A few weeks ago, we studied the solar system in Mrs. Lacy’s fourth grade classroom. So one morning morning I turned off the lights and turned on Gustav Holst’s Jupiter from The Planets suite. For a few seconds, the kids seemed skeptical; but hardly a few lines into the music and they were smiling and nodding their heads with the rhythm.
For those eight minutes, we simply sat and allowed the music to have its effect.
And I became a student of human nature.
It grew apparent that different people and personalities respond differently to music. Some just sat and listened, while others moved their arms and hands and heads like a conductor or a trombone player. For a brief second, I thought about telling them all to just sit and listen; but maybe that would have ruined the whole point. Beauty does not simply ask to be observed.
Beauty reaches us and requires our humanity to respond. We are not simply minds with ears that can hear music. We are whole bodies that receive and respond. We feel music in our gut and in our soul and it moves more than just our mental capacities to ascribe cognitive understanding to the beauty of a piece. Sometimes, we just know it is beautiful. Of course in a concert hall, my students couldn’t raise their arms and swing their legs–but maybe that isn’t always good. I want my students to respond to beauty. They may not yet know how to judge a thing’s beauty, but something inside them recognizes beauty and they need to respond with bodily enjoyment and later, verbal praise. I think adults feel these urges as well but have, sadly, learned to stifle them. I never want to inhibit my students’ enjoyment of all things that are worth enjoying. It is in that enjoyment–and I believe beauty is most fully enjoyed in communion with others–that we truly experience beauty.
As C.S. Lewis wrote:
“I think we delight to praise what we enjoy because the praise not merely expresses but completes the enjoyment; it is its appointed consummation. It is not out of compliment that lovers keep on telling one another how beautiful they are; the delight is incomplete till it is expressed. It is frustrating to have discovered a new author and not to be able to tell anyone how good he is; to come suddenly, at the turn of the road, upon some mountain valley of unexpected grandeur and then to have to keep silent because the people with you care for it no more than for a tin can in the ditch; to hear a good joke and find no one to share it with.” (C.S. Lewis, Reflections on the Psalms)
I want my students to be that friend that can share a good joke or a moment of awe-struck beauty. I want to be that friend, too. So I wonder often: how do I help my students be that friend?
As a young teacher, I feel as though I am still a student. I am learning what a teacher is, what it means, how to do it best. One thing I have concluded:
A teacher must first and foremost be a lover.
When I was a kid, I was afraid of openly loving things that didn’t seem cool. I secretly loved baseball and birds but was always too self-conscious to let others know. (Sometimes I still find myself apologizing for loving birds. My husband always stops me.) I thought at least appearing uninterested was “cool.” Even around the family dinner table, I denied interest in the bird that just flitted past the window.
As a teacher, I want to show my students that it is good to love things. It’s okay to love a piece of classical music or dictionaries or fractions. As I display for them the freedom to love what we think others might find strange or silly, I hope that they are stirred to love good things and to love them deeply and well.
I do not want to make my students into successful businessmen or brilliant writers or even moral people. I want them to be lovers who love goodness and truth and beauty. Because from that love of ultimate things and of He who is Goodness, Truth, and Beauty, they will come to be good and true church members, sons and daughters, husbands and wives, fathers and mothers, employees, students, neighbors, and friends.
We arrived at the end of Jupiter and they all looked up at me: “Can we listen to the rest?”