Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Reflections from Consider This - Chapters 10-12 and Beyond...

This will be the last post in the series, in which, I share my thoughts on Consider This, Charlotte Mason and the Classical Tradition by Karen Glass. You can find related posts on previous chapters linked below...

Introduction and Chapter One

Chapter Two

Chapter Three

Chapter Four

Chapter Five

Chapter Six

Chapters Seven through Nine

Chapter 10

Chapter ten of Consider This invites us to a clearer understanding of some classical education terminology. Glass spends time defining the words: university, trivium, and quadrivium. Of course, the trivium being grammar, logic, and rhetoric, three of the seven liberal arts. It's important to understand that the word trivium translates to "3 roads", which are to be taken simultaneously, or as Glass states, "a trivium may be understood as a three-way crossroad", not consecutively. The trivium is not aligned or tied to stages of development. It is part of a much greater whole, of which, Glass asserts, Charlotte expected her students to practice through a variety of exercises in their lessons. Also, Glass maintains that the trivium is in deed a set of skills or arts, and that Charlotte Mason implemented them in her program.
If we can get a vision of grammar, logic, and rhetoric not as subjects to be studied but as arts to be practiced and refined in the process of reading, narrating, and writing, we can see how beautifully Charlotte Mason's methods may be considered a synthetic implementation of the trivium of classical instruction, more especially when the ultimate goal of forming character and virtue is recalled. (p. 86)
Grammar, logic, and rhetoric may be employed synthetically, together, to make the most of every book, through the simple process of reading and narrating, while incidentally examining a grammatical construction or rhetorical trope - perhaps a metaphor - along the way.
Many of the exercises Charlotte Mason suggests for making use of schoolbooks fall within the realm of logical and rhetorical instruction. That is, she expects her students to employ logic and understand rhetoric devices, and to be able to express themselves adequately - to practice the liberal arts. (p. 87-88)
The quadrivium, being astronomy, geometry, arithmetic, and music should also be studied alongside each other as in "a four-way crossroad", as well as alongside the trivium. Together, these seven subjects or skills make up the seven liberal arts. Interestingly, according to Glass, the seven liberal arts were not ever intended for elementary students.
First of all, the seven liberal arts were not intended to be a course of study for elementary school-children, but rather for university students. The ancient universities of Europe were founded, either during the late medieval or Renaissance era, to pursue those arts. To be sure, students sometimes enrolled in universities as young as age twelve or thirteen, so we may consider the seven liberal arts appropriate for our high school students, but the seven liberal arts were historically a university course. (p.84) 
Chapter 11

Glass begins Chapter eleven by quoting Charlotte Mason on "applied philosophy" from her Vol. 3 School Education. Below are some questions that came to mind while reading this chapter were....

What is the link between principles and practices?
As she developed her methods, Charlotte Mason kept in mind the principle that a child's mind is a living organism that requires a varied diet. She made sure that her methods introduced children to every vital area of knowledge, so that their mental diet would be so nutritious as a well-conceived menu plan. (p. 96)
Principles and practices definitely go hand in hand. I remember listening to Schole Sisters Podcast #10 Which Comes First? The Principles or the Practical? in which Brandy, Mystie, and Pam unpacked the relationship between principles and practices.

In the quote above, Glass is specifically referring to Charlotte's Principle 12 on The Science of Relations, which was a principle Glass also referenced in Chapter 5. If the mind is a living organism, which requires a varied diet, living books were a part of that nutrition. Books were also at the center of classical education as a means to accomplish the classical ideal. One must have ideas in order to discuss ideas.

Glass goes on to give examples of how Charlotte provided nourishment through other subjects and areas of study, such as bible, history, literature, science, and geography.
In laying a wide and varied feast of knowledge before her pupils, Charlotte Mason was encouraging them to form relationships for themselves with their fellow man through literature and history, and with the natural world around them. In spite of the variety of books that appeared on her programs, she never lost sight of the synthetic understanding that all knowledge is connected, and she desired that the children should grow to understand that for themselves. (p. 102)
As an aside, I have often wondered about history and its place in the liberal arts tradition. On page 99, Glass writes,
History was not a traditional part of classical education. It is not, of course, one of the seven liberal arts. However, most contemporary educators who are interested  in the classical tradition, which is historical in itself, find that history is an area of knowledge - actually a framework for other knowledge - that must not be neglected. We desire to read the works of the thinkers of the past, and in order to fully appreciate their thoughts, we need to know something of the times that they live in, the forces that shaped their thinking, and the results that proceeded from their ideas. 
How does narration contribute to synthetic thinking?

