Well, we’ve finally come to the final chapter of Desiring the Kingdom. Smith returns to the original question: “What is education, particularly Christian education, for?” He reminds us that it is aimed at producing radical disciples focused on pursuing the Kingdom of God. He challenges the current paradigm that pretty much adds Jesus to the current trends in secular education. And he offers a few suggestions as to how education could be approached differently, at least in the Christian university setting. Some of his ideas are approaching chapel services differently, using the university setting as a unique opportunity to live in community, and tying classroom theory to meaningful practical applications. Nice ideas, but not really all that applicable to me as how to approach education differently as a home educator with young children.
That said, I have come across a few excellent resources in recent weeks that I think DO offer some more concrete practical application of the ideas put forth in this book namely:
- Charlotte Mason’s educational paradigm: “Education is an Atmosphere, a Discipline, and a Life” and “Education is the Science of Relations”. (If you’ve never read Charlotte’s works for yourself, you can access them for free at Ambleside Online – check also my Charlotte Mason resource links on the sidebar and past blog posts I have done in reflection on her ideas.)
- Christopher Perrin’s talk “Learning to Love What Must Be Done” (Scroll down to “Selections from the 2011 Conference” and you’ll find it there.)
- Jenny Rallens’ talk “The Liturgical Classroom and Virtue Formation”
- Laurie Bestvater’s book The Living Page
All of these things are very rich and I encourage you to check them out for yourself, but let me give you a few of the key ideas that I have gained from these resources.
In Perrin’s talk, he invites us to wonder and encourages us as parents/teacher to model it for our students. Effective teachers are those that are passionate and excited about their subject and let that passion and excitement rub off on their students.
In Rallens’ talk, she shares the metaphor of “making honey” (based on the practice of lectio divina, if you are familiar with that) and gives several meaningful examples of how she has used this idea to great effect as a tool for lesson planning in her classroom. Here is a brief outline of what this might look like (although really – do go watch the talk – it was seriously the most inspiring educational thing I have seen in a long time):
- Gathering nectar: Teaching through story
- Digesting the nectar: Meditate on the ideas, discuss the ideas, produce something in response (seems like narration fits right in here too!)
- Making honey: Living out the ideas, the virtues, embodied in the story
(Interestingly enough, our recent conference speaker proposed a similar outline for Scripture study, even though I am fairly certain he’s never heard of Jenny Rallens or involved in any way in the Christian classical education movement!)
Bestvater’s ideas in The Living Page seemed to synthesize these ideas in a practical way.
As in Perrin’s idea, notebook keeping invites us to really see, attend, and wonder. “Mason had shown me that the notebooks can be forms of vitality, literally the shape and outline, the liturgy of the attentive life. They nurture the science of relations and the art of mindfulness. They teach us to see the very brief beauty of now, to know the landscape of here, to be present in all our pleasures and pains. Through them we, haltingly, dwell in a world of ideas and connections with an ever-higher opinion of God and his works and as truer students of Divinity.” (p. xv)
As in Rallens’ idea, the keeping of a notebook (coupled with the use of living books, great ideas, and narration) give a means to ‘digest’ – to meditate and create something in response to what we’ve read or heard.
Keeping a notebook is also a way that we as parents/teachers can model awe, wonder, growth for our pupils. “The teacher in a Mason learning community is a co-learner, and it is very helpful for a teacher to model to his students…that his own learning also includes some comfortable notebook friends…Mason’s students at the House of Education and in the Mother’s Course kept notebooks and apart from being good for the students, it seems a very good way to support the paradigm shift for the teacher, not to mention a great personal satisfaction.” (The Living Page, p.72)
All of these educational practices are aimed at helping us not just to take ideas into our heads, but at helping them to reach our hearts so that we can live them out and reflect the glory of God to the world around us.
And that, I think, is the point – THAT is what Christian education is for.
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