I shared an article with our faculty last week by Carl R. Trueman from First Things blog called “Teaching as Joyful Rebellion: Thoughts at the Start of the New Academic Year.” I’m sharing it with you here now, not only stirred by the article itself but also encouraged that our teachers found it so uplifting and affirming. We are blessed to have the teachers we have at Regents Academy – they embody the vision of the article below, thanks be to God.
As I prepared to return to the classroom this week, I remembered my very first foray into full-time teaching, some twenty-three years ago. I had just been appointed to the faculty at the University of Nottingham, and it was required that I attend a three-day training session on how to teach, and then to do a refresher course of similar duration two years later. On both occasions, my wife went into labor by day two. Felix culpa indeed, for I was then allowed to leave the pointless course prematurely and return to the real world. We had not timed the pregnancies that way, but what can I say? God is good. God is very good.
I remember the sections I did attend for the desolate and desultory nature of their content. Not a single thing I heard was relevant to anything I have ever subsequently done in a classroom. There were plenty of buzzwords: “goldfish bowls”; “shared educational journeys”; “transferable skills”; etc. And there was the usual pious claptrap: “There are no teachers, only learners. Lecturers and students learn together on their mutual journey.” I remember thinking at the time that that was self-evidently false. I was being paid to teach. My students were paying (albeit indirectly, in those days) to be taught. Follow the money, as they say.
What was most striking, however, was the reduction of teaching to the merely technical. What discipline we taught was apparently irrelevant. The room was full of historians, theologians, philosophers, medics, nurses, engineers. But that did not matter, because education was ultimately not about disciplinary content. Rather, we were to use our disciplines to teach “life skills.” Given that most of us in the room had made the disastrous decision to pursue Ph.D. studies and thus dramatically to reduce our usefulness to society as well as our earning potential, the possibility of our helping others with their “life skills” seemed rather remote.
Of course, this Philistinism was not why I had chosen to be a teacher, and I doubt that it has ever motivated anyone who actually became a good one. In fact, it was not why I had chosen to be taught in the first place. I was not driven to study Classics at university by a desire to learn “life skills.” I was driven by a desire to learn about the world, to uncover some of its mysteries, to learn in that very act of learning how much more there was that I did not know and never could know, and thus to gaze in increasing awe at the unfathomable vastness of the universe, even that tiny piece of it which human beings had cultivated over the millennia. And I did not want to be in a classroom to sit in a “goldfish bowl” or to be on a “journey of mutual lecturer-student discovery.” No. I wanted to witness a great human mind wrestling with the mysteries of the human condition and engaging with great truths.
Last week I noted over at Public Discourse how the loss of a metaphysics of personhood underlies the current problem of free speech on campuses. That is the most obvious place where we see the loss, but there is also a connection with the problem of education as a whole. Courses like the one I attended have no metaphysics or, perhaps better, they have an unstated, perhaps even unconscious and unwitting, anti-metaphysics. They prioritize instrumental reason, implicitly deny transcendence, and ultimately make the world a gray, prosaic, and soulless place.
Where truth is a personal construct, where there is no transcendence, where the individual is to create the world and not discover it, there relativism reigns supreme. And where relativism reigns supreme, knowledge becomes either a matter of constant critique tending to cynical nihilism, or else merely an instrument to obtaining more of whatever we choose to desire—money, sex, and power being the three basic categories. And teaching is inevitably prostituted to these ends.
And that is why I love teaching the old way, the way that is driven by a metaphysical conviction about the world and about truth. For me, this kind of teaching is an act of rebellion in this present age—an attempt in some small way to convey the idea that the world is given, not constructed, and that meaning is to be found, not created. A good teacher must always be driven by conviction—that the world is and that it has meaning, and that it is so much bigger than any one person can ever apprehend.
