To know God and to make Him known.

The Olympics and Classical Education

This month we are witnessing some of the greatest athletes in the world compete in the London Olympic Games.  Begun in ancient Greece to honor the Olympian gods and closely associated with the cult worship of Zeus, the Olympic Games have been viewed as the culmination of mankind’s physical and mental prowess.  Although we may not notice at first, the Olympic Games are also rich in classical traditions and classical education methods.
Modern education has tried to change the way people learn, but the world of sports has not made this attempt. This is because it cannot: sports must be taught classically. As a result, classical educators can learn much from the Olympics.
For example, while the Greeks worshiped the wrong god in their idolatry of Zeus, they exhibited what we Christians are instructed to strive toward: to do everything to honor our Lord, Jesus Christ. So while the deity they honored was a false one, the ancient Greeks embraced the right attitude.  As classical educators, we can contemplate some important questions with respect to this:
  • What can we learn about man from this ancient culture that properly recognized we should honor God with our best?
  • How does this reflect on today’s society and how can it help us be better witnesses to a fallen world?
Consider another example: Olympic athletes have an end goal and then establish a series of smaller goals and milestones along the way. According to a Forbes 2008 article, they plan up to eight years in advance : “In fact, while there are exceptions, coaches and trainers say it's common for athletes to invest four to eight years training in a sport before making an Olympic team.”  If we use this as a model for classical education, what does this mean for a classically homeschooling mom? Again, here are some questions to ponder:
  • Athletes do not get caught up in day-to-day setbacks, but instead focus on long term goals. How can this help us manage our school year?
  • Do we have a one-year plan, or a four-, eight-, or twelve-year plan? What is the appropriate goal for a classical education?
  • How will Classical Conversations help with the planning process?
Finally, remember that Olympic athletes train for years. As they train, they do not judge their progress based on the performances of others; they judge their progress on their personal achievement and against their personal potential. Most Olympic events, excluding sports like basketball and volleyball, are solely offensive. You cannot guard the other Olympic divers or splash the swimmer in the lane next to you, or do anything else to gain an advantage over someone else. You can only strive to be the best you can be. Along these lines, let us consider the following questions:
  • How should we judge our students’ successes?  Should Johnny and Sally share the same goals?
  •  Is comparing our children to other children helpful or harmful?
  •  Do our students understand that constant improvement and self-assessment triumph over winning or being the best in the class?  (Tip: Watch the reactions of those who finish without earning an Olympic medal and analyze them.)
  •  Does the athlete who has just departed from the spotlight of the awards podium slow down or keep plowing forward?

There are many things we as classical, Christian educators can learn about classical education by watching the Olympic Games and pondering the right kinds of questions.

CATEGORIES: Articles, Big Ideas: Truth, Beauty, Goodness and more!, Classical Christian Education, Homeschooling Life

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