My adorable four year old friend was running around today bare-chested, in shorts, with a sweatband around his head and a pointy leaf tucked in. He was obviously a native American from one of his historical stories. He was fishing in the living room when his sister tattled that he had commandeered kitchen utensils and put them in his “teepee”. His mother asked if a man of his tribe would have needed an avocado peeler. His confident answer was that it was perfect for scraping his animals hides. This little guy was playing knowledge into understanding. Knowledge is a precious gift to him. This is what love of knowledge looks like.
In my post Is Knowledge Power or Love? I challenged my readers to contemplate Parker Palmer’s question of whether they present knowledge as a thing to be mastered and used to get what we want or as a gift to be loved. Because, as I explained, The end game of knowledge is virtue, not usefulness: Knowledge is the first step to wisdom, it requires us to humble ourselves and relate to it rather than control it and use it for our own purposes. I hope you have thought about it. But I have also been asked a related question that tired and busy moms deserve an answer to: What does treating knowledge as a gift look like at my house, practically speaking?
I want to be careful not to get too utilitarian, because it should look a different for each family. It will develop as you think about the question of “do I treat knowledge as a gift?”, and as you ask yourself questions like these: In mastery of fractions, do we lose sight of cultivating a love for math and God’s nature of order and perfection revealed in it? Do we make history into dry facts and fail to cultivate a love of history and God’s nature of constancy revealed in it? We stop reading good literature after college because no one pays us to do it, and then do we fail to cultivate a love of the written word and God’s creative nature revealed in it?
Our children need truth presented to them in ways they can understand. That is usually in a narrative or story form. Intuitively we know this. We do not start introducing our babies to the Bible through systematic theology textbooks. We start with the interesting stories in the Bible. Try cracking open the book of Romans with toddler. You wouldn’t dream of it. But marching around the walls of Jericho is something they can get into.
And children need to be read to at every age! We tend to stop reading to them when they are reading well on their own. But in failing to read to them above their own reading level we not only miss out on improving their reading and vocabulary, we lose the opportunity to create a family culture of shared experiences and ideas.
Reading aloud has created some amazing opportunities to have important discussions with my kids. For instance, when we read aloud Charles Dicken’s classic, Oliver Twist, my daughter’s frustration with the tragic character Nancy, who returns to abusive Bill, and is eventually murdered by him, gave us the opportunity to talk about domestic violence, battered woman, and sex trafficking. The Victorian novel was a much gentler introduction to these sad realities than graphic news headlines.
After you have given your children something noble to think about, then they need quiet, alone, preferably outdoor thinking space to chew on knowledge. Children don’t need more busier schedules with more activities. They need to think in order to make connections and internalize concepts.
Last week I asked: Do you wonder why this generation doesn’t seem to appreciate art museums, symphonies, and ballets? While they still like to draw and sing and dance? And the answer is contemplation. The museum is not useful in the immediate. It is designed for contemplation. Kids will naturally contemplate as they play. It is adults, who absurdly find our identities in our usefulness to other people, or in other words, our own business/busyness, who do not value contemplation. We actually train our children out of it. I have been guilty of it this myself.
Children need to act out the stories they hear. They play knowledge to turn it into understanding. And they will do this naturally. If you give them good stories to think about, they will act out those stories. My friend’s son (the teepee dweller) proved this again just the other day. After Treasure Island her four year old went right out, in his own interpretation of a pirate costume, and played for hours.
They need to discuss in a million different ways, the big ideas with you – especially middle schoolers. They are going to ask you questions anyway, might as well help them as meaningful ones. Axis.org has a free newsletter called The Culture Translator. This email talks about the latest video games, music releases, movies, and headlines, and helps you use them to start conversations with your teens about the big issues.
Dannah Gresh has written a marvelous book called Six Ways to Keep the Little in Your Girl. I think every parent of a little girl should read it. As a matter of fact, I wish they had a stack in every birthing room in the U.S. and when they said, “It’s a girl!” someone would hand you a copy. Her synthesization of the research on what keeps girls innocent and protects them from early sexualization is a sorely needed voice of hope and reason in our sex saturated culture. One of her most important mandates is to let girls role play and play with dolls.
Humans learn and become virtuous by imitation. Role playing and dolls allow them to practice virtue – or whatever they are learning from you. I remember my middle daughter in her little car seat at three years old. Someone cut me off in traffic and her squeaky little voice piped up from the back seat, “Mama, is that an idiot, too?” Hey, it could have been worse! I am glad my mouth was clean, even if my heart was not.
As pure and sweet as that newborn seems, anyone who has raised a toddler knows, as soon as they can talk, walk, or even gesture, they clearly demonstrate that children are born selfish. We work hard to teach them to share. It doesn’t come naturally. They require training in virtue. And they learn by watching and then imitating their family.
Practice and model contemplation. Do we have any space for thinking in our lives? Is God’s Word cracked open every day? Do our lives tell our kids that we live for safety, security and success?
The interesting thing is that we always learn in the same order. This order corresponds to the three steps I have been discussing: knowledge, understanding, and wisdom. The process looks something like this:
Knowledge: Perception with the senses. What is this?
Understanding: Grasping an idea in the mind. Why? What do I think about this?
Wisdom: Re-creating the idea in a new form. Using it, trying it out.
Classical education often calls this the Grammar, Dialectic and Rhetoric stages of learning, from Dorothy Sayers essay, Lost Tools of Learning. But they are essentially the biblical ideas of knowledge, understanding, and wisdom.
Ultimately the love of knowledge should lead us to love for the Creator of knowledge. The late theologian, R. C. Sproul put the pursuit of knowledge in frank, practical perspective when he stated, “The purpose for learning the things of God is the acquisition of wisdom, and we cannot have wisdom without knowledge. Ignorance breeds foolishness, but true knowledge — the knowledge of God — leads to the wisdom that is more precious than rubies and pearls. We want to be rich, successful, and comfortable, but we do not long for wisdom. Thus, we do not read the Scriptures, the supreme textbook of wisdom. This is foolishness. Let us pursue the knowledge of God through the Word of God, for in that way we will find wisdom to live lives that please Him.” And that my friends, is the goal of all knowledge as a gift – virtue, looking more like Jesus every day.
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