As you teach the struggling student and help him with his weaker areas, look for his stronger interests and abilities. Does he love to draw? Does he long to write stories? Does he delve deeply into areas of scientific or historical research? Does he enjoy developing patterns or solving math problems? Does he have a gift for languages?
In his classical education, emphasize these areas in his studies, as this will improve his ability to learn and to find areas for lifelong service. “Schools sometimes focus on the deficits in students’ lives, and not their abilities. That is a major mistake ….”* Foster his interests with special activities, art or history camps, and field trips. Look for volunteering opportunities in these areas when the child is older.
In our home we explain to our special-needs teens that their areas of service, satisfaction, or employment will be found where their strongest interests meet their greatest abilities. Interest alone will not suffice, nor will ability if interest is absent. We have used the notion of “electives,” but within a classical context. (In other words, we do not offer woodworking or sewing as an elective. Such activities are reserved for leisure.) We insist on classical content areas, especially Latin, mathematics, literature, and music theory. Remember that Latin serves as a unifying all-in-one course of study and can remain prominent in any child’s coursework, even if lower levels of materials are needed. Within an education in the liberal arts, Western civilization, and the pursuit of truth, goodness, and beauty, each student may begin to choose areas of emphasis in his later years for study and for service to others.
* Dr. Temple Grandin and Kate Duffy, Developing Talents: Careers for Individuals with Asperger Syndrome and High-Functioning Autism (Shawnee Mission: Autism Asperger Publishing Co., 2004), 55.
For inspiration, stories, and suggestions on helping children find their strengths and areas for service within the context of a classical education, see Simply Classical: A Beautiful Education for Any Child from Memoria Press.
Originally published in The Classical Teacher Spring 2014 edition.