Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Poetic Knowledge Week 8

for the Poetic Knowledge Book Study --follow the link for more discussion. 
What are some conditions of life we can create so that “souls can bloom”?

Chapter 5 of Poetic Knowledge is about an experimental school at Maslacq run by Andre Charlier from 1940 to about 1950.  It was conceived as an alternative to typical Cartesian education.  James Taylor discusses it a bit at the Angelicum Academy website

So the direction I'm going to take is:  How did the Maslacq school encourage souls to bloom?  Can we learn anything from it that we could apply to our own homeschools?

Beautiful setting, immersed in nature, agriculture, and history.

The Maslacq school was set in the French countryside, "far from the world", where carts were still pulled by oxen.  
"One doesn't pass such a road quickly, and furthermore, one doesn't find a reason to go more quickly."
(the architecture) is all proportionate to the soul... all of this spoke to the mind amore intelligible language than that of good books." 
It's hard to find a spot in America where Christian culture, beautiful natural scenery, and domestic agriculture are combined!  Here where I live we have the beautiful scenery but not the others.

he gave them a cold and drafty castle but with warm fires in the old fireplaces of the great halls; he gave them the outdoors of Maslacq, the village, the peasants and their farms and crafts, the narrow roads, the hills and the shepherds.

We do have a slow pace but it doesn't seem to follow the natural rhythms of the days and seasons so much, especially in regard to work.     We did intuitively build our house so that it was cold at the perimeters but warm in the center.

Latin learned by the "musical" or poetical method

Andre Charlier taught his students to speak Latin by simply speaking Latin to them; ..he read aloud to them first so that the music and the gymnastic of the language could be absorbed; .... as a musician, he taught them to sing by singing the songs of their traditions and simple Gregorian chants... 
 This is how Latin was taught in Jesuit schools, from what I have read.  I always wondered if the classics and classical languages started becoming more sterile when they started being taught using exclusively deductive methods.   Here Charlotte Mason is much more in the classical tradition (though she didn't emphasize Latin) because the children learned little French and Germans songs and plays and stories before they started drilling the grammar.

It's hard to teach this way nowadays, of course, because most of us are not Latinists.  Latin masses are still said, and Gregorian chant has undergone a revival.  I've found various spoken Latin sites online but there is a difference here between looking and listening to a computer, and being more or less immersed in the language.

I used to read Latin to the kids though my accent wasn't that good.  Maybe I should start it up again.

Rigorous regard for order

This doesn't seem poetic at first, does it?  But of course poetry is not disordered or irregular -- that is just our modern Rationalist/Romantici prejudice.  Nature is very orderly.... not in a reductionist sense, like a Prussian military parade, but in the sense of proportion, priority and integration of many into a unified whole. 

Military parades have a sort of poetry, though.  Andre Charlier was a soldier, from what the book says, and probably was very realistic in perceiving that a regimen would be quite crucial in fostering a healthy culture in a group of boys from all different backgrounds.

Poetry itself is very ordered.   Even some of the experimental poetry of the 20th century is striving (more or less successfully) for its own innate structure which hopes to be richer and more organic than conventional ones (again, whether successfully or not probably depends on the poet).

I think what makes us moderns sometimes think that poetic things and nature are disorderly is that the mechanist worldview upon which so much of post-Enlightenment science was based makes order very simplified in comparison to reality, like a child's dot to dot drawing compared to the child immersed in creative play.     There is nothing wrong with this simplicity -- Isaac Asimov wrote that scientists make models, drawing things out of their context in order to get predictability.  The problem comes when you imagine that the blueprint is the castle or the X-ray is the human being, or that man is made for the Sabbath. 

Importance of example

This system partly depended upon "Captains"  -- schoolboys who acted as "dormitory leaders" and helped the younger boys.  

"The difference here though is that order isto be seen as natural and good and not foreign and imposed for the sake of discipline without a reason.  In other words, the order that Charlier asks his Cpatains to help maintain is not a good in itself -- as if to enshrine a a mechanistic showpiece of merely "well behaved boys."  The order is called for so that, as he says, souls can bloom."

Commands and rules alone cannot impose discipline -- the Captains must be "a living example of what they ask of others, then only a few words are necessary for correction."

"Order and discipline are never isolated as ends in themselves but are vew as the giving of a higher good to all and the means to cultivate friendship."

A gathering of friends

Charlier pictured his school as a "gathering of friends".

