Cultivating Wisdom at Home and School

Cultivating Wisdom at Home and School

Cultivating Wisdom at Home and School

“You may be quite sure that in the last days there will be some difficult times. People will be… always learning, but never come to a knowledge of the truth.” (2 Timothy 3:7)

(Please read Luke 2:39-51).

Because the chore of growing up is so difficult for all of us, I’ve always wondered at the glaring omissions in the gospel story of how Jesus grew up. We don’t have enough to go on as it is; we need all the help we can get. Why not a little more about young Jesus and his home life? We do get a little snapshot of the young Jesus in Luke 2, though, where we see him as a 12 year old, and we see his earnest parents and teachers, hard-working, doing their best. It all sounds typical so far.

I find it telling that the only scene involving the youthful Jesus happens to include parents and teachers. I believe this little scene of domestic unrest has more for us than it first appears. The tip-off for me is that both before and after this brief event, Luke states quite clearly that Jesus was growing in wisdom, that grace and strength and good favor were a part of his growing up years. How did this happen, what did that look like, and how can we help make this happen now, with us, with our children? Isn’t wisdom the Big Picture, our reason for being when to comes to children? Wisdom, after all, is practical spirituality, truth in practice, living skillfully, taking pleasure in all the right things, living life the way our Creator intended us to. This vignette from Luke 2 may help us as we look at those key roles… parent, student, teacher, school.

Parents

First, let’s look at the parents… frazzled Mary and hapless Joseph. We’ve all been there. After carefully raising their son by the Law of the Lord, (in v. 39), they have now lost him. He’s disappeared! It’s not Home Alone, it’s Jerusalem Alone, and they are frantic. But let’s linger a moment at this Law of the Lord idea, at how Joseph and Mary were faithful believers as to how they raised their son. The Mosaic Law was very clear: Parents were the child’s first and primary teachers and pastors. And so, for God’s chosen people, faith was largely a home-schooling affair. God’s discipling program wasn’t limited to baby dedications and Passover in Jerusalem. God’s law from Sinai was straightforward as explained in Deuteronomy: Parents were to teach their children the truthful and righteous  words of Scripture, and the benchmark events of God in history. They were to constantly, intentionally, practically remind their kids of God’s presence and power. They were to read aloud and instruct God’s Word, beginning officially with the Shema of Dt. 6:4-5: “Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is One. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your strength.” This was recited in the home every morning and every night, Lesson One for the Jewish parent, the word that Jesus later called the “first and greatest commandment.”

And then Moses followed the Shema with God’s favorite teaching methods: multi-sensory, experiential, every learning style imaginable… “Impress these commands that I give you today on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Write them on the door frames of your houses and on your gates.” (Dt.6:7-9). There’s your auditory, visual, and kinesthetic all in two verses of heavenly methodology. To show how important home-pastoring was, literally the last words of Moses on the day before he died were these: “Take to heart all the words I have solemnly declared to you this day, so that you may command your children to obey carefully all the words of the law. They are not just idle words for you – they are your life.” (Dt. 32:45-47).

So, to say that Mary and Joseph were doing “everything required by the Law of the Lord” in v. 39 is really quite a  mouthful. That means they re-enacted faith events in the home through scripted ceremonies, including the weekly Sabbath; they made visual items around the house for reminders; they had roundtable discussions and regular readings of the Word; they celebrated feasts and endured fasts together; they played and sang and learned and worshipped in and around the home. The Faith was not just an intellectual exercise, it was life. The mind and heart and body of each family member were connected, and they were all engaged in their God-centered life together.

Faithful Jews lived a life of coherence and united purpose. The Jews were always the most literate, intellectually astute, spiritually inspired nation around, as long as they did what Mary and Joseph did: Keep the Faith as the centerpiece of the home, the organizing principle of daily life. For orthodox Jews, these were not mere idle words, and their role was not to be co-opted by someone else. Their role as parent was a sacred trust, relayed from God-to-Moses-to-them.

According to Luke, Jesus was raised by parents who saw the home as the hub of the faith wheel. Come to think of it, when Jesus was an adult, he honored this tradition by teaching the adults and blessing the children. He assumed that parents were doing their job, and so he wanted to strengthen and inspire the parents to fulfill their duties on the home front. I wonder if perhaps the contemporary church has reversed this… instead of teaching the adults and blessing the children, we tend to bless the adults and teach the children. It’s worth asking if the church is unintentionally co-opting what parents are to be doing in the home.

