Consider Humility

Happy Days
Elizabeth Nourse, 1905.

Karen Glass’ Consider This has been my audio book of choice while I attempt to get some “schole everyday” and kitchen cleaning accomplished simultaneously. The opening illustration in chapter 4 caused me to pause, grimy dish in hand, as I was loading the dishwasher. Glass writes:

If we think of education as a journey whose destination is virtue or wisdom, then we may compare it to a real life journey. If I say, “Rome is my destination: I want to arrive in Rome,” I must lay out a plan for reaching that goal. The very first thing I need to do – and it is so obvious, it is easy to overlook – is to realize that I am not in Rome. I want to be there, but I am not there, and I will have to do something and expend some effort of time, money, planning, and energy to reach my desired destination. 

This is obvious in the case of a physical journey, but the intellectual and moral journey we want to make toward wisdom and virtue requires a similar recognition, and that is this: I do not have wisdom. I want to know, but I do not yet know. There is still something to be learned.

Yes! I exclaimed to my dirty pots. This is what I want for my children. I want them to recognize that there is always something more to be learned and that a posture of humility allows learning to happen. I want them to be equipped with the skills to be able to learn anything and the attitude that believes that no pursuit of knowledge is above their interest or grasp. 

But then the thought quickly followed: What about me? How does humility affect me, not only as a life-long learner, but also as an educator?

Each second Wednesday, I get to host a group of like-minded women as we read (slowly and with savor) Charlotte Mason’s volumes together. Discussion invariably shifts from principle to practice. How do we make sure we’re doing narration well? What about the child who takes little interest in nature study? Should we follow a CM approach while also keeping tabs on what our kids might need for modern higher education? What about the topics that we feel less than confident teaching?  

We find help in commiseration, but a common fear seems to lurk behind the conversation. I sense that we somehow feel that we must be proficient in all necessary subjects – and know how to teach them correctly – or we will fail in educating our children. I feel acutely that I am forced to “know that I do not know.” This can be scary.

Now, as I ponder Glass’ comments, I wonder: would a posture of humility help shift my perspective away from this pervasive fear of not knowing enough or being enough?

 I believe that a posture of humility allows me to model learning right alongside my children. When a child gets bogged down with a math problem and I realize that I have never actually taught anyone how to do long division, I don’t have to panic. I can humble myself and spend time learning how to teach this math skill. When we take our nature journals out in the backyard, I can humbly join my children and learn new observation skills right along with them. And when diagramming sentences threatens to make us all start crying, I can pass the kleenex, take a deep breath, and say, “We want to know, but we don’t know yet.” I don’t have to be afraid of lack of knowledge if I am a willing, humble learner. 

In taking a humble position as an educator, I have to admit that others know more than I do. It is essential that as I seek to grow in my own understanding, I rely increasingly on the expertise of those who have gone before me down this educational path. And I must also be willing to outsource to those who have dedicated time and energy to specific fields – whether it be to art lessons at the local art museum, or science labs taught by my science teacher father, or current event discussions led by my husband. I don’t have to be afraid of having to do it all.

Finally (and this is the trickiest of all for me to swallow), a posture of humility as an educator assumes that I won’t get everything right.  We might never learn a certain handicraft together, and I might pick the “wrong” geography book, and maybe a child won’t ever be fluent in a second language. The fact is, I won’t possibly be able to teach them everything there is to know by the time they finish formal lessons in our home. I won’t even be able to adequately meet the needs of four widely different personalities with their varied interests. There will be gaps. As a second-generation homeschooler, I know this by experience – and I am confident that everyone, no matter their type of education, is aware of their own knowledge gaps.  However, I do feel that if I wanted to learn more, I could. If I wanted to take a deeper dive into music theory or dip my toes into the waters of advanced math, I could. If my children continue to grow into the “I want to know, but I do not yet know” mindset, I can trust that they will be equipped to learn for the rest of their lives. I do not have to be afraid of those educational gaps. 

Glass says that “…humility is vital to the pursuit of virtue because it keeps us teachable.” Perhaps this is the greatest thing that homeschooling my children has done for me. It has forced me to recognize that even though I am responsible for teaching my children, there is still so much to be learned. Homeschooling is the daily drive to be increasingly humble. And if humility keeps me teachable, then this is exactly where I want to be.

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