Books & Reading, Educational Philosophy, Home Education

There’s Dew on the Grass in the Morning

February 5, 2020 by Brandy Vencel

“That’s all very well,” cried Montag, “but what are they mad about? Who are these people? Who’s that man and who’s that woman? Are they husband and wife, are they divorced, engaged, what? Good [omitted], nothing’s connected up.”
— Ray Bradbury, Fahrenheit 451

I ‘m reading a book on ADD that is, I think, helpful, but it’s also made me squirm a lot because the author so often uses computers as an analogy for human minds. What I keep coming back to is that there is no point at which our children or ourselves are anything other than human. We are never, ever machines. When machines become the metaphor for persons or minds, we run into trouble.

There are two people who die in the first chapter of Fahrenheit 451. The first is an old woman, burned alive with her books. She’d rather be dead than live in a world without them. She dies quoting the martyr Bishop Latimer:

“‘Play the man, Master Ridley; we shall this day light such a candle, by God’s grace, in England, as I trust shall never be put out.'”

p. 33

Second to die is a teenage girl, Clarisse McClellan, the main character, Montag’s, next-door neighbor. Clarisse is mysterious and pays attention to things and asks questions; when she first comes on the scene, you immediately suspect she’s read a book before. Bradbury’s world is one in which people are encouraged to drive very fast to prevent them from seeing the scenery or having a thought. Clarisse is a pedestrian hit by a car. Most people in that world, had they know her, would have thought she deserved what she got, what with all that smelling the flowers stuff.

How did humanity arrive at such a world? A world in which books are forbidden and burned? In which thinking is perceived as a threat to happiness? Bradbury tells us it didn’t start with law; it was demanded by the citizenry themselves:

“It didn’t come from the Government down. There was no dictum, no declaration, no censorship, to start with, no! Technology, mass exploitation, and minority pressure carried the trick …”

p. 55

So a people demanded this world. They wanted it. And how do we arrive at such a people?

The classroom. Of course.

“The home environment can undo a lot you try to do at school. That’s why we’ve lowered the kindergarten age year after year until now we’re almost snatching them from the cradle.”

p. 57

Start them young and feed them what?

“Cram them full of non-combustible data, chock them so damned full of ‘facts’ they feel stuffed, but absolutely ‘brilliant’ with information.”

p. 58

You know what you feed a machine? Information. Facts.

You know what you feed a mind? Knowledge. Wisdom. Story, history, music, art, science, math — never a mere fact.

Oh, but facts, they say, facts are the only real things. Children must have facts. Gosh, when we say that we sound like we belong in Bradbury’s world:

“Don’t give them any slippery stuff like philosophy or sociology to tie things up with.”

p. 58

It’s true: philosophy and sociology are hard to sort out. We don’t know which end is up. We find ourselves echoing the Teacher:

The first to plead his case seems right,
Until another comes and examines him.

Proverbs 18:17

And literature is worse. All these invented worlds are suspect. The people might get ideas. And then there is poetry. Who knows what such a swirling mess could possible mean? Who has time to try?

We throw our arms up and embrace the machine metaphor and its easily managed facts. And the facts fill us up without enlarging our souls and make us believe the world is an easily managed place. Cindy Rollins warned it’d make us Communists; you laughed (I laughed, too!), but isn’t the outcome often hubris, and isn’t thinking we can centrally plan and manage it all the fatal conceit?

This was what Bradbury thought, too, wasn’t it?

Then they’ll feel they’re thinking, they’ll get a sense of motion without moving.

p. 58

Why do facts make us think much of ourselves? Why do they puff up? Why do they so easily enlarge our vanity?

It all goes back to that quote at the top:

“That’s all very well,” cried Montag, “but what are they mad about? Who are these people? Who’s that man and who’s that woman? Are they husband and wife, are they divorced, engaged, what? Good [omitted], nothing’s connected up.

p. 43

It’s the out-of-context presentation of facts that trivializes reality and makes us feel like we can control things. It offers us the illusion of knowing, though we can hardly be said to know when we fail to grasp the significance.

