Friday, November 22, 2013

Poetic Knowledge and Charlotte Mason

Last week, I made an attempt to explain the idea of poetic knowledge.  I’d encourage you to go back and read that now, since it will help shed light on what I want to talk about today.
Did ya read it?   Good.
At the end, I began to ponder how we can rightly lay the foundation of poetic knowledge for our children.   I believe that one possible answer may lie in embracing Charlotte Mason’s philosophy of education.   Just take a look at how some of the foundational Charlotte Mason practices line up with Taylor’s comments on the practical application of poetic knowledge:
Using Living Books and Source Documents:
“Historically important dates and names are not only necessary to know when learning history, but for students these can also be enjoyable, if those precise things are left embedded in the stories of history.  With older students, reading the histories written by the makers of history…gives an immediacy to the subject and deepens the vicarious experience of the events.  In either case, textbooks of history should be avoided, for these are far too abstract for young minds, books about books, usually, that merely summarize events.” (Poetic Knowledge, p.169)
Nature Study:
“When a flower is taken apart and examined as pistil, stamen, stem, and petals, each part is seen exactly and a certain curiosity is indeed satisfied; however, curiosity is not wonder, the former being the itch to take apart, the latter to gaze on things as they are.  Curiosity belongs to the scientific impulse and would strive to dominate nature; whereas, wonder is poetic   is content to view things in their wholeness and full context, to pretty much leave them alone.  Stated as simply as possible, science sees knowledge as power; poetic knowledge is admiratio, love.   In other words, take the students outside, regularly, and turn even a backyard into a laboratory of the open fields.  Once again, textbooks at this level are a burden, they get between the student and the things of admiration.  Let them make their own notes and pictures, poems and stories, about what they have seen.  Biology is the observation of living things, not dead things.” (Poetic Knowledge, p.169)
James Taylor doesn’t actually mention narration in Poetic Knowledge, but in the readings for the study of the narration principles I saw some glimpses of this idea as well.  Take for example this:
It isn’t enough to know the “fact” but it must become part of our own personal experience.  The scene or story are intimately interconnected with us.  It has changed us physically (literally it has changed the brain) and emotionally (spiritually).  We are now different because of this new knowledge that is now “assimilated.”  But for this relationship building to occur, the child must do the labour of the mind themselves.  They visualise, they observe, and as they narrate what they have internally visualised and observed, the new learning becomes “personal” knowledge.”  (Carroll Smith in “Narration, The Act of Knowing” at ChildLight USA)
Narration is the means by which we make ‘vicarious’ experiences (such as those we experience through the reading of living books) our own ‘personal’ experiences.
and this:
“One way to support semantic [factual] memory is to tap into emotional memory by forming emotional connections and episodic memory…”  (Tammy Glaser in her notes on a presentation by Jennifer Spencer on Improving Reading Comprehension at Aut-2B Home in Carolina)
Here, we see the idea of ‘emotional memory’ being foundational to ‘factual memory’. In order to remember facts, we must have ideas and connections to tie them to.   We acquire those experiences and emotional memories…you guessed it…poetically.
At any rate, I found these connections fascinating.  I love the fact that these ideas promoted by Charlotte Mason have centuries of educational philosophy to back them up.    And I am grateful that I stumbled across them early while I still have the chance to apply them.   Living books, nature study, narration, etc. are all more than just ‘nice ideas’ – they are absolutely necessary and will help lay the foundations for whatever life may bring to my children.

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