The Grace of Recitation
I am not a gardener. Tending to living things requires a measure of awareness and patience that I struggle to attain. One look at the grass in my yard provides all the support that assertion needs.
Yet, more and more I have come to understand the call to educate (and to parent) as the call to cultivate or tend the minds of students. It is a gardener’s call, as it is the farmer’s. The mission statement of VCS includes the word “cultivation” deliberately. At numerous points in Scripture, the work of the believer is compared to that of the gardener, especially as it relates to the work of evangelism. We sow, water, weed, and reap.
And as we undertake these tasks, these tangible steps, we hopefully begin to realize the limits of our role in the process of another’s conversion, just as a farmer might realize his limited role in the growth of his crops. We are called to perform the tasks, not to accomplish the work. We do not create transformation. We do not make things grow. That is God’s part. As Colin from Frances Hodgson Burnett’s The Secret Garden might have said, “That is the magic.”
I am thankful that we have the easier part, but that is not to say it is altogether easy. The work of gardeners and farmers is hard. It is hard, in part, because it is repetitive, constant, persistent, diligent, faithful, trusting, and longsuffering. In short, it requires depth of character, and character is not easy to come by.
As educators, we can learn much from the tone and rhythm of gardening and farming. In many ways, educating requires the same character that is required of farming. The education of a child over an entire academic career represents the repetitive, constant, persistent, diligent, faithful, trusting, and longsuffering cultivation of the mind and heart of the student. When VCS uses words like “layered” and “spiraling” to describe the approach of classical education, this is what we mean. Education is a daily work of faithfulness, not a lurching, cramming shove across a finish line.
Those qualities are embodied within recitation. When I speak of recitation in the context of the VCS curriculum, I include the sound-offs (Grammar, Science, etc.), Morning Assembly scripture and hymns, history timeline, math terms, math flash cards, Latin grammar questions and flash cards, and poetry review. These are the items on the lesson plan that are not required to be turned in at the next class. They aren’t graded or evaluated in the same way as other work.
And yet, recitation is the portion of our academic work that reveals, to the greatest extent, God’s faithfulness to the growth of our students. These repetitive tasks, these tangible steps, yield steady growth over time. Children’s bodies grow every minute of the day. We cannot perceive that growth at any instant, but the next time they stand against the wall or visit the doctor’s office to be measured, the truth of that growth becomes known. This is also the purpose of report cards--to perceive God’s faithfulness in that growth process.
The slow, constant nature of this growth provides lessons for how we go about doing recitation. While mastery is the ultimate goal, it is not the daily goal. Approach recitation as you would the task of watering plants. Each time you approach the plant, you might not see growth. Yet the watering produces the growth. And more water does not always produce faster growth; it can sometimes drown. Instead, focus on being faithful to that day’s recitation tasks. That is all that is required.
God works in similar ways. He asks of us only what he has for us that day. And he provides us with only what we need for that day. If we attempt to preserve and extend that blessing into the future, just as Israel did the manna that appeared each morning, it spoils. He wants us to trust Him, not our storehouses, for that is when our faith grows.
Like the dew that falls lightly each morning, the recitation nourishes the mind and heart just enough for the day. By God’s grace, what is produced, perhaps slowly over time, is the depth of character needed to undertake each day’s tasks and enjoy each day’s blessing.