Student

And now let’s turn from the parent to the student, boy Jesus, raised by faithful parents, 12 years old, on the verge of manhood according to traditional Judaism. No extended adolescence here, adulthood beckons. So Jesus gets so wrapped up in what he’s doing that he totally forgets other concerns, including his parents. He didn’t phone home; evidently he righteously forgot. Any of this sound familiar? See, it happens to the best of us.

While boy Jesus is totally absorbed, the parents move on without him, assuming he is with cousins and neighbors in the big traveling party. After a day of travel, they start looking for him. By now, they’re understandably concerned. “I thought you had him… but I thought you had him!” Think of this responsibility… They both know that Mary was pregnant by the Holy Spirit 12 years go, that he is indeed the long-awaited Messiah, that they had to escape to Egypt to save his life, etc., etc. I’m sure all this is going through their minds as they frantically return to Jerusalem to find him. It only gets worse. They scour the city for two more days with no luck. Imagine their panic at this point! We can forgive them if in a weak moment they say, “Oy vay! We lost the Messiah!”

And when they finally find Jesus, Mary is your good standard mom. Her first words were, “Why do you treat us like this?” And dad is stewing somewhere in the background. Sure enough, true to what we see still, the boy calmly replies, “What are you so worried about? Just relax, mom, I respectfully submit that I was only doing what you and dad have trained me to do at home these 12 years.

And now we get an intimate glimpse of Jesus the student. This is the only snapshot we have of Jesus’ childhood in the family photo album, and in a school-like situation at that. This appears to be how the Son of God did school for the most part, and I believe it provides a picture of how a student can become a partner in the way of wisdom:

He is sitting at the feet of the teachers. That was the standard sign of respect for young people in a learning situation. You literally look up to them in honor and respect. The first sign of a good student is humility, a willingness to accept the leadership of the teacher, through honor and respect.

He is listening to the teachers. Jesus, because of his humility before the teachers, was then in a position to keep an open mind, an attitude of receptivity, an intense interest in what was being said by the elders. A good student is all ears.

He is asking questions. Without curiosity, without a desire to engage the material and the teachers, very little learning occurs. Passive learning is actually an oxymoron, and implies being a disinterested bystander. Active learning is key.

He is offering his reactions. He had the courage to voice his thoughts, to respond, to think out loud, to process verbally. He was thinking for himself, and not letting someone else do his thinking for him. The content being offered was grist for the mill in the learning process.

According to observers of this scene, the air was crackling there in the Temple courtyard. The learning was palpable, as Jesus revealed for all of us what it takes for a student to learn: humility and respect; openness and receptivity; active curiosity; willingness to respond thoughtfully. This is a fascinating picture of a student for the ages. We can literally follow Jesus here in our life-long learning, and accept his words in Matt. 11:29: “Learn from me.”

Teachers

We’ve looked at one version of the ideal parent (of which there is none), and the ideal student (of which there is One). Now it’s the teachers turn. Much can be learned by implication.

The teachers were standing. The student was sitting at the feet of teachers who expected respect, by virtue of their experience and life-long study. They were young students once themselves, are now elders in the community, and they realize how important respect was in the learning process. They knew in many ways, teachers are not in the student peer group. They could be meaningful friends with students without being their peer buddies.

The teachers invited give-and-take, a conversation. They established an environment where interaction between teacher and student was central to the learning process. The student was encouraged to listen and respond, to ask questions, to offer opinions and observations, to satisfy curiosity.

The teachers were amazed, clearly impressed with Jesus’ responses. They relished what they were hearing from their student, and no doubt were learning quite a lot themselves. The best teachers are like that: they are eternal students, always wanting to learn more, go deeper, understand better what it is they are teaching. Inspired teachers make for inspired students.

School

So here we have a pie-in-the-sky learning situation: A parent who is a pastor, a shepherd-teacher, who maintains a home where faith development is primarily the parent’s responsibility; a student who is humble, receptive, curious and verbal; a teacher who expects respect, invites personal interaction, and engages in life-long learning; an environment that involves a collaborative search for truth, for goodness and understanding in a spirit of inquiry and discovery.

I believe that that is the true Back to Basics education, and the essence of Christ-centered learning. There are many who believe it’s tragic that the education establishment out there has drifted away from that essence, and asks us to focus on quantity of information rather than quality of thought. It is forcing our hand to consider SATs, GPAs, and APs before truth, goodness and beauty. The big question here is, when push comes to shove, which do we value more highly?

