This is part of the ongoing discussion with Cindy at Ordo-Amoris.
Stratford Caldecott devotes this chapter to describing the nature of the personhood of the child and how teacher and child interrelate with one another and with God.
Child-Centered vs Teacher-Centered Approach to Education
Caldecott points out fairly the devastating effects of over-emphasizing either the child or the teacher/method/curriculum. “[Romantic] educators believe that too much rote learning and compulsion will turn children against education altogether—and in Catholic circles away from the church. Whereas, too much child-centered education results in “such absurdities as pupils being given certificates of recognition for ‘future achievements’ that may never happen and refusal to award low grades or admit failure…[resulting in] narcissism, overconfidence, and vacuous sentimentality” (19).
So how do we find a new balance, a new approach that does justice to the positive in both of these methods of education? (20)
For Caldecott, the answer lies in attending to a specifically Christian definition of what it means to be a child. This is why the public school system can never get education right. It’s not just a middle-ground between child- or teacher-centered education we should seek, it’s that government bureaucrats can only define the child in psychological, social, or developmental terms, certainly never spiritual. Caldecott says the child shows the image of God better than the adult–a sort-of more pure form of human. “It is the central image of man, a sign and pointer towards his origin and the purity of his original being” (27).
At first, I was skeptical of this claim, being a firm believer that children are sinners just like the rest of us. Anyone who’s ever parented through the terrible-twos can clearly see how ungodly even the cutest of children are.
Caldecott, thank goodness, says “This is not to romanticize or idealize childhood, but to understand it in the light of a new fact: the Incarnation of the second person of the divine Trinity” (26). That Christ came to us in the form of a child–a fetus no less–shows us that even that bit of humanity is redeemed and within reach of the eternal, ever-loving God of the Universe. The Lord of Heaven and Earth humbled himself to the point of total dependence on earthly parents. Yikes.
But children do have a strange way of seeing the world. Call it innocence, call it purity, call it trust. In all our work to form them into adults like us, sometimes we fail to realize how different children really are from us. We must pay attention to the fact that there is something inherent in childhood that Christ wants us to imitate, when He said, “Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it” (Mark 10:15).
I love what Cindy said about “the way we really learn in sprints and spurts and rests,” and, “Learning is ALWAYS individual because of the nature of growth.” This is a radical idea even to homeschooling parents. Don’t we “need” to be doing 5 lessons per week, for X number of weeks, to “stay on track?” No, there’s nothing wrong with hitting benchmarks on the way to long-term goals, but LIFE happens, and people aren’t machines.
I also like the way the veteran journalism teacher says it in this new HSLDA video on Common Core. “They’re not apples, they’re people!” That is, they’re not objects to be traded or consumed, or pushed along an assembly line toward a college degree and successful career. They are living beings with hearts and dreams, who trust easily and are purer than ourselves.
So how shall we teach such beings? I’m sure Caldecott will spend the rest of the book fleshing this out but he says, “If attention to the child is the key to the teacher’s success, it is the child’s own quality of attention that is the key to the learning process” (30).
The teacher’s purpose is to help the student “attend” to truth. “Attention is desire: it is the desire for light, for truth, for understanding, for possession” (30). If the nature of a child is to trust and believe more easily than us, we simply need to direct their trusting and belief toward truth.
We’ll see what Caldecott has in store for us in Chapter 2.