One of the things that struck me when I first read Norms and Nobility was the idea that teaching means something for the teacher. It isn’t enough for a teacher to Know Stuff, even if it’s a lot of stuff. The teacher is supposed to be something. In our information age, that is hard to wrap our minds around because we don’t usually care what sort of persons our teachers are, as long as they are “experts” and can teach us the technique in which we are interested.
But long before the age of information, there was character, and the best sort of schools have always known that students are disciples and teachers are masters and a student, when he’s completed his studies, will be like his teacher. It’s not just that the student will have absorbed the information in his teacher’s head. No, it’s that he’ll be like his teacher.
In other words, as much as we hate to admit it, character tends to be contagious.
Habits tend to be contagious.
Bias can be contagious.
Ideas are contagious.
And so on and so forth.
This is why we say clever things like “lead by example” or “more is caught than taught” or even “atmosphere begins with me.” We’re hinting at the idea in these simple proverbs.
There is so. much. more. than information being passed in a classroom.
And in the home schoolroom as well.
The more I think about this, the more I take teaching seriously, and not just the teaching, but myself. Who I am as a teacher. But, at the same time, I find that if I think about it too much, I’m paralyzed with fear and trembling, for who is ever good enough to qualify for this supreme task?
Thankfully, we have the grace of God and do not have to lean on ourselves.
It doesn’t change the fact, however, that who we are matters. The grace of God makes no room for libertinism, even if He does make up for our shortcomings. Who we are matters in the classroom, at the co-op, and even in our tiny home schoolrooms. This is what makes teaching an excellent opportunity for sanctification, I think.
We can’t escape ourselves, and our students can’t escape us, and so we have to face our faults head-on.
I have always wanted a copy of The Story of Charlotte Mason by Essex Cholmondeley. It is, however, slightly (ahem) out of my price range. I recently saw a hardback for sale out of the UK. That is the copy I want, the one dusty from years of sitting on a library shelf. The one that smells like an artifact.
The reason I want it is because every single time I hear it quoted, I gain more appreciation for Charlotte Mason. Even this truth she knew and leveraged for the good of both her teachers and her students.
In The Living Page, Laurie Bestvater quotes Cholmondeley’s book quite a bit.
We are told there were, at Scale How, Mason’s House of Education, “no methods courses.” Cholmondeley writes that the House of Education was “an unwalled university of plain living and high thinking.” It was “all living.” The two years of teacher training consisted simply of the feast and the practice because Mason sees, like Hauerwas and Vanier, “a vital aspect of a paradigm shift is the need for exemplars — people or groups who can model the new paradigm, challenge our presuppositions and draw us into the belief that the new paradigm might actually be possible.”p. 128
So Cholmondeley attributes Miss Mason’s practices to “the need for exemplars.” No doubt there is a great need for that, but what if Miss Mason is simply trying to get at the ancient ideal of teacher-as-model. What if Miss Mason realized there was no work-around, no technique, that could substitute for a teacher who really was Good and really knew Truth and really loved Beauty? What is she was simply trying to help her teachers to be what they hoped their students would one day become?
What if all of this is about the art of becoming, and the key, by the way, to a life of growth and contemplation?
Bestvater says that these things — this living art she calls Keeping — keep us humble.
[T]he Living Page offers us a posture of humility. One the one hand, the way we use our paper can seem too small and simple a thing to make a different … On the other hand, to live this can seem too lofty an invitation … We do not know where to begin; who can feel herself up to the task of living out the paradigm shift? p. 128
And Bestvater also gives us hope:
Our practice need not be perfect to begin to ripen us into people who see beyond what is to what ought to be, and who believe that in taking up these few postures of sustained attention we can and will be open to the mysterious transformation.p. 128
One of the things I didn’t expect in all of this was for Bestvater to show how important notebook practices are for the teacher. And not just in the sense of modeling so that children will know what they are and how they work, though this is a benefit I have seen in my own home. The practices are the “postures of sustained attention.” In our hurry-up world, the very act of Keeping slows us down, causes at least a momentary meditation. It allows the ideas and thoughts to seep down into the bones, and it leaves a record that can easily be revisited.
The point of Keeping as a teacher is the same that it is for the students: being and becoming.
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