The second semester is in its second week. As can be expected the different courses give a different feel, even if most of the heavy work has simply carried on from last semester. By that I mean the languages and memorizing the catechism. As I’ve undertaken the latter, I’ve become more appreciative of both the catechism and of memorization. In his book, The Shallows: What the Internet is doing to our Brains, Nicholas Carr has an entire chapter on the subject of memory. He explains how “by the middle of the twentieth century memorization itself had begun to fall from favor. Progressive educators banished the practice from classrooms, dismissing it as a vestige of a less enlightened time. What had long been viewed as a stimulus for personal insight and creativity came to be seen as a barrier to imagination and then simply as a waste of mental energy” (180).
If you’ve read The Abolition of Man by C.S. Lewis, then the term “progressive educators” will provoke in you strong feelings of disgust. They have a bad habit of letting their arrogance blind them to the wisdom of the ages, and it comes as no surprise to learn both that the ancients highly revered memory, and that the ancients were right. Carr points out that no less a great mind than Augustine called memory “‘a vast and infinite profundity,’ a reflection of the power of God in man” (181). Following ten pages of discussing scientific studies that affirm Augustine’s insight, Carr concludes that “we don’t constrain our mental powers when we store new long-term memories. We strengthen them. With each expansion of our memory comes an enlargement of our intelligence. The Web provides a convenient and compelling supplement to personal memory, but when we start using the Web as a substitute for personal memory, bypassing the inner processes of consolidation, we risk emptying our minds of their riches” (192).
So the current science is showing us that the process of memorization makes us smarter. Our brains get fatter when we do it, and fat brains are creative and productive brains. It’s a good thing that CRTS has stubbornly held on to the traditional way of doing things, because it turns out that it’s the right way. It’s a wonderful thought to think that memorizing the catechism is both developing “the reflection of God in man,” and engaging with the reflection of God in His Word.
On the other hand, the biblical languages continue to present new challenges. Hebrew still seems every bit as difficult as it was last semester. One of the problems I’ve come across is that, as we’ve settled in here and felt our lives resolving into something comfortable and normal, I’ve been running out of novelty steam. The upside is that everything feels like home, but the downside is that my willingness to be positive about Hebrew has diminished. It’s easy at the beginning to run at Hebrew like you would at a mountain lion, with a primal scream. But you start getting hoarse, the guttural drops out, if you will, and you’re left standing there with a hollow verb. . . I mean, voice. But the beast has barely blinked. And if hearing a mountain lion growl makes your neck hairs frizzy, you should see the poorly laid out paradigm charts in Davidson.
So it’s hard to stay motivated at times. That being said, some of the difficulty is due to having a cold brain. Once the Hebrew program is up and running again, and whirring at full capacity, the work should be less painful. First semester Greek was less of a challenge, but our teacher, Mr. Josh Walker, told us that in the second semester we will likely see the class average reduced by 10%. That average happens to be sitting at a rather impressive number, and it’d be a real shame to see it join the rest of our marks.
But the payoff for all this is that we are learning to read the Bible in its original languages. And that’s a real payoff. There’s a lot of depth and richness that simply cannot be carried over into even the best English translations, and learning to access that is like being let in on one of the world’s best secrets. It’s a hard-won reward, but it is a reward.