I just received one of those emails. If you’ve ever attempted to break into a field, you know what I’m talking about: the “thanks, but we’ll pass” line. I suppose that’s better than no line at all. On the other hand, I won’t even ask for an item at the grocery store for fear of rejection. I’d rather wander aimlessly for twenty minutes then give up rather than be told by a clerk, “No, we don’t carry that.” I’m a sensitive soul. Easily depressed. You know the type. Maybe you are the type.
The late Rich Mullins, author of the well-known praise song, “Awesome God,” had some interesting advice for people struggling with depression. He would tell them to go outside and learn the trees in their neighborhood. Mullins was not a trained counselor, so maybe his counsel was simplistic, even escapist. What hath a person struggling with inner demons to do with trees? Very little, and that was Mullins’s point. Learning the trees in your neighborhood encourages the depressed, if only for a moment, to appreciate something beyond themselves and their problems. It distracts them. Instead of wrestling with emotion, they’re out in the sun, studying vibrant green leaves to determine if they’re oval, elliptical, or deltoid. While this might spark a life-long interest in dendrology, it will more likely distract them long enough to gain a better perspective on that hurtful comment or point-blank dismissal. (By the way, learning trees is harder than you think. Consider starting with birds.)
There is great freedom in learning something outside of our immediate interest. Many educational initiatives target utility and application. Learn this skill, get this job. Earning a living is a vital aspect of education, but if we limit education to vocational training, we are missing out on a great gift of learning, which is learning for the fun of it. Or more broadly, learning for learning’s sake. When we appreciate something just because it’s cool, we’re not thinking “How can I use this?” We’re not thinking about ourselves at all. Rather, we’re marveling at something that is beyond us.
Classical education is not the only route out of depression and into wonder. But it does teach our kids a wonderful skill (forgive the pun): studying something because it’s inherently valuable, not because it’s valuable to them. They may never “use” St. Augustine or Ptolemy. They may just enjoy them. And what a marvelous thing that would be, to appreciate without using! We do it with Harry Potter. Why can’t we do it with Latin?
Learning for learning’s sake will not entirely remove depression. I believe only God can do that, and he may not. He didn’t for the prophet Jeremiah. But a good education can help us by shifting our attention towards something bigger, possibly something better and more beautiful, than our emotions. If we are caught up in learning about trees, or physics, or medieval history, personal rejection may not hurt so much. Miracle of miracles, we may not even notice it. We’ll be too busy rejoicing, with Rich Mullins, over “the fury in the pheasant’s wings.”
Lindsey Scholl is a teacher of humanities and Latin at Trinity Classical School in Houston. She holds a doctorate in Roman History from the University of California, Santa Barbara. In addition to teaching, she is a writer and speaker on a variety of subjects, including education, and the author of The Advocate Trilogy, a youth fantasy series. She is married to Dr. John Scholl, a St. Thomas’ Episcopal alumnus.
 James Bryan Smith, Rich Mullins: An Arrow Pointing to Heaven (Nashville, TN: Broadman and Holman Publishers, 2000), p. 97.
 “Calling Out Your Name,” The World As Best As I Remember It, 1991.