Sowing the Seeds of Learning

sowing the seeds of learning

In thinking about Mrs. Lowe these last two weeks, I was reminded of the Parable of the Sower from the Gospel of Mark. Good seed was thrown four places, the last of which was onto good soil. In chapter 4, Jesus says that the good seed that fell in good soil “produced grain, growing up and increasing and yielding thirtyfold and sixtyfold and a hundredfold.” Consider how many of us here this year at Sodalitas have benefited from the work begun by Mrs. Lowe and Mr. Cothran all those years ago in the Lowes’ living room. It’s about a hundredfold. Let’s let that sink in for a moment. And we are but a small representation of the manifold yield in only one sphere of the work of her life. She lived one life well. She was one woman, wife, mother, teacher, writer, student, friend. May you not underestimate the gift you are giving to the world through your kindness, intellect, persistence, personal study, vocation, and most of all through your relationships with your spouse and your children.

I know the parable is about the advance of the Gospel, but it also reflects the natural law of how things grow, how they can multiply and increase in good conditions. I hope the sadness we feel from her loss this week is truly a bright sadness, the kind that is uplifted by hope and purpose, and is filled with the joy that comes from laying hold of the inheritance she has left for us. And what more can we say than that we are thankful and honored.

We are gathered here not simply to be trained in how to teach classical materials classically, though we are here to learn that too. We are gathered to consider how best to embody a classical education in the form of a family, our specific family, in the space of a home, in the years we have remaining to us to steward our children. No other homeschool curriculum publisher gathers its users together to help them understand, implement, and enjoy their curriculum in their homes. C. S. Lewis, in his book Preface to Paradise Lost, said, “The first qualification for judging any piece of workmanship from a corkscrew to a cathedral is to know what it is—what it was intended to do and how it is meant to be used.” That’s exactly what you are going to learn about the classical curriculum Memoria Press has designed for you to use in your homeschool. I wanted to take a moment to give you three things to take on your journey: three Latin phrases, of course! I encourage you to consider these like three legs on a stool.

GIVING AND RECEIVING

The first phrase is dare et accipere.

Dare et Accipere is Latin for “to give and to receive,” and it is the motto of the Sodalitas Gathering. It is our expectation that you are not only receiving during your time here, but that you are actively giving to those around you. Ask your questions, encourage others around you, and share your experiences.

There are some of you in the room whom I know very well. You are amazing people with stories to tell and infectious laughter to share, and some of you have walked through the darkest of valleys and come out on the other side, alive, with grace and wisdom and a whole lot of mercy to share with others. If you will take a longer view of your homeschool and decide what end you have in mind, it will help you walk your current path with confidence.

I have heard its wise to follow those who walk with a limp, who know they are human and are not afraid to show it. If you find someone you’d like to grow up to be like, ask her about her journey. Then take your steps, faithfully, day by day. Wisdom is purchased at a costly price, and reinventing the wheel is a task that none of us has time for. To give and to receive you have to talk—asking and answering. So we are here to talk.

MAKE HASTE SLOWLY

The second phrase is this: Festina lentē. It means “Make haste, slowly.” Helen Keller once said, “I long to accomplish a great and noble task but it is my chief duty to accomplish small tasks as if they were great and noble.” And I bet you are all familiar with Mother Teresas words, “Do small things with great love.” This is not a sprint, or even a marathon; its your life. You cannot become a philosopher or scholar in a moment, and neither will your children.

Think with me: What is wrong with our society’s obsession with rushing everything? What does a truly good life look like? I firmly believe that one of the most important steps we can take toward creating a truly classical culture in our homeschool is to slow down, to study fewer things and to study them more deeply, to come out on the other side knowing things and knowing ourselves better in the process.

Mrs. Lowe wrote that many “overestimate what they can do in one year and underestimate what they can do in five.” I call this the “five-year vision.” If you will take a longer view of your homeschool and decide what end you have in mind, it will help you walk your current path with confidence. You don’t have to start with Aristotle’s Rhetoric, Euclid’s Elements, or Dante’s Divine Comedy. You can start with a Memoria Press primary curriculum package. You can memorize four-line poems with your kindergartener or train your ear to recognize Handel’s Water Music suite with your second grader. You can buy yourself a First Form Latin Student Workbook and do the work along with your children. You can read one great classic or novel each year with your oldest children and talk about it over meals. If you feel like you are a beginner, then begin. And do not stop.

THE ORDER OF LOVE

Which brings me to my third phrase: ordo amoris. It means rightly ordered affections. Homeschooling is only one part of your full, beautiful, complex, family life. The phrase ordo amoris comes to us from Augustine and is repeated in Lewis’s Abolition of Man. It speaks to things being in their right place. Augustine actually used this phrase to define “virtue.” Our affections—our loves—must be rightly ordered to be healthy. We all know the expression “A place for everything and everything in its place.”

Are we driving our homeschool, or is it driving us? Are we living like homeschooling is our entire life? Then we need to get it back in its right place. We need to work to get our homeschool as healthy and life-giving as possible so that it will give, and not take from, the rest of our lives. It is one thread we are weaving into our family’s tapestry.

While you are taking an inventory of your homeschool, consider also your other relationships and responsibilities. Are there things that are improperly ordered that you need to adjust? In 2015, David Wright’s Sodalitas talk, “Movere,” challenged me. As a result gave up a part-time hobby of talking about curriculum on the internet with strangers. Just kidding!

But I needed to be pressed on whether that was time well invested. Now, I only talk curriculum on the MP forum, where we actively help other families figure out how to use Memoria’s curriculum in their homes. My affections had been out of order.

You may realize that you need to be more discerning about how you spend your time. Perhaps you need to spend less time here and more time there. Make notes as you feel God’s gentle guidance. Our affections should be rightly ordered, and the people we love need them to be so. This world needs them to be so.

I want to give you a little mental structure that might be helpful as you think about those around you. There are three kinds of classical homeschoolers you will meet. The first are people call Masters. I call them Masters, not because they are inherently better than anyone else, but because they’ve invested the time it takes to get closer to mastering aspects of homeschooling and classical education. They have answered the “how and why” questions over and over and over. They have done the work, day in and day out. Some of them have made classical education the work of their lives.

The second are people I call Peers. These are the people climbing Mount Parnassus right beside us, the ones who are in the same literature guides, the same levels of arithmetic, the same concerns with having so many little people all at once, newly driving teenagers, or aging parents. You can relate to one another as a peer educationally, as well as irrespective of anything that has to do with education. A Peer is someone who can give you instant empathy in your challenges, who can hear you are having a hard time and instantly connect with that struggle.

The final group I call Beginners. All of us have been there. Beginners are those who see every thing through fresh eyes and give the gift of their questions and curiosity. Beginners bring enthusiasm and help everyone remember the challenge of figuring things out for the first time. They give us all hope that the good work of advancing classical Christian education is bearing fruit. Your challenge is to look for Masters who can be your mentors, for Peers who can be your advisors, and for Beginners to whom you can be a mentor. In other words, look for friends. Like Mrs. Lowe, we too need to sow seeds, and that can be hard work. Whether we are experienced at it or new to it, we need all the help we can get.

Originally published in The Classical Teacher  Winter 2018 edition

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