Welcome to the first official Tuesday post my Storyformed friends!
About three weeks ago I went to an orientation session here at my college in Oxford that set my mind to simmering. I’ve wanted to share it here ever since and I’m quite delighted to make this post the opening to all that I hope to cultivate here at the Storyformed Blog. We stand here at the cusp of a new venture, just as I stood at the cusp of my Oxford studies a few weeks before, and the words I heard on that brisk, rainy, beautiful day reinvigorated my ideas about education and deeply challenged me to excellence. That’s pretty much my goal with this blog – I want to inspire, challenge ,and nourish you in your goal to educate and enrich the souls of the children in your care. So I couldn’t think of a better way to begin the Tuesday posts than with the seven principles I learned at my Oxford orientation.
I entered the classroom that day assuming I would get a list of directives, writing standards, and rules. So when a tall, kindly tutor rose with a swift smile and a quick welcome, I was a little surprised at his ease. He had us laughing within a minute, and told us that what he wanted to talk about was what our thinking ought to be while we were at Oxford. Not merely how to footnote, but how to be faithful. Instead, of rules, he then gave us a list of seven life-shaping values for learning. Values that cast a clear, compelling vision not just for making it through Oxford, but for why I ought to be educated in the first place. Amidst the clamor of my arrival, when the larger point of my work here could have been obscured by details, or insecurity, Dr. Robson cast a visional framework that renewed not just my faith, but my sense of purpose in the mountains of work ahead.
The more I have mulled it, the more I have realized how applicable the seven values for learning are to every age group, and I think they quite clearly have a lot to say to childhood education. So I wanted to share them here, along with some contemplations on how these values can enrich and expand a vision for childhood formation, for your own child’s education. And hey, yours as teacher or parent as well, because learning is lifelong – a journey, an adventure – and to be shaped by values like the ones I’m about to share is like being outfitted with cloak and pack and good boots to set you on your way. We need thoughtful roadmaps like these to help us envision what we desire as we teach, read, give, and then create from all we have gathered along the way. Dr. Robson very kindly gave me permission to use his material here; his points are in bold with the notes I jotted that day in italic bold, and my thoughts for this particular post in plain text below. So without further ado, our thinking ought to be:
- Informed :: The aim is to dispel ignorance. To know what we know with great depth and intricacy, whether that is the nature of God or the function of language. To read, question, and wrestle with those who have gone deep in thought before us, and to then form our own beliefs in conversation with them. Every image, word, and conversation shapes the way a child encounters the world. In childhood, the goal of education is to outfit the mind and train the heart and imagination to a value for what is excellent. In those early years, it is imperative that children encounter stories of right and vivid imagination, characters with strong moral fibre, words woven with literary care. Children need to encounter the great ideas and images of the world so that they will have inner worlds from which to draw their faith, creativity, and convictions. Education is to dispel ignorance, and then to fill the mind with knowledge of all that is good, beautiful, and true. Also, I’m reminded here of how language expands our consciousness. How each word, thought, or imagined figure enriches the inner soil from which a child’s belief, creativity, and selfhood grows. To learn, to read, to be informed is to widen the horizon of spiritual imagination. In learning, we become more than we were before, and our capacity to give expands as well. What a privilege, then, to learn, and what a gift.
- Humble :: We see in part, each limited by his or her own point of view. We see one aspect of the world, one facet of the cut, shimmering diamond of reality. We must value what we know, yes, but recognize its limitation. We must always be willing to question, or expand our ideas based on the challenge of Scripture. Education is, or I think it ought to be, a feast. But I think children need to be aware of it as a gift, one which equips them to serve, create, and interact with others, not as an elite knowledge that allows them pride or the right to stay still, never progressing, morphing, or growing with further study. This is something my parents were careful to inculcate in me, a sense of myself as a steward of the goodness I was given, and the sense of myself as a student on a journey. Educational pride turns wondering children into stubborn adults. Educational humility teaches wonder, love, and a willingness to accept correction, to grow in knowledge, and walk humbly with the God whose Word is a life-long source of conviction, and the people he gives us to make it plainer.
