Recently while at a Classical Conversations info meeting, I was approached by a mom who had a couple questions about why we learn so much memory work and what we are supposed do with that knowledge.
Q: “So we get them to memorize this information, but then we don’t do anything with it yet?”
This question is a common one, even for those who already embrace the Classical Model. Why the memory work? What then?
Over the years I’ve used terms like “pegs” or “dots” to explain the seemingly random bits of memory work information that they learn. Then I would explain that you “hang” information on the pegs, or “connect” the dots later in the Dialectic stage.
However, while speaking with this mom I believe that God gave me a better illustration that might help. I certainly didn’t spend time trying to figure out another explanation, so I give the credit to God.
Here it goes:
Pretend you are teaching your 4 year old a Bible event like Adam and Eve. How would you explain the events? It might go something like this: God created man and he was called Adam. Then he made Eve from Adam and she was his helper. God made a beautiful garden for them to live in. They could have anything they wanted, except one tree. They could NOT touch that tree. Later a snake came and he TRICKED Eve and she ate the apple from the tree! Adam ate it too! They were so ashamed that they disobeyed. God came to talk with them and He forgave them, but they could no longer live in the Garden.
—-Notice: In this simple explanation, no attention was given to details about the tree (knowledge of good and evil) and that there were actually 2 trees in the middle of the Garden that were mentioned. Nor did I go into detail about Satan and the form of snake and if the snake had legs before he was cursed to crawl on his belly…matter of fact I didn’t go into any of the curses (except the banishment from the Garden). I didn’t discuss how they were naked and then God sacrificed an animal to provide coverings and how this foreshadows atonement for sin…. it was just kept simple. It was just the basic “pegs” or “dots” of information.
If you tried to have a deep of a theological discussion with a 4 year old you would be wasting their time. FIRST they JUST need the basics. They need the “pegs” or the “dots” of information about the story.
Later when they are little older they might be sitting in Sunday School learning about the Fall in the Garden. The teacher might talk about sin entering the world through Adam and Eve because they disobeyed. YOUR CHILD will be able to participate in that discussion because he/she already knows the basics of the events that took place. Now they can connect the “dots” and make sense of it. But if they didn’t know the events, the would be spending time during the discussion asking who Adam and Eve were and what happened. As a result they would miss the deeper discussion that was taking place.
Now your child is a teenager and you’re discussing as a family how Satan works to trick and deceive us. You mention how it started in the Garden when he asked Eve if God REALLY said she couldn’t eat of the tree. Satan is always trying to get us to doubt God’s Word. Your child can join right in. You might equate that to how sometimes people try to get us to do wrong things using the SAME tactic when a friend might ask if your parents REALLY said you couldn’t go to the party? Again, this conversation is happening because you had already taught them the basic Memory Work of the events that go along with the Fall in the Garden.
Later your child is even older and in church their teacher or pastor mentions how Satan’s tactics will always be the same, but just as God forgave Adam and Eve and covered their sin with the blood of an animal, and how the Hebrews were keep safe from death (which sin leads to) by the blood of a lamb, and how later Abraham was willing to sacrifice his son, but God became our redeemer and provided His son instead….so now our sins are covered through His blood forever! Immediately he/she pictures that fateful day in the Garden and how easily Eve was tricked and how easily Adam also disobeyed but yet God loved them still…and also the events of those other people and what they went through all those years ago…yet God always made a way for deliverance…because they were taught the basic memory work of the Bible.
So what does this have to do with CC?
Well, our Memory Work is just like that. We provide the basic parts to be memorized first. Not just for the sake of memory or even knowledge, but so we can build on it later for deeper understanding. At 4 years old, they learn about Adam and Eve very simply in the same way they learn the parts of an atom. Then later we dive deeper, and deeper. We explain how tiny these atomic parts are and how perfectly they are formed. We show them how God is seen in His creation by learning how to draw out atoms and elements with their electrons, placing them on the periodic table in such mathematical accuracy that Mendeleev was able to predict elements years (and decades) before they were actually discovered. Then you dive deeper and learn what that means about creation and Intelligent Design…and then Genesis. Could this all happen by chance?
Do you see? By giving your children the basic building blocks of information, you pave the way for them to learn more and on a deeper level later. It automatically allows for a conversation to take place that will challenge them to know what they believe and why. Thus “Classical Conversations.”
I hope that makes sense. It’s so much easier to say in person than to try to type it out, but I hope that the message is still clear. And next time you’re in church and your pastor connects a deeper level topic with a simple “Sunday School story” you will remember that you have just been brought through the same stages of learning….from basic memory work, to dialectic understanding, to wisdom.