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“The Creation of Adam” by Michelangelo.

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A Mind-to-Mind Meeting

All education in the True, Good, and Beautiful is a gift of common grace. And yet, to be wisely offered, such an education involves a set of definite practices.


Every educational philosophy is based upon an anthropology (an understanding of the nature of persons) and an epistemology (an understanding of the nature of knowledge).


At Ambleside, children are seen as complete persons, bearers of God’s image, who are created for fullness of living. Education is understood as the means of fostering this fullness of living. Children do not naturally live well. To live well, they must be “brought up,” in other words, educated.


John 1:1


The nature of knowledge.

The above quote is the first verse of John’s gospel. Consider. What if it is true? What if all things came to be through the eternal Word, the Logos? What if the world is not just a data set, or just a set of atoms following the laws of physics? What if behind all creation lies the Logos, the Divine Mind? And what if we are made to know that Mind? Even more, what if we are also made to know all that He has created, and all that other persons have created. What if it is all part of being created in the Divine image?


With this understanding of both the Word and of what it means to be persons created in the image of the Word, education is seen in a new light. We recognize the perpetual invitation to learn and to grow. Because we are profoundly social, we also recognize the need to be in relationship with others who are with us and for us. We need to be in a community that is not trying to manage us but is seeking to bring us up, in a place where we smile and are smiled upon. We need teachers who do not merely download discrete data sets into the alleged blank slates of our minds but who offer an invitation to feed on that which is True, Good, and Beautiful.


Facilitating engagement.

We need teachers who come beside us and facilitate our engagement with the great minds of literature, art, music, poetry; with the mind of God as revealed through the sciences; and with the mind of God as revealed through Scripture, prayer, and community. Such convictions suggest a vastly different view of what education is and can be. To adopt these convictions is to reject much of the educational system under which most of us have grown up.


For most of us, education meant the mastery of data sets and of certain algorithms; for example, how to solve a quadratic equation. The role of the teacher was to ensure student mastery. Mastery was assessed by the scantron test, multiple choice, fill in the blank … all easily gradable and easily quantifiable testing.


Such an approach puts students in the position of striving for mastery of data rather than delighting in knowledge. Some students do it better than others. They are deemed superior, having mastered in a superior way. This sets up a destructive dynamic between students and the world. Students find themselves engaged in a vain competition for supremacy. Rather than joyful allies, they become anxious adversaries.


In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, reacting to the dehumanizing effects of such an education, there arose constructivist philosophies of education which were deemed more respectful of persons as persons. Proponents understand education, primarily, as a means for self-actualization. In constructivist pedagogies, the role of the teacher is to provide opportunities for students to self-discover and self-express, to construct their own knowledge. This is a recipe for narcissism. Giving expression to what I think, feel, and want becomes the goal. Lost is the delightful experience of submitting to and learning from a greater mind.


In a universe where there is no God, the behaviorism of traditional American education and the constructivism of progressive education are perhaps the only two options. But if there is a God and His act of creation was an act of communication in love and if He created beings made to receive that communication, then “coming to know” is something very different. For Ambleside, “coming to know” is to come to know a mind that stands behind the particular data points.


When reading a novel by Charles Dickens or contemplating a painting by Rembrandt, we are given the delightful privilege of meeting mind to mind with a great observer of the human condition. In like manner, when we consider a blade of grass, we engage with the mind of the Creator. Real education occurs through a mind-to-mind meeting between student and a mind bigger than the student’s own.


Education is fundamentally an act of submission, not an act of mastery.


This view of education cultivates a fundamental orientation to the world — not mastery and not self-expression but a joyful submission to all that is True, Good, and Beautiful; submission to the eternal Logos, which is the source of the True, Good, and Beautiful; submission to the mind of God, in whom we live and move and have our being.


At Ambleside, we seek a renewal of Christian education. Ours is a radically different way of seeing and therefore of educating. Our philosophy makes no sense if the Christian God is not there. But we would argue that He is there, and we at Ambleside practice a method of education that takes His presence seriously.


Bill St. Cyr
Ambleside Founder and Director of Training
Ambleside Magazine