The Beauty of Education

One of my colleagues at Calvin University, Prof. David Smith, recently sent me a link to a wonderful article he wrote several years ago on how school can be beautiful and education can be beautiful. The article focuses on the thought of Comenius, for whom beauty was an important value. David begins the article with the closing words of Comenius’s Didactica Magna, on which he then comments:

Do Thou, therefore, O Lord our God, give each one of us a joyful heart to serve Thy glory as best he may […] Let Thy work appear unto Thy servants, and Thy glory upon their children. And let the beauty of the Lord our God be upon us; and establish Thou the works of our hands upon us (Psalm xc.16). In Thee, O Lord, have I trusted, let me never be confounded. Amen. 

The discourse is devotional, the sentiments, biblical; the context is educational. The prayer comes from the final page of an enormously influential treatise on school reform penned in the mid-seventeenth century by the Moravian educator, pastor, philosopher, literary pioneer, and general jack-of-all-trades, John Amos Comenius. After a weighty collection of chapters ranging in topic from the profundities of moral and spiritual education to the practicalities of organizing grade levels and textbooks, Comenius closes with a prayer for beauty. For God’s beauty. That it be upon us. “Us” being in this case primarily those who teach the young.

“Let the beauty of the Lord our God be upon us”—the phrase is quoted from Psalm 90:16 but has an unfamiliar ring. Those taking the trouble to check the reference will find that recent translations have taken a different tack. “Favor” says the New International Version. “Friendship” appears in the 1912 German update of Luther. “Kindness” says the Modern King James Version. Comenius was of course working with older versions—“decor” (beauty, grace) says the Latin Vulgate, and that’s the word Comenius echoes.3 I am in no position to adjudicate translations of ancient Hebrew, and doing so is not my goal here. Moreover, I suspect that Comenius may have been unruffled by the thought that beauty and kindness could be interchanged. Call it an intriguing resonance or a creative mistranslation, what interests me here either way is what it might mean to think of teaching and learning as beautiful. This suggests a wider question: how do we imagine education, and what does that imagining do for how we practice it?

Read the rest of this wonderful article here: