Tuesday, January 21, 2014

DtK - Section 2 - Overview to forming our loves

Desiring the Kingdom Book Club

We are pressing on in chapter 1 of Desiring the Kingdom by James K.A. Smith.   Read others comments over at Simply Convivial.


This section talks about how our love is always aimed at something.  It is intentional.  Honestly, this section made me think about teaching "critical thinking" skills.  I have spent a lot of time in, around and learning about teaching "gifted" children.  One of the primary things that they focus on is developing creative and critical thinking skills.  They teach kids phrases like S.C.A.M.P.E.R.  to help students to be more thoughtful.  Now that I look at it again, I see that in some ways it is teaching the tools of invention that Kern draws on in Lost Tools of Learning.  Anyhow.

James' point is that "we can never just "think"; I will necessarily be thinking of . . . something".  Honestly, this is where modern education comes to a screeching halt.  Since we don't really teach kids facts (rote memory is bad), nor do we read them full stories; they don't have much to think about.  Sure they can SCAMPER but what are they thinking about if they don't have any information beyond what they can find on their own. This is why critical thinking skills can only take you so far - you need something to think about.  If you have something memorized - all the better - you can think about it wherever you are.

The next part talks about the aim of our love - the telos.  Here he says
a vision of the good life captures our hearts and imagination not by providing a set of rules or ideas, but by painting a picture of what it looks like for us to flourish and live well.  This is why such pictures are communicated most powerfully in stories, legends, myths, plays, novels and films rather than dissertations, messages and monographs.  
Honestly, I think this is what I enjoyed most about Mr. Kern's talk last week.  He has a way of helping you hear the story of God's love for you, through things you have read before, in a new way.  He paints a picture of the relationship God desires with you - through his son - in a very concrete and inviting way.  His look at Luke 12:37 - where the master (Jesus) serves us is amazing.  His focus on God's desire to teach us through analogy - story - parable - is so in keeping with this idea of how we develop a vision of the good life.  How do I capture my child's imagination in a world that is constantly showing a totally different story - with pictures and videos and song and dance.

This is also why I can't stand the fact that we teach lots of modern writers to high school students.  Why do we need to increase student's vision of alienation and separation?  I could go on about this - maybe another day.


Here he asserts that "the virtuous person is someone who has an almost automatic disposition to do the right thing "without thinking about it".  He talks about how "it's made, not some kind of 'hard wiring'.   And this is where your anthropology makes a huge impact.  If you believe that people are basically good and born that way then why would you have to learn habits of goodness?  If you believe that men are evil then you would expect a constant need to train in habits of righteousness.  Honestly, I still struggle with this because I spent so long in the world of early childhood education where kids are good and we need to follow their impulses.

One of the things that wasn't very "Montessori" about the school that I worked with was that she was old school and believed in training kids to be good.  She constantly talked with them about self control and being in charge of themselves.  She had VERY HIGH standards and I struggled watching her because this old song of "let kids be kids" played in my head.  She was right and I was naive.

His baseball analogy to forming habits was helpful to me.  Most of my summer vacations were spent at baseball fields.  My brother was VERY disciplined and he practiced those grounders over and over.  We had a batting cage in our backyard.  My dad was more of a basketball player and he talked about "muscle memory".   Often, he focused on throwing free throw shots.  You just practice and practice so that when the moment comes your body is in the habit of doing it correctly.  At my small high school I was on the basketball team and I was called "swishy" - because I was pretty good at free throws.  Mostly, because I practiced a lot in our driveway while studying for tests. That was the ONLY part of basketball I was good at, by the way.  

I like the way he is laying out his definitions and look forward to more application.


  1. Do you think it has to be either/or with regards to what one believes about children and good and evil? I think of we consider children to be persons then we have to acknowledge that they have the capacity to do both good and bad because they are created in the image of God, but at the same time the world is fallen and we are all prone to sin. So the good habits have to be formed in order to help maximize the good tendencies and minimize the bad as much as possible, but I don't think we have to have a view that says man is inherently evil. (Maybe you weren't meaning to be that extreme with what you wrote? Perhaps I read more into it than was there...) :-)

    1. I think I am still trying to find a livable way in the midst of the paradox of our original glory and our fallen nature. I don't think I meant to be that extreme - so I do need to choose my words more carefully. Part of what I am currently learning and trying to really "get" is that God is not a moralist - he seeks the repentant. I am trying to figure out how to not pass on perfectionism but instead a "run to Jesus" attitude. So I am still in the midst of figuring this out. I appreciate thoughtful conversation about it.

    2. Yes, repentance. The literal turning around and going in the exact opposite direction of where you were heading before. It strikes me that perhaps that is THE habit to cultivate in our children. Of course it would be wonderful to start on track in the first place, but the reality is that we all mess up (most of us a lot), and at least if we know how to repent we can begin again in the right direction.

    3. Whoops - I meant to say *stay* on track above, not start on track. :)

    4. Repentance as a habit - that is a good thought.

      Image of God & our fallen nature is a difficult paradox to maintain. Even though all are fallen, and none naturally seek after God, neither is any as evil as he could be. There is common grace, and God has made the world such that morality is still a Good, even though it cannot save.

      I have seen many "don't have anything to think about" students when teaching writing – and they were even homeschooled kids! I really had no idea what I could do with them. I could teach them writing strategies, but they had no material to work with, even as high schoolers, beyond making bald assertions. Such experiences confirmed in our house a "no time is wasted which is spent reading or listening" philosophy. :)

  2. Okay, this conversation just reminded me of an old bog post by Dr. George Grant. I dug it up to share: http://grantian.blogspot.com/2005/08/repentance.html

    Grant says that education IS repentance...and he says it beautifully, so it is worth reading. :)

  3. Great article. Thanks for linking it! I'm brought back to N&N again, when he quotes John Ruskin saying "Education does not mean teaching people to know what they do not know; it means teaching them to behave as they do not behave."

  4. Y'all are stealing my thunder. :) I'm working on the "Repentance" education principle for life and hoping to publish it Friday. :)

  5. lol :) I love how true themes recur and intersect and shed light on one another. I wasn't expecting my Friday post to tie in to the book club, but I am thrilled to see it happen!

  6. We have been celebrating a 2 yo birthday today so I have been busy. I have heard both Bill St. Cyr (of Ambleside International) and Andrew Kern (Circe Institute) talk about repentance as the key to education. Kern focused on the fact that learning can't begin without repentance because you have to realize that you are wrong or that you don't know something before you can start learning. This is one reason education is a difficult endeavor for the learner because it constantly puts them on the edge of the unknown. I had never really thought about it that way before. I too look forward to your thoughts Mystie. Kern's thoughts might have been in this lecture: http://www.societyforclassicallearning.org/images/confintro/2013/scl13-A2-kern-history%20of%20ancient%20and%20medieval%20ed.mp3. St. Cyr was in a lecture I attended.