One of the best ways for us to fail at anything is to treat it as a savior. We well-evolved Homo sapiens like to invest ourselves, body and soul, in the latest fad diets; every four years, we think that if the American people would just vote right, for that guy, we'd fix our nation's problems; and perhaps most often, we look for the perfect school for our kids. Insert child into building, dust off hands, and wait for a morally-upright Ivy-leaguer to pop out 12 years later. He'll probably be President some day. Perfect school, perfect kid. Nothing else I need to do. Except not. Or put another way, nothing Homo sapient about it.
Classical Christian education did not die on the cross for our sins, and we shouldn't act like it has. Make no mistake, of course -- classical Christian education, of all the current educational models, is among the most brilliant, rich, time-tested, and culturally relevant. But a vending machine it ain't.
So what is the key to a successful school? A successful student? An interested, independent self-learner? As I mentioned at our recent Parent Info Night, the keys are twofold. First, there must be a reliance on Christ in all things, at school and in the home; and second, learning and excellence must be modeled in the home.
I'd like to briefly touch on what this second part looks like. In other words, how do we show our kids how? By jumping in, getting our hands dirty, and just doing it. Like this:
Develop copiousness. This is an overflow of knowledge (like a Thanksgiving cornucopia, which spills out gourds, squash, and fruit). Over a lifetime, you feed your mind just as regularly as you feed your body -- and soon, that knowledge (now wisdom) can't help but brim over.
Read good books. Usually, good books are the ones we don't want to read, because they're hard to get into. But stick with it. Peruse book lists you trust, or use the book lists on Augustine's website, and work your way through them.
Read lots of books. David Noebel, founder of Summit Ministries in Manitou Springs, has said that it's important to read a book a week. Of course, that's not even close to possible for many of us, but it's still worth pursuing. And just like muscular exercise, the more you read, the faster you get.
Read the Bible. Being steeped in Scripture is important for our sanctification, but also because Scripture is the most influential set of writings in history -- for literature, poetry, history, philosophy, culture, and theology.
Read aloud. Despite what it might seem, your kids will love this. They also need this. Many of the ancients would have been perplexed by our modern practice of reading silently. Words are inherently meant to be spoken -- and stories are brought into full richness and personality for children when they hear Mom and Pop tell them.
Listen to good music. Immerse yourselves, and your children, in the classical-music tradition. Pour on the folk songs, blues, jazz, and other genres you like. There's no lack of variety and richness. But there are standards to be set. What is God like? What is his world like? Mindless boom-box drivel, or Top-40 hits glorifying sex, greed, and death? Our kids are listening.
Sing. (Yikes.) Let me rephrase that: Sing out of tune. It may take some getting used to, and some pride-swallowing, but what better way to build family culture than to sing as a family? Everybody loves it when someone else is singing -- so why not be that someone-else for your kids? Hymns, folk-songs, and praise -- just let 'er rip.
Write. While "of the making of books there is no end" (Eccl. 12:12), the world could use a lot more of the right kinds of reading material. So keep a journal. Start a blog. Write little stories for your kids. Send letters to the editor. It isn't dumb -- but of course it isn't glamorous. We are people of the Book, and like the Holy Spirit, we should also write about what is good and true.
Memorize things. Scripture, poetry, and good quotes are the best choices. This habit, over a lifetime, will become a joy and consolation to you, in both the difficult and beautiful moments of life. It is never a waste of time; exactly the opposite. Plus, we make our kids do it.
Plod. You've just read a seemingly impractical set of to-do's. "Nice -- but yeah right." No problem, this is life. Plod. Take your time. Nobody is judging, nobody is watching. Go nice and slow, a few minutes a day snatched here and there. Get comfy with feeling inadequate and not understanding books and ideas. Our children feel the same way in school. But over time, when we look back, we're a fair piece down the road from where we started. We are growing, and we are thankful.
Grace and Peace, Nate Ahern