How to Gain Knowledge That Can’t be Stolen

This post is part of a new series written by CLS Assistant Principal of Instruction for the Upper School, Mark Jedrzejczyk

Socrates said, in Plato’s Republic,  “[When people lose a true belief, it is without their consent…] and that is a question of theft, or magic, or force… by theft I mean people who are talked into changing their minds, and people who forget…. by force I mean those whom pain or grief causes to change their beliefs… as for magic… that there are people whose beliefs change because they are seduced by pleasure, or because there is something they are afraid of.”

Jesus once said something similar in the parable of the seeds: some seeds landed on rocky ground, others among thorns, others on rocky ground, and still others on fertile ground. We must be careful not to lose our true beliefs because we are deceived, hurt, or enjoy false views more. 

That’s #WhyCLS: through a Biblically integrated curriculum, we help students not to lose their true beliefs as a result of pain, pleasure, or poor reasoning.

How do we integrate true beliefs? That brings us to our educational term of the week: learning transfer. Learning transfer is, according to some, the ultimate goal of education. It is, in a nutshell, students using what is learned in the classroom outside of the school.

You know how you can meet a person in one place and only recognize them in that one place? Say you meet, for example, a certain ruggedly handsome* assistant principal of instruction at Christian Life School. You might not recognize him if you saw him at a local coffee shop. It’s not because he shaved off his beard. It’s because it is hard to apply what we learn in one place to another place. That’s because our memory tends to tie learning to specific places and specific activities.

That’s #WhyCLS: through a Biblically integrated curriculum, we help students not to lose their true beliefs as a result of pain, pleasure, or poor reasoning.

In case you’re wondering, that’s why  – if possible – students should prepare for exams in the room they’re testing in. They’re better capable of remembering information that way.

How do CLS teachers teach for transfer? Here are some ways, although there are others:

  1. Problem-Based Learning – when students are presented with an interesting problem that they have to solve, especially a problem applying to real-life situations. For example, a student might be asked to figure out the best place to plant an apple tree in their yard using their knowledge of botany.
  2. Project-Based Learning – when a student’s interest in a topic is applied to authentic situations to build a project. For example, a student interested in boats might have a project where he learns about buoyancy, sailing techniques, planning nutrition for long trips on the sea, and researching the history of sailing to design a sailing trip from New York to England.
  3. Service Learning: Students combine educational objectives with needs in the community. At CLS, we ask students to complete a senior capstone project. In other words, our seniors take what they’ve learned at CLS and use it to help with needs in our community.

Let’s tie this back to Christianity. How can you teach your kids to love and serve Christ? By giving them opportunities to transfer Biblical knowledge to life. Teach them the verse, “Love your neighbor as yourself.” But then take them out to serve their neighbor. Not only that, give them different ways to serve their neighbor, so they can transfer the knowledge to different serving contexts. I can’t find the article, but research does suggest that youth who regularly serve others are more likely to remain in the church as adults. 

*I wrote this without the approval of my wife, who would be likely to roll her eyes so far back in her head that I may never see them again.

A related thought:

On the Sunday of daylight savings, my four children tried to persuade me to give them dessert after dinner. “In celebration of Benjamin Franklin creating daylight savings,” my eight-year-old son argued. “We should have dessert.”

“No,” I said, resentful at losing an hour of sleep. “I’m mad at Ben Franklin. No dessert. And it’s too late anyway.” (If I was a bit shrewder, I could have said it was too late because of daylight savings.)

But my four-year-old daughter piped up: “We should have dessert for the glory of God.

She’d stymied me.

“Well,” I said. “It’s hard to argue with that.”

They had dessert.

While my daughter’s argument may not work on me twice, we should take her seriously. As my nine-year-old son added, bolstering his sister’s argument, “And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord!”

Does that mean eating dessert? Certainly. Brother Lawrence, a Carmelite monk in the 17th century, once said, “The time of business,” said he, “does not with me differ from the time of prayer; and in the noise and clutter of my kitchen, while several persons are at the same time calling for different things, I possess God in as great tranquility as if I were upon my knees at the Blessed Sacrament.”

In business, we glorify God. In homework, we glorify God. In eating dessert, even, we glorify God. – So long as our attention is on him and his handwork and his glory and not just our own pleasures. 

How do we train kids to glorify God in their daily lives? Start small with your children. The younger ones already have an unworldliness that we, as adults, have lost. They see more of the spiritual world than we do. Their lively minds and deep feelings pierce the veil between the physical and spiritual realms. 

So, have your children do one act of cleaning to the glory of God, embracing his joy. Have them do a kind act, remembering that they are doing it for the glory of God. After all, we learn through small steps: have them pick that hat off the ground while holding, in mind and heart, that they do it for the glory of God.

That’s how, as Brother Lawrence would put it in the book The Practice of the Presence of God, we practice the presence of God.

The impact of technology is not neutral. Consider the like button, which encourages binary and – thus – simplified thinking. Each time we click like – or offer an emoji response – we’re responding with an oversimplified thought or feeling. Does a smiling face truly convey our feeling? Does a digital thumbs-up really explain how we agree?

What does this do to children whose complex emotions are reduced to a smiling face or a crying face? Or when words become something impermanent and can be wiped from the screen with a flick of an index finger? How can oversimplification not shape who we are in real life?

Some studies suggest that physical books are best when you want to retain information. That’s, in part, because we think spacially. We remember where information is in books based on the physical, unchanging location on the page and where the content is in regards to the overall thickness of the book.

But I’d also suggest that physical books are permanent and unchanging, and that does something to our minds. The magic of phones and tablets is how information changes and disappears at a whim. Physical books remind us that there is knowledge that can’t be stolen away by the magic of a screen.

If your students aren’t reading physical books, encourage them to do so. The digital screen can be a sort of theft of knowledge, telling us that nothing is true, everything is simple, but everything is changing. In today’s day and age, we need to be reminded that some things do not change.

A final quote for reflection: “If we only wanted to be happy it would be easy; but we want to be happier than other people, which is almost always difficult, since we think them happier than they are.” -Charles de Montesquieu