This summer, as we refresh ourselves and renew our commitment to home education, many of us will be thinking about why we pour so much time and energy into educating our children at home. It seems much easier in the summer to think beyond the minutiae of the daily grind. Did we finish math today? Did I check the Essentials paper? Did we remember to pack the tin whistles? In the season of rest from our communities, we can think about the goals of a classical, Christian education.
At the summer parent practicums, we will think, together, about the stages of knowledge, understanding, and wisdom. We will talk about the harmony and order of our beautifully mathematical universe. We will set goals to turn our children’s hearts toward truth, goodness, and beauty.
Then, sometime in the midst of the school year, we will lapse into two things. We will return to the daily routine, to the slavery of the checklist: “Math, check. Handwriting, check. Spelling, check. Memory work, check.” It will be all too easy to race through the day and forget to have the conversations that allow our families to recognize truth, to forget to look at the words and images that are beautiful, to love what is good so that we make wise choices.
We will slip back into the habits of our own school training. Old fears will creep in about whether or not we are adequately preparing our children for college and careers. Don’t get me wrong; I definitely pray to raise independent children who will be gainfully employed and who will responsibly care for their own families. However, we must try not to make this the end game of every academic exercise. Instead, we must prepare our children to govern themselves and others wisely.
After all, we don’t really know the specific careers each of them will pursue. However, we do know that all of them will be called to two jobs. They will all be citizen-leaders of our country and they will all be ministers of the Gospel. The medieval Christians understood this dual citizenship. Augustine expressed it well when he penned two classics—The City of God and The City of Man. It is our duty as Christian parents to prepare our children for citizenship in both these kingdoms.
Do not let your words seem inspired so much by intelligence, in the manner now current, as by moral purpose: e.g. ‘I willed this; aye, it was my moral purpose; true, I gained nothing by it, still it is better thus.’ For the other way shows good sense, but this shows good character; good sense making us go after what is useful, and good character after what is noble. (151)
So, which is better, good sense or good character? “Good character!” we instantly reply, indignant that anyone would even ask us this question. And yet, so often, we focus only on what will make our children useful. We worry only about the academic exercises that will prepare them to have good sense. This brief quote has given me much to ponder this summer. More than anything, I want to turn my children’s hearts toward that which will build good character, which will train their hearts and minds to pursue thoughts and deeds which are noble.
As I plan for next year’s daily activities, I will strive to choose literature which holds before them flawed, human characters who still strove for noble acts of heroism. We will purpose to learn about Christian men who discovered amazing truth’s about God’s universe through their pursuit of science and mathematics, and we will read their words of praise as they bowed in ever-increasing awe of a wondrous Creator and His creation. We will read and recite a little poetry every week, sing a few hymns, and listen to some beautiful music.
Perhaps the only evaluation we need of a curriculum can be found in Philippians 4:8: “Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.”