30 June 2011

Rerun: Another Poetic Knowledge Recap

Because I'm tired of disappointment. Because Mystie still wants final posts. Because this is, after all, my favorite book ever, ever, ever.

Because I might become an LLC in Nevada, and therefore have my cake and eat it, too.

This post originally appeared on July 8, 2008. You can read the original here. Names have been changed to protect the innocent. {Just kidding.} Only minor alterations have been made.

*****

I still have quite the collection of quotes. Reviewing them all, typing them up, reflecting on them one last time...the whole process helps solidify what I've learned. It's a process that I've performed many times before only, once upon a time, it was done in a private journal.

Because blogs hadn't yet been invented.

That's an interesting thought.

Anyhow, here are some more quotes from Poetic Knowledge. Did I mention I love this book?

I love this book.
[E]xistentialism, now so widely invoked by theologians and atheists alike, begins with a radical subjectivism that, under the terms of the form is always in danger of "creating" a God so personal as to become private and indistinguishable from man...
Just something that made me say hmmmm.
Rousseau's passionate desire for self-sufficiency in the learner leads to alienation, asserting...that we learn alone and exclusively in the subjective mode...One of the natural results of Nature, growth, is that men form societies, no matter how crude and primitive, and pass on knowledge one to another as teachers and students within families, societies, and schools.
A possible danger I see in homeschooling is that children might perhaps think that knowledge is always and absolutely best acquired through the reading of books in solitude. This is not only contrary to logic, but also to the Biblical ideas of education as taking place through conversation within the family in Deuteronomy 6 and also instruction from the Teacher to the student (as the Teacher serves as mediator between the student and the world) in Proverbs, just to name a couple examples. I find myself wanting to make sure that my children are exposed to various sources of knowledge over the coming years so that they do not become too dependent on any one method of learning.
"A man should have a farm or mechanical craft for his welfare. We must have a basis for our higher accomplishment, our delicate entertainments of poetry and philosophy, in the work of our hands." (Taylor quoting Ralph Waldo Emerson)
This is quite a counter-cultural assertion. Our society disdains the labor of the hands. Those of us who are educated are expected to pursue specializations and leave manual labor to others. There is no sense of a balanced man, a man grounded by intimate knowledge of real things--of trees, whether this be growing them, pruning them, or making from them something beautiful. I think Charlotte Mason understood the necessity of the real in learning, and this is why she encouraged the life out-of-doors and also the teaching of handicrafts to even the very young. If we are not intimately tied to the world about which we think and ponder, we are in danger of thinking about said world in ways which are entirely wrong, for we cannot possibly understand the nature of the thing.
Thus, under modern education,
the child...is introduced to a kind of intellectual work which, all things considered, is rather easy: reading books and compiling facts. At the end of his studies he is not capable of doing any other work than reading books and compiling facts. So, he becomes a bureaucrat, an employee, a professor, or tax collector. He doesn't even realize that he can do anything else...he himself thinks only of leading others on toward the same routine. (Taylor quoting Henri Charlier)
I remember that after I graduated college I was keenly aware that I knew how to do absolutely nothing. I had no ability to produce anything tangible. Graduate school had always appealed to me, for I have a love of learning, but it also was a "safe" route--a route of the familiar books-and-learning routine. I wasn't fit for much else. Mothering has been a gift to me in that I have acquired actual, useful skills. It has grounded me in reality in a way that my school education never did, and probably never could.
"The majority of things made today are not made by men at all. The majority of men today do not make things. They only do what they are told." (Taylor quoting Eric Gill)
It is true, that men today are mostly fit for taking orders. It is my belief that government education is specifically tailored to the production of men with a slave mindset, which is why there is very little crying out against the elimination of the liberal arts. Liberal arts, being fit for free men, have a limited audience, and the size of that audience dwindles with each generation graduated.

I remember once hearing Voddie Baucham marvel that whenever he told folks that he homeschooled his children, one of their first questions was whether or not such a thing was legal. He declared that this was a question asked by a person with a slave mindset, not a free man. He himself was determined to think and to act as a free man. If you have ever heard Baucham explain his background, then this statement becomes particularly profound.
"[T]hese crafts are superior in a way that can never be taken away from them, that is, they teach there is a nature of things. A professor can have fallen into great error, can be mistaken, and he can stay there his whole life destroying thousands, ten thousand intelligences, but nonetheless will continue to have a good job and will have a very comfortable retirement afterward. But if a peasant fails to plant his fields two times in a row, he's ruined." (Taylor quoting Charlier again)
And so I learned that one value of crafts is that they anchor the soul to reality, regardless of which craft in particular is practiced.

The Bible refers to the law of sowing and reaping. Ideas have consequences, it is true, but it is hard for us to understand when we reap what we have sown with our minds, and we are never able to fully identify when something is a consequence of our thought and when it isn't. Couple this with the fact that many ideas sown into the culture take longer than a generation to reap, and we begin to see why we thinkers can have a reality-disconnect.

With the crafts, there is a direct result that can be reaped in only a year or two. This is good for the soul in that we understand that what we do impacts the world around us. The crafts tie us to community in this way.
"Mistake me not: wonder is no sugary sentimentality, but, rather, a mighty passion, a species of fear, an awful confrontation of the mystery of things." (Taylor quoting Dennis Quinn)
Wonder is akin to reverence, I think.
Curiosity belongs to the scientific impulse and would strive to dominate nature; whereas, wonder is poetic and is content to view things in their wholeness and full context, to pretty much leave them alone.
Interesting distinction.
If education does not cultivate the natural desire for union with reality with the understanding that the poetic and gymnastic modes are real knowledge, then it delivers something profoundly inferior to the reality and powers of the human being. For desire of the real to rise up, there must be something real to arouse it, and gadgets, computers, and gimmicks used to hold attention, all taking place in classroom environments technologically insulated from reality, are simply parts of the generally unlovable atmosphere of modern education--unlovable because they are all efficiency, utility, and no longer beautiful.

And that's a good place to conclude. Things that are real will hold no interest if a child isn't introduced to them in the first place. This is why we have a low-tech approach here in our home learning project. We do not wish to be distracted from the good, the true, and the beautiful which it is our aim to pursue. As was the moral in our Aesop for Children reading yesterday:

Do not let anything turn you from your purpose.
____________________________________
Read More:
-More book club posts linked at Mystie's blog

Fired.

I try not to complain around here. I don't think this is the proper forum for airing our personal laundry. From the very beginning, I have wanted this blog to be about ideas...with a few personal antics {compliments of my beloved children} on the side. But I'm hoping you'll indulge me today because I'm just...so...frustrated.

Exactly five-and-a-half years ago yesterday, I started this blog. I had been reading blogs for a time, and for even longer than that, I had written a little--and sometimes a lot--almost every single day. This started when I was a little girl, and continued through high school, and college, and {save a year-long hiatus after I had my firstborn}...through life.

I never wrote for the money, and I don't intend to stop.

But the money has been nice. And I suppose I should thank all of you for this, because without all of you shopping the Amazon affiliate links all these years, there would be no money about which to say such things.

Why am I talking about money?

