Thursday, May 26, 2011

The Logic of Crafts and Gymnastics

Henri Charlier, quoted in Poetic Knowledge, points out something that should be obvious -- that one does not simply think, one thinks about some thing.   I am probably better than most people at thinking while not even knowing what I'm thinking about -- still, it does seem to hold true that thought without an object is not really thought at all.   He goes on: 

The "I think, therefore, I am” of Descartes is the archetype of all the absurdities verbal logic ends up with. This “therefore” corresponds to nothing real whatsoever. It would mean that one knows of his existence only because one knows one thinks! Actually, what one has is “I am thinking.” It is a statement impossible to deny. But to make existence depend on the fact that one thinks is to be a dupe to the necessities of language, and the mathematical language to which Descartes was accustomed, is worse. The more the system of verbal (and mathematical) logic is reinforced, the harder the academic requirements become; the more they are pushed in the same direction, the densert the exams become. Also, the more anxiety will be felt because this system is not suited for most minds for observation and reasoning.  -- Henri Charlier

He also writes:

“It never occurs to the teachers themselves that the methods through which they form their minds are not universal at all, as they believe, but very peculiar to schools. This peculiar art is very favorable to didactic demonstration and very handy when forming other teachers — it is the art of logic interpreted through language. But all the trades (crafts) have another logic which is not taught except in the trades themselves, and this absence is one of the aspects of what is called the crisis in teaching.”

Unlike Dewey, he doesn't believe in teaching trades for pragmatic purposes -- so that the student will learn to fit smoothly into a democratic society and be a useful cog in the machinery.   He believes that the skilled trades, like carpentry, have a logic of their own.   You might say it's a self-correcting logic....  something designed or built poorly will not work as it is intended, whereas sterile verbal reasoning can go far off the path without noticing it.    So working at skilled trades perfects the human as human. ... at its best it can integrate heart, head and hands.

He says that this is how intellectual things used to be taught, too -- as intellectual apprenticeship.   So focusing on how the trades are still taught, when they are taught, may help the schools return to what schools used to look like before the dualism thing took hold on our ways of thinking.  

That's useful to me as I consider unschooling, which also emphasizes interacting with the reality of things.   An example -- a child learning arithmetic by helping his parents run an organic store.    In the past this sort of thing has seemed somewhat Dewey-esque and anti-liberal-arts to me, and I am sure it can get that way, but another way to look at it is that real things require integration of the whole person in a way that stylized  didacticism does not.   It is embedded in the particular, but that doesn't mean it's trapped in the particular -- for universals are meant to be set in particulars.  There is no redness without a red thing, no number system without countable things,  as there is no thought without a thing to think about.     When I think like that I wonder why I am so often in a big hurry to go straight to the generalizations when I am teaching my kids, as if the numbers and arithmetic processes were the "real things" and the particulars were something like disguises.    

I already wrote my Poetic Knowledge post for the week but I am having my yearly homeschool personal retreat right now and so I am thinking a lot about how I want to do things next year!    I wrote in the last post that scientists look for more simplistic schema in their search for verifiability.   Simplifying -- controlling the variables - is a powerful tool when you remember it is a tool and don't wear those glasses all the time.   But I think scientists aren't the only ones tempted to superimpose a simplified schema on existence.   Some religious types do it, as do most fashionistas and reality show followers, and people who write or read the more cliched type of genre novels.    I simplify my clothing choices by only having about 3-4 basic "types" of outfit to choose from.   And I realize I am constantly trying to impose a schema on homeschooling because I want it to be simple.  But simple isn't the same thing as superficial.  Simplicity has to come from integration,from inner unity,  as Dietrich von Hildenbrand points out.   I still don't quite understand it, but I see how it has to be. 

I'm thinking that now I have a real motive to include more "gymnastic" type things in my household -- "gymnastic" the way Taylor defines it, as involving the heart and head through the hands.


  1. Willa... I'm truly revisiting many of my believes, or maybe biases. To me is hard to conceive you declare yourself an unschooler. I must have bad preconceptions about this type of "homeschooling".
    I agree, simple is not always easy, because it is not always superficial, or maybe never it is. As when we say to write something in simpler and more concise terms, that entails more work, and it looks so easy, but it has a lot of intention, insight, and more.

    Definitely, more gymnastic is also in my plans for our education.

  2. Hi Silvia, I got my start in homeschooling as an unschooler. When I discovered classical and Charlotte Mason I moved away from unschooling, yet I still go back to it at times when I feel I'm getting off balance.

    It seems very true that simple requires more work, more true depth! I can see that with poetry especially, but it's true with other things too.


I would love to hear your thoughts on this!