Parent Reading Groups
Despite all Ridgeview does to invite its parents, as well as its students, to lead more thoughtful and contemplative lives, there are, perplexingly, those who will insist that Ridgeview is much like any other school. Consequently, one is periodically treated to the sort of humbuggery that contends Ridgeview is “just another school.” Those strangers to the exceptionalism of Ridgeview are rarely to be found seated upon the floor of the elementary school reading with our youngest Hoplites. They are scarcely found among our faculty chaperoning one of the many student camping trips. They are not to be found competing at the Turkey Shoot, participating at the Post-Solstice Solace, or racing at Valborgsmässoafton. Critically, they almost never attend our parent reading groups. In short, those who are least involved in the life of the school are the ones most likely to succumb to the fiction that Ridgeview is “just another school.”
While there is a good deal to lament in encountering these remarks firsthand, what follows is intended more as an invitation than an admonition. While considerable time might be spent examining the merits of classroom observations, the benefits of outdoor education, or the advantages of numerous extracurricular activities that involve a substantial proportion of our student body, the activity most integral to Ridgeview is reading, and one is unlikely to find any school at which reading is taken more seriously than Ridgeview.
It is a mistake to believe that children will accept that reading is important if they never observe the adults in their lives reading. Neither is it realistic to expect that the discussion of ideas and matters of consequence will be intelligently taken up if little but gossip, speculation, and entertainment dominate the home. We cannot demand that they eat a wholesome meal while their parents and teachers consume nothing but sweets. What is valued in one place must be shown to be esteemed in the other.
One way in which Ridgeview attempts to practice what it preaches is through the various parent reading groups. For instance, this past summer, a handful of parents met once every couple of weeks to discuss Virgil’s Aeneid. The Aeneid is an epic poem containing 9,986 lines of dactylic hexameter describing the Trojan Aeneas’ wanderings and eventual travels to Rome. Virgil intended for it to provide Rome with a founding myth and to extol traditional Roman virtues, some of which we have culturally inherited. It is not an easy book, but it is one of the books we read with our students in our ninth-grade literature courses. It remains read because it remains provocative in the best possible way: it invites conversation and causes one to think.
During the academic year, Ridgeview hosts two different parent reading groups: a weekly group that focuses on shorter pieces and a monthly group that examines longer, though usually abridged, texts. So far this year, the weekly group has read a piece on the origins of political correctness by the German literary critic John M. Ellis and a short, science fiction story, Nine Lives, by Ursula K. Le Guin. In the coming week, we will read Isaac Asimov’s The Last Question, and towards the end of the month, our monthly group will discuss Sun Tzu’s The Art of War. What do we expect will come from all of this reading and all of these discussions?
First, we hope to demonstrate to our students, both at school and at home, that reading is not an activity that ceases to be important when one’s formal education is at its end. Reading and conversation can and ought to be activities carried on not only for our general edification, but throughout a lifetime as part of an intelligent leisure.
Second, the German philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein wrote that “the limits of my language mean the limits of my world.” We should each of us want to occupy the most expansive worlds conceivable, and our way of staking out those worlds is by expanding our own vocabularies and the number of ideas that populate our minds. A home in which the richest vocabulary is employed with ease and in which ideas of substance are discussed as a matter of course is a complement to the classical education on offer at Ridgeview.
Third, “Reading is to the mind what exercise is to the body.” So wrote the English essayist Joseph Addison. “As by the one health is preserved, strengthened, and invigorated, by the other, virtue (which is the health of the mind) is kept alive, cherished, and confirmed.” Virtue, like reading and conversation, must not be considered a thing transcended at the conclusion of adolescence. We are all at work on ourselves. We should not be ashamed for children to see it; in fact, it is essential that they do. We should never be so self-satisfied as to believe ourselves complete. There is a deep humility in acknowledging this. Samuel Johnson articulated something of the same idea in writing as follows: “The foundation of knowledge must be laid by reading. General principles must be had from books, which, however, must be brought to the test of real life. In conversation you never get a system. What is said upon a subject is to be gathered from a hundred people. The parts which a man gets thus are at such a distance from each other that he never attains to a full view.” Put another way, what we know is not the product of one book, one conversation, or a single system. It is a synthesis of many things all tested by the living of a full life.
We aspire for our students and parents to live full lives—not only full in their experiences, but full in their reflections on those experiences. We believe that one activity we can all participate in to facilitate those reflections is to be found through reading, and we invite everyone to come and read with us. Though the ideas are always serious, there is never any shortage of good humor, comradery, or coffee. Please consider joining us and discovering for yourself how Ridgeview is not “just another school”.
Weekly Parent Reading Groups: Wednesdays, 8:00 a.m. in Room 306
Readings available to parents on PowerSchool
Next Monthly Parent Reading Group: September 20th, 8:00 a.m. in Room 306
Penguin Great Ideas series, Sun Tzu, The Art of War