Well, if you read The Drudge Report, for instance, then you probably know that my state passed an internet tax, one which is in direct violation of the Commerce Clause of the United States Constitution {the U. S. Supreme Court ruled this in Quill v. North Dakota}. Governor Brown says this is "a common-sense idea" which I suppose is true if law and justice mean absolutely nothing.

Where are we to flee, and who will protect us, when there is no rule of law?

I heard on the radio last week, this rumbling about a new "Amazon tax." I knew that when some other state had tried this a while back {was it Illinois? I think I remember that it was}, that Amazon fired everyone in that state who worked for them.

Good for them! Someone has to stand up for the rule of law, and I appreciate them doing so.

And I knew then that the same would happen here if the law passed.

Well, pass it did, as part of our recent budget package.

And so, last night, not long after Governor Brown signed the budget, Amazon fired me.

Along with all of their other California affiliates.

Sigh.

The amount of money I have made through all of this has not been a lot. Until the last year or so, it wasn't even enough to cause me to pay income tax.

But it has made a world of difference to us. It has paid for Christmas gifts and birthday gifts. It has allowed us to send books to people who needed them. Last year and this year, it paid for almost all of our school books.

I was thrilled to know, that after all these years, my husband wasn't buying his own birthday gifts from me.

I am sure you all understand. Most of you know a lot about making sacrifices for your family in order to homeschool. We have sold a house, moved jobs, and worked jobs and hours we don't like, in order to be able to do this. We have gone without nights out and coffee drinks and vacations in order to make sure that we could afford a proper education for our children. And you have done the same.

And so I'm sure you understand what it might feel like to know that your entire school budget has just been wiped out.

I am just so angry. This is the second time I've lost an affiliate because of the government {the first time was when the FDA shut down the Wilderness Family Naturals affiliate program back in 2009}. The government is a greedy beast and it will stop at nothing to take money out of the pockets of hard working citizens. And this just makes me feel ill. First my WFN affiliate. Then, we move to a neighborhood where the school creates a "special federal district" that allows them to steal charge an additional tax fee of more than $500 per year per household in addition to our property taxes, a fee which goes up every year, regardless of property value, and has no sunset provision at all--a fee which just goes up and up into the sky, with no end in sight.

And now Amazon.

I love California. I love living near the beaches and the mountains. I love living near first, second, and third cousins. I love the farming and the oil and the relative ease of home educating. This is our home.

But for the first time I considered that maybe we should just leave.

We can't, obviously, at least not right this minute, but it is sure a temptation after being burned so personally.

It feels personal, even though it's not.

It's not personal, it's business, right?

Anyhow, all of this to say that I'll be taking down the affiliate links in the side bar, and generally moving some things around. None of this will make me stop writing, of course, for the writing has always been done for the love of it.

29 June 2011

Rerun: Poetic Knowledge Recap

Yesterday, Mystie said that this week is the Poetic Knowledge wrap-up week. To which I said that I accidently wrapped up last week and so I'd try to find one of my old posts from my first reading. So, this post first appeared on July 7, 2008. You can read the original here. I've edited it a bit, but you'll notice that my children are quite a bit younger, meaning I kept the original wording for the most part.

I found a couple other posts, and I might offer them as reruns this week in order to finish up my participation in the book club.

*****

Before beginning Year One with my son (and preschool with my daughter A.), I decided I wanted to go back through James Taylor's Poetic Knowledge: The Recovery of Education one last time. This book, after all, has influenced my philosophy of education more than any other.

I think it even surpasses Charlotte Mason in terms of its influence upon me*. Gasp! Of course, that might be because Mason organized a lot of things that were already in my brain, while Taylor introduced entirely new concepts and ideas.

I've underlined so much of the book that it would perhaps be copyright infringement for me to share it all here. But I'm going to give some excerpts a go, and add in a bit of my own reflection.

Poetic Knowledge: The Recovery of EducationBut first...What is poetic knowledge? After reading the book, I think Taylor would say that poetic knowledge is the first sort of knowledge a child gathers (and one that is particularly shunned today), and, rather than being the only sort of knowledge, it is a type of knowledge which underpins all other types of knowledge. More than anything else, poetic knowledge is gathered using all forms of the intellect and senses and has as its foundation wonder.

It is this aspect of wonder that really grabbed me. As a devotee of classical methods of education, I fear hubris more than anything else. I would consider my work in our home a shame and a failure to graduate children who know much and are full of self. Wonder leaves very little room for self, while simultaneously leaving much room for God. It is, I think, the perfect antidote to hubris.
[T]his way of education for the beginner is based on the child's natural disposition to learn by imitation; that is, not only to attempt to duplicate what they hear and see but to become the thing that is imitated...
As an example, I would hold up my son E. We have been reading The Long Winter. One of the central activities in this particular book is haying. They grow it, cure it, gather it, stack it, haul it and even, when their coal runs out, burn it. My son spent many days last week using a toy tractor to "cut hay," which, his imagination assured him, was growing underneath his sister's crib. When children read books, a part of them becomes the thing they read, and they often act it out later.
"To young children should be imparted only such kinds of knowledge as will be useful to them without vulgarizing them. And any occupation, art, or science, which makes the body or soul or mind of the freeman less fit for the practice and exercise of virtue, is vulgar..." (Taylor quoting Aristotle)
We are very careful with our children, and sometimes this is misinterpreted as overprotection. However, if we are in the business of growing souls, and our goal is to grow a soul most fit for virtue, then there are two aspects of this. The first is avoiding things that degrade the soul's virtue. The second is to fill that soul with everything required to produce virtue. Some think that to take away one thing (like a television, for instance), is to leave them with nothing. It is actually quite the opposite. Leaving out influences that we consider degrading is the first step to making time for the building up and cultivation of the virtuous soul.
[T]o "Hearken"--and "to incline the ear of thy heart" is not only the first disposition for learning anything, it is also a poetic disposition.
This is something I want to cultivate in my children, for it is the path to wisdom. The wise man in Proverbs is characterized by his quietude, his receptivity to what he can learn around him, his eagerness to hear. I think that sometimes I have encouraged my children to speak too much and listen too little. Perhaps this is a fault in my own character as well. One of my goals for this year is for the children to learn to place value on listening with their whole beings, which is the true posture of learning.
And although this book is devoted to the poetic mode of knowledge, gymnastic was always considered as an integrated and complimentary mode with the poetic spoken of by Plato and Aristotle. For a simple understanding for our times,...we can think of the gymnastic mode first of all as direct experience with reality, for example a life lived more out of doors...
Hence, one of the appeals of the micro-homestead project. The children will not simply be outside, but they will experience creation's seasons. They will see planting time and harvest. They will, in time, have trees to climb and ducks to chase. They will nurture fowl and gather their eggs. They will plant a butterfly garden and, in a few years, reap its glory and delight.

But I'm not sure it ends there. We will not listen to hymns and folksongs in our school, we will sing them ourselves. It is such a simple thing, and yet there is a distinct difference between being entertained by something and being the source of that something's actual creation.
[M]odern education...has turned even play into a kind of work in that it is usually conducted as a means to learning something else rather than treated as an end in itself.

