Monday, July 12, 2010

Simple but not Easy

The Cat followed up on my post with one of her own on Doing Hard Things.   That is what I like about cyber-discussion (actually it applies to IRL discussion as well) -- someone takes something one said and goes in a different but not unrelated direction with it.   She writes of my two stated goals, wisdom and preparation for the world:

If there is a common element to both of these goals, it would be a low common denominator, and when we go low we often find simple effort there, just plain work. What are the grueling tasks of learning? I would say first memorizing, or any other form of retaining information, a task that is like tossing bowling balls at a moving target. You learn again on each toss if your aim was true and all the while your arm gets more tired. Reasoning is pushing through walls and walls of blankets, feeling your way and hoping it's right. Communicating well is willing one's self to float, finding the delicate balance. Forgive me if I am leaving something out here, but I could see taking memorization and reasoning and communicating (or playing the song, or showing your work) as the work of learning.
 That made me think.  When I was decluttering and trying to simplify I soon ran up against myself and the emptiness, the insecurity, I had let all that extra stuff around the house fill.   What is more, I ran into the next step up that dealing with the lower level allowed me to postpone dealing with.   I found this especially with my food issues, I must say, and am still dealing with that part of it.   When I stopped overeating and started exercising I had to confront why I even now was not on top of everything.   I was more fit and healthy but still had off days, still lacked strong motivation, still didn't want to face my fears, still was the same person really.    It's like coming up to what seems like the summit of a hill and seeing a new upwards vista that the former hill had obscured.  However, it feels good to me because I was really tired of fighting those same battles over and over and never really getting further.

Similarly, I think a lot of the schedules and lesson plans I make, the materials I collect, are to make security buffers between myself and the plain work of homeschooling, which is not very complex, but is not easy either.  I'm not saying that schedules and lesson plans are by definition barriers or buffers, but that they can be that way for me.   When I think about what makes them so, it's probably when I make plans instead of resolves.  The plans are empty exercises then.  ( I'm sorry if this makes no sense; I am thinking as I go.) 

A resolve is something I've determined to do, and the plan then is HOW to actually go about it.  A plan that is standing in place of a resolve is like a house of cards or an empty exercise "what I would do if I won a million dollars".   The big planning exercise starts in the exterior and tries to impose order on the interior, which works against simplicity for me, while the other starts inside and works outwards through means of the will, which allows for unity of intention and then allows the disparate details to be organized under that unified resolve. Let me rephrase that.   I think some of my best homeschooling years came when I knew what I needed to do and then had to just figure out ways that this could be done or at least done as much as I could.   Knowing what one needs to do is not really brain surgery.  I can list a few things right away, and start with those few, focusing how to make them work in my particular family.   Fr LeJeune says that it's better to start with a simple Regula and add to it over time than make a complicated one and have to trim it down.  

Working with my kids on memorizing, reasoning and communicating are the hardest things I know how to do.  I like my kids and I like communicating and reasoning but doing this in an educational context is an energy drain.   I think part of it is that I have to listen, and wait, and respond in the best way, and face that my efforts are partly dependent on the efforts of someone besides myself, and that I may, probably will, make mistakes because it is a process and I am not all that good at process.  Those things are very difficult for me.   They are relationship skills, acts of "caritas", I would say of "love" except that this word has so many connotations it is rather useless for precise targeting.  But it was a key insight of the Jesuits -- that education depended on modeling how to think, speak and act; and upon a relationship.   Cat said it more colorfully than I did.  But I agree that this is at the heart of a liberal education. 

Understanding that clarifies some things for me.  But I'm still feeling my way along on this, and trying not to complicate in the name of simplifying.  

A few notes:

  • Notice that "memorizing, reasoning and communicating" correspond to "grammar, logic, rhetoric".   They aren't just subjects but basic ways to tackle reality.   
  • "Memorizing" isn't just reciting a poem or verse over and over again until you know it.  The operative part is "until you know it", and the "reciting over and over" is just one traditional method.    If you look back at everything you remember, that is by definition what your memory contains.  At least, so it would seem. 
  • Communicating is reciprocal.  Part of it is listening to someone else, being "teachable" (Aquinas called it docility, a word that has negative connotations for us, but it means etymologically open to teaching).   So part of communicating for the student is being able to read and listen constructively.   
  • When I'm thinking about "hard things" I have to be careful to realize that hard things aren't EXTRAORDINARY things.   It doesn't mean pushing myself or my kids over the top every day.   Often it comes down to little things organized under that unifying principle I talked about in my last post. 
Please just ignore this if it seems like a muddle!  Next time I will talk about the concrete things, but I am giving myself more time to think things through since it is summer.

ETA:  link to a post about Sabotaging Simplicity.


  1. Willa,

    This post really spoke to me! It crystallized what I've been wrestling with for years! I have so little motivation to do the little things, like keep things tidy, or encourage my kids patiently when they are resisting. I always want to hide behind planning but then I am so disheartened with myself because I am deeply in the habit of not following through. And I can see the negative repercussions of that in my kids. I've modeled that behavior for years now and my faults have become their faults. I've just been talking to myself these last few days about the need to be more energized and focused, to embrace life instead of always feeling overwhelmed and scatterbrained about it. I need zest! And a bracing work ethic that wants to live life to the fullest instead of hiding in my acedia and sloth.

    Very good posts lately. I have been thoroughly enjoying them. Lots of wonderful food for thought. You have a great way of putting my rather indistinct feelings into words. How do you do that?

    God bless you. You should write a book about all this!

  2. I'm enjoying these posts too. The paragraph where you wondered if you were making sense made perfect sense to me. I'm starting to think about next year and I think I may, instead of planning it all out in detail, go with -do the next math lesson, read for x amount of time, write for x amount of time, etc. like the Robinson Curriculum. Besides choosing a booklist, there would be little planning for me to get caught up in. This sounds simple, but in practice?

    Dealing with the off days will be necessary. I think prayer is the answer, but I usually choose the easier path of doing what makes me feel good temporarily.

  3. Faith, I'm glad it helped! You could really have been describing me, so perhaps it is just helpful to hear someone else who has the same challenges.

    Cheryl, I have been thinking about time slots, too. Thomas Jefferson Education has that format -- you don't lay out how much you are doing, you just plan to spend X amount of time on each thing and see how much gets done.


I would love to hear your thoughts on this!