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    Book Club: Poetic Knowledge {Finale}

    June 22, 2011 by Brandy Vencel

    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.


    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.

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  • Reply Silvia June 23, 2011 at 9:59 pm

    CM won’t be pleased to see the progression of today, as you say, I have no doubt about it. And Darwin would not be Darwinistic either. As with Dewey, Montessori, even the very same CM, those who ‘initiate’ something or live at the beginning of something, are still more rooted on the tradition and can’t see how the extremes that flourish after them look like, as Shari mentioned too.

    However, I can’t excuse Darwin for becoming an atheist, but I respect him, because there is evolution understood as changes in species, not general evolution as a species coming from a different one, and an original one coming from nothing. I think an unfortunate mistake of CM to have embraced evolution, in part as you say because it was preached and it was not fully developed to be seen as the beast it is nowadays. I can only guess that they were looking at the changes in species, looking at the behavior and adaptations of them, and also starting to contemplate fossils. It is strange than someone won’t believe that God created the world. I wonder if they explained all repercussions of evolution as we know them today, and the point of it being a THEORY, not a fact.

    And Darwin, as a very intelligent man and former admirer of God’s creation, he had much to contribute to science. And once he died, and others needed referents to make the case to get rid of creation as science, they have relegated creation or not professing evolution to a bunch of ‘wackos’, Bible believers, and that conveniently leaves men of science who get their inspiration in their believe of God out of the ‘scientific’ realm of things (colleges, labs, think tanks, political positions, etc.)

    And yes, I remember vaguely,, Brandy, to have read about CM influenced by her Anglican church creed, of course, I’m glad for that. I disagree with her creeds, but I am grateful she spoke as a christian the way she was convicted and called to be one. Bless her heart for not being a politically correct type of person, but, as you all say, a very poetic soul.

  • Reply Shari June 23, 2011 at 12:42 pm

    I’m sorry to be wrapping up this discussion. I’ve greatly enjoyed reading your thoughts on Poetic Knowledge. It’s one of my favorite books, too, even though it can make me think so hard my brain hurts! Now is that poetical?? I’ve been reading this book along side Charlotte’s A Philosphy of Education and I think her veiws of Darwin or at least how his theories took hold in Europe did evolve (so to speak). Here’s a quote from page four,”Darwin’s theories of natural selection, the survival of the fittest, the struggle for existance, struck root in Germany in fitting soil; and the ideas of the superman, the super state, the right of might–to repudiate treaties, to eliminate feebler powers, to recognize no law but expediency–all this appears to come as naturally out of Darwinism as a chicken comes out of an egg.” And from page fifty-four,”We know how Darwin lost himself in science until he could not read poetry, find pleasure in pictures, think upon things divine; he was unable to turn his mind out of the course in which it had run for most of his life.” The longer I homeschool, and the more I ponder the ways we learn the more I stand in awe of Charlotte Mason!

  • Reply Pam... June 23, 2011 at 11:22 am

    Yes, amen!
    From Silvia: “a secular approach to CM, or a secular education inspired by some of her principles” [is possible]. Yes. Put that way, thought of that way it works. Put another way: “Secularized C.M principals”; that one is harder to wrap my mind around. Kinda like “secularized King James Bible”. Ya know?

    It says something about a person when some are uncomfortable enough to want to remove certain aspects of a person’s views, doesn’t it? If she were not a God fearing woman, there would be no changes to make.

    Your last paragraph is so important to understand, Brandy. Thanks for adding that disclaimer. (And for letting us stand here and chat on your page!).

  • Reply Brandy @ Afterthoughts June 23, 2011 at 12:29 am

    Charlotte was a poetic soul, that is so true! I love what you said about her, Pam!

    The “Secular CM” movement has concerned me also. I remember one time Kelly explained how much the book was infused with the Book of Common Prayer {something I didn’t notice, not being Anglican}. She is not so easily teased out from her Christianity.

