“A charter school means a lot of homework.” I heard this from many well-meaning folk before enrolling my daughters in Livingston Classical Academy. I’m not a fan of endless of homework after a long day of school but I enrolled them anyway. Why? Because I was confident that, though there might be a learning curve for both my girls and the teachers at this new school, if LCA was truly pursuing a classical education, then the principle of “non multa, sed multum” would guide their efforts.
The credit is given to Pliny the younger, a Roman senator of the first century, for penning this Latin proverb which can be translated into English as “not many, but much.” It is similar to the familiar English quips of “Less is more” or “Quality not quantity” and has provided a foundational directive for classical educators for centuries. But what does it mean?
Simply put it means that classical educators will limit the subjects covered in their classes in order to allow their students time to master the most important ideas. They will not overwhelm students with lots of assignments but rather they expect students to spend time carefully attending to limited but purposeful tasks.
For example, you might anticipate that your seventh grader will be assigned a two-or- three page writing project but instead she comes home and tells you that all she has to do is write a single sentence. No doubt your student will be tempted to jot down a quick idea and declare she’s finished. Really? But wait. Ask her what kind of sentence she has to write. When you dig a little more into the assignment you will realize that your child has been asked to write a thesis statement that expresses an arguable idea. She needs to identify a single aspect of a character or an author in order to form a limited subject; she needs a transitive verb to express a causal or demonstrative relationship between the subject and the direct object; and the direct object needs to be modified by a prepositional phrase that unifies the sentence.
And yes, she can tell you what all that means but she might need you to hold her accountable to actually doing it. She has not been asked to produce a volume of words, but she has been asked make precise word choices in order to express a strong idea. The typical seventh grade thesis, “Thomas Jefferson is a naive person,” becomes “Thomas Jefferson’ agrarian view of America indicates his naiveté’ about the nature of man,” and your seventh grader has made major strides in her writing skills.*
In the end you might find that filling two or three pages with less-than- thoughtful words would have been faster but the principle of “non multa, sed multum” has produced careful contemplation and rich reward. This guiding principle of classical education is being rediscovered by the LCA community. Though we are still figuring out its implications, we are committed to this timeless truth and we are confident that this approach will develop thoughtful maturity in your children.
By Mrs. Sechrist (LCA An Parent)
*These comments are taken from an actual assignment from the seventh grade English class.”