September 13, 2009

On Plutarch, repentance and shafts of light

"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 Gylberd
Justin 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..."

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."


Bonnie said...


I found you via Dr. Grant as I teach literature for a Gileskirk tutorial
in Charlotte. I passed your blog onto our forum and put something on my blog about this wonderful post.
Thank YOU! I'm thankful to be filled this morning as I always pray for the Spirit to teach me. Your words did. Also just went over that teaching of George's with our students and you have gone deeper. I'll be back to search out your wisdom.The Lord bless you. (I'm also involved with
Childlight USA, so I think we know some of the same educators!)


Anonymous said...

Hello Lynn,

Thought you might want to know that Tristan Gylberd and Dr. George Grant are one in the same man. He has used his fake Tristan Gylberd "quotes" in various books, presentations, in his own church blogs, and, unfortunately, presented them as accurate quotes (at least one was used an an actual historical quote) when conducting his high school Humanities classes. I find his deception disturbing.


Emily said...

We (that is, we who are the students of Dr. Grant, for I attended his school before I had to move away) all know that he uses the pseudonym Tristan Gylberd. It's not like he's trying to trick us, or anything. What reason would he have for doing that?

Loved the post! It was a refreshing read during my break from studying, which, unfortunately, must end right now.

rachel tsunami said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
rachel tsunami said...


Are you familiar with what a "pseudonym" is? I can think of LOTS of authors past and present who have used a pseudonym and really, that sort of thing is not in the category of "deception."

btw, the expression you want is "one *and* the same man" rather than "one in the same."

Lynn, once again, a great post. A true arrow hits its mark. Thanks.

Brandy Vencel said...

I just hopped over after noting the link in Cindy's delicious side bar...reading this was a feast! Thank you for feeding this mommy's soul.

I am looking forward to beginning Plutarch with my own children...someday, when they are older.

Donovan said...

Lynn B,

Thanks for this interesting and thought-provoking post. Do you happen to know if Tristan Gylberd is related to the American poet Tristan Gilbert?

I believe “Gylberd” is the British spelling of “Gilbert,” so I was wondering if there is a connection between the two of them.

Dana in Georgia said...

I did not know that George Grant and Tristan Gylberd were one and the same man. I even asked about where I could find a book of it poetry leaving a comment at Dr Grant's blog, but never got any answer.

Seems like it would have been easy for someone to just say so...

BTW very nice synchronicity...

JCrew Mama said...

Thank you, thank you, thank you, Lynn.

Lynn Bruce said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Lynn Bruce said...

I promise it never occurred to me that this post would stir up questions about the very enigmatic Tristan Gylberd!

A few thoughts about that...

Dr. Grant is an established author, and, as Rachel already expressed, the adoption of pseudonyms for the purpose of expanding one's literary boundaries has legitimate and historical precedent. It can also be a lot of fun for both the author and his readers.

My two daughters have logged in four and six years (respectively) listening to Gileskirk lectures on a weekly basis, and they have long been aware of Gylberd as Dr. George's poetic alter ego. They have always thought it a charming and ingenious teaching device.

I've written on this blog for well over four years now as Queen Shenaynay, carefully avoiding the use of my name. It's only in the past couple of weeks that I've decided to blog as me. But I'm rather attached to Queen Shenaynay, and I'm not about to leave her in the dust. I enjoy her. She's fun for me. Who knows, I may publish a volume of poetry someday as Queen Shenaynay! And if I do, I can't fathom why I'd put my name anywhere in the book. That would just seem silly and beside the point.


Dana, as for your inquiry about Gylberd going unanswered, personally, I feel that's as it should be. If an author has to say, "Yes, I'm actually Samuel Clemens," then it greatly diffuses the impact and charm of otherwise being Mark Twain. Why bother being Mark Twain if you're going to make appearances as both Mark Twain and Samuel Clemens at the same time? Which is what Dr. George would have to do, in essence, to reply to you with, "Oh well, sure, Gylberd is really me." That's no fun. And in the words of Theodore Geisel, whom we all know by his pseudonym, Dr. Seuss, "Fun is good."


Finally, Donovan - very good question, but no, Gilbert and Gylberd are not the same person. Gilbert is, by his own admission, insane, and writes from inside his insanity, if you know what I mean. The quotes I've read from Gylberd are clearly not the ramblings of an insane man.


Thank you all for your kind words and your engaging comments! I've enjoyed them all.

~ Lynn, aka QS!

Unknown said...

Whew, I am so happy I don't have to remember not to call you Lynn anymore. I was always forgetting.

gileskirk said...

Lynn aka "The Queen"

Both Tristan and I find this whole thread enlightening and more than a little amusing!

Standfast in His grace!

Dana in Georgia said...

About my query... if I remember correctly, it was where can I buy one of his books of poetry. I did not ask *who* he was...

Lynn Bruce said...

Ah, I see, Dana. Well, now that you know he's a fig newton of imagination (hat tip to my preschoolers for that one!), I guess it makes more sense that he hasn't produced a volume of verse!

We should perhaps speak to Dr. George about encouraging Mr. Gylberd to consider that. :-)

BTW, Dana, I enjoy your blog and your comments on Cindy's, and it's good to see you pop in here at the hive!

Lok said...

good, good stuff. :-)

Donovan said...

Lynn B,

Thanks for clarifying that the poets Tristan Gilbert and Tristan Gylberd are not the same person. What a coincidence!

Marion said...

Poet Tristan Gilbert was indeed insane with bipolar schizophrenia, but he hid it well. It's been said that for many years he "rode the fine line between genius and insanity."

Fortunately, Gilbert got the help he needed and was treated with antipsychotic medications.

Katie said...

Thank you, Sister Lynn. You nailed it! You stirred my thoughts, too:

Anonymous said...

LOVE IT! I am not a mental gymnast, but still the conversations that arise with my children from Plutarch are sooo beneficial and amazing!!!! (((((HUGS))))) sandi

ElderClan said...


I found this through Cindy. Thanks so much....Too often my hand has closed the book and we have missed out. I also realized that you recently joined CLASSED. I joined just before you and meant to write a welcome as I wanted to say thank you for all your work on Ambleside. I only found it in the last few years, but it has been such a help. So I say welcome and thank you.

amy in peru said...

quite apart from all the discussion, I have found inspiration to pursue Plutarch better. I have NOT known really how to approach it or guide my boys in it... I look forward to next year when we will do better. :)

amy inperu

Tristan Gylberd said...

It looks as though I’m a little late getting in on this fascinating discussion, but I wanted to let everybody know that I have now have a blog where you can read a collection of my quotes, plus a few from others: