Poetic Knowledge: Conversations

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This is my entry for the Poetic Knowledge book club.

The application of chapter 6 being on the primary place of conversation — both listened to (rather than lecture) and taking part in (small group) — resonated with me. I instantly connected with experiences I had had and so tried to then apply that forward to making sure they happen for my children.

My Experiences

  1. Eavesdropping. I was an eavesdropper as a child. I learned a lot through finding an obscure hiding spot within earshot of adult conversations when my parents had friends over. I think I learned things they didn’t necessarily want me to know so young that way, so that should probably be more of a caution to myself to keep my mouth guarded even when I don’t think the children are around. Then again, looking back, I bet I wasn’t as sneaky as I thought I was and my mom knew I was there. :) I remember sometimes being conflicted because I would have preferred eavesdropping on the adults to playing with the other kids.

  2. Grandparents. I know I spent quite a bit of time listening to my mom’s dad. We would go to visit monthly in the warm months (they were snow birds) and they’d stop twice a year at our house. I remember going on early-morning (like 4:30am early) walks with Papa & Grandma, and it wasn’t until I saw and heard him again a few months ago for the first time in 12 years that some of those memories came back. I wonder if my predisposition to thinking early morning is great and a walk is the perfect way to start a day goes back to hearing that thought repeated over and over again when I was little.

  3. Listening in on Theology Talk. I was 12 when my parents bailed on the Pentacostal church I grew up in for the Reformed church in town. Unfortunately, we walked in on a situation nearing split. But because ideas were under attack at the church, the conversations were flowing, and because we were new (my dad had read a bunch already, but to me it was all shockingly new), my dad sought out conversations and discussions. I got to listen in on lots of those and a large percentage of what I learned about the Bible and theology came from those times sitting on the floor way past bedtime listening to my dad and the man now my pastor. We also arrived at the church just in time for me to join the middle school Sunday School class where my now-pastor led us through Romans, which was amazing timing for me. And he prefers to teach and interact Socratically. There were several youth studies in those early teen years where the 3 other teens my age and I were talked through the Bible and theology, and it was excellent. Then our new church formed, he was called as pastor, and I was part of the first Pastor’s Class with my dad and there were then many more late-night conversations to listen to.

  4. Intellectual Friends. I had a friend in high school who loved a good debate. Well, more than one, really, which led to some volatile interactions (I was more of a mediator in those situations). We talked and talked and talked, and about serious, real things. I fondly remember many heated discussions (with my dad sometimes providing Devil’s Advocate questions and generally trying not to laugh at us, I think) on the question “What is ‘Christian’ music?” which often led to “Can you know anyone else — or even yourself — is really saved?” I visited this friend every Thursday for a year or more, and her mom would pick me up by herself and I would get a second-mom conversation with her weekly. Unfortunately, she moved away after only a couple years. Then, I roomed in college with Elly, and we had many, many late night conversations comparing notes about upbringings, church, theology, and all that good stuff. That was part of our two-year stint in Moscow, ID in the Christ Church crowd, so even though we came with our own little group and didn’t get too involved socially, the opportunities abounded for “real,” non-superficial conversation and discussion. I think I learned as much in the 2 or 3 a week studies or groups as I did in college for my English degree.

  5. Teaching. We spent some time in a group trying to start an ACCS school, and that was a time of many discussions and hashings out of ideas, especially since there was one family coming from a very different theological perspective. It is amazing how much that can color things, even things like starting a school (what should be taught? who should teach? who should be allowed to enroll?). But my fondest memory is of the year 2 or 3 years ago where I had the privilege of having 5 amazing high school kids (and one of their moms, a peer of my mom) come and talk literature (I think we read 6 books or so — real classics) once a week in my home. I’d make coffee or iced tea and a treat, and while my kids napped we’d discuss from the generic questions I pulled from SWB’s Well-Educated Mind. It was great. Then I’d give them essay assignments that I’d comment on and they’d revise, but I didn’t have to worry about grades, just about helping them improve. During and ever since I have thought that is what I want to do with my kids in middle & high school. I hope when the time comes I’ll have friends brave enough to join us. While I was putting together that class, I came across these great quotes by Wes Callihan:

This is the heart of a good education: a small but well-chosen library, a place to sit and study, some friends to do it with, and the time and tranquility to do it in.


Read the best books and talk about them with like-minded friends. That’s been the essence of real education since antiquity, and nothing about our modern world changes that except perhaps the pandemic idiocy that gives this idea even greater urgency and even less chance than ever of being taken seriously.

Looking Forward

  1. Having Adult Conversations. We already not infrequently have people without kids over for dinner, and since we don’t know tv or sports or movies, conversation generally moves to more interesting topics by necessity. Last summer our church had a very excited and talkative summer intern and we had him over and argued and discussed quite a bit. Hans was never far off, and I know he was taking it all in to the best of his ability. So this chapter confirmed on another level the goodness and rightness of having over varieties of people.

  2. Having Personal Conversations. What I am not as good at is having conversations with my children. Matt has been improving this with our after-dinner devotion time, but I am going to be more intentional about working this into our days, about taking the time to turn narrations into discussions and about “drawing them out” when opportunities (walks, car rides, etc.) present themselves. For pretty much the first time I did this last year. Hans came and sat down with me on the couch and I said something like, “So, Hans, what have you been thinking about lately?” wondering if anything more than awkwardness would come of it. However, I got about a ten-minute, excited run-down of plans he was concocting to reenact a battle of the Revolutionary War with all the boys he knew. He acted out how they should all stand or kneel, how he’d be the general and arrange them just so. I just sat and stared, trying not to gape as he went on and on about something he had obviously spent lots of time thinking about but I’d had no idea. I’ve also noticed that the boys mull on what they read, and they often aren’t ready to talk about it soon after they’re done, but days or even weeks later, they’ll suddenly pop in or pipe up at odd times and ask what a certain word means or ask what something is or want to tell me about what they think about it.

  3. Preparing the Way. Remembering that idyllic class in my house a few years ago, it dawned on me awhile back that now is the time to start preparing the way for that sort of thing. Accordingly, I have a Friday afternoon tea time planned for talking together, either about the week’s happenings or readings or lessons or all of it together.

  4. Book Clubs. Back to the Wes Callihan quote, I want to provide that for my kids and I also want to participate in it myself. I’ve thought about the idea of a “real life” book club, but having another thing scheduled has held me back. I have play group weekly, though, so I do get real life conversation about books or housekeeping or parenting and all that good stuff. But these online book clubs have been a real blessing, especially when good conversation gets going in a comment section. :) I think this can count, don’t you?