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    Educational Philosophy

    Which Comes First? The Keeper or the Keeping?

    December 4, 2014 by Brandy Vencel

    [dropcap]I[/dropcap] have a friend who asks great questions. She often apologizes for them, as if she’s rocking the boat or something, but you know what? This is one of my favorite things about her. A discussion is never as interesting as when she is there, asking her somewhat skeptical and pointed questions.

    This friend is the inspiration behind this post.

    Notebooks: Which Comes First, the Keeper or the Keeping?

    Our local group was discussing the first chapter of Laurie Bestvater’s book, The Living Page, which mentions a lot of famous notebookers {Bestvater uses the word Keeper, which I just love}. All the great, educated men kept notebooks, she writes, “from Back and Beethoven to Bob Dylan, from Gerard Manly Hopkins to Annie Dillard and Billy Collins.”

    So what if Bestvater got it all backwards? That’s what my delightful friend wanted to know. What if it wasn’t the act of notebooking that made these people great, but the fact that they were already destined to be great — that they had unusual amounts of intellect and curiosity and drive and creativity — that caused them to be Keepers in the first place?

    What if?

    My thought is that that’s exactly how it works. Those people don’t ever need to be taught to keep a notebook. You know the ones I’m talking about. The highly gifted types. The artist types. The types that seem to be above all the rest of us.

    They are born Keepers, and that’s all there is to it. Keeping is a natural part of who they already are.

    But there’s more to this discussion. Does it logically follow that because Keeping comes naturally to the elite among us that it isn’t a valuable tool for all of us? That’s the real question.


    A Liberal Education for All

    Charlotte Mason was the leader of the Liberal Education for All movement in Britain. She took what was once for the elite — a high quality classical education that dealt honestly with both the intellect as well as the character — and dared to say that not only could it be for everyone, but it should be for everyone. She dared to offer the same education to the rich and middle class as she did to the poorest child raised in a mining colony under very deprived circumstances.

    So when Miss Mason offers the art of notebooking — the art of Keeping — to the average, and even to the dull, that’s saying something. It’s saying that she deemed this not a high-brow activity exclusive to the best among us, but a human activity, and therefore the birthright of every child.

    I once heard someone describe it this way — or perhaps I read it — I’d give credit if I could remember where I originally gleaned the idea. Before phonics — or before any subject was presented in a graded, consecutive manner — only the elite could learn. We all know those exceptional little children that are able to pick any subject up, whether anyone is teaching them directly or not. I have one of those in my house — the one who taught himself to read at three years of age, with minimal help from me.

    Some children can just figure it all out.

    But does this mean that all the children who aren’t able to do that — who don’t see patterns as quickly and easily — shouldn’t learn to read? Or would not benefit from reading a book?

    Another example might be drawing. Some people are natural artists — no one needs to teach them to draw. But does this mean the rest of us would not benefit from being instructed in the art of drawing?

    Almost every subject could be treated this way. There are the gifted, who often learn it on their own, or with minimal instruction, and then … there are the rest of us.

    Let’s take this a step further. Why do we teach phonics? Well, phonics is how our language works. In Uncovering the Logic of English, Denise Eide tells us that functional MRIs have now shown that skilled readers are still using phonics to read. They just do it so quickly that neither they nor anyone observing them would recognize that they’re doing it. But the reality is that a good reader uses the patterns of language to decode the words.

    Notebooking is like that. Just as good readers use phonics {even after they know how to read}, good thinkers notebook throughout their lives. The notebook is a tool and expression of the thoughtfulness required of those who would pursue wisdom.

    So back to our original question, then: Which comes first, the Keeper or the Keeping?

    Well it’s both.

    Some children are born Keepers and will begin rudimentary notebooks on their own as soon as they begin to read and write.

    Other Keepers are made. As they are taught — and required — to Keep, they become Keepers in time.

    Will every one of our graduates continue to Keep in their adulthood? I am not naïve enough to believe that. Some will never truly be Keepers — or will Keep in their own ways, perhaps. But the process and habits of Keeping might stay with them. The sustained attention, the thoughtfulness, the ability to observe and see — these things, we hope, they will carry with them for a lifetime.

    Keepers Keep. Some are born Keepers, and some, by the act of Keeping, become Keepers. But all, if they engage in the process with the right spirit, are better for it.

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