Every parent I know is intimately familiar with the barrage of questions we receive from our children. This past summer our family spent a week at a beautiful lake in the mountains of North Carolina. My wife, a high school literature teacher, and I, a religious studies teacher, planned to use our peaceful vacation as an opportunity to read and prepare for the school year ahead. We have three beautiful children, a nine, seven, and five-year-old.
In his work Till We Have Faces, C. S. Lewis reminds us that we are untrue beings veiled even from our own sight by all manner of things. The reason Orual is incapable of hearing from the gods is because she is not speaking truthfully; the reason she cannot see the gods is because she does not yet have a true face. Orual realizes this and lets her audience in on this revelation: “I saw well why the gods do not speak to us openly, nor let us answer. Till that word can be dug out of us, why should they hear the babble that we think we mean?
In the past few months, I have seen young friends, after anticipating their high school graduations for four years, resign themselves to virtually “walking” on Zoom. I have seen engaged couples, dreaming of their weddings for several decades, reluctantly decide to live-stream their services from an almost-empty church. I have seen a lawyer, having reached an ambition of his whole career—the opportunity to try a case before the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals—disappointedly agree to a settlement by phone call.
During my first year as a teacher, I moved to a Manhattan neighborhood that was a subway ride away from all my friends. My neighbors and I never learned each other’s names during the two years I lived there. I waved at them from my patio and they waved back from their balcony, but only once or twice. I shared one wall with a stranger I never even met.
This article is part two in a series of reflections on what The Confessions of Saint Augustine has to say to modern educators.
In a culture obsessed with efficiency, performance, and competition, we often overlook one of life’s simple pleasures--a pleasure that children experience readily until grown-ups teach it out of them. Lewis explains this pleasure in one of the greatest sermons of the 20th century:
Advent is a time of awe, awaiting the celebration of Christ’s birth. Madeleine L’Engle, famous for her book A Wrinkle in Time, wrote in her poem “The Birth of Wonder”:
When I remember
An infant’s power
On a cold December.
What is this infant’s wondrous power? Nothing less than to reveal God and redeem the world.
St. Athanasius articulated it in On the Incarnation, composed in the fourth century:
It is pivotal that we read the right stories to our children when they are young so they will learn three things. The first is to never get involved in a land war in Asia. The second is to never go in against a Sicilian when death is on the line. And the third is to never—never—accept and eat any food that is offered to you by a witch.
“ . . . [W]e continue to clamour for those very qualities we are rendering impossible. You can hardly open a periodical without coming across the statement that what our civilization needs is more ‘drive,’ or dynamism, or self-sacrifice, or ‘creativity.’ In a sort of ghastly simplicity we remove the organ and demand the function. We make men without chests and expect of them virtue and enterprise. We laugh at honor and are shocked to find traitors in our midst. We castrate and bid the geldings be fruitful.”
Technology dominates our lives. Most of us walk about carrying supercomputers with more processing power than NASA had for the Apollo 11 mission. These labor-saving devices promise freedom, but we are more enslaved than ever. Eliminating communication barriers means that we may be interrupted at any moment by a call or text. Constantly dinging notifications (real or imagined!) trigger a Pavlovian response to glance at our screen. The time saved by our devices is quickly devoured as we consume the hours on social media trivialities.
A common theme I encounter in conversations with other home educators each spring, and often into the summer months, concerns preparation for the upcoming year. I’ve been classically homeschooling for over twenty-five years, and the liturgy of this assessing and planning season is an integral part of my own life, too—as fundamental to it as preparing for both daily needs and important yearly celebrations like Christmas and Easter.