Sunday, October 28, 2012

Andrew Comes to Austin

It's all Heidi's fault, really.

She kept posting these links on Facebook to witty, profound articles and lectures by Andrew Kern (not to be confused with Andrew Pudewa, of course) of the CiRCE Institute. I'd get sucked in. Then, our CC director sent out an invitation alerting us to the fact that Andrew In The Flesh would be in Austin for two days, expounding on topics such as Homeschooling From a Place of Rest. "Don't mind if I do," I said to myself, firm in my belief that a homeschooling mama needs to treat herself to periodic sessions of Professional Development. Plus "A Place of Rest" sounded awfully nice. Next thing I knew, I was clicking "Register," and stowing my children in the care of their father and others for the better part of two days (no small feat), and Bam! there I was, sitting in the audience between two friends, busily taking pages of notes and feeling like a sorry undergraduate who had stumbled into a doctoral level seminar.

By the end of two days, I'm pretty sure that there was smoke billowing out of my ears. I mean, I've long since given up the pretense of being the smartest person in the room, but boy, did this experience ever hammer it home. And I'm not just referring to Andrew. Goodness gracious, but there are some awfully intelligent and perceptive and articulate women in this community.

So then, Heidi wanted a summary of all that I had learned. But since she might be the only person who would actually read such a summary all the way to the end, I thought I'd show some mercy and just share a few ideas that, after a week of marinating in my mind and heart, have either floated to the top or settled in the depths. Not sure which.

1. The reason a book or work of art is great is not because people like it so much, but because it contains so much truth. We were made to worship, to admire. Something in us recognizes truth and beauty for what they are, and finds them deeply satisfying. We believe the truth can be known.

2. Everything has a nature and a purpose, and if we find it, we can treat it appropriately. That's why we were created to think. We hunger to discover the nature and purpose of things. When we can't (like when we can't grasp a mathematical property, for example), there's pain and frustration in that gap... because we want things to be in harmony with their nature and purpose. We want to understand them, and NOT understanding can be so painful. Hey, I was in some pain during this seminar!

(Aside: this also applies to the art of teaching. Teaching that is most appropriate is that which recognizes and respects the nature and purpose of each child. It tends to make heavy use of analogue, rather than analysis, in the form of example and illustration.)

3. It is okay to suffer, and it is okay for the kiddos to suffer during the learning process. Andrew referred again and again to the Homer's Odyssey (which Stefani and I have now challenged each other to read, in its entirety, two lines at a time. :-) Care to join us?). Odysseus "suffered on the wide seas" -- for years. Yet it was the struggles that made him the hero he became (See Tennyon's "Ulysses," a favorite of mine, for more on this subject). In contrast, his most miserable time was the years he spent on Calypso, a relative nirvana, with no challenges to tackle, no enemies to thwart. He'd sit on the beach and mope.

Sure, it's a struggle to not understand the distributive property.
It can be painful to wade through a classic novel, especially under a deadline.
Learning the multiplication tables can feel like a beast.
Sometimes, learning just doesn't feel FUN.

That's why we have to give our kids hope. Hope that they can survive, can conquer this challenge, can discover that things make sense and have purpose. And on the other side, they'll become people who relish a challenge with well-placed confidence rather than dread any kind of suffering.

4. Here's the one I keep looping back to in my memory. Andrew asked us whether as Christians, we felt like reading The Odyssey, the work of a pagan poet celebrating pagan gods, was appropriate and even illuminating. There was a time in his life when he felt his faith simply made no room for what could be termed "false gods," -- including many of the classics. And it's something many Christians disagree over, believe it or not. Stridently, in fact.

Should we teach mythology to kids? Should we let them read Book X,Y, Z, if those books contain practices or elements that run counter to our faith and values?

Andrew brought us to the passage in 1 Corinthians where Paul was reprimanding the Corinthian believers for being infants in their thinking. Essentially, in clinging to their background in classical education or religious piety, they envied and strove with one another, each claiming the moral high ground. On the other hand, Paul had the maturity to  be one with both Apollos (a Greek) and Cephas (a Jewish fisherman). How?

Paul offers the solution: "All things are yours." Meaning that all these things -- including literature and art and music, even springing from a pagan mind -- are a gift from a generous and creative God. We can learn from them. But the danger is in US belonging to THEM. In setting those things up as false gods, as our sources of identity and superiority over others, as addictions or sources of strife. Are we reading to feel smarter than others, to make our kids smarter than others (if that were possible)? Envy. Strife. Vainglory. Or do we handle these things in humility as a gift, because we can't be distracted by things that are already ours in Jesus?

Should I read this book, let my children read this book, watch this show or movie, observe this holiday, visit this place, listen to this music?

All things are yours.

But here's the counterbalance in the rest of the verse: "... and you are Christ's." There's our boundary right there. We can enjoy anything as long as we remember who we are and to whom we belong. If our conscience troubles us about anything, there's the line we can't cross and still have peace.

We become what we behold.

"If we can accept something and give thanks with a clear conscience, from a pure heart of gratitude, it can be a gift from God," said Andrew.

And of course, if we can do that -- if that becomes our guideline for what to behold -- then there's no room for envy, for strife, for bickering or monopolizing the moral high ground among believers in Christ.

Friends, there is so, so much more I'd love to share with you from my notes, but this post is already ridiculously long. I'm sort of cowering in guilt over the string of unusually long posts I've thrown at you  recently. Maybe I can weave a few more takeaways into future, shorter posts. Oh, weaving! Huge theme for life and learning, according to this seminar! As is gardening!

As is sailing, I might add. But that's a story for another time.

I'll leave you with a few book recommendations from Andrew, which I have yet to personally plumb:

Uncovering the Logic of English: A Common-Sense Approach to Reading, Spelling, and Literacy
The Odyssey of Homer
Mathematics: Is God Silent?
The War Against Grammar (CrossCurrents Series)
The Writing Road to Reading

1 comment:

  1. Thank you for writing this out for us. I appreciated everything you wrote about and shared.