May I never have goals for my children's play other than that they experience delight, wonder, and the other poetic responses.
[A]ll learning now becomes a kind of effort and work which Dewey models after a dynamic idea of democracy of social change, where learning has as its end the fulfillment of a progressive society always changing toward some perfected goal. Everything is measured by the changing needs of a social end, rather than knowing and learning beginning as a natural and effortless good in itself and leading to the fulfillment of the innate desire to know and to love.
Taylor later quotes John Senior stating that "real schools are places of un-change, of the permanent things." And all of this reminds me, naturally, of T.S. Eliot's Choruses from 'The Rock':
The Church disowned, the tower overthrown, the bells upturned, what have we to do
But stand with empty hands and palms turned upwards
In an age which advances progressively backwards?
That, my friends, is a good stopping point for today. Dewey invaded our educational system in order to bring about a change centered on nothing but change itself, an unstable foundation to be sure. This has resulted in an increasingly chaotic culture which, as Eliot rightly says, "advances progressively backwards." C.S. Lewis once wrote,
We all want progress, but if you're on the wrong road, progress means doing an about-turn and walking back to the right road; in that case, the man who turns back soonest is the most progressive.
For many of us, that is precisely what homeschooling is: a turning back that is, at its core, truly progressive. As we follow the old paths and seek out the First Things, the things of un-change and permanence, we are acting in a way that builds culture rather than tears it down.


*I now think the two are simply complementary. After re-reading Charlotte Mason, I found she came much more alive because of Taylor. So I say they are both a huge influence.

___________
Read More:
-More book club posts linked at Mystie's blog

28 June 2011

Review: Big Oball

This is the first time Timberdoodle has sent us something to review that isn't in book form...and my are we having fun with it! Introducing the Big Oball:
Isn't this the coolest thing you've ever seen?

They also sent us details on their toddler core curriculum package, which I'll get to in a minute.

But first: The Big Oball.

The day this arrived, O.-Age-Two had acted bored all day, so this was Providential to say the least. What I didn't anticipate was all the trouble this would cause: every child in our family wanted to play with it! So, yes, it is for toddlers, but yes, big kids will like it as well.

Here is what we like about it {I asked the children for input}:
  • It's lightweight, so it's easy for even the littlest ones to toss or roll around.
  • The big holes in the ball make for easy gripping. This means that even babies can "catch" it in a way they can't catch solid balls. This has probably been the nicest benefit--my 9-year-old can now play catch with his little brother, something he's anticipated for a long time.
  • The ball seems indestructable. This is something that you have probably noticed if you've ever acquired toys from Timberdoodle. They are very strict about quality--toys we buy for little ones won't be broken by the little ones, or by the big ones who borrow them! This ball can be smashed down, but instantly regains its shape when you let go. We've also let visiting babies chew on it, with no visible wear.
  • E.-Age-Nine is fascinated by the color patterns. He likes to watch it spin and see how the colors all fit together. He is naturally engineer-minded.
  • O.-Age-Two says, "Ah like mah ball!" {I don't know where he gets the southern accent.}
My only complaint is that it really got my toddler throwing...so then I had to create some boundaries on where in the house he was allowed to toss it around!

He loves this ball, loves having a toy that belongs only to him, and loves sharing it with his older brother and sisters. I definitely have it on my short list for toddler birthday party gifts!

Timberdoodle Toddler Core Curriculum
When they sent the ball to us for reviewing, Timberdoodle was also kind enough to include one of their toddler core curriculum planning folders so that I could see all of what they are suggesting for toddlers. I have found that as I have more students needing lessons, I also have more need for things to occupy my little ones. This is a fabulous list of ideas...and it also reminded me of things I already have in my cupboards that I should get out in August for the start of the new school year.

Here is what is on their toddler curriculum list that we already purchased and have in our home:
  • Lauri A-Z Puzzles. We have these in both upper and lower case. I used them with Daughters A. and Q. as a sort of game when they were learning their letters. Toddler O. gets these out from time to time, but I have to be careful to watch him as he tends to lose the smaller pieces if I'm not careful. My daughters still play with these regularly, even though they are on to real reading lessons now.
  • Wedgits Starter Tote. Q.-Age-Four was given this for Christmas a couple years ago. Initially, she cried because she thought it was a toy for boys! However, comma, she informed me yesterday that Wedgits are some of her very favorite things {right up there with homemade chili}. These days, O.-Age-Two plays along; the two of them sit at our little toddler table for two and build their creations in {relative} peace.
  • FantaColor Junior. This is another old Christmas gift that has passed the test of time. The only warning I have about this is that if your child is still putting toys in his mouth, this is not the right toy for him! Son O. choked on a couple of the pieces before I realized that he just wasn't old enough for it. These days he is playing with it the right way. I think I'll get it out today once it is too hot for playing outside.
In all, their core curriculum is a great place to go if your toddler mystifies, befuddles, or otherwise challenges your limited brain power {as mine does me}.

____________________________________
Legal Disclosure:

As a member of Timberdoodle's Blogger Review Team I received a free Big Oball and Toddler Core Curriculum Planning Folder in exchange for a frank and unbiased review.

27 June 2011

Miscellaneous Musings on Monday

Did everyone have a good weekend? Mine was fine, though Toddler O. is really trying to put the Terrible in Terrible Twos {and I have never believed in Terrible Twos!}. He escaped his bed during his nap on Saturday and used the opportunity to pour glue all over his brother's desk, write on his wall, and generally destroy property. I am often flabbergasted by this child because all of my other children never even tried things like this. I think some habit training may be in order for this little one.

In other {more interesting} news...
  • Top of the Drudge Report this morning informs us that the U.S. Supreme Court struck down one of our state laws! This time it's the no-violent-video-games-for-children law. The Court says there is no precedent for protecting children from violent content. Though I, personally, protect my children from violent content like that {though not from the fairy tales cited in the Scalia's argument}, I certainly don't need the State telling me what is or is not good for my children. They already try to do this all the time, and it is really quite frustrating. I like what Scalia said:
    No doubt a state possesses legitimate power to protect children from harm. But that does not include a free-floating power to restrict the ideas to which children may be exposed.
  • I received emails from various sources last night who were slightly panicked over a new bill introduced in the California Senate called SB 917. ARBA {American Rabbit Breeders Association} is calling for mass emailing and phone calls to our representatives. I read the bill last night, and I am not sure what to think, mainly because I'm not familiar with the rest of the laws surrounding this issue. The law purports to be an anti-animal cruelty law, which means it's completely unnecessary due to the fact that animal cruelty is already a crime in our state. It invents new crimes, though, such as selling animals at a roadside stand or in a parking lot. I suspect this would be a huge attack {as ARBA believes it is} on small, private animal breeders. There are exemptions for cats, dogs, and birds to some extent, but not enough to assure me that I'd be allowed to breed and sell from my own flock, nor that I could legally cull and eat birds from our breeding program. It really depends on how the courts interpret the law, should it be put into place. It is definitely a cause for huge concern, poorly written, and there is good reason to contact your representative and ask them to oppose it. The damage it could do to small farmers and breeding programs far outweighs any "protection" it purports to offer animals, not to mention the issues involved in inventing crimes when we already cannot afford to keep our current criminals imprisoned.
  • Speaking of raising animals, has anyone been considering a backyard flock? Mark's Daily Apple has a great post: A Beginner's Guide to Backyard Chickens. Of course, I prefer ducks, as you know.
  • A middle school near my house has up an interesting sign: "New Law: TDaP Shots." In order to prevent whooping cough {pertussis}, California is requiring all incoming 7th-12th grade students to be vaccinated for tetanus, diphtheria, and pertussis this coming school year, and all 7th graders every year following. I always find things like this interesting, especially considering a tetanus shot is considered effective for ten years. Why must we always over vaccinate? I never understand this. In case any of you were wondering, those of us who are exempt for medical or religious reasons are still exempt for medical or religious reasons. So when the schools say "required" they mean "required for those who are not exempt."
  • Are kids born capitalists? My dad sent me an article exploring this topic. The experiment cited, though, only proves the children have the ability to recognize property rights, not that they are capitalists {though I agree that private ownership is a central tenant of capitalism}. Generally, I agree with Bastiat, who is also quoted in the article, and explained that life, liberty, and property precede law. Just law is an acknowledgement of what already is. Fascinating stuff, this.
And now I'm out for the day. Post your links and thoughts in the comments as usual!

