Because life is a series of edits

Posts Tagged ‘classical education’

Desiring the Kingdom by James K.A. Smith (Intro)

In Books on June 8, 2012 at 4:28 pm

DTK cover

Our Veritas staff summer reading is Desiring the Kingdom: Worship, Worldview, and Cultural Formation by James K.A. Smith, a wonderful look at what true Christian education should be. There are introductions to books, and then there are Introductions to books. As I process through this one chapter by chapter, I thought I'd pull some quotables:

"What is education for? And more specifically, what is at stake in a distinctly Christian education? What does the qualifier Christian mean when appended to education? It is usually understood that education is about ideas and information (though it is also too often routinely reduced to credentialing for a career and viewed as a ticket to a job)." (p. 17)

"What if education, including higher education, is not primarily about the absorption of ideas and information, but about the formation of hearts and desires?…What if education was primarily concerned with shaping our hopes and passions – our visions of 'the good life' – and not merely about the dissemination of data and information as inputs to our thinking? What if the primary work of education was the transforming of our imagination rather than the saturation of our intellect? And what if this had as much to do with our bodies as with our minds?" (p. 18)

"What if education wasn't first and foremost about what we know, but about what we love?" (p. 18)

"If education is about formation, then we need to be attentive to all the formative work that is happening outside the university: in homes and at the mall; in football stadiums and at Fourth of July parades; in worship and at work." (p. 19)

"The core claim of this book is that liturgies – whether 'sacred' or 'secular' – shape and constitute our identities by forming our most fundamental desires and our most basic attunement to the world. In short, liturgies make us certain kinds of people, and what defines us is what we love." (P. 25)

"An education, then, is a contellation of practices, rituals, and routines that inculcates a particular vision of the good life by inscribing or infusing that vision into the heart (the gut) by means of material, embodied practices…There is no neutral, nonformative education; in short, there is no such thing as a 'secular' education." (p. 26)

"Could we offer a Christian education that is loaded with all sorts of Christian ideas and information – and yet be offering a formation that runs counter to that vision?" (p. 31)

"The end of Christian education has been seen to be the dissemination and communication of Christian ideas rather than the formation of a peculiar people." (p. 31)

"Being a disciple of Jesus is not primarily a matter of getting the right ideas and doctrines and beliefs into your head in order to guarantee proper behavior; rather, it's a matter of being the kind of person who loves rightly – who loves God and neighbor and is oriented to the world by the primacy of that love." (p. 33)

"An important part of revisioning Christian education is to see it as a made of counter-formation." (p. 33)

"While Hollister and Starbucks have taken hold of our heart with tangible, material liturgies, Christian schools are 'fighting back' by giving young people Christian ideas…Christian education as formation needs to be a pedagogy of desire." (p. 33)

"The primary goal of Christian education is the formation of a peculiar people – a people who desire the kingdom of God and thus undertake their vocation as an expression of that desire." (p. 34)

My instincts as to what we are to be doing (and why) at Veritas find much affirmation in Smith's writing. Looking forward to chapter 2…

A Discipline Imposed from Outside the Mind Itself

In Pedagogy on May 4, 2012 at 9:31 am

Ann Taylor, our new Central Grammar Campus Principal, sent me this excerpt from the late Richard Mitchell's Underground Grammarian newsletters:

"The mind is a rudderless wanderer blown here or there by any puff of breeze. If I mention watermelons, you must think of watermelons; if giraffes, giraffes. The very rare genus can keep his mind on course for a while, perhaps as long as a whole minute, but most of us are always at the mercy of every random suggestion of environment. We imagine that we sit down and think, but, in fact, we mostly gather wool, remembering this or that and fantasizing about the other. In our heads we recite some slogans and rehash the past, often repeatedly. Even in this foolish maundering, we are easily distracted by random thoughts, mostly about money or politics but often about sports or sex. Left to its own devises, the mind plays like a child in a well-stocked sandbox, toying idly with trinkets and baubles and often doing the same thing over and over again until some slightly more interesting game presents itself.

