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    Book Club: Poetic Knowledge {Chapter 7}

    June 15, 2011 by Brandy Vencel

    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.


    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.

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  • Reply Mystie June 17, 2011 at 2:57 pm

    Silvia — right! From what I’ve read so far about it (not much) in traditional classical education, English grammar wasn’t taught at all; “grammar” meant Latin. Grammar only clicked with me after I had two years of Spanish in college.

    After my last writing class 2 years ago, where the girls had no wide reading under their belts, I concluded that reading and listening widely and thinking and talking about what one reads is the best base for writing in the young years. And from what I’ve experienced, students who were drilled Shurley-grammar-style knew their sentence types and parts of speech, but they couldn’t *play* with it. They couldn’t have fun with me, seeing that one sentence can mean two things, see — diagram one way, diagram the next way — the sentence is correct both ways, so what’s intended is ambiguous. Kids who started grammar basically from scratch in 7th grade had a better time with stuff like that than the kids who had “classical-style” grammar.

  • Reply Silvia June 17, 2011 at 1:10 pm

    some people in my life become frustrated when they realize that my son doesn’t always know what a noun is, what a verb is

    Really? Then, friend that would be SOME PEOPLE’S problem, righ? (I’m just messing up with you!)

    But that kid can *write*

    Exactly. So if you use First Language Lessons (which I sold for 3.99) or even without, in five minutes for a week, he’ll be able to rattle of definitions too.

    It’s what Mason criticized about teaching ‘natural science’ with giving them names at home, and from the books, it’s just a linguistic skill, such as what those children have. Your son has the true grammar knowledge, as the child who has the experience and knows what plants, birds and trees he sees, versus the one that knows NAMES and names only of different exotic animals, or any other ‘nature’ knowledge. (Not the Latin name of a plant they already know poetically, but this Discovery Channel knowledge as I call it).

    Knowing names and regurgitating definitions is in the category of learning a foreign language, for which purpose I rather have them learn words in a real foreign language.

  • Reply Shari June 17, 2011 at 12:44 pm

    I really enjoyed your post, Brandy. I also agree about Ambleside but must say I’m having trouble making the transition to House of Education. The sheer number of books is hard to encorporate! I also like your highlighted bit on patriatism. so often now our Founding Fathers are reduced to their worse (and sometimes hypothetical) faults as though they didn’t rise above them and do great things. I’ve turned to A Philosophy of Education many times while reading Poetic Knowledge!

  • Reply Brandy @ Afterthoughts June 17, 2011 at 4:31 am

    Pam, It is always fun to get you dancing. 😉

    Willa, I agree that this book increases the affection for CM. I feel like I more understand where she was coming from, especially since she makes it very clear that she has read the same books–she has walked among Plato and Aristotle, etc. just like Taylor. And I think she would have loved the IHP.

    Silvia, I cannot wait to read your entries! I totally understand leaving the lists. I did that once before, though I’ve been back on now for quite a while. For me, being more grounded in both my Bible as well as CM’s writings has helped.

    My husband and I had discussed grammar tonight. I have noticed some people in my life become frustrated when they realize that my son doesn’t always know what a noun is, what a verb is, etc. But that kid can *write* now that he has a year’s practice under his belt. Other kids his age that we know, or even younger than him, cannot write well at all, but can rattle off definitions about nouns and verbs. This is where I think that we have it backwards, this teaching grammar first. Talking and writing are how we express ideas. We do not sit down to write and say, “Hm….I need a noun! What noun should I use? Okay. Now, in sentences we always make the nouns do something. What should my noun do? I need a verb!” Instead, we sit down with an idea, and we express it.

    I agree that formal, precise grammar study can have a very refining effect on both writing and speaking–in this sense it bolsters rhetoric. But I think there is a reason why, when the Greeks referred to grammar, they were referring to the written body of knowledge, not just the rules of the language in which that knowledge was packaged.

    Sorry for the tangent. I was still thinking about all this…

  • Reply Silvia June 17, 2011 at 12:26 am

    Brandy, you shouldn’t have asked if I was going to write on the book, because I came with two short novels 🙂

    I agree that ambleside is a poetic education, and it also happens to be our choice! But again I will just split a hair here to say that ambleside can only be as good as the person understands CM, and I know you all agree.

    One reason why I left the lists a bit is because I was gaining new grounds, and secondly because they awake more fears and those non poetic feelings than anything. I feel a bit selfish too, because at times others have said I gave them encouragement, and I have gotten it too several times, but I can’t be on several fronts without loosing myself in the process.

    I do have faith about the grammar. It won’t be bad, your son will like it, you won’t need the herbal tea 🙂 But I don’t know the age. I loved grammar, I still do, but as Willa said we both had love for language enough to sustain the artificiality of analysis. I believe that’s why in math I don’t like the calculations, I never connected with math, thus I don’t look forward to it, though I realize if we have someone who knows it poetically, things go great.

    Brandy, now we are coming to a full circle, so it’s time for me to tell you thanks for mentioning this book a few months ago. I still can’t believe we all read it, wrote about it, and converse as much as possible in silence and aloud.

  • Reply Willa June 16, 2011 at 5:18 pm

    I agree that if you look around for today’s poetic education for homeschoolers, it is going to look very much like Ambleside! Reading Poetic Knowledge has increased my admiration for Charlotte Mason. I think I understand better, too, what she was trying to do with her schools, working with children from a wide variety of backgrounds and future avocations.

  • Reply Pam... June 16, 2011 at 1:08 am

    Awesome, Brandy. Poetically speaking, of course with a twirl! lol! I love reading it in Brandy’s New Revised English Modern version.

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