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    Poetry and Science Holding Hands

    February 13, 2008 by Brandy Vencel

    It’s been many years now since we first decided to homeschool our children. Our reasons are different now than they were then. I didn’t realize this until fairly recently when a fellow homeschooling mom asked me what got us started on homeschooling. She didn’t ask, “Why do you homeschool?” She asked why we got started in the first place. And I had a moment of revelation, realizing that sometimes we continue to do the Same Thing for Very Different Reasons.

    Once upon a time our reasons for homeschooling were what I would call reactive. This doesn’t make them wrong, but just different than they are now. At the time we saw the overall quality {there were exceptions, of course} of elementary education majors at our university {yes, some of them hated reading and didn’t have a clue as to the names of the classics}, and we cringed. We saw public school students in our area with a frown on their face when they discussed anything even slightly academic, and we cringed. We witnessed said public school students grow up to be young adults who could not carry a thought, speak in a complete sentence, or read a book for independent learning and enjoyment, and we cringed.

    We did not want this for our family. Not for ourselves. Not for our children.

    We didn’t know much about how we would do it all. I can’t say we had any goals at the time, other than to not turn out like the general population.

    See what I mean by reactive?

    Slowly, over the years, we have come up with qualities we desire to see within our school, virtues we hope to cultivate, ideas we want to develop, subjects we wish to conquer, etc. In other words, we are now proactive.

    We have real goals.

    And one of those goals is wonder. Or perhaps some would call it delight.

    This is actually very different from the focus on entertainment we see in some public schools. In entertainment, the point is to keep their attention or to make them laugh. Moreover, I think an entertainment focus means that the self is the center of it all. The self exists to be served by everything external to it.

    In entertainment-driven education, the self is god.

    This is not the same as wonder. In wonder, the self is very tiny, and it stands, hopefully in humility, before a large and awesome Creator. The self realizes that it knows very little, but that it was created to learn and grow, and it delights in learning because this is its purpose: to glorify God and enjoy Him forever. This purpose begins on earth, glorifying Him and delighting in who He is and what He has made.

    James Taylor would call this initial act of wonder and delight Poetic Knowledge. It is something that happens spontaneously. I would add that it usually happens when the soul is left in a bit of solitude, uninterrupted by the noise of the world. Taylor writes:

    [S]ince modern philosophies have emerged that no longer regard knowing the truth as natural, or even possible, where what was recognized as self-evident is replaced with a system of doubt, under such conditions, Pieper says, learning is now perceived exclusively as work, rather than an act of leisure. In other words, the modern idea of learning is dominated by the ratio, and the simplex intuitus acts of the mind are dismissed as irrelevant under a scientific idea of knowledge. There are no “givens” nor can “inspiration” be taken seriously as valid knowledge–all is mental work and the student, more and more, becomes the intellectual laborer. Leisure and poetic knowledge suffocate under the weight of this new scientific philosophy where the way is opened for the school and all its operations to function quite comfortably with imagery analogous to a factory where products are produced for a marketplace.

    In contrast to the modern perception of the knower as laborer, is the poetic nature of the human being. And the poetic mode at this level easily merges with a philosophy not yet ruled by methods of academic procedures…


    Certainly, no one can seriously imagine someone working hard and being proud of the difficulty encountered in falling in love; or of the great effort needed to listen to beautiful music; or of an honorable endurance required to watch an evening’s setting sun. When difficulty becomes meritorious is when one will give one’s life for the beloved, or will go to great sacrifice to conserve a life that includes beautiful music and the sight of setting suns; but that is only because one has first loved {known} these things in leisure, experienced the rest, the union, and as a consequence, always yearns to return to them.

    So at this point, we must wonder about the “expert.” Modern education is quite the cult of the expert. And we all know experts work hard to master their subject. Does knowing in depth stand in contrast to poetic knowledge? Will it kill the soul? These questions naturally arise, I think, from this line of thinking.

    Thankfully, Taylor clears it up for us:

    Of course, there is real effort required at some point in learning, and often great effort is required to learn something well. But this is a situation that arises after the experience of wonder–if it arises at all–and the exertion for this kind of learning is usually in the student on the way to becoming a specialist or expert. And, even in the case of the specialist, the true scientist for example, there would always be the memory of the original love of the thing about which he first wondered. Consider again Pasteur, Fabre, and the Faraday in this light. They all retained the initial vision of the beginner, the amateur, the one who loves.

