Expectant faces. Blank looks. Shrugged shoulders. This describes many afternoons of my first year tutoring Essentials of the English Language for our brand new Classical Conversations Community in Keller, TX.
Rather than being the grammar “expert” for our community, I found myself many times in front of the class of Essentials students and parents, saying, “Ummmm…, I don’t know. Let me look that up.” My hot face and sweaty palms masked by my large, toothy smile often went unnoticed by parents. One parent in particular, who is now a master Essentials tutor, used to say that first year, “I have no idea what she is talking about, but man, she has a pretty smile.” I am so thankful to have been able to hide my ignorance behind pearly dente; however, I never would have made it through another year of Classical Conversations if I didn’t learn quickly that not knowing was nothing of which to be ashamed. It was all part of God knocking down my pride so I could be a humble learner.
What is a humble learner? In every Classical Conversations tutor training, tutors are asked to be a “humble learner.” Frankly, “learner” does not even require the adjective “humble.” True learning is an act which is impossible without humility.
Take for example, my son, who is now in Challenge IV. Round and round we would spin, a familiar dance with many a Challenge essay or speech. After every critique, I was met with a debate about why his idea or reason was right and how my suggestion was completely wrong. Can you relate? We would spend sometimes an hour in an escalating dispute, when finally I would give up and tell him to let me know when he was ready to receive input. It was usually then when we could start to work. Only after he humbled himself to take suggestions and allowed himself to see his work from another’s point of view could he then receive correction and learning. I had to also humble myself to teach him. I had to remember that an attitude of “my way or the highway,” did nothing to help him learn.
This is why homeschooling is so hard. It requires both the parent and child to acquire a posture of expectancy. They must hold out their hands, and humbly wait for transforming epiphanies which will change their course of thinking. This happens every day, right? I don’t know about you, but my homeschool is not peppered with children asking as Socrates did, “Please, show me where my thinking is wrong.” If only.
According to Tenelle Porter in her article “Humility Boosts Learning,”[i] intellectual humility, defined as “acknowledging the partial nature of one’s understanding and valuing others’ intelligence,” is imperative to students’ ability to sustain achievement. While one student is driven by an intellectual humility to have right thinking, another might be motivated by looking smart. Both will achieve; however, the one motivated by intellectual humility is more likely to persist when learning becomes difficult. Those students who have a willingness to learn apart from ideas that simply line up with their own will be able to sustain their learning in the long term.
The article perfectly describes the relationship Christians should have towards learning. A humble attitude, a teachable spirit, and a will to listen to others is essential to making a heart right for learning, and for making our learning an offering acceptable to God: an act of worship.
When we do this, we allow memoria—one of the five canons of rhetoric—to flourish. It is the part of rhetoric where the learner synthesizes what they know from the past. From the recesses of their memory, they fuse new learning and old to synthesize ideas and discover revelation. What we learn then becomes a part of who we are. It changes us. But if this stage of learning is not bathed in humility, learning is stunted. Achievement may come, but transformation does not.
As parents, it is our duty to model this intellectual humility. This is the only way our children have any chance of making humble learning part of their memoria. We can’t make them humble. We have to model it. If learning is only about an achievement or a grade, we limit our student’s understanding of the value of memoria—the transformation learning provides.
How wonderful it is when I hear of a student who was invested in one particular point of view, then changed their thinking after much discussion during a Challenge seminar. Because their fellow colleagues had lovingly shared truth, they ultimately came to revise their analysis of a certain aspect of God’s character. What wonderful worship! The act of thinking well, loving well, and articulating well glorified our Creator.
It is even more wonderful when I hear testimony of a parent doing the same! It is not just my students who need help in this area. Do we parents ask God every day, “Show me where my thinking is wrong?” When we ask God to change our hearts or minds, we truly learn and more importantly, commit an act of worship. “He leads the humble in what is right, and teaches the humble His way” (Psalm 25:9 ESV). Humble learning is an act of worship. It requires us to humble ourselves to a position of receiving, expecting, and changing. It breaks our will; it moves us from thinking we know to understanding we know nothing. Learning humbly makes us dependent on God.
If you are a Classical Conversations parent, you have the ability to posture yourself humbly everyday as the lead learner in your homeschool. Unfamiliar territories such as Latin, logic, and English grammar provide a landscape for intellectual humility, and provide many opportunities to show our children our dependence on God. What a gift! When we humble our intellect and achievement in learning, when we make ourselves dependent on the Lord and keep ourselves open to His revelation, not simply our own conclusions, we are able to truly worship. Moreover, we are more capable of serving Him as we become able to understand, relate to, and serve others. In today’s broken world of political pontification, humility is much needed as we bring Christ into conversations. I pray that each parent practices humility as they learn to worship God in what they learn and gain revelation through rhetoric.
[i] Porter, Tenelle. “Humility Boosts Learning.” http://www.slate.com/bigideas/what-do-we-know/essays-and-opinions/tenell…