Sunday, October 28, 2012

Notes for a talk I'm giving soon.

I was nominated to speak on the topic of Orthodoxy as a model for education at an open house for our school. I have spoken in this venue before, but it still makes me want to throw up. Speaking about education in front of a bunch of parents is also particularly terrifying to me because, childless at 24, I don't really wish to claim to be an expert on raising Orthodox children. But here, anyway, are my two cents. The cents are rough notes for a speech, not a polished essay.

As Christians, one of our fundamental beliefs is that we can be taught. This belief is so basic that we don’t even notice it. It’s almost like a natural law. Rocks fall to the ground when you drop them; Water finds the lowest path; Fire burns upwards; I can become like Christ; I need to become like Christ. We believe that our fallen nature can be enlightened, that we can put off the old man and put on the new, and that we can be transformed by the renewing of our minds. If we didn’t believe this, we wouldn’t be here.
            Christian life is growth. There’s no standing still. At every moment, I am either going forward or I am going backward. I am either waking up, or I am falling asleep. I am becoming more alive, or I am dying. I’m either learning or I’m forgetting. This is our goal: to become fully alive, awake, free, and divine; or, to put it more succinctly: to become like Christ. That means that each and every one of us is a student. To be a Christian is to be a learner.
            How do we do this? Christ teaches us in the school of the Church. What does this look like? What does this say about what the goals of our school should be? You will be able to come up with countless examples, but here are some to get you started. I’ll talk briefly about Words and Reason, Images, and Music.

-Words and reason. One of the first Greek words that our students learn (and hopefully it’s one they already know) is ho logos. Our students learn quickly that this word is impossible to fully translate into English. Ho Logos means, all at once, word, reason, speech, account, story, and even ratio. They also learn, if they don’t already know, that this is the word St. John the Theologian uses to introduce Christ to the Greeks in the prologue to his Gospel.
So it’s clear that since our whole life is centered on Christ, and since He is The Word, Reason, Speech, Account, Story and Ratio, that all of those things are going to be important to us as Christians. This is a clear teaching in the Divine Liturgy, which has a great many words, speeches, accounts, stories in it. The Scriptures and Holy Tradition are both handed down to us through words. Christ spends a lot of time telling stories and talking to people, using words to teach.
Therefore, our school should concern itself with educating that part of the soul that communicates through words, speeches, accounts, and stories. That part of the soul is the reasoning one; the one that makes us human. The fact that Christ IS Reason shows that this is an essential element of Christian life.  

-Images. If you’ve ever tried to walk on a balance beam or a railroad track, you know that if you don’t look at the end of the path, you’ll stumble. That’s why, in our churches, icons are constantly before us. They show us what we are striving for. How can we achieve a goal unless we keep our eyes on it? St. Paul says that when all is fulfilled, we will become like Christ, for we shall see him as he is. This is another “natural law” of Christian life: We become that which we behold.
So we keep images before us at all times: images of Christ, of the Theotokos, and of the saints who have run their course and won their crowns. Even when we’re not training our rods and cones on a physical painting of Christ, we need to keep these images in our minds so that we can become like them.
            The icons also teach that we are all images of Christ. We behold Christ in each other, and the more beholding we do, the more becoming we do. So it’s very important for everyone else’s salvation that each of us beholds and becomes like Christ. That’s why we need each other. And this is a teaching and learning relationship. A school should be a community of beholders and becomers.
One of the wonderful things about our school is that we don’t limit the community to the people who are physically present—we look to the great teachers and images of the past. We behold Christ present in the saints, authors, poets, scientists, musicians, mathematicians, law-givers, teachers and artists of the past, and we become that which we behold.

-Music. Even before Christ fulfilled all, philosophers in ancient times knew that music is medicine for the soul. Once again, you become that which you behold. They knew that immersing the soul in musical harmony brought its warring parts together into spiritual harmony. Now, we spend almost all of our time in the Divine Liturgy singing. What does that teach us? Just like the ancients suspected, each of us is at war with himself and with those around him, and singing helps us find the correct ratio. Now remember that I said before that Christ IS the Ratio. A ratio is a relationship between two or more things. 
That leads me to another important thing to learn from the Church, which is simply the fact that we are composite beings. We are made up of bodies, hearts, and minds. Music brings all of these parts together very palpably, and a school should seek to achieve this harmony. Singing and studying music is one avenue, but at our school we want to work towards attuning ourselves to Christ the Ratio in all things. This is what we are really doing at all times, whether we are learning calculus, sparring in tae-kwon-do, or struggling through Lent. Christ shows us the perfect harmony of mind, body, and soul, as He is the perfect man.

I could certainly go on, and if we had all night I think we could derive most of the essential elements and attitudes of our school by contemplating our Faith.  Most of the particulars, such as the languages that we learn, the scientists and mathematicians whom we study, the books that we read, etc., are determined by the historical development and transmission of the Faith through our culture, but I think that the essential elements and attitudes of Christian liberal education are timeless and for all people.

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