Liberty at Four
If you spend any time at our school, you will notice that we value liberty.
For example, we value the liberty of parents to be involved in their student’s education by offering a block schedule that can accommodate various sorts of homeschooling. We value the liberty of teachers to teach their subject and not teach to a test. We value the liberty of our students to be creative on the playground without unnecessary rules. (Some rules, of course, are necessary!)
Liberty for our students extends beyond the playground. I teach Pre-Kindergarten so I often think about what it means to give four-year-olds liberty. It does not mean giving them license to do whatever they like.
For example, nobody gets to gorge themselves on Valentine’s Day chocolate and run rampant. That wouldn’t be liberty; that would be enslavement by sugar. To be truly free is to be able to choose virtue, follow wisdom, and have joy without restraint. Nobody should stop a four-year-old from being kind.
That said, before a Pre-K student can choose virtue, they must first encounter virtue. After all, you are not free to do something you don’t know about. We approach this problem through a myriad of ways.
We memorize poetry and Bible verses that speak to wisdom and virtue. We read fairytales where good is shrouded in the dignity of a knight, while evil is shown in the impotence of a dragon. We recite the number one rule of the school every single time we head outside, “Be Kind.”
Mostly, though, we practice virtue with one another. And that’s hard. Sometimes it’s hard because we’re still learning what a virtue is. For example, what is justice? Sometimes it’s hard because a virtue gets in the way of our belly’s desires. And sometimes it’s hard because we keep forgetting how much happier and more at liberty we are with virtue.
Being virtuous is hard, but the load is made light when we follow wisdom. The Church teaches us that wisdom incarnate is Christ the Word made flesh, who dwelt among us. What a relief that is!
Part of giving a four-year-old freedom is making sure that they are always encouraged and allowed to be with Christ. After all, Freedom isn’t something we can bear in isolation.
We need each other to be buddies in the faith and we need the Good Shepherd to guide us to green pastures. Being allowed to be with Christ is different than forcing children to exhibit faith practices. Nobody is forced to pray or cross themselves. On the flip side, nobody is allowed to disrupt prayer by singing the Paw Patrol theme song or by poking their neighbor.
Children should be given all that we can give to follow wisdom, but choosing to follow or not follow Him is part of their liberty which should not be encroached upon.
It is my hope that children who are at liberty by knowing virtue and following wisdom find themselves in a position to have joy. They can take joy in learning the very structure of our language through its sounds and symbols with phonics (“y” makes four sounds!) They delight in counting and pondering ever-increasing amounts of numbers. (“Mrs. Cogburn, what if we had a million puppies plus a billion?!”) They laugh with abandon at jokes too absurd for me to fully appreciate. (“Super-eyeball!”) And they run, tearing through the fields, to feel that moment of almost—just almost—flying.
It is in this pursuit of virtue, wisdom, and joy that I get to see my students being put truly at liberty. As this happens, I aid where I can, from making materials that suit their developmental stage to acting as a moderator for their play negotiations.
But, at the end of it all, I have learned that liberty at four years old is the same as liberty at twenty-four. It is found when we walk in joy with Christ and each other, being humble as we tackle our ignorance and our weakness. As a teacher, I step in when ignorance blinds students to real consequences. But at the same time, I step back when I see them working hard in the pursuit of virtue, and I savor our joyous times together. Virtue, Wisdom, Joy—it’s no wonder that’s the motto of our school.