The Round Pen

Yesterday morning I exchanged replies with a parent who was concerned that my assignment translated into a form of punishment.  The assignment required the students to correct a wrong answer by rewriting it 10 times.  In the next week or so I will ask the questions again to repeat the assessment.  Is this appropriate, and is it classical – which is really the same question?

Some may ask,

  1. did the students fully understand what they were asked to do on the original assessment?
  2. why use repetition, and why 10 times?

How many times will a good writer review and edit a document before submission?  How many times will a good speaker work over and re-read a speech before delivering it?  How many times will a musician play a song before a performance?  How many times will a ball player work through batting practice?

An intimate knowledge of something and a mastered skill never come in single servings.  Repetition labors towards the potential moments of discovery.  It draws the eyes and ears to detail, and allows the mind to rest upon the securities of form, constancy, and being.  Repetition does not constrict the possible; it forms the ground out of which the possible may break.  Chesterton referred once to God saying to the sun, “Do it again!” at the dawn of each new day.

The danger in any classroom and with any subject amounts to “priming the pump.”  Dumping the information in that you expect the students to pour back out.

I try to teach and work from the round pen.  The round pen is the initial and primary training ground for every fundamental skill a horse will ever use.  If the horse demonstrates he is not yet ready, it is back to the round pen.

In a similar way, if students demonstrate they are not yet ready to exercise fundamental concepts we have previously worked on, then we stop and go back to the round pen, and review.  It is senseless to attempt moving forward.

I am increasingly dissatisfied with the common, practically routine classroom practice of delivering a lesson, test, score, and move on regardless of how well the student grasped the material.  I think the main reason for this type of teaching boils down to time and number.  What can a teacher do with this many students in this amount of time?  Breaking this debilitating cycle will cause frustration for the students and work for the teacher.

For the teacher, it will simply require more work because not every student will move at the same pace.  For students, it will force them to paddle upstream.  It will demand them to slow down, to focus on one thing long enough to discover its beauty and not dispense of it because it does not immediately gratify the senses.  This will be difficult in a culture dictated by sound bites.

6 Responses

  1. This is excellent bibical worldview thinking. Applause Applause.

  2. Great stuff Buck. In the same sense, this is why law does not merely restrict but is the ground in which we find freedom.

    But the one who looks into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and perseveres, being no hearer who forgets but a doer who acts, he will be blessed in his doing (Js. 1:25).

    • I would love for you to expound on the idea of freedom in law. I spent some time last night working on that very idea, and I am not sure that I fully grasp it yet.

      • Buck,

        First I am sorry to take so long to respond. This is simply the first chance I have had to write this down. I am not sure I fully grasp the concept of freedom in law just yet but I will at least jot down my thoughts.

        First, to set the context, I believe we need to determine what it means to be free. We value freedom but I believe we operate under an ill-conceived idea of what freedom actually is. The man on the street would, more than likely, define freedom as being free from restraint. At least this seems to be the case in popular culture. So, freedom becomes freedom from law. Folks hold up the ideal of freedom as being autonomy, which means self law. The goal is to become a law unto one’s self. This would be ultimate freedom. If this is the case, then we are valuing sin.

        True freedom is more bound up in the biblical ideal of rest. As Augustine famously stated, our hearts are restless until they find their rest in Thee. We were created by God and He knows how best we work and how best we should govern ourselves. He defines this for us in His law and word. Simply put, if we ignore God’s design, we will busy ourselves with worldly striving. It will be striving without rest and without joy. We will be slaves to our own striving and will never know true freedom. We will be following after a lie and as Christ said in John 8, the truth will set you free. How is this truth to be found? It is found by abiding in His word. This is what James called the perfect law of liberty, “But the one who looks into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and perseveres, being no hearer who forgets but a doer who acts, he will be blessed in his doing.”

        Here are some examples of what I have been thinking. Hopefully, they will help illustrate the point.

        Scripture teaches that the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom and knowledge. If this is not our starting presupposition in all of our striving after knowledge, we will only end in folly. Evolutionary thought falls into this category. The basic formula of time and chance acting on matter to give us the highly complex unity in diversity that we see every day is manifest foolishness.

        God’s design and law for marriage is a good example. We live on the back side of the sexual revolution. Freedom baby! We define marriage how we please. The result is misery and slavery. Instead, we should simply fear God and live in the freedom that obedience brings. God knows that our greatest happiness in sexual relationships occurs under the protection of the marriage covenant as He designed it. This involves the restrictions of one man and one woman. In this restriction, we will find our greatest freedom.

        I once had a conversation with a non-believing friend who was told by another believer that he must love God more than his wife and children. This is a difficult thing for Christians as well as non-believers to grasp. However, we need to understand that as we do love God more (seemingly restrictive) by obeying Him, we will of necessity love our wives and children to a much greater degree. God’s requirement for husbands to love their wives as Christ loved the Church beats all our autonomous, sentimental selves could ever think of.

        Now for a more mundane example. I hate trying to budget my income. Loathe it. I would rather spend my money on anything I want, without restraint. The budget to me is restrictive law and not freedom. However, when I end up in debt and wonder where my money has gone, this creates great stress and a certain lack of rest. I am a slave to my “freedom.” The budget restrictions are a law and guide to my greatest freedom and rest. If I follow the budget, I gain control. That which looks like mere constraint is the way to freedom, rest, and contentment.

        In your example of the pen, we are pointing children in the path they must go in order to experience true freedom. We are giving children the rudiments on which a life of freedom is based.

        Well, hopefully this gives a clue to what I have been thinking. I am happy to try to clarify anything that may come across unclear.

        • Derek,

          This is great.

          I think your budget example assissted me the most to understand freedom in law. I actually enjoy budgeting, and find great peace and rest in the form it prescribes for my family.

          I agree that a common perception of freedom is the degree to which I am free “from” others generated by the desire for self-governance (autonomy).

          If we reverse the direction and think of freedom “towards” others, we are required to consider freedom as altogether relational.

          Yet, you suggested the idea of rest– finding freedom in the limits prescribed by God. The creator has created us to be some-thing and not another. Beautiful.

          Thank you.

  3. Great horse sense, Buck!

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