Teaching—true teaching, not the mere imparting of techniques or earning potential—is perhaps the most delightful calling and privilege in the world. It has its challenges, but it brings incomparable joys. The second greatest joy I have as teacher is seeing that flash of light in a student’s eyes when a previously unknown or misunderstood concept suddenly becomes clear because of something I have said. And the greatest joy (albeit a rarer one) is the one I experience when a student writes or says something that indicates they have gone far beyond that which I, as a teacher, have been able to teach them. When they become greater, I delight that I become less. For such is the proper order of things, if teaching is truly about truth and not about power or making disciples. Yet neither joy is possible where there is no truth to discover and where the world is simply whatever the loudest and most aggressive among us care to claim that it is. Good teaching is a matter of metaphysics.
In preparation for the new academic year, I have been reading James Schall’s beautiful new book on teaching, Docilitas. This slim volume has more wisdom and inspiration for teachers in a single page than myriad “goldfish bowls” and accompanying fatuous gibberish. As Schall expresses it, “[t]he consolation of the teacher, at its highest, is when he realizes that his students, however grateful, see beyond him to what is and to the mystery of why something is rather than is not.”
Regents Academy’s class of 2017 helped serve Butterbraid during drop-off last week. While serving, they had a great time together. This year’s senior class includes Sarah Grace Alders, Annaleigh Andrews, Avery Gound, Wesley Young, Alex Williams, Emma Terrell, and Anne Elisabeth Alders.
Here is an excerpt from the rich and profound article “The Conservative Purpose of a Liberal Education” by Russell Kirk. The article is from Kirk’s book Redeeming the Time. I commend the entire article, which can be found at the web address below. Kirk captures the essence of a classical education, needful for our culture now more than ever.
Our term “liberal education” is far older than the use of the word “liberal” as a term of politics. What we now call “liberal studies” go back to classical times, while political liberalism commences only in the first decade of the nineteenth century. By “liberal education” we mean an ordering and integrating of knowledge for the benefit of the free person—as contrasted with technical or professional schooling, now somewhat vaingloriously called “career education.”
Liberal education is conservative in this way: it defends order against disorder. In its practical effects, liberal education works for order in the soul and order in the republic. Liberal learning enables those who benefit from its discipline to achieve some degree of harmony within themselves. As John Henry Newman put it, in Discourse V of his Idea of a University, by a liberal intellectual discipline, “a habit of mind is formed which lasts through life, of which the attributes are freedom, equitableness, calmness, moderation, and wisdom; of what… I have ventured to call the philosophical habit of mind.”
The primary purpose of a liberal education, then, is the cultivation of the person’s own intellect and imagination, for the person’s own sake. It ought not to be forgotten, in this mass-age when the state aspires to be all-in-all, that genuine education is something higher than an instrument of public policy. True education is meant to develop the individual human being, the person, rather than to serve the state. We tend to ignore the fact that schooling was not originated by the modern nation-state. Formal schooling actually commenced as an endeavor to acquaint the rising generation with religious knowledge: with awareness of the transcendent and with moral truths. Its purpose was not to indoctrinate a young person in civics, but rather to teach what it is to be a true human being, living within a moral order. The person has primacy in liberal education.
Yet, a system of liberal education has a social purpose, or at least a social result, as well. It helps to provide a society with a body of people who become leaders in many walks of life, on a large scale or a small. It was the expectation of the founders of the early American colleges that there would be graduated from those little institutions young men, soundly schooled in old intellectual disciplines, who would nurture in the New World the intellectual and moral patrimony received from the Old World. And for generation upon generation, the American liberal-arts colleges (peculiar to North America), and later the liberal arts schools and programs of American universities, did graduate young men and women who leavened the lump of the rough expanding nation, having acquired some degree of a philosophical habit of mind.
If all schools, colleges, and universities were abolished tomorrow, still most young people would find lucrative employment, and means would exist, or would be developed, for training them for their particular types of work. Instead, a highly beneficial result of liberal education, conservative again, is that it gives to society a body of young people, introduced in some degree to wisdom and virtue, who may become honest leaders in many walks of life.
Here at the beginning of a new school year – the start of another year, the beginning of a never-to-be-repeated moment in your child’s life – it is good to talk about the end. Not the end of this year, which will be here in just a couple of ticks of the clock. The end of the year – as in, the purpose of the year. We begin another year, and what is the end of the year? Why are you educating your children? I’m not asking merely about your immediate goals for your children (learning how to read, getting a high SAT score, seeking a career, earning money, etc.). I am asking about ultimate motivations. Why educate at all?
