And God said,
Let there be lights in the firmament of the heaven,
to divide the day from the night:
and let them be for signs and for seasons,
and for days and years.
— Genesis 1:14
I still remember the day I realized what the planets and stars were actually for. I don’t know how many times I’d read that verse in Genesis without realizing that the heavens were something akin to a ginormous clock. I still wonder why. Surely there were subtler or simpler ways to mark the march of time. And yet God chose to do something huge and amazing — something that we humans could think about and learn about for thousands of years, and never come to the end of its marvels.
This subsection of The Liberal Arts Tradition misses the mark a bit, I think. (I can say this because you all know I love the book, right?) I didn’t come away thinking I had read a good argument for studying astronomy with my students, and that was what I was hoping for. Instead, the focus was on the history of astronomy’s development as a science, and its relationship to how we do science now. It was about the ongoing debate in science between realism and nominalism, which is a conversation we should introduce our students to before they leave home.
I get it, and I don’t disagree.
It’s just that I’m not sure we’d really need to study actual astronomy for that. Instead, we could study its history, and we’d be good.
But we’d miss the four W’s that Ravi Jain has so enthralled us all with (wonder, work, wisdom, and worship). If we think about it for more than two seconds, it’s very obvious they all apply here. Even the most ardent atheist feels a bit inclined to worship after a night under the stars in Joshua Tree! It’s a tough heart indeed that isn’t softened by a glance at a clear night sky. I think that’s why Jay Ryan, author of Signs and Seasons, wrote:
There is no better way to instill curiosity in a child than to teach them to observe their world …
Of course, Miss Mason doesn’t say a whole lot about astronomy in particular. She simply does. it. We know this because there are exam questions on the subject. Still, this is yet another tie between Charlotte Mason and the classical tradition — both include astronomy.
We use Signs and Seasons, as many of you know. The author was kind enough to write a couple posts here on Afterthoughts, and I think that the most pertinent one for today is Why Charlotte Mason Families Should Study Astronomy. You should go read it, of course. 😉 Along with that, you might also be interested in my review of sorts regarding Signs and Seasons, and also Jay Ryan’s second post, called Using Signs and Seasons with Charlotte Mason Families.
But before you do, here is my one opinion regarding the study of astronomy that I have not already mentioned here on the blog. I have thought a lot about the quadrivium. With arithmetic and geometry, it is sometimes difficult to get a child to experience the wonder of it. I have one child that I often feel unable to reach in this regard.With music, some children get lost in the technical aspects. But astronomy is physical and therefore tangible — unless you are blind, the wonder is immediately available to you, no matter who you are. Of course, here we are referring to naked-eye astronomy, which is what Signs and Seasons is all about, and why I like it so much. Why modern textbooks think that astronomy is an indoor endeavor is beyond me!
All of that is to say that I wouldn’t spend too much time thinking about doing astronomy. Just go do it. Go figure out the sky with your children. The awe-factor will be almost immediately apparent.
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