My son, too, found a favorite book a few years ago— Amelia Bedelia Goes to School. I recall during one impressive streak we read the book 17 bedtimes in a row. I found one night that I could nearly recite the entirety of the book from memory. Unfortunately, so could my son. No more late-night fast-forwarding.
We parents are familiar with the first stage of the trivium—the grammar stage—which harnesses the amazing ability of young minds to learn by repetition. As we move to the dialectic and rhetoric stages, the process of repetition becomes boring. “I already know that,” we say, and move on to the next thing. But I propose that we should never abandon our first educational love. G.K. Chesterton addresses this issue in his insightful work, Orthodoxy:
Because children have abounding vitality, because they are in spirit fierce and free, therefore they want things repeated and unchanged. They always say, 'Do it again'; and the grown-up person does it again until he is nearly dead. For grown-up people are not strong enough to exult in monotony. But perhaps God is strong enough to exult in monotony. It is possible that God says every morning, “Do it again” to the sun; and every evening, “Do it again” to the moon. ... It may be that He has the eternal appetite of infancy; for we have sinned and grown old, and our Father is younger than we.
Indeed, we have sinned and grown old, and our sin has been the abandonment of wonder and enjoyment in the beauty of monotony.
This sin goes deeper than educational philosophy, though that is a good place to start in correcting our practice, and most classical schools are making the attempt. They realize that the loss of the beauty of monotony is what causes us to abandon the rich, life-transforming reading of the Gospels because we already “know the story of Jesus.” The loss of the beauty of monotony is what causes us to skim through Psalm 146–150, since hearing “Praise the LORD!” fifty times is superfluous when I understand it after the first. The loss of the beauty of monotony is what causes us to leave off reading our Bible because we become bored with the discipline of daily devotion. As John Piper says, when we do this, we “miss the miracle.”*
The loss of the beauty of monotony is a loss worth reversing. It is a loss worth fighting to regain. It may just be the very thing that keeps us sane in the midst of a culture that is absolutely obsessed with—dare I say worships—the new and different.
Enjoy repeating words to your children that are good, true, and beautiful, whether via your own family Bible reading or that day’s homework. Perhaps we should start the practice of picking Scriptures and stories—a “story of the week,” a “Scripture of the month,” or a “quote of the day”—to intentionally repeat as we drive to school, pray for dinner, or read before bedtime. Perhaps we will find that repetition and rhetoric, like Brian and Emily, are true-blue, stucklike-glue friends after all.
KYLE RAPINCHUK is assistant professor of Christian Worldview at School of the Ozarks in Point Lookout, MO. Kyle is co-founder of The Classical Thistle where he also serves as editor and author.