Poetic Knowledge Entry: Cultivation

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This is my own rabbit trail post for the Poetic Knowledge Book Club.

cultivate

cul·ti·vate   
[kuhl-tuh-veyt] –verb (used with object), -vat·ed, -vat·ing.
1. to prepare and work on (land) in order to raise crops; till.
2. to use a cultivator on.
3. to promote or improve the growth of (a plant, crop, etc.) by labor and attention.
4. to produce by culture: to cultivate a strain of bacteria.
5. to develop or improve by education or training; train; refine: to cultivate a singing voice.
6. to promote the growth or development of (an art, science, etc.); foster.
7. to devote oneself to (an art, science, etc.).
8. to seek to promote or foster (friendship, love, etc.).
9. to seek the acquaintance or friendship of (a person).

Sorry, I know my soil metaphor wasn’t working for people in the comments section last week, but it came to me again while I read this chapter. I thought it was consistent with what Taylor was saying.

Perhaps, I realized, the reason “tabula rasa” does not seem congruous with the example of a student being soil is that I’ve never container-gardened or purchased my garden soil. All I’ve done is churn up grass and rocks, roll up my sleeves, and tried to reclaim dirt from the weeds and rocks. All dirt I’ve ever worked with is far from a clean slate. Without active intervention, it all goes to weeds in no time flat. Add to that the fact that we live in an irrigated desert, and not only do I have to keep the weeds at bay, but in order to grow anything useful or beautiful, I also have to ensure the water is working and adequate. Nature doesn’t do that for me here.

Besides, Jesus likened people to differing types of soils, so I think the metaphor is lawful. There must be something to it. :)

And C.S. Lewis’ quote, “The task of the modern educator is not to cut down jungles but to irrigate deserts,” has always — being in an irrigated desert — spoken to me. I, too, can personally relate to being more analogous to a desert than a jungle. I need life pumped into me.

Anyway, while granting that the food and body metaphor is much more complete, I am returning to the child as soil metaphor. In that light, I want to focus on this quote from the book on page 23, emphases mine:

To summarize: an education with the foregoing in mind, an education for beginners, would be poetic, which means, to draw heavily on direct and vicarious experience that engages and awakens the senses; for example, gymnastic, poetry, music.

Then, jump back to page 16, where Taylor quotes Socrates as saying that all that surrounds the child should be carefully chosen representations not of evil or vulgar themes, but of the true nature of things, which will also be beautiful and good, “and then our young men, living as it were in a healthy climate, will benefit because all the works of art they see and hear influence them for good, like the breezes from some healthy country, insensibly leading them from earliest childhood into close sympathy and conformity with beauty and reason.”

If I wasn’t so lazy, I would look up Charlotte Mason on that thought. It seems like she says something almost exactly like that.

This isn’t a letting-alone so that what is natural in the child will spring toward rightness. This is a training, a preparing, a showing, because the Good, True, and Beautiful is not the default setting, the direction things will spring if only all bad influences are removed. I’ll break from the soil metaphor for a moment to liken it to pea shoots. They naturally cling, and they can be led and trained and set toward growing upwards on netting or posts, but if left to themselves they make a grand tangle of themselves, wallowing on the ground.

Now, back to the soil metaphor and page 17, emphases again mine:

But to love rightly is to love what is orderly and beautiful in an educated and disciplined way…for the object of education is to teach us to love what is beautiful.

So, it seems to me, that it is precisely because we innately gravitate toward the easy, self-indulgent life that we need to be insistent and diligent with the formation of taste and emotion in our children’s early years (and keep guard on our own tastes and emotions as well). These tendencies are the weeds that are always waiting in the wings to choke out fruitful desires.

For example, in my mind, I want many good things (to learn the piano, to pre-read all my readers read, to lose 15 pounds, to get up at 5am, to keep my house tidy) that I just don’t have enough inner and mental strength to actually pull off consistently. I have the desires, but they are too weak to stand strongly against the inclinations toward sloth and indolence and self-indulgence. And I use examples of myself because students become like their masters; if we aren’t modeling it, we don’t mean it.

If I don’t introduce names of trees and flowers, the children aren’t going to spontaneously ask for what they don’t know exists. They will either be blissfully unaware or they will be satisfied to give them names themselves. There must be leading and guiding and directing, which is not the same as drilling and killing and controlling. Someone who knows the way has to be in charge, showing the way.

Oops, I just changed the metaphor again. Sorry.

Also, I think that the poetic mode flourishes in order and discipline, which is a setting that fosters growth and leisure. It takes order and discipline to provide the atmosphere and time for leisure and conversation and contemplation.

So, while the atmosphere needs to be one of rest and peace and contemplation, that takes a lot of work — a lot of weeding out the bad in ourselves and our children — and watering — providing the right books and materials and atmosphere and relationship.

Rest and leisure does not mean easy, let-it-come-as-it-may. It takes order and discipline to maintain rest and leisure. Leisure is not inactivity. Leisure isn’t easy.

Soil can and should grow fruit and flowers. However, without care and attention and diligence and effort and a plan, it will revert to weeds (or total barrenness, if we’re talking about Brandy’s property, I suppose).

We need to know what we’re planting and cultivating, and we have to seek it out and purposefully expose our children and ourselves to the Good, True, and Beautiful, to train our hearts, our tastes, and our emotions to follow, to desire, good paths.