24 June 2011

On Herbartian Unit Studies

Lately I've noticed that there is a bit of confusion over Charlotte Mason's disdain for unit studies. I've encountered some folks who say, "What's wrong with unit studies? That's what I do and I love it!" But then they tell me what they do, and it's not exactly what Mason was talking about.

For example, I met a gal who explained that she and her children would go to the library and check out a stack of books on whatever subject they were interested in. Isn't this what an adult would do? If I really wanted to know about, or simply had my mind on, a topic, I'd read a number of books on that topic, right?

Well...that may be a type of unit study. I can certainly see why someone would do something like that. In fact, it sounds like it has the making of what Mortimer Adler called syntopical reading.

But this is not what our friend Charlotte was so adamantly against. She was against the unit studies in her day that were based upon the work of the philosopher Herbart.

So let's look at what this is all about.

What Herbart Believed

As a disclaimer, I must confess that I have not read Herbart. I have only read what Mason says about Herbart. So when I summarize Herbart, I am actually summarizing Mason's summary of Herbart.

Okay, so Mason explains in one or two of her volumes that she actually agrees with Herbart in some places--much more so than, say, Froebel and his invention of kindergarten. But where she differs with Herbart has huge practical implications.

So, briefly, in Herbart:
  • The mind has a sort of doorway or threshold into which it is quite difficult to get ideas.
  • Ideas slip in and out without much control or input from the learner.
  • Ideas are viewed as fighting amongst themselves to get into the consciousness--as if they couldn't all get in--as sort of philosophy of scarcity.
  • Ideas, then, need to be chained together as neatly and thoroughly as possible so that when one slips in, it brings the whole chain with it. These linked chains are called "apperception masses."
  • Someone outside of the student links the chain. The student is a passive learner in the worst sense of the word.
  • Therefore, the onus of learning is upon the shoulders of the teacher. If the child doesn't take in the ideas, the teacher has failed to properly orchestrate the necessary apperception mass.
Charlotte's criticisms of this are many. If you are familiar with her writings, then you know that she believes--and this falls into line with the thinking of traditional teachers, from Socrates on down--that the learner is responsible for his own learning. Remember, Charlotte often utilizes a food analogy--we set a varied and nutritious banquet, full of the best ideas of mankind, flavored with highly literary works, and so on. And we teach them to eat. We set the example of love. But we do not force feed, and we do not predigest the food for them.

What a Herbartian Unit Study Looks Like

Charlotte gives a very thorough explanation in her sixth volume:
A successful and able modern educationalist gives us a valuable introduction to Herbartian Principles, and, by way of example, "A Robinson Crusoe Concentration Scheme," a series of lessons given to children in Standard I in an Elementary School. First we have nine lessons in literature and language, the subjects being such as 'Robinson climbs a hill and finds he is on an island.' Then, ten object lessons of which the first is,––The Sea, the second, A Ship from Foreign Parts, the sixth, A Life-Boat, the seventh, Shell-Fish, the tenth, A Cave. How these 'objects' are to be produced one does not see. The third series are drawing lessons, probably as many, a boat, a ship, an oar, an anchor and so on. Then follows a series on manual training, still built upon 'Robinson'; the first, a model of the seashore; then models of Robinson's island, of Robinson's house, and Robinson's pottery. The next course consists of reading, an infinite number of lessons,––'passages from The Child's Robinson Crusoe and from a general reader on the matters discussed in object lessons.' Then follows a series of writing lessons, "simple compositions on the subject of the lessons. ... the children framed the sentences which the teacher wrote on the blackboard and the class copied afterwards." Here is one composition,––"Robinson spent his first night in a tree. In the morning he was hungry but he saw nothing round him but grass and trees without fruit. On the sea-shore he found some shell-fish which he ate." Compare this with the voluminous output of children of six or seven working on the P.U.S. scheme upon any subject that they know; with, indeed, the pages they will dictate after a single reading of a chapter of Robinson Crusoe, not a 'child's edition.'

Arithmetic follows with, no doubt, as many lessons, many mental examples and simple problems dealt with Robinson"; the eighth and last course was in singing and recitation,––'I am monarch of all I survey,' etc. "The lessons lasted about forty-five minutes each.

. . . Under ordinary conditions the story of 'Robinson Crusoe' would be the leading feature in the work of a whole year . . . in comparing the English classes with the German classes I have seen studying 'Robinson Crusoe' I was convinced that the eagerness and interest was as keen among the children here as in the German schools ."
Basically, the class is going to view everything they learn the entire year through the lens of Robinson Crusoe. These days, I doubt anyone is studying a single book for an entire year. But still, unit studies are alive and well. Konos, for instance, organizes units around character qualities, while Five in a Row has shorter units, focused on reading one book every day for five days. Each day, the book is used to illustrate a different subject {five subjects, one for each day of the week: social studies, language arts, art, applied math, and science}.

Why Did Charlotte Have a Problem with Unit Studies?

At this point, I must say that we need to first go back and understand that the idea of unit studies was born of Herbart. It is very easy to look at unit studies today, and simply appreciate them for what they are. I can almost guarantee you that most of the Christian authors who write unit studies for homeschoolers never, ever read or heard of Herbart.

This is because Herbart took hold. He became cool. If you go to teacher school in this country, chances are that you will be required to write a number of unit studies before you graduate, and the better you are at it, the better your future in the classroom seems it will be.

