This blog originally appeared on the CiRCE Institute’s website at https://www.circeinstitute.org/blog/what-being-dad-baby-has-taught-me-about-classical-education
As a new dad, I have learned many new things in caring for my baby son, Hunter: He does not like the dark or his naptime, but he loves the sound of the vacuum cleaner, when his tummy gets rubbed, or being carried on my shoulder. In taking care of him, I have noticed a few principles that we can correlate to the education as a way of life.
Being made in God’s image, Hunter has both morality and rationality, but being a fallen creature, the moral sense he possesses will be suppressed in favor of his sense of right and wrong. So, how should my wife and I attempt to raise a child made in God’s image? What does it mean to be human, and to grow and develop as a human being, from what I can see of the few weeks I’ve spent with him?
The Bible’s idea of wisdom carries with it the notion that knowledge is not a set of facts to be learned, but a way of life to be cultivated as one gains both experience and humility. Moses, urging the Israelites on the plains of Moab to “love the Lord your God and keep his charge,” does not tell them that they are teaching God’s commands to their children only one time, like some lesson on modern art (you only need 1 lesson on modern art to know that you don’t understand it). Hebrew fathers and mothers were to talk of them “when you are sitting in your house, and when you are walking by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise,” (Deuteronomy 11:1, 19).
Sure, I can teach Hunter intellectual concepts like reading, but in training baby Hunter in the way he should go, I have to be committed to using every possible moment as an opportunity to “train him up in the way he should go” (Proverbs 22:6). Education should develop all the components of the human person–spiritually, emotionally, and intellectually–and lessons should be geared not towards the simple accumulation of facts but the meaning of an authentic life under God’s care and guidance.
As Hunter slowly learns about the world around him, his inability to speak highlights the importance of human language. God’s gift of speech to mankind and the ability He has given us to make meaning of the world around us in the way we describe it or explain it is all the more important, given that the gift of speech is hitherto denied him. For now, we play the game of identifying household objects and slowly enunciating their names to Hunter so he can identify a word with its referent in the real world. Human language divulges the world around us so that we can understand how all the people, places, and things all fit together, necessitating an expansive vocabulary and solid grasp of English grammar (one can think of the importance of the medieval Trivium), so we can articulate what is beautiful and true about the world.
I’ve noticed Hunter falls asleep more easily in a crowded room, surrounded by family members, than he does in our nursery. Despite our best efforts to make the nursery as calm as possible, he sleeps better when we coo to him rather than play the sound machine for him. With this quirk in his sleeping habits, it reminds me that all of the important aspects of life are relational and lived out in the context of a community.
Likewise, the better parts of our education occur when we have a wise mentor willing to pour into us, in the same manner Hunter sleeps better when a human being lulls him to sleep rather than being swaddled in his battery-powered Rock-n-Play. Sleeping for Hunter is like education for the rest of us, wherein it is better when we have a parent or mentor guiding us in the way we should go and, if one loves to read, then one’s guides become figures like David or Shakespeare, so that reading becomes a living dialogue with great voices from the past.
Hunter’s dependence on his parents, most importantly, mirrors the dependence we have as Christians on God as our Father to guide us throughout the course of our lives. We are to ask from God the way He wants us to go, seek out the wisdom and instruction He has already given us in the Bible, and treasure the commandments He has given us as a “lamp to my feet and a light to my path,” (Psalm 110:105). This provides the greatest sense of comfort as a father as I fret over I am going to take care of him. I know that God is in control and has already given Hunter the tools he needs to grow and prosper, while I am to help him develop those gifts under God’s loving care and guidance.
Drawing together the elements of fatherhood and a Classical education, it is fitting to close with a heroic couplet I wrote late one night:
Though deeper still our bond grows as you age,
I wish you’d never grow out of this stage.