    We can often see this sort of thing in the master craftsman as well. My son loves to build things and tear things apart and fix them. If he became good–even excellent–at this, would he loves these things any less? No! In fact, I would say that perhaps he would love them more because he knows and understands them more intimately. Moreover, because his knowledge is driven by love there is a chance it wouldn’t feel like work.

    At least not like grueling, distasteful work.

    So the depth of the knowledge, the science, if you will, doesn’t dehumanize the learner if it is built on the foundation of the poetic, of love.

    So to my children I say: may you always have the heart of the amateur, even when you have the skill of the master.

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  • Reply Brandy February 14, 2008 at 7:06 pm


    I always like your comments because they reveal to me how muddled my own thinking sometimes is. 🙂 Of course, that is why I like blogging in general–it’s that chance to bump up against the thinking of others and so refine my thoughts.

    I won’t pretend to answer all your thoughts/questions right now. I have to make lunch for the littles soon. But here are some of my initial responses:

    1. James Taylor would absolutely say that wonder/awe/intuitive learning is possible within the confines of an institution. He is not writing about homeschooling or to homeschoolers, but rather to future educators, challenging the mechanistic view of learning. He is definitely christian in his approach (i.e., each child has a soul and it is the soul that is being educated), though I don’t know for sure what his beliefs are.

    2. In my own local area, I would be very surprised to find an institution that makes room or time for wonder and awe. This includes the religious schools and also the youngest of ages. One exception might be some of the preschools. I personally am not comfortable sending such a young child out of my home. However, preschool teachers seem much more likely to give a child chance to delight in this world.

    3. I realize now that I was careless in my wording of my post. I must confess that I still do not consider wonder/awe/poetic learning to be a reason to homeschool. Like many other issues, I consider this to be a real benefit. Just like our old, reactive reasons (and those really were reasons for us at the time) were benefits in a negative sense. For example, we were, by homeschooling, avoiding negatives like anti-intellectual teachers or attitudes.

    4. I hesitate to make a blanket statement like, “Homeschooling is absolutely, without exception, the only option for every Christian family.” I just don’t think it is my place to say that, and I think that things that work great as a general rule often have exceptions.

    5. I recently wrote an email to a new friend about why we homeschool. She dared to ask! He he…I always hesitate to post all of our reasons here because they are full of Scripture, and I tend to fear that someone who interprets those scriptures differently from us would consider us to be judging them (i.e., they aren’t Christians because they see it differently). However, I think I will post an edited version of that email later today, and just include a disclaimer that we (1)understand that not everyone interprets these verses the way our family does and (2) firmly believe that each child is entrusted to his own parents, who have the absolute right and responsibility to make such decisions, and we do not consider it our job to judge those decisions. We really have enough burdens to carry, trying to navigate the world for our own family! 🙂

    6. I am excited to check out the site for the school that you linked in your comment. I do believe that there are some excellent Christian schools out there.

    7. I believe that homeschooling can have its pitfalls, especially if a family is overly simplistic and believes it to be a fix-all for every problem. Sin is everywhere, and the homeschool family is no exception. We all have to keep our eyes wide open.

  • Reply Nate February 14, 2008 at 1:36 pm

    I am certainly in agreement with your current reasons for homeschooling (and I think that your original reasons are quite weighty). Just a few quick questions: do you take these reasons to favor HOMESCHOOLING, or merely to favor homeschooling over public / private education under certain circumstances? For example, do your reasons favor homeschooling over public education in cities (pretend they exist) where public education is first-rate? Do your reasons favor homeschooling over private education at an excellent Christian school? These really do exist–check out the following link:

    I agree that homeschooling can be an excellent way to avoid some of the pitfalls of public education (your original reasons for homeschooling). And I agree that homeschooling can be an excellent way to instill the values of wonder and intellectual virtue (your current reasons for homeschooling). I wonder, though, whether homeschooling is the only way to accomplish these goals.

    In your view, are public education and Christian school education ever legitimate options for Christian families?

    (This is Nate–forgive me if you’ve addressed these questions elsewhere. I’m not raising the questions to be antagonistic, but rather because I’m thinking about them myself, and discussion is helpful…)

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