Here are Charlotte's main concerns with unit studies:

  1. Education is the making of connections. This is foundational to her philosophy of education. In unit studies, the teacher is making connections for the student in her planning stage. She then directs students to the connections that are to be made. Remember: she is responsible for linking the chain, for building the apperception mass. Unlike a teacher using the Socratic method, who may indeed attempt to direct her students to make certain connections, the Herbartian teacher makes these connections directly for the students. They do not need to think for themselves. If Charlotte is right, and the essence of education is that light bulb moment when you yourself make a connection and come to understanding, the unit study is actually sabotaging education--at least to the extent that it prevents students from making their own connections.
  2. Charlotte required attention paid to a single reading. This woman knew how to train students in the habit of attention! They were to narrate and make the reading theirs. Because they came into possession of what they had read, they were able to apply it in the future--in other words, it was available to them to use in making their own connections, both with other books and with the world around them. One of the main complaints I've heard about Five in a Row, for instance, is that children quit attending to the readings. If you are going to read a book over and over, there is no need to remember what it says. You're going to read it again tomorrow anyhow. Naturally, the children will still pay attention to the books that they love, but they are not accountable to really know the content of the reading.
  3. This method entertains children. I know this doesn't sound like a negative to our modern ears, but Charlotte was concerned because entertainment is not the same thing as learning. As children are entertained, their ability to use their will to direct their attention to their lessons is actually undermined. It takes no self-discipline to watch something amusing--amusement is more of an appeal to passions than to the will. Because Charlotte knew that attention is a habit to be built and then maintained, an entertainment-centered lesson was counterproductive.
  4. This built pride in the teachers. I'll let her explain herself:
    Herbart's psychology is extraordinarily gratifying and attractive to teachers who are, like other people, eager to magnify their office; and here is a scheme which shows how every child is a new creation as he comes forth from the hands of his teacher. The teacher learns how to do it; he has but to draw together a mass of those ideas which themselves will combine in the mind into which they effect an entrance, and, behold, the thing is done: the teacher has done it; he has selected the ideas, shewn the correlation of each with the other and the work is complete! The ideas establish themselves, the most potent rule and gather force, and if these be good, the man is made.
    The teacher is almost deified in the classroom in this regard.
  5. This kills love of the spine text. Charlotte believed that such a program would cause children to never, ever wish to read Robinson Crusoe again. As the teacher "forced much out of little" {as Charlotte puts it}, the children would eventually loathe this book, or any other book approached the same way.

My Own Objections

In my reading of Charlotte, though, I've never read her objecting to this approach in the way that I do, so I thought I'd share my own opinions.

First, I get concerned because this is not the way a good reader approaches a book. I do not read, for instance, a book by Jane Austen in order to learn the geography of England, or to do a math problem about how if Mrs. Bennett has five daughters and marries off two of them, then how many does she have left? I'm not saying that, in reading a book, one never asks questions of geography or math. It does happen. What I'm saying is that these are not natural questions to ask of the text, nor are they the most important questions to ask of the text. If this is how children are reared to view books, as objects to dissect the life out of, they will never learn great ideas from books--a sort of being too distracted by the trees to actually see the forest sort of situation. In other words, they will never be great readers, and Mortimer Adler will be forced to roll over in his grave. Chances are, they'll never be able to formulate plots enough to write a great book, either, as they will fail to understand the nature of a book.

Second, and I already alluded to it, this is not the way to comprehension of a book's greatest ideas. I haven't read Robinson Crusoe, but last year I fell in love with Captains Courageous when I read it for the first time. It could be dissected in much the same way. Someone could take the book and use it as a jumping-off point to discuss fishing in general, bait, tackle, ship construction and maintenance, sailing, weather, current, water safety, and so on and so forth. But the book is about redemption and becoming a man, and if you don't read it this way, you miss the point. Is it an allusion to baptism, when Harvey falls into the water and nearly drowns? And is it Messianic, when he is pulled out, rescued, and then "discipled" in true manhood? A million rich conversations could pour forth from thinking the noble thoughts of the book, but unit studies tend to dwell on the minutia. All books have their interesting details, but the great thoughts--the Permanent Things--presented, transcend those details. In fact, many don't make the cut and aren't worthy of being preserved for generations because the author was too locked in the details of his own time; he failed to transcend and speak about the Permanent Things.

And So it Goes

My motivation here in writing this was not to convince folks who love unit studies to stop, nor to cause those who don't to feel smug. I really hate fighting about methods. But I've found lately that there is a lot of confusion as to why Charlotte objected to unit studies, so I hope that this helps us understand the nature of her concerns. Whenever we adopt or reject methods or philosophies, we ought to be aware of their historical background and reason for being, rather than just being enamored with the method itself.

23 June 2011

Quotables: How to Read a Book

How to Read a Book (A Touchstone book)
How to Read a Book
by Mortimer Adler

You do not understand the book perfectly. Let us even assume...that you understand enough to know that you do not understand it all...

What do you do then? You can take the book to someone else who, you think, can read better than you, and have him explain the parts that trouble you....Or you may decide that what is over your head is not worth bothering about, that you understand enough. In either case, you are not doing the job of reading that the book requires.

That is done in only one way. Without external help of any sort, you go to work on the book. With nothing but the power of your own mind, you operate on the symbols before you in such a way that you gradually life yourself from a state of understanding less to one of understanding more. Such elevation, accomplished by the mind working on a book, is highly skilled reading, the kind of reading that a book which challenges your understanding deserves. {pp. 7-8}
Getting more information is learning, and so is coming to understand what you did not understand before. But there is an important difference between these two kinds of learning.

To be informed is to know simply that something is the case. To be enlightened is to know, in addition, what it is all about: why it is the case, what its connections are with other facts, in what respects it is the same, in what respects it is different, and so forth. {p. 11}
The fourth and highest level of reading we will call Syntopical Reading. It is the most complex and systematic type of reading of all. It makes very heavy demands on the reader, even if the materials he is reading are themselves relatively easy and unsophisticated.

Another name of this level might be comparative reading. When reading syntopically, the reader reads many books, not just one, and places them in relation to one another and to a subject about which they all revolve. But mere comparison of texts is not enough. Syntopical reading involves more. With the help of the books read, the syntopical reader is able to construct an analysis of the subject that may not be in any of the books. {p. 20}
Reading readiness includes several different kinds of preparation for learning to read. Physical readiness involves good vision and hearing. Intellectual readiness involves a minimum level of visual perception such that the child can take in and remember an entire word and the letters that combine to form it. Language readiness involves the ability to speak clearly and to use several sentences in correct order. Personal readiness involves the ability to work with other children, to sustain attention, to follow directions, and the like.

General reading readiness is assessed by tests and is also estimated by teachers who are often skillful at discerning just when a pupil is ready to learn to read. The important thing to remember is that jumping the gun is usually self-defeating. The child who is not yet ready to read is frustrated if attempts are made to teach him, and he may carry over his dislike for the experience into his later school career and even into adult life. Delaying the beginning of reading instruction beyond the reading readiness stage is not nearly so serious, despite the feelings of parents who may fear that their child is "backward" or is not "keeping up" with his peers. {p. 24}

22 June 2011

The Darndest Things: Bipolar

Happiness is when you are two-years-old and it is 8:30am and you are already in trouble with Mommy and she says those magic words: "Go outside." You are shocked and delighted that Mommy forgot the sprinklers are running at that time. You skip through them until you are completely soaked--this really is happiness!

Devastation is when you learn that your clothes stay wet when the sprinklers turn off.

21 June 2011

Book Club: Poetic Knowledge {Finale}

I think I've mentioned before that Poetic Knowledge is my favorite book ever, ever, ever. Truth be told, though, this is only my second time completely through. I suppose my stolen glances at random chapters over the past few years add up to an additional reading, but there really is something to be said for reading a book straight through, from beginning to end.

It's funny how a different reading can provide a different lesson.

Poetic Knowledge: The Recovery of EducationOh, I learned a number of things in my first reading {and much more this time around}, but I came away with one overarching lesson, and that was the conviction that I viewed education scientifically, as something to be weighed and measured and categorized. I had very little room in my paradigm for the things unseen--for an idea that germinates and bears fruit. So, my first reading taught me the importance of allowing for the poetic in a general sense.

