It happens around this same time every year. Several million students go back to school. In North America alone, there are 10s of millions of children in elementary school. From the Sunday school basement to the university physics lab, we understand ourselves through our pursuit of learning.
How we understand what we understand varies vastly from place to place and from teacher to teacher. The Oxford English Dictionary offers 5 definitions of the word “education”. In the last definition, “an education” is an “enlightening experience”. So learning is how the light flows. Blocking the flow is how we prevent learning. We can be a just another brick in the wall that blocks out the light or we can tear down walls and teach. So how do we allow the light to flow?
In Psalm 19, David tells us how the light of the sun shines in the heaven. If we look at it, we can discover how to let understanding do the same.
- Learning flows when learners know what they are required to do.
“In the heavens, he has set a tent for the sun” (v.4). The sun has a specific place to be and a certain task to accomplish. If students know their specific task, if they know when their tasks begin and end, when students understand the specific outcome of their learning, then understanding can flow more easily. ( Csikszentmihalyi, 1990 )
- Learning flows when teachers are attentive to their students.
Psalm 19 exists because David took an interest in the sunlight. Through his writing, David brought a new written existence to the sunlight, expanded our understanding of it. In the same way, when teachers focus on their students, teachers expand student’s understanding of themselves and what they are learning. In turn, when learners are the objects of a teacher’s focused attention, learners will inevitably expand teachers’ understanding of themselves.
- Learning flows when there are some choices.
David writes of the sunlight, “Nothing is hid from its heat.” (v.6) The sun can shine on many things just as there are a many ways to respond to any piece of information. Teachers who know this will be able to create learning spaces where understanding gushes like sunlight in August.
- Learning flows when learners feel safe to be themselves.
When learners understand that if words of their heart were to pour forth that their teacher would hear those words and attend to those words, then learners will be in a good mindset to understand what a teacher is trying to teach.
- Learning flows when it is allowed to grow.
Once the brick tumbles out of the wall and a river of sunlight runs, it spreads rapidly. Once a good teacher has forged the crack that lets the light in, that teacher is free to join in on the exhilarating joy of learning as it flows where it will. The light of the sun has the power to shine “from the end of the heavens, and its circuit to the end of them..” (v.6)
May the rapture of knowledge deluge teachers and students everywhere in this new season of understanding.
Csikszentmihalyi , M. (1990). Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience. New York: Harper & Row.
Soanes, C., Stevenson, A. (Eds.). (2003) Oxford Dictionary of English, Oxford: Oxford University Press.