By Carrie Eben, Guest Author
Hospitality might not be the first word for many to describe a posture of teaching. My first understanding of the word hospitality was limited to the act of entertaining guests, and if this is one’s only understanding of the word then a negative response is warranted—the role of the teacher is not to entertain her students. However, this is not the full meaning of the word. My CiRCE apprenticeship mentor, Heather Shirley, pointed out that the word hospitality has “hospital” in it. The word hospital is considered a “shelter for the needy.” The word “host” is also embedded in the word hospitality and is a person who receives and cares for people who are foreign to their surroundings.
So how can a teacher be hospitable?
My mind pictures a long banquet table with fine food aligned down the middle, never-ending in its accessibility. I love a beautiful charcuterie presentation, so I imagine fine cheeses and meats representing many cultures intentionally displayed on wooden boards. Interspersed are plump grapes, strawberries, stuffed olives, and my favorite– hot and sweet pickles. European table crackers offer a stackable vehicle for morsels to be delivered to my mouth. Red wine pairs with the fare and enhances the flavors. I am invited to sit at the table and take in as much as I like. I nibble and ponder, nibble and ponder until I am full. I can always return for more. I will never be turned away. The host attends to my needs as we discuss the presentation set before us. Even though I am not wearing formal attire, I am still welcomed to the table. Some days I feel like eating more than other days. Sometimes I crave the salt and fat of a Big Mac and fries, but my host redirects my palate to something more delicious and more helpful for my body. I trust her taste and am always glad I tried something with more integrity. There are other people present at this table. We talk and laugh. I feel the pleasure of my host’s gaze, as she watches my delight in the feast and the encouragement of friends. Others might eat more or less than I, but it doesn’t matter. I take my fill. I feel cherished, known, and fed. My host leads my soul to a place of rest, joy, and healing. Her intentions are pious.
What does this banquet scenario have to do with a hospitable education? Education is a feast. It is not a race. It is an experience in a relationship with the host and other guests. It requires the senses and direction from a host as she lovingly offers the most virtuous selection to eat and encourages the maturation of her guests’ palate to what is beautiful. The host’s hospitality welcomes all at the table and meets their needs, yet all are equally free to partake at their leisure. This is much like how God will receive us into his kingdom.
In Song of Solomon, the lover is received by her beloved at a banquet table. She is cherished, loved, and fed: “He brought me to the banqueting house, and his banner over me was love” (Song of Solomon 2:4). In Psalm 23:5, David muses that, “Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies: thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over.” In Matthew 22, Jesus tells a parable about a banquet feast which invites everyone to the table showing the open invitation to his love, although not all will partake. He shares in Luke 4:13 that all should be welcome, “On the contrary, when you host a banquet, invite those who are poor, maimed, lame, or blind.” Finally, in Revelation, the Lamb of God is seated at a wedding feast signifying the relationship between the savior and the redeemed: “Blessed are those who are invited to the banquet at the wedding celebration of the Lamb!” (Rev 19:9). A poem by George Herbert introduced to me by my colleague Dr. Jessica Hooten Wilson during a professional development session on charitable education sums up the relationship of the hospitable teacher and hungry learner: “You must sit down, says Love, and taste my meat/So I did sit and eat.” In love, Christ welcomes us time and time again to his table to sit and eat. He welcomes us to take off the burden of ourselves, place it on him and enjoy the feast, even if sometimes we are not ready.
These banquet scenes are all illustrations of God’s hospitality to us. At his table, not all will come and partake, but all are welcome. Each will imbibe their share. They will bask in the glory of their Creator and they will converse with others who are feasting with them. They will revel in their relationship with God and others.
These pictures also represent true education. A hospitable teacher loves her students and first offers a spread of delectable appetizers to prepare the learner for more substantial academic meat. She directs her students to contemplate the choices set before them. She engages them in conversation with her and with the other student guests. All are welcome to the table. Some digest a lot of what is offered, while others become full rather quickly. No “fast food” gimmicky lessons are offered here (no matter how they appease the taste buds). Everyone knows that protein nurtures and fills more than empty, frivolous carbohydrates. Only the most true, good and beautiful are shared. At the end of the feast, no matter what each has consumed, all are satiated (and possibly a little stuffed). Their brain is tired, and they are left with the flavors of learning on their palate. They will come back for more “love of the highest manifestation” as Herbert’s poem offers.
Hospitality describes well the “leading out” (Latin meaning of education or educare) process of a teacher for a student—much like in Plato’s Republic when he gives the analogy of the cave. The philosopher, or teacher, is responsible for going to those needy individuals who are foreign to new ideas and outside of their comfort zone, receive them, and bring them up out of the darkness for healing. Likewise, our most important and fulfilling job is to welcome our students to love surprising and soul-healing incarnations of truth, beauty, and goodness at the banquet in our classroom.
May your first days of school be hospitable.
For over twenty years, Carrie Eben has championed classical education in both the private school classroom and homeschool arenas. She currently serves as founding board member at Sager Classical Academy in Siloam Springs, AR. Carrie passionately leads teachers and parents in the classical model of education. She develops and delivers customized workshops for administrators, teachers, and parents in both classical school and homeschool settings via Classical Eben Education Consulting (www.classicaleben.com). Carrie holds a BSE in Intermediate Education from John Brown University and a MSEd in Curriculum and Instruction from Oklahoma State University. She is currently a PhD student in the Humanities program at Faulkner University and is a CiRCE Institute Master Teacher.