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    Books & Reading, Educational Philosophy

    Hello, Again, Mr. Milton {A Summer Diaries Entry}

    June 13, 2016 by Brandy Vencel

    [dropcap]I[/dropcap] said on Friday that this blog was, of necessity, to become something of a reading journal, and I wasn’t kidding. I’ve decided to call it Summer Diaries. Some people travel in the summer. I suppose I do, too, only my travel isn’t geographic — it’s into the minds of other people and places … through books. So this is a “travel diary” — a diary of the people and places I’ve visited in my summer reading.

    I read chapter three of Grant Horner's book on John Milton and it was quite good, though I did disagree with him on one point.

    I read chapter three of Grant Horner's book on John Milton and it was quite good, though I did disagree with him on one point.For starters, I finished Death by Living by N.D. Wilson. This is my version of cleaning the living room. There are books everywhere, as usual. My husband Mentioned It. This means it is starting to bother him. There is a chance this is because I’m not the only one doing it. I caught Q-Age-Nine reading a new book the other day, and I innocently asked her, “Oh! Did you finish that other one already?” Not because I think that is the way it has to be done, but simply because she has gotten to where she reads so incredibly fast.

    “No,” she says. “I just like to start as many books as possible.”

    Uh oh.

    Is there a gene for this?

    So anyhow, Death by Living. It was … good. I teared up a couple times, so it gets some points for “emotionally compelling.” I don’t particularly love Wilson’s style when it comes to nonfiction. I’ve tried to like it, and at one point even convinced myself that I did like it … but in the end, he feels sloppy to me sometimes.

    Not that it isn’t worth reading — I’d actually recommend it.

    But sometimes I feel like he’s trying to be poetic … instead of actually being poetic. If you know what I mean.

    Still, I walked away with renewed resolution in the area of pouring myself out for others, so the book did its job.

    I read chapter three of Grant Horner's book on John Milton and it was quite good, though I did disagree with him on one point.What I really wanted to afterthink about on this fine Monday morning is John Milton: Classical Learning and the Progress of Virtue by Grant Horner. This weekend, as part of my aforementioned cleaning project, I finished reading chapter three. Four or five years ago, I read Milton’s essay Of Education a couple of times and found it very compelling. I walked away with a couple gems I’ve kept in my pocket ever since, most notably the idea that the job of education is to “repair the ruins of our first parents.”

    I love that!

    But, honestly, I haven’t given his essay much thought recently. Which is why this chapter was so enjoyable!

    Probably the most important practical idea in this chapter is that the goal of learning a language is to read the great works in that language. We’ve talked about this before, of course. Grant writes:

    The goal of the Miltonic paradigm is not to produce mere linguists, but to produce thinkers who know the world through language. If you study Latin {and Milton clearly thought you should}, it is not so that you can become a Latinist; it is so that you can know the world better. Therefore, the study of Latin must be efficient and end-oriented beyond the language itself.

    Milton writes:

    [W]e do amiss to spend seven or eight years meerly in scraping together so much miserable Latine and Greek, as might be learnt otherwise easily and delightfully in one year.

    Does this sound familiar to you? Charlotte Mason, if you recall, complained that, once started, there was no progress made. She quotes the Public schoolmaster as complaining:

    At twenty the boy is climbing the same pear-tree that he climbed at twelve.

    In other words, they kept going over old ground, rather than moving forward. This applies to more than just languages, but the point is important: in learning languages, like anything else, progress is important — and, in language, so is fluency.

    Imagine going over and over the phonics rules, but never reading a real book. That is what is often done with Latin and Greek. Or, in my case, modern languages as well. I took four years of Spanish {two in high school, and the same two again in college}, but never read a real book. Interestingly enough, it never dawned on me that there might be books worth reading that were written in Spanish! {My understanding is that the more advanced classes actually did some real reading, but I compare this with Visual Latin, where “real” reading begins in the earliest of lessons using the Vulgate.}

    I have definitely seen the benefit — and real progress! — of a language education based upon reading real books.

    Another interesting thing was the use of the digestive metaphor. Horner writes:

    You are what you eat; you become what you read and think.

    Milton referred to “digesting” the works of authors. Horner tells us in a footnote:

    The digestive metaphor is ancient, but its most evocative form is from the early seventeenth century: “Some Bookes are to be Tasted, Others to be Swallowed, and Some Few to be Chewed and Digested: That is, some Bookes are to be read onely in Parts; Others to be read but not Curiously; And some Few to be read wholly, and with Diligence and Attention.”

    That’s from an essay by Francis Bacon called Of Studies — an essay my son and I just happened to read earlier this school year. At the time, I didn’t make the connection with Charlotte Mason’s “spreading the feast” metaphor, but since we know she read much of both Milton as well as Bacon, I probably shouldn’t be surprised.

    The one place where I was disappointed in the chapter is concerning the section where Milton criticizes the “usual method of teaching Arts” in his essay. Horner concludes:

    The poet’s primary criticism was that students are moved too rapidly through the trivium stages.


    Since the trivium wasn’t viewed as “stages” until Dorothy Sayers made a few jokes about that in her now-famous fundraising speech almost exactly 300 years after Milton wrote this, I found the conclusion completely lacking. No one thought the trivium consisted of stages at the time, but Milton is complaining about something, and I wish the author had made the effort to interpret the passage in light of whatever was going on in Milton’s own day.

    Milton says:

    [I]n stead of beginning with Arts most easie … they present their young unmatriculated Novices at first comming with the most intellective abstractions of Logick and Metapysicks.