This time around, I have much room for the poetic. I don't worry about measuring or producing evidence for others to see {at least, not nearly as much as I used to}. This time, what really stood out to me was the importance of love.

The Disadvantaged Girl
When we were first married, we knew a family with six adopted children. These children had sustained varying levels of damage from their birth parents. One daughter in the family stands out in my memory. I believe she had been a crack baby, or some sort of drug baby. She was very socially immature, had trouble controlling her mind and emotions. She was attending the local public high school, where she performed miserably in almost every class.

What I remember is that there was one class in which she did well. Her ADHD, her reading issues, her possible other learning disabilities--it was almost as if they suddenly vanished!

They didn't, of course. {Vanish, that is.}

But all of these hurdles were much more easily jumped when she loved the subject.

I remember thinking about this, and then reflecting that the hardest times for me in learning had been when I wasn't interested in the subject {when I had not love}, and I had seen friends in college overcome their own obstacles because, if they didn't learn to love the subject at hand, at the very least they had a goal they loved which motivated them to conquer said obstacles.

So now I think: why do children learn anything in the beginning? Why do they crawl? Why do they walk? Why do they talk? Why do they run or jump or climb or color on a page or write their name or do any of the number of things that children do?

For the love of it.

Children are born with a passion for discovering things about the world around them. Daughter A. began crawling at four months of age and I thought I might perish, but the truth is she loved her brother and she just wanted to get closer to him.

And find out a little more about his toys.

Ahem.

If I Have Not Love
If I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but do not have love, I have become a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy, and know all mysteries and all knowledge; and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. And if I give all my possessions to feed the poor, and if I surrender my body to be burned, but do not have love, it profits me nothing.

I Corinthians 13:1-3
I feel like there are innumerable thoughts we could still think thanks to this book. We could talk about schools based upon friendship, and that Aristotle said that true friendship was based upon mutual love of the Good. We could talk about how multiculturalism merely dilutes love rather than engendering it. Or we could talk about order as a species of beauty, and discuss how to get my office tidier.

The possibilities are endless.

But, for me, I'm taking away some lessons on love. Here, I mean love in its broadest sense. I mean a passion for something, or an affection for something. Love, in proportion to the worth of the thing at hand, motivates learning in a way that nothing else can.

Not getting good grades.
Not earning a prize.
Not being paid by your parents for your achievements.
Not graduating with honors.
Not being afraid of punishment for poor grades.
Not getting a job in the future.
Not getting accepted into a good college.

None. Of. It.

Man was created to know his world, and to manage it well. God made a beautiful, wonderful world for man to live in, and even though he is fallen, and it is still groaning for the fullness of its redemption, we are still in the image of God, and therefore we can still delight in the works of His hands.

Even more so for those who are redeemed.

What I'm thinking about now, then, is this: if something is worth loving, it is worth learning about. And also: if something is worth learning about, it is worth loving. True, some things are worth loving more than other things, for some things have greater value than other things. But all of God's creation is good, and therefore worthy of love.

If education really is about ordering the affections--of learning to love rightly, to feel in accordance with the created order--well, then, our task is somewhat different from what I initially thought it was.

The poetic, then, becomes the foundation of love that will bear up our children as they travel into higher and higher levels of learning. Learning to love fully and rightly is imperative for a healthy childhood, and yet these loves aren't outgrown, but rather built upon.

Sort of like marriage, I suppose. You never outgrow love; you build a life upon it.

I think I'll close with a little bit of Charlotte Mason:
After all life is very short; we all of us have only one life to live, and during that life let us get into ourselves as much love, as much admiration, as much elevating pleasure as we can, and if we view education merely as discipline in critical bitterness, then we shall lose all the sweets of life and we shall make ourselves unnecessarily miserable. There is quite enough sorrow and hardship in this world as it is without introducing it prematurely to young people.

20 June 2011

Miscellaneous Musings on Monday

Looks like our weather finally got the memo about summer! We're set for triple digits this week, and we hope to see more swimming action in our lives. Sometimes I wish I had a pool, but then I remember how much it costs.

In other news...
  • Potty training is still successful! I'm still pinching myself, but if this trend continues, it means that I bought diapers for exactly nine years straight...and not a day more! I have half a box left; here's hoping I never have to use them. Yes! You read that right: Toddler O. is also nighttime trained! Let's hear it for my boy! Now we just have to iron out a few more things and he can be considered fully trained. If you want to think more about toilet training, I noticed that KM has a post up.
  • I've been given the opportunity to review a very interesting book. It's called Young and in Love and it was written to "challenge the unnecessary delay of marriage." I wasn't meaning to read so many books on singleness/dating/courtship/engagement/arranged marriages {just kidding about that last one}, but I find I'm slowly developing opinions on issues that are headed my way someday, as much as I try to stop this train called time. I'm excited to read it, for sure, but the back matter slighted I Kissed Dating Goodbye, which makes me wonder where he'll take us along the journey. All of that to say: I'll be sure and share my quotes and, of course, write a review. It's a free review copy, after all.
  • I finished up Did I Kiss Marriage Goodbye? by Carolyn McCulley. I planned to write a review, but I think I'll just put my opinions here: FIVE STARS. I married young {obviously}, but I think it was a great balance of approaching protracted singleness biblically, with grace, empathy, and love. I found myself corrected by some of her criticisms of the things we ignorant married people say. I found myself learning how to be a better friend {hopefully} to my single friends. I found myself considering the way in which I should raise my daughters, even. I think it's a great read for any woman, really, because a lot of what she talked about focused on universal principles. Excellent, excellent.
  • Since we're talking books, here's what's coming up in my reading stack: Uncle Tom's Cabin, Twilight of American Culture {if I can just get past the liberal gobbledy gook at the beginning...it comes highly recommended, so I'm pushing on}, A Shepherd Looks at Psalm 23, and of course Young and in Love. I already started How to Read a Book, though I never mentioned it here. I also need to update the book list at the very bottom of this page {to fulfill of my New Year's resolution}.
  • Feeling stressed out about school life or home life? Last week, Pam brought us Seeking peace in the homeschool journey. Read, and be encouraged.
  • My garden is going strong. We ate homegrown lettuce last week, along with more radishes. The pumpkins are about to flower, and the zucchini plants look impressive, but have yet to prove themselves. Marigolds, tomatoes, carrots, and so on are all going strong. This is definitely the best garden we've had since we moved here.
  • Speaking of zucchini, I'm collecting zucchini recipes. We're already getting excess zucchini from my father, and I'm hoping we have a future crop from our own garden. You can only eat so much zucchini, right? Well, you can eat more if you have some creative recipes. I'll try and share one a week for a while. Last week, I made zucchini cakes topped with smoky ranch dip, and both recipes were linked in this post from last year.
  • My wonderful sister-in-law has written a lovely two-part series thinking through the concept of the LORD as our shepherd. Here is Part I and here is Part II and I liked them both, though I still can't leave comments anywhere saying such things.
  • And finally...do you remember my qualms with this whole Christianity-is-a-relationship-not-a-religion nonsense? Well, it made the top of the 8 Gnostic Myths You May Have Imbibed list! The author also has me wishing for a copy of Against the Protestant Gnostics--but wow is it pricey! Anyhow, the article is totally worth reading, plus it contains a lot of links for further reading if you find the content to be something you want to think about further.
And now I'm out. Share your own favorite links in the comments!

