Gorging on the Fruits of an Ambleside Education

After studying early American history, including the American Revolution, this semester, it was an especially meaningful experience to visit Boston this past week as a family.  We were intrepid historians as we "braved the elements" in December.  We were rewarded with having the Freedom Trail, and other historical sites, largely to ourselves.  This allowed us to linger and savor, which we did.  The Nutcracker by the Boston Ballet enchanted us as well, and was especially alive to us after studying Tchaikovsky this semester.  At various times during the performance my ten -year-old son leaned over to me and said: "This is grand!" "This is capital!" "This is wonderful!"  And the Boston Pops & Tanglewood Festival Chorus concert presented Christmas hymns and melodies with such precision and joy that each old-time favorite was as fresh as if it was just written.  We were truly regaled with the results of life-times of dedication and love of the arts.  Each artist clearly “gave their all,” backed by decades of dedicated sacrificial practice.

Upon reflection, two main ideas keep circling in my mind:

  1. What a glorious thing of beauty is a task well-done, and what glory this brings to our Creator.

Indeed, The Nutcracker and Boston Pops were holy experiences to me.  They led me to know God better and to worship Him more deeply.  I am, even now, moved to worship Him as I recall the soprano saxophone hitting his high note hauntingly, the ballerina landing perfectly en pointe, the male vocalist’s deep voice resonating through my whole body.  God is the Creator, and these creative acts were reflections of Him.

  1. That I have our Ambleside education to thank for making the historical sites and performances accessible to us. 

I readily admit, but with much dismay, that I would have brought a much different mind and attitude to this trip at my sons’ ages than my sons brought. I was reared on information suited to the test, on the grade as the goal of learning, on the experience of life as being what happens outside of learning contexts.  I fell asleep through many Nutcracker performances and symphonies as I was raised.  I wondered why they were “still” dancing when I awoke.  I entered exhibits and historical sites looking for what would be on “the test.”  In contrast, my sons, having been reared on the understanding that all of life is about growth, that all of learning is for growth, and to truly see and understand, not just watch and filter, were primed to receive the banquet set before them in Boston. 

This priming has happened these past (almost) five years as we have engaged in the liberal education of Ambleside.  Through this curriculum, we are challenged to be changed by ideas and to really know our subject, rather than be consumers of information.  We are learning to listen to music to hear its nuances and meanings; to view a painting and seek to grasp the artist’s technique, palette, mood, and treatment of the subject; to find a leaf and identify its name, habitat and unique features; to paint a picture by first seeing the elements of shape represented in our subject; to read literature and seek to understand the mind of the author; and to approach math, science, and grammar with the same zeal to understand and know, not to simply get to the answer.  This has been very tough work, but we gorged on its fruits in Boston!