There are a lot of tips on the internet on how to get students to do their homework, but there is something fundamentally wrong with all of them. They perceive the act of studying and homework as utilitarian; it’s pragmatic. Homework involves nothing more than the basic practice needed to learn and master a skill.
Translation: you do it because you have to.
Instead, as Christians, our students should learn to interpret homework as a “spiritual discipline.”
The spiritual disciplines involve the classic categories of silence, solitude, fasting, prayer, Scripture reading, acts of mercy and charity. We find them written about and practiced everywhere from the Desert Fathers to the Medieval monasteries to the Puritans’ journal.
Unfortunately, the practice and cultivation of the spiritual disciplines is a highly neglected area for the modern Christian.
But the spiritual disciplines bring a number of benefits to the Christian life:
- They enable us to encounter God through historic prayer practices.
- They keep us connected to worship on a daily basis.
- They provide regularity and stability in a world of flux and unpredictability.
- They provide moments of Christ-centered peace and serenity in the midst of a distracted world.
- They foster attentiveness and concentration, both of which are essential skills for all kinds of life activities.
By reinterpreting homework as part of the daily practice of the spiritual disciplines, you will see your students begin to receive homework as a blessing rather than a burden. Explain to your students that homework is not there just to keep them busy; instead, homework serves to sanctify their imaginations and consecrate their thinking. In this vein, The French Theologian, Antonin Sertillanges, described study as “a prayer to the truth.”
Here are four practical tips to help your students see homework as a blessing:
1. Establish your “sacred hour.” This involves setting aside time in the day or evening solely for the doing of homework. This establishes a consistent routine.
2. See homework as a form of fasting. Students don’t usually think of homework as a fast, but it is. They could just as easily be doing other things, like watching television, chatting with friends, playing video games. Instead, encourage students to find a place where they are separated from these distractions. If homework becomes a fast, then homework transforms into a practice for the purpose of growing in godliness.
3. Begin with prayer. Prayer consecrates the action, lifting up the homework practice to the Lord for his blessing. Prayer also focuses our thoughts on the source of eternal truth, goodness, and beauty, which the subjects will communicate to the students as they are studying.
4. Study as a form of contemplation. Encourage the students to then begin their studies as a form of contemplation. Contemplation goes beyond the problem-solving and skill-mastering; it probes the world through the lens of each subject for divine meaning and purpose. Contemplative study seeks to encounter a vision of Christ the Logos, in whom all things cohere, through each subject studied, which in turn enables us to be truly human.
We have to remember that with the modern age, knowledge is rooted in doubt; you have to prove to me that something is worth my time and attention. Otherwise don’t bother me. Classical Christian knowledge is very different. Christian knowledge is rooted in astonishment. We were created by God to be astonished, to be filled with wonder and awe.
And this creates a fundamentally different orientation toward the world. The secularist expects you to convince him that this book, or music, or course subject is worth his time; however the Christian, the classical Christian, approaches this book, or music, or course subject as something of which he is not worthy.
So we need to exhort our students: Expect to be awed, expect to be astonished by what you encounter during your homework time. Yes its often hard and tedious work, but treasure hunting always is.
You were created to be astonished.
For more tips like this, see my book, Awakening Wonder: A Classical Guide to Truth, Goodness, and Beauty, which you can order here.
You can also download for FREE the ebook, Classical vs. Modern Education: A Vision from C.S. Lewis available here.