Best of Afterthoughts, Educational Philosophy, Home Education

Putting the Generosity Back in Generous Education

March 25, 2015 by Brandy Vencel

I watched you on the road.
You began badly, but improved.
— Mark Twain, Personal Recollections of Joan of Arc

It is easy to think that a broad and generous education only requires generosity on the part of the curriculum. While it’s true that without a broad course of study, an education can hardly be deemed “generous,” it’s not true that generosity only flows from curriculum to student. No. Generosity starts with the teacher.

In other words, it starts with us.

Putting the Generosity Back in Generous Education

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A post like this is a difficult one to write because it’s hard to maintain the delicate balance required. By generous, we don’t mean that some days don’t go badly and few things get done. We don’t mean that we should be able to give the same as a bubbling, healthy young mom when we are weighed down by medical issues and entering perimenopause. We don’t mean an over-the-top doing All. The. Things, and never managing our energy.

We don’t mean perfect, nor do we mean ideal.

But.

Here’s the deal.

Some of you, in one of my surveys, confessed to me that the biggest barrier to your successful homeschooling was your own laziness. And I don’t mean one or two of you. I mean a whole big bunch of you said this.

Now, on the one hand, some of you are probably way too hard on yourselves. But, on the other hand, some of you are probably being brutally honest. And I know exactly what you mean.

Haven’t we all done it before? Remember the day math was skipped because we would rather talk on the phone with a friend? Or the week that grammar didn’t happen — twice — because we just didn’t feel like it?

Quite honestly, there is a difference between the day we didn’t sing the songs because I had laryngitis — or even the day we didn’t sing the songs because I had planned something else I thought was important — and the day we didn’t sing the songs because I was too lazy to make it happen.

This is, by the way, a universal struggle of teaching. When I was in school, I had the teacher who turned to coloring pages, extra (super boring) copywork, and frivolous movies because she was too lazy to teach, and I bet you did, too. Being in a classroom doesn’t make a person any less exempt from this temptation.

the gift we give is us

The truth is that in teaching, the gift we give is us, and far too often we’re inclined to be stingy.

We Are Insufficient

In many ways, we can think of homeschooling — or any other difficult job for which we sign up — as another opportunity for sanctification. This big, huge thing we’re doing can reveal all the ways we fall short. Homeschooling shows us our short tempers and bad attitudes. It shows us our lack of organization or follow through. It shows us our ignorance and incompetence.

Ultimately, it shows us our selfishness and lack of generosity.

“I feel insufficient!” we scream at the end of the day.

Good news: it’s true.

I will never be enough, and neither will you.

There are a few ways to deal with this fact, first and foremost being that we must cling to the idea that while we are not enough, God is. So we trust that His grace will cover all the bumbling mistakes — both willful and accidental — along the way.

To quote Doug Wilson (slightly altered) in his wonderful little book My Life for Yours:

The task of [homeschooling] is impossible. Any sane look at what is required … is completely and utterly overwhelming. This is why the task must be undertaken in grace, by grace, through grace, and because of grace. The grace of God in this provides two things all [homeschool moms] need. The first is forgiveness for this morning, and the second is strength for this afternoon.”

Education is Repentance

Mystie reminded us of this fact in her fantastic post over at CiRCE. When I first heard this phrase — education is repentance — from Dr. Grant, I considered it from the perspective of the student. What is education, if not a constant realizing that I am not correct, nor am I wise, and then turning toward the truth? A student who is learning is in a state of constant repentance.

But in education there is also the repentance of the teacher, and that is what Mystie was getting at. In the case of a generous education, it takes an honest sort of wisdom to discern if we are being stingy or not. I think the central question to ask ourselves is why something that really ought to be happening is not happening. If the answer is, ultimately, that we are not willing, then we’ve got a case of stinginess on our hands.

This means it’s time to repent.

The proper response to sin is always repentance. Repentance is different from guilt. While it acknowledges guilt, it certainly doesn’t wallow in it. Repentance chooses to rely on grace as we turn and walk another way — a way that isn’t easy. We need nothing less than the wisdom and strength that God can give.

I love the title of Wilson’s book: My Life for Yours. This is the rallying cry of the Christian home, he says, and it is no less the mantra of the Christian homeschool.

