Festina Lente

Written by Douglas Wilson

The Latin expression of the title is oxymoronic—it means “make haste slowly.” But there is a way to read it where the paradox brings wisdom, not a contradiction. As Chesterton put it, a paradox is just truth standing on its head to get attention.

If we make haste for the sake of speed alone, we will stumble, fall, cut corners, and generally make a hash of things. But if we just emphasize going slowly, we will allow events to overtake us, pass us by, and render us and our efforts obsolete. Just imagine an ent trying to drive on the freeway in the middle of one of our major cities. So what does this have to do with education? There are two things we should meditate on, and these are represented by the words technology and generations. In our current context, technology gives us the make haste part, and generations gives us the slowly part. And if we are to remain faithful, they must go together. How so?

The educational options that are available to parents today are remarkable—overwhelming in fact. This catalog is a fine example of the cornucopia we have available to us, and this catalogue cannot come close to representing the whole of it. We have access to virtually every extant book via on-demand printing, we have inexpensive editions of the best that has been thought through the centuries, we have study materials to go with much of it, we have internet tutorials, we have schools that make their instructive materials available, we have audio lectures on every subject imaginable, we have DVDs of classroom instruction in Latin or Logic, we have textbooks like the Omnibus series to guide and direct us, we have high quality reproductions of glorious music, and high quality prints of glorious painting. I wouldn’t be surprised if somewhere in the world, somebody has downloaded Augustine’s City of God onto his cell phone.

But without a theology of generational patience, all these things are just so many objects whizzing by our heads. This is all glorious, unless we can’t put it together, in which case it is pandemonium. Quantity is wonderful, but quantity without a principle of integration is overwhelming. If you were to empty a ten-pound sack of BBs into a tile bathroom, the problem would not be a lack of quantity. The need is to find a principle of integration. Many a home-schooling mom has found herself frustrated by the abundance, by the embarrassment of riches. Life was hectic enough without trying to keep all these marbles on the table.

But there is a problem in the opposite direction. It is not our problem, so we don’t need to do much with it, other than acknowledge that it has been a problem for some in the past. This is where you have loads of generational patience, but no real understanding of how the kingdom of God is supposed to grow and advance, transforming the world. Some societies have been so static that they have not thought or done anything new for five hundred years. That has been a problem in the past, but, as I say, it is not the one we are confronted with. Change for the sake of change is bad, and so is hidebound conservatism. Chasing one educational fad after another is bad, and so is sticking with a failed method for two hundred years.

Let’s return, then, to our problem. Technology by itself is all sail and no ballast. If we are ignorant, technology just enables us to send that ignorance around the world three times with the click of a mouse. Now, more than ever, we need a theology of children, generations, cultural development, with the result—generational patience. We are seeking to grow oaks, not cabbages. So what can parents do when they are thumbing through this catalog, considering all the things they could be doing, with the recognition that they can’t do everything? Where do you start?

The Bible teaches that Jesus Christ Himself is the principle of integration. The apostle Paul teaches us that Jesus is the arche, the one in whom all things hold together (Col. 1:16-18). And this means that every home-schooling family or Christian school family (that does not want their course of studies to turn into something like the curriculum out of Bedlam High) needs to set the highest priority on finding and joining a worshipping community of Christians, a congregation that hears the Word faithfully proclaimed, that participates faithfully in the sacraments of baptism and communion, and which worships God reverently in godly fear. However many pearls you have gathered, from however many catalogs and home school conventions, the worship of the triune God is the only thread that can string them all together.

Secondly, seek out those who are wise in these matters, and try to avoid choosing your curriculum as though you were walking through a cafeteria, sliding your tray down the stainless steel rails. A little of this and a little of that will make Jack a dull boy. At the same time, note that the Bible does not define wisdom in terms of self-appointed experts or unsubstantiated dogmatism, but rather in terms of those who have lived and practiced what they are recommending (Heb. 13:7, 17). The one who walks with the wise will be wise, and those who compare themselves with themselves are not wise (1 Cor. 10:12). Those who are wise will start you out in ways that will enable you to grow into wisdom yourself, gradually. There is a natural sequence to a God-honoring curriculum, and mentors who help you see this at the very beginning are saving you an enormous amount of time.

And last, remember another comment of Chesterton’s—anything worth doing is worth doing badly. We are not trying to fix everything in the next ten minutes. We simply want to turn around and head in the right direction, and make significant progress in that direction. We want to do it in a gracious way, so that our children inherit from us a love for the standards we are recovering, and when it comes time for them to educate their children, they will continue the journey. And, as God blesses, their children will do the same thing. This is all connected to God’s promises concerning our children (e.g., Ps. 102:28), which we receive by faith—not by works. And when we are grasped by this wonderful truth, we can be simultaneously overwhelmed and encouraged—overwhelmed by the opportunities and options before us, and encouraged by the promises.