Training the Loves

By Neil Anderson, Head of School

What if education, including higher education, is not primarily the absorption of ideas and information, but about the formation of hearts and desires? What if we began by appreciating how education not only gets into our head but also (and more fundamentally) grabs us by the gut–what the New Testament refers to as kardia, “the heart”? What if education was primarily concerned with shaping our hopes and passions–our visions of “the good life”–and not merely about the dissemination of data and information as inputs to our thinking? What if the primary work of education was the transforming of our imagination rather than the saturation of our intellect? And what if this had as much to do with our bodies as with our minds?

What if education wasn’t first and foremost about what we know, but about what we love?
~James K.A. Smith, Desiring the Kingdom

If you were to have grown up in the home I grew up in, there is a high probability that you would have come to love three things: music, books, and food. This is not because my parents taught us music theory, enrolled us in cooking classes, or had regular talks with us about the value of reading books (although those all would have been helpful things). Rather, these loves were more the product of waking up on Saturday morning to the smell of brisket smoking, realizing my dad had been outside tending to the fire since before the sun rose. They are the product of my mom blaring music as she cleaned the house while we all sang along, of dad filling the house with instruments for us to experiment with,  and of sitting down at the piano to play a few tunes while we waited for mom to finish putting on her makeup before leaving the house. And finally… books. Books filled the house. Books for birthdays. Books stacked high on my parents’ nightstand. A library filled with theological, philosophical, and practical books I could not understand but wanted to someday.

If you asked them, I don’t think my parents would say they sowed these things into us with great intentionality. Our household habits were simply a product of their loves.

James K.A. Smith, in his book Desiring the Kingdom, would call this process the training of the loves through liturgies, in this case familial liturgies. Smith’s hypothesis is simple: we are hard-wired to love and we will value and practice what we love. Therefore, when considering issues of life formation (as we are in education) we need to put much weight into how loves are shaped. Smith suggests that there are liturgies to everything: liturgies of the home, liturgies of the culture/marketplace, liturgies of the church (whether you attend a “liturgical church” or not), and also liturgies of the school. Liturgies are the regular practices, symbols, sights, smells, etc. of our main spheres of life.

Smith says, and I would tend to agree, that these practices have much more to do with our effectiveness in education than does the dissemination of information. The argument is not against the dissemination of information. This has always been a part of education and always will be. But that is just the point–it should only be a part. Smith tries to correct the flawed idea of instilling in our children a biblical worldview as if this process is completed simply by teaching students how to think about the world biblically. Smith uses the language of formative education rather than informative education.  Information is simply part of the formation process. This is why we often use the word cultivate at TCS. The formation process involves a tending to, a nourishing, a drawing out, a process of shaping and pruning. We don’t just care what students know, we care in what manner they know it. For example, I don’t just want students to know that God is the creator of all things as an answer to one of our Bible sound-off questions. I want them to experience it in our school day by how it is ordered. We inform them that God is the creator through our sound-off and we practice that God is the great initiator of all things by calling on Him to start our school days, to begin our subject changes, to begin our lunch period, etc. He is the initiator in theory and practice. In this, students generate a healthy and soul-shaping habit of looking to Christ to initiate and sustain their endeavors.

The goal then is to be about the business of training loves, attempting to nurture in students an appetite for truth, goodness, and beauty. This conversation has application in every area of our lives. We need to be aware that many of the liturgies of the broader culture have the tendency to subvert the ones of our homes, churches, and possibly schools. This does not mean we do not participate in the formative liturgies of our culture, but that at least we have an awareness that they are competing for a place in the love training department with our children.

Desiring the Kingdom is not a simple read, but a very helpful and thought provoking one. I would recommend it to you. This was the topic of our final Dads and Donuts gathering last school year and I was thankful for the thoughtfulness of TCS Dads when it comes to the formative process of TCS students. Here are some love-cultivating areas I proposed at that meeting. I would like us to think through what practices we could put into play at TCS (and in our homes) that may help cultivate these loves. The list is by no means exhaustive:

Conversation over Isolation – cultivating students who want to engage, discuss, relate, share, rather than isolate, form cliques, live with earbuds in.
Speaking over Talking – cultivating students who value rhetoric, realizing that the way they communicate can either empower or undermine what is being said.
Writing over Texting – cultivating students who love language, see it as a gift from God, and desire to use it regularly in a more beautiful way than LOL, TTYL, OMG, etc.
Learning over Studying – cultivating students who love to learn as an exercise in exploring the depths of God, not as an attempt to make the the grade.
Pages over Screens – cultivating students who would naturally gravitate towards 30 minutes in a good book over 30 minutes of youtube videos.
Civility over Hostility/Vulgarity – cultivating students who value following a code of civility (opening doors, “please” and “thank you”, “sir” and “ma’am”, ladies first, etc.) rather than viewing these things as ancient and unnecessary.
Work over Sleep/Rest– cultivating students who enjoy working while the sun is up.
Sleep/Rest over Work – cultivating students who know when to shut it off.
Real World Play over Fake World Play – cultivating students who would rather hang out and do something fun with friends than spend time with virtual friends playing virtual games.
Creating over Borrowing – cultivating students who love the work of creating new things rather than borrowing what has already been done.
Finishing/Failing over Cheating – cultivating students who finish what needs to be done when it needs to be done, or accept the consequences of unfinished work as a motivation for next time rather than taking the shortcut of cheating.
Renaissance over Specialization – cultivating students who love to seek truth, goodness, and beauty in many of the vast areas of God’s creation.
Water over Soda – cultivating students who love to put useful things into their bodies.
Competition over Winning/Losing – cultivating students who love to compete to the glory of God, seeing value in winning and losing.
Honor over Dishonor – cultivating students who value showing honor to their peers and authority figures rather than always tearing down.
Worship over Selfishness – cultivating students who love to focus outward rather than inward, particularly in devotion to Christ.

I am suggesting these loves not because they are first and foremost ingredients for mature, educated, and successful humans. I believe them to be loves in line with Christ and His kingdom, loves that will help students glorify and enjoy God. It will take a community to see the formation of these types of loves in our students, a community excited to labor towards these ends together.