Spring 2018 / by Matthew McDill
Several years ago, this Proverb caught my attention:
A scoffer seeks wisdom in vain,
but knowledge is easy for a man of understanding.
The part that really struck me was the claim that “knowledge is easy for a man of understanding.” As a homeschooling family, we have observed that knowledge is often not easy! In fact, acquiring knowledge can be so difficult that it brings children, and sometimes even moms, to tears. I began to reflect on this verse in hopes of discovering some secret for making knowledge easy.
Since learning is work, it will never be completely easy. At the same time, the Proverb consistently makes it clear that there are certain factors that put us in a better position for learning and gaining knowledge. In this verse, Solomon said that knowledge is easy for a man of understanding. That may seem redundant at first, if we were to equate knowledge and understanding. The knowledge being gained is not the same as the understanding this man already has.
What understanding might a man have that would make knowledge easy? Another important word in this verse is wisdom. Most readers would understand there is a difference between knowledge and wisdom. Wisdom includes the idea of knowing what is right, while knowledge usually just means knowing facts or skills. I believe wisdom is what this writer has in mind when he is referring to knowledge.
What can we conclude from this verse? Here are some basic principles that I have learned from understanding the importance of gaining knowledge in the context of wisdom.
- Aim for more than knowledge.
Unfortunately, the predominant educational strategy of schools in our nation focuses almost exclusively on knowledge. Moral understanding and life skills have almost been completely removed from the system.
It is critical that we remember that knowledge is a means to an end, not an end in and of itself. In real life, we usually do not want knowledge just for the sake of knowing something. We want knowledge in order to achieve some particular purpose. We learn what is necessary in order to make a living in some line of work. We learn how to plant a garden, so that we can grow vegetables. We learn how an engine works, so that we can fix it. When we know why we need to learn something, we find the necessary motivation and energy to learn it. This is what I would call understanding.
One of the reasons children struggle with learning is because they do not understand the purpose of what they are learning. If they were given a broader understanding of the purpose, maybe learning would be easier. One critical part of having an understanding of life that makes learning easy is to understand and embrace God’s purpose for our lives. Now we move to the second principle.
- Prepare your children to fulfill God’s purpose for their lives.
God has revealed to us that our greatest purpose in life is to love Him with all that we are. Jesus said that this is the greatest commandment of all. The second greatest commandment is for us to love others (Mark 12:30-31). Understanding that the love of God and people are the most important issues of life helps us to put knowledge in perspective.
Paul compares love and knowledge in 1 Corinthians 8:1-3.
Now concerning food offered to idols:
We know that “all of us possess knowledge.”
This “knowledge” puffs up, but love builds up.
If anyone imagines that he knows something,
he does not yet know as he ought to know.
But if anyone loves God, he is known by God.
We can teach our children all the knowledge we want, but if we have not taught them to love, then what have we really accomplished? If we teach our children to love, then we have not only taught them what is most important, we have given them the proper context and purpose for learning and knowledge. Love is what knowledge is for. As Solomon said, I believe this understanding will make knowledge easy.
- Provide as many real-life contexts for learning as possible.
Some of my children have a very difficult time remembering what they have learned in school. It is interesting to observe, however, that when they seek some learning of their own to accomplish some goal of their own, they are quite capable learners. Why is this? I believe it is because humans gain and remember knowledge more effectively when there is a real need.
When we decided to raise some laying hens, we had to build proper living quarters for them. We bought them as chicks and discovered that they needed a certain amount of space per chick. The temperature in their quarters had to be within a fairly narrow range. I gave my middle-school-aged boys the job of figuring out the square footage of the pen and how to properly set up the heat lamp for correct temperature control. The real incentive was that the boys were going to be able to sell the eggs and make some money from these hens. They didn’t want any of the chicks to die, because they each represented cash. Math and temperature calculations all of the sudden mattered to my boys in a whole new way!
We will not always be able to provide a real-life context for learning. However, one of the great advantages of home education is that we frequently have the freedom to provide a context. When we provide a real-life context for learning, it provides understanding that makes knowledge easy.
There are three more implications from this Proverb for making knowledge easy, or at least easier. I will share them in the next issue of the GREENHOUSE.