Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Poetic Knowledge Wrap-Up

This is Wrap Up Week for the Poetic Knowledge Book Club.    It's been a fun journey.   I am so glad Mystie started the book study (upon Silvia's request, I understand!)  and that so many participated.  

Mystie asked:
 What is one specific thing you are changing as a result of reading this book?
I think the main thing I am going to be changing is my attitude about "getting things done".   James Taylor reiterated so many times that factual knowledge and dialectic reasoning were not the only ways to learn.    I "knew" this already in that I could have repeated his case fairly well, but this time it sank in at a deeper level.  

In fact, I think this is actually a case in point, illustrating what Taylor wants to say about education.  I could teach my children to argue a certain point in a logical manner, or recite a bunch of things they learned about, say, Ancient Egypt or grammar, but that would not mean they really "knew" it.    They could do this and still not have "lived" the knowledge or really brought it into themselves and been changed by it.

On the other hand, suppose my children "played" Ancient Greeks or tried to write a sonnet or argued passionately in an area they really cared about -- like trying to tell a friend about why they believed in God, or why siblings are more valuable than lots of new toys, or something like that.  They would really be living the subject area -- history, or syntax, or logic/persuasion -- not just learning "about" it.

Once I see this, I see several things.

One is that I waste a lot of time -- when I think we are homeschooling, we are only just dipping our toes in learning.   Another is that what my kids do really "learn" in the poetic, gymnastic sense doesn't really overlap very much what I do in our homeschool.  This is rather humbling.

At the same time, it accounts for the mystery I've always sensed.  Every since I started homeschooling, I knew I wasn't really doing a very good job at it.    That is, if a professional teacher came into our house and watched a few days she wouldn't see all that much evidence of rich, organized effective education going on.   Even an excellent, experienced homeschooling mom would probably have to raise her eyebrows at all the missed opportunities, false starts and messes around here.  

Yet even so --- somehow my kids were learning.  I can't even say how, and it's sort of scary because I can't define it or distill it so I can reproduce it at will.  Somehow my kids have been growing up relatively intelligent, decent, idealistic and knowledgeable in various subjects. 

I'm not bragging, because I don't think it's me, or even THEM.   Nor do I feel like we are perfect, so I'm not saying "Do nothing, and all will be well."    We are all trying hard, so I suppose that's one plus in our favor, but we're not super-gifted or organized type people.    Again, I feel it's very mysterious.   I can't point to a sort of sum:  We did this plus this and THAT resulted or even to a subtraction:  We DIDN'T do this and this so THAT didn't happen.   There is some correlation -- if you met us, you could probably easily match my children with us, their parents -- but there is just... mystery, there, too.  Ways that God provided that we couldn't ever predict or control. 

Taylor seems to account for the mystery just a little.  Poetic knowledge is receptive, participatory, responsive.  Well, maybe that is one thing that's happened around here.  We've left some time and space for receptiveness.  We tried to let our life be partly about what He gave us.   We surrendered our priorities when it was clear He wanted things differently -- at least, some of the time, to some extent, not perfectly. 

Thus, this also seems to tie into my faith.    Jesus made a lot of promises to the little children, to those who were burdened, those who were weak.   He didn't tell us we had to have every loose end tied, every subject area mastered, everything under our control.   His priorities are very different, much more "poetic" if you will.

So as to the specifics -- Silvia already wrote the one I was thinking -- that I was still going to have plans and goals, but pay much less attention to the specific time frames and pay much more attention to HOW we were addressing them -- the richness of the process.   Also, when she talked about books and things, she made me realize:  Books are about Things.   OK, that sounds so obvious when I write it.    But seriously.   If books are about THINGS, then THINGS are of primary importance, and books are important as they relate to THINGS.  Not just material things, of course.   In Poetic Knowledge, the most important Things are the immaterial things, and sometimes they are hard to put into language because the language almost HAS to be analogical.  

(This is one reason why literature is important -- because it puts immaterial things into narrative and a kind of vicarious experience).

Next year, as a result of thinking through all this, I'm trying to reach for a more unschooly way of doing things.  I will still have goals and plans, but they will be more customized than they have been in the past couple of years.    I realize that I was struggling with burn-out and that God gave me this Book Club just at the right time.    It is one more clue that He provides what we need when it is needed, so perhaps I shouldn't try to stock-pile things too far ahead, but be more like the sparrows or the lilies of the field.   

Well, this is quite rambling, because at the moment I'm writing in my oldest son's new apartment -- we just helped him move in with his brother yesterday.    Another example of God providing things we couldn't necessarily have predicted or asked for in advance....


  1. Willa, your friendship is been a great impact to me. I truly benefit from reading your words in this and other posts. But this sums it up so well. You are such an anchor, because you have older and not that old children, while you have some who have left the nest (wow, a son in an apartment, your beautiful -inside and out- daughter in college), you still have some at home.
    It is quite amazing that me, the Paul of unschoolers, is now accepting that unschooling is what happens to an extent when we are not busy trying to compose ideas and make them stick in their heads, like Herbart conceived education. However, creating the atmosphere, planning for the feast of ideas, and putting the child in front of that which is worth to observe, etc, stealing obviously from Charlotte Mason, it's what I consider 'homeschooling', and like you I'm truly humbled by the thought that the things they truly know are not the result of my 'master teaching modern type like', ha ha ha.
    I'm lately thinking that I HOMESCHOOL MYSELF so that my girls can be unschooled and learn in real life. If I did not homeschool, I'd be carried by the force of life and probably do nothing towards learning myself, looking always for things to strew, and being receptive to how they learn.

    I was also struggling with burn out too, and we hadn't even started with AO year 1, but I was loading their plate, specially my oldest, and things were getting very stagnated. Now we have wings once more, are looking much brighter. She responds much to strewing, and though I know you don't strew a 'curriculum', I didn't intend that, for CM offers are of THINGS, real THINGS. And your obvious remark about the books is not that 'obvious'. I think it's brilliant.

    I won't participate in the book you suggested, but I'm still here, and much alert and interested in your new 'years' or 'seasons' as I like to call them, and also looking forward to participating again in consequent book clubs.

    I'm very blessed to have the friendships I do have.

    Thanks for all your posts and sharing.

  2. I meant subsequent or consecutive book clubs, sorry!

  3. I enjoyed this Willa and I so relate to knowing I a am really not a very good homeschooler. As a matter of fact until I went to the Circe conference which was based on the idea of poetic knowledge I didn't even know what I did qualified as somewhat classical it is just what happened in our home because I loved books but was always pregnant or nursing or overwhelmed.

  4. Cindy... you a not very good homeschooler?
    Then I want to be as bad a homeschooler mom as you both, ladies!
    I feel deficient because I never had more than two girls, and I look at you with several children with admiration and longing. But I know it was difficult for you, and I'm very glad when I read that in a mysterious way things worked out for your children. That's a big hope for others... though I don't mean that others like me may be doing any of the things you did, because it's clear the importance of the hidden curriculum, as I think about it, that of what we truly value and model which they pick at a basic level, not what the 'little table lessons' we give, though also the fact we may try those, and read, and take them outdoors, and cook, and sing, and pray in their presence... all that we 'don't think about when we do it' seems to be of very much importance for the 'end result' in who they become.

  5. Willa-

    I would so love to understand more about how you plan to execute your days.


I would love to hear your thoughts on this!