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Classical Christian Education: Shaping Loves

I enjoy college football. It makes no sense – I did not play football growing up. Actually, in high school, I thought the RB in football meant right back, not running back. I remember watching us lose our homecoming game by 70+ points. So how did I come to love college football? I know exactly where and when: my freshman year, at a non-football school, I attended an evening football game where my college upset a top 5 team in the country on a last second field goal. The pageantry of the game, the high fives of random strangers, the collective focus and excitement of 60,000 fans – all of that together caused me to fall in love with college football. Add in the analytical element of down and distance, the logic of strategy, the emotion of the competitive nature of the game, and it all aligned with many of the things I enjoy; I had a new love.

Think about what you love; where did that love come from? What drives your desire? For me, there was a clear moment when my enjoyment of football blossomed – it happened when the varied aspects of what I enjoyed all came together. Yet that formation was just the culmination of several desires coming together – a sense of community, pageantry, the data analytics of football, the competition and unknown outcome with each play.

Education, whether it is realized or not, shapes what one loves. It makes sense: we spend thousands of hours being educated during which we are around people in positions of influence, and so we develop emotional connections to individuals and institutions. Education is designed to be impactful. Therefore education is naturally going to determine what we love. If you reflect upon what it is that you identify as a passion, hobby, or interest, odds are that somewhere along the way your education helped inspire and further that love.

Since education can influence what one loves, it is important that every educational institution take that into account. And just as importantly, parents need to consider the loves being shaped by the educational institutions and experiences of their children. So how does a classical Christian school cultivate appropriate appetites and loves in their students?

While there are countless ways for us to seek to instill a love for learning in children, there are three major ways that are essential to classical schools:

1. The enjoyment of great stories

2. The character of the teacher

3. The traditions, habits, and routines of our community

One way that teachers delight students with truth and beauty is by telling great stories. This does not mean that all of our classes are story telling – what it means to tell great stories is that content is presented in a manner that conveys more than just information and analysis; the presentation also includes deep questions and inspires deep questions. We use classical works of art (written, poetic, visual) to engage students with truth and beauty. We re-humanize science and math with a historical narrative and identification of God’s design. We use great stories to capture students’ attention and to compel them to investigate further.

Classical teachers are expected to show an eagerness and passion for truth and beauty. They are instructive and exhibit a contagious enthusiasm for learning. Our love for the subject(s) we teach should cause our students to ask why we love it so much and inspire them to investigate further. This includes, in the high school years, having students hear teachers engage in intellectual debates or discussions about a topic, seeing our own passion. Classical teachers live out Christian virtues in the classroom (and beyond) for our students to see. When we err it means owning our error with the student/family/class and seeking forgiveness and restoration; when a student errs it means lovingly holding firm while extending grace and forgiveness. Classical teachers are expected to demonstrate their love for God, their love for their students, and their love for the content matter/subjects they teach.

Lastly, our students experience beauty and love by the traditions, habits, and routines of our classrooms and our school. We engage students in the culture of their school and we use traditions and habits to prepare students to engage in the world around them. So what are some common traditions, habits, and routines? Socratic dialogue, eating together, singing together, worshiping together, field trips, morning meetings (Lower School K-2), our uniforms and dress code. All of these elements (and many more) work together to suggest to students a kind of good living by showing them what is worthy of their love. As these events and requirements become habits, a culture is formed which defines a community. In our case, we seek for that definition of community to point students towards truth, beauty, and goodness.

Education is a process of transforming loves. As classical educators our goal is to transform a student to love truth, goodness, and beauty; we seek to train them to recognize elements of this in the culture that surrounds them, while also being able to identify places that one or more of these are absent. It is with this knowledge and this heart that they will be able to transform tomorrow.

 

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