It was said of Winston Churchill that he saw into the essence of things, which is a characteristic of many great men. When you see into the essence of things, it is as if a vail is lifted. You no longer view things simply for what they do. You see into their nature, you sense the heart of the matter. Once you see into a thing’s heart, you can appreciate its beauty, its relationship to things around it, and how it can bless others. Yet, how does one learn to see into the essence of things? It starts with naming, which was one of the first tasks the Lord set before the first man.
Have you ever wondered how Adam named all the animals? Did he simply pick names at random as they came to his mind or was there something more? When you name something, you look into its essence and choose a name that distinguishes it from the things around it. Naming involves observation, comparison, and analysis. You must focus your attention on it in order to see what it is like. Next you compare that thing to the things around it to discern its difference. Finally you analyze it so you can see just how similar or different that thing is from other things.
As Adam began naming the animals, he got to know them. He likely tussled with the lion and played with the dog. He noted how each one is similar and how they are different. Both are alive, have fur, four legs, a tail, and a similar body shape. Yet they are different in strength, size, demeanor, and habit. He named the lion “lion” to entail raw strength, stateliness, and size. He named the dog “dog” to entail playfulness, loyalty, and agility. In the observation, comparison, and analysis, Adam captured the essence of each animal through a distinct name. Now he can tell the story of the lion and what it means to be a lion.
If a student is going to see into the essence of a thing, he or she does not need to rename it, but he or she does need to go through the naming process. Multiplication is not simply a tool to help you calculate faster. Multiplication is a thing to be known in itself. It has a heartbeat and is unique. When a child can tell the story of multiplication, then he or she sees into its essence and really knows it.
Learning to see into the essence of things should be the core of an elementary education. Children should be able to tell the story of multiplication, horses, biomes, etc. When they can’t tell this story, we have failed to properly educate them. Yet when they can tell this story, we have set them up for immeasurable success!
I am deeply indebted to the Lord and Stratford Caldecott in “Beauty in the Word” for opening this up to me.