Skip To Main Content

Ainsley and Josiah Caught a Toad

Ainsley and Josiah Caught a Toad
Bob Schaffer, Headmaster
Liberty 6th-grade students, during Tuesday recess at the Plato campus, learned what toads do when you pick one up.  Most recoiled when a seemingly fearless classmate experienced the amphibian urinating on its handler.
It’s natural.  That’s nature. 
Over the long natural history of toads descending from the first toad, toads have perfected urinating on predators as a secondary line of defense.  The first is secreting bufotoxin from wart-like parotoid glands that make a toad look like a toad.  
It’s similarly natural for a bunch of 6th graders to be fascinated by a toad and eventually summon the courage to pick one up, maybe even kiss it.  
Most would-be predators are repulsed by bufotoxin excreted from an American toad like the one Ainsley and Josiah caught, but its effect is mild on humans (although some are allergic).  For grins I suppose, two girls really did kiss this particular toad before I could intervene and sternly lecture the larger group about the miseries of salmonellosis. 
The students learned a little from the whole experience there on the morning playground.  It was a ton of fun, which seemed natural, too.
Okay, the redundant references to nature and allusions of children in nature signal the objective I intend now to press.  They point to a rather sapient proclamation by nineteenth-century English theologian, academic intellectual, and priest St. John Henry Newman who posited, “Instruction is one thing: it has ‘little or no effect upon the mind itself…But education is a higher word; it implies an action upon our mental nature, and the formation of a character; it is something individual and permanent, and is commonly spoken of in connection with religion and virtue.’
“For Newman a proper education forms ‘a habit of mind’ that ‘lasts through life, of which the attributes are freedom, equitableness, calmness, moderation, and wisdom,’ all of which add up to what he called ‘the philosophical habit.’” 
This particular framing of the quotation comes from Climbing Parnassus by Tracy Lee Simmons (page 35).  All Liberty Common School educators began reading this cultured book together over the summer. 
We’re studying it throughout the current school year as are the school’s administrators and Board Members.  I firmly urge all LCS parents, grandparents, alumni, and friends to read it with us.  Doing so will help us all become ready.
girls reading by tree
Simmons is coming to Liberty in February to lead our faculty and some from other nearby schools in a professional-development day.  He’ll address our larger community the prior evening – Thursday 15 Feb 2024 – and everyone’s invited.  Reading Climbing Parnassus beforehand will make this an extraordinary occasion and further burnish our school’s classical orientation.
These two gatherings will be of unique and high importance for our school and its academic mission.  Liberty’s curricular philosophy tightly aligns with the core theme of Simmons’ book and Newman’s dictum on the habits of mind.
Nature is a cosmic presentation of order.  Man, being in nature, gives us a reliable baseline of human nature, too.  We rely upon it in guiding young scholars toward discerning great literature, appreciating beautiful art, internalizing true virtue, and beholding perfect math. 
Upon these and other timeless principles, we educate with meaning and purpose paying particular homage to the span of intellectual curiosity from the ancient world forward.  “A debt is owed to the past,” writes Simmons, “conversely, the past bestows a legacy on the present by teaching its lessons by a vicarious and finely sifted experience.” 
For all children – all – learning important things does not occur naturally.  Led properly by parents – which itself is a natural responsibility and universal right – a team of capable adults must show children the way guiding them by the best ideas handed down through generations of humanity’s greatest, most capable minds.
Educating our children in this classically oriented way, Liberty’s aim is to preserve western civilization and American culture utilizing the purest academic strategies informed by the truest philosophical precepts.
By February, Ainsley’s and Josiah’s toad will rest quiescent deep in the mud suspended in hibernation.  We can predict this with confidence because that’s nature. 
Ainsley and Josiah, on the other hand, along with their schoolmates, we parents, grandparents, and educators will be renewing our minds, growing in knowledge, learning together, perfecting in virtue, and becoming more intellectually awake.  That’s Liberty’s philosophical habit, the distinctly human part of our nature.
  • Classical Education
  • Climbing Parnassus
  • character education


Feature Articles