17 June 2011

Quotables: Did I Kiss Marriage Goodbye?

Did I Kiss Marriage Goodbye?: Trusting God with a Hope Deferred
Did I Kiss Marriage Goodbye?
by Carolyn McCulley

The epilogue [of Proverbs 31] is a twenty-two verse acrostic. Each line starts with a successive letter of the Hebrew alphabet. The chapter is attributed to the mother of King Lemuel, who instructed her young son through this memory game in both the alphabet and the qualities of a virtuous wife. In other words, she wanted this future ruler to know by heart what to look for in a single woman to ensure that he would find someone who would make an excellent wife. {p. 50}
History is littered with bloodthirsty kings, selfish queens, corrupt princes, and vengeful knights. It's unfortunate that noble birth with all its privileges rarely produces noble character. However, the concept still stands: A noble is a person of rank, someone who is not a commoner. A noble character, therefore, is one that is not common--one that possesses dignity and is above whatever is low, mean, degrading, or dishonorable. When a woman is demanding or high maintenance, we often joke that she is being a princess. But that is a distorted view of nobility. The best princesses are gracious and uplifting. Their brows are not furrowed with bitterness or discontent; they are no scowling; they are serene. {p. 52}
One thing I've learned to do is praise God in the middle of my dashed hopes. {p. 55}
Now having prayed, and wept, she went away, and was no more sad; only here is the difference between a holy complain and a discontented complaint; in the one we complain to God, in the other we complain of God. {p. 57}
We must evaluate our thoughts and actions with a long-term view. Most single women will one day get married; so what we're sowing to now will suddenly bloom in marriage. {p. 60}
Jealousy is a poison that simmers in indwelling sin and corrodes our hearts from the inside out. Resignation is a begrudging existence, one based in not believing the best of God. Both operate out of a mind-set that God has finite resources--a God of scarcity and not abundance--as though if one person gets blessed, that diminishes our chances of being similarly blessed. {p. 61}
I've often wondered if God has a plan for the multitudes of childless single adults in this nation and the multitude of orphans in other nations. That doesn't necessarily mean adoption is the solution, but I have wondered how God might use the desire for children in us to serves those needy orphans. {p. 154}
One comment many singles hear frequently is that we need to be out and about, running from one event to another so that we can "broaden our horizons." People who advise single women that way may mean well, but they don't have a place for God in their thinking. They can't imagine a God who orchestrates the events and timing of our lives to the tiniest details. {p. 191}

16 June 2011

Final Thoughts: How to Cure Tooth Decay

I already wrote a little about this book in my posts Tooth Decay and Germ Theory and Teeth Are Alive and Need Their Vitamins. I'm almost done re-reading passages in this book, and I'm getting ready to loan it out, so I thought I'd type up some parting thoughts before I forget them.

Cure Tooth Decay: Heal and Prevent Cavities with Nutrition, Second EditionThis book taught me a lot about teeth and how to keep them healthy, yes. But it was tainted by Nagel's constant negativity towards dentists. Yes, I agree that some dentists are in it for the money alone, and that those sorts of dentists do unnecessary and/or harmful work on their patients. Other dentists simply differ with Nagel. They aren't evil and they aren't preying on their patients. They just ascribe to a different philosophy, that's all.

I remember asking one of my doctors once why he doesn't try more dietary intervention. I thought he'd respond in a closed-minded way, but he surprised me and seemed to understand the ability of proper diet to promote major healing. His problem was that his patients simply had no discipline or desire to change their habits. They'd rather take a pill.

This is why the tone of the book bothered me, because I would love to know what my dentist thinks about the theories in the book, but I'd never suggest it to him because it'd be insulting. It reminds me a little of what I thought about Esolen's Ten Ways to Destroy the Imagination of Your Child--I'd loan it to a teacher except that she'd be so offended that she wouldn't be able to embrace the concepts.

I'm not against critical thinking. If Nagel had kept it purely scientific, and stuck to pointing out, for instance, that brushing and flossing and using fluoride have gotten us nowhere in regard to tooth health, that'd be fine. That's obvious, I think. But going after dentists and basically accusing them of being blinded by their greed...for me it crossed the line. We cannot see the hearts of men, and we shouldn't pretend that we can. A dentist can in theory be both wrong and good at once, in the sense that he can do things that don't promote tooth health out of ignorance, while simultaneously having genuine care for his patients in his heart.

However, comma.

This doesn't mean I wouldn't suggest the book...to you.

You are not a dentist, are you?

I didn't think so.

We are currently making the dietary changes in the book in hopes of controlling the problems our two oldest children have with their baby teeth. My main concern, really, is that they have healthy adult teeth. After reading all of the nutritional guidelines, I'm pretty sure I know why the two of them have weak teeth--it goes back to spending years on special diets {where they could drink no milk of any kind}. I didn't really know how to nourish them on this diet, and at that time there weren't all the resources there are now. When we took Daughter A. in to the doctor that finally helped us, she tested almost completely deficient in calcium.

I suppose I ought to be grateful she has teeth at all!

So now they have a new "special" diet, only this one is much easier on me, and tastier, too. We threw out the oatmeal, and they eat eggs about five mornings per week. A lot of those eggs are from our backyard flock, but some are also store-bought because...well, it takes a lot of eggs to serve six people each morning! They're taking fermented cod liver oil and butter oil, drinking raw pastured milk, eating real yellow butter, and learning to eat organ meats {last week I discovered they adore liverwurst, a definite plus}. I'm also buying Indian ghee and planning to introduce more shellfish this summer.

If you can't tell from this list, the diet focuses on maximizing intake of calcium, phosphorous, and fat-soluble vitamins A {not pro-vitamin A...most children cannot make the conversion from beta carotene to Vitamin A}, D, and K2. Vitamin C is considered necessary for gum problems; as my children do not have these, I just let them eat fruit--especially unhulled strawberries {because most the Vitamin C is in the hull!} and call it a day. At the same time, Nagel suggests that we eat no grains, an exception being made for sourdough made from freshly ground flour with the bran sifted out. Thankfully, I took up making sourdough as a hobby, so this was not a stretch for me. There is a lot more to it, but these are the basics. This is considered therapeutic for children with poor teeth health. Though it is wise to make sure every child has intake of these vitamins and minerals, please don't think I am turning into a food and nutrition Nazi!

I really try to balance the idea that my children seem to need a therapeutic diet at this point {I do believe God gives us wisdom to know these things, and that Hippocrates, being a pagan, still had wisdom when he said, "Let your food be your medicine, and your medicine be your food."} with the fact that it is false teachers that are picky about food and cause division in the Church over eating laws and using special diets and the like:
But the Spirit explicitly says that in later times some will fall away from the faith, paying attention to deceitful spirits and doctrines of demons, by means of the hypocrisy of liars seared in their own conscience as with a branding iron, men who forbid marriage and advocate abstaining from foods which God has created to be gratefully shared in by those who believe and know the truth. For everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with gratitude; for it is sanctified by means of the word of God and prayer.

I Timothy 4:1-5
Ahem.

