The Golden Spiral
I admit that I had never even heard of Fibonacci until our kids started listening to Jonathan Park Audio Adventures. I’ve always been a “word girl” leaning more toward grammar, poetry, music, and writing. Throughout my formal education, math, science, and history were just boring subjects to get through, disconnected from the real joy of the arts. I didn’t recognize their beauty until I started homeschooling.
The medieval mathematician known as Fibonacci re-discovered and applied a sequence of numbers in which the next number is found by adding the two numbers before it such as: 0, 1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13, 21, 34, and so on. This sequence has been called, “the golden ratio.” If you take those numbers and turn them into widths, you get a perfect swirl also known as, “the golden spiral.”
We see this spiral all over nature. In fact, it has been nicknamed, “the fingerprint of God.” From the center of sunflowers to pine cones to the tightly curled fiddlehead fern to nautilus shells to the very shape of our galaxy, the spiral is there pointing to a very ordered creation rather than a random chance of gas and dust.
For centuries, artists have used the golden ratio to create masterpieces that are pleasing to the eye. Look at the Mona Lisa, The Great Wave, The Parthenon, and the statue of David and you can see that the balance and focus of the art are in harmony with Fibonacci’s sequence. And here is where the magic happens for me: suddenly, math becomes art. The two are no longer separated into boring and interesting. They are intertwined, giving each other shape and meaning.
I see a lot of this magic in my kindergarten classroom. In fact, I revel in it. All of the facts we are learning come from the Creator Himself and point back to Him. What we call, “subjects,” aren’t divided as much as they are unified in an ebb and flow, making connections throughout our day. Our First Start Reading letter becomes the first letter of the new animal we are studying. Our literature book becomes a history lesson which then becomes art. Our new math concept flows into recess. Our morning assembly sound-off comes right out of our Bible story. Language is science. Literature is history. Math is fun. (I never thought I’d say that.) And that beautiful scarlet thread holding it all together is the theology of the gospel of Jesus Christ.
As we were preparing the curricula for this school year, Fibonacci kept coming to mind because classical education has also been described as a spiral. As a student grows, the depth of their knowledge stretches in accord with their natural development. Facts are memorized, then revisited later in a broader context to be internalized, and then revisited again in an even broader context to be expressed effectively. The purpose of this method is to learn how to learn.
I’ve watched this process work its way out in my 9th grader. While my kindergartners are reading a picture book about Ben Franklin, my daughter is revisiting the facts through his autobiography and connecting that information to the American and French Revolutions, the Constitution, and the science of electricity. While I shouldn’t be surprised, I’m sometimes shocked that none of this is boring to her. That tiny spiral of information in her early years gave her sturdy, familiar pegs on which to hang this new depth of knowledge. She actually loves learning.
Part of the beauty here is that this process doesn’t end with a terminal degree. The Fibonacci sequence is infinite and so is learning for the classical student. You can never exhaust the golden spiral. And as man’s chief end is to glorify God and to enjoy Him forever, neither can you exhaust the knowledge of God. We are forever going, “further up and further in,” as C.S. Lewis wrote in The Last Battle.
Make no mistake, learning is hard work. Teaching is also hard work. But as we spiral together in collaboration toward a better understanding of our Creator, our very lives, now intertwined, become a work of art as well.