Rabbit Trail: The Ways We Teach.

We often focus on what we’re teaching to the exclusion of why, and most importantly how, we’re teaching. As a result, there is a lot of instructional wheel-spinning. That’s my formally uneducated conclusion on the subject. I’ve considered this frequently of late; whether I am teaching my kids as well as other kids I teach, effectively.

Over the weekend I had occasion to be part of an encouraging and informative session facilitated by an intelligent young teacher on the subject of mimetic teaching. It added more blocks to the structure my mind is erecting around what it means to be educated, and what it means to teach to the appropriate ends.

The antithetical aims of education, as a pragmatic tool for potentially securing wealth on the one hand versus a vehicle through which we pass on virtues to produce well-formed human beings on the other, confound me on a regular basis. This is not because I am unclear on which is more important. I am also fully aware that is possible to do both, and that we must do both.

Rather, it leaves me scratching my head because the former aim -education as a tool for securing material comfort- is accomplished via a mapped path where the destination is reached through checking the appropriate boxes at designated checkpoints along the way. Check off the right boxes at the right time, then you reach your destination. Based on the checked boxes you are declared educated, thus fully formed; or at least formed enough to embark on a responsible adult life.

The latter and less pursued aim- education as the vehicle through which we pass on virtues to produce a well-formed human being- feels more like meandering a scenic route. It includes many of the checked boxes, but also other disciplines of higher value, which are not as easily quantified. This is the understanding of education defined much more aptly in Webster’s Dictionary of the English Language published in 1828:

The bringing up, as of a child, instruction; formation of manners. education comprehends all that series of instruction and discipline which is intended to enlighten the understanding, correct the temper, and form the manners and habits of youth, and fit them for usefulness in their future stations. To give children a good education in manners, arts and science, is important; to give them a religious education is indispensable; and an immense responsibility rests on parents and guardians who neglect these duties.

This is where I fear myself doing a less than stellar job educating my children. It isn’t the acquisition of the checked boxes as outlined by the current education model that is difficult. Further, if we view “usefulness in their future stations” solely in postmodern economic terms, I’d dare say I’m doing pretty well, and certainly no worse than most. I know plenty of parents who are doing an even better job than we are at box-checking, religious education, arts, and manners.

For reasons I couldn’t quite grasp until very recently, I still hadn’t been able to shake the notion that somewhere there is a huge gap in my kids’ education and it has absolutely nothing to do with academic achievement or economic readiness. I’ve no doubt I’ll leave some gaps there too, but the gap I fear we are leaving is the one we won’t see until it too late to fill except by letting our children learn the hard, painful way. It’s the gap of learning to make decisions and be at ease and secure apart from us, a skill we value far too little in our culture which insists we make our children the center of our worlds; the be all and end all of our existence, lest they be damaged. Or worst of all, have low self-esteem.

Ironically, the technology which makes our lives so much “easier” is the very thing that is creating a generation of young adults who are incapable of navigating simple decisions on their own. It was a conversation in a grocery checkout lane with random, strange women where the only apparent shared experience is the fact that we are all mothers, that crystallized for me many of the things we fail to teach. More than that, however, are the ways we teach. In this particular case, it was the fact that most of our kids could barely stand to allow us a simple quiet trip to the neighborhood grocery store to buy milk or eggs without numerous calls and myriad text messages.

I was raised by a generation of parents who wouldn’t even allow us to enter the living room to interrupt conversation among adults unless someone was “sick, dead, or dying”. While I am not advocating that level of extreme separation of spheres between parents and children, we did learn at least two things. The first was what was worthy of interrupting our parents for while they were busy. The second was how to decide for ourselves if it would be more appropriate to have an apple or a banana for snack. The number of young adults -and not so young adults- I have encountered who are incapable of living life and making relatively simple decisions without the consultation of experts via Google or approval via Facebook is a repudiation of the ways we as parents are teaching them.

The greater implications of refusing to cut the apron strings in the appropriate ways and times strikes at the heart of Webster’s definition:

series of instruction and discipline which is intended to enlighten the understanding, correct the temper, and form the manners and habits of youth, and fit them for usefulness in their future stations.

It encompasses a whole lot more than anything which can assessed via the SAT or ACT tests.

7 thoughts on “Rabbit Trail: The Ways We Teach.

  1. Robyn says:

    This was soooo thought provoking and right on the mark!

    I’ve recently heard a podcast interview of Jocko Willink on the Ben Shapiro show; he [Jocko] referred to this as letting our kids “hit the guardrails” … whilst we watch … instead of intervening. It’s how they learn the real value of life lessons.

    I’m running near the end of the teaching chapter of my life, although as a mother we tend generally always be teaching in one way or another. Let’s say i’m done with ‘formal’ education now. This affords me a somewhat view with both a long backwards look as well as with a much wider and relaxed view.

