"Knowledge is knowing; understanding is knowing what to do; wisdom is knowing what to do next; virtue is actually doing it. The three together are what we call repentance." ~ Tristan GylberdJustin had just braved a sentence-by-sentence narration of some Plutarch and he was a bit tired, but it was that pleasant sort of tired you'd get from, oh say, a spin through the museum with Octavius and Attila the Hun.
And before proceeding further I'd just like to toss out here that Plutarch is the Pilates of curricular pursuits. It's a bit of a workout, but it pays you back for your efforts sooner and in more areas than you expected.
So Justin and I had just taken a spin with old Valerius Publicola and his nemesis Tarquinius (who had the very cool last name Superbus, which is, of course, pronounced suPERbus, but we absolutely had to call him SUperbus because by late afternoon that sort of thing is crazy funny to a ten-year-old). After that whirlwind of human chiarascuro -- the virtuous against the power mad, magnanimity against greed, wisdom against foolishness -- we were a mere breath away from sending school packing for the weekend. My brain was already migrating toward the teakettle and maybe a brisk stroll before starting supper. But glancing back at the Plutarch lesson in my lap, I noted there was still one last item to go:
"Read Proverbs 1:10-33. How could this passage help someone avoid making a similar mistake?"
Erg. My hand was twitching to just close the notebook. I mean, I could defend my slackery with the excuse that we've read Proverbs sorta kinda lately. And besides, it was half past tea.
But then the old school marm who lives in my conscience clucked her tongue at me. "Oh, but this is one of Anne White's Plutarch lessons, and you know what that means."
Okay, fine, yes, I do. See, ten years of watching Anne's very clarified brain work on the AO Advisory have shown me... well, how Anne's brain works. Specifically, that she won't suffer a detail unless she's positive it adds to the whole. That means I can be dead solid certain Anne would only include that Proverbs passage at the end of this Plutarch lesson if it was the very detail needed to supply the zipper to zip the whole thing up.
Tea would have to wait. "Please open your Bible to Proverbs 1," I said.
"...wisdom is knowing what to do next;
virtue is actually doing it..."
virtue is actually doing it..."
Well, what happened next was a few golden moments in a shaft of light. One of those lessons where the wind bloweth where it listeth and you didn't see it whence it came and you've no clue whither it goeth, but you do know what's happening is better than what you had planned. This is teaching in a shaft of light.
And speaking of knowing and repentance, here's something we teachers all need to learn and repent of: You can't rush shafts of light. They don't give a hoot about your tight schedule or that your genetic code fritzes out mid-afternoon without hot tea. They need space befitting what they are. The same shaft of light that wreaks glare and havoc on the freeway creates luminous glow on a still meadow.
As I slowly read the verses of Proverbs 1 aloud, Plutarch and Solomon stepped into that shaft of light and began shaking hands. (Anne, you're so cool.) Justin sat up straighter. I slowed my pace, floated out a couple of low-key Socratic questions, let the pauses expand and breathe. Justin's eyes darted around the room as he thought through his answers. Good. His answers led to questions, questions led to answers... and instead of having a quiet moment with Earl Grey at three o'clock in the afternoon, here I was smushed on the sofa with a wiry ten-year-old helping me discover new things about the nature of wisdom, the nature of those who seek it, the nature of those who rebel against pursuing it.
As Justinius Superbus peeled the layers away, he realized that rebellion against wisdom can be manifest in ways he'd never considered -- not just as railing against God, but as rolling your eyes over a grammar lesson, not paying attention in church, or daydreaming about baseball while reading history.
Or chucking Proverbs for a pot of tea. Ahem.
Dr. George Grant wrote something four years ago that has been hanging on a hook in my mental locker ever since I first read it:
"At the beginning of every academic year I like to remind myself and my students that true education is a form of repentance. It is a humble admission that we've not read all that we need to read, we don't know all that we need to know, and we've not yet become all that we are called to become. Education is that unique form of discipleship that brings us to the place of admitting our inadequacies. It is that remarkable rebuke of autonomy and independence so powerful and so evident that we actually shut up and pay heed for a change." (Please do go read the whole thing.)In that Proverbs chapter, Justin and I read, "How long, ye simple ones, will ye love simplicity? and the scorners delight in their scorning, and fools hate knowledge? Turn you at my reproof..."
"Turn you." Look at that. That means "repent." Of what? Loving ignorance, wallowing in cynicism, hating knowledge. Being fools.
Whenever a child grows sour about having to learn, one thing is certain: somebody needs to repent. Maybe it's him, plain and simple. Maybe it's whoever is arranging his academic endeavors in a manner that goes against his God-given nature and deadens the enlivening force of real knowledge and wisdom. Maybe it's whoever is teaching him that we rush through the permanent things so we'll have more time to wallow in the temporal. And let's just confess it -- actually, I just did -- we've all done that. Maybe it's the distracted parent who has let screens raise him, rule him, and wreck his brain waves. Most of us have done a little of that, too.
Maybe it's all of that -- all of us. But we can learn, and do better.
True education is a form of repentance.
And repentance is knowing what to do next, and doing it.
And knowing what to do comes from wisdom... and wisdom, mercifully, is close at hand:
"If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not; and it shall be given him."