Cultivating a Holy Curiosity
“Only the careless and unskilled teacher answers questions before they are asked. The teacher’s chief task is to provoke the question, not to answer it; to cultivate in his students an active curiosity, not to inundate them in factual information.” David V. Hicks, Norms and Nobility
There are not many things that instill terror in me more right now than the thought that I could be a careless or unskilled teacher to my students. Full disclosure: I teach my own kids; I’m a homeschool mom. I know.
We can teach our students three things: truths, skills, and content. It’s easy to get caught up in teaching the content my kids should know, or the skills they need to acquire, and therefore answer questions they aren’t yet asking. This actually misses the most important part of educating them — getting them to perceive truths.
When I start with content or skills, they ask questions, for sure:
Do I have to learn fractions?
Do I have to study Latin?
Do I have to read about Napoleon?
Do I have to memorize Shakespeare?
Are you sensing a pattern here? Because I am. The answer to all of these questions is, obviously, “yes.”
These are the kinds of questions they ask when I have started by inundating them with facts without showing them the point — to perceive the truths those facts point to. How do I know if I’m provoking questions — and more importantly, provoking the right ones? Pass me a paper bag to breathe into, please.
These are the questions I am learning to ask them every day:
You tell me, why do we learn fractions/study Latin/read about Napoleon/memorize Shakespeare?
What do you think?
What should we study; what should we place in front of ourselves to ponder?
Is there something more important about these things than the use we will get out of them?
Is there something good, beautiful, and true about those things?
Do they show us something about the world? About God?
How can we allow these things to transform us?
Do they discipline our minds?
Do they order our souls?
How do you know?
Should Helena have run after Demetrius (who was running after Hermia) when he didn’t love her and was so cruel to her? Should Oberon have tricked Titania, his wife, and caused her to fall in love with another? Was that a wise thing to do? Yes, OK, it was funny — Bottom’s an ass. Yes, I get the joke. Yes, you can say “ass.” But was it wise? Do you agree with Shakespeare that love is a fickle thing? Should it be?
I cannot teach my children to be curious and have a yearning to know truth if I do not have it myself, and more so, if I do not model it for them. They will only learn when the way is shown to them, imitated for them, a path laid out for then them follow. They need to be shown the way.
If we are made in the image of God, if we are the very reflection of the Creator of the Universe, then we, too, should put ourselves forth as something to imitate.
Terrifying prospect, I know. Daily, I model — both the good and the bad — of what it means to be a human and to live into my full humanity, my Imago Dei. I strive, I struggle, I ask forgiveness, I reroute myself.
It is my job to cultivate a holy curiosity in my children, to get them not to just ask questions, but to ask the right ones, the normative ones, the ones that will mold their hearts and shape their souls. If I’m doing my job well, I will guide my children to a desire for truth, knowledge, wisdom, and virtue because I will be doing it first. If I can do that, bumbling my way through as it may be, then they will be truly educated, and truly human. Fully in the image of God.
For really, they already are.
This was first published on Cara Meredith’s blog.