Today’s ‘Imago Dei.’ post is from our friend Jen Snow. If you are new to the Imago Dei series then you should know how it began. The Imago Dei series is all about you and your story as you have encountered the truly human things that transform us more into the image of our Creator. I first had the idea for this series shortly after launching this blog, but did not know exactly how it was to look. Then, I received a gracious gift, an email from a fellow Christian classical mom sharing her story. Immediately I was taken and knew that our series had found its form. Let the series continue.
Here is Jen’s Story
I knew I was destined to be a teacher from the time I was very young. All my favorite book heroines grew up to become teachers, after all. I taught my first ‘class’ when I was about 8 years old to a room full of stuffed animals and my four year old sister using a discarded math textbook…a game I played often, or at least as often as my sister would co-operate. When it came time for me to decide on a major in college, elementary education was the obvious natural choice.
Truth be told, as time went on, I pretty much hated being an education major. All that theory and how-to business – there was nothing at all life giving about it. But I loved the practicums where I actually got to get in the classroom and work with students. I would go into my ‘teacher mode’ and a light would come on inside of me. I knew that I had truly found my calling.
After graduation, I taught sixth grade for four years at a Christian international school for missionary children in Papua New Guinea. I look back on those years fondly. I loved my work. I loved my students. I loved my fellow staff members at the school where I taught. At the same time, however, I had a niggling sense that there was something not quite right. Although this was a Christian school, we mostly used secular textbooks. (Most of the typical textbooks published for use in Christian schools have far too strong of an American slant to be appropriate for a student body as international as ours was.) It was up to the teacher to bring a ‘Christian perspective’ to the subjects being taught. We even had a staff development seminar one year on how to integrate the Bible across the curriculum. It was a great idea, really it was. But it felt very forced to me, very contrived. Yet, I didn’t know what else could be done. Nothing in my previous educational experiences or teacher training gave me any other principles or ideas to think through what it truly meant to be a Christian educator or to teach in a Christian paradigm.
[box] Yet, I didn’t know what else could be done. Nothing in my previous educational experiences or teacher training gave me any other principles or ideas to think through what it truly meant to be a Christian educator or to teach in a Christian paradigm.[/box]
I left full-time classroom teaching after my oldest daughter was born. Two more children followed quickly after her. Somewhere in the midst of that blur of pregnancies, babies, nursing, and toddlers, my husband and I made the decision to homeschool. I had been a classroom teacher and knew how difficult it was for one teacher to adequately meet the unique needs of many students. I wanted to be able to give my children the one-on-one attention they needed. So I began researching curriculum. I had never been a big fan of the textbook-workbook approach and knew that I wanted something more literature based. Somewhere along the line in my research I came across the name Charlotte Mason for the first time. It wasn’t a moment too soon, either. I had already started doing my own unit-study style preschool with my oldest child, then about 4-1/2, and was already getting burned out on homeschooling before I had really gotten started. It was freeing to realize that a rich and full education could be had by reading good books, appreciating art and music, spending time outside in nature, with some reading and math lessons added in as the child was ready.
Intrigued by these new ideas I was discovering, I began reading everything about Charlotte Mason I could get my hands on – books, blogs, forums. The more I read about Charlotte Mason’s ideas, the more they resonated with me. Children being born persons, a rich and full education based on true, beautiful, and good ideas that feed the soul, the teacher spreading the feast and letting the child make their own connections… A link from someone at the Ambleside Online Forum led me to the Circe Institute, where I discovered that Charlotte’s ideas are just one expression of the centuries old classical liberal arts tradition – one that sought to cultivate wisdom and virtue in the student. It was a wonderful new world of ideas and so very different from anything I had heard before. I knew intuitively that these ideas were what had been missing in my teaching before and that THIS was the education that I wanted to give my children.
[box] I discovered that Charlotte’s ideas are just one expression of the centuries old classical liberal arts tradition – one that sought to cultivate wisdom and virtue in the student. It was a wonderful new world of ideas and so very different from anything I had heard before. I knew intuitively that these ideas were what had been missing in my teaching before and that THIS was the education that I wanted to give my children.[/box]
As much as these ideas resonated with me, it was a long time before I could pinpoint just why. What was it that was missing in the conventional modern education methods I had learned in my teacher training and practiced in my classroom? Finally last year, I read this post from Brandy over at Afterthoughts in which she quoted James K. A. Smith: “[B]ehind every pedagogy is a philosophical anthropology.” With that quote, the lightbulb came on for me. Charlotte Mason and the Christian classical liberal arts tradition, that her ideas were based in, recognized that children are born persons – persons created in the Image of God, persons with hearts and minds and souls. The methods and materials that Charlotte and those who came before her used were solidly grounded in this foundation. They were specifically designed to meet the needs of the whole student –body, mind, and soul. The conventional educational methods that I was trained in fell flat for me because there was a disconnect between the pedagogy and the anthropology behind it. I had always believed that my students were people made in the image of God, but the utilitarian, test-driven methods and materials commonly used in both Christian and public schools today fail to recognize that. While it was a step in the right direction to attempt to teach from a Christian perspective and integrate the Bible across the curriculum, it didn’t go far enough. I realize now that those efforts felt contrived to me because they were only a surface fix – slapping on a Christian veneer without digging down deeper to find the flaws underlying the methods themselves.
[box] While it was a step in the right direction to attempt to teach from a Christian perspective and integrate the Bible across the curriculum, it didn’t go far enough. I realize now that those efforts felt contrived to me because they were only a surface fix – slapping on a Christian veneer without digging down deeper to find the flaws underlying the methods themselves.[/box]
So that brings us to today. Today I am an ordinary homeschooling mama who recognizes everyday how much she still doesn’t know. I love learning and cultivating my own wisdom and virtue alongside my children as we work our way through Ambleside Online’s fantastic curriculum guide. I continue to be grateful for blogs, websites, podcasts, forums, and book discussion groups that have allowed me to connect with other like-minded families and continue to grow as a person and as an educator. (I wrote here about my self-education journey – very much a parallel to this story.) As I learn, I am endeavoring to put the ideas I am discovering into practice in our own home. Someday, Lord willing, I aspire to help bring this kind of life-giving, soul-enriching education into the lives and homes of others, too.
Jen Snow is a missionary wife, homeschooling mom to three children ages 9, 6, and 4, and former classroom teacher. In her spare time you will find her working her way through her too-tall stacks of books-to-read with coffee, tea and/or dark chocolate at hand, moderating at the Ambleside Online Forums, or occasionally blogging her ponderings on books she’s read and her family’s homeschooling adventures in Central Africa at Snowfall Academy.
[box type=”info”] Friends, I would love to hear your story as well. If you are interested in sharing contact me for more information. Blessings.[/box]