    If I could say I failed in any area (although there other smaller areas, to be sure) of education it would be this very thing: not stepping soon enough or often enough. And not to toss blame about, I completely stand alone before God in my own errors; but today, in this era — we are in uncharted territory. There’s no community, real living – day in day – almost closer to communal living (but not in the hippy way 😉 ) … we all live in our little ‘cubicles’ (houses) safely hidden away, only divulging the “form” of truth/living we choose to show. Yes there’s church and functions etc …. all planned and so then, most of us live our relationships in a sort of isolation – where most of the mundane happens. And also, where we get caught in our dirt — during the unplanned.

    I guess what I’m trying to say is that we need more people to direct and steer and hold us accountable. I tried this, during our time of education and most responses went along the lines of, “if you are worried about the kind of job you are doing, shouldn’t you put your kids back in school?” I couldn’t articulate that although I couldn’t be sure if I was hitting the nail or not … I almost assuredly knew the education system was not.

    The whole rote style of education: take in a bunch of facts and spew them back out on que is proving a dismal failure. And as believers, doesn’t really educate the part of the being that the Lord wants educated, in the way He wants educated.

    (i think that might have been a ramble & rant)

    But thanks for provoking my thoughts Els!!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. hearthie says:

    I think it’s the pressure from our current culture to be helicopter parents. That’s what Good Moms are, now.

    I’m in the ‘backing away and letting them flop” stage of life – and it’s weird. The “nope, can’t do the laundry, I’m waiting for 14yo to cycle her stuff” thing – it would be much easier/faster to do for her, but I won’t.

    These are lessons our latchkey kid generation learned THOROUGHLY. But each generation is different, with different gifts and handicaps. No sense beating ourselves up for one that every member of their generation shares, to one degree or the next. Your kids less than most, I’d imagine.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Elspeth says:

    But thanks for provoking my thoughts Els!!

    You’re welcome! I’m still hashing it out, really. On the one hand Hearth is right. No use beating ourselves up. On the other, as I said in response to her, our older kids were so much more capable by 12. Not because I was absent and they had to raise themselves. I have always been a SAHM. but because being accountable to other people and being exposed to challenging environments stretched them a bit.

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  4. SMK says:

    Really good post. I’ll comment on a few points separately maybe later because they are unrelated.

    1. This post reminded me a LOT of this article (in a very good way):
    https://www.urbanophile.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/10/The-Masculinist-26-The-Fall-of-the-Household.pdf. Have you read it?

    2. From the linked article: So the teacher/mentor often needs to help the child/disciple perceive the truth. This is dangerous and easy to manipulate (in the wrong way) because we teachers and parents need to remember that we are just as depraved as our children. So be careful. Don’t abuse this power.

    Found this fascinating. He takes fixed theological position(s) without coming clean. “Truth” ? “Depraved”? Whilst warning not to abuse power? I need to read Aristotle or Aquinas to wash off the Calvin! My pupils would crush me even at the dinner table if I waxed philosophical like this…

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  5. Elspeth says:

    So the teacher/mentor often needs to help the child/disciple perceive the truth. This is dangerous and easy to manipulate (in the wrong way) because we teachers and parents need to remember that we are just as depraved as our children. So be careful. Don’t abuse this power.

    That bit actually caused my right eyebrow to raise a little as well. Not that I don’t recognize that my soul is as sin-stained as my children’s, but I am wiser, more mature in my faith, and generally have a better grasp of truth.

    We also want what’s best for them and God expects that we can teach and train them, else he wouldn’t have directed parents to do so. Infallibility is not a per-requisite of parenting and mistakes (which we all make) are not necessarily an expression of a depraved abuse of power.

    As a “Reformed Arminian” which is the best exploration I’ve ever run across to describe our position, you won’t get any defense of hyper-Calvinism view from me.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. SMK says:

    E: And not to toss blame about, I completely stand alone before God in my own errors; but today, in this era — we are in uncharted territory.

    So true on the uncharted. The article I linked to covers this in detail. Regarding our own errors, I think you are correct to point to the bigger culture. We are not alone even though we oft pretend to be. Besides, Christianity is a “received” religion & we inherit it from our families and culture. We don’t make it up or get it from a book from heaven like Muslims do. St Paul: …in my flesh I do my share on behalf of His body, which is the church, in filling up what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions. Americans live in an individualist fantasy that just isn’t true.

    you won’t get any defense of hyper-Calvinism view from me.

    Just to be clear, I’ve no complaint with educating any view per-se as long as it’s source is acknowledged and logic, not faith, is the vehicle of persuasion. The Greeks (and the Church later) demanded obedience to the communion and logic both when teaching any theological philosophy to others. Likewise as a HS teacher I call only on authority, logically vetted over the generations (by much, much smarter and holier guys than I) and never my own opinion before I open my trap. Why? I’m still shaking my head at my own “schooling” and never want to be that laughingstock. Were I to differ from the group wisdom? I would be respectfully silent.

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