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megandunham

What does piety look like in the pre-grammar classroom?

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Our entire staff just completed a staff training book discussion on The Liberal Arts Tradition: A Philosophy of Christian Classical Education by Ravi Jain and Kevin Clark. There has been, of course, much discussion over many aspects of how our school does things in light of what the book is suggesting, but the thing most recently on my heart and mind (and fresh from a conversation with our Kindergarten teacher), what does piety look like in the pre-grammar classroom. What *should* it look like? How can a school best ensure that classrooms have a measure of unity and continuity in this area, particularly when teachers are coming from various denominational perspectives?

 

 

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I read through this book recently (and loved it). Without the benefit of a book discussion group--that would be so nice! What caught my attention in the discussion about piety was this idea: "piety signifies the duty, love, and respect owed to God, parents, and communal authorities." With that idea in mind, I don't think denominational differences have to matter. The fundamental point is that we, as persons (even small persons) have a duty toward others--toward parents first, then to other authorities (such as in a school), but also toward classmates. The duty toward God is very abstract, but it can be rooted in the small duties of neatness, orderliness, fair play, obedience, etc...that operate in a home and school.

I was reminded of Charlotte Mason's motto for her schools: "I am, I can, I ought, I will." That "ought" is that which is owed--the duties we owe to others, and even small children can begin to understand "ought" and their obligation to choose (will) to fulfill those duties. Line upon line, precept upon precept. I can see classroom practices such as being quiet while others are speaking, tidying your own space or belongings, lining up in an orderly fashion, puntuality,  etc, laying a good foundation in piety, perhaps more easily (to be honest) than the happy organic chaos in a homeschool.

When I was reading the chapter on piety, though, I really appreciated the way these duties were linked to love, and helping children to learn to do things out of love and consideration for others is more important than just getting them done. "For inevitably, the culture of the school educates as much as its curriculum." Which reminded me of Charlotte Mason's principle "Education is an atmosphere."

I don't work in a school, but establishing that atmosphere right at the beginning of a child's school career seems like a good foundation in piety to me.

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Your thoughts here are super helpful and I will confess - this was a difficult read for me. There's a GOOD chance I'm mixing my areas up. Of course, all that you said is accurate and are things we're striving for throughout the grades. I may be wondering more on the theology side of things - there are some things that seem dependent upon our own belief systems and what our churches have taught us over the course of time that will come out in our classrooms, even subtly (the children will become what they behold, and all that...). So if I'm coming from a reformed Christian perspective and the next teacher they get isn't, what does that ultimately bring about in their lives? And all of this knowing full well that what is happening at home ultimately trumps everything we're doing at school.

At any rate, I'm rambling and I'm out the door for another day in the first grade. I'll try to be more coherent about this later on. Thank you!

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Regarding the effects of an individual teacher's theology and its impact upon student piety, the burden would be upon the institutional authorities--the Board of Governors in policy-making, the headmaster in setting those policies into the context of the school for the other administrators and teachers, and the other administrators and teachers holding one another accountable to the policies and standards codified in rules and institutional norms. Let me try to bring all of that abstraction down into the concrete. One school sees orderliness, respect for teacher, and love for neighbor best expressed in turn taking, so they make a rule requiring students to raise their hands and be called upon by the teacher before speaking. One or another teacher might care more or less for the rule, but institutionally, their duty is to submit to the policy and hold students accountable to it as well. Another school sees orderliness, respect for teacher, and love for neighbor best expressed in free exchange orchestrated by the teacher, so they make a rule requiring teachers to encourage free participation with the expectation that the teacher will ensure all the voices are heard, the lesson follows its plan, and the teacher summarizes the contributions at the end. Again, one or another teacher might prefer the rule or not, but piety will be expressed by everyone seeking to uphold the policy faithfully. 

Not all instances of piety reduce to policies and rules, of course, but there are so many of them that do in a school environment that it really is incumbent upon the administration and faculty to work together to be on the same page. At the school where I teach we've often had teachers change their own parenting approach based upon the policies and rules that the school has in place because they could see in their own and other teachers' enforcement that children learned and loved one another better than when left entirely to their own devices.

To go to the original question, I think a lot of what piety looks like in the pre-grammar stages boils down to imitation of order and preferring others: sitting when it is time to sit; standing upright with clothing all in order; looking people in the eye when speaking or being spoken to; responding to commands right away, all the way, and with a good attitude; holding doors for classmates; cleaning up thoroughly and putting things back in the right place; etc., etc., etc.,--AND (here's the kicker), making sure that all of these activities are verbalized in terms of love: "let's love our neighbor by putting everything away neatly so they can find it easily the next time we use it," "We love people by looking them in the eye when listening and speaking," so that the motivation is being encouraged in addition to the behavior itself.

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"To go to the original question, I think a lot of what piety looks like in the pre-grammar stages boils down to imitation of order and preferring others: sitting when it is time to sit; standing upright with clothing all in order; looking people in the eye when speaking or being spoken to; responding to commands right away, all the way, and with a good attitude; holding doors for classmates; cleaning up thoroughly and putting things back in the right place; etc., etc., etc.,--AND (here's the kicker), making sure that all of these activities are verbalized in terms of love: "let's love our neighbor by putting everything away neatly so they can find it easily the next time we use it," "We love people by looking them in the eye when listening and speaking," so that the motivation is being encouraged in addition to the behavior itself."