If we want to pursue extended logical thought, thought that can discover relationships and consequences and devise its own alternatives, we need a discipline imposed from outside of the mind itself. Writing is that discipline. It seems drastic, but we have to suspect that coherent, continuous thought is impossible for those who cannot construct coherent, continuous prose (pp. 39-40)."

Yet another argument for why writing is important…and why we (and our students) need to do more – not less – of it here in the 21st century.

The Best Teachers are the Best Learners

In Educators on December 7, 2011 at 10:01 am

These are just some of the people I get to work with each day at Veritas. So blessed.

The Dance of Education

In Thought on September 27, 2011 at 7:42 pm

Dance-diagram Perhaps you have indeed pondered this age-old question:

"What if the hokey-pokey really is what it's all about?"

If life is the referent, maybe; but if we're talking education, I (Craig) would suggest a different descriptive dance step: the "Two Steps Forward, One Step Back." Let me explain.

A week ago, Megan, the girls and I were sitting at home having dinner when, out of the blue (or more accurately, out of her Bible class earlier that day), our 12-year-old oldest daughter asked a question: "Dad, how do we know – really know – Jesus and the Bible are true when other prophets and their books make similar claims?"

I'd waited 12 years for this question. While we'd touched on the topic in past conversations, I'd been the one who brought it up. Now, my daughter – my oldest – was intrigued on her own by the hugest of epistemological questions, and she and I (along with her three younger sisters listening at the dinner table) had the entire evening to dance the night away discussing.

And we danced. We talked about the cultural shift from what once was an ancient mindset that accepted deontological reality to the modernist mentality that anything true must be able to be proven. Not being satisfied with this premise and its false dichotomy between science and belief, we continued onward to postmodernism's sounds-too-good-to-be-true promise that, in the absence of really being able to know anything, whatever works for you is, by pragmatic default, right and real.

We then talked about the difference between facts and truth. I pulled out my Case for Christ DVD and together we watched several chapters on the geographical, archaeological, and transmissional evidence for the Bible. The girls asked questions about how we know what we know, and we talked about what evidence can and cannot mean (i.e. facts do not prove that God is true, but if the facts are accurate, what claims do they make that may be true?).

We were two hours in and having a blast – the girls were making great observations and asking really good questions, and I was thrilled to play Socrates in helping them sort out the pieces and slowly put part of the puzzle together. As an educator, this is "the jazz"; as a father, this is the call.

Unfortunately, bedtime was upon us, so we wound things down with enthusiasm, thanks, hugs, and promises to talk more. Then four girls tried to use two bathrooms with little consideration for each other. Twenty minutes later, there were tears (them), yelling (me), frustration (us), and that was that; the awe and inspiration surrounding everything we had just discussed was gone. Warm and fuzzy feelings from learning with and from one another? Replaced with hurt, anger, and hands thrown up in the air.

The good news? Once again the Bible had shown itself true by accurately explaining the facts of our hearts – that they were deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; indeed, who could understand them? (Jeremiah 17:9) None of us did, that's for sure.

Then I remembered: two steps forward, one step back. So goes the dance of education.

Deuteronomy 6:7 speaks to our parental responsibility to teach our children, but often we miss the how when we focus too much on the what, where, and when: "You shall teach them (God's words) diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise." The definition of "diligently"? According to Merriam-Webster: "In a manner involving great or constant activity; with great effort or determination." According to my experience: "With a whole heapin' lot of commitment, effort, and work."

Lest I leave you with a lack of resolution, let me finish the story. Thankfully, over the course of the next few days, we resolved things and got back on the education dance floor by way of the Passages Exhibition at the Oklahoma City Museum of Art this past Saturday. While our visit at times felt like another "two steps forward, one step back" experience because of the crowd (one could argue that every 65-and-over adult Sunday School class in Oklahoma was there), we persevered and enjoyed two hours learning about God's preservation of the Bible over time. It was a good currciulum tie-in to our talk the week before…and a needed shared experience for our family as well.

Two steps forward, one step back – welcome to the dance of education. Let's boogie.

