Keeping the Love of Learning Alive

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Most children are born with a seemingly insatiable desire for knowledge. Their favorite words are why and how. As they grow older, they realize that in school, they will learn to find their own answers to their questions. Day after day, they come home with, “Today we learned the "a" or the "s" sound, and soon they are reading, “Sam sat in the sun.” We think that is wonderful, and it is. At this early stage, the teacher is a sort of heroine who guides their eager feet along the flowery path of knowledge, and all is well.
But then somewhere in the middle grades, so many of our children seem to lose that sense of wonder and excitement, and school becomes a burden and a chore. Why? And what can be done about it? This article seeks to explore what influences this shift and how we can keep the love of learning alive. This article is not about particular children. We understand that some children are capable of and enjoy learning much more than other children. What should concern us is how we, as grownups, express the value we place or do not place, on education, and how that attitude will affect our churches and our people for years down the road.
As a teacher, one has the privilege of observing children from various homes. It is apparent that the value our children place on education largely reflects the value we place on education. Our children will discern that value; they will know how we feel.
In the first place, children vary widely in their makeup. Some enjoy sitting and reading, while others are outdoor people who need to be doing something. However, the problem goes deeper than that. It doesn’t seem that children stop wanting to learn as much as they become judges of what they are asked to learn. The perceived gain is not worth the effort in their minds, it becomes a waste of time. Part of the result of a good education is the ability to think clearly about issues at hand. Grade school children are not old or mature enough to chart life courses without parental involvement. This is where the problem needs to be dealt with. We cannot expect our children to place a higher value on education than we parents do. Some children may, but the average child will not. We can practically force our children to go to school, but if we as a church, and if we as families will not hold school in high regard, our children won’t either.
Does our congregation or church group have an impact on how our children think about school? It absolutely does. It is part of our culture, and children catch on quickly. While it is not the church’s place to see that the children do well in school, some churches have a much higher output of well-educated children than others do. It is because they, as a group, have seen what education can do for their well-being as a whole and the church at large.
Let’s focus for just a moment on some examples of the value of education.
Abraham Lincoln is a man that “only went to about fourth grade,” say those who look down on book learning. Yes, that is true, but remember that he also walked miles to get books and spent hours reading them in order to better his station in life. He was a man that valued what education could do for him and got as much as he could. It was because of his self-gathered education and his desire to learn that he was able to speak eloquently. He used these skills in the Lincoln-Douglas debates and later as President of the United States.
Conrad Grebel, Felix Manz, and Menno Simons were educated men who had learned to study. It was as they were studying languages and oratory skills that they opened up the Scriptures and were able to be used by God to start the Anabaptist-Mennonite church.
Daniel Kauffman was another man who had learned to “study to show [himself] approved unto God,” and the church has benefited much from his writings.
I just spent an hour walking about in the graveyard where Regina Leininger is buried. The Indians captured Regina as a small girl in 1755. When the Indians released their captives eight years later, she could not recognize her mother, nor could her mother recognize her. It was when the mother began singing “Alone, Yet not All Alone,” that Regina remembered the song and recognized her mother. The references to the French and Indian War and the Revolutionary War, seeing the dates and realizing that Indians were killing whites here in the Lebanon Valley up until the mid-1700s, all combined to make a more meaningful experience for me. This was because I had that background of history to apply to what I was reading.
What about looking at an interesting piece of machinery, or a beautiful flower? Yes, they can be intriguing in themselves, but I, at any rate, find it much more interesting to know how that machine works or how that flower is put together. Science, especially, opens up a whole new look at the glory and wisdom of the Creator. Stargazing and birdwatching, to name just two activities, take on an entirely new depth of enjoyment when one begins to relate what he learned in school to what he sees out in nature.
What about reading old familiar Bible passages and applying skills you’ve learned in literature class to understand just what God was really getting at? What about when your 16-year-old son is asked to have devotions on Sunday morning? Will not all those hours of study start to pay off? I think so.
There is a faulty concept among many today, and it is this: we do not need much education, children exist for the good of the parents. They should be taught to work and graduate from school as early as possible.
It is undoubtedly true that children should help their parents; should be taught to work and learn to be productive; however, it is not true that children exist only for the good of the parents. Neither should these facts banish formal education to the realms of low degree.
The Jews in Babylon realized this. The Babylon Talmud put it this way: “The city whose children are not going to school will be ruined.” This is true both religiously and materially. The Jews have learned that, in order to continue to exist as a people, their children must be taught their religion and how to prosper materially. It is for this reason that their sons begin memorizing the Torah at three years of age, and that by the time they are thirteen years old, they are considered adults and are “obligated to fulfill all God’s commands.” It is also why so many of their people have become well know leaders in science, business, finance, and politics.
Oriental cultures also place a high regard on the value of education. Their children often spend evenings and parts of their weekends and summers doing homework. While I do not propose that we follow their example of workload, it does indicate their view education. It should come as no surprise that they are overtaking the United States both in literacy and in general knowledge and in their domination of the world’s market place.
Many of our homes indeed depend on the children to help, either with the family business or with the housework. There is much value in this, but when our children realize that we consider work more important than school, we have sent them a mighty signal that education is not something to work and sacrifice for.
One question teachers hear a lot goes something like this: “How will this help me later in life?” (I am quite suspicious that what they really want to know is how it will help them make more money.) The most discouraging form of this question is the statement, “Well, my dad or mom doesn’t know how to do this and says he gets along fine without it.” Or the parent may tell the teacher, “I need my children to help with the work here at home.” I am not advocating long evenings filled with homework. There may be some, but parents need to work with the teachers and school to decide where that balance is. There may be cases where a child simply cannot keep up with those his age or may need his workload cut so he can get finished.
