In the last post on attention and formation, we looked at our upward gaze. Both the farmer and the classical educator, by attending upward, recognize who is in ultimate control. Hint: It’s not us. At Austin Classical school we rest joyfully in that truth, but that does not mean we surrender all responsibility to act in the world. In fact, it is our responsibility to attend outward. What that means for both the farmer and the classical educator is the focus of our next post in this series.
An important role of any tree farmer is cultivation. Often this involves the breaking up of soil that has hardened around the tree or the turning over of ground that is overgrown in order for a tree to be planted. Effective cultivation requires outward attention: fixing one’s eyes on the environment and discerning those elements within it that inhibit the flourishing of life. If a farmer attends upward to learn that he is, ultimately, not in control of all reality, this outward attention allows him to focus on those things within the world that he can control, or as the farmers I grew up around would say – the things we are responsible to control.
Cultivation is dependent on a farmer’s outward attention and discernment of what elements in the environment need to be broken up, or removed, to promote the abundance of life. Notice that it is the farmer’s responsibility both to see and to act, to understand and to respond, thereby creating conditions for life to flourish.
The Classical Christian Educator
As classical Christian educators, how we attend to the world around ourselves and similarly, how we train students to attend to the world around themselves, is equally important. The culture of our schools (as well as our homes, our cities, and our nations) is a result of the cultivation we practice. To paraphrase Charlotte Mason,
…the “atmosphere” of learning is ultimately created by “the ideas that rule your life.”
We know that a flourishing student, much like a flourishing plant, needs a cultivated environment because they will soak up whatever behaviors or attitudes or values are modeled, whether that is worry and anxiety over getting into the right colleges or peace and joy in a love for learning.
And so as teachers and co-teachers at Austin Classical School we do the work of attending outward to the learning environment, not with a desire (to use the words of Andy Crouch in Culture Making) to produce mere critics, consumers, copiers, or condemners of culture” but rather, to produce cultivators who “tend and nourish was is best in human culture – to be creators – daring to do and think something new to make the world more “welcoming and thrilling and beautiful.”
I hope you’ll join us in this worthy endeavor. And if you’re already pursuing this cultivation within Christian, classical education, my prayer is that you would begin to see the fruits of your labor.
Head of School
Austin Classical School