The Well-Blown Mind: An Introduction

In Thought on August 30, 2011 at 5:44 am

Down on the Farm In spring of 2005, Craig and I and our four little girls were in the midst of a major life transition. We were moving from Colorado Springs, where we'd lived for a dozen years while Craig was on staff with The Navigators, to St. Louis, where Craig was was about to begin seminary. In the two-month interim (intentional for the sake of decompressing from the former and preparing for the latter), we lived in a farm house in rural Illinois. During this time we read a lot of books and watched a lot of corn grow. And Craig shot a lot of raccoons.

It was during this stint that we spent a week in Oklahoma, visiting my parents in Owasso and also seeing some old friends in Norman. These friends had recently helped start an interesting school called Veritas Classical Academy. The school was finishing up its first year, and we arrived just in time for the end-of-year roller skating party.

With kids who were then 6, 4, 3, and 18 months, we didn’t really enjoy the skating so much (even today, roller skating comes in at a very strong 2 on a fun scale of 0-10 for our family), but we did enjoy finding out more about the school – a blended model classical Christian school in which the kids only attended twice each week and were homeschooled the rest of the week. To a mom planning to homeschool her four daughters, this sounded pretty awesome to me.

I remember drilling my friend, Julie, about the school the rest of our time in Norman. I think my questions included (but were not limited to):

  • Help me understand what you mean by classical education?
  • Douglas who?
  • Dorothy who?
  • Veritas Press what?
  • And you just gathered a group of people together to start reading books together and suddenly you had a school?

Apparently it wasn’t quite as easy as that. Still, I was curious. When we left Oklahoma at the end of that week, I was sure of two things: 1) I wanted to know more about classical education; but 2) there was no way on the planet I was going to attempt to start something similar in St. Louis.

Instead, we returned to the farm and I hopped on Amazon and ordered what, at the time, I thought was the Bible of classical education: The Well-Trained Mind by Susan Wise Bauer. I also got a copy of Susan's book for parents called The Well-Educated Mind. The epic volumes arrived. I began reading the former; Craig, the latter.

We might as well have been reading The Well-Blown Mind. Craig became depressed by all the books he felt he should have read but never had; I became depressed that what I was doing with our 6-year-old wasn’t cutting the classical education mustard.

It was a watershed moment for both of us, but neither Craig nor I had any idea at the time of how it might shape our family's future – either generally in educating our girls at the time or specifically in moving to Oklahoma six years later to lead the very school we had just visited.

A lot can happen in six years, and a lot did…

(Picture: Megan and girls on the farm in May 2005.)

Christian Education: God’s Pedagogy (Part 1)

In Educators, Pedagogy on August 16, 2011 at 6:49 am

Ignatius Education God's Pedagogy in Daniel 1:17
More than a decade before I (Craig) had any formal educational aspirations, I remember reading Daniel 1:17 and marveling at what I perceived to be a rubric for the way God teaches.

While I had little formal language (and even less formal training) at the time to put into words my intuition, the passage stuck with me through the years, becoming more and more important as my desire to pursue the calling and vocation of teaching grew.

Finally, after five years of seminary training in theology and education, my instincts found support biblically and pedagogically. What I had known instinctively I now began to understand pedagogically: as God did with Daniel, so we must also begin with the student in mind.

1) “And as for these four youth…”
We’ve already discussed to a degree who Daniel and his companions were as people, but who were they as products of their dual cultures (Israelite and Babylonian)? Any consideration of education has to begin with the consideration of those we may be trying to educate. Who are our students as people and as products of their culture(s) – familial, church, community, national? Where are they in terms of historical and cultural contexts – geographical, economical, political, technological? And when are they – mentally, emotionally, physically, socially, spiritually – with regard to developmental theory and their own growth?[1] Questions like these have to be asked and answered to only begin to understand those we teach.

