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Chaotic Students and Harmonious Lessons


If you have ever taught a group of children (or adults for that matter!) in any setting—in your home school, in Sunday School, in a Christian school, or in another situation—you have experienced chaos. I do not need to define the term for you.

Well, I was recently teaching a group of twelfth graders in our local Classical Conversations community when chaos erupted. We were talking about time and how it has been measured throughout history. In the course of the conversation (a classical one!), the significance of the number seven came up in the context of the length of the week and the various attempts that have been made to change it. One of the girls got all excited and started exclaiming that even the Harry Potter series contains seven novels. This divergence got us off track for a few minutes. The perfectly harmonious conversation about time became a chaotic discussion about Harry Potter, Doctor Who, and other shows and books the children enjoy.

Ilúvatar understands what we go through in those situations. Ilúvatar is the creator in J.R.R. Tolkien’s posthumously published genesis account of Middle-earth, The Silmarillion. Ilúvatar first creates the Ainur, eternal spirits, who sing a song he has asked them to compose. Melkor, the greatest of the Ainur, breaks from the harmony of the song and begins playing his own music. Other Ainur join him, but Ilúvatar adjusts the music enough to continue singing the song while bringing Melkor and the discordant Ainur back into harmony. This happens three times.

This story often amazes me, yet it is the very thing Christ has promised to do:

That in the dispensation of the fulness of times he might gather together in one all things in Christ, both which are in heaven, and which are on earth; even in him.
– Ephesians 1:10 (KJV).

When I contemplate what is happening with Ilúvatar and Christ, I am in awe. In praise, I can only respond in wonder at how good God really is. Our God does that. Our God brings us all into one in Christ, all into harmony with the story He is telling, even when we stray and become discordant. Then it strikes me, the “Ah-ha!” moment: We are called to imitate this God of ours. We too can bring harmony out of discord. I do not need to shame, embarrass, or punish the child who gets excited—albeit off-topic, as the case may be—by something I have said. In getting off course, she has done far less than the deviant Melkor did.

The next time you face a discordant child, try something new to bring them back into harmony. Adjust your song enough to make the discord harmonious. In the case of Harry Potter, I speculated that J.K. Rowling was likely intentional in choosing to write seven books and asked why that might be. That brought us right back around to discussing the significance of the number seven, our original point anyway.

I know teachers who will call on the quietest student to answer a question when all of the louder children are off on their own conversations. These students will often wonder what the quieter student will have to say, and will quiet down to hear. Other teachers will simply continue teaching but at an even quieter volume; the children are too curious not to stop talking to hear what you have to say—especially when it is said so quietly. There are all kinds of ways to make harmony out of discord, and we are made in the image of a God who does so. We too, in imitation of Him, can do the same in our interactions.

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