by Jessica Burke
Twelve years ago, when I was pregnant with my oldest, I taught middle school language arts, and my students loved to ask me about my baby’s future. They were beginning to consider what their own futures held and spoke of attending top-ranked colleges to pursue lucrative careers. They wanted to be doctors, professional athletes, lawyers, and entrepreneurs. They spoke of my son’s future as they spoke about their own: full of accomplishments, awards, and accolades.
I got swept up in the life my students created for my son. I imagined a destiny full of worldly success, even though all I knew of him were the kicks and rolls and hiccups I felt.
Then I held my newborn as he stretched his limbs outside the womb for the first time. His little chin quivered when he cried his small cry; he sighed loudly in his sleep; he blinked as if his eyes were growing accustomed to seeing the world.
He was so much more, so much better, than the fictitious boy I had created. He was not defined by his future prospects of becoming a college graduate or brain surgeon or rocket scientist. He was a human being whose worth was found not in his potential or future accomplishments, but in the truth that he was born an image bearer of the holy, living God.
Much has been written about how our schools can become like factory conveyor belts, and I began to see this for myself. We try to make sure students have been filled with the information and skills necessary for the job market. But how do you educate and prepare a human not just for work, but to live as an eternal soul? What type of knowledge helps us reflect God’s image better, more fully?
When I discovered the world of classical education, I found an educational philosophy that made sense to me. Classical education has given my family a deeper meaning and purpose for education. We are not chasing after utilitarian ends; we are in a lifelong pursuit of becoming more human as we ask God to grow us in wisdom, virtue, and knowledge.
We classical educators esteem a broad and generous feast of timeless ideas and systems of learning over contemporary education’s latest innovations, methodologies, and standards. Instead of being restricted to a checklist of information that we must learn on a specific schedule, our world is enlarged by truth, goodness, and beauty. Learning is not something reserved for the classroom so we can get ahead, but something we do because God’s world is full of wonder.
I often hear parents discuss how the pressure to perform overwhelms students at the local schools just down the road from my home. Our classical education is teaching my family to pursue excellence without the stress to perform and achieve. As we learn and grow, we discover more and more reasons not to boast in ourselves, but to boast in God.
As a classical educator, I am also humbled daily. My own shortcomings and sins can seem like insurmountable obstacles that would prevent my children from having a well-rounded classical education. To ask my children to grow in virtue when daily I am reminded just how much I lack it myself seems hypocritical. To tell my children they are to love the true, the good, and the beautiful when I crave less worthy things seems unfair. When I am confronted with my own anger or laziness or pride, I fear that those are the only things I will successfully teach my children. But education is a grace of God. It is not an accomplishment of my own or of my children—it is a gift. God is able to move me to repentance and growth as He works to order my affections so that I might serve my children better.
Someday, graduations and jobs will be in order for my children. More than measuring success by honor rolls and dean’s lists, I want them to be characterized by humility and curiosity for all of their days. My prayer is that they will become adults who love to learn, discover, think, and read, that they might know and imitate God better. And that is better than any other dreams I may have ever had for them.