Hearing the Whole Symphony
~ by Cass Jackson ~
I am sure I’m not the only high school student who has sometimes felt as if everything we do over these four years is shaping us to send in a few pieces of paper with words and numbers somehow meant to quantify and describe our character so we can move on to a new chapter of life. We must complete specific credit requirements for graduation, maintain a certain grade point average, and, in most cases, have satisfactory standardized test scores. The danger with this mindset is that we can get so caught up in checking the boxes, filling up a résumé, and maintaining a spotless transcript that we become cookie-cutter students without a unique voice. This mindset can also infiltrate the structure of many classes, especially when teaching is geared toward having students churn out essays or recite back knowledge for tests. This type of education is like learning the cello part of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony without hearing the rest of the instruments working in harmony. We come to understand many distinct subjects without being able to make connections or see the bigger picture.
My high school experience has been made up of a unique and diverse collection of classes. Some of these I took at a local co-op and at a private school, and others I took online. Some classes followed the cookie-cutter structure I mentioned above, and I learned to quickly churn out essays and memorize important facts. However, other classes that I took, in particular the ones through Scholé Academy, were central in teaching me to think critically across disciplines, argue thoughtfully, and develop my own voice, all of which are necessary notes in our symphony of education.
Explaining my classroom settings to others has never been particularly easy, but the online classes were always the most confusing. Many people were unsure of the setup, and their prevailing assumptions were that the online classes were prerecorded lectures that I could watch anytime, with automatically graded stock homework assignments and little to no peer or teacher interaction in the class. With these assumptions, it makes sense why some people think that online classes cannot match the academic rigor or engaging discussions of traditional classrooms. However, some of my most challenging work, engaging discussions, and meaningful relationships with teachers and fellow students have taken place through my Scholé Academy online classes.
My first class through Scholé Academy was in eighth grade when I took the Informal Logic course with Mrs. Hodge. I had no previous experience with logic, but it captivated my interest and I went on to take Formal Logic, Rhetoric I, Rhetoric II, and Rhetoric Thesis. In each of these classes, we discussed a wide array of topics across many disciplines; our assignments and discussions were hardly ever confined to strictly rhetoric. For example, we looked at selections of literature, historical pieces, and cultural examples, including Super Bowl commercials, to see how logic or rhetoric was used both well and poorly in each. These classes were therefore never isolated from other subjects, and they helped us connect the parts of our education to hear the whole symphony.
The very structure of these live classes supported interaction with my teachers and peers and made these classes not only some of my very favorites in high school, but also the most “lifelike” online classes I’ve taken. The Zoom video-conferencing enabled us all to see each other and discuss topics in real time, break out into smaller sessions, and share papers onscreen for everyone to see. In the Rhetoric I and II classes, we even had several group projects, which defied all the standard expectations for online classes and were quite enjoyable. We used platforms like Google Docs or Google Hangouts to add our respective pieces of the project and discuss changes for the final presentation.
In addition to group projects and class discussions, we frequently peer-reviewed our classmates’ work in all three rhetoric classes. Before taking these courses, I associated a peer review with an awkward and forced complimentary activity. Instead, however, we were challenged to thoughtfully critique each other’s work. This process not only brought us together as friends by creating a platform where we could be vulnerable with our work, but also taught me how to be more articulate when crafting my responses and offering thoughtful arguments. Reading the feedback on my work, as well as going through the process of analyzing my classmates’ arguments, drastically improved my writing.
While the actual content of the courses, the style of the classes, and the peer interaction were incredible benefits, the excellence of instruction from my teachers, Mrs. Hodge and Mr. Lockridge, also made a tremendous impact on my education. I will never forget the first paper I got back from Mrs. Hodge, which was covered in feedback. The remarkable thing was that despite all of the markings, she never “spoon-fed” the corrections, but rather challenged my word choice or argument. This made me pause to reconsider and then rewrite the sentence myself. Learning to edit this way challenged my entire thought process for writing and arguing, not just in rhetoric but in many other subjects, such as English and history.
Based on my high school experiences, I truly believe a good education is one that addresses the whole person and builds lifelong thinkers. Logic and rhetoric never stayed in the classroom at Scholé Academy; they were never simply the cello part alone. In every class there was a sense of the bigger picture outside of writing or speaking, and an awareness that the skills we were developing would not just be used to earn a grade for a transcript. In learning to hear the whole symphony, we were preparing to be lifelong learners. As I further my education in college, it is very important to me to continue my rounded education. For this reason, I chose to attend a liberal arts school to study music rather than a music conservatory. I sincerely hope to follow the model set for me in seeking new connections and listening for true harmony.