In the school context, the entire process of getting to know my students begins with learning their names, asking questions (both formally and informally) about their lives, and learning family backgrounds and education history. It’s connecting with other teachers who may have taught them in the past as to what they said or believed at the time. It’s meeting and talking with their support systems – parents, pastors, and counselors – about the issues and ideas that are unresolved. It’s identifying peer group associations and keeping loose track of whom they hang out with, for upper schoolers – as are all of us – are defined by our communities and what they believe.

In addition to the personal exegetical work, cultural exegesis with regard to the social environments in which students live and have grown up is crucial to understanding them. Familiarizing ourselves with media referents and memorable touchstones of their lives is key to earning their trust, not to mention understanding shifts across and within their generation. Entering into their spheres of existence – especially the digital one – in a natural way is an important avenue for learning about those we hope to teach.

2) “…God gave them…”
The second aspect of God’s educational pedagogy that we see in Daniel 1:17 has to do with the Teacher and the Teacher’s character[2] – one that is expressly initiating and generous. As previously discussed in Daniel 1:4, God has already been at work in the lives of Daniel and his friends, gifting them with the basic capacities they will need to handle the capabilities He will later develop in them.

This generous initiation, of course, has much to do with God and both His omniscience and sovereignty. While we possess neither of these two qualities, we as parents and teachers have been gifted with the capacity and capability to model God’s initiation and generosity with our students in other ways, namely by actively seeking to know them and generously granting them access to get to know us as well. Though we are not God, we have the ability and the authority as their parents and teachers to initiate and generously provide the structure, support, and challenge they need to learn about themselves and us…but we must make the first (and often risky) move.

Whether at home or in the classroom, this involves sharing our own stories – the successes and failures – rather than defaulting to more generic and nameless examples to illustrate key points and ideas. It’s bringing our own creativity in the form of an original song or poem, taking a risk by putting it out there for those we parent and teach to consider, evaluate, and (gulp) pass judgment on, all while resisting the temptation to endlessly qualify or defend our attempts at doing so. It’s letting our students see our heart for them not only as their parents and teachers, but also as friends and fans. Granted, this potentially compromises a degree of authority in the adult-child relationship, but the risk is worth taking because of what it may yield in true respect.

[1] See “Life Span Development” by Ellery Pullman, pages 63-72; “Moral Development Through Christian Education” by James Riley Estep Jr. and Alvin W. Kuest, pages 73-82; “Faith Development” by Dennis Dirks, pages 83-90; and “Spiritual Formation: Nurturing Spiritual Vitality” by Nick Taylor, pages 91-98 in Christian Education, edited by Michael J. Anthony. Also, see “Patterns of Growth: The Structural Dimension,” pages 65-83; and “Patterns of Growth: The Functional Dimension,” pages 84-99 in Teaching for Reconciliation by Ronald T. Habermas.

[2] See “God for Us: The Trinity and Teaching,” pages 15-36; “God With Us: Jesus, the Master Teacher,” pages 59-86; and “God in Us: The Holy Spirit and Teaching,” pages 87-112 in God Our Teacher by Robert W. Pazmino.

Painting: Ignatian Pedagogy and The Ratio Studiorum, the original set of guidelines for those directing Jesuit educational institutions in Europe (1599).

Christian Education: God as Master Teacher

In Educators, Pedagogy on August 12, 2011 at 9:42 am


Above: Daniel and Cyrus Before the Idol Bel, Rembrandt (1633).

A Brief Theological Exposition of Daniel 1:17
In the Old Testament book named after him, we have the story of Daniel, an Israelite captured and living in exile in the ancient city of Babylon from 605 B.C. (Daniel 1:1) until the third year of King Cyrus (536 B.C.; Daniel 10:1).[1] The first chapter of Daniel tells us much about who he is as one included in King Nebuchadnezzar’s initial decree,

“to bring some of the people of Israel, both of the royal family and of the nobility, youths without blemish, of good appearance and skillful in all wisdom, endowed with knowledge, understanding learning, and competent to stand in the king’s palace, and to teach them the literature and language of the Chaldeans… They were to be educated for three years, and at the end of that time they were to stand before the king.”[2]

As we continue to read the story, our tendency is often to focus on what Daniel does in order “not to defile himself with the king’s food, or with the wine that he drank.”[3] We read about how Daniel and his friends ask to be tested for ten days of non-Babylonian food, letting their appearance be compared to those eating the king’s food, for most certainly his breaks Old Testament food laws (among other reasons[4]). We also read how, “At the end of ten days it was seen that they were better in appearance and fatter in flesh than all the youths who ate the kings food.”[5] Truly, Daniel and his friends are role models of faith for us now.

