Religious Education News

 

Beauty

A Religious Education Message from Jeffrey Schlechtweg

 

Beauty. Wow. I can’t say it would have been my first choice. I mean, aside from a mirror, I don’t see much of it in this world. (kidding—sort of) Though a romantic at heart, I am a solidly practical and pragmatic person. Function over form all day. As a former mechanic and a former military man, I can’t help but think of measurable outcomes. As an educator, I feel compelled to grade or assess everything. But the more I ponder the deeper meaning of the word, the further I move from the shallow definition all too popular in our society, the more it resonates with me.

Because there is beauty in function. When something works just right, just how it should work, it is beautiful. Since the first time I read it, I have been drawn to Aristotle’s philosophy of Teleology. According to Aristotle, something is good when it successfully hits the target for which it was intended; it serves its purpose, fulfills its mission. It has a function and carries it out well. Using the Greek term for an archery bull’s-eye, telos, we call this approach teleological.

So in order for education to be “good” we must know its purpose, its goal, what it is intended to accomplish. In order to do it well here, we must identify what we are here to do. Children are not robots; they do not just do what they are programmed to do (as every parent knows all too well). In order to start taking ownership of their lives, they must begin to take ownership of their decisions. I believe that is the purpose, that is the goal, of the RE program. To help young people begin to make decisions, and to own those decisions. And, crucially, to own the consequences of those decisions. It is not easy to “teach” morality. Really, it comes more from inside than out. But what we can do for young people is help them discover their own moral compass by carefully contemplating choices, actions, and consequences. Lessons may seem simple from the outside, especially with the youngest ones, but dig deeper, and there are real gems at the heart of each of them: Compassion, cooperation, empathy, acceptance, communication, honesty, and love.

I am struck by the connection between Aristotle and a book I am currently reading by Brandon Sanderson, a popular sci-fi/fantasy author, called The Way of Kings. In the book, a character seeks to understand, and then resurrect, an ancient order of morally virtuous knights. They find the following passage in a dusty tome that explains the ancient order’s moral code: “And so, does the destination matter? Or is it the path we take? I declare that no accomplishment has substance nearly as great as the road used to achieve it. We are not creatures of destinations. It is the journey that shapes us. In the end, I must proclaim that no good can be achieved of false means. For the substance of our existence is not in the achievement, but in the method. The Monarch must understand this; he must not become so focused on what he wishes to accomplish that he diverts his gaze from the path he must take to arrive there.” 1

And that, to come full circle, is what I think we hope to give our young people here: lessons in understanding their decisions, making them consciously, and accepting their consequences. That this is more important than the outcome, the achievement, or the prestige that those decisions lead to. And if we do it well, if we hit our target, they will grow into the understanding that the true beauty in life is in the path that we walk, not where it takes us.

 

1 Sanderson, Brandon. The Way of Kings (The Stormlight Archive, Book 1) (p. 910). Tom Doherty Associates. Kindle Edition.