    Silvia, I completely understand the need to take the good and toss out the bad. The Church of England had very much embraced Darwinism, and Charlotte heard it preached from the pulpit as a great truth of science revealed to man–so of course she believed it. I like to think she wouldn’t be so pleased with it if she lived today and saw the full progression…

  • Reply Silvia June 22, 2011 at 7:45 pm

    I meant a CM coat!

  • Reply Silvia June 22, 2011 at 7:44 pm

    I’m with you, Pam, to me she can’t be striped of christianity. What I meant, as you said, it’s that I am not of her denomination, or that I differ in strictly doctrinal matters with her, but I also think there can’t be a secular CM because she wasn’t secular, but one can claim to have a secular approach to CM, or a secular education inspired by some of her principles. It will then be a CM code. Also one can be a believer and not practice much from her. The depth of how much you shape your homeschooling by her it’s different in each home. All I can say is that there is almost NOBODY who doesn’t mention her? Ha, ha ha ha… from unschoolers, to seculars, to ecclectics… when they read about some who admire her, and her own work, they can’t but stand in respect and admiration.

    As you say, I also appreciate and enjoy all her references to the Scriptures and how important a role she gave to our spirituality that can’t be separated from our education.

    However, all of us who believe in the God of the Scriptures have no difficulties in taking almost ALL of her principles, and ‘use’ them in our homes.

    Another different view to me is evolution. She believed in it, and I heard many ‘christians’ from different denominations say that they did not like her for being materialistic or secular. That’s why I said that I mainly limit myself to everything about education (including how she intertwines that with christian believes, as you say too), and then I know what I believe and that we are not evolved but created beings. Those are personal details, such as when I do not deem appropriate to study certain artists, or if we pass on a book, not even suggested by CM but by AO, or even those she wrote about… why, if you don’t like it. That’s the beauty of this, to find our own paths and have our own minds.

  • Reply Pam... June 22, 2011 at 12:36 pm

    I agree Silvia, that in at least one way I disagree with a theological view CM had.
    Yet, she. loved. Christ!
    He is to her; Saviour. It is everywhere in her writings. Scripture is interwoven in her works, and her foundation and key tenements are grounded. That’s why I cringe a bit to know that some want to ‘de-Christianize’ her method. (They will have to take half of her words out to do this; not just a few objectional phrases.)
    See, her method isn’t like a math book that has verses in it. It’s deeper than that.

    It would be excellent for all to taste of a CM education; true. I understand that and want that.

    As a midwife, I have many birthing references; some of the best are not Christian. I have to weed out what doesn’t ring true for me. I don’t have answers about all that. I just want to say that I was ‘gladly surprised’ that my mentor loved Christ deeply in her day.

  • Reply Silvia June 22, 2011 at 1:49 am

    That was beautiful to read. Thanks for writing it so well and for sharing your insightful conclusions. Yes, it’s a life changing book in many aspects!

    About CM and her view of education as the ‘magic bullet’. I have not read those parts where she writes about religion and education, precisely because I disagree in her view of christianity.
    But as you said, it’d be presumptuous for me since I haven’t read her passages about this subject, and frankly, it’s a part of her that (it may sound bad, but don’t take it as undermining, though), I’m not interested in knowing.
    I live very peacefully taking all she has to say about education, and I reserve myself the last word as to the place it takes at home, and we hold our views about true christianity that we pass to our children by teaching them, but education is secondary to christianity, at least that’s our constant try. (Though we fall short many times).

    And like you, I’ve made that mistake of putting it first and thinking about it scientifically, instead of remembering love and seeing education as CM so eloquently describes it in that beautiful quote.

  • Reply Pam... June 22, 2011 at 12:51 am

    Charlotte certainly was a poetic soul.

    She embodies poetic thought, a passion for learning, relationships, ideas that spark within us and within the troubled child. The poor and forgotten she worked with first to prove the point. She embraces science, art, literature in a living way. She honors the sacred personality of the child, and shows the teacher the joy of learning alongside, instead of over the learner.

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