We saw that the study of Euclid can serve as an archetype of contemplative learning and that learning is itself personal and Trinitarian. Let’s slow down now and reflect upon how this might influence our own learning and teaching.
Further Up and Further In
Personal learning implies depth, depth which emerges in dialogue, and this requires more than frozen facts. Dialogue involves speech.
All learning involves some level of communication.Whether learning about art, math, nature, engineering, or electronics, dialogue will occur.
We should not be surprised that the whole of creation speaks. Scripture says that it speaks of the glory of God (Psalm 19). Every reality, in itself and when taken as a part of the whole cosmos, speaks of the handiwork of God. This speech communicates something of its own reality and, simultaneously, something of the Creator.
One implication of this is that we can always go deeper. There is always more of the dialogue to unfold. This more-ness refers not so much to a quantitative process as a to qualitative one–something more like gratitude than acquisition. The learner can always come into fuller relationship with God and His creation.
Such contemplative learning corresponds to a spousal relationship in which a couple draws nearer to one another in greater appreciation and discovery.
We enter into marriage having only just begun to know and to love. Such relationships are meant to yield their treasures over time. They develop and deepen, not simply because we age, but because at the heart of the human mystery is the infinite mystery of the love of God. By His grace, marriage is a practice in the hope of beholding a “beauty ever ancient, ever new.”
Emergence of Logos
We honor this process when we encourage a dynamic relationship between subject and object. Hearken back to the first post on Euclid, where students needed to navigate between text and intuition. In that post, we discussed the need to discover and develop a mediatory logos between the text and insight.*
When a student first encounters a text (or any object of study), it appears strange, but over time, such a student will come to be familiar with it. He may even experience insight into its nature (a flash of relationship). But the culmination of this labor is not the flash of insight or even the memorization of the text. It is the emergence of an inner logos which mediates between subject and object, between insight and construction. When he can finally articulate such a logos, when he himself can speak with understanding, we can trust that a fruitful relationship has been formed. The student has come into a quasi-personal relationship with text.
As teachers and learners, we can help facilitate this experience by assessing where a student is in this process (judging how complete an account she can give, how well she understands her own account, and by helping her discover what she is lacking).
The learning process can become an ongoing inter-subjective dialogue in which we come to know God, the creation, and ourselves better. This happens by renewing, testing, and correcting ourselves in light of a personal model of learning.
As teachers and co-learners, we return again and again to this goal of depth by evaluating the learning process from a Trinitarian perspective, in seeking to cultivate a deeper relationship between subject and object. As we practice this method, we grow in our ability to assess whether a student’s (and our own) engagement is personal or merely mechanic.
Mentor and Friend
Because the journey is ongoing, the distinction between teacher and student remains semi-fluid. We all know what it is like to struggle, to be confused or frustrated, even to be bored or discouraged.
We can therefore empathize with students and come alongside them, not as professors or lecturers, but as fellows. We follow a well-trodden path when we come alongside students as co-learners, as brethren (Matthew 23:8).
We love because because he first loved us (1st John 4:19).
Just as the Son of God became man and came to us for the sake of our salvation, the teacher is in a position to come down to their students in empathic and intellectual vulnerability. This does not mean that we forgo our responsibility as bearers of truth, but that we follow in the cruciform pattern. We follow the very Person of Truth who raised up the lowly, not from on high, but in humbling himself.
For teachers, this humility takes many forms including creativity, patience, repetition, role-playing, expressed sympathy and encouragement, correction, and imaginative problem solving in which we continually put ourselves in our students place in order to see where we can change and improve our own work.
One way of thinking about this is making a space for God’s presence in the hearts and minds of everyone in the classroom.
While the relationship between subject and object is being encouraged, there are other Trinitarian relationships which should be nurtured in the course of study, including that between mentor and student and between student and God.
We cannot experience this much if we are not pursuing this in our own lives.
Triangulating Between Triangles: Practical Self-Evaluation
A word about triangles.
Triangulating in relationships is bad because it amounts to avoiding the things we need to confront. But in learning, triangulation means allowing the diverse natural, developmental, and relational processes to unfold
Learning happens not by force, but grace (cf. On the Teacher), and so our job as learners and teachers is to stay appropriately engaged. This is accomplished in all manner of ways, some counter-intuitive.
For instance: Is a child having trouble with a particular lesson, go for a walk! Take a break. Come back to it fresh. Allow the formation to occur. Rest and return. There is nothing quite like relaxing the mind to find the work has been graciously accomplished for us, or a missing piece has been brought to our attention.
Remember to assess for all three aspects, (subject, object, and relationship) in Trinitarian Education.
Subject: Is the learner hungry? Emotionally distracted? Tired? Sick? Scared? Age appropriate? Have they had a break ? Are they overwhelmed? Have they been encouraged? Do they feel loved and accepted whether they succeed or fail?
Object: Has the study material been presented clearly? Have you tried multiple means of presentation? Which does the child respond to best? Is the object clearly distinguished from others? What might be confused (names, qualities, variables, order, etc.)?
Relationship: Are you trying to force the relationship between subject and object? Have you allowed time and repetition to do its work? Have you talked to other teachers or parents in order to judge how long this might take? Do you recognize the importance of rest? Have you provided space for the ‘aha‘? Have you prayed for insight and patience? Have you prayed for the student?
While allowing God to do the real work, have allowed Him to work on you? What characteristic of God is lacking in the “classroom”?
Are you allowing the student to learn, and not making yourself the center? Will they see the gracious miracle? Will this experience help them to trust God to show up throughout their lives?
*The idea of joining the ‘aha!’ to an account (a logos), particularly as depicted in Euclid and this Gerard Manley Hopkins poem was presented to me by Joseph Keating, a good friend and fellow graduate student at St. John’s College in Annapolis Maryland.