It occurs to me that poetry, friendship and other very rich things, like nature, are inherently orderly and disciplined.  One generally doesn't think this way -- at least I don't.    I think in our industrially influenced society, one thinks of work as discipline and things like poetry and friendship as a kind of loosening up of the strained will.   So it may be in a sense, but when I think of it, "real" things require much more of the person than brute effort -- they require a grasp of a much more complex and organic set of requirements.    Marriage and family life are much more rewarding, but also much more like a dance or a sonnet, than they are like conventional work, which is why so many people run away from their personal life to their work life, or glorify science over poetry, because "work" and "science" are often radically simpler than relationships or the fine arts, and thus are more easily dealt with.    The other tendency I see, for less intellectual or industrious people, is to be self-indulgent in leisure and in relationships -- "using" other people or things for their own purposes rather than embarking into a real relationship which requires a give and take. 
"The goal here is always to help friends (he does not refer to them as students), in their difficulties as a result of a soul ordered to self-discipline through a poetic sympathy with the harmony of order and friendship."
 It's hard to get a grasp of what this might look like in a family homeschool with kids varying, perhaps, from infant to teenager.    But Charlier's emphasis on friendship and sympathy and being willing to spend time with his boys reminded me very much of the writings of St John Bosco, who also worked closely with boys (in his case, he established schools for street boys).

He who wants to be loved must first show his own love. Our Lord made himself little with the little ones and bore our infirmities. He is our Master in this matter of the friendly approach. A master who is only seen in the master’s chair is just a master and nothing more, but if he goes into recreation with the boys he becomes their brother....  When a person knows he is loved, he will love in return, and when a person is loved he can get anything, especially from boys. This confidence sets up an electric current between boys and superiors. Hearts are opened, needs and weaknesses made known. This love enables superiors to bear with weariness, annoyance, ingratitude, or the troubles, failings and neglect of the boys. Our Lord did not break the bruised reed nor quench the smoking flax. He is your model. 
Can the notion of "friendship" be applied to family life?   We are often told that we shouldn't try to be friends with our children.   To me, that sounds like a symptom of our modern confusion about what friends are.   Friends aren't enabling pals.  They are people who share a common goal and interests, common characteristics, and a commitment to the other one in his individuality.  Sure, being a parent is more than being a friend -- you can and sometimes must say very different things to your toddler than you would say to your buddy  -- but there is an honesty and kindness and restraint and willingness to commit time and energy to cultivate relationship that is necessary in a true friendship, and no less so in a parent/child relation.    A parent/child relationship, like a spousal relationship, should not be LESS than friendship.     Jesus was able to be a friend to His disciples even while He was their superior as well, their older brother and teacher.  And as Christians, we are all brothers and sisters in Christ; it is even so with our Christian children and ourselves.

Well, this is getting long and I only got a few pages into the chapter.    Oh well!   I must admit, that like Mystie, my eyes glazed during the second part of this chapter.   Maybe now that I have the first part more solidly in my mind I will be able to devote some thoughts to the second part.

So --
  • beauty (natural and architectural, or at least domestic loveliness and nature walks).  
  • an unhurried pace, a certain amount of seclusion from the world (not hermetic, but just set apart somewhat from the mid-stream of things)
  • order -- a few words, and good example (habits?)
  • a company of friends (in the sense of comrades on the journey, a fellowship, not necessary a company of equals with a single vote each).
  • linguistic learning takes place musically and gymnastically, by plenty of cultural immersion, rather than by grammar drills, at least at first.  


  1. Marriage and family life are much more rewarding, but also much more like a dance or a sonnet, than they are like conventional work, which is why so many people run away from their personal life to their work life, or glorify science over poetry, because "work" and "science" are often radically simpler than relationships or the fine arts, and thus are more easily dealt with.

    This is truly the quid. I believe many do not know how to confront the complexity but at the same time the simplicity of the family life. Simple doesn't mean easy, does it? It requires faith, servitude, devotion, and 'effort', joyous not mechanical.

    And I just thought that about friends this past week. Some sites talk about being friends with your children in the sense of just taking a childlike role to parenthood, not in the sense of having a friendly relationship with them, or a relationship based on friendship as you describe.

    Apparently my eyes glazed while reading Mystie's intro to this chapter, I thought she meant she wanted to read Chapter 2 again. I thought that made sense too, because now I'm seeing the application or the examples, it won't be bad to go back to the theory and understand it better in a second round.

    Thanks for your post, Willa. It didn't seem long to me, as this chapter. It was a bit of a balm from the raw philosophy that made me not even able to post last week due to a fried brain problem.

  2. It can be boggling to read so much educational theory and how it is used in a school setting (Charlier or Mason) and try to implement in the nitty gritty of family life. Existentially exhausting even! I think the success of most homeschoolers is the natural integration of physical work and academics that occurs when you combine "school" with family life. Great post, Willa! (And just when I think I'm caught up you write ANOTHER great post!! I've really been enjoying this discussion!)

  3. I really appreciate your summarized points at the end -- very well put -- and I think the essence of the chapter.

    "Order and discipline are never isolated as ends in themselves but are viewed as the giving of a higher good to all" -- That's the thought I've been mulling over this week, wondering what it means or looks like in real life for a thing to be an "end in itself" and whether or not I've fallen into that trap. I think I'm still looking for the magic bullet or the magic thought that will suddenly make it all easy. :)


I would love to hear your thoughts on this!