This article was originally published in the Ancora Scholastica, the school newsletter of Mount Hope Lutheran School in Casper, WY.
This may sound obvious, but our children are human beings. We need to remember this, because education in many of its modern manifestations treats children as if they were something other than what they are. Two forces in particular have led to confusion about what a human being is and how he should be taught, and those two forces are technology and naturalism. We’ll look at technology this week and naturalism next week.
The widespread use of technology, as beneficial as it has been in many regards, has also changed the way we think about the human memory. A computer has a hard drive to which people can transfer information. After transferring the information, we typically perform some sort of test to make sure the information has transferred properly. Once that information is loaded to the drive, it remains there, unchanged, until such time as it is altered or deleted. What happens when we try to teach the human mind the way we load information onto a hard drive? First we transfer the data through books and lectures. Then we administer a test, onto which the human mind voids everything it just learned. Then we assume that the student, or android, or whatever it is with which we’re dealing, has this data at hand ad infinitum, world without end.
But the human mind is not like a hard drive. It is more like a blade. No one runs a whetstone over a blade thinking that one swipe is sufficient to sharpen it. It takes many passes with the stone to put a good edge on the blade. And when once the blade is sharp, no one expects that it will stay sharp forever. A frequently used blade requires frequent resharpening.
When the Lord speaks of teaching children, he speaks with this language of sharpening a blade. In Deuteronomy 6:6-7 Moses preaches, “And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise.” The Hebrew literally says, “You shall sharpen them into your children,” the same verb used for sharpening a sword (e.g. Dt. 32:41, Ps. 64:3, 140:3).
What does it look like when we teach children in line with how the human mind actually works? The briefest answer is that we say the same things over and over again. Repetitio mater studiorum est, the ancients would say, “Repetition is the mother of studies.” The Greeks and Romans understood this even without the Word of God, because they grasped the nature of man surprisingly well simply by observing it. If something is worth imparting, it’s worth imparting repeatedly, and if it’s not imparted repeatedly, then it’s never really imparted at all.
At Mount Hope, we follow in a long tradition—both from Scripture and from the classical world—of sharpening minds. Therefore, we often iterate and reiterate the same things again and again. We go through the same three-year cycle of history multiple times with the students. We tell the same stories and read the same books, which only become more wonderful at each pass. Scripture and the catechism and good hymns and poetry are on our lips constantly, not because we’re broken records, but because we’re sword-sharpeners. Or in other words, we repeat ourselves because our children are human beings.
Painting: “Playing Children in the Park” by Anton Petter, 1781–1858