Two are better than one…For if they fall, the one will lift up his fellow: but woe to him that is alone when he falleth; for he hath not another to help him up.
Ecclesiastes 4: 9-12 KJV
What do you get when a teacher and at least one student share a common place? A one-room schoolhouse! For some, the one-room schoolhouse evokes images of Little House on the Prairie and a sixteen-year-old young woman teaching a group of unruly children not much younger than herself. For others, the one-room schoolhouse represents the birthplace of presidential education reforms; LBJ dreamt of brighter days in a dark one-room schoolhouse in rural central Texas. In every schoolhouse, the teacher and student or students study together, discover together, fall together, cry together and rejoice together. For everyone, the one-room schoolhouse provides nothing less than an opportunity to practice living in community. Each schoolhouse embodies a miniaturized community, a place where people share together. One-room schoolhouse communities readily illustrate that community is a human need and desire, sin is a reality in community, and community is God’s generous provision.
Behold, how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity!
Man is made by Community to live in community. Scripture states that man is created in the image of God. “Let Us create man in Our image.”[i] Do you find it interesting that the Holy Trinity is a trinity and not a couple? The Nicene creed, composed in 325 AD and believed to be the first official expression of the Christian faith, states the relationships within the Trinity. Christ Jesus is begotten of the Father; the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father. It seems God exists in community perpetually and thus we are made to do the same. Archeological discoveries suggest that humans have always lived in communities. Satellite images from the Indo river valley civilization show tiny cities with streets and houses in rows.[ii] Man naturally gravitates to be in community with others. In Genesis, God casts Cain out from community as his punishment for murder. For taking a life, Cain’s life with the community is taken. He cries out that the punishment is too great; he cannot be a wanderer alone. Cain recognizes that to be outside of community is unnatural and frightening. It seems that scripture and archeology imply that living outside of community is inhuman.
Let him pray God for an understanding of his own failure and his particular sin, and pray that he may not wrong his brethren.[iii]
The need for salvation and the process of sanctification are worked out in community. Sin exists. When we live in community, we will be sinned against and we will sin against others. As we sin against others and experience the results, the need for salvation through Christ is made plain. As the relationships are strained, children and adults, students and teachers, feel the pain and suffering of others due to their own actions. Over time, we find ourselves sinning repeatedly against the other members of our community, and we also discover that, in and of ourselves, we lack the ability to stop. This can drive us to seek God’s solution to sin, Christ’s death on the cross. Once salvation is assured, the community continues to provide opportunities for believers to “work out their salvation.” The classroom, whether at home or outside the home, richly provides places to learn. Dietrich Bonhoeffer says it well:
“Even when sin and misunderstanding burden the communal life, is not the sinning brother still a brother, with whom I, too, stand under the Word of Christ? Will not his sin be a constant occasion for me to give thanks that both of us may live in the forgiving love of God in Jesus Christ? Thus the very hour of disillusionment with my brother becomes incomparably salutary, because it so thoroughly teaches me that neither of us can ever live by our own words and deeds, but only by that one Word and Deed which really binds us together—the forgiveness of sins in Jesus Christ.”[iv]
Community provides the opportunity to practice repentance and experience forgiveness for sins against others and myself.
…the Christian needs another Christian who speaks God’s word to him. He needs him again and again when he becomes uncertain and discouraged, for by himself he cannot help himself…[v]
Community is part of God’s provision for our lives. In the darkest hour, the presence of a friend can make a vital difference. Do you remember Moses? Worn and weary from the work of judging a nation in the desert, his father-in-law Jethro instructed him to rely on other men in the community to help him.[vi] Homeschool mates can assist one another by peer reviewing and editing friend’s or sibling’s essays. In the New Testament, the community of believers bring all their material resources together to care for one another. Our miniature communities practice this when children share pencils or crayons without giving up their right to have the resource returned at the end of the day. In addition, material needs find satisfaction when siblings share a Henle Grammar or Trivium Tables: Rhetoric. Perhaps the most potent way the one-room schoolhouse illustrates God’s provision in community is through corporate prayer. Students, parents, and tutors all share needs, hopes, and desires and they lift one another up at the foot of the cross in prayer. Each time they pray together seeking, knocking, asking,[vii] and receiving, they remind one another that God provides fish and bread, not stones and snakes.[viii]
All around the world, the members of little, one-room schoolhouse communities are blessed with the opportunity to see that community is a human need and desire, sin is a reality, and community is God’s generous provision. Many hours of time together can build love and mutual respect between students and teacher, or if allowed, may create hate and bitterness. Do you view your one-room schoolhouse as a little community? If you did, would it change the way your schoolhouse functioned daily?