I wrote last week about my family’s journey into the cathedral that is classical Christian education.
The effects have been profound and far-reaching, both in terms of pedagogy and content.
First, a look into the significant changes in our approach. When I realized that I had too often been treating my students as cogs to be systematically assembled, rather than souls to be tenderly formed, I knew our pacing must change. Discipleship and virtue formation – now the end-all of our journey – were intimately tied to the progress and regress of human souls, rather than linked with checkmarks on an arbitrary schedule. Time must be taken. I immediately discarded my let’s-burn-through-these-lesson-plans-in-record-speed model of years past. It was not unusual, a year ago, for me to cram the equivalent of two weeks of one subject into a single hour of seatwork with my two eldest students. The faster I could check off these (monotonous) lessons, the better. They didn’t resist, so I pushed ahead.
These past six months, in contrast, have been marked by a pace that is far wiser and, not surprisingly, far more peaceful. The Sabbath reigns in both our calendar (six weeks on, one week off) and in my attitude. When my goals for the day have been met, and it is only 11:15, we are done. We don’t push ahead for the sake of getting ahead. Why manufacture deadlines when there are bicycles to ride and toads to catch in the backyard? My children’s countenance has changed remarkably. Many grammar lessons, for example, end with pleads of “can’t we just do one more?” rather than a defeated look of exhaustion.
Another marked contrast from years past is my frustration level. When my view was to speed through our lessons as quickly as possible, oftentimes I would leave my children (the very students I was trying to teach!) alongside in the dust. Tears ensued (theirs), anger flared (mine), and many days felt like total failure. This was a conundrum I could not figure out; if we were a week (or a month) ahead in this subject, why did this feel so painful?
Don’t despise the present participles
The reason for this pain, I now see, was I had been working against the very grain of my children’s hearts. God designed Christians to bear fruit over time. Sanctification is the process of becoming more like Christ, casting off foolishness and sin, over time. Fruit cannot be staple-gunned into the branches of a withering tree (Paul David Tripp’s imagery, not mine) and declared healthy. I realized that I despised the present participle. I loathed the learning, the growing, the waiting, the calling back, the explaining, the correcting, the reminding, the shepherding. Because I did not understand that education was fundamentally helping shape a soul to properly worship its Creator, I neglected to see the Creator’s design.
Building the Practical on the Principle
Our approach has not been the only change this past year. Because we had never really landed on an educational philosophy, our content varied from year to year, which was a never-ending source of frustration for me. This school year, however, we have honed in on a few basic essentials. The decluttering of our schedule (and consequently, my mind) has been so freeing! Why was I so surprised at this? After all, His yoke is easy, and his burden is light. Memory work, language arts, math and Latin constitute the bulk of our mornings. It is challenging, it is rich, and it is enough. Previously, I had no concept of Latin and its value, and now this beautiful language has stolen the hearts of all four of my children (and my own, but more on that later).
Though we have always been a reading-aloud family, this year it has been intentional and scheduled, and nothing excites greater joy every morning when I call the kids to the couch to jump back into the life of Amy Carmichael, the adventures of Caddie Woodlawn, or the mysteries of Father Brown. I heard Cindy Rollins say that the years of Morning Time are what truly marked her children’s education (rather than the years of other coursework), and I am beginning to understand the depth of that statement. Daily poetry recitation, scripture reading, and hymn-singing are forming the souls of my children, and shaping the course of our day.
Becoming Worthy of Imitation
Thirdly, I am engaged in a battle to become imitable; and some days, it truly feels like trudging through a field strewn with worn-torn limbs. My children learn so much from my tone of voice, my pace of speaking, and my body language. I see it all too often by how quickly they express frustration with each other, how annoyed they are when one child doesn’t pick something up immediately, or when the 2-year-old interrupts, for the eleventh time. I am working to change those reflexes in my own heart and am repenting to my children about my lack of grace for slowness – which is not really slowness, but rather the present participle in action! Their grace and forgiveness always reign free; I have much to learn from them, for they are already becoming students of their true master, Jesus: Unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of Heaven.
In addition to this focus on becoming worthy of imitation, I have decided that my own soul is just as worth cultivating as theirs are! My areas of focus are piano, writing, and Latin. I endeavor to devote at least 20 minutes a day to each of those areas, so that is 60 minutes, four or five times a week, when I am engaging in the re-awakening of my own soul. I am trusting that these small acts of faithfulness are slowly helping repair the ruins and breathing life into desires that have laid dormant for too long.
And all this, because my heart has found its home. Glory be to God!