Monday, August 11, 2008

Graduation Day

Well, it's been a while since I last posted. I have good reasons and I hope to state some of those soon. The main one is that I have been on Sabbatical all summer. I mean, really on Sabbatical. But more on that later.

My daughter just graduated from our Home School High School. She is headed off tomorrow to New Saint Andrews College in Moscow, Idaho. We are happy for her and will greatly miss her.

We had her commencement ceremony last Friday night on 8/8/8. Here is the commencement address that I gave on that occasion.

Commencement Address 2008
Rebecca Hurt
Hurt Academy

This occasion finds me a happy man. Not just happy for this particular occasion but happy as a description of my person. I am happy. I am content. I am overflowing with gratitude. Why does this matter? What does this have to do with a commencement address? Well, only everything.

Many people take up the task of educating their children. This is true of those who hire educators to teach their children as well as those who embrace the task themselves as home schoolers. We have done both but in Rebecca’s case, we were pretty much exclusively home schoolers. That means that Rebeccas was a home schooled child for all of her 18 year sojourn in our home.

Remarkably, she was able to do this without catching that dreadful disease that manifests itself in formless jumpers, nervously misplaced laughs, long-faces and abject fear in crowds, especially if there are public school children about. I speak of home school syndrome. Be careful, some of your kids may catch it if they do not build up enough immunities early on in life.

What I want to talk to you about today is the anti-dote to this dreadful disease. And while I cannot absolutely guarantee a full-proof immunization, I must say that our success ratio thus far in our home has been fairly high. So, I want to tie in my first paragraph, dealing with happiness as an anti-dote to home school disease. You’ve all seen that disease, right? It looks different in different homes but has a certain set of common characteristics.

I suppose the most notable symptom is the harried mother. While this is not, in itself, the cause of the disease, it is an indicator that the disease is lurking and a breakout may occur at any moment. Given the degree of the harriedness, it may indicate that a breakout has already occurred and is running rampantly through the family. The exasperated mother tends to push harder in the home when the need of the day is to stop pushing. The children resist the force applied and the result is an epic battle between mother and child resulting in a tense environment adversely conducive to learning. I am thankful to God and to my wife, to say that I rarely saw a harried mother in our home. Learning at home was and is a happy and peaceful endeavor in our home. And I think this is the key ingredient to joyful learning, the goal of education.

Now, while I wholeheartedly embrace rigor in a school, it must be a particular kind of rigor. I am not of the school of thought that teaches that all education must be fun. There are many jobs that are merely work and enjoyment and fun ought not to be easily confused. One man’s work may be intensely rigorous, with a great deal of blood, sweat and tears, while at the same time be enormously fulfilling to him. He may feel intense joy and even a giddy happiness about this intensive labor. Another man may have such a job that other men envy only to find it tedious and boring. What is the difference between the two men? Is it the job? Or the man? Obvious answer, I think.

So, how does this relate to our topic at hand? Just this way. The goal of education is to produce a learner. That is pretty much it. Once you have accomplished this goal, you can stop being harried. And once you stop being harried, the home becomes a joyful place where all the cherub children simply sit around and produce happy feelings for the successful mother. Well, not exactly, but close.

The goal of producing a learner is different than simply home schooling or sending your kid to a rigorous academic Christian and classical school. When we confuse the two, we run the risk of raising a child with home school syndrome, an active episode away from ruining all your hard work at educating. When we confuse the two, our Classical School Students develop an angst for the very kind of education that ought to produce happy feet. When the educators see their jobs as delivering a packaged product of education, facts and figures, units and lessons, subjects and solutions, then the child is in grave danger of being seethed in its mother’s milk. The very thing that ought to produce life and health and peace begins to produce death and sickness and discord.

