Some of you may not know that I teach Art part-time in a sweet little private school in Winston-Salem called Redeemer School. The emphasis and thrust of this school’s philosophy is based on Charlotte Mason’s work on education. I won’t go into all of what that means other than to say that Charlotte Mason calls us as teachers (and parents) to “spread a feast” before the student, allowing them to take from it what they will. I enjoy learning more and more about Charlotte Mason’s philosophy of learning and education as I endeavor to teach art. The following is an essay that has been percolating for quite a while. I finally finished it today and I offer to any of you willing to sit with a cup of tea or coffee and have a gander at it.
Pearls Before Swine
Being a Living Teacher in a Charlotte Mason School
There are a few days out of every year of teaching where I leave my art classroom feeling like this:
Today my students engaged with gladness as I spread a feast of color, line, and shape, peppering it with connecting thoughts on the beauty of God, on our privilege to co-create with Him, and inspiration for a wonder-filled exploration in a particular medium. I walk out to my car with that good-kind-of-tired and a smile remembering the happy chatter over music in the background as they diligently worked on their art projects.
Unfortunately, this is not the case every day I teach. On more days than I would like to admit I close the door to my classroom with a pesky thought that has haunted me too many times: I’m throwing pearls before swine.
Now before you disgustedly turn away from the offending thought, I do ask that you stay with me, at least a bit more, to read what I think is a more common feeling among teachers than we may want to admit. Many days it seems as if our students, or at least some of them, respond to the feast we’ve laid out before them with either mild indifference, feigned interest, or outright disgust as they roll their figurative eyes, choose talking to their neighbor rather than engaging in the art making, slap paint around on a piece of paper without thought, and leave the classroom without caring who has to clean up after them.
Many days, despite my thoughtful reminders, the encouragements to develop a habit of organization and cleanliness, and maybe the odd out-and-out threat, I survey the classroom as they exit and it truly appears as if a herd of swine came tearing through the delectable papers, paints, glue, glitter, etc. snorting and rooting through it all with nary a nod to any of its beauty, fun, or function. The garden of art has been ransacked by a bunch of little (and big) piggies.
What I, as an art teacher, desire and diligently work toward in each class, is that my students will understand in growing measure that they ARE artists because of their Maker. And that they can and do worship Him in all they create. This is lofty, I know, in the face of glue bottles and watercolors. Yet I passionately desire them to see that they can apply all of their creative energies to any subject no matter whether they “like” it or not: they can (and ARE able to be creative) in the face of math, social studies, science, physical education, etc. And of course, in art class. Of course.
To even hint at suggesting my students are swine is offensive, I grant you. Yet the Scriptures call us sheep, an even less intelligent animal, who needs greater care, instruction and direction. What I fail to realize, when this pearls-before-swine thought emerges in my weary head, is that I, the teacher, am the chief Swine. How many times have I, as a child, a teenager, an ADULT, failed to engage in feasting on the pearls of wisdom and truth and beauty that my Father has spread before me! How many times have I feigned interest or shown mild enthusiasm or even outright rejected the feast He has provided for me. And as the Chief Swine or Sheep, I am also called to be their shepherd, leading them in surveying, sampling, and partaking of the feast before us. Together. Very much like Pigs in Slop, I am to show them first, that there really is a feast laid out before us, and second, how to dive in and enjoy, glean, and be nourished by that feast.
Perhaps on some days, the only thing that may be going on in my Pigs in Slop classroom, is that they are getting a mere taste or crumb of Beauty. It may not bowl them over. It may not be exciting to them. It may not even be fun. Nor might it be the thing that makes them want to be an Artist as a profession. But years down the road, as they are rooting and foraging through a High School or College garden, they may taste something that reminds them of our class. Maybe they won’t even know where they have tasted it before, but the remembrance of it will enhance the current taste of the feast they are in and may, just may, cause them to want more.
Lest you think that I have completely forgotten Charlotte Mason’s emphasis on the child as a person, and not as a pig, I AM encouraged by such statements as this one:
“A child is a person in whom all possibilities are present – present now at this very moment.” Charlotte Mason
We must uphold this truth about each and every one of our students, no matter how pig-headed or sheepish they may be behaving at any given moment. God Himself saw in us, despite our swineliness and sheepiness, His own beautiful image. And He was moved to love, to enter in, to pursue, to lead, to Shepherd, to teach, and to die for the persons whom He had created. The truth of Psalm 100:3 is not diminished if we change the type of animal:
“Know that the LORD is God. It is He who made us, and we are his; we are his people, the sheep (swine) of his pasture.”
And again in Psalm 95:7 “for He is our God and we are the people of his pasture, the flock (herd) under his care.”
November 15, 2012
**the above drawing is BEFORE a day gets started in my classroom!