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    The Marks of the Educated Mind

    November 6, 2009 by Brandy Vencel

    I have been listening to Andrew Kern’s talk The Canons of Rhetoric: The Deep Logic of the Language Arts over and over {and over} this week. My mind is mostly uneducated, which is why I have to listen, listen, and take notes while listening, in order to understand. There is so much in this talk that I cannot possibly convey it all.

    At one point, however, Kern speaks of the three desiderata {Latin for “desired things”} of all learning. These things, or marks, prove whether or not one’s mind is educated. Here they are:

    1. Discipline. An undisciplined mind is not educated. A mind that cannot control itself and direct its activities toward a purpose is not educated.
    2. Perceptive. The mind that cannot perceive reality–reality for what it is and as it is–is not educated.
    3. Creativity. The mind that cannot perceive reality, absorb it into the soul, and reincarnate it in a new body, is not educated.

    He makes this list right after he explains:

    The seven liberal arts are medicine for disordered souls.

    The seven liberal arts, Kern says, are the natural curriculum for a soul to grow through. He concedes that this is where he often loses modern Christians their conception of education is steeped in a world of egalitarian subjects rather than a world where knowledge is hierarchical in nature.

    We here at Afterthoughts, for the record, believe that knowledge is hierarchical. We agree with Kern that the seven liberal arts are prerequisite knowledge for the natural sciences which are prerequisite knowledge for the humane sciences, which are prerequisite knowledge for the philosophical sciences, which are {surprise!} prerequisite knowledge for the theological sciences.

    We believe that theology is the queen of the sciences.

    And what a beautiful thought that is!


    As I was about to say before I wandered into the first person plural, this list can give one pause. In regard to discipline, I remembered the need to train my children to attend. I do this continuously during lessons, and I have been scowled at more than once this week. Though I welcome discussion during lessons, relish it even, I insist that the discussion be concerning the matter at hand. Some of my students chafe at this sort of mental discipline. They would really rather talk about their favorite color, or what they will be having for lunch, or some other such thing.

    I say, “That is very interesting, but we will have to talk about that later because right now we are talking about x.”

    And then the person I said that to glowers at me just the slightest bit, and the schoolgirl in me questions myself briefly. This list reminds me that it is my love for them that compels me to help them learn to discipline their minds, directing them toward whatever subject is at hand.

    In regard to perception, I found myself feeling grateful to Charlotte Mason. I am convinced that our time spent out-of-doors is well spent due to her guidance. This week, we took an autumnal tour of the microhomestead. We saw leaves turning colors in the orchard. We looked at different shapes of leaves. We felt them with our hands. Some children even smelled them! We examined pumpkins almost ready for harvest, tomatoes that haven’t yet given up, and late-season volunteer sunflowers. We found carrots hiding underneath a bush. We ended by admiring some marigolds.

    The children, thanks to Miss Mason’s encouragement, were practicing their powers of perception, and I was on-hand for advice and correction as they ventured out with their sketchpads.

    In regard to creativity, I think of children seeing pumpkins, and then drawing them. This is a very concrete form of creativity, not unlike an adult’s painting of a still life. However, I see how these habits we build now can be a foundation for reincarnating abstract concepts, such as virtues and vices, when they are older.

    Balancing creativity with perception is a challenge at times. I think of nature journals {I won’t name any names here, but it was somebody} where giant purple flowers ended up on top of the corn. Also, pumpkins were given crowns. When the children are having Craft Time {which is deserving of the capital letters}, there are no limitations that I place on them {other than that they respect the nature of my carpet}. However, when we do nature journals, I have insisted on drawings which are as true-to-life as possible. Inexperienced sketchers may draw some funny things, to be sure, but this is different from supposed “creative” embellishments.

    Here is the important part: Embellishing nature in this way is actually a sign of a distracted mind. It is a refusal to see nature as it is. It is, perhaps, symptomatic of an inability to perceive. Since the drawings are assigned to them for the purpose of enhancing their powers of perception, and to train them to look longer and deeper and further than they would otherwise, we must insist on accurate drawings.

    The beautiful thing is that as each of my students so far has learned to limit themselves to reality when they are nature journaling, they have finally learned to enjoy it. The “creative corn” was actually a type of chafing against the assignment. The student’s heart, in that moment, was yearning to be somewhere else, doing something else, and the result was a drawing which looked more like a daydream. When the student learned to pay attention, the result was an almost immediate fine-tuning of powers of perception.

    I find myself once again going over what we do with a fine-tooth comb. Why do we do what we do? Kern says, quoting Mark Berquist, I think, that the end determines the beginning. Keeping lists, such as the desiderata list above, in mind as we go helps me evaluate our life here during the day. Does this thing takes us closer to the end? Or is it really a distraction from meeting our goal? What I still sometimes have difficulty with is discerning a distraction from various components which make up a broad and generous education. I suppose this is why beginning with the end in mind is so important.

    Possibly Interesting:
    1,001 Ways to Build an Attention Span
    1,001 Ways to Build an Attention Span {Part the Second}

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  • Reply Brandy Afterthoughts November 9, 2009 at 5:42 pm

    Good morning, Rachel!

    Here I am printing some school stuff off for the little girls, and I had time to check email…

    I would highly suggest reading Andrew Kern’s very brief but specific definition of the seven liberal arts. I like that he defines them according to the ideas behind them rather than any utilitarian function. The seven arts are typically divided between the trivium and the quadrivium, and Kern’s specifics are very helpful to read on that, too (click the links and it’ll take you there).

    These terms used to be really nebulous to me, too!

  • Reply Rachel R. November 9, 2009 at 5:21 pm

    What, specifically, are the seven liberal arts? (I know, I’m letting my vast ignorance show here. But “liberal arts” has always been a rather vague term to me.)

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