JS Bach is one of my favourite classical composers. Born in Germany in 1685, from an early age his passion was music. At the age of 14 he won a prestigious choral scholarship whilst when he was 18 he was appointed organist in Arnstadt, a position that actually provided him with a salary. A little while ago, I read that on one occasion, Bach walked two hundred and thirteen miles in order to hear a performance by an organist that he admired; once the concert was finished he prompted walked back again! As I mulled this over, I wondered how many of us have lives shaped by our passion? In modern life (although in reality, I do not think that contemporary life is very different from that of previous generations) it is very easy to allow the normal and necessary things of life to take preeminence in our thinking and consequently shape our very being. The ordinary and the mundane become the norm and those things that we are passionate about, those things that delight us, get pushed down to a point where they possibly hardly feature in our lives at all.
Passion and delight are intimately bound together. Those things that we are passionate about cause us delight, and that delight can spur us on in our passion. If truth be told, there does not seem much room for passion or delight in much that passes for education in Western societies. More than anything else economic determinism moulds national education policies – almost as if there is a sense in which decision-makers have decided that since the primary purpose of schooling is to prepare people for adult life, it is therefore necessary that school-based learning must be passionless and ‘undelightful’!
Some years ago, the American homeschool pioneer, Gregg Harris in his excellent book “The Christian Home School” wrote a chapter entitled ‘Delight Directed Study’. He wrote this – “A delight-directed study is like a wonderful fire in the mind of a student. It starts small, but as it grows, it begins to consume vast amounts of information until it bursts into a roaring blaze of insight, understanding and creativity.” This is a powerful thought, although I disagree slightly with Gregg over the method of achieving ‘delight’ whilst study. For me, delight derives from allowing students to study what excites them and permitting them to be defined by what they are good at. Virtually all students will study things that do not delight, especially if they are not thrilled by maths or English. For those children however, these subjects need to be seen as a vehicle to enable them to pursue those things that do give them delight or they are passionate about.