The hardest thing by far about my vocation is the travel, and the hardest thing about travel is coming home.
No, it isn’t returning to my dear Penelope (nee Karen) that is so hard. It’s returning to a world that has kept on moving without me, both at home and at work. And it has been moving without my guidance or oversight or sovereign rule.
Again, don’t misunderstand me. I don’t even mean the people – I just mean the world. It keeps on changing and adapting to changes around it.
Sometimes I come back to find things added to or moved around in my office. Sometimes people have come and gone from my house. Sometimes the back room has processed hundreds of orders, money has come in and gone out of our bank accounts, decisions have been made and implemented. The rose bushes expand, the holly stretches and bulges, the magnolias magnify…
The whole scene is perhaps best exemplified by the situation in my “home study” and beside my bed the day after I come home. You can usually see books and documents I’ve collected on my way, clothes I’ve dumped out of my suitcase, and other assorted messes.
Then, because I don’t usually have the wherewithal to go into the CiRCE office, but I still need to read and write and sort things, you’ll find materials spread all over my bed or “desk” or the dining room table.
My dear Penelope (nee Karen) bears with me because she knows I have to get reoriented.
I’ve only recently come to understand what that reorientation involves. To my surprise it is intimately connected to how, what, and why we teach our children/students.
Deep in the human soul is the need to rule. This is not bad. It is human. It is what we were made for. It expresses itself in a multitude of ways, such as
- In It’s A Wonderful Life when George Bailey’s dad Peter defends the cheap penny ante Savings and Loan because “It’s deep in the race for a man to want his own roof and walls and fireplace, and we’re helping him get those things in our shabby little office.”
- On a reported internet password: BeholdMyEmpire
- In the beautiful gardens that men and women keep in their backyards, on balconies, and in corners of little lots
- Need I go on?
When I come home, my dominion (a word which I am told does not come from the Latin for domus – home – but which sounds suspiciously like it!) has degraded. Chaos has begun to rise up. The sea has risen.
My reorientation is nothing less than the re-establishment of my rightful authority over what is my property. That is to say: what is under my authority, that for which I am responsibile.
Therefore, to get reoriented, I need to assert my rule and governance over what is mine to rule and govern, such as my books, my clothes, my bed, and my “study.”
It amazes me how much pleasure it can bring to clean something up voluntarily. It’s amazing how peaceful a bedroom can look when the bed is made – and how chaotic it can feel when it is not.
Responsibility is authority. Without authority, there is no responsibility. Authority has been delegated to humanity, and we have no right to shirk it, any more than a prince has the right to shirk the throne. It isn’t optional. It is what we are made for and what we will be held accountable for.
It’s also our joy.
The most important thing we need to learn how to rule is ourselves, for greater is the man who can govern his own soul than he who rules a city. I was tempted to say, the very first thing we need to learn how to rule is ourselves, but on reflection, that is false. You can’t learn the hardest things first.
First, therefore, we teach our children to rule their things. We tell them to put away their toys and teach them how to make their beds. However, sometimes I wonder if we don’t sell them short.
There is a twofold aspect to ruling things: first, and probably more importantly, they learn to enjoy things for what they are. For example, Duplo is for building things. When children learn that, they can build things with them. That gives them joy. By learning to rule their Duplos, they increase their capacity for happiness.
However, there is a second aspect to ruling things: good rulers are stewards, responsible in two ways for the things they steward: first, to prevent chaos, and second, to ensure flourishing.
The dominion or stewardship or mastery that mankind has been given is a dominion of grace and mercy and blessing, in which the well-being of the things with which we interact are necessarily dependent on us. If we don’t care for the soil, it won’t flourish. If we don’t care for our bodies, they will decay. If we don’t care for our toys, they will break.
And in each case, the punishment is the failure and the failure is the punishment. That is why the essential act of the tyrant is to shift the cost of his actions to others.
Therefore, we do our children a terrible disservice if we don’t teach them how to take care of their toys. Not only will they likely lose the joys the toys give; worse, they will develop habits of neglect that will rob them of joy throughout their lives and that will render themselves less valuable to friends, enemies, and loved ones.
After all, the worst thing we can do to our friends is to allow ourselves to be less what we are made to be, and that is a lifelong challenge that demands everything we have to give.
Children take care of their toys by conquering chaos and by honoring their natures. In the case of Duplo, those things pretty well go together. Since they are not animated (they do not have the power of self-movement), the only signficant need is for our children to put them away, out of harm’s way, when they are not being used.
By governing something without a soul, they are learning how to govern something with a soul.
Next, I think every child should have pets that they take care of.
As with toys, the first act of rule is to enjoy something according to its nature. The child quite naturally loves pets long before he can adequately care for them. So we should let the love come first.
But they can’t neglect the second. They have to take care of them, and that includes training them, feeding them, and sometimes even putting them down. By learning how to walk a dog, feed it, change it, train it, and generally take care of it, the child is learning something far more important:
he is learning to govern himself for the benefit of another.
I wish a few times every day that the gap between schooling and education had not grown so vast, because one consequence is that we don’t understand how children learn real things and how school can contribute to that learning.
If your goal is, as in a classical or Christian education it must be, mastery, then you have to teach a child toward mastery. This starts when you teach your two year old how to put her toys away, how to put puzzles together, how to make her bed.
There will always be seven stages to mastery, which we explain in more detail in the upcoming Mimetic Teaching guide, but here they are briefly and analytically expressed from the perspective of the student:
- Gather up your past experiences and knowledge
- Approach the gap of wonder
- Attend to the work of a master who has crossed this gap
- Contemplate the master’s works
- Describe or define the truth or process embodied in the master’s works
- Imitate the master until you master this particular action or truth or skill
- Rest in your new authority
When I come home from a trip, I encounter the insurrections of time, the weeds of change, and the uncertainties of chaos. I behold with wonder all that calls for my attention. Then I (having mastered this skill previously) remember with my hands and eyes what I have done before, which gives me some sense of relief, but only enough to motivate me to move, not enough to rest. Then I clean up my rooms, process my mail, cry over my Emails, delegate the hard physical labor to strong people like my Penelope (nee karen), sort out my papers, assign my tasks, and sort out my life.
After which I have something like rest – not the slothful rest of inactivity, but the diligent rest of authority and dominion over chaos.
Now I’m ready for the new week, the first day, the eighth day that pictures the First and Eighth Day we call the Day of The Lord.
Teaching children to clean up their toys for no greater reason than pragmatic convenience causes more problems than you might think.