Poetic Knowledge Entry: Applications

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The draft is finished! Here we go! I’m ready for the Poetic Knowledge Book Club.

Evaluation

It seems to me that the Charlotte Mason/Ambleside/Brandy way of doing exams fully meets Taylor’s idea of assessment being done in context of conversation and relationship rather than analytic and numerical testing. I am working out my own outlines to help this exam process actually happen next year. On the other hand, as the teacher attuned to my students’ whole lives, I’m always assessing everything. If I do the exams it will in a way be another outlet for review of the materials rather than a real necessity for evaluation or assessment.

Also, at the end of next year Hans will need, legally, to take a standardized test. I’m not concerned about that because I don’t have to report the results to anyone and I don’t particularly care about the results myself. My parents gave the standardized tests as a yearly opportunity to learn and practice “test-taking skills,” which are quite helpful for the brief college stage of life. A good test score is less about what you actually know and more about how good you are at working the system and knowing how to give what is wanted. I don’t mind the opportunity to pass on those system-manipulation skills.

Cultivation

Poetic & gymnastic education has as its end the cultivation of the senses, the imagination, and the will, not the elevation of the IQ.

Firstly, I believe exposure to ideas, beauty, story, and the world are how we begin cultivating the senses and the imagination. By simple playing of good music in the background rather than by analyzing and studying music or composers, a taste is developed. By good stories being read, and poor ones avoided, a taste is developed. The taste — of the tongue, of the ears, of the eyes, of the mind — is formed based on custom and use. What is customarily and usually consumed will become what is expected and what new things are compared to.

I think, however, that the will is developed more like a muscle than a taste. Use, training, exercise will increase its capacity, strength, endurance. Disuse decreases its vitality and ability.

Secondly, I believe cultivation happens through engaging in stories and through playing. Stories should not just be something you read at bedtime or schooltime, but should become a part of the way you relate to the world. Stories give you vicarious experience, categories for types of people and types of lives and circumstances. Then playing — which often shifts children from the story-listener to the story-teller — is one way children practice adulthood before they get there. They play soldier, mommy, garbage man, preacher, princess, and so try on many different hats. I don’t know about your children, but mine never talk about what job they will have when they grow up, they talk about what they will be. Playing is also a way they assimilate knowledge, as they put into motion and practice what they know of history, of storytelling, of the world. Whether it be on the playground, in the dirt hole, or with the Legos, play should not be neglected or despised.

It is both easy and tempting, then, to heave a sigh of relief, pick up a book, ignore the children and feel self-righteous saying, “How ’bout you just go play?” Or, at least, it is for me. On the one hand, philosophically and practically, I don’t sweat it when we get 60% of planned school accomplished, and I don’t force it into break weeks, days off, beautiful days that beckon us outside, or late afternoons or evenings. If it doesn’t happen, it doesn’t happen, I cross it off and we’ll be ok. On the other hand, when I do this too often (and once started it can be hard to pull out of that mode), I am simply slipping into laziness, sloth, indolence, self-indulgence. Work for work’s sake might not be good, but work for God’s glory is, work to establish those rails of good habit so that what we should do is no longer so mentally difficult to begin is good — and, for me, it’s very, very hard. I have all the right lists, all the right books, and the best plans, and even a mug-no-longer-full of coffee, and when the appointed time comes to begin, I have to fight tooth and nail my inclination to call it all off, my inner barrage of excuses, my desire to bury myself under my pillow — or into my computer screen.

Thus, this cultivations of the will, of my will, is of first priority right now in our house. And I might not be easily guilted, but I can be easily discouraged, at least in this area — seeing as I’ve been working on it for, oh, at least eight years now. Sigh.

History

I think I first encountered the idea of teaching history primarily through biography, through people, through heroes, from Cindy. “Boys need to read biographies” was a message I took to heart and since then my sons have taken to biographies like fish to water. They love them. So, we will be reading Hillyer this year as a “text,” but I decided that I would assign biographies almost exclusively for the boys’ independent reading. History through biography makes perfect sense to me, and I hope we can continue using it rather than textbooks.

