The Interested, Interesting Student

Train a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not turn from it.
– Proverbs 22:6

A friend once gave me this advice about raising children: “Fill their lives with worthwhile activities, and they will grow up to be interested and interesting people.” Those who cultivate worthy interests are interesting people to have as friends, he said. I was glad to have him as a friend.

My wife Mary and I took his advice to heart. Early on our children were involved in all kinds of interesting activities. At the Christian school they sang in the choir, acted in the school plays, and played whatever sports were in season. At home they took lessons on various instruments and participated in programs at church. Later, most of them took a gap year between high school and college to do missions work, mainly in Africa.

C. S. Lewis writes that we insist on living impoverished lives. We are far too easily pleased like an “ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea.” Today the media culture surrounds us with much to dazzle our senses. Many children spend more hours each week texting, surfing the internet and playing video games than they do in school. Will extensive media exposure make them interesting people?

Though she lived before the television age, Charlotte Mason would counsel us otherwise. Take young students on nature walks, she advised. Let them learn to pay close attention to what they see. Let them take in color, shape, texture, size, movement, and then describe the experience in detail through words and water coloring. Nothing vague or general. Students need to cultivate the discipline of close observation. In the same way, students can learn to listen closely to music and to study notable paintings. A child who carefully studies objects this way will remember them for life, Mason contends.

Some time ago, I took my grandson, then seven, to a museum to test Mason’s ideas about picture study. For twenty minutes my grandson studied a landscape painting of a seventeenth century Dutch artist. Next he turned from the painting and made a written list of what he remembered from the painting (the number of dogs, cows, horses, wagons, birds in the sky). Six months later, he was able to recollect substantially all of what he observed in those twenty minutes. Not quite a lifetime yet, but I was impressed. Interesting people fill their minds with worthwhile experiences and can talk about them.

What prompted the writer of the Proverbs to marvel at the way of an eagle in the sky, the way of a snake on a rock, the way of a ship on the high seas, and the way of a man with a maiden? Close observation, I think, with a keen and interested eye, alive to the way God has made the world.

Teachers in Christian schools want their students to excel in their studies. They do need to acquire the requisite knowledge and skills for living. But school shouldn’t become a grind, devoid of pleasure. Activities that stretch students in new ways and arouse their curiosity may well launch them into the world as interesting people. They’ll be ready to take up the offer of a holiday at the sea.

‘Tis education forms the common mind, just as the twig is bent, the tree’s inclined.
– Alexander Pope

Stephen Kaufmann
Covenant College