T.S.Eliot asks two great questions consecutively in his poem The Rock… “Where is the wisdom we have lost in knowledge? Where is the knowledge we have lost in information?” Learning is best done up close and personal, the word becoming flesh in the context of a personal relationship between teacher and student; where teachers are always learning, and students are first concerned with making a life rather than making a grade. Wisdom will be nurtured in that learning environment, guaranteed.

And now let’s consider the home-school partnership. It’s clear that in a child’s faith development, the parents are the Senior Partner, and that we parents need all the help we can get, especially from other adults who are able to establish relationships of trust with them. But what about academic growth, about what might be considered typical schoolhouse learning?

I don’t know about you, but I love basketball. I played it since learning how to walk till 55 years old, and I still enjoy watching the game. There was an old-school style of offense called the Triangle Offense. It focused on 3 teammates using one side of a court to create the best opportunities possible to score a basket. It involved 3 players simultaneously moving without the ball, creating spaces on the floor, being in the right position to receive a pass, or shoot an open jumper, or drive to the hoop.  And this is a picture of the home-school partnership: teammates cooperating with each other, interdependent, each doing his part, to make something good happen.

There is another way of looking at this partnership. I would like to suggest we resist one model often used in this partnership – the Business model, and instead aim for another one often mentioned but difficult to use in practice – the Community model.

This is what I mean… In the Business model, the parent is the consumer, the school is the dispenser of goods and services, and the student is the product. Here’s what tends to happen with the Business model: When things aren’t working to the customer’s satisfaction, there is an unconscious expectation of “satisfaction guaranteed or your money back.” After all, we signed a contract, this thinking goes, and I am not satisfied, especially if displeased with the student’s lack of progress, the product being less than what is desired. This consumer mentality is something we all struggle with, because it defines so much of life in America. We live in a consumer-based culture, and it shows up everywhere, including the church, home, and naturally school. I dare say that if unpleasant rifts develop between pastor and church member, or between parent and teacher, often it’s because the consumer mindset has crept in and replaced the model of community partnership.

For in a partnership, as in the Triangle Offense, we realize that mutual trust and a common goal is key. What we sign in a community is more of a covenant than a contract, volunteering ourselves to a relationship in which we each do our part as co-owners to support each other. So, if things aren’t going as planned, we partners work it out with grace and truth, offering our time and energy to help make it work. Both partners humbly ask for help, and both humbly offer to help, so the student can progress.

Here are some contrasts as we think about these two models of the partnership:

Consumers think purely in terms of individual satisfaction; partners consider the group context, the needs and gifts of the particular community.

Consumers expect the business to orient to their needs; partners sacrifice individual needs for the common good.

Consumers expect the business to say, “Have it your way;” partners expect the community to say, “Have it the wise way.”

Consumers merely receive; partners freely contribute through mutual give-and-take and the investment of volunteer time.

Consumers demand; partners cooperate.

Consumers are more likely to go nose-to-nose; partners, to come alongside of.

Consumers de-humanize in a transaction; partners allow for human nature, and help make up the difference.

Consumers have a business relationship based on satisfaction; partners have a covenant relationship based on mutual support, and practicing the truth in love.

Consumers say, “The customer is always right;” partners say, “No one is always right, so let’s find the truth together.”

So here we are discussing parent and school. But if it’s true that we are talking about a Triangle Offense, then something is missing here. Well, the key partner that cannot be forgotten here is the student. The Triangle is good only on paper if all three players are not cooperating. Without the student’s cooperation, the best home-school partnership will come to little effect. A student gradually needs to claim increased ownership of his/her education, the sooner the better, until finally the Triangle is complete and balanced.

We all know that free will is alive and well in our children, and indeed plays a big part here. In other words, we can’t force a student to learn. Remember Jesus with the teachers? Without that humility, respect and curiosity, learning will simply not occur. We can lead a horse to water, but we cannot make him drink. So, I believe an essential goal of our home-school partnership is to work together to make the student thirsty, to do what we can  (inspire, cajole, convince, befriend, role model, pull the plug, help manage an overscheduled life, play games, have more family meals… whatever it takes), to help create a thirsty attitude.

Home and school have pledged a covenant of truth and grace. So, in our partnership, let’s do what we can to nurture in these children a thirst for truth, a hunger for goodness, a heart for beauty and love, a willingness to work for a worthy goal. And then, perhaps, we can echo the final words of our only glimpse of young Jesus: “Then he went home with his parents, and was obedient to them… And he grew in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and men.” (v.51). There it is, our common goal.

 

 

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