This ought not to be the case! So, how do we remedy this situation? Is it with books and drills and lessons? Not really. Since the goal of education is to produce learners, we have to aim in the right direction. If we aim at lessons and curriculums, books and units, we really miss the mark altogether. We want to produce a learner. We are not trying to instill a bunch of facts, although we are not opposed to facts. But we would much prefer that our students eat their alphabet soup willingly rather than have us shove it down their throats through pursed lips and clenched teeth, one horrible spoonful at a time. And that is precisely what many parents do. Thus, guaranteeing that their children will have an eternal disdain for this wonderful gift of learning.

If you aim at the developing the right kind of student, then you begin to understand what is the need of the day.

How do you do this?

First of all, Love to learn yourself. Read books, not because you have to but because you want to. Learn from the books. Change. Teach your children what you are learning. Talk about it around your dinner table. Get animated when you learn something you had never thought of before. Reveal your ignorance and rejoice at having left a piece of it behind. Be glad when the children learn something you didn’t know. Do not compete with your children. Encourage them to teach you things and then get excited with them as they pass you up in various ways and in various areas.

Read the right kinds of books. Make sure your children read the right kinds of books. And from that, I don’t mean merely Christian biographies, apologetics, and history textbooks. Don’t be a squeamish book marm. There is probably not a quicker way to the dreaded disease than taking this route. These bits of granola are appropriate in their time and place but a steady diet of them, will develop a bulimic student given enough time. Eventually, such an academic bulimic may give up this sort of food altogether and simply waste away into an anorexic heart attack.

I know, I know, some of you like granola. Or at least, you feel like you have to say that you do, because you think it is healthy. It may be, but granola does not three square meals make.

Feed with novels, good ones and classic, but also other genres that interest the student and feed the soul. Lead them with the interests that God has given them. When they want to read a book, you have educated them! So, let them read. There will plenty of time for more strict history, philosophy and such meaty portions. But first, let’s work up a hearty appetite. Fill your home with good and interesting reading materials. Read the children exciting and thought-provoking imaginative literature. This will pay huge dividends down the road when the children become interested in many other areas and move onto the philosophical approach to life that sets in later in the teens and twenties.

By God’s grace, our sweet Rebecca has been an engaged learner for many years. She has an appetite for learning, from reading books about Middle East history, to a great love for G.K. Chesterton and Lewis, to the cultured side of Jane Austin, Tolstoy and Dostoyevski. She is interested in just about everything and because this is true, getting her to study is not a problem. She does not come to the subject with pursed lips and clenched teeth. O contrare, she is wanting more, more. And she is just now beginning to realize, that as much as she has eaten, there is always more, more. There is always time enough to eat but never enough time to eat enough. And this becomes rather an intensely humbling realization.

And I am glad that as she continues to learn, having already read much of the Western mind, she is also learning how little, in fact, she really knows. And why does this make my heart glad? Simply because I see that, aiming at the person, we, my wife and I, hit the mark of education. We have developed a learner. And not simply a learner who’s voracious appetite has made her fat and lazy. Far from it.

Her veracious appetite has revealed her truly anemic and unnourished reality. She is but a babe in the world of wisdom. Which, I might add, is the second and deeper goal of education. Many there are who set down this path and few that find it. In fact, the very process of learning is often the culprit for not attaining the goal. Having got education, knowledge running over, the learner becomes convinced that he is either not in need of a greater and deeper wisdom, or shamefully, that he already possesses it. But humility in learning produces wisdom.

And so, while my dear daughter has not yet attained a mature version of this wisdom, I hope and pray and trust, that by God’s grace, she will pursue knowledge in such a humble way, that she will be blessed with that adornment from above, lovely wisdom.

And now, we are proud to say that we are at a wonderful crossroads in life. Our first child is graduating from High School and heading off to college. In fact, we leave for the airport Monday and she flies away on Tuesday. Is this a sad time? Far from it. We will miss her. Sure. But this parting is nearing the endgame of all that we have put our hands to these eighteen years. It is with great parental pride that we look upon our lovely firstborn. We had a baby and raised a woman. We couldn’t be more pleased. We commend her to God and to God be the glory. Amen.

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