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    Grammar and Metaphysics

    January 18, 2010 by Brandy Vencel

    I will get back to discussing The Introvert Advantage tomorrow or the next day. I haven’t been reading it much over the weekend, as I helped throw a baby shower instead of reading. Ideally, I would post a photo of the cake, but my father hasn’t emailed me the photos yet {hint, hint}.

    Anyhow, enough of the boring details of my personal life.

    Let’s talk grammar.

    This little post was inspired by a conversation we had over leftover cake last night with a dear friend. This friend is currently taking Si’s class {for which he wrote his book Culture Makers}. He asked Si if he was going to cover Truth: how it is defined, what it is and isn’t, and so on. Essentially, this friend asked if Si was going to cover Metaphysics 101. Si’s response was affirmative; that is typically the topic of the second meeting of the class.

    And then our friend explained the origin of his concern. It seems he had taken a graduate-level course from a local branch of a well-known “Christian” university. The class, granted, was not a class on metaphysics, and yet the prevailing underlying metaphysic–for both the instructor as well as the students–was clear: Truth is whatever I can see with my eyes, hear with my ears, and so on.

    In other words, the class itself was not Christian, but materialistic, in that reality was defined as the material alone.

    Our friend’s response at one point, since his fellow classmates professed to be believers, was to ask them about angels, which seemed to get them thinking a bit.

    I found all of this interesting because it speaks to the lack of true grammar instruction in general.

    Since we are little here, we just began grammar instruction a couple of weeks ago. We are going slowly through Harvey’s Elementary Grammar and Composition, learning one lesson per week. I have a chalkboard in our dining room, and each week I write up the main thoughts in the lessons and we discuss and review them before moving on.

    The very first grammar lesson is a lesson in metaphysics. The reason for this is better explained in another grammar book we own, the 1908 edition of Kittredge’s The Mother Tongue:

    Since language is the expression of thought, the rules of grammar agree, in the main, with the laws of thought.

    In other words, grammar accords, in the main, with logic, which is the science that deals with the way in which our minds act when we think or reason. {emphasis in the original}

    Therefore, the very first lesson in Harvey’s is a discussion of the five senses.

    Here is the logic our lesson followed. You have five senses. Can you name them? And, because my student is seven-years-old, he named them just fine. Things that you can know about using your five sense are things which can be perceived. The word perception is a direct reference to material things because it requires the use of the five senses. Concrete youngsters comprehend this sort of idea.

    But then we moved on. Can you think of something that cannot be perceived? Since I am learning to wait for thoughts to appear, I sat there and let him chew on that for a while. And chew he did. Finally, he asked for help. He really didn’t think there was anything that couldn’t be perceived.

    What about happiness? At this question, his face began to light up. Can you feel it with your skin? Touch it? Smell it? See it? Hear it? No, no, no, no, and no. But is it real? Yes.

    This is a thing of which you can be conscious, but which cannot be perceived.

    Then he tried to guess other objects in this category. We talked about sorrow and grief, anger, frustration, valor, honor, and even God.

    And then we wrote this definition on the board:

    An OBJECT is anything which we can perceive or of which we may be conscious.

    Every single day for a week, we came up with “objects of which we may be conscious.” This isn’t easy for a small child, most of whose world is made up of the concrete. But even children experience the abstract. They know what it means to love, to despise, to enjoy, to be angry about, and so on.

    It is only after years of schooling that the soul has been so injured that it defines reality as only that which can be perceived, forgetting its own experience in the process.

    This is why one of the battles of the mind that can be fought within our own realm of influence is a grammatical one. Know your grammar, and combat these things as they arise. You, too, may gain the opportunity to ask: what about angels? joy? love?

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  • Reply Brandy Afterthoughts January 21, 2010 at 11:53 pm

    Emily! You are doing with your daughter what I really want to do with my children! I am so excited for you. 🙂 For now, we are doing the lessons together because he is ready for this type of thinking, and I’m not quite educated enough to be confident in doing what you described. But that is my eventual goal. I figure that writing it on the board causes it to become more “organic” because now Dad knows about it, too, and we can all talk about it as the issue arises in conversation or whatnot. We are headed that direction, I suppose.

    Willa, I really think the details sort of come together as long as we keep these things at the forefront of our own minds. What our friend described about his fellow graduate students is really only possible if their education has been perpetually Darwinian over many years.

  • Reply Willa January 21, 2010 at 4:03 pm

    Great post, Brandy, about how day to day teaching can help or hinder a proper understanding of metaphysics. It is something I think about a lot, and I always have trouble figuring out the nitty-gritty, especially with my younger students.

  • Reply Emily January 20, 2010 at 6:42 pm

    Thank you, Brandy. I may just stick with the Simply Grammar book as a reference tool to make sure we have all the bases covered.

    Language Arts has always been my strong suit (though I did attend public school and was even a!) and I am glad to hear that I have actually been teaching it in the manner Andrew Kern describes rather than making it a whole separate subject. There is not much point to learning that which is forgotten through lack of usage. The “organic” method has been working for us so I should probably just continue on as we have been, and maybe in the future buy Harvey’s or TMT as another reference for when Anna Rose is older.

  • Reply Brandy Afterthoughts January 19, 2010 at 11:26 pm


    Truth be told, I don’t know a whole lot about grammar, but I am full of enthusiasm! 🙂 A few months back, Andrew Kern mentioned on the Quiddity Blog that grammar should be taught in a way that I call organic–happening throughout the day as children speak and think and write. I asked him what to do as a mother and teacher who attended public school and doesn’t have a thorough grammar background. He suggested that I spend a few months studying Harvey’s, and that is what I did.

    The orginal Harvey’s is from 1880. It does not appear to have a lot of depth if you just flip through it because it is a no-nonsense old fashioned book with short lessons that were originally meant to be recited. (Think of Little House…it was that sort of book. In fact, possibly they were using Harvey’s.)

    The Mother Tongue is so very similar to Harvey’s that some of the sentences in the lessons are exactly the same. TMT seems to have a bit more detail, which would probably be great for an older student, but I went with Harvey’s because we are looking for very, very basic right now. I might go as far as I deem appropriate in Harvey’s, and then take TMT to the same level before actually moving on to more advanced grammar study.

    The nice part about Mott Media’s reprinted Harvey’s is that it is a tiny bit updated. This means that the students should be learning grammar according to the modern usage. BUT they are learning it in the old way, which is in a logical order, and according to proper thinking.

    If you were going to get TMT, I would suggest 1908, because it was revised to include composition in this printing.

    The only reason I have two books is because I was trying to teach myself, but I actually think it’ll come in handy to use both as the years go by. Eventually, when more of the children are grammar age, I want to put grammar study into Circle Time.

  • Reply Emily January 19, 2010 at 6:48 pm

    Why don’t I have Harvey’s? I’ve been using Simply Grammar but am not crazy about it. The book you describe sounds like it has a lot more depth to it. How did you happen to choose that one? Also, what is the difference between that and The Mother Tongue (another one I don’t have)?

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