September 16, 2010

The Purpose in All This Book Learnin'

I admit I was a huge dork of a student.  Gold stars were my language, and A's were my ultimate in satisfaction.  I can remember stinging tears of shame and a sinking feeling of disappointment when papers came back to me with a less than perfect score.

And guess who is just like his mom?  One of the first things about school Micah told me is the paper apple each student has hanging on a bulletin board.  If they are well-behaved and complete their work, they get a scratch-and-sniff sticker on the apple, and when they've accumulated enough stickers that waft root beer and cotton candy, they get to choose a prize from the treasure box.  You would have thought Micah had climbed Mount Everest that first time he got to dig his little hand into the treasure chest of toys from Taiwan.

I now see that lust for gold stars was pride.  I wanted to be better than everyone else, and I was seeking approval from others through my school work.  Rather than finding my identity in Jesus, I found it in being a straight-A student.  And the cycle could continue if I let it.  I could be so intent on the destination of being the best mom or the best teacher or the best wife or the best leader that I lose sight of the journey.  And what happens when I get a D- in parenting on Wednesday?  I don't just have a bad day; I lose myself.  So I must guard against allowing my roles to become me.

And how do I protect my little boys from falling into the performance trap?  I continually consider the end game.  What is the purpose of education?  Haven't all teachers and parents had students ask them indignantly, "Why do I have to learn algebra or grammar or chemistry?  I'm not going to be a mathematician or a grammarian or a chemist."  You're totally right.  I want to say.  Diagramming sentences is completely impractical.  You will never diagram in the real world.

But this is where we as a society of educators and institutions have sadly fallen short.  We've told our students the purpose of education is to get a good job someday.  So we do well in school so we can get into a good college so we can get a good job so we can make lots of money so we can send our own children to the best schools so they can do well so they can get into a good college so they can get a good job.  And the cycle becomes one of endless futility.  Is the purpose of education to turn children into greedy workaholics?  Is having a good job wrong?  No, of course not.  But there has to be more than money on the line for the seventeen years (or more) of eight-hour days we all sit in a desk with a number 2 pencil in our hands.

John Milton said, "The end of learning is to repair the ruin of our first parents."  As an educator first to my own children and then to other students placed under my care, I must remember that the intellect shares a space with the soul.  I cannot feed one without affecting the other.  The goal of education in our home is wisdom.  Proverbs tells us wisdom is more precious than rubies, and nothing we desire can compare with it.  Reason can only be acquired through wisdom.  And reason is what our souls use to perceive reality.  The knowledge a student gains seeps into their souls to perfect their ability reason.  And, of course, the beginning of wisdom is respect for the Lord, so Nate and I train our children from a very young age to honor God.

Micah attends a university-model school which means he learns at home for two days a week.  I must keep the end goal in mind on the days when lessons don't go exactly as planned or on the days when he gets prideful because he does so well.  Why are we here?  Why do we sit at this table sounding out words, singing songs in a dead language, and memorizing the continents?  We do this because the end goal is wisdom.          

Blessed is the one who finds wisdom,  and the one who gets understanding, for the gain from her is better than gain from silver and her profit better than gold. Proverbs 3:13-14

Post script: A special thanks to my dear husband Nate and my fellow educators at The Potter's School, HEED, and Oak Grove Classical Academy for much of the above content.  

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