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Wisdom Begins with Wonder

Starry Night on the Rhone, Vincent Van Gogh

You all know that a classical education will teach you how to do things well. That’s why you’re here. But you don’t have to go to a classical school to learn mathematics, or science, or French, or how to read well. Yes, children learn very well how to do all of these things here. Plus, they get what you won’t get anywhere else: Latin, the perfect language for learning how to think well and logically. 

But the one thing that I think makes a classical education different from any other education is that it gives children the ability to wonder. And wonder, Aristotle said, is where wisdom begins. Here it begins in Kindergarten ... and it doesn’t end even with grade 8: it just gets better! 

A classical education also teaches us to wonder as we look at the world around us and everything in it: the plants, the animals, humans, stars, machines ... there is no limit! We should wonder about everything! 

...And a classical education gives us models of people who wondered ... Homer, Plato, and Aristotle... Virgil and the great achievements of the Romans. Children discover how to wonder just as Leonardo da Vinci did, when he wondered why the sky is blue and found out, when he wondered whether men can fly and showed that they could, and when he wondered why the tongue of the woodpecker is as long as it is... and discovered why it is!

You say: "Leonardo was unique." In some ways, yes, but in some ways he was like us ... if we but wonder.

Because we know that there were so many others before him and us who did just that. Eighteen hundred  years before Leonardo and three hundred years before Jesus a librarian named Eratosthenes wondered about the circumference of the earth and used only his mind and knowledge of mathematics to guess what it was. A librarian, you say? Three hundred years before Jesus? And he was only 66 km off what we know today to be the actual circumference of the earth? Isn’t that amazing?

Only a few years before Eratosthenes, an astronomer named Aristarchus wondered about the heavens and showed that the sun was at the centre of the known universe, that the earth revolved around the sun (rather than the sun around the earth), and that he even got the planets in the right order and at the right distance from the sun. With no telescope, you say? Eighteen hundred years before Copernicus? That is truly amazing!

We in the 21st century are so blessed to be living in a world in which young people like these can live, and study, and thrive ... and wonder ... and with their classical education they can follow the very best examples of brilliant minds that have come before us. I can’t wait to see what these students will do! But it will only start if they themselves continue to wonder. So, parents: let them wonder.  No, encourage them to wonder. 

But there’s something more than wonder that these students will have gained in a classical education here, and it is as rare in our modern world as wonder is. 

These students know of the great minds, but they also have read enough to know that the greatest stories of human history also teach us that everyone, especially our heroes, make mistakes, often big ones. In the Bible these students learned that the mistakes started with the first humans: Adam and Eve. These students know what the classical world knew: that everyone makes mistakes, from the least to the greatest, and that the greater you are the more serious the mistakes and the more harmful.

...Today so-called great men and women are very willing to stand up and admit the mistakes that others before them have made but not their own. Yet that is what is writ large on almost every page of every classical text. And therein, too, lies wisdom.

These students know – or soon will – that in the classical world people feared the results of their mistakes. They knew what would happen as a result: disaster, war, horror, division, and death that would tear families and lands apart ... and then after death how the gods would rip to shreds those who had committed these mistakes.

But our students, and these graduates, know something else, because this is a Christian school as well as a classical school. These students know that the true God is first of all a God of forgiveness, a God who can forgive even the worst offender. Unlike the gods whom the Greeks and Romans worshipped or honoured, or even the gods of the great civilizations of the Ancient Near East, these students have been taught about the true God revealed in Jesus Christ, a God who is first of all a loving Father, a God who has always been more ready to forgive than we are to ask for forgiveness, and who has always only asked us to admit our mistakes and come to Him.

Yes, of course: these students know very well how important it is to live a good life according to the virtues, and they have been given excellent challenges to live a virtuous life according to classical and Biblical standards. But they also have enough examples that have been and will be set before them to know that no one ever succeeds in living a fully virtuous life. They know that they will make mistakes; they even know that their parents and other people whom they respect will make mistakes. But they also know that they don’t need to despair, ever, and no one else does either. Even those who make the biggest mistakes. And that, my friends, is even more than amazing: that is truly wonderful! 

So, in the days to come, I want you all to remember this amazing sight that for a brief and shining moment you have held in front of you, the vision of these children and young men and women, how unique this vision is in the history of the world. And here they are: a treasure that has not just survived but children who are ready to spring forth like a plant exposed to the sun. Let us treasure that.

(Excerpts from the address to the graduates, June 21, 2019 by Dr. Greg Bloomquist. Dr. Bloomquist is a Professor in the Faculty of Theology at St. Paul's University. He is married to our Grades 3/4 teacher, Rachel Bloomquist.)


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