According to Glass, as a child narrates day after day, he will make connections formed by living ideas, which will in turn lead to synthetic thinking as the child gets older.
Narration requires mental attention from the first word to the last. The mind must sift and evaluate everything that was included in the material.....
....Also, by not merely going over everything in his mind, but by actually speaking it aloud or composing it in writing, the learner is making the knowledge his own. What he has heard or read, then narrated, he knows. (p. 104) 
Where did this idea of narration originally come from? 
Charlotte never tells us where the idea arose to ask children to tell back their lessons, but it is unlikely that she imagined it herself. We know that she delved into the educational writings of history, and perhaps it was there that she picked up the whispers that led her try it....
....Wherever she encountered the idea, we know that Charlotte Mason tried it, and found it an effective method. (p. 103-104) 
What is the role of the teacher?
All of Charlotte Mason's practical methods - narration, nature notebooks, history notebooks, making notes in the margins of school books - are intended to contribute to synthetic thinking. (p. 107)
Teacher's task is to spread as wide and generous a feast before children as possible, and give them every opportunity to assimilate knowledge which will lay the foundation for lifelong interests in every area. (p. 107)
One of my favorite parts of this chapter was the following paragraph. I just love the image it paints.
The relationship between a teacher and a child should include a note of friendship, of sympathy, because they are fellow travelers on the path toward wisdom and understanding. The teacher has gone further and comprehended more, and so earned the right to lead others along the same path. Nevertheless, he remains humble in the task, knowing that he is only a guide, able to ensure that important things are not missed along the way, but aware that the path is not of his own making. (p. 109) 
Chapter 12

Glass spends the final chapter of Consider This developing the idea of synthetic thinking and a synthetic understanding of knowledge. She believes synthetic thinking is the means to being educated classically and reaching the classical ideal, even if one never reaches a "level of proficiency in any of the liberal arts". By synthetic thinking, Glass proposes we must consider all knowledge as a whole.

Next, Glass pits synthetic thinking against postmodernism...
Postmodern thinking has permeated our culture, and although it is difficult to define, the identifying feature of postmodernism is a rejection of all "metanarratives" - attempts to synthesize knowledge and experience in a unified, meaningful way. (p. 114)
Postmodernism thought is analytic. It is the deconstruction or fragmentation, which proclaims there is no absolute truth. In my mind, if there is no set measure or absolute, one would have to continually search each part or analyze to find meaning. Glass shows us how postmodernism goes against Charlotte's principle 12...
Postmodern literary critics assume that words have no absolute meaning; that is, they do not refer to real things but only to words. According to their system, the only real meaning in any text is what the reader chooses to find. The classical practice of giving language first place in education - of reading and understanding books and learning to communicate clearly and effectively through words - cannot coexist with rejection of a unified, absolute truth. "Education is the science of relations" is the exact opposite of "fragmentation". (p. 114)
Glass also points out that one must have a synthetic view of a human being if one is to adhere Charlotte's principle one, which states, "children are born persons".
We need to embrace her principle today and expand it to "we are all persons," which is in fact a synthetic way of viewing a human being. It is a rejections of the reductionist modern psychology, which would have us believe that we are animal beings only, and that our thoughts and emotions are no more than electrochemical impulses. If that is the case, there is no room, no reason, for classical traditions; we are without truth and meaning. (p. 115)
Glass goes on with a brief explanation of how to synthesize as well as giving one last push to encourage the pursuit of synthetic understanding. In closing, she states part of her purpose for writing Consider This,
Part of my purpose in writing this book has been to help its readers know classical education a little better through acquaintance, however brief, with the thinkers of the past, rather than merely knowing "about" classical education through the lens of modern thinkers. I have offered only a taste, but the authors I have quoted here are worth reading more fully. (p. 122)
Throughout reading Consider This, it was apparent to me that Glass is well read, not only in regard to thinkers of the classical tradition, but to the writings of Charlotte Mason as well. If I got anything out of this book, it was a desire to read widely, both ancient writings on education, as well as modern writings on education. A thirst to drink deeply from the ancient well. A hunger for a varied diet brought by a feast of living books. I look forward to continuing my pursuit of both classical and a Charlotte Mason education.

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