Poetic Knowledge Entry: Poetic Experience

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Click here for all the entries in the Poetic Knowledge Book Club.

So, as I said, I am not giving up or feeling guilty over my air conditioning (may the day come when I need to turn it on!) or my dishwasher (which is currently swishing in the background), but I did understand his point. So, I am going to go through a few of his applications and work through what they might look like for us, particularly.

Gymnastic Experience

Such children will have a fond familiarity all their lives of living with the seasons and changes of weather, for the memory of light and shadow as given by the sun and clouds.

I protest that this can only be had if you rely exclusively on the sun for light and heat. I shall instead abstract his principle that the seasons and the weather should be felt. This will certainly be the case if the children spend significant time outdoors most days, as Charlotte Mason advises. Having grown up in one place my whole life, the year’s rhythms in my place are ingrained, the weather patterns absorbed. This year is totally out of whack and unlike any I’ve yet experienced. It’s June and we’re having March & April weather! There is the different feels and smells of summer rain and spring rain and winter drizzle, of winter Chinook winds, of spring wind storms when the weather report predicts “Dust,” and of summer breezes. The memories linger of the few days we got snow when we didn’t have to do school so that we could play in it before it melted, then the year it actually accumulated and we could do real things like build a snow fort and sled down the street. Such experiences can and should be have with the great outdoors, regardless of what one has inside. Even inside, there’s the difference in air between dry heated air, then finally the fresh smell of spring when all the windows in the house are open, then the beating heat relieved by a blast of chilly air. I guess I’m sympathizing here more with Esolen’s take and style in Ten Ways overagainst Taylor’s jeremiad.

The principle comes down to letting the children experience life, experience the world. Also, experience and memory can be anchored to sensation, so we shouldn’t dismiss the sensory aspects of education. To this day, when I smell a box mix of chocolate cake coming out of the oven, I immediately remember our high school Bible study at a friends’ house, whose Mom, every week, as soon as we started, whipped up chocolate cupcakes from a box. They’d be hot from the oven when we were done, and we’d eat them warm, with no frosting. The smell brings back not only images of those times, but I think it does even help in the memory of what we talked about during those times. I still remember those conversations, while many others are lost in the sands of times.

One doesn’t need air conditioning for education; a good life can be had both with it and without it. One should be able to feel the rhythms of the seasons, both in the air and in the activities. Fall casseroles, winter soups, summer salads. Fall leaves and pumpkins on the piano shift to twinkly lights shift to bareness shift to tulips shift to roses. Gardening, of course, is another way to “observe” the seasons, to feel and experience the seasons.

Bottom line: Seasons should be felt. Give the senses an anchor for memory.

Simplicity

So little is required for [such a school] […] Not only is the poetic and gymnastic mode preserved with this deliberate “proverty,” so that very little comes between the student and the teacher and the subject at hand […] Small is beautiful, less is more, in this case, and students of such a school will not only regain the proper use of their senses, they will at the same time discover their reason[.]

All you really need to educate yourself or your child is a relationship and a few books. Schedules and lists and charts and forms can either be a distracting complication to the process or deliberate, careful tools to preserve order and the decided simplicity. I have had both kinds, to be sure; I tend to be drawn toward to needlessly complex, bureaucratic paperwork as long as I am on the right side of said paperwork. As a child, I created forms and polls and questionnaires, even seating arrangements for an imaginary classroom. I loved filling out surveys. Data collection! Wonderful! I have been shedding that tendency over the years; I hope to be divested of it completely soon. However, I am still an administrator type, and cannot function in the “bohemian” mode. I think both styles are legitimate, though, and one should work within one’s own style, making sure to pull against one’s own particular weaknesses, whatever they may be.

A poetic culture [is] found in daily life and in ordinary experience […] [P]oetic experience first plays upon the beautiful, the wonderful, the proportionate thing that is intuitively pleasing to our senses.

That is a gem of a thought in a paragraph of pessimistic lament. We have the choice of looking around at other people and at “the world” in general and being depressed, or we can look around our home and our family and make little differences in the little things and, yes, reach “something very much like perfection,” even if Homer wouldn’t have thought so. Especially if our eyes are on living to God’s glory and following His callings and promptings in our lives, being sanctified, rather than on test scores and appearances, then we will each grow more and more toward perfection all while resting in the assurance of Christ’s perfection on our behalf.

Bottom line: Flashy isn’t better. Focus on relationships, order, and wonder.

Love

I was cut to the heart by this statement:

When the scientific view enters into education, then only the deliberative aspect of the will is emphasized, and effort to learn anything is considered a virtue. When this has entered into religious education, it has often been taught that the love of God and neighbor always requires an act of the will, that is, effort. But under the view of poetic knowledge, such effort only makes sense after first recognizing that it is natural [that is, what we created for] to love God and to desire the good of our neighbor.

We put forth the effort when we recognize that we fall short and we repent. Repentance (and education is repentance, as George Grant says) doesn’t instantly poof us into perfection. It is a process of recognition followed by a turning away from the wrong and moving toward the right. It requires effort, but it is done in love (to God) and for love (to reach the point of actually loving as we ought).

In that paragraph I quoted I saw that yes, that has been my mindset: Effort is a virtue in itself. But of course it isn’t. It matters what the effort is toward. And motive — the heart — matters more than the action. If you’re doing the right thing for the wrong reason, you’re still wrong. So we need to want love and act from and toward love, while also recognizing that having that love isn’t a necessary prerequisite for doing the right thing. I am starting to feel resolution of disparate concerns and questions in this area. It’s coming together for me, and that was one of my hopes for this book.

The Puritan and Jansenist often attempt to skirt the more complete obligation to love neighbor by exclusively calling for this love because God commended it — neglecting to add that because we are all created in His image, we therefore must be in some way lovable — not just tolerated. And this is not to be merely a cool and intellectual love, but one that also includes the emotions, for God and neighbor.

Speaking in broad strokes, the tendency to weigh the intellect and reason above emotion is part of the Reformed tradition: the Frozen Chosen. That’s not good, and it’s not consistent. It is incomplete. Heart, soul, mind, and strength — all of us is called to love God and work out that love to our neighbor — and that love of God will manifest in love of His creation (science) and His work (history), as well. Where we do not see love in ourselves toward something, we either don’t understand the thing rightly or our hearts are cold and incomplete. We will never attain perfect love or perfect knowledge in this world, but we should be ever moving toward it, bringing our children along with us — pulling, not pushing.

Bottom line: Love is the right motive and love is the right goal.