Over seven hundred years ago, Bernard of Clairvaux taught that love is the greatest motivation for education. “There are many,” he suggested, “who seek knowledge for the sake of knowledge: that is curiosity. There are others who desire to know in order that they may themselves be known: that is vanity. Others seek knowledge in order to sell it: that is dishonorable. But there are some who seek knowledge in order to edify others: that is love.”
St. Paul wrote, “Through love serve one another” (Gal. 5:13). This is to say that to love your neighbor is to serve your neighbor. If our children will be educated in order to edify and serve others in love, then service should be just as much a part of the curriculum as reading, writing, and arithmetic. Students should be trained to serve their fellow students, their teachers, their families, and ultimately their community. Their training in service will habituate them to look beyond themselves and their own narrow concerns to the concerns of others. This is what our Lord modeled for us in His life and commands us in His Word.
Author David Hicks wrote in his classic work Norms and Nobility that “the purpose of education is not the assimilation of facts or the retention of information, but the habituation of the mind and body to will and act in accordance with what one knows.” Knowing is not enough; knowing needs to eventuate in doing, in serving others, whether that service is holding the door open for a fellow student or raking the school’s lawn or entering the U.S. military or becoming an architect.
Peter H. Vande Brake, in an article titled “Cultivating the Affections,” wrote, “If we want students who will be servant leaders, then we need to train them through a liturgy [a practice that shapes our habits] of servant leadership. We need to give them the opportunities to serve others. We need to find ways to help our students practice humility and instill a strong work ethic. We need to give students the chance to lead their peers in authentic ways. In order for students to act in accordance with what they know, they must be trained to know how to act. This involves the mind, but it also involves the will and the body. If our schools are only interested in training the minds of our students, then we are cheating them out of the most important facets of an education.” I hear a warning in that last sentence: beware chopping education down to a merely intellectual endeavor, but instead see true education as affecting the whole person: body, mind, soul.
Poet John Donne famously wrote that “no man is an island” and warned that each of us is “involved in mankind,/And therefore” we never need ask “for whom the bell tolls” because “it tolls for thee.” As human beings, bearers of the divine image, and children of God in Christ, each of is joined to each other. Our children are being educated in a community – a web of relationships – where they will be taught how to respect authority, develop friendships, show compassion, use wise words, contend for the truth, and learn humility. These things are the things that matter most.
So as we begin this new year, join me in pondering the end of the year. What is your vision for your children?
Regents Academy was honored to host Dr. George Grant for its 2016 Commencement Ceremony. Dr. Grant addressed the graduates, faculty, and assembly with stirring a message titled “Culture, Covenant, and Education.”
Regents Academy is very happy to welcome Mrs. Sylvia Baker to its staff for the 2016-17 school year. Mrs. Baker will be serving as assistant teacher in the kindergarten class alongside Mrs. Duke, and she will also work several hours per week in the Regents office alongside Mrs. Gilbreath. Sylvia and her husband Jerry are the proud parents of Regents students Cate and Mason, and we are so glad to welcome her to our school’s staff.
Welcome, Mrs. Baker!
Regents Academy is very happy to welcome Mrs. Andreza Owens to its faculty for the 2016-17 school year. Mrs. Owens will be teaching Spanish in the Regents high school. Pictured below is Andreza with her husband Bryan and their daughter Bethel.
Welcome, Mrs. Owens!
Regents Academy is very happy to welcome Mrs. Tanya Kelly to its faculty for the 2016-17 school year. Mrs. Kelly will be teaching a number of subjects in the 6th grade classroom, including history, language arts, and science. Mrs. Kelly is certainly no stranger to Regents or to classical Christian education. She and her husband Todd, proud parents of their son, Holden, have been Regents parents for a number of years, and Mrs. Kelly has been a faithful volunteer. We are excited that she is bringing her passion and experience to the classroom.
Welcome, Mrs. Kelly!