Things take the time they take. Don’t
How many roads did St. Augustine follow
before he became St. Augustine?
We’re now firmly into the academic year, and the above poem by Mary Oliver seems particularly appropriate. This is the time when parents and teachers start to notice which students aren’t “getting it” in one subject or another (or several), and we start to worry. We worry that our teaching is inadequate, that our students aren’t smart enough, or that they will fall too far behind to catch up.
Certainly, when things don’t click for a student, there may be an underlying issue such as a learning difference that can and should be addressed. But often it’s worth remembering that the journey of a student simply takes time.
It takes time for a grammar stage student to memorize a historical timeline or a scientific question-and-answer flow. It takes time for a logic stage student to learn to think deeply and insightfully about what he knows and to discover truth. It takes time for a rhetoric stage student to come up with something worthwhile to say and to develop a winsome and effective style of communicating it. The educational journey happens over many days, in the many semesters of many years. Even Augustine, who was a very talented rhetorician at a young age, needed time to hone his skills. He needed even more time to know and discover truth and then to own that truth so deeply that he could become one of the most important theological writers of the western world. As A.G. Sertillanges writes in The Intellectual Life, “As a Christian, you must respect God in His providence. It is He who lays down the conditions of knowledge: impatience is a revolt against Him.” Learning takes time because God designed it to be so! That means there is something good to be gained from steadily plodding down the path.
More than that, Oliver’s poem speaks to the time needed for the journey of virtue formation. As he reveals in Confessions, St. Augustine struggled deeply with particular sins for the majority of his life, even after he converted and had all the head-knowledge needed to know what was wrong and what was right. And even though the St. Augustine who writes Confessions is at a different place than the younger version of himself whom he writes about, he still struggles with sin, of course. Sometimes I observe my students and wonder why we spend so much time in class talking about virtue, only to see them turn around and hurt each other or dishonor God with their words or actions. But sanctification does not happen overnight. God shapes and molds us over time, breaking us and humbling us and making us more like Him over the course of our entire lives. God can certainly use a classical Christian education as part of that process, but sanctification is much bigger than just an education at Granite.
We’re reading a retelling of The Pilgrim’s Progress as part of our chapel liturgy this year, and we’re reading it over the entire year because it’s a lengthy story! Pilgrim’s journey is not a tale, like one of Aesop’s fables, that can be told in one sitting, because it is the story of the Christian life. A classical Christian education is not a magical process that results in perfectly intelligent, virtuous people graduating 12th grade. It’s a process we hope God will use to set students on a path of learning and character formation that will last a lifetime.
Our students will make mistakes and will, like Augustine, sometimes follow the wrong roads. That’s because they, like all of us, are sinners. We need the Guide to set us on the right path, and to patiently travel with us as we struggle along. Don’t worry; he’s with us on the journey.
Aubry Myers is the Director of Classical Education at Granite Classical Tutorials.