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Albert Einstein said, “If you can’t explain it simply, you don’t understand it well enough.”
When I began to really embrace the simple in life it was well after having made it over complicated. God gives us a simple formula- line upon line, precept on precept. Here a little and there a little. Eight years ago I learned about A Thomas Jefferson Education and embraced it immediately as inspired truths and a formula for my family and found and still continue to find many ways to apply it to our lives. The only classics I could think of that I had read were Heidi, Pinocchio, the Anne of Green Gables series and the hiding Place (aside from the scriptures, of course). I remember about five years earlier feeling drawn toward learning and good books, but I had no idea how to start or where to look. I would pick up the latest novel of the time and put it down in disgust knowing there had to be something more.
From the TJEd website: “Education means the ability to think, independently and creatively, and the skill of applying one’s knowledge in dealing with people and situations in the real world.”
Life can often seem complicated. But it isn’t life that is complicated, it is how we conduct our lives that builds the maze. Most of our problems we create ourselves. Confucius said, “Life is really simple, but we insist on making it complicated.”
After reading A Thomas Jefferson Education: Teaching a Generation of Leaders for the Twenty-first Century by Oliver Demille, it almost seemed too simple. Read classic books. Think deeply. Annotate your thoughts. Discuss. Is that really all there is? I decided to try it and I looked at his list of suggested books and often thought, how am I going to do this?
How are mountains climbed? One step at a time.
A good education is truly, simply one book at a time. Day by day, all of our efforts are like beads strung together to make a necklace. You don’t see the finished product until you near the end. But you know what you want as the outcome.Let’s talk about simplicity:Simple things are predictableSimple things are cheap—stones…cathedrals are built out of stones. I’d like to share a story to illustrate this one:
The Parable of the Three Trees
Once upon a mountain top, three little trees stood and dreamed of what they wanted to become when they grew up.
The first little tree looked up at the stars and said: “I want to hold treasure. I want to be covered with gold and filled with precious stones. I’ll be the most beautiful treasure chest in the world!”
The second little tree looked out at the small stream trickling by on it’s way to the ocean. “I want to be traveling mighty waters and carrying powerful kings. I’ll be the strongest ship in the world!”
The third little tree looked down into the valley below where busy men and women worked in a busy town. ”I don’t want to leave the mountain top at all. I want to grow so tall that when people stop to look at me, they’ll raise their eyes to heaven and think of God. I will be the tallest tree in the world.” Years passed. The rain came, the sun shone, and the little trees grew tall.
One day three woodcutters climbed the mountain. The first woodcutter looked at the first tree and said, ”This tree is beautiful. It is perfect for me.” With a swoop of his shining axe, the first tree fell. “Now I shall be made into a beautiful chest, I shall hold wonderful treasure!” The first tree said.
The second woodcutter looked at the second tree and said, “This tree is strong. It is perfect for me.” With a swoop of his shining axe, the second tree fell. “Now I shall sail mighty waters!” thought the second tree. “I shall be a strong ship for mighty kings!”
The third tree felt her heart sink when the last woodcutter looked her way. She stood straight and tall and pointed bravely to heaven. But the woodcutter never even looked up. “Any kind of tree will do for me.” He muttered. With a swoop of his shining axe, the third tree fell.
The first tree rejoiced when the woodcutter brought her to a carpenter’s shop. But the carpenter fashioned the tree into a feedbox for animals.
The once beautiful tree was not covered with gold, nor with treasure. She was coated with saw dust and filled with hay for hungry farm animals.
The second tree smiled when the woodcutter took her to a shipyard, but no mighty sailing ship was made that day.
Instead the once strong tree was hammered and sawed into a simple fishing boat. She was too small and too weak to sail to an ocean, or even a river; instead she was taken to a little lake.
The third tree was confused when the woodcutter cut her into strong beams and left her in a lumberyard. ”What happened?” The once tall tree wondered. “All I ever wanted was to stay on the mountain top and point to God…”
Many many days and night passed. The three trees nearly forgot their dreams.
But one night, golden starlight poured over the first tree as a young woman placed her newborn baby in the feedbox. “I wish I could make a cradle for him.” her husband whispered. The mother squeezed his hand and smiled as the starlight shone on the smooth and the sturdy wood. “This manger is beautiful” she said. And suddenly the first tree knew he was holding the greatest treasure in the world.
One evening a tired traveler and his friends crowded into the old fishing boat. The traveler fell asleep as the second tree quietly sailed out into the lake. Soon a thundering and thrashing storm arose. The little tree shuddered. She knew she did not have the strength to carry so many passengers safely through with the wind and the rain. The tired man awakened. He stood up, stretched out his hand, and said, “Peace.” The storm stopped as quickly as it had begun. And suddenly the second tree knew he was carrying the king of heaven and earth.
One Friday morning, the third tree was startled when her beam were yanked from the forgotten woodpile. She flinched as she was carried through an angry jeering crowd. She shuddered when soldiers nailed a man’s hands to her. She felt ugly and harsh and cruel.
But on Sunday morning, when the sun rose and the earth tremble with joy beneath her, the third tree knew that God’s love had changed everything. It had made the third tree strong. And every time people thought of the third tree, they would think of God. That was better than being the tallest tree in the world.
Simple things are high performance or valuable cost
Think of the classic books in terms of value to your mind, your life, your actions. A running river is simply water with high energy. Yet, it can quench the thirst of thousands, give us power, and provide life for us and many animals and creatures in what is offers by being simply what it is…yet it has virtue. It is fulfilling its purpose.
Simple things can be stacked
We learn line upon line, we experience a little at a time, and we grow. Every day we learn at least one new thing…if we learned it all at once we could not retain it.”Everything should be made as simple as possible, but not simpler.” If it’s too simple it loses its value. Complex (in complexity science terms) implies, amongst other things, unpredictability.“You do not really understand something unless you can explain it to your grandmother.” ― Albert Einstein
Simplicity is Time.
Simplicity is Clarity.
In closing, I will share what Oliver DeMille suggests in simplifying our education for ourselves and for our children:
Two things are required for a great education for your family: read them the classics: Black Beauty, Little House on the Prairie series, poetry, fables, Charlotte’s Web, etc. Do not JUST read to them, though. Discuss the books with them; teach them lessons based on those books.
Add in biographies of great scientists, mathematicians, doctors, artists….and your own family history and your religious text.You want your discussions to be EFFECTIVE….but simple can and is almost always more effective.
Laura Ingalls Wilder said, “I am beginning to learn that it is the sweet, simple things in life which are the real ones after all.”