I was reminded yet again during this past Lenten season of the corollary between the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil and the Tree of Golgotha. By one, sin was made accessible to man, by the other salvation was made available to all. One of the ideas that I meditated upon in that regard was the relationship of something as “other” from me as wood and my own eternal destiny. I am not a pantheist, but rather a “creationist” in that both the wood (of Eden’s tree and Calvary’s) and myself are from the same Creator. Just as He can use me in His kingdom, so also He used wood for these specific purposes.
Of course I further developed the thought by contemplating the Son’s relation to wood, as a carpenter’s son, and how material things have been so prevalent in the education and worship of the people of God, both in the Old and New Testaments. Considering the place of wood led to thoughts of water, wine, bread, leaves, stars, dust, stone, etc. The list seems almost endless, but each of the ones just mentioned have a whole catalog of uses within Scripture.
And so we come to what seems a necessity in education – to truly understand Real reality, one must engage with things, not just with ideas. Too much of our modern notions of education seem to rely upon the idea of how things are, rather than actual interaction with those things. This is a major factor in how any school that includes “hands on” instruction adds to its cultivation of wisdom in the child. But we must walk carefully here.
In one of my many school experiences we adopted a “hand’s on” science curriculum (K-8) that had us gathering “stuff” to use in the various experiments called for. At first, I thought this was answering the call to interact with nature. But then I considered that when nature is removed from its context it is at best an artifact, not actually in nature, but removed from it. So when the removal of the proverbial frog from the pond into the lab meant rather that we observed a dead frog (or a bored one – being out of its context) which is not a “real” frog at all. The only way to get around this was to argue that the “thing” by itself was worthy of study much more so than observing the thing within its community. This is certainly safer, easier, and frankly in most cases less “gross.” But it is not what I have been arguing for.
Students need to see the relationship between themselves, other things, and the created order of this world, of reality, not simply cut things up in the lab.
I am not arguing against the lab, but I am arguing that the use of the lab is limited and not nearly as cultivating of wisdom or virtue as a walk in the woods or a good seat on a log by the pond. Charlotte Mason is great on this point. Such observation en media res (Lat., literally into the middle of affairs) is not a fully autodidactic experience, however. The student must be taught how to observe, how find the connections that exist in what they observe (this in particular is where the true study of “ideas” comes in), and how to pursue truth as it is found in nature.
So again, my thoughts go to a school setting on a farm. The daily routines of farm life would teach a wealth of this kind of understanding that leads to wisdom. The task of the school would be relate these lessons to what is studied, and to learn to measure this wisdom in an appropriate way. There is no machine gradable test for one’s knowledge of cow excrement, but stinky boots certainly come closer.