Facts picked up as part of a larger story don’t make us feel bigger; they make us feel smaller. I might feel large and in control knowing that “in fourteen hundred ninety-two Columbus sailed the ocean blue” but I feel small at the wonderful dramatic vision of Columbus as a small boy, traipsing the docks of Genoa and reading Marco Polo’s diary, dreaming of adventure and the sea.

That’s not something you can control; it’s almost like a miracle.

I think sometimes we choose the Gradgrind path and start cramming children with prepared lists of facts because we feel like we’re getting somewhere fast — those silly public schools are only going 40 miles per hour, but look at us: we’re going 90! We’re seduced by the sense of motion without moving. It’s so controllable, so measurable.

Clarisse died because in a world obsessed with facts and speed, she was unfactsinated.

“I sometimes think drivers don’t know what grass is, or flowers, because they never see them slowly,” she said. “If you showed a driver a green blur, Oh yes! he’d say, that’s grass! A pink blur? That’s a rose garden! White blurs are houses. Brown blurs are cows.”

p. 6

But she knew. She saw the grass and flowers all. Because she lived at life speed, because she grew in context, Clarisse had a peculiar wisdom, which ended in her pseudo-martyrdom. We hear her voice still:

“Bet I know something else you don’t. There’s dew on the grass in the morning.”

p. 7

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14 Comments

  • Reply Karissa Strovas February 8, 2020 at 2:45 pm

    Oh this is such needed perspective and wisdom, thank you Brandy! I just spent an afternoon with my next-year-senior student looking ahead to next fall and she has a little “room” in her schedule based on what her homeschool transcript needs…and it was my knee jerk reaction to try to fill the room with “odds and ends” as you say. But this will be her last year at our homeschool table and it’s come so quickly and your words remind me how much I need to really ponder and pray and let soul-filling be our central priority.

  • Reply Mama Rachael February 7, 2020 at 8:30 pm

    I’ve read both of these books. I LOVED Fahrenheit 451. Bradbury had prophetic vision of where our culture is going, its scary.

    As for the Amen book, it felt really wrong reading it. Both Hubby and Little Man are ADHD, and none of his types described either well. And now having a 2nd boy, who is an adopted embryo, hereafter named Mr Wigglesworth, so not genetically related at all, I’m seeing how the ADHD symptoms are as much *delayed* development as it is *deviant* development. Things that Little Man got at about 5 or 6 yrs, Mr Wigglesworth picked up at 2 and 3. But they both have executive function weakness and strengths… but Little Man has shown those developments later than Mr Wigglesworth has. But intellectually, there has been no real delay. Its hard working with a child who is intellectually 9 or 10, but emotionally and executive functioning is more like a 4 or 5 yr old, and physically 8 yrs old. Often its just being patient to let the child develop more. Yes, this is all just me watching my child and my husband, so your millage may vary!

  • Reply Lisa Vanderveen February 6, 2020 at 9:50 am

    Brandy, your wisdom is so soothing to my soul. And since I’ve read about half that book, I actually can related to everything you wrote 🙂

    Thank you for sharing truth!

  • Reply tess February 5, 2020 at 12:28 pm

    I’d be interested to hear more of your take on the Amen book. I read it a few years ago, back when my husband was trying to figure out whether or not he wanted to classify himself as such. Ultimately he decided that he didn’t want to think about himself in those terms, and I have to admit that I was relieved ((the Pera book on being in relationship with an ADD/ADHD person just made me want to get a divorce). There’s something about the way that Amen, Pera, and others in the ADD/ADHD camp talk about the way the brain works that really rubs me the wrong way (and also, they don’t seem to be aware of how helpful brain healing protocols can be).

    Also, I wasn’t sure I bought into the seven types of ADD as being rooted in biology rather than in habit….

