If you grew up and had a classical education, you didn’t learn how to do a job, you learned how to think. You were introduced to a lot of ideas, people, concepts, books, and philosophies. You weren’t told which were “right” (in some ways, they all were), you learned how to have an opinion and discuss it. There, I’ve said it.
Sometimes, when I’m teaching, I realize that classical education is not only old-fashioned, it’s frowned upon. So, a checklist: simplify vocabulary and most of all, simplify references to ideas, people, and philosophies.
Me [to class]: OK, time for a 15-minute break. Be back at 10:15 or we’ll be here till the rosy-fingered dawn appears tomorrow. [Immediately regrets reference to Homer’s Odyssey.]
Student: Is that, like, a song lyric?
Me: Sort of. It’s from a Greek epic poem.
Student: Say what?
Me: [Feeling lost about how much to explain.] It’s one of the long poems from ancient Greece. About a man who leaves home to fight in a war and takes a long, interesting road trip back.
Student: Oh. Who wrote it?
Student: [Looking puzzled.] Simpson?
Me: [Tries not to break down crying.]
I just don’t know when to shut up explaining myself and my now, too-long-ago references that make sense to me, but not to anyone who was born in the last 30 years. OK, 40 years, maybe 45.
Mamie Eisenhower, wife of the 34th President of the U.S.
To a beautician: My bangs are waaaay too long. I’d like something more Natalie Wood but not Mamie Eisenhower.
Beautician: I think I heard of Natalie Wood is, but who is Mamie Eisenhower?
Me: The wife of Dwight Eisenhower.
Me: The 34th President of the United State.
Beautician: Oh. Was she, like, famous? For her hair?
And once more, I’m stuck. How much do I explain? How do I not feel like I just fell out from the pages of a yellowed history book? It got worse.
Natalie Wood, movie star. Married to Robert. . . never mind.
Me: Mamie Eisenhower was the First Lady right before Jackie Kennedy.
Me: Jackie O?
Beautician: Wasn’t Jackie O. a famous model–like for sunglasses?
Me: She was beautiful and she wore sunglasses, but she was married to Jack Kennedy. After he was assassinated. . . [slowly starting to cut short the explanation], she married a rich guy in Greece.
Beautician: [Saves the day] So how do you want your bangs?
Next checklist: Can’t afford a face lift, but can update all references to people, places and things prior to 1990.
—Quinn McDonald is determined not to sound as old as she looks.