions and leaving them to hopefully forge a relationship."
    This explains self education so well! Fantastically helpful post that elucidates the unique and radical nature of her educational philosophy. Thank you!
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  • 26 Jul 2017 11:37 PM | Anonymous member
    As a mom who will be teaching Plutarch for the first time this fall, I am encouraged by what you've shared. Thank you!
    Link  •  Reply


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