    He explains that

    … having but newly left those Grammatick flats and shallows where they stuck unreasonably to learn a few words with lamentable construction, and now on the sudden transported under another climate to be tost and turmoil’d with their unballast wits in fadomless and unquiet deeps of controversie…

    This is where I found the notes at Dartmouth helpful. If you click on words in the essay, you get some definitions. Using those definitions, I concluded that the problem was likely related to what Milton was complaining about earlier in the essay, when he explains that children were being asked to compose before they had read. Here we have a parallel: students are being asked to argue before they have read.

    The point is clear if you read on and notice that Milton is arguing over and over for broad reading of the very best books {broad meaning in all the subjects}.

    So what is being rushed? The student. The student is being asked to do things that are inappropriate — composing and arguing — in light of the fact that he doesn’t yet have any wisdom. Milton himself says that these things

    are the acts of ripest judgment and the final work of a head fill’d by long reading and observing, with elegant maxims, and copious invention.

    The final work. In other words, they are the work of maturity.

    Milton wants the students to have many, many good and great books under their belts before they are asked to produce or argue.

    I can live with that.

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  • Reply Missy Watts June 14, 2016 at 5:59 am

    I am looking forward to reading vicariously through your posts all summer. I once read that before “modern” foreign language studies the aim was always to read in the foreign language. They knew that was a reasonable goal for studies. I think most programs have the wrong goal because we focus on conversational fluency instead of reading. Everyone knows that immersion is best for learning to speak a language (thus the reason the Visual Latin creator is in Greece right now) but we try to imitate that in the classroom, wonder why we don’t get very far and get frustrated (the loop Ms. Mason discusses). By setting our sights on the right goal – being able to read in the language – we can make progress. I don’t think that we should give up speaking modern languages but realize that the best test of a classroom language class is can you read the language – not can you speak the language. Reading will provide vocabulary and grammar so that if you do decide to learn to speak you have the basic structure down and just need to practice. I am still thinking about these things – especially after spending the weekend in Mexico.

    • Reply Brandy Vencel June 14, 2016 at 8:09 am

      Yes! I love what you said here. And how fun that you were in Mexico for the weekend. 🙂

      For a while, our neighbor was giving my children Spanish lessons by taking them on walks and talking to them about what they saw. It was SO great. She moved a few weeks ago, and I miss that so much. I didn’t realize HOW much I appreciated her doing that until she was gone. 🙁

      • Reply Missy Watts June 14, 2016 at 7:14 pm

        I have lived within 6 hours of the border most of my life but this is the first time I have crossed it. I realized just how much I have missed the boat on language learning in our house. So your post was timely. How wonderful that you had someone you could regularly converse with. I need to set up something similar for all of us. We plan to go back regularly and it would be great if my kids got good practice in between. No shortage where we live – just need to initiate. Thanks for helping me think about realistic options.

  • Reply Kimberly Dugger June 13, 2016 at 6:57 pm

    I am so glad you are blogging about this… I just this week started reading Horner’s book on Milton, and I am having a tough time with it. Your clear, thouhtful posts on books like this are always appreciated!

    • Reply Brandy Vencel June 14, 2016 at 8:07 am

      Aw, thanks, Kim! One of the things I appreciate about this series from CAP is that they books are SHORT, so far less intimidating! 🙂

      • Reply Kimberly Dugger June 14, 2016 at 8:31 pm

        Yes, CAP has done a great job of helping me hear the old voices of educational thought. Hopefully if I follow their advice, my children won’t have such a tough time with Milton as their mother has had! 😀

        As a side note…. I really liked the part in chapter three where Horner talked about the differences between over-sheltering children, “vaccinating” children with a bit of evil, or sensitizing the soul rather than desensitizing it (teaching discernment). It reminds me of Leviticus where God instructs the Israelites to categorize things and actions. It looks like he will get into more of this in chapter four, but I haven’t read that far yet.

  • Reply Anna June 13, 2016 at 5:55 am

    Your nine-year-old sounds like a girl after my own heart! I have so many started-but-unfinished books it’s ridiculous. 😛
    I read Horner’s book earlier this year, and that section was a confirmation of my daughter’s experience with learning Latin. It has been amazing to see the progress she has made reading Lingua Latina in Mr. Thomas’ class this year. She went from hating and wanting to drop Latin to asking for the Latin version of Harry Potter for her birthday! She really wants to learn French this way now, but I have yet to find a French equivalent to Lingua Latina…

    • Reply Sharyn June 13, 2016 at 6:04 am

      We are using Cherrydale Press’ Miss Mason and Francois but we are looking for a book we love to be read in French??? I am on it. Can you tell me how lingua Latina uses reading in its lessons for learning Latin?

    • Reply Brandy Vencel June 13, 2016 at 7:09 am

      I didn’t realize our children were in the same class, Anna! That’s fun! And I haven’t heard of anything like Lingua Latina for other languages, either, though I believe there is something like it for Greek.

      Sharyn, you might want to ask Carol Hudson from Journey and Destination since I know she does French at her house.

      So Lingua Latina IS a book in Latin. They learn Latin through learning to read the book. It’s an interesting approach, and I still have trouble seeing how someone could come to it with absolutely NO Latin and succeed, but it was a great change for us after getting a basic foundation in Latin. We LOVE it!

      • Reply Sharyn June 14, 2016 at 1:03 pm

        Thanks! I will give it a look over. BTW, found some books in French on Amazon. Harry Potter being one my 12 year old is excited about.?

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