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Lessons in the Light

Learning in the Light

On Old Roots and Starting Over

Jessalyn Hutto

Backyard sweetness....

A photo posted by Jessalyn Hutto (@jessalynhutto) on

Do you remember the parable Jesus told about the man who began building a tower without first counting the cost? He impulsively laid a foundation, but due to poor planning, he was unable to complete his project. 

I could easily be that man.

I'm a fairly reckless "doer" by nature. 

Planning just isn't my strong suit. And when I do take the time to weigh the pros and cons of a particular plan, I'm more likely to ignore the cons while basking in the optimistic promises of the pros.

I'd like to say I'm impulsive, but that seems like a self-serving euphemism. Hasty is probably a more honest description... if we're being completely honest here. 

I was reminded of my natural tendency toward haste when my husband and I began making plans for the landscaping of our front yard.

Well, I should say when he began making plans.

I was practically packing up my purse with lovely sketches of our future flower bed and on my way to the hardware store to purchase my beloved plants, when my husband decided to graciously burst my euphoric bubble.

Apparently we had a lot of "ground work" to do before we would be ready to purchase our plants. Apparently we needed to uproot the pathetic skeletons of the plants left to die by the previous owners of our house, and then prepare the soil of the bed before it would be ready for my lovely flowers.

So basically a whole lot of boring, back-breaking labor.

Not nearly as exciting as selecting and planting said landscaping. 

Begrudgingly assenting to the logic of his argument, I put my dreams of dancing through the garden department of Lowes on hold, and we went to work preparing the ground for its future inhabitants. Boy was I in for a surprise! The area we were planning to plant in was literally filled with huge, tangled root systems from ghost plants of the past. A task we anticipated taking a good day's work instead stretched on and on through the long weekend, those pesky roots surprising us at every turn. 

How little I realized the depth of work that needed to be done to that soil before I began to plant there.

The old needed to be completely removed before the new could flourish in its place.

The Hidden Enemy

When I first began home educating a few years ago, I didn't realize how much of my old way of thinking about education needed to go in order for my children to truly flourish as learners - and for me to flourish as their teacher.

My husband and I knew from the get-go that we wanted to homeschool. We looked forward to giving our children a Christ-centered education and having the opportunity to merge academics, sibling friendships, parental discipleship, and real-life learning together as our family sought to serve the Lord each and every day. But what I didn't realize in the beginning (and what I'm continuing to try to grasp) is that I couldn't just take that beautiful ideal and squash it into a traditional educational philosophy.

I began kindergarten lessons like many other mothers do: by looking through curriculum catalogs that best lined up with my preferred educational phylosophy (an idea in and of itself that is constantly fluctuating in my mind), and choosing the ones that seemed best. I would cover all of the basics (reading, writing, and arithmetic) with a thorough boxed curriculum and then add on resources for the other subjects I wanted to cover such as Bible study, history, science and catechism. This process is completely logical and truthfully a pretty good place to start for someone like myself who knew absolutely nothing about homeschooling.

Yet, I couldn't help feeling like something was wrong. 

Something was missing in my view of education.

It was like I was trying to fit a square peg into a round hole... or new plants into root-choking soil.

And when I realized what the problem was - what the bad soil in my thinking was - I was simply blown away the simplicity of such a paradigm-shifting reality.

It literally has transformed my homeschool.

What is this transforming truth? You will be amazed by the basic and the obvious nature of the statement I'm about to make:

Children are image-bearers, not machines.

This truth - this obvious, Biblical truth - was first brought to my attention as it relates to education by Andrew Kern, the president of the Circe Institute. If you're not familiar with it, the Circe Institute is an organization that provides resources and inspiration for classical educators. Their desire is to help institutions and parents provide children with an education that cultivates wisdom and virtue above all else. 

Because I was already drawn toward the classical model of education, which emphasizes the cultivation of a student's soul alongside his mind, the Circe Institute's website became one that I often visited. But it wasn't until I listened to a lecture given by Andrew Kern in which this statement was made, that I realized the error I'd been making.

What is a Christian Education?

It was then that I realized that a Christian education isn't simply about the things that are taught (such as teaching science and history from a Christian worldview), but rather it is also about the way those things are taught. 

Why? Because humans are not machines. We are not computers. You can't just dump information into people and expect for it to impact their lives.

Humans have souls - souls that need to wrestle with ideas. They need to be fed by rich, living books whose stories cultivate their moral framework and the ability to imagine glories beyond the seen things of this earth. These souls we humans possess need more than (not less than, mind you!) books and memory work to learn about the world, they need to experience the world. They must not only be told about the Creator, but rather, they must spend time out in his creation, cultivating an awe for his beautiful works.

