The Role of Drama in Classical Education at LCA

by Carolan Brown, Primary Program Drama Teacher

What is the role of Drama in Classical Education at LCA? At first, one might think it unnecessary, even a distraction.  Perhaps one might feel it is a waste of valuable time that might be better devoted to the acquisition of facts and formulas to deliver on a quantified exam.  Indeed, many view the role of Drama in our world today as limited to that of something extra, its sole purpose being the entertainment of an audience.

In nearly thirty years of working with students of all ages/levels in schools of all shapes and sizes in the U.S. and Canada, I have found students increasingly result-oriented.  They have become laser-focused on outcomes only, instead of being captivated by the practice and mastery of a process that leads to a given useful skill.  They want only the “right” answer or the “correct” analysis. And they find it devastating when what they have planned doesn’t happen, finding it impossible to accept any moment that differs from a perceived “perfect” outcome.  They are afraid of making mistakes, and they are increasingly unable to focus on a lesson unless its validity can be proven ahead of starting it.

I have also found one other thing to be true.  I can’t “teach” anyone anything. What I can do, however, is design experiences through which a student can figure something out for him or herself and then gain practice with the very connections that he or she has made.  Drama is a valuable and available resource for the very experiences through which students plant and grow the Habits of Mind and cultivate the practice of Shared Inquiry.   

I can think of no better laboratory to grasp and practice what is at the heart of LCA than that which Drama provides. Last year, inspired by LCA founders, faculty, and staff, I designed twice-weekly Drama experiences around all 16 habits.  I presented them to student groups as “themes”, and was thrilled when upon arrival in Collins Hall, they couldn’t wait to find out which one we would be working with that day.   

It is a joy to watch students spring to life with discovery and connect with one another while participating in what is on the surface only a drama game. In reality, the “game” is so much more: a carefully designed experience through which they can make their own true connections with a given habit of mind and feel what it is to own it.

We want to help our children acquire their own individualized tools that help them lead lives in which they are fully present and able to find purpose. Through Drama, the ancient Greeks found a platform for the exploration of feelings, knowledge, and ideas, leading to a greater understanding of the world.  At Woodbourne Campus, we continue this tradition.

The Hard Climb toward Jaw-dropping, Mind-bending . . . Equations!

by Gerald Proietti, Ph.D., teacher of Geometry, Latin, and Greek

“No forced study abides in the soul.” Plato’s Socrates used these words in presenting a cardinal principle of education: that it must develop in a spirit of freedom, not compulsion. At the same time, Socrates emphasized that a rigorous training of the mind takes a great deal of work on the part of the student; so a strong education also requires that students develop a “love of labor” in their studies—an appetite for hard work when the learning becomes difficult.

Cultivating this work-appetite is one of the things that makes teaching an especially challenging art. Besides diverse forms of small encouragements, it requires careful pacing so that the work leads to discoveries that would not have been possible without that work. As often as possible, the joy and the ongoing radiance of those discoveries should be the primary reward for all the struggle, and the work should feel invigorating. The study of mathematics provides beautiful examples of how the long path of striving can be punctuated by very distinct insights, including surprising moments of perspective-altering insights. In working with students in geometry, one often gets to see eyes pop, jaws drop, and other signs of minds orienting themselves to new dimensions of thinking.

Plato suggested that intuitions about equality or sameness lie at the root of our powers of reasoning; but it was writers like Euclid, in the Elements of Geometry—still today the foundation of our understanding of plane geometry—who documented how deeply the intuition of “equal” versus “not-equal” is fundamental to our mathematics, and how our thinking can build on this intuition. Mathematics begins with the simplest kinds of equalities and progresses to ever more complex equations. Equations reveal definite relationships between things that we may previously have thought to be unrelated or even incommensurable.

In his most famous allegory, Plato’s Socrates speaks of a way “upward” from the deep cave of customary perception into the daylight of real understanding. He proceeds to outline an education that uses mathematical training as a preparation for the later challenge of rigorous thinking about principles of ethics, psychology, and the dynamics of human communities.

Abraham Lincoln—who studied Euclid—in a speech to farmers at the Wisconsin State Fair (1859), related “thorough work” in farming to America’s potential to remain a nation of free-spirited, self-governing citizens. He spoke of education itself as “cultivated thought” and urged that it “can best be combined with agricultural labor, or any labor, on the principle of thorough work . . . [whereas] careless, half performed, slovenly work, makes no place for such combination.”

At LCA, we study Euclidean geometry, including the thorough, logical reasoning; in all of our studies the faculty strive to cultivate this love of thoroughgoing work; and this, too, is a labor of love.