On the Importance of Struggle in a Good Education
Shouldn’t school be fun? Don’t children do better when they are having a good time? Why must an excellent education be difficult? Despite appearances, these are questions of ends, not means—of purpose, not pedagogy.
Struggle is an inherent part of classical education, not gratuitously but teleologically. Students must acquire knowledge that they do not naturally possess and form character that they will not naturally develop. This requires hard work and discipline on the part of teacher and student alike. But the result is a lasting capacity for genuine happiness—what Aristotle called “that activity of the soul in accord with virtue.”
Anyone who has learned to play a musical instrument well understands this. A good pianist diligently practices scales and arpeggios, not because it is fun or easy, but because doing so yields technical mastery and provides the foundations for appreciation of music theory. The toil serves a worthy end.
Sisyphus is miserable on account of the futility of his task, not its difficulty. He lacks hope, not because the stone is heavy but because he carries it nowhere. Camus insisted that we must imagine Sisyphus happy, but of course, he is not. Modern education invites him to simply put down the rock and play in the sand—but the futility remains.
Classical schools recognize that it is only sincere struggle with a noble purpose that makes for true happiness. To paraphrase Lewis: “Aim for virtue and you will get fun ‘thrown in’; aim for fun and you will get neither.”