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A Little More on Poetic Knowledge

Charlotte Mason, one of the greatest educators ever, had this to say about learning about science through time spent out of doors when very young:

it is not necessary that the child should be told anything about disintegration or dicotyledon, only that he should observe the wood and pith in the hazel twig, the pleasant roundness of the pebble; and by and by he will learn the bearing of the facts with which he is already familiar — a very different thing from learning the why of facts which have never come under his notice.

This speaks profoundly to a mistake too easily made in the application of Sayers’ grammar stage of the trivium. We are easily inclined to fill the children’s heads with knowledge of “facts which have never come under his notice.” This can be defended by the right notion that there is much children will not understand until much later.

For example, they ought to learn dates in history, poems by Shakespeare, Bible passages, concerning which the meaning is alien to them in varying degrees. Such learning has value because the children will grow into it, something you cannot do with a shirt you don’t possess.

However, the concern I’m raising is not about deep and profound poetry, but about twigs, and hillsides, and grass, and leaves, and creeks, and salamanders (living ones). These are not things that cannot be known until much later. Rather they are things. Things, that is, that ought to be known before they are known about.

To teach the facts about things that have “never come under their notice” when it is not necessary to do so is to stultify the child and to turn academic learning into something “academic.” Indeed, it follows the progressive theory of learning, rooted in Herbart and his school and adopted by Dewey and his school, that holds that students should be presented with bits of discrete information until they naturally build them up into a concept. Neither the bits nor the concepts is alive to the progressive. Consequently, neither is the child during the lesson.

The solution is, again, direct personal experience of living and dynamic reality around us. Outside.

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