Monday, February 6, 2017

Reflections from Consider This - Chapter Five...

Chapter Five of Consider This, Charlotte Mason and the Classical Tradition by Karen Glass is connected to Charlotte's Principle 12, which says,..
We, believing that the normal child has powers of mind which fit him to deal with all knowledge proper to him, give him a full and generous curriculum, taking care only that all knowledge offered to him is vital, that is, that facts are not presented without their informing ideas. Out of this conception comes our principle that,–

"Education is the Science of Relations"; that is, that a child has natural relations with a vast number of things and thoughts: so we train him upon physical exercises, nature lore, handicrafts, science and art, and upon many living books, for we know that our business is not to teach him all about anything, but to help him to make valid as many as may be of--
"Those first-born affinities that fit our new existence to existing things."
I have a whole post on Principle 12 so I will not go too deeply here regarding Charlotte's meaning of it. Instead, I'd like to keep to the ideas presented in Chapter Five of Consider This. In the second paragraph of Chapter Five, Glass states,
The ancient thinkers were always looking for universal principles to explain the world. They did not always agree on the principles, but they did agree on one think - that the universe was orderly and understandable, and that all knowledge was interconnected...
A few paragraphs later, Glass further states,
This primary understanding of the unity of knowledge was recognized as a fundamental truth by later Christian educators who had the advantage of divine revelation. Knowing the Creator, they were easily able to place the classical understanding of universal principles within the context of Scripture, and to see that the universal principles were in fact instituted by God, who created the world as a place of order. 
So the universe is orderly making it understandable and Christian educators, knowing a creator, are able to place understanding in the context of Scripture.  We know that Charlotte was well read in these ancient thinkers. Glass asserts that [Charlotte] admired the complete conception of knowledge having its origin in God. Glass calls this "synthetic thinking". "Synthetic" in Greek is syn, meaning with, and thesis, meaning to set forth. Therefore, according to Glass, synthetic thinking is "to place things together" or to make connections or relationships, which comes back to Charlotte's "science of relations"

Glass says, synthetic thinking is the opposite of  "analytic thinking", which in Greek means to dissolve or take apart. She argues that analytic thinking should not be our primary way of teaching, particularly in the early years. Unfortunately, this is the type of teaching modern public schools use most in their textbook/workbook programs. Read a few paragraphs, answer some comprehension questions, true/false, fill-in-the-blank; then at the end of the chapter, complete a review section with more of the above type questions and some vocabulary words. Lastly, take a test and move on. Glass gives us a more in depth explanation on p. 38, using a history lesson as an example...
...A synthetic approach to history will tell us a continuing story, a comprehensive sequence of events with people, places, or dates included as needed. The story will show us people interacting with each other. There will be choices and consequences; causes and effects. There will be promises made and kept or made and broken. There will be places or events that give rise to determinations or provocations; there will be the whole gamut of human experience and emotion - love, passion, hatred, war, reconciliation. We will not learn everything at once, but will learn each lesson in its turn as part of a whole pageant of human experience. there will be continuity, connection, and, it is to be hoped, compassion and fellow feeling, because the people of history were real people exactly like ourselves. 
...When we analyze history, we break it down into quantifiable components...Lists of names, dates, or discrete events - an election won by this percentage, or the battle fought by this number on one side, and that number on the other. Dates, sequences, bare facts - this is all an analytical approach can tell us of history. 
Analytical thinking concerns itself with things that may be measured, or quantified in some way. Just as the "good taste" of the apple is lost when it is taken apart, so the less-easily-measured parts of knowledge, such as truth and beauty and goodness, are lost when information is isolated from its illuminating context.  
This is exactly a point I was trying to make when writing In Response to "The Perils of Teaching History Through Literature". Synthetic teaching allows the student to develop relationships. One of the best means to synthetic teaching is living books. Or, in keeping with the example of history, teaching history through literature, biographies, autobiographies, accurate historical fiction, and primary source documents. Allowing the student to see into the lives of our historical ancestors helps to build a bridge of understanding, with which comes knowledge.

Glass goes so far as to say, "Our modern system of beginning education with analytic thinking, and in fact of teaching analysis almost exclusively, deprives our children of synthetic thinking and prevents them from developing relationships with all areas of knowledge. They never have the chance to create their own connection to all the delightful knowledge in the universe, and yet this is what they need most, what classical education ought to give."  Glass calls us to revive synthetic thinking in our homeschools, saying, "synthesize first, analyze later."

On the other hand, don't misunderstand. Analytic thinking is not bad or wrong, but it shouldn't be the first line method of teaching. Let your students develop relationships with history, science, and math before dissecting them. Teach the whole, not in parts.

Interestingly, as an aside, while talking within our CM Study Group, one of the moms mentioned having a hard time with this idea of synthetic thinking simply because of the name. She related synthetic to being chemically processed or something made in a factory, man made, to imitate something in nature, rather than Glass's organic approach. 

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