Wooden Ladle or Teflon Spatula?

The Ordinary as Wonderful
Poetic Knowledge Book Club

What does poetic mean? Poetic here has to do with the intuitive, and it is not subjective nor does it have to do with mere feelings or mystical experiences. Poetic is a sensory or emotional experience of reality.  

Subjective to me is the postmodern view, narcissistic and selfish in nature
, in which people are lonely as Taylor says, because they reject truth, beauty, the reality in which we can relate to others but that cannot be dissected or reconstructed in a lab. Is the abandonment of poetic knowledge a cause of our cultural decline? I think about the first pages I read of Berman's book (The Twilight of American Culture) and his example of Starbucks as a vile mock of the authentic cafes or taverns of the past. Styrofoam versus clay, glass, china. I also think about the consumerist entertainment as I call it versus what I coined as the genuine homechooling mommy reclaiming of the good ol' park and play. Are we the new hippies? The only dissonant note in Taylor's introduction was the mention of the hippies. I do not claim to know more nor even a fraction of what Taylor knows about poetic knowledge, but the hippies being the last spontaneous reclaim of a poetic way of understanding life does not click with my (surely biased) understanding of the hippies. What if they labeled these genuine homeschooling mothers granola moms, and they said we were a new attempt at rescuing poetic knowledge? (I know, I am being too ambitious for just having read the intro and first chapter, even if I had read the whole book it is a very daring hypothesis that may very well be a complete blunder). However, in a more down to earth comment I agree with the author that all organized attempts to live like in the past societies where poetic knowledge was part of the ordinary and wonderful, are too programmed, too structured and "scientific" to be "it".

Postmodernism has reduced the world to the dichotomy of scientific or personal, and it is trapped in an inner prison or in the mechanical, shallow, plastic and fake world we have created, in which poetic knowledge is struggling to breathe and stay alive. (I'm a bit nervous, I do not know if I "know" enough about postmodernism as to lift up these conjunctions, but I based them on my understanding that postmodernism rejects any truth, retrieves to the subjective level, and wanders in the ocean of the feelings, and knowing that the other side of the coin is the scientific and rational, objective and verifiable, the side they stand against, I decided that they are shortsighted and ignorant of this knowledge and all it encompasses.

There is no coincidence that I see myself as a romantic as in the Romanticism type of romantic. It is no coincidence either that I write many times about the importance not only of developing the intellect of the child, but to tend to his physical, emotional, and spiritual needs as well. Or the ever present words WHOLE and holistic that float in my mind as a constant when I try to make sense of the world. I remember that post in which Brandy contrasts the so called requirements of many schools or districts of what kindergarten age children are supposed to know with Charlotte Mason's list of attainments for six year old children. Night and day. Mason evokes the beautifully carved wooden ladle type of child, while modern education lists shoots images of a Teflon spatula type of child coming from an assembling line. The "knowledge" valued in schools is utilitarian, it helps to pass the test, the knowledge appropriated by the very own child in an education conceived free from the scientific and postmodern constrains, is a silent symphony that delights us with the wonders of the ordinary.

As a friend recently told me, we parents feel pride in our children whom we sometimes see as our prices because, for example, at four years of age or younger they can point to Australia and several other landmarks in a map. It is a public spectacle, a reality show affair. The EXPERTS know how to obtain these wonderful results in these excellent schools, as if it were that special to train a child the way you train a dog, in order to "perform". (Well, I confess I have not trained my dog to do anything. I should have taught him to not run away when the door is opened. Now he -and I- are old for his training. Instead, I am training myself to put him out in the backyard when we open the front door). The things I really marvel about are those that happen in silence. I will violate that silence now only to reveal the enormous difference between those type of external achievements and the internal processes that children experience. This is my oldest daughter prayer of lately, completely forged on her own: God help the poor to be rich, the rich to be christian, and the bad people to be christians too. And the youngest: Thank you God for creating trees, so that we have wood, so that people can make tables. I am sure you moms have many of these examples yourselves.

I thought about autism too. We can say that if autistic people have this predisposition to analyze, and this lack of the intellectual sympathy that poetic knowledge is, and I will add emotional empathy, with which to relate to the world and people, we then must be a society that has fallen into an extreme that not even autistic people want to be at. We get closer to them, do our best to understand them, but they do the same too as best as they can, for they see the value of getting outside their own bubble. They know it is not desirable to be severed from a way of knowledge, so why do we want to move to a bubble ourselves?

I thought about technology. The crisis that the easy access to facts is causing (because it is showing us that the emperor does not wear clothes, he is simply naked), may trigger a revival of this very poetic knowledge. If facts and information are not true knowledge or do not even account for a small fraction of what true knowledge is, what is knowledge? A piece of the puzzle is definitely missing.

The concepts of ideas, narration, and living books come to my mind too. I dare propose that Charlotte Mason understood that poetic knowledge is present in every person and in children. She points to the void textbook that has facts, the textbook so loved by modern education teachers as in the hilarious example found in Dickens that Taylor mentions. She knows that the ideas are grasped at this intuitive, non analytical, emotional level. It is the realm of the unseen, not suit for proving but certain nevertheless. And she knew that the emotional connection between the person and the ideas is what births knowledge. Narration can be understood as knowledge built from the inside out, as Taylor defines poetic knowledge.

