Thursday, October 30, 2014

The Problem with Pointlessness

Has this happened to you?
It's a cool day in October and you're at a family reunion. Last year, you were promoted to sitting at the adult table, so you plop into an empty chair at the end of the table next to a relative. After a hearty greeting, he begins asking you about your grade and what you are studying in school. You reply by listing all of your classes from best to least favorite, ending with a sarcastic comment about that last class. He seems either mildly impressed or at least politely interested in that last class, but either way he continues asking you questions about it. Although you answer each question respectfully, frustration builds. Why do you even have to do that class? It's not like you are really learning anything about that subject. And anyway, some of your other friends don't even take that class. It's just so... stupid! Dull! Pointless!

Feel the pull?
I certainly do.

What do you do with a class that seems pointless?

1. Challenge your bias
How are you viewing this subject? Let's use Latin as an example. One bias I have is that Latin is pointless. Sitting down for an hour each day to work on a language that hasn't changed in over a thousand years using a book written during World War II only to read stories about war, death, and Roman Catholic beliefs does not seem the most pertinent to my life or my long-term goals.
While these points might be true, I cannot let this be how I approach the language. The negative mindset affects not only my desire to learn Latin, but also my ability. If something is pointless, why bother to try? Here is where I need an intervention.

2. Change your perspective
 I need to recognize this view of Latin will not help me accomplish the task. What are some positive consequences of learning Latin? Sometimes it will help you score extra points on the SAT, which is nice, but not a key selling point for me personally. It looks nice on a college transcript, which is also nice, but still doesn't help my negative mindset.
From my experience, Latin has helped my ability to reason and think clearly.
How? When translating a sentence, I have to break down every word into it's proper case, number, and gender, then systematically figuring the meaning of the whole. 
I can systematically view an argument, see it's smallest components and how it builds bigger ones which affect the whole of the argument. Just like Latin. Change one letter in an conjugation or declension, and your sentence shifts. Change one fact, and your argument shifts or loses it's potency. You must pay attention to everything, especially the subtleties. For me, this is what keeps my Latin education important. It connects back to something even more important than the thing itself.

3. Change your attitude
When you challenge your bias, and change your perspective, a more positive attitude may naturally appear. Other times, you will have to work on it. And that's okay. You will not get it right the first time. However, you will save yourself more time in the long run by addressing your negativity every single time it appears than letting it root itself in your brain and grow. So far, this year has been my most positive and productive year of Latin since beginning Henle in Challenge I.

4. Change your habits
If every time you see your Latin book, you think to yourself, "Ugh! I hate this language so much. It's so pointless!", replace that with your new perspective. "Latin is a way for me to practice reasoning clearly.  This is a valuable way of spending my time, and I want to benefit from this." You may not believe it the first, the second, or the fiftieth reminder, but you may find a slight change on the fifty-first time. With your new attitude, you can accomplish a necessary goal.
And, of course, the most obvious next step is to actually spend enough time to gain those benefits. Each Challenge strand takes an hour each day. Depending on the strand and how close it is to the end of the semester, you may need more or less time. If you give it enough time, you will reap the benefits. But don't take my word for it!
"So let's not get tired of doing what is good. At just the right time we will reap a harvest of blessing if we don't give up." Galatians 6:9 NLT

Having a Classical education doesn't just teach you how to learn, it can also teach you how to live. Dealing with a class that seems pointless can give you the skills to deal with other facets of live that seem pointless. Learning how to identify and challenge your bias, as well as change your perspective, attitudes and habits, are tools you can use every day to make life a little easier and more manageable.

Sara Kathryn

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