Let’s consider three basic counter-arguments. “Whatsoever thy hand findeth to do, do it with thy might.” Many of us were taught that the more we put ourselves into an unpleasant task, the more likely we are to actually enjoy it. Also, it does a young person good to learn to work hard even in areas of which he himself cannot see the value. Memorization and study are much easier when the child is young and he needs to be encouraged to do his best.
Secondly, there have been studies done that correlate the relationship between school grades and earning power later in life. Of course, we like to hear about the self-made man and the rags-to-riches stories, but overall, the best life performers are the ones who start by applying themselves to learning in school.
Lastly, “It’s not what you learn in school; it’s what you learn while you are learning it.” A co-teacher of mine would tell his students this. How true.
I am sure that if we were given the choice, we would want to listen to a minister who can express himself clearly. We would prefer one who has learned to search out the truth of a passage and relate it well to others. Yes, God can use even poor fisherman, but that does not excuse us from trying to better ourselves. Paul told Timothy, “Neglect not the gift that is in thee,” and Jesus commended the servants that used their talents and increased them. Education helps us do that. Learning to read well and express ourselves clearly is an invaluable asset, both in personal Bible study and in church life. It is very beneficial in learning new skills for ourselves and in teaching those skills to others.
It is also true that a well-educated person finds it easier to engage in meaningful interchange with those around him. We realize that other factors enter in, and some folks are more intellectual than others, but the individual who has learned to be intrigued by the wealth of knowledge around him has an asset that the poorly educated man does not have.
Listen to a group of learned men discuss current events or doctrinal issues and compare that to the group discussing the mundane occurrences of everyday life, and you will see this. Can we, as a brotherhood, promote a culture in which that education is valued? There is much helpful wisdom found in the brotherhood working together to educate our children.
What a blessing to see our children rise above our abilities as parents through the efforts of our school! But it will likely not happen if we do not support and appreciate those efforts. If the school and the teacher are concerned about the amount of learning our child is getting done, then we need to listen up. We need the perspective of others who are involved in our children’s lives.
There is another thing that happens as the child grows up. The ratio of new knowledge to what he already knows keeps dropping. All students are glad for first-grade reading because there is a huge jump from not knowing how to read to knowing how. But relatively few really enjoy digging into some of those lessons in Perspectives of Truth in Literature. Does he need to know all the big words in “The Bishop’s Candlesticks” or does it matter about when the moon shone where in that story? See, in high-school literature, you work a lot harder and don’t get as much back on your investment... But that does not mean that we don’t have to study things like that? Many of the deep truths of the Word of God are not on the surface, and only give themselves up to long, careful study.
So, what can be done to keep that love of learning alive?
We should make school important in our homes. Prepare our children for school. It’s not just getting them ready to go to school for first grade, but rather getting them ready for school at 8:30 Monday morning. If we value education, we will try hard to get our children plenty of sleep. There will be times we visit away and return very late Sunday night, but it should not be a regular thing. A child who struggles to stay awake the next day in school is a high price to pay for the enjoyment of a late-night visit. We send our child a valuable signal when we say, “It’s time to get to bed because tomorrow’s a school day.”
It helps to make family plans around school. When a child is struggling in school, it is a poor time to plan a family trip. Even though the cause for the trip may be worthwhile, it may be more important to stay home and get our child the help he needs. Consider seriously how much recreation we can allow our child to stay home for before he begins to reckon that activity more important than school. Our child knows if we think school is important!
Is it wise to let children still in school get wrapped up in youth activities? For one thing, we are pretty much turning them loose for a long, tiring weekend, and the results show in school. Also, we should consider the social implications of an upper-grade student being socially on the same level as a teacher or two in the school – maybe even his own teacher – and what that does for his level of respect and obedience during the week. It would be wise to consider where the limit should be in involvement with the youth at such a young age.
We should make sure our children are ready to leave for school. They can be taught to be responsible to have their lessons done and to know where their books are. “I didn’t have time,” and, “I couldn’t find my book,” are two excuses that should hardly ever be heard. Many schools give awards for being present every day. It may be wiser to give awards for no late homework.
Let’s do our best to help them with their homework. If we don’t know how to do it, learn with them! Show interest in the lesson and express our intrigue at the concepts they are mastering. Make them feel like they are accomplishing something great.
We should watch out for peer pressure in children but also among us as parents. Parents, do we have the courage to speak up in favor of the school or the administration when those around us are putting them down? Can we be the first one to leave, “Because tomorrow is a school day?” Will we be the family who will hold the line on school standards even in areas where they are under attack? That may be hard, but again, it sends a signal to our child about our commitment to the school.
Let’s listen excitedly when our child tells of what they played that day. Laugh at a funny story (assuming it really was funny. Never fall into the trap of belittling people). Defend the teacher. Not because he is above reproach, but because criticism undermines his stature in the child’s eyes and kills enthusiasm for what he is trying to teach. If the teacher was wrong, correct him the way we would want him to correct us in front of our child.
Dads should get excited about going in for school devotions! It can be a bit unnerving, but it won’t hurt us. It shows support for the school. While we are there, we should stay and visit. Do we show an interest in what is going on in our child’s day? We can also go along on school trips – children and teachers love when we do.
We should also thank the teacher for what he is doing in the hearing of our children. Let’s express our appreciation for the school and pray for it.
Over the years, I felt that we generally had very good support for schooling. Our children enjoyed school. I appreciate that very much. At the same time, without encouragement to keep it up, we are bound to spiral downward. The school has done and can do so much for the home and the church. However, Satan will do all he can to bring it down, and this begins in subtle ways.
The Kingdom of God needs writers and preachers to share the Gospel. Let us raise a generation that appreciates the value of a good, solid education and knows how to use it for the Lord.