Monday, March 19, 2012


Courtney, our local Classical Ed connection has been turning me on to audios over at Circe Institute, the latest being "Good to Great: Teaching Literature From Grammar to Rhetoric" by James Taylor, author of Poetic Knowledge: The Recovery of Education, the book our group will be reading next. This is a talk that was issued in 2003, and if you're a 'CMer' this talk with resonate deeply with you as it did me. I highly recommend it.
Here is a quote he mentions by John Senior from The Restoration of Christian Culture:

The Great Books movement of the last generation didn't so much fail as fizzle, and not because of any defect in the books – they are 'the best that has been thought and said,’ in Matthew Arnold’s famous phrase – but like champagne in cracked bottles, the books went flat in minds which lacked the habit of reading.

To change the figure, the seeds grew but the cultural soil had been depleted; the seminal ideas of Plato, Aristotle, St. Augustine and St. Thomas only properly grow in an imaginative ground saturated with fables, fairy tales, stories, rhymes, romances and adventures: the thousand books of Grimm, Anderson, Stevenson, Dickens, Scott, Dumas and the rest.
Speaking of imaginative, don't you just love the metaphor? I'm noticing and taking a moment to think on it now since reading The Bible and the Task of Teaching. In fact, I'm admiring it and wishing I had such imaginative ways in my writings! It really adds meaning and delight to the text doesn't it? But back to the quote...

Some interesting thoughts came to mind here:

It is not difficult books that are the problem, it is that we are not developing the habit of reading in children. And not just the habit of reading, but the habit of reading 'the best that has been thought and said'. Developing this habit is not for the sake of your child to become some high achiever or high level lit student. It is for the sake of opening up a door that your child can walk through someday. I blogged about my thoughts on this before here: For the Grasp of Language.

I also thought about how many give up when we come across a challenging book! We wonder why we should persist when they aren't getting it, when they are resistant the first few times we read. Shouldn't they be loving every bit of it?

I heard once that there are three categories of knowledge:
1. Things we know
2. Things we know we don't know
3. Things we don't even know we don't know

Shakespeare, Parables from Nature, Plutarch... these to the child (and often ourselves!) are in category 3 - Things they don't even know they don't know. We don't know what is in those books that have passed down hundreds of years, but that they are worthy. Worth working and investing time and unfulfilled readings to come to know.


So you do not leave them with "minds which lacked the habit of reading"

Taylor goes on to speak about the need for our children to be educated by nature before ever coming to the table of higher education, and it was no surprise at the end when I heard a woman ask if he had ever heard of Charlotte Mason.

Taylor quotes Wordsworth in his talk "Come forth into the light of things" so you know I just had to look that up! Here it is, enjoy!

The Tables Turned
By William Wordsworth

Up! up! my Friend, and quit your books;
Or surely you'll grow double:
Up! up! my Friend, and clear your looks;
Why all this toil and trouble?

The sun above the mountain's head,
A freshening lustre mellow
Through all the long green fields has spread,
His first sweet evening yellow.

Books! 'tis a dull and endless strife:
Come, hear the woodland linnet,
How sweet his music! on my life,
There's more of wisdom in it.

And hark! how blithe the throstle sings!
He, too, is no mean preacher:
Come forth into the light of things,
Let Nature be your teacher.

She has a world of ready wealth,
Our minds and hearts to bless—
Spontaneous wisdom breathed by health,
Truth breathed by cheerfulness.

One impulse from a vernal wood
May teach you more of man,
Of moral evil and of good,
Than all the sages can.

Sweet is the lore which Nature brings;
Our meddling intellect
Mis-shapes the beauteous forms of things:—
We murder to dissect.

Enough of Science and of Art;
Close up those barren leaves;
Come forth, and bring with you a heart
That watches and receives.

1 comment:

  1. This looks really interesting. I'm going to check it out! Thanks for passing this along :)