- Critical :: Is this right? God gave us minds to discern between the good and the bad, the true and the false. Our learning is meant to strengthen us in this endeavor, so that we can ask the questions that must be asked about soul and mind, Church and culture. We ask for evidence, we read vigorously, we think with rigor. I feel often paralyzed by the plethora of choices, opinions, and beliefs encountered in the space of a day and I think that many children coming of age in this culture will as well. This particular value is a tonic to me; an assurance that with Scripture, study, and careful thought, I am fully able to discern what is right, what is good, and what that knowledge requires of me. Life’s more simple than it seems when a cool mind and a peaceful heart are in place.
- Analytical :: Here, we practice the discipline of logical thinking. We learn to ask the questions that get to the pith of the matter. We learn to discern what is truly being stated, asked, or assumed in the thoughts of others. I come to this value with some experience as I was blessed with an editor dad who was determined to help us kids say what we meant. Learning to think, communicate, and speak with articulacy and order is a skill every lover of God ought to learn. To learn the skill of clear-thinking and careful analysis of ideas early is a gift a child will take into every facet of faith, education, and relationship.
- Independent :: We are self-starting, self-driven educators who take ownership of our learning. Part of this is a resistance to herd-like thinking. We think in community, certainly, but we think independently as well, willing to question instead of simply assume. This is why I’m at Oxford. And this is why I so passionately value the vision of childhood education that makes its goal, not a crammed brain, but a lifelong learner. “Think of yourself,” said a new friend here, a little ahead of me on the same course,” as a scholar in training. You’re just a ways back from the great ones, but you’re on the same path. And you have to do the same work with the same integrity if you want to follow them.” Hard work, that, the discipline of setting essay schedules for myself, doing the extra bit of research I really could skip, answering the question fully instead of in part. But that is the grace of an atmosphere in which independence of learning is expected, and I think that is an identity a parent or teacher has the privilege to inculcate in a child. It’s about a larger vision of learning than the mere cramming of the head with facts. But it’s also about giving children a lifelong gift. Because when they have a hunger to learn, and the study habits to satisfy that hunger, they have the ability to pursue any question, conviction, doubt, or dream to the utmost heights and do something decisive about it.
- Integrative :: Our learning must rightly enrich our actions. Theological study must enrich and further our discipleship. Otherwise, it is a useless endeavor. Oh, this beauty-loving, life-making girl loves this. Our contemplations must find meaningful, embodied expression. To hold knowledge apart, in an isolated box in our minds, is to make it meaningless. Children desperately need to know this. They need to understand that education is something to be applied, lived, incarnated into every aspect of the lives we live here, the loves we give, the legacies we are building. If what they learn in school doesn’t teach them how to tell the truth in their own time, how to love the people God is calling to himself, then the hours spent upon it will ultimately be empty. It’s what I feel here; if church doctrine classes don’t equip me to speak, in the language and metaphor of my own time, the living language of Christ, then I have learnt nothing at all. This learning must be a part of “life and life to the full,” life rich in the beauty and quickened light of Christ. And that is as true (perhaps truer!) of wonder-hearted little children as it is for crusty old theology students.
- Faithful :: We learn in order to know the living God. Here I think of Bronson Alcott’s beautiful maxim: “We teach in view of eternity.” Always. Education, while lived out in the here and now is about the answering and living out of the eternal human questions. Michael Lloyd, the principal here at Wycliffe, in a talk given just before this one, commented (I don’t have notes so I’m paraphrasing) that theological study is, at base, the study of Love. So is most of life. In that light, I understand every jot of my pen here, every page of old text read, every essay eeked out in the wee sma’s as a journey deep into Love. And a rigorous training that will give me the mental acuity, the written and verbal fluency to make Love plain in my time. The same goes for every child beginning school.
So, friends. There you have it! I’m working on a C.S. Lewis essay today. I just finished Till We Have Faces, and now I need to form coherent thoughts about it. For now, I take my leave, but fear not, I’ll be back soon. There’s just too much glory here to keep it all to myself. Over and out from Oxford.