The lazy hazy days of summer are here and I can’t think of more appropriate advice to give anyone than that which Friar Laurence gave to Romeo:
O, let us hence; I stand on sudden haste.
Wisely and slow; they stumble that run fast.
Sadly for Romeo and Juliet and for their respective families Romeo did not take the advice.
But anyone involved in the pursuit of wisdom- which includes every human being to at least some extent- really should proceed wisely and slow in the pursuit.
Wisdom is a sloooooowwwww pursuit.
No one ever becomes wise in fewer than, say, 45 years….of course there are some notable exceptions….but the exceptions only establish the rule with greater solidity.
Students in general grow impatient with the advice of Friar Laurence. I don’t blame them. I, too, sometimes find myself wanting answers more quickly than the nature of this or that question allows.
Anyone who has gone skipping through the Summa Theologica attempting to get a fast answer to some abstruse Theological question knows what I mean.
As a matter of fact anyone who has ever picked up the Summa Theologica without having read the major works of Aristotle should know what I mean – although in this case it is more forgivable.
Picking up St. Thomas at any time is probably a good idea, just as long as the humble reader is willing to take many things on faith, admitting his own ignorance rather than having the temerity to find fault with St Thomas.
But strictly speaking one should not read the Summa without having mastered, to some acceptable degree, the works of Aristotle. (i.e. from the Categories straight through the Metaphysics!)
But to the young, to whom a minute can seem an hour and an hour eternity, slow procedure is tantamount to torture!
So I don’t blame any student for indulging in what St Augustine condemns as a sort of curiositas – or to put it more unpleasantly – a perverse desire to know.
What’s more, the fact that students suffer from a ‘disordered desire to know’ is not entirely a fault stemming from their youth. A fair share of the blame also lies squarely on the shoulders of the parents, teachers and the reigning educational establishment which all conspire with irresistible effectiveness in encouraging disorderly learning.
The ordinary parent is mostly (and understandably) concerned that his child be successful. A parent naturally wants to see his own child succeed in life.
Success is rarely measured in terms of wisdom.
The current prevailing fashion in education places a high value on productivity. The student is praised for his speed, accuracy and efficiency in “problem solving”, which as any Algebra teacher knows, does not require understanding.
As a matter of fact, the attempt to understand often gets in the way.
Why would anyone really want to know the meaning and significance of the terms “sine,” “cosine” and “tangent”? No Algebra book makes an attempt to explain what “tangent” has to do with a real geometrical tangent. The meaning of these terms simply does not matter if the end one is pursuing is not understanding but productivity.
These days, by the time students have completed middle school they all seem to have received a completely upside down intellectual formation. That is, students now appear to learn everything backwards and in the opposite order that any particular field of learning ought to be learned.
Without having learned Grammar, Rhetoric and Logic they have instead received a complete indoctrination in the atomic theory.
They know about DNA, Quarks, Plasma, Black Holes, Anti Matter and Negative Energy- and all these things before they can even write a complete sentence!
In Mathematics they are familiar with the Pythagorean Theorem well before taking a single Geometry class.
They can invert ratios, cross multiply and alternate proportions without even being able to say what a proportion is.
Without having taken a single class in what the Greeks used to call “Arithmetike,” they can talk about “numbers” positive and negative, “e”, “i” and “pi” and even the “square root of 2!”
They are blissfully unaware of the story of that unfortunate Pythagorean who was buried alive for his discovery of incommensurability.
But to get back to Friar Laurence, he says,
“Wisely and slow”
If we are to learn and obtain any wisdom ourselves, we ought to avoid the temptation to proceed swiftly.
The method of Catholic liberal education is absolutely contrary to the method of the world. The world would have children speed through text books and lessons and books in the futile attempt to become “current.” Students are supposed to “get up to speed” and gain skill in surfing the waves of data that sweep in from the four corners of the globe with inexhaustible fury. The crown of victory goes to the fastest.
But to run fast, that is the very characteristic of youth. And unfortunately like Romeo this sort of behavior can lead to very real peril in the physical life but even more disastrously in the life of the mind.
The method of Catholic liberal education is the method born from leisure.
It demands quiet. It demands slow reading, speaking and listening.
It demands lengthy discussion.
It demands orderly procedure.
Wisely and slow; they stumble that run fast.