Beauty will save our children, Part 2–Leah Farish

     I was able to visit Riga, Latvia, a few years ago.  Since I was there with the nation’s Ministry of Education, we were able to visit a school outside the city.  The students themselves had been allowed to redecorate a few areas of the school, the first being the entry.  As we entered the rather old building, we felt a combination of drama and serenity I have never sensed in the foyer of a school building.  We looked up and the ceiling was painted a passionate blue, and spangled with gold stars.

The teenage students could hardly wait to show us the classroom they had decorated.

Desks had been replaced with tables for two, and the walls were hunter green.  Large windows admitted plenty of light, but each table was also warmed at its center by a brass study lamp.  We visitors were humbled by the unspoken message of these youngsters: “We want to learn, and we want to do it surrounded by beauty.”

Children naturally respond to loveliness and order.  This idea may be obscured under the mounds of toys, homework papers, and food debris they tend to leave behind when their lives aren’t ordered.  But they do crave it and they naturally celebrate it.  Look at the kids’ sheer delight and spontaneous movement to the music of “Joyful, Joyful, We Adore Thee” in the online video, “Som Sabadell flashmob.”

I was about five I first heard a recording of Handel’s “Hallelujah Chorus” from Messiah.  I asked my mother, “Why are those people angry?”  She laughed and said, “They’re not angry, they’re happy.”  But somehow I gathered this was a different kind of happiness than five year olds usually feel.  Later I realized: it was fierceness.  As C.S. Lewis says of characters in his Narnia books, “Their joy was like swords.”  I was hearing the swords.  There was an intensity to that beauty that made me want to grow into it, that made me want to mature.

Warning: When kids are over-stimulated with an exaggerated clutter of artificial images—like the saccharine vistas of the laborious Avatar cartoon movie—they can lose sensitivity to the ordinary aesthetic wonders around them.  When children overdose on hectic, highly-produced media—earbuds at bedtime, 24/7 texting, constant car audio, video games, etc.—they may never find the pleasure of singing a song with the family or painting a picture for themselves.  If they never feel that anything they do, however small and imperfect, can be beautiful, they will quit trying to achieve it, and eventually to appreciate it in their everyday lives.  Don’t let them suppose that beauty is for “the experts.”

So expose kids to the Great Masters—and to the simple beauty of shadows, smells, and harmony.