Recently, I stumbled upon some helpful pedagogical advice. I was making my way through a collection of Early Church writings when I came to the Letters of Saint Ignatius, bishop of Antioch. Around the year 110, Ignatius composed several letters to churches and to Saint Polycarp, bishop of Smyrna. In this epistle, Ignatius offers his fellow overseer the following guidance: “It is no credit to you if you are fond of good pupils. Rather by your gentleness subdue those who are annoying.” I have been contemplating these words for weeks.
I won’t assume that you’ve ever met someone who thinks education's sole purpose is usefulness, but I have—me. Although I did not have a classical education in high school – it was closer to liberal arts – I grew to love literature, the Western Tradition, and ancient languages. My appetite to read widely became constant, and I began to pursue literary works out of a hunger for knowledge and an appreciation for the delight of the great books. Alongside a love of old literature, another hunger began to grow: knowledge for knowledge's sake.
Paul instructs the fathers in Ephesus not to “provoke [their] children to anger.” Rather, he says, they should “bring them up in the discipline and instruction [paideia] of the Lord.” (Ephesians 6:4). “Paideia” is a Greek concept contingent upon what we might think of as a “culture.” To form one in the true faith, we need a good and beautiful culture.
“Any school, we might conclude, with more than four or five subjects doesn’t know what it wants to be.”
Those words were written by Tracy Lee Simmons in Climbing Parnassus – but our Lord himself said that a man cannot serve two masters. Likewise, a school cannot be committed to half a dozen subjects or more. If it tries to be, it will be devoted to none of them but will despise them all. Commitment is the key to accomplishing anything great, and commitment in education, as in marriage, is necessarily exclusive. Simmons goes on to say:
Dear Mrs. Norris,
My son is driving me crazy. He won’t do his school work. He talks back and tells me to leave him alone, but when I do leave him alone, nothing gets done, nothing gets turned in, and somehow he’s still mad at me. As his mom, I just want to help him. Is there anything to do?
Dear Crazy Concerned,
He sauntered up to me and casually and asked if he could read Moby Dick.
“Why do you want to read Moby Dick?”
“I don’t know. I just want to.” I knew he would say that, but I was stalling.
Perhaps you’ve seen the famous optical illusion with the rabbit. Or is it a duck? In any case, the image involves double-sight. Most people will see one animal without effort but can also force their mind to see the other image. Which one does the drawing truly represent? both. The image allows us to see two pictures, one atop the other.
What makes a Christian, a Christian?
A Christian—much like a Canadian, an American, or a Russian—is defined by his citizenship. Unlike the national allegiances of this world, however, a Christian is someone whose citizenship is rooted in the person and kingdom of Christ. According to Jesus, such an allegiance requires nothing less than a total denial of self, the taking up of one's cross, and a willingness to follow Him to whatever end. This is, and has always been, the Bible’s only definition of a Christian.
What hath the Athens to do with the rural South?