Classical Education is all about training the affections. That means teaching a child what they should have affection for—what they should love. All children love being read a story, or spending an afternoon at the park with dad; these are things that have intrinsic value—they are really and truly good, and children don’t have to be taught to enjoy them. The more children have opportunity to experience the genuine joy that comes from this kind of pleasure, the greater the depth of humanity they have the potential of developing.
Other affections must be carefully cultivated, simply because they do not come naturally. If you’re a person who believes that only “natural” things are truly good, let me ask you a simple question—since your child naturally loves ice cream and naturally dislikes vegetables, do you believe it is better to let him do what comes naturally, eating only those things he naturally enjoys, or do you believe some effort should be made to train his tastes to eat what is good for him?
In the same way that we must re-direct the tastebuds, we must recognize the human propensity to veer toward laziness, deceit, and a host of other not-so-wonderful tendencies. Hence, education. Classical educators believe that the goal of education is not the ability to score well on standardized tests, gain admission to an ivy-league or D-1 school, and land a particularly lucrative job, but instead to train the mind and the affections to what they would not naturally apprehend—the true, and the good, and the beautiful. In short, education is for the purpose of forming a more human human.
As odd as it may sound, this process extends to helping children learn what is truly funny. Children of a certain age—say, beginning around 4th or 5th grade–really love foolishness. I’m not speaking of normal childishness, which is often very endearing and genuinely funny, but really foolhardy things, things that distract them and others from what’s truly important and valuable, wastes time, and directs all of their energies toward making themselves the center of hilarious attention. The older a child grows, the more vital it becomes to nip this in the bud.
Parents and teachers must help direct children away from using laughter and joking to cover up irresponsibility, disrespect, dishonesty, and cruelty. Not only that, we must hold ourselves to the same standards, demonstrating a refusal to make jokes at the expense of others or using humor to cover for things we know are wrong. It’s all part of a well-rounded education–part of the cultivation of a taste for the genuinely true and good and beautiful!