So we will see. It is really too soon to know if this will help them.

Of course, it won't hurt them. That is what's nice about trying something like this: no side effects.

We're anticipating our first appointment with a biological dentist, because our daughter really might need intervention with a couple of her teeth, and this dentist is much gentler, not to mention metal-free. Nagel makes a strong case for not interfering with painless baby teeth, even if they are carious, and the pediatric dentist we saw wanted to do far more work than we were comfortable with. So we're getting another opinion.

I feel like this book gave us the direction we were looking for. We knew our children had cavities, and we wanted them to have healthy teeth. Because of their history of allergies, we were concerned about putting metal in their mouths and giving them drugs to which they might be allergic {such as Novocain shots or antihistamine sedatives to help them relax during the procedures}. Our hope is that we will be able to avoid this now, especially since we knew intuitively what the book explains scientifically--that drilling and filling a cavity does not cure the underlying cause of the decay.

If you are looking for options in regard to tooth health, and you like trying to fix things yourself, this book is definitely a worthy read.

15 June 2011

Book Club: Poetic Knowledge {Chapter 7}

Here we are at the end, it seems. Next week is the summing up week, but this week finishes all of the reading {for now...I plan to reread this book every other year or so as it is...my favorite}.

I know that Mystie the Summarizer will probably boil a lot of this chapter down for us, so I thought I'd dig into some of the details to answer the question, "What would education in the poetic mode look like today?" My short answer is: like Ambleside, done rightly.

I'm not saying it's the only way, mind you, but it embodies the elements in a way I've never seen anywhere else.

Plus I'm biased because it's ours and we love it.

Ahem.

So what are some of the components? Taylor says.....
  • Poetic Knowledge: The Recovery of EducationGrammar: Grammar is not poetic, except for possibly when done completely in conversation. For instance, a child says to you, "Me and him are going for a walk in the backyard," and you correct the child and say, "He and I are..." and have the child repeat the phrase back to you properly. Other than this, Taylor very firmly believes that grammar should only be taught after years of exposure to literature.
    • Even a year ago, I would have said that I doubted the wisdom of this, but I acted on faith because my oldest is such a natural with words that I didn't think I could really harm him by following this advice {which is very similar to Charlotte Mason's advice--formal grammar is introduced around ages 9 or 10 and not before}. The funny thing is, if my son's Term Three written exam answers are any indication, grammar really is improved upon with each passing year of reading {as long as the books are of the highest possible quality and content} without much intervention on the part of the teacher. People tell me that he "speaks and writes like a book" and that they can tell that he "reads a lot." This is really an indication that even within the broad culture there is an underlying poetic understanding that it is good books and brilliant authors--the absolute masters of their trade--that best teach grammar.
    • One other aside: this whole train of thought has derailed one of my plans for the coming school year. I procured, upon the advice of Meredith from Australia {thank you!} a copy of First Language Lessons by Jesse Wise. My plan, in order to be efficient, was to incorporate it into Circle Time. I've decided not to do that, but rather to schedule regular grammar lessons one-on-one with only my oldest student. As my students become ready for formal grammar, I will slowly transition this into a small group. The more I think about this, the more I like the idea of having a version of Circle Time once or twice per week with my older students, to feed their brains better and connect with them on their level. Perhaps this could be during naptime and I could serve herbal tea? {Crumpets, anyone?}
  • Latin: Latin is to be taught conversationally, by a tutor who is fluent...much like grammar, actually.
    • The problem is that the ideal and the real don't balance here. I. can't. teach. Latin. I mentioned this on Monday--I'm considering Visual Latin for Year Four as an alternative to...well, doing nothing much. All of the reviews say that there is a lot of laughter and that the teacher's love for Latin is contagious, and that is about as poetic as I think Latin will get around here. Some of this recovery work is necessarily generational in nature.
  • History: Names and dates? Yes, but always embedded in their stories. Children are never to read textbooks, but rather primary sources or history story books. My guess is that there wouldn't be a lot of drilling, either.
    • This is something I really trust. Any history fact memorization that was ever required of me, I have forgotten, but I manage to remember a ton of history that I have read in story form. I might not be as precise as someone who has been drilled--sort of like when I remember a verse and know where it was located on a page, but not the exact reference--but the recall is much, much better. My memory works very poetically in this way, and so I use this approach with our children. I never drill facts, at least not that I can think of. For poetry, scripture, and other memorization, we learn entire poems, complete passages, and so on. The importance of this is that it keeps everything in context. All of this reminds me of what S.S. Laurie said about Comenius' approach:
      But the exercise of the memory does not mean the wearing the pupil out by requiring him to learn things off by heart; but the frequent and sufficient presentation of things clearly understood, till, of their own accord, they adhere.
  • Science: At the young ages, at the level of beginner, biology is the name of the game. But this is biology Fabre style--observation of the living rather than the dead {no dissection}, of wholes rather than parts {which includes viewing something in its natural habitat rather than in a classroom or laboratory}. In fact, the great outdoors is the child's biology lab. Once again: no textbooks. Children are to keep a nature journal that includes their own notes, pictures {drawings}, poems, and stories of what they have seen.
I think that, once again, we can see what a genius Charlotte Mason was, and I cannot help but wonder why Taylor didn't include her among the "voices for poetic knowledge" after Descartes. I suppose it is possible he simply hadn't heard of her at that time. But he managed to feature an obscure school in France, so I wonder.

Nevertheless, I think that Charlotte is a voice of poetic knowledge, not just for yesterday, but for today, for it is she {thanks to Susan Schaeffer Macauley} who has managed to bring it into the homes of American family schools.

A Note on Faith
At my reading group on Monday night, we had an interesting conversation about what the point of all of this is, and who decides what a classic work is anyhow? And so on and so forth. Our discussion centered around the last pages of Chapter 7 from A Philosophy of Education:
We forget that it is written, Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God shall man live,––whether it be spoken in the way of some truth of religion, poem, picture, scientific discovery, or literary expression; by these things men live and in all such is the life of the spirit. The spiritual life requires the food of ideas for its daily bread.
And also this:
I have sometimes heard it said that you should not teach patriotism in the school. I dissent from that doctrine. I think that patriotism should be taught in the schools. I will tell you what I mean by patriotism. By patriotism I do not mean Jingoism, but what I mean by patriotism is an intelligent appreciation of all things noble in the romances, in the literature and in the history of one's own country. Young people should be taught to admire what is great while they are at school . . .

Of course there is a great deal to criticise in any country, and I should be the last person to suggest that the critical faculty should not be exercised and trained at school. But before we teach children to criticise the institutions of their country, before we teach them to be critical of what is bad, let us teach them to recognize and admire what is good. After all life is very short; we all of us have only one life to live, and during that life let us get into ourselves as much love, as much admiration, as much elevating pleasure as we can, and if we view education merely as discipline in critical bitterness, then we shall lose all the sweets of life and we shall make ourselves unnecessarily miserable. There is quite enough sorrow and hardship in this world as it is without introducing it prematurely to young people. {emphasis mine}
Teaching in the poetic mode is, in one sense, simply encouraging children to fall completely in love with God's creation and with His order. It is teaching them to love what is good. The training that we attempt for them while they are young will allow for them to fulfill this command as well:
[W]hatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things.