Still, I don’t think an emphasis on biography and a de-emphasis of textbooks or of dry rote factual memory precludes still memorizing dates and people and events. Poetic Knowledge has not made me change my plans from learning Veritas’ timeline Classical-Conversations-style — which means all 160 events all together every year for next, oh, ten years or so. I still think it’s a good idea to have “pegs” in your head to hang learning upon, and some basic facts memorized — before or during or after or all of the above — in-depth learning still does have potential value. It can be done poorly, to be sure, but that doesn’t mean it has to be rejected out of hand, either. So, Taylor has not caused me to abandon the small amount of neoclassical-type grammar-level memory I had hoped to cover, but merely gave me caution about stopping there or about making all our learning hang on it or about getting stressed out about drilling it or making sure it’s memorized cold. Our memory work will be a short part of Circle Time and it will be enjoyable and it will not be the lynchpin or stress point, or I will give it up.

Science

So once again nature study becomes a vital part of the educational day. Of it all, it is the most so “not me.” I planned on going on weekly outings last year, and I think we went out 5 times total. I plan on going on weekly outings this year, and maybe we’ll make it to 10. Still, the children have enjoyed the times we went out, and 5 enjoyed times is better than 36 stressed, bad-attitude-mommy times. I particularly like the Master Gardeners’ Demonstration Garden that is only half a mile from our house, because all the plants and trees are labelled. [grin]

So, I think we have to fill in with more structure where we are weak, and science and love of the natural world is an area of weakness for me. So we are still sticking to Apologia’s elementary science series, too. They still fill Charlotte Mason’s qualifications for a living book — written by one author, and one who loves her subject and wants to share that love. Through our coming studies I hope as a family we can pick up amateur birding.

For myself, I think this year my own goal will be to figure out how in the world to use a field guide. I’ve paged through them and I just can’t wrap my head around it. I am so word-oriented that I can’t understand how you would be able to look up something in any way other than alphabetically.

Math

Math is itself a species of order, as well as another area of weakness for me. Personally, I’m not sure how love and wonder is expressed in or for it, but I do know that Steve Demme will be better at passing on a love and wonder than me.

Latin

We can’t teach through the “unschooly,” fluency approach that Taylor advocates, but as I was listening to the chant CD in the car last week, I realized that — based on the vocabulary I was hearing — I might actually be able to sprinkle Latin into our everyday life. That thought probably would have never occurred to me if it hadn’t been for Taylor’s suggestion. I would be too self-conscious or that would seem a bit too “over the top, nerdy-homeschooly” to me. But weaving the words into conversation outside the context of Latin Study makes sense when presented as Taylor did. It’s not going to sink in and make a real difference unless its able to break out of its half-hour allotment. That’s probably just as true with math and other such studies as well.

Attitude

[T]each in the integrated way, so that students see that knowledge is not a set of discrete subjects to be mastered but rather a whole that instructs by delight.

I want to be attuned to any hints of drudgery and combat them when they happen. After all, the truth of the matter is that if an attitude of drudgery creeps in, it probably originated with me. I tend to heave a deep sigh come the scheduled starting time (or fifteen minutes after we should have started). If I get my groove on, we’re ok, but I still tend to see school time as an inconvenience and annoyance — a “here we go again, I wonder what breakdown we’ll have today” slump-of-the-shoulders. (I think perhaps this is one area where a newbie homeschooler has that advantage of new-found zeal. They can blame their bad attitudes about school on the school and start fresh; I have my bad attitudes about school tied up with homeschooling and I need to own them and repent) I am actually the one who needs to repent of attitude and grumbling and dragging of my feet, and ask for the joy and delight that is there and that I would see if I would wash the mud out of my eyes.

I am the setter of attitude, and combatting poor attitudes with a poor attitude doesn’t work. Believe me, I’ve tried. It’s not pretty.

Friendship

The place where I hope to bring things together and instruct by delight and integration and root our learning in camaraderie, in relationship, is our planned Friday discussion times. It will be a thing we shall have to learn how to do, and I also want to try to turn narration times into more of a brief one-on-one, eye-contact discussion time rather than a “Tell me what you read while I wash the dishes and generally only listen with half-an-ear” time. We’ll see. I’m great at idealistic plans and not so great at execution. Not only that, but cultivating relationship with the children is certainly an area of weakness for me, also. I can already see that now is the time to work on this weakness, before the teen years hit. I don’t want to be a “we don’t talk about things” family, but that is the mode that comes most easily and naturally to me, while working through things takes handling interruption, takes love, takes effort — in short, it’s a perfect and necessary avenue for sanctification, and one that will bear much fruit in every way.