Children today (and perhaps adults in the general populace as well) are often not drawn to what they need, but to what is right in front of them. Truth, goodness, and beauty are available and can be found in nature, great literature, works of art, music, and such, but amusement and frivolity are available as well—and are even more easily accessible. Our parents’ generation had the T.V. We have streaming services, and Facebook, and YouTube, and Instagram plus 500 cable channels we don’t need.
And there is nothing inherently wrong with any of this, but there is something wrong in how we use (or misuse) them. As a parent, I am becoming particularly aware of how the more silliness my children are exposed to the more they crave. Take Netflix for example. There are some great shows available on Netflix with artistic cinematography and meaningful messages, but there are also meaningless shows as well. Some shows are devoid of truth or speak falsehood. Other shows are simply lacking in quality.
Why would our children thoughtfully look elsewhere for truth, goodness, and beauty? Whoever screams the loudest gets heard. The culture at large is screaming and we are all tuned in. It is our duty as parents to expose our children to the true, the good, and the beautiful, but in order for us to do so we must first be exposed to the true, the good, and the beautiful ourselves. What captivates our souls? How are we disciplining our minds and affections? Our children can only receive from us what we first receive ourselves.
Paul writes in his letter to the Philippians, “Whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things” (Philippians 4:8). The literal meaning of “think” here is “to dwell” or “to ponder.” How can we dwell or ponder on the true, honorable, just, pure, lovely, and the like if we are, in the words of Neil Postman, “amusing ourselves to death”? Furthermore, how can we expect our children to dwell upon that which they are not exposed to? The home is a museum for character formation, and we, the parents, are its curators. If we are not laying a sturdy foundation, then who is? Whoever screams the loudest gets heard.
We don’t have to scream for our children to hear us. We simply must offer them what is worthy of their attention.
This is why I appreciate Classical Christian Education. I have the privilege and responsibility to guide my children in truth and to train them to appreciate and admire God’s creation, great works of art, order, form, and beauty. Through reading aloud, listening to music, learning an instrument, walking through nature, visiting museums, and discussing it all through meaningful conversations, we have the opportunity to cultivate the character of our children. And we don’t have to be homeschoolers to do this. We can incorporate worth and meaning into what we are already doing in the normal daily practices of our home: while we eat, play, talk, read, and enjoy life regardless of school choice.
We can be silly. We do silly real well. But as Solomon tells us, there is a “time for everything.” Not everything is meant to be silly. Our children will crave silliness, and limited exposure is harmless, but the heart of our home must contain substance, meaning, and worth. Folly is bound up in the hearts of our children, so we must shepherd them towards the greater pastures of wisdom. We tend the garden of our homes and lead our children to what will nourish them, not amuse them. If our children are left to themselves, the culture will subjugate our role as parents and our children will perhaps never learn to desire what is true, good, and beautiful. They all never be able to identify what those things are.
But it is not enough for our children to know about true, good, and beautiful things if they do not know what that knowledge is for. We don’t teach them to know things simply for the sake of knowing, to rank above grade level, or to eventually get into an elite school. We teach them to know true, good, and beautiful things for the sake of becoming the persons God has designed them to be. And God has designed them not for themselves, but for Him. In drawing our children’s attention away from frivolity and worthless pursuits, we turn their gaze upward to God, and give them a grander vision of supreme worth.
While my children are quite young I don’t expect them to fully grasp what it is we are doing when we read the Scriptures and great books, sing hymns, go on nature walks, recite poetry, and so on. Honestly, I do not know if I can fully grasp the weightiness of it all either. What I do expect, though, is to surround them with virtuous things that will shape the character of their souls. I expect them to pay attention, to think deeply, and to wonder. I expect them to relish stories, admire robins in their nests, ponder how a Bach concerto stimulates the senses, and discover why certain colors and textures come alive on a blank canvas. I expect them to have a worldview that is shaped by the Bible so that they will know how to engage with the world.
We are all free persons with individual wills, and those young persons, as they mature, will decide what to do with all of the knowledge we have given them. At the end of the day, we must lay down our efforts, desires, and even our very children before God, entrusting everything under His care, because he cares for them more than we ever could.
In teaching our children, only one thing is needed: let’s choose the better thing. Excess amusement, passive entertainment, and abdicating our children to the culture at large endangers a truly classical, Christian education. As parents and educators, our mandate is to direct our children’s attention to the true, the good, and the beautiful in the midst of a distracting and over-stimulated world. We control the screens in our homes, they will not master us. We decide who will teach, influence, and inspire those most precious to us, not the culture, nor our kids. The more we expose our children to truth, goodness, and beauty, the more they will learn to discern and desire true, good, and beautiful things. We don’t have to scream for our children to hear us. We simply must offer them what is worthy of their attention. That will enrich their lives in the long run.