Because life is a series of edits

Desiring the Kingdom (First Quarter Review)

In Books, Educators, Teachers, Veritas on October 10, 2012 at 9:19 am

A former teaching colleague (and current friend) of mine is using Desiring the Kingdom as a key text for his Christian educational ministries degree. He asked if he could send me a few questions detailing my experience with James K.A. Smith's book and its impact on our first quarter of school (to revisit my favorite quotations from each chapter of Desiring the Kingdom, visit one of these summer posts: Intro, 1.1, 1.2, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6.). Here's what I wrote back:

Can
you briefly explain the format that you went about discussing Desiring the
Kingdom together?

We used Desiring the Kingdom as a framework to
work through discussions on classical education in theory and practice, as well
as across schools (i.e. Grammar and Upper). Through this lens, we processed
together thoughts and perspectives from the ACCS conference in Dallas, updated and
continued work on our Curriculum Mapping initiative, interacted over and
continued working out our trans-denominational perspective, reviewed and
renewed our commitment to each other through the relational covenant,
implemented new and creative ways to blend our classical Christian model of
education, engaged in planning first day habits and liturgies, learned about
and practiced teaching to different learning styles, discussed important
educational mechanics like workload evaluation, grading standards, lesson
planning, and school systems, and helped prepare staff for their part of our
WISE (Walking in Step Educationally) Parent Training Conferences in August.

After
discussing DTK, what did you sense was the overall response of the faculty to
what James K. A. Smith is proposing? What
aspects of Smith’s argument were most popular with the faculty? What
were the critiques and did you have any significant pushback?

Smith’s perspective on ritual and liturgy
were huge for our staff, particularly for those who had not considered either
as being more everyday than every week (i.e. Sunday at church). This emphasis
and language was important for our school as it gave the teachers both
rationale and words for why we try to do what we do, whether it be Grammar
school students walking in lines or Upper school students sitting meditatively
in RISE (our morning assembly).

The most
significant pushback had more to do with staff (particularly in the Grammar
school) feeling it was a tough read. Some of these same staff felt Smith
negatively overreacted to the ideas of capitalism, patriotism, and our nation’s Christian
heritage.


Smith’s
writing is pretty philosophical, heady. How did you go about putting hands and
feet on his proposals?

One key to this was
the assembly of a study guide by our theology/philosophy teacher. Another was allotting
plenty of time during orientation (and in more informal conversations) during
which the book and its contents were the main topic of discussion. We spent a
good amount of time in the book’s introduction (which is really sufficient in
many ways as a summary of the book).

What
parts of the book did you think spoke directly to the VCA community?

Again, the ritual
and liturgy emphasis was important, as was the Smith’s succinct statement that
true Christian education should be about shaping what students love more than
what they know. Historically, this has been the desire of the board for the
school, but I wouldn’t say the language for this was as clear in the minds and
hearts of the staff as Smith’s brief statement; however, once unleashed, there
seemed to be quite an “a-ha” moment across all grades as to what we were after
(and what we weren’t).


Which
parts were particularly meaningful or important for you as the Head of School?

For me, Smith’s book was a powerful validation of much of
what I have always believed about Christian education (classical or otherwise),
summarized with great depth. The fact that our theology/philosophy teacher
recommended the book to me with the words, “I think you’ll like this because
it’s what I hear you saying” meant a lot and unintentionally loaned me some
borrowed credibility in the eyes of the staff. As a second-year Head of School,
this has been immeasurably helpful in at least giving me confidence that, while
I’m continuing to solidify my educational philosophies and perspective, I’m
perhaps not just making this stuff up out of thin air.


In
this first quarter of the school year, where have you seen evidence of your
discussion bearing fruit in the lives/work of your faculty, parents, and
students?

As we have a good amount of new staff (some brand new to
teaching), I feel our time in Desiring
the Kingdom
has been particularly helpful in getting them off on the right
foot. While the majority of our teachers (new or veteran) wrestle on a weekly
basis with what classical Christian education looks like in their classes, I
think we’re newly aware of what it doesn’t look like as a result of our reading
the book.

This brings clarity to our efforts and bolsters confidence in our
attempts to train parents and students in a more character-focused,
virtues-driven education as opposed to one more competency-focused and
values-driven. Reading the book through the summer, training through its
presuppositions during staff orientation, and then implementing and applying
these ideas face-to-face by utilizing our teachers as the main presenters at
our two-day parent orientations got all of us off to as good a start as I would
have hoped. Still, there’s plenty of opportunity to revisit and review Desiring the Kingdom, as old educational
habits for all involved tend to die hard.

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