    • Reply Brandy Vencel February 5, 2020 at 3:22 pm

      Well, the NAME is certainly a misnomer isn’t it? A more apt title would be “Managing ADD” because healing implies that you get well and no longer needs meds. Even with his natural stuff that isn’t what is happening. I agree with you on the brain healing protocols: he seems to ignore them. And when he got into myelination problems, he ignored the possible B12 deficiency. I *do* think the book is helpful, and it is nice to have one I feel I can recommend to parents who are at the end of their ropes with their children.

      I go back and forth about labeling. I feel like labels often make us settle rather than keep moving toward the ideal. He convinced me that ADD is a real thing, whether we use the label or not (I still think it’s overused). I wasn’t completely there yet. I’m not sure it’s as simple as being “made that way” though — and your question about habit came up in my mind as well! I will say, though, that it is amazing how some “habits” go away when the biological issues are dealt with. So, for example, we’ve seen behavior issues resolve overnight with children once the allergic trigger was removed. So they had a long term “habit” of misbehavior that was eliminated in less than 24 hours. That’s interesting to me.

      I put this mentally in the category of “things that may make for brain health.” I ordered a couple things to try with my insomniac child. I consider them stop-gap measures while we wait for the things that take longer to do their work.

      I’m kind of rambling now. But YES I totally get how it’d rub you the wrong way. He did me, too, and I had to work to muddle through and find the gems that might help some of my people because I was so distracted (ha) by his underlying assumptions about mind.

      • Reply Debra Perkins February 6, 2020 at 5:31 am

        I’d love to hear more about your insomniac child, and how you’re helping him/her.

        • Reply Brandy Vencel February 6, 2020 at 1:58 pm

          It’s hard to say if it’s helping because it hasn’t been very long. I just bought 3 things he mentions in the book and I’m testing them one at at time to see what we think. 🙂

      • Reply tess February 6, 2020 at 10:32 am

        My theory about ADD/ADHD is that yes, it describes real neurological phenomena… but that it does so by conflating many problems with many different etymologies. At this point, the industry is committed to its own narrative, when I suspect that it might be better served by scrapping its Unified Theory of ADD/ADHD and starting over on a case by case basis….

        I agree 100% with habit and biological issues— and there are a LOT of nutritional pathways to rule out before you give someone a “bad seed” diagnosis, lol. My husband’s experience is one of those that proves that someone can get a legitimate ADD/ADHD diagnosis, make some (not insignificant) lifestyle changes and get rid of a large percentage of the symptoms. Of the symptoms that are left, he believes they are habits formed during the years before the lifestyle changes (ways of thinking he learned when he was unhealthy)— and he feels that they are something he can work with under his own volition. 🙂 And YES, YES, YES about labels—- oh my, once he had the ADHD label, the ONLY thing the doctors wanted to do was stick him on stimulants— even after he told them that he has substance abuse issues on both sides of his family!! Oi. It’s a minefield, for sure.

        With sleeping issues, have you tried a simple 2 grams of L-glutamine at bedtime? Not only does it heal the GI tract, L-glutamine specifically at bedtime will maximize a body’s own normal, healthy production of HGH (which is supposed to peak during sleep in a circadian cycle so that your body can the deep, repairing part of the sleep cycle). Helps you sleep more deeply/stay asleep longer. It is one of my best friends…. 🙂

  • Reply Patricia Benitez February 5, 2020 at 10:14 am

    Thank you or reminding me of that talk. I already own it, so – Yay!! I get to listen to it again.

    • Reply Brandy Vencel February 5, 2020 at 11:20 am

      I always feel like it’s Christmas when I think I need something and then realize I already own it!

  • Reply Michelle Caldwell February 5, 2020 at 10:10 am

    What a great read that I surely needed this day! ❤️

  • Reply Lisa A February 5, 2020 at 9:17 am

    Such good food for thought! And sobering as well. A good reminder to focus on the process and learn to be present in the moment.

    • Reply Brandy Vencel February 5, 2020 at 9:35 am

      Yes! I’m really feeling that as I read the book, and it’s been very helpful. We’re in the second half of our final year with my oldest, and it’s very tempting to start cramming him full of odds and ends, but I’m being reminded this isn’t how wisdom is built.

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