A Christian education - in other words a true education - must not view the child as a soulless computer that you can simply upload information into and call it a day. Christian education must - at its foundation - view the child as an image-bearer who was created for the purpose of reflecting the nature of God and communing with him.

This makes a huge difference in the way we view the work we do as parents. It means that the education we seek to provide for our children must be about more than reading, writing, and math, with Bible thrown in there in order to make it "Christian."

No, a Christian education must start with a foundational understanding of the nature of a child.

The Aha Moment

Suddenly, things started to make sense to me. First, this realization confirmed in my heart, that in order for my children's education to be a great education, it had to be one profoundly influenced by the Word of God. It had to be a Christian education, because their entire purpose in living as humans is to know and glorify the Lord. But it also explained why it felt as though I was missing something. I had been taking the traditional (and by traditional I mean more recent institutional) methods of education and adding a Christian component to them. I needed to overhaul my thinking on education completely.

I needed to dig up the old roots and prepare the soil in my heart for the new (to me!) standard for what a great education is.

What has this meant for my homeschool? Of course we still do the typical, good, and necessary subjects that have long been a staple of traditional education (though the way we engage those subjects might be slightly different... more on that in a later post). But there have also been some major adjustments made to the way we do school. Here are three of the biggest changes I've noticed since I began basing my teaching philosophy on this core principal:

  1.  I've placed more emphasis on good books. Our family has always had a soft spot for books. We love to read, and because we've been reading to our children from an early age, our kindergartener and 1st grader have no problem sitting still and listening to chapter books. But whereas I might have previously viewed novels as an extra to our homeschool (something that we may read before bedtime or that they would undoubtably read on their own as they become more proficient readers), I now view good, morally elevating stories as an integral part of their education. We have a planned time every day for reading from good novels because these books encourage my children's souls to long for the good, the true, and the beautiful. Truly great literature instructs my little ones in the art of language and can be used to shape their understanding of morality. These books teach my children the qualities of heroism and virtue in a way that is captivating and soul-moving. What's more, these stories that we enjoy are binding us together as a family as we develop a shared literary vocabulary - as we fall in love with characters together and experience the failures and triumphs of their stories. Reading, is not something that we do if we can fit it in amongst the other subjects. It is an integral aspect of my children's education.
  2. I've placed more emphasis on time in nature. One of the greatest weaknesses of modern education is that it deprives children of spending a healthy amount of time outside in the sunshine. This is something you hear more and more about. But this is not just an institutional problem, it can also be a homeschool problem- especially if you are a mom like me who is a chronic homebody. I am perfectly comfortable spending my entire day inside. But I am not healthy spending all my time inside and neither are my children. They need to spend huge portions of their day out in God's creation, experiencing the warm sunshine on their faces, feeling the dirt between their fingers as they dig for treasure, watching the puffy, white clouds pass through the heavens. Their growing scientific minds need to have the opportunity to observe the planet they live on and the creatures they share it with. Information is great, but it is pointless without passion. Reading about the ways of ants is great, but observing an army of ants relentlessly gathering food for their colony creates passion, which then deepens their understanding as the knowledge they've gained becomes meaningful to the child. Nature study and nature walks - things I previously found to be frivolous have become a cornerstone of my children's early education.
  3. I've placed more emphasis on art. Now by art, I do not merely mean painting or drawing, but rather, I'm speaking of all those artistic, creative pursuits that seem unnecessary for elementary education such as reading and reciting poetry, developing the ability to draw realistically, learning culinary skills, learning an instrument, art appreciation, music appreciation and storytelling to name a few. Subjects such as these would typically be considered "elective" and generally offered to my children much later in life. These are the "non-essentials." And while I will readily affirm that skills such as learning to read and write are of primary importance, I also believe that artistic pursuits are essential to the cultivation of my children's souls. One of the primary ways that they image their Creator is their own innate desire to create. To be sure this will take many forms over the span of their lives, and their unique talents will become more obvious as they mature, but I want to begin their lives by giving them a foundation for that natural God-given impulse to create. I desire to teach them to distinguish between artistic works that are honorable, true, and beautiful - works that bring glory to the Lord - and works that are twisted, ugly, and perverse. I want to encourage them to see and express true beauty, because it will by necessity draw them nearer to our God, who is himself infinitely beautiful.

Placing such a heavy emphasis on these three things, which are often placed on the periphery of early education, has dramatically changed the way I homeschool. To be sure, it has been challenging to reorient my thinking and practices, and to truly value these things the way I'm convinced they should be valued, but it has also brought so much joy and life to our days. I have had the privilege of seeing my children blossom as they've been fed by such beautiful and rich educational food. I've seen passion stoked in their little hearts and it makes me so excited for their future.

I can't wait to see what the Lord does in this garden.