Thinking About...School

With my son (and oldest child) five weeks into his first year of public education, I have been thinking about school. I’ve been listening to other anxious parents who, like us, have sent their firstborn off to school. And I’ve been remembering my own scholastic career—the good, the bad, and the ugly (which peaked around middle school for me). For a long time as a student I was focused solely on the informational aspect of school. My mind was a repository designed for filling with facts, figures, and minutiae. My focus was on memorization and regurgitation. Often that focus was rewarded with good marks and affirmation. But eventually I realized that no brain is big enough to hold all information. So I learned to talk about my education more as teaching me how to think, and specifically how to synthesize various ideas.

Now, as my son begins school, I find myself interested in another aspect of education: its formational capacity. I wonder into what sort of person will my son be formed through his education? What will his habits of listening be? His tendencies toward caring? These things matter as much as specific retention of knowledge. And I realize that our life at home will influence him as much (or more) in this formative process than his life at school

This all may sound elementary. I don’t intend to break new ground here. But there’s an analogy between the formational quality of education and the formational quality of being a Christian. That is, a follower of Jesus is not merely one whose mind contains right truths about Jesus, but one whose heart, whose attitude, and whose life has been formed into the likeness of Jesus.

All of this is not meant to devalue knowledge or facts. Rather it’s meant to balance our emphasis on the mind with an emphasis on our habits of being. Those habits may be harder to capture on a report card, harder to flesh out on a resume, and harder to crystallize into a standard of faith. But those habits of heart are what Christ was after when he encouraged his followers: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. . . . And you shall love your neighbor as yourself.” (Matthew 22:37, 39)