And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love.
1 Corinthians 13:13
I read a fascinating article yesterday about how a mother’s love causes her child’s brain to grow. It was based upon research showing that maternal nurturing and love leads to growth in the hippocampus, an area of the brain responsible for learning, memory, and our ability to handle stress. Although it seems like common sense that a nurturing, loving home is conducive to a child’s ability to learn, the idea that being loved can physically change a child’s brain is amazing.
As I pondered this over the course of the day, a passage I heard recently in church popped into my mind- “Faith, hope, and love, and the greatest of these is love.” I spend a lot of time thinking about childhood and education, and what we can do to provide better learning opportunities for all children. What if, at the very heart of it all, what we must do is offer every child faith, hope, and most of all, love?
Children need to be able to have faith in their parents, their teachers, and the other adults who impact their lives. They need to be able to trust them to help and not harm, to be truthful and reliable. They need their caregivers, whether parents or teachers, to create a sense of security for them that allows them to stretch their wings and go out on a limb; to take risks and know that if they fall, the adult will be there to help them get back up, not to ridicule or condemn. Children also need to know that the adults in their lives have faith in them, and in their ability to learn and make choices.
Children need to have hope in their lives in order to grow and learn to their fullest potential. Hope comes through glimpses of the future that inspire us- beautiful things, exciting places, people we would like to be like someday. Parents and teachers can provide exposure to these things and help children develop dreams for their lives. With hope also comes the knowledge that we don’t give up. Children need to feel secure in knowing that the adults in their lives won’t give up on them and that they should never give up on themselves.
And then there is love. Physically, emotionally, socially- every part of every human being needs love to thrive. For children, they especially need love from those entrusted with their care. Love takes many forms- affection, consolation, attention, communication, play- but all contribute to a child’s sense of security and confidence. The other important aspect of loving a child is that in doing so we teach them how to love and treat others. We learn to love, and like pretty much everything, we can become better at it with practice. How can a child learn about love if they aren’t shown love themselves?
You don’t hear much about faith, hope, and love in debates over education policy. These debates tend to focus mostly on academic skills and how we should have “higher standards” and how we will test these skills, et cetera. Or we talk about construction funds, virtual schools, assigning schools letter grades, and if there is enough time in the day for recess. Perhaps we need to talk about faith, hope, and love though. Perhaps we must. Perhaps these three things provide the foundation upon which all other learning is built. Perhaps they don’t just “happen” on their own. Perhaps they are every child’s birthright, to grow up secure in faith, full of hope, and surrounded by love. As parents, teachers, policymakers, and citizens, we are responsible for seeing that they do.