Both authors, Taylor and Mason, know very well what many moms, teachers and every day people, know intuitively, that drill and kill destroys the delight of learning, no matter how sophisticated, scientific, and statistically proven the "new learning" method is. I am listening, and we have been close to that "I hate math" and "I hate reading" mentioned by Taylor. However, my daughter, with this amazing easiness to reclaim the value of poetic knowledge at a small domestic scale, that is, has indicated herself the path we can follow. For the reading, keep reading to me, mom, she said, and for the math, I want games! The shinny eyes as the ladies in Ambleside describe them (those eyes when we read the selected books to them) are there when we read together, the narrations are growing strong, the reading is hitting hard at times when she hops onto an emotional wave (as when she was glued to Old Mother Hubbard reading it again and again, and trying to see a connection between the things she got and the behavior of the dog, and questioning it herself that it had a connection at all). All may sound amazing, but it is rather ordinary. She is six and a half. There is no mystery to this in a sense. Many children read. But she won't be submitted to the drill and kill. I see that the ordinary is amazing, wonderful. (Another daring thought. This poetic knowledge has a different pace and rhythm, it does not happen at the speed at which facts are poured on your computer screens. It is nurtured, maybe silent, it is difficult to witness if you are in the scientific mode). It is not impressive, remarkable, popular, noticed by the experts, valued by most, or cherished by the crowd.

Taylor's example of learning to read from this intuitive part of our beings was very revealing. I do not say ignore signs of trouble in children aptitudes, I only say savor who they are, where they are, when they show you progress do not expect your idea of progress, but respect their pace. After all, isn't this why you chose to homeschool among other reasons? I do definitely need to do some cure, a clean up from the scientific world and modern education that has invaded me or that I have invited. It is a bad parasite making me sick without even realizing it. I will continue reading this restorative book at the same time I am initiated in the monastic way proposed by Berman in The Twilight of American Culture. So inner transformation or plastic surgery? What is it going to be for you?

7 opinion(s):

Karen G. said...

I loved your post here, Silvia--it rang true for me from beginning to send. Somewhere in School Education, I think, Charlotte Mason compares the hectic pace of modern progress (and she saw the beginnings of it in her lifetime--our postmodernism is the natural outgrowth of the industrial age she lived in) to the slower, but signification process of a tree growing. you can't see the sap flowing or the roots drawing in nutrients that spread up the tree, gradually strenghthening and lengthening its branches, and then sending out new leaves and eventually bearing fruit...in their own time, indeed.

Mystie said...

One dissonance that struck me with Taylor's harping on "drill and kill" is that while that was Gradgrind's method, it's hardly the prevalent method today in public schools (at least from my limited knowledge of what goes on there). Interestingly, "drill and kill" actually made me wonder if the Sayers-inspired classical elementary implementation is too dangerously close to "drill and kill." Yet, memorization is important. How can we keep our memorization while avoiding "drill and kill"?

Brandy @ Afterthoughts said...

Brilliant Silvia! I will be reading your post at least twice...it is just wonderful.

I liked that you mentioned the hippies and the homeschool moms. The hippies were before my time, and my parents got married as teenagers {for fun and for love}, so I can't say even they would understand it. But I kept thinking that I know so many homeschool moms that could be said to be recovering the poetic mode, many of them without realizing it. They just know that they don't mind when their children sit and think, aren't intimidated when they are bored, and don't need busyness to fill up time in their days. The result are just a ton of little children that are absolutely amazing pictures of God's creative hand.

Thank you for this post. :)

Silvia said...

Mystie... I can't believe I lost my novel comment. Maybe this is a google subliminal message to be succint!
Let me recap. I said that I only know about Gradgrind's method from what I read in the book. And I was a teacher in pre-k, k, and first for six years. I also know nothing about the Sayers-inspired classical, but I know that classical education regards memorization as important.
But I can tell you that I see a difference between memorization and drill and kill. At church we got a new curriculum because the elders considered we have wondered from the good practice of memorizing Scripture. An example is a lady in a Bible class who spoke of a woman who for a reson I forgot couldn't read or be read at the time of distress, and who would close her eyes and recite all the verses she could which comforted her much.
The difference is to me that drill and kill is seen as a "method" of teaching by vain repetition of insipid or disjointed facts, while memorization is a tool that will play a part in your whole corpus of education. If we spoke of cooking and ingredients, or sewing and fabric, or building and tools, education is the esqueleton, memorization is the raw material that helps you fill it and take shape.
So do not feel bad about memorization, or even drilling. Because I believe in drill and love, not only on drill and kill. Drill can be seen positively as the basis of habit formation.
The criticism is when any school, homeschool, or anyone bases their child rearing or education heavily on just cramming for the test, repeating problems without thinking, or believes education is regurgiating what the teacher said.

Silvia said...

Brandie, I admit that before you, Mystie or Karen commented I had a couple of thoughts about being delusive! ha ha ha
The result are just a ton of little children that are absolutely amazing pictures of God's creative hand. This moved me.

Silvia said...

we have wandered (not wondered)... sigh... bear with me, I notice lots of spelling mistakes after I hit post comment!

Willa said...

I loved the way you used Taylor's "handmade wooden ladle" vs "Teflon spatula" as analogies for the products the schools are trying to turn out. What a thought-provoking post.


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