These are really good ideas for embodiments of piety. During the pre-grammar age children are in need of definitions and observation of types. They need to hear what piety is and then see what its embodiment is. Sometimes we forget that children are in the "present progressive" stage: that is they are in the midst of learning how to be or do what we expect of them. It may take more than one or two times and more than one or two years to grasp what a virtue is and what it looks like to act on it.

I agree that despite denominational differences, the school can create universal ideals that the teachers can then embody in particular and specific ways. These can be curricular and extra-curricular. You can find stories that exemplify piety or its opposite. And you can create opportunities for piety or point it out as it arises. 

Praying for God to create those opportunities or bring about those stories really does go a long way as well. 

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Thanks for your thoughts on this! It helps to rehash some of these things multiple times for me. In truth, I think our school does do a lot of this, it's just easy to second guess things once presented with a new (to me) set of vocabulary. I really do love the thought above to frame everything in terms of love and make that clear to my young ones. Good things to think over here!

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11 hours ago, Cheryl Floyd said:

"To go to the original question, I think a lot of what piety looks like in the pre-grammar stages boils down to imitation of order and preferring others: sitting when it is time to sit; standing upright with clothing all in order; looking people in the eye when speaking or being spoken to; responding to commands right away, all the way, and with a good attitude; holding doors for classmates; cleaning up thoroughly and putting things back in the right place; etc., etc., etc.,--AND (here's the kicker), making sure that all of these activities are verbalized in terms of love: "let's love our neighbor by putting everything away neatly so they can find it easily the next time we use it," "We love people by looking them in the eye when listening and speaking," so that the motivation is being encouraged in addition to the behavior itself."

These are really good ideas for embodiments of piety. During the pre-grammar age children are in need of definitions and observation of types. They need to hear what piety is and then see what its embodiment is. Sometimes we forget that children are in the "present progressive" stage: that is they are in the midst of learning how to be or do what we expect of them. It may take more than one or two times and more than one or two years to grasp what a virtue is and what it looks like to act on it.

I agree that despite denominational differences, the school can create universal ideals that the teachers can then embody in particular and specific ways. These can be curricular and extra-curricular. You can find stories that exemplify piety or its opposite. And you can create opportunities for piety or point it out as it arises. 

Praying for God to create those opportunities or bring about those stories really does go a long way as well. 

Our younger age grammar teachers spend at least two weeks (sometimes more with difficult classes) just training the routines and transitions of a normal day/week. The early effort to set those parameters or guide rails for little people really make the year go much more smoothly. Frustration due to lack of understanding cannot foster piety, nor is it pious for a teacher to ignore the students' need for those things. Parents fall into the same category, of course. So much of my own parenting has been learning to see my children's needs for structures and procedures that I take for granted (or haven't mastered myself). I suppose we might call such things the "formal" aspects of piety, since they set the stage for pious action to flourish.

9 hours ago, megandunham said:

Thanks for your thoughts on this! It helps to rehash some of these things multiple times for me. In truth, I think our school does do a lot of this, it's just easy to second guess things once presented with a new (to me) set of vocabulary. I really do love the thought above to frame everything in terms of love and make that clear to my young ones. Good things to think over here!

New vocabulary can help us see old things afresh, or create confusion. The key is, I think, to see what kind of environment and activity the policies and rules are attempting to create and foster. As teachers we don't have a lot of say (in many cases, no say at all) about the policies and rules, but we have great control over the atmosphere in which the rules are implemented, the manner in which they are implemented, and our own embodiment of the virtues and practices the rules and policies seek to promote. Personally, my mind has more difficulty piecing out each moment and detail so as to meet a rule or accomplish a task (which is much more necessary for younger age students), but some of the teachers I work with have mastered the ability to do small things (a way of saying something, a small change in procedure) to eliminate selfish choices or remove selfish actions without it creating confrontation or stress upon the students or parents. It's beautiful, really.

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Just today I started making a few subtle changes in the way I remind my kids to obey our class rules, in large part to some of your counsel above. For instance, we're not just lining up straight and silent because I asked them to, but because they are being a blessing to our whole class when they do so because we get to go where we're going right away and we don't have to wait for the one or two who are goofing off at the end of the line. I mentioned to our whole 1st-3rd grade the reasons why we need them to clean up well after themselves at lunch is so the kids coming in after them are blessed by a clean and prepared place to eat as well. Just little wording changes, but over time I hope helps bring about much of what we're discussing here.

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48 minutes ago, megandunham said:

Just today I started making a few subtle changes in the way I remind my kids to obey our class rules, in large part to some of your counsel above. For instance, we're not just lining up straight and silent because I asked them to, but because they are being a blessing to our whole class when they do so because we get to go where we're going right away and we don't have to wait for the one or two who are goofing off at the end of the line. I mentioned to our whole 1st-3rd grade the reasons why we need them to clean up well after themselves at lunch is so the kids coming in after them are blessed by a clean and prepared place to eat as well. Just little wording changes, but over time I hope helps bring about much of what we're discussing here.

That's great! I hope you see much fruit from your efforts.

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