But then we come to Daniel 1:17, in which the writer records that, “As for these four youths, God gave them learning and skill in all literature and wisdom, and Daniel had understanding in all visions and dreams.” Remembering Daniel 1:4, we recall that Daniel and his friends are already listed as “youths without blemish, of good appearance and skillful in all wisdom, endowed with knowledge, understanding learning, and competent to stand in the king’s palace.” Why the double inclusion of this information in verses 4 and 17? What does it tell us about Daniel? What does it tell us about God?

The double inclusion is important in that it reveals to us that God has already given Daniel and his friends great learning capacity (1:4) in anticipation of their ultimate capability three years later (1:17). Keil and Delitzsch, in their Commentary on the Old Testament, write:

“Skillful, intelligent in all wisdom, i.e. in the subjects of Chaldean wisdom, is to be understood of the ability to apply themselves to the study of wisdom. In like manner, the other mental requisites here mentioned are to be understood, having knowledge, showing understanding, possessing a faculty for knowledge, a strength of judgment, in whom was strength, i.e., who had the fitness in bodily and mental endowments appropriately to stand in the palace of the king, and as servants to attend to his commands.”[6] (emphases ours)

The youths’ dramatic didactic development seems to have much to do with their obedient response to God’s gifts. Again, from Keil and Delitzsch:

“As God blessed the resolution of Daniel and his three friends that they would not defile themselves by the food, He also blessed the education which they received in the literature and wisdom of the Chaldeans, so that the whole four made remarkable progress therein.”[7]

Daniel’s story illustrates the fact that our progress depends on God’s process – one He has initiated, planned for, and provided structure, support, and challenge for to serve and educate as His creation’s Master Teacher.

[1] ESV Study Bible, notes.
Daniel 1:3b-4.
Daniel 1:8.
“It is unlikely that the king’s food would have been prepared in accordance with the standards of the Mosaic law. It is also possible that it would have been previously offered to Babylonian gods in a pagan temple.” (Handbook on the Prophets, 295).
Daniel 1:15
Keil & Delitzsch, p. 535.
Keil & Delitzsch, p. 541.

Christian Education: An Introduction

In Educators on August 8, 2011 at 3:39 pm

“As for these four youths, God gave them
learning and skill in all literature and wisdom, and Daniel
had understanding in all visions and dreams.”
Daniel 1:17 (ESV)

“To be a teacher in the right sense is to be a learner.
I am not a teacher, only a fellow student.”
Soren Kierkegaard

Several years ago, a friend had his second grader enrolled in a local Christian school. All seemed well. By the end of the school year, however, news broke that the second grade teacher had failed to teach any form of language arts to her students; as a result, our friend’s daughter expressed no vision, passion, or experience in language arts.

Throughout the school year, neither she nor her classmates knew what they were missing: none of them were wearing sensors that went off when their language arts tanks got low; no “check child” light came on mid-year to alert administrators and parents as to any malfunction.

For understandable reasons, the teacher was fired. But what really happened here? Perhaps the teacher was never properly trained in rationale and methods for teaching grammar and writing skills to children; maybe she didn’t have or use proper resources when faced with the unrelenting challenges of teaching young students day in and day out; possibly there was little structure in place to support her when she needed it.

What we do know is that the fired teacher was hired by another school (and fired later for the same reasons), while our friend’s daughter and classmates have been playing language arts catch up ever since.

When parents and teachers do not learn to teach, students are not taught to learn. What we hope to provide in this first series at Docendo Discimus is a philosophy of Christian education to overcome such realities and to guide our classical methodology.