It might surprise you, but even an Academy 3rd grader is a serious student of Aristotle. If you’re to learn how that’s so, you’d need only read this quote, which Aristotle penned some long time ago:
“We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.”
In other words, our 3rd graders are learning good habits. Of course, that type of study is not a one-time thing. It’s continual, so continual in fact that mastery takes most of a lifetime.
But mastery must start somewhere. Mrs. Pino, our 3rd grade teacher, frames our students’ habit-formation as a daily process consisting of four key categories. When a student has done well in those categories, only then is he primed for excellence in reading, writing, mathematics – or whatever the discipline or skill might be. Here are our categories:
Attention: A student’s ability to focus on the matter at hand
Obedience: A student’s promptness in response to good authority; this is not blind obedience, which responds equally to good and bad authority
Respect: A student’s readiness to honor both authority and peers
Responsibility: A student’s ownership of that which he can control – his actions, his schoolwork, for instance
It’s hard to overstate the importance of habit formation. “That our students embody these four habits well is so essential,” says Mrs. Pino, “because without these habits in place, learning simply cannot happen – at least not as it should.”
Yet how are our students to form these habits? Mrs. Pino answers that question in this way:
“To form good habits, it’s important our children buy-in. To achieve their buy-in, I asked them at the start of the year what types of rules we should have in class. Rules, after all, are guideposts for good habits. And they provided good rules – ‘we need to raise our hands; we’re to respect others’ property; we should address problems with one another directly, and seek your help if we cannot.’
So, in large part, in class we’ve implemented their rules – with mine, too, of course. It’s my responsibility to enforce them.”
That this process of habit formation needs to be enforced insinuates that some days simply go better than others. “A good day – or a bad one – can be traced directly to whether we’ve practiced our habits well or not,” affirms Mrs. Pino.
So then what does a good day look like in 3rd grade? To where do good habits bring you?
“Habits are not an end in themselves,” says Mrs. Pino. “They open the doors to true learning, which is getting at the heart of things – learning the hows and whys behind numbers, formulas, words and images. That’s the exciting part of school, but it’s only made possible with good habits.”
She concludes her thought, naturally, with Aristotle:
“Aristotle states that good habits are the first step towards virtue, the idealized good to which we’re to aspire. Good habits help us excel in reading, writing and arithmetic, yes, but they’re also the start to living godly, virtuous lives, which matters most."
It’s for that reason, this quote, another of Aristotle’s, rings so true:
"The habits we form from childhood make no small difference, but rather they make all the difference."