Teaching Free People

Jan 20, 2014

I hope that you are honoring the memory of one of the truly great Americans today. One who, I believe, almost single-handedly kept our nation from exploding into uncontrolled violence.

Two assassinations that truly messed up our country: Abraham Lincoln (if only because it led to Andrew Johnson becoming president) and Martin Luther King, Jr. 

Would you agree that freedom is a big deal to the classical educator? I am convinced beyond correction that the greatest need in American culture is a Christian classical education for as many Americans as possible. Today's reflection, therefore, is in honor of a man I have come to respect and admire, and wish he could come back: Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., who, when his house was bombed, walked out on the porch and told his followers, gathered around his home with guns and weapons: we are not like that. We do not practice violence. We offer love and forgiveness. 

As a white man relocated to the south, I say, "Thank you, Rev. King. We need that."

How, then, do we educate free people? The answer is in Genesis 1-3, which is the condensed wisdom of the cosmos, inspired by God, and concentrated into three chapters. The rest of the Bible is commentary. 

Here I will drop a few hints and I'll try to expand these thoughts in the days to come. The beginning premise is this: God did not "need" to do anything he did in Genesis 1 and 2 the way He did it, unless He had some purpose that demanded it. He did. That purpose was to show us how to be like Him. In other words, the fountainhead of wisdom was showing us how to teach by teaching us. 

Genesis 1 shows how free people function and how they perform their task. Here is something a little amazing to me: 

At the beginning of each day, the author writes: "Then God said, Let... " followed by, "And it was so. Then God...."

Now, of all beings, God alone is absolutely free in the sense of being totally unrestrained, though I am prepared to argue that we will be absolutely free in exactly that sense when we are utterly and completely purged of sin.

One characteristic of a free person is that he sets his own agenda. He does not work on somebody else's plan, but on his own. 

That's what we are seeing in Genesis one. When it says, "Then God said, Let there be..." it is telling us that God is setting His agenda for the day, a task which, as I said above, He simply didn't need to do unless He had a purpose that required it. 

He is modeling for us how to act; that is His purpose. At the beginning of each day, we should say, "Let there be..." and then we should follow that with, "Thus God" (or His image, in our case) "made..." 

We should begin, in other words, specifying the task to which our will shall be directed on that given day. We shoudl not worry about the next day or even the previous day's regrets. We should be focused on that day's intention. We should state it. 

And then we should execute it.

This is related to the question of freedom because most of us spend most of our days perfectly content to execute somebody else's intention. If that is the position we are in, the scriptures make it perfectly clear that we ought to do it. But we mustn't think of it as being free. 

I know this gets complicated, but I want to start with thick black lines, something of a caricature of the situation. If when we rise in the morning and look at the day ahead of us, if at that moment we are letting somebody else determine our agenda for that day, then we are not free people. 

In our fallen world, none of us are truly free. However, when it comes to educating or employing people, I don't believe the Christian has the option of keeping a person from growing into freedom. 

That means that when we educate another, we orient that education toward the person we are educating becoming free, that is, ruling himself. 

At first, when he is very young, he will need somebody else to say, "Let us... today." But if he still needs that when he is older, say, 13 or 14, something has gone wrong. He hasn't attained the level of freedom he ought to have attained by then. 

Freedom is an attainment and it is gradual. An early step along the path is when a person arranges his day according to his own understanding of what needs to be done on that day.

In short, if we have set freedom as the goal of our teaching, then we need to deliberately and systematically teach our students to begin each day by setting their intention for the day. The words, "Let us..." are the clearest expression of that act. 

We teach them by doing it ourselves. 

This is not all; it is only an early step. But it is essential. Can you see how it relates to your teaching and/or parenting, or have I confused the point more than clarified it? 

Andrew  Kern

Andrew Kern

Andrew Kern is the founder and president of The CiRCE Institute and the co-author of the book, Classical Education: the Movement Sweeping America

The opinions and arguments of our contributing writers do not necessarily reflect those of the Institute or its leadership.

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