Rabbit Trails

They are a vital element of effective teaching, especially because they are the only times when you can be highly confident your students are paying attention. But wandering takes a deep command of your subject matter, at least of the ideas being discussed, if not the details that make up the idea.

At Hope Academy in St. Paul one of the teachers described rabbit trails as “organic curiosities.” I like that. Another pointed out that the classical teacher can bring eagerness and understanding of metacognition to the the classroom discussion. I’ve been trying to figure that out ever since, but it sounds fantastic.

Why we need to be attentive to attention

In an earlier post, The Joy of Learning, I began to describe the importance of perception in teaching that cultivates that joy. There I tried to show that all learning begins with perception and that the degree to which a perception impacts us is the determined by how much attention we give to that perception.

Here is the corrollary: just as truth, goodness, and beauty can only enter the soul through perceiving them (I think), so evil finds its entry into the mind and the heart through what we perceive.

Therefore, all instruction is necessarily and thoroughly moral, though, happily, much is ineffective.

Education in Christ

The easiest thing to forget and the first thing we notice about the Christian life is that everything turns on being in Christ. In Colossians, Paul puts it this way:

As you therefore have received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk IN HIM,
rooted and built up IN HIM and established in the faith, as you have been taught, abounding in it with thanksgiving.

Beware lest anyone cheat you through philosophy and empty deceit, according to the tradition of men, according to the basic principles of the world, and not according to Christ.

For IN HIM dwells all the fulness of the Godhead bodily;

and you are complete IN HIM, who is the Head of all principality and power.

IN HIM you were also circumcised with the circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of the sins of the flesh, by the circumcision of Christ,

buried WITH HIM in baptism, in which you also were raised WITH HIM through faith in the working of God, who raised Him from the dead.

And you , being dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, He has made a live together WITH HIM, having forgiven you all trespasses…

If then you were raised WITH CHRIST, seek those things which are above, where Christ is, sitting at the right hand of God.

Set your mind on things above, not on things on the earth.

For you died, and your life is hidden WITH CHRIST IN GOD.

It’s rather obvious that Paul is not describing something that can be discovered by philosophy, not even in its scientific form. The ecstatic description Paul offers of our condition in Christ (dead and resurrected, hidden with Christ, alive together with Him, forgiven) is not something that can be known any other way than by a direct statement by the one who did it. I refer, of course, to God Himself, who acted in Christ.

To chase a rabbit, this is why Paul’s apostolic authority is so important. If he was not the recipient of a mystery from God, then we Christians have been badly deceived. If everything we need to know about God and how He works with the creation can be discovered through philosophy and science, I would have to suggest that God is a little boring, or at best not very intimate.

But to the point that stood out to me in reading the verses above: education severed from Christ loses all the benefits of an education in Christ. If we ca’t see how Christ orders and integrates the curriculum, then we miss out on the great blessing of Colossians 2:3, which tells us that “in [Christ] are hidden all the treasurs of wisdom and knowledge.”

These aren’t magic words that fulfill themselves by pasting them on a worksheet. They are a promise. They are the reward for inquiry. An authentic education, in Christ, is the fulfillment of every philosophical and scientific quest, and it will show science and philosophy how they can realize their purpose and find ultimate joy – in Christ.

Let us not be timid and bound by petty worldly standards in our quest to fully know Him in whom is the promise of “all the riches of the full assurance of understanding,… the knowledge of the mystery of God.”

Angelina on classical education

Angelina in Louisiana maintains one of the most interesting, thought provoking, and helpful blogs for a classical educator, especially a home schooler, which is, of course, where the freedom to experiment and explore hides out. Take a look at her Permanent Things.