Opinion

Back to school

byJaymie Stuart Wolfe
9/23/2011

September start-up procedures have finally run their course, and school is now well underway. This year, we have two kids in grade school, two in high school, two in college, one in law school, and one running a homeschool. Andrew is teaching two night school Master's classes to keep us afloat, so it seems my mother and I are the only people "playing hooky."

Fortunately, I have never had to convince any of our kids that school was worth their time. They all love it. Actually, they come from a long line of school enthusiasts. The single exception was perhaps my grandmother, now 97, who, although she was very bright, would rather have been doing just about anything other than sitting at a desk in a 1920s classroom. Still, even she used to tell me that what you learned was the only thing that no one could ever take away from you. And while I can't say I ever saw her read a book, she was always setting her very creative and flexible mind to some new task or skill.

Education must be a lifetime pursuit; if it isn't, chances are it isn't education after all. Perhaps that is why Jesus, the master, healer, way, truth, and life, is also called rabbi, or teacher. To be a disciple is to be a student -- not the kind trying to earn enough credits to graduate, or hoping to puff up his GPA -- but one who knows that in order to do what his teacher does, he must be like his teacher is. As Luke tells us, "No disciple is superior to the teacher; but when fully trained, every disciple will be like his teacher." (Luke 6:40)

All of us can look back and identify the few truly exceptional teachers we've had. Maybe it was someone who taught the subject we loved best, or one we found difficult or uninspiring. That teacher may have opened whole new worlds of understanding to us, or stayed after school with us to make sure we achieved enough competence to pass by the skin of our teeth. Whatever the case, the great teachers in our lives are people we remember long after the last bell of that year.

I recall my second grade teacher Miss Payson, the strictest classroom commander at Loudon Elementary. She dumped my messy desk over every Friday, and didn't put up with my sloppy handwriting. I loved her for it. The result was that by the end of the year I had earned -- really earned -- the first straight A report card I ever got. I also remember the first class of many I took with Professor Harvey Mansfield. I went to his office hours after an hour-and-a-half lecture he gave on just the first paragraph of Aristotle's "Politics." I couldn't imagine getting that much from such a brief amount of text, and asked him to teach me how to read the way he did. Over the next three years, I did my best to keep up and learn. While I could never be the scholar he is, what I gained from his mentoring constituted the bulk of my undergraduate education. It was like learning how to read all over again.

It may sound more than a bit obvious, but the only people who learn are the ones who can be taught. People who think they know more than the teacher, or refuse to do the work, or just won't take an active interest in something won't learn anything. The same holds true in the life of faith. If I think I know more about what it means to be human than the God who created humanity and then became incarnate of the Virgin Mary, I'm bound to stay where I am -- and the way I am. If I just won't bother to pray, or read the Scriptures, or serve someone other than myself, I won't develop much spiritual stamina or depth. If I sit back like a spectator waiting to be entertained, and squelch any stray inspiration that may drift across my heart, I'll end up with a faith that is as dull and inactive as I am.

Even though it isn't Jan. 1, September always feels like a new year. Perhaps, too, it offers a new opportunity to go back to the school of the Savior; to learn from the one "who is meek and humble of heart;" and to open the assignment book again with pencil -- and eraser -- ready at hand.

Jaymie Stuart Wolfe is a wife and mother of eight children, and a disciple of the spirituality of St. Francis de Sales. She is an inspirational author, speaker, musician and serves as an Associate Children's Editor at Pauline Books and Media.