Not Smart, but Heart

Why did you choose a classical education? Was it your goal that your child would graduate with super high academics and outstanding college entrance test scores? These can be dangerous goals. This can backfire and produce proud people, those who think they are better than others and look down on others. 

I was reminded of this not long ago by Travis Copeland, a writer for CLT Journal: “The road toward “smart” is a false one, which leads not to flourishing but only to pride or despair. The result can only be feeling superior or inferior to a fellow classmate, co-worker, or friend. Even if it stings to hear at first, any teacher who steps into a student’s life and stops this progression does a good thing. Students need to hear plainly: you are not here to learn to be smart.”

The goal of classical education is not smart children, but those with heart: a heart for God, a heart for His kingdom, a heart for eternity, and a heart for others. When I visit with families and enjoy time with Veritas dads, repeatedly the parents share that the heart of their child is their primary concern. This is their prayer, their vision, and their hope before God. 

But when academics plays such a big part, how do we maintain our focus? It starts with us as parents. Am I ever worrying about how my child’s performance is making me look? Am I more worried about the score on the comprehension test than discussing the lesson in a piece of Christian literature? Am I rushing to complete each and every assignment, so that there is no time left for talking about Jesus and His pleasure with us, His blood-bought children? 

If that is the case, we have taken our eye off the ball. Grades are secondary to heart and character. When they discuss a book and its lessons, we are cultivating their heart. We are expanding their values; the discussions can rearrange life priorities. When the students develop good character by emulating the characters of the good men, women and children in their literature, their grades will overflow from this good character. When they take note of the foolishness and bad results from the weak characters in their books, they can avoid some of the pitfalls these characters experience. 

We all like to see A’s in the report card, but I would rather have them get A’s in treating others well, in keeping Christ first in all things, in seeing the need or sadness in a fellow student. I would rather have them be students and scholars in giving encouragement. Usually this is not an either/or scenario. One can often do both. But the focus should be on the heart.

Often focus is revealed in the questions that we ask:
“Did you have fun today?” OR “Did you get a chance to encourage anyone today?”
“Did you get a good score on that test?” OR “What was the most interesting thing you learned from studying for that test?”
“How are you feeling?” OR “Did you notice if any classmate was having a bad day today?”
As we shift our focus, our children will also. They can quickly realize what you think is important.

If you yearn to see the heart expanded, if this is goal number one for when they leave your home, shift to see it become goal number one in conversation. Let go of the latest piece of news that has upset you. Don’t become obsessed with the world’s problems. Instead, seek first His Kingdom and His righteousness. Whatever you want to become your child’s focus when they are older, should become your focus today. 

And there’s nothing wrong in seeking to have your children grow in thinking critically and becoming stronger and stronger in their academic skills when the goal of this is not their “smarts,” but their being equipped to be wise servants of Christ. As they aim for that, may God help them to grow in humility and power. 

Your fellow servant-warrior,

Christopher Barnes
Family Ministries Director

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