From the mouths of babes…

Update: We have broken the succulents’ root systems. My goal this weekend is to find real looking fake plants for the kids to water.

For some time, I’d been inwardly composing this post about how my students were wise beyond their years. When I’d read the Matthew 21:16 in the past I’d assumed that what Jesus was trying to tell us is that we need to let go of our pre-conceived notions about what it is to be wise. And I think that’s true. But children often have a way of seeing the truth that we think is too obvious to point out, or we miss it entirely (The Emperor’s New Clothes, for example).

We just finished studying Ancient Greece. Early on the class divided pretty neatly into Team Sparta and Team Athens. While most of them haven’t seen the movie 300, they have older siblings who have told them about the Battle of Thermopylae. So basically, we have the boys who support Sparta and the girls who are loyal Athenians (despite the fact that they might have been better off living as women in Sparta). Everyone had a good time rooting for their team in the Persian War (Battle of Marathon and Battle of Thermopylae are wonderful examples).

Then we moved on to the Peloponnesian War. Both sides were disappointed. Of course the girls were crushed that their beloved Athens had lost, but I really loved the boys’ reaction. In their minds, Sparta accepting money from the Persians to build a navy to destroy Athens was unfair. They also felt that destroying the long walls and the Athenian navy was okay, but that taking democracy out of Athens was unjust. By the end of our study, they found themselves struggling to remember the reasons that Sparta had attacked Athens. When they did remember the reasons, they didn’t seem to merit a 27 year-long war. In the end, I think Team Sparta and Team Athens came to the realization that not all war is glorious or just (not saying it’s never glorious or just). Sometimes countries go to war for really stupid reasons, and (in the case of the Peloponnesian War) multiple generations are wiped out because of it. Innocent countries are drawn into the slaughter (did you know that tens of thousands died in raids on smaller poleis during the war?)

You could read the Peloponnesian War as two cultures (liberal democracy vs. militaristic monarchy/oligarchy/aristocracy) clashing. You could read the war as a parallel for our times. Or you could read it like a 6th grader, and see it as a tragedy, in which both sides lose more than they could ever hope to gain. You could learn that war is tedious, the best laid plans go awry (hello three-year plague), and that the fate of many is often decided by a few (Alcibiades).

By the way, a really good book about the Peloponnesian War is A War Like No Other  by Victor Davis Hanson. I actually read passages of it to my kids.

On an un-related note, I am putting the kids through their first full-blown Dickens novel (the abridged A Christmas Carol does not count). We started David Copperfield, but that one is tough to get into. When I found myself explaining what a caul was and why small David would be embarrassed to be old enough to remember it going up for auction, I knew we had to change. I’m not saying Great Expectations is a better novel or that they’ll like it that much better, but it opens in a graveyard with a convict threatening a small child. That’s gotta be better than  long, drawn out, and vague childbirth scene.

Read aloud time is probably my favorite quarter of an hour every day. Yeah, I did drama in high school, so I’m pretty good at doing the different voices. When we read Animal Farm I did a mean Squealer. And when I bleated “four legs good, two legs bad” I really brought down the house. So, Cockney accent here I come.

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3 thoughts on “From the mouths of babes…

  1. Well now this seems like a pretty excellent way to think about and teach the Peloponnesian War. Although I find Hanson’s rather sweeping democracy-rulez narratives a bit unhistorical, maybe, he lays out the gradual disillusionment of Greek society pretty magnificently, if I recall.

  2. Don’t give up on real plants! Mint can take A LOT of water, so can creeping jenny (a.k.a. lysimachia, but I don’t know if spelled that right.)
    Oh, and I applaud your courage to do accents! I’ll read aloud – with feeling! – but I can’t do accents!

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