We encounter a thousand ways a day to die to ourselves for the sake of those who are under our care. Do we get out of bed on time? Do we respond to an annoying child with love? Do we study up in order to be prepared? Do we seek out help?

Do we teach [enter subject that keeps getting dropped here], or do we skip it (again) today?

It’s not that there isn’t ever a good reason to get some extra sleep or even skip a subject, but all too often these things happen because we’ve chosen self over what is best for the children we are teaching. We’re ignoring the necessity of giving “my life for yours.”

Following our Savior and making that exchange — my lifemy conveniences and desires — for the sake of those I am teaching — is not the easy road.

But it is the road of generosity.

A generous education? It starts with us.

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13 Comments

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  • Reply Julie s. March 26, 2015 at 7:28 am

    It is God’s kindness which leads us to repentance. I needed this conviction today that I might repent and give my life away for the sake of the gospel. Thank you, Brandy!

  • Reply Kortney March 25, 2015 at 4:27 pm

    Oh, Brandy this is good. I love expanding the CM idea of broad + generous to include ourselves, our souls and bodies.

    I highly recommend the Thomas Howard book that Wilson based his book on called Hallowed Be This House (also published as Splendor in the Ordinary). As I was flipping through all the Howard we have on hand this morning, trying to place the “My life for yours” phrase I read a good part of Chance or The Dance (also published as The Antique Drum) It’s my first time re-reading it as a homeschooling mama. It is oh so relevant to the What is education for? question.

    Broad and generous is also reminiscent of the Wendell Berry lines from part V of “The Country of Marriage.”

    Our bond is no little economy based on the exchange
    of my love and work for yours, so much for so much
    of an expendable fund. We don’t know what its limits are–
    that puts us in the dark. We are more together
    than we know, how else could we keep on discovering
    we are more together than we thought?

    (You can read the rest of this long, formative poem in this old Rod Dreher article: http://www.beliefnet.com/columnists/roddreher/2010/06/wendell-berry-the-country-of-marriage.html)

    Thanks for sharing such an evocative image. You’ve had me thinking on it all day long. A broad and generous gift!

    • Reply Mystie March 28, 2015 at 7:44 pm

      Yes, Thomas Howard’s Splendor in the Ordinary was quite good – Wilson gives the credit for the title and concept in his introduction. Thomas Howard is brother to Elisabeth Elliot. 🙂

      • Reply Brandy Vencel March 30, 2015 at 10:03 am

        I do have that book on my long term list! 🙂 I think it was there before I read this book — wasn’t there a blog by that title we used to read? that referenced the book? — and I didn’t realize the connection between the two until reading the acknowledgments. I need more hours for reading; that is all there is to it. 😉

        And I did not know he was Elisabeth Elliot’s brother!!

  • Reply Virginia Lee March 25, 2015 at 2:19 pm

    Well AMEN! This post helps us get from knowing it in our heads, to wanting to change it in our hearts. I have seasons where I’m generous and seasons where I’m not. Praise God for his mercy, forgiveness and giving us the chance to repent and then move forward from there! This is a homeschool burn out post for me, because I find that my stingy season comes in March. Wise words Brandy, loving and truth filled.

  • Reply Jeni G March 25, 2015 at 10:00 am

    Wow. This post is exactly what has been jiggling around in my brain but I haven’t been able to articulate clearly. I needed to hear this today, and am challenged to make some changes around here. Thanks so much!

  • Reply Heidi @ Mt Hope March 25, 2015 at 8:33 am

    Yes, I needed to read this one today.

  • Reply Julie Z March 25, 2015 at 8:20 am

    I agree with Wendy in VA. Such a wonderful post and reminder. I printed out Mystie’s article as well to read regularly. You two are both a gift!
    Thank you for pointing us lovingly to truth.

  • Reply Wendy in VA March 25, 2015 at 7:41 am

    Wow. You hit it out of the park with this one. I’m printing this out so I can read it whenever I need the reminder, which is all too often, sadly. Thank you!

  • Reply Melissa March 25, 2015 at 2:56 am

    [Do we respond to an annoying child with love?]

    Thanks Brandy…I needed a shot of reality this morning 😉

    Also, I’ve been letting our spelling go because it’s hard for my children and I’m not up to the challenge….but it’s necessary, so I need to buck up and be more “generous”…great reminder as we plug away trying to finish strong!

    Many Blessings,
    Melissa

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