I have no greater joy than to hear that my children are walking in the truth.
3 John 1:4
Earlier this morning, I flew out of Oklahoma City for Merrimack, New Hampshire, where I’ll take part in a weekend conference called the Biblical Imagination Series with author and musician Michael Card. Mike and I have been friends for more than a decade, and we occasionally partner together to help believers engage with the Bible at the level of an informed imagination.
I mention this because I have the same goal when I teach the New Testament to Dialectic students. However, I have a huge advantage teaching our eighth graders over the majority of adult audiences we teach through Biblical Imagination, as our eighth graders – especially those who have been with our school multiple years – know their world history.
Just yesterday, we were learning about the intertestamental period – the roughly 400 years between Old and New Testaments and an important period to at least be familiar to better understand the historical and cultural context surrounding Jesus’ incarnation as recorded in the gospels. (It also makes for a fantastic mini-lesson on God’s prospering of his people Israel throughout history, but I digress.)
Drawing a timeline to chart some dates, places, and people groups, I was pleased at what my students already knew – not just the basic grammar of when, where, and who, but also the how and why of the order and power transitions from the Persians to the Greeks to the Romans (and before those, from the Assyrians to the Babylonians to the Persians). It was not just one particularly bright student helping me fill out the timeline; it was the entire class seemingly not even thinking twice about doing so.
As we continued, I mentioned to the students how they knew more about the history of the world at 14 than I did at 34 when I began seminary. I shared that, to my regret, it wasn’t until then that I really studied these cultures and civilizations in any systematic manner that stuck, and I was glad to learn more with them as we asked questions and discussed these periods and people of these times.
Later that afternoon, when I mentioned the joy of my experience to one of my teaching colleagues, she smiled knowingly. “They don’t even know how smart they are,” she replied. “It’s amazing.” Indeed, there was a matter-of-factness to their answers, all without a hint of arrogance (at least that I could pick up externally).
I’ve taught the Bible to plenty of 14-year-olds in my day; the difference at The Academy is that so many others have also taught them – when they were 12…8…6. It’s a privilege to teach New Testament to students who have taken two years of Old Testament with our own Josh Spears. It’s a gift to ask students to reference certain biblical stories and turn to particular books, the content and order of both their grammar school teachers have ensured they have learned. It’s humbling to talk with students about the Jesus of the Bible, knowing that these conversations have and will continue with parents around the dinner table at home (I know this because I’ve already had parents email to tell me about them).
As one teacher emailed me this week (and multiple teachers in both models and at all three trivium levels have echoed in conversation), “I have never been more energized by my students.” This sentiment, of course, doesn’t guarantee that every day will be this way or that our kids are perfect (newsflash: they aren’t), but it does speak of what our kids are capable – learning that goes beyond just knowledge for their own sakes to understanding that energizes and inspires those around them.
If there’s a better gift to offer our students and our inspiration-hungry world, I don’t know what it is. I’m grateful for our kids.