Education: To Be or To Grow?

Education: To Be or To Grow?

by Jedidiah Moss

“Being” is the educational philosophy of the day–you are already; learn information; be who you are.  There is little or no emphasis on growing.  I read a poem several weeks ago that, at the time, had little meaning to me.  But recently, as the idea of the importance of growth has been bringing the water of my mind to a boil, the words again simmered with understanding anew.  The poem was “The Sun “ by David Whyte.

…I look out

at everything

growing so wild

and faithfully beneath

the sky

and wonder

why we are the one


part of creation


to refuse our flowering

              —David Whyte, “The Sun”

Everything God has created was created to grow–seedling to wheat stalk, caterpillar to butterfly, child to man or woman.  But a majority of the time we, like Shakespeare’s King Lear, are old long before we become wise and this is because we choose not to grow.  I observed a third grade classroom in which the principal shared a profound thought with the students:  not to change is to choose.  How true that statement is, yet it is all-too-often overlooked.  God gives us every opportunity to grow, but we have to choose, like C.S. Lewis says, “[to hatch] or go bad.”  God “has granted to us all things,” Peter tells us, “that pertain to life and godliness…that through them [we] may become partakers of the divine nature…For this very reason, make every effort…”  Make every effort, in other words–CHOOSE TO GROW.  This passage from II Peter chapter 1 speaks to our spiritual life but includes an educational process which we should hear and apply.

For this very reason, make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with steadfastness, and steadfastness with godliness, godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love.  For if these qualities are yours and are increasing, they keep you from being ineffective or unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.  II Peter 1:5-8

Education, from either the student or teacher perspective, begins with faith–faith (first and foremost) in God, faith that in spite of and through imperfection in us and others, God can still grow each of us.  Next comes virtue: virtue (doing what is right) is both a deep desire to be more like Him and a pull against our sinful nature.  In education, this is where discipline comes into play.  Discipline, or training in habits, is the hinge on which the door of proper education turns.  We can’t expect right actions without proper training.  Once proper training is in place and the freedom to do what is right is enjoyed, knowledge can be received with full effect.  Knowledge is more than information!  It is more than dates and dead people in history.  It is more than facts and figures in math.  It is more than definitions in grammar.  It is an organic relationship between each of these parts (dates, facts, definitions) and the whole of why these subjects are important (seeing God’s hand throughout history, seeing the order of God’s creation, learning to search for truth and communicate effectively).  This fusing of ideas fosters a relationship between students (which includes all of us) and ideas that transcends mere information.  Knowledge without wisdom or understanding is to the spiritual life what information without context, interaction, or application is to education.

Self-control comes next in Peter’s list of virtues.  In education taking our bodies, wills, and thoughts captive are all of equal importance.  The fidgeter who is distracting other students, the child who has been given his way far too often, the daydreamer who longs to be somewhere else,  and the forgetful student who never has his work all have a hurdle to clear.    They need to be shown the importance of this self-control and, as Charlotte Mason says, “supported by the teacher in their weakness.”  This is a call toward growing to godly maturity.  Philippians 3 calls it an “upward call” and that “those…who are mature think this way.”  In this growth,  the training of good habits is key.

Training in self-control means growing in perseverance (steadfastness).  Perseverance and waiting–both are practices that engender hope.  This is why education should include these practices.  Striving for excellence (not perfection) is just another way of choosing to grow.  This is the reason we should never water down our teaching.  Without challenges, students can become debilitated in their thinking.  This debilitation, once fostered, is hard to overcome.  However, with challenges, students will interact more effectively with their education.  Of the two pleasure centers of the brain, the center for deep satisfaction is the only one that gives lasting enjoyment, so challenging but attainable goals should always be aspired to.  If a student is not challenged, then his intellect is not fully developed.

As growth is seen in all of these former areas, we are better-positioned for a life with blooming godliness, living with Christ as our guide.  As godliness turns to brotherly affection, students will care more and become less apathetic to the things they do not naturally excel in.  And this caring, when fertilized, quickly grows into the ultimate–LOVE.  If the art of learning is loved, the teacher and student have both succeeded.

The seasons change; the wind blows; plants grow, become dormant, or cease to be.  You never see a corn stalk two inches tall that stays two inches tall for which someone says, “That little plant is thriving.”  Either it grows tall and produces corn or it dies never doing what is was meant to do.  The same is true of our minds.  The most famous line in Shakespeare’s Hamlet is “to be or not to be–that is the question.”  I think the better question in life and education is “to grow or not to grow.”