Fiddling While Rome Learns
A Principle of Classical Pedagogy: Wonder and Curiosity
By Mr. Josh Brisby, M.Ed.
Folks who are somewhat familiar with the principles of the pedagogy of classical education are probably familiar with concepts such as the Trivium, educating in stages, the Romans and the Greeks and their contributions, a focus on hard copy books, a focus on worldview, and similar ideas. But as classical educators, one of the things we desire to inspire is a sense of wonder and a sense of curiosity. The Romans and the Greeks both desired to know the “why” and the “how” of things. They continued to explore, allowing nothing to hinder them or to stop them. It was in this endeavor that they continued to enjoy the freedom of this unhindered exploration.
As teachers, our desire is to inspire our students. One of the ways a student will become inspired is if he or she sees the enthusiasm of learning in us the teachers. There should never come a time when we think we are finished exploring. There should never come a time when we should think that we have “arrived,” as it were. In fact, even after Christ returns, we will still be exploring. We will be learning constantly and continually about our God, who is infinite. We will never be able to exhaust the fullness of Him, or of His creation, or of the richness of the forgiveness of our sins that He wrought for us on the Cross, which He delivers to us in Holy Baptism, Holy Absolution, and in His Holy Supper.
An excellent example of the importance of never having arrived in our exploration, wonder, and curiosity is discussed in John Steinbeck’s The Red Pony. The book discusses the concept of “westering.” Westering is the concept of the European explorers always discovering and moving westward. At the end of the book, the main character, a young boy named Jody, enjoys hearing his grandfather tell tales of his own crossing of the Great Plains. However, Jody’s father is cold and dry, and just wants to keep things at a surface level. So, Jody’s father is uninterested in hearing his father-in-law’s stories. Finally, and sadly, the grandfather just “gives up,” admitting that his explorations are over. Yet, he remembers that the whole process of westering was the wonder and the curiosity, and when he found the mountains, the discovery was just as glorious as the westering itself.
But, then he says that when they arrived at the sea, their explorations were just “done.” We are furthermore told that this made Jody sad as well—and rightfully so. The grandfather notes that “ Westering has died out of the people. Westering isn't a hunger any more. It's all done,” (Steinbeck, The Red Pony, 94).
We live in a day and age where wonder and curiosity have died out. It is not often found in people. Our fast-paced, fast-food, microwave, technological society wants us to refuse to slow down and contemplate. It wants everything to be quick. Author Ray Bradbury predicted a time, in his iconic work Fahrenheit 451, when slowing down and thinking and wondering in curiosity would be lost. We have reached that time in technological America. Instead of using technology as a tool, we have become dependent upon it. The joy of reading, contemplating, thinking, and discovering has been lost.
We think we have arrived at the ocean.
But like Jody correctly noted in Steinbeck’s novel, if we have arrived at the ocean, we can grab our boats.
Here at Memorial Lutheran School, we desire to inspire that continued wonder and curiosity of unhindered exploration. There may be an ocean in the way, but as the Stoic philosophers said, “The obstacle is the way.”
Will the ocean stop you?