The Buddha said, “When the student is ready, the teacher will appear.” Well, ready or not kids, your teachers are showing up in classrooms everywhere. It’s time to crack open the books, slip the surly bonds of summer, and head back to school.
In the coming days, and in some regions the academic year is well under way already, this country’s 130,000 public and private schools will be firing on all cylinders, spending $600 billion on the rudiments of reading, writing, and arithmetic; employing some four million teachers, and educating more than 60 million children. Of course many who have completed their secondary education will now proceed to college, technical school, or university.
My counsel is to go back to school every autumn as long as the administration will allow it – not to avoid the employment line or devour your parents’ purse mind you – but to learn all you can. And more so, to learn to become a learner: For when you stop learning, the proverb goes, you’ve stopped living.
This applies even to those who have the parchment hanging on the wall, those in well-established careers, and to those who haven’t set foot onto a school yard in decades. We are always in school, or at least we should be, and those who feel they have matriculated to the point of knowing all they ever need to know have given up on a large part of living.
Review your own education. You began with phonetics and pronunciation, the beginnings of how to read. You learned about numbers and basic mathematics. You were taught elementary history. You got to finger paint or draw pictures in art class.
As you progressed, you repeated the same lessons, the same subjects, and the same material but always with increasing breadth and greater depth. What began as basic pronunciation eventually became ability to read Shakespeare and Dickinson. Simple mathematics became the building blocks for geometric calculations and a career in engineering.
You began with George Washington and Paul Revere and then moved to post-Enlightenment studies, geo-political globalization, and macroeconomics. You move from finger painting to creating magnificent portraits or composing musical scores. You learned the same lessons over and over again – but each time you went further.
So, if we reach a point in our studies – in life or faith – where we think we know it all, or at least we know enough, we haven’t graduated. We have quit. We have run aground. When we refuse to learn anything more, we become fixated, immature masters of minutia, nothing more, and life grows incredibly small – looking like old men and women stuffed into preschoolers’ chairs.
Mystery is murdered, discoveries dry up, and gone is the joy and excitement of new, daily revelation. How many treasures are forfeited by those who “know that they know that they know,” but they have learned nothing new in decades? Their minds and hearts as closed as a freshman’s Algebra book. In the words of Russian giant Leo Tolstoy, an author that every student should aspire to read, “Even the strongest current of water cannot add a drop to a cup which is already full.”
Maybe the always returning school year is a reflection of how God lets life bring each of us back to the classroom. It is an act of redemption, really, for we get another chance to learn our lessons; to take the same course, again and again if necessary, so we can get it right; to pick up the material that we have not yet mastered or refused to heed, and to go deeper.
Still, I suppose that every student, from the Kindergartener learning to read to the old man once again attempting to kick his addiction, feels like he is being crushed by the repetition of the classroom. But God’s classroom isn’t a form of punishment. The lessons must be learned for our own maturation and well-being, and the Teacher knows this. Therefore, he is infinitely patient with his instruction, giving us every opportunity to succeed – if only we will.