Around mid-February, our family and homeschool community begin to struggle with that demon who seems to especially delight in tormenting students and educators: Slog. Stupider than his colleagues Wormwood and Screwtape, Slog speaks few words to his deceive victims: he simply weighs down the heart of teacher, parent, and student by whispering over and over, “Look how much you have to do.”
The winter school days drag on monotonously and the sunny May end of term feels a long, long way away. Repitio feels like the mater of misery, not memoriae.
Parents and teachers have the double weight of keeping life and interest alive in their current classes while at the same time planning for next year’s schedule. Still stressed by the effort to finish covering all the wonderful material we planned for this year’s class, we must at the same time work on next year’s courses, recruit families and teachers for our co-op or school, and put together schedules for our own children before this or that online class fills up.
Just when we need extra time and energy to keep this school year alive and well, all our margin is robbed by a rush of work for next year. The spirit of scholé is in great danger of being squashed by the demon Slog.
As it is the only sensible thing to do under such circumstances, I deal with Slog by procrastinating all my work and planning a beach vacation to look forward to. I will always have too much to do, Sir Slog, tormenter of Martha, but one thing is essential: to seek the beauty of the Lord.
The beach reminds me that repetition can be beautiful and calming, even full of wonder. The sky spreads endlessly day after day over the faithful repetitions of surf and tide. There are few things more wonder-full than the waves that magically rise from still depths and ceaselessly roll to shore, pulled by love for the motion of the moon above. The oceanside shows us a repetition that is not dead and mechanical but living and mystical.
And unlike the anxiety aroused by the endlessness of my to-do list, the endlessness of the ocean and the vastness of beach sands quiets my spirit. Sitting still before the water’s unreachable horizon, I can rest in the truth that reality, that life, that the work of teaching, is overwhelmingly large while I am very small—and that is ok. That is how it was meant to be.
For me, the first step in practicing scholé is to accept this God-given limitation—to receive the beach as a metaphor for education.
Modern education trained most of us to be utilitarian, competitive, and information focused, but content-focused education is like trying to shovel as much sand into your brain as possible, and faster than the other people on the beach so that you or your child can be admitted to that Ivy League college or get that scholarship so you can afford to cram more sand into your brain at the university. Accepting limitations in such a system is anathema; it is to accept defeat and allow your more ambitious neighbor to pass you up.
But in truth, such an approach to education is as silly as it is Sisyphean. I can never learn everything there is to know. I can never read all the good books. I can never accomplish all the good things. I can never provide for my children all they need. To pretend that we can is to turn education into slavery, to be always scrambling, never arriving, and always viewing your fellow human as a competitor in a losing game. Ambitious modern educators are like crazy vacationers who spend their time filling as many buckets of sand as they can, piling up formless, meaningless piles of information in the belief that he with the biggest pile wins.
Few things kill a child’s natural, God-given sense of wonder than teachers and parents who try to cram in as much content to their lessons and classes and syllabi as they can. No one can wonder at the beauty of the world when pressed by too many tasks to complete in too little time.
Christian classical education is much more like learning to build sandcastles. The point is not to collect buckets of formless, disordered sand but to learn the forms of truth that give shape to the world. This is why formal education begins with the trivium, which teaches us the forms of language, and the quadrivium, which gives us the forms of number. God formed his world through the language of word and number.
And to learn these forms, any collection of “sand” or content will really do. All truth is God’s truth; all of creation is filled with his glory. Whatever text or topic or poem or event is at hand for today is a good one. Every inch of creation is shaped by the Logos and crammed with the Good, True, and Beautiful if we only have eyes to see it.
And enough is enough. Whatever content you can cover with unharried attention is enough for today. This is the wisdom of multum non multa—much not many. We are learning the forms of creation and the skill of creative imitation, not hoarding fragmented bits of knowledge. We only need as much content in this lesson, this day, or this class as will teach us the principle or form at hand. The quality of our learning must be privileged over its quantity. Once we learn the forms of truth, we have the tools we need to continue learning throughout our lives.
Education is not a race to shovel in more and more content; this is the repetition that kills learning. Education is the endeavor to behold the Logos in a spirit of wonder so that—like waves drawn by the beauty of the moon—we are moved by delight to imitate the goodness, truth, and beauty we have perceived. This is the repetition that brings life.
So let us defeat the February demon, Slog, by letting things fall off our to-do list—because we have chosen what is better. The sun will go on rising and falling whether you make it to that last lesson or not.