I’m reading “Consider This” by Karen Glass. She is analyzing classical education and the Charlotte Mason method of education, comparing and contrasting them and then comparing them to ancient world educators like Plato.
What she says is, firstly that when creating the classical education model, they considered HOW plato taught and really got it down to WHAT he did. But with the Charlotte Mason style of education, she boiled it down to WHY he did the things that he did and HOW came second. Charlotte Mason said it matters less what a child knows, but the real question should be – “Does he love what he has learned?”
Secondly, Charlotte Mason focused on living books, and refrained from the use of textbooks, filled with the “mere compendium of facts”. My first inclination is to say that I enjoy facts. I was a high A student all the way through my public school education. After further consideration, I believe I had a willing mind and I latched onto whatever they would throw at me. Every mother has expressed how much they despise that education is reduced to teaching to the test; the memorization of the “mere compendium of facts” that exist on the state tests. What is the alternative to the memorization of facts for no reason? What does that look like? I offer my children some classical education curricula and we love it. I do realize that there is a large amount of facts thrown their way and presented as “all you need to know” on the subject at hand. We enjoy the collection of information and I admit that when my children regurgitate said information I am a proud mama because even this is more than I learned in my own traditional education. But the question presents itself – Do more years cramming them in really make up an education?
It’s the next chapter that really intrigues me. (I’m only on chapter 6/12 but I had to get this out!) Karen Glass speaks about the difference between analytical thought and synthetic thought. Charlotte Mason spoke a lot about thought and how it shapes everything. If you’re going to educate children, knowing what the statistics are is infinitely less important than knowing how the brain works. And that thought in itself is an example of how analytical thought differs from synthetic thought. I looked up the difference and I found very little on the subject. I did find a philosopher named Kant. I want to look up more about him! (See how the Charlotte Mason method works?) He goes into not just thought, but knowledge. He says knowledge inspires thought and then action.
This immediately made me think about something I have previously understood about the way history is taught in homeschool versus how it is taught in public school. One of the first things that new homeschool moms notice is that the way history is taught is so different. (Sometimes it’s math they notice first, math is taught very analytically in public school, but it can be taught synthetically.) Charlotte Mason says that instead of giving absolute truths, and expecting the child to break it down to its beginning, to offer things the child can love – and then they will not stop learning until they’ve put it all together – ending in analytical thought. Ending with the whole picture. History specifically baffles me. In school, they teach children to tell about themselves, and place themselves on their street, then their city, then they learn about the state first, then their country and finally the world, and only as an older child do they go back to ancient history. They take Texas History, US History and Word History twice and call it a day. We know that the Egyptians made mummies and pyramids and we may know some gods, dates and a few pharaohs that ruled. We perceive them to be uncivilized and – dumb – but there are 10,000 years of Egyptian history! There is so much to be known about the Greeks and Romans besides the difference between Sparta and Athens and Julius Caesar. They had their own thoughts and ideas and they were big ones in comparison to the world around them. Their thoughts and ideas shaped their civilization! Everyone is always trying to figure out where we went wrong with this generation. I find it to be the absence of great thoughts and ideas. Not that there are not great thinkers today – only that thinking is put into a box. The “here’s what you need to know” box. And most, like myself, graduate having done well in their studies and truly believe their education is complete. When the truth is education never ends! Whether you meaningfully educate yourself or not, you learn everyday as an adult. What does the education you offer yourself as an adult amount to? In homeschool, history is typically taught differently. Especially in classical and a Charlotte Mason style of education, history starts with ancient times and moves forward through history, offering usually 4 cycles from ancient to modern history 3 times. Once as an elementary aged student, then as a junior high student and again as a high school aged student, all 3 times with different living materials, but each on their differing levels of education. The end is never – “Ok that’s everything.”. The sentiment at the end is always – “Ok, what else can I pick apart on this subject?”. Sometimes we are able to dive deeper as we go through, if time allows it. Other times they are left with the exciting idea that sometime in their life, they’ll see this again – in the next cycle perhaps and be able to put more together OR, the more exciting of the two, that they will make a silent vow with themselves that they will seek out their own personal education on the matter before the end of their life.
The idea presents itself to me also, that as a nation, America is a very young country when you picture it in the grand scheme of things. That we are absent of strong thinkers, bereft of beautiful thoughts and ideas is a scary one, especially when you take into consideration that the great dynasties and empires were great only as long as they had them themselves. How can you truly appreciate the American Revolution and our deliverance from tyranny unless you understand first what made Britain tyrannical? Our need to break free was more than just taxation without representation. We were a group of people with our own thoughts and ideas about the world and the way it worked and different philosophy for the future; and it had less to do with geography and more to do with life experience. Giving a child the facts and expecting them to take the teacher or material at its word also poses a problem. We are creating a nation without the desire or wherewithal to question. Why did we fight for our freedom? Taxation without representation. We are all programmed to spit that out. We all know it and it’s true. Analytical knowledge is true. But learning it in a synthetic way look more like: Why did we fight for our freedom? Because we had different life-experience and our thoughts and ideas differed so drastically from those across the Atlantic that we could no longer be ruled by them. The child will learn what those life experiences were and possibly memorize a few facts along the way because those facts get written upon the deepest places of their hearts because of their love of what they have learned. And, oh, yeah, they finally said that they would no longer stand for taxation without representation. That journey through, rather than the memorization of facts and names and dates, makes the events real, the characters real and begs the question – “How far are we really removed from them?” Those events truly are very recent and we are only 250 or so years removed from those events. We view Benjamin Franklin as just a little more educated than Sargon the Great. Unless we know their thoughts and ideas. Once we know them, we ask ourselves – “What would I have done, had I been in their situation?” – because, what happens when we are? A traditionally educated student having been programmed in analytical thought may still ask themselves the same question, and the answer may be similar – but the answer given by a student, having been given synthetic knowledge and having come to analytical knowledge through their own journey, knows their why much deeper and comes to a more complete big picture.
All the information is the same and it’s all true, no matter how you come to the end, but how we allow the brain to process the information matters.
It’s the difference between knowing something on paper and knowing something because you lived through it. Knowing the dates of World War 2 and that we won and millions died and actually knowing the stories. It’s the difference between what someone tells us about the bible and what we know to be true because we have experienced it ourselves. We’ve all been in conversations with someone who knows something only from what they’ve been told about it and we actually have been closer to it and know it better. You can try to explain it to those people who think they know about a subject but they never quite grasp the idea, although they will profess to understand. We leave the conversation having given up and telling ourselves “they just don’t get it.” Meanwhile, the other party believes you to have an unfirm grasp on the statistics. Both the information and the experience are true and neither exists without the other. The scary part about analytical thinkers is that, they think they know and never will delve further into the subject because they’ve been trained to glean that fact – that “all you need to know” about a subject at hand. They are incapable of being educated on any subject – unless it is the few life experiences they have had – and then the cycle begins with them. Everyone is on this journey to synthetic thought, but most don’t know how to get there. You ask homeschool moms and they want this style of education but try to achieve it with right brained resources. Christians seek it when they go to church and know the best pastors don’t just regurgitate. They know something better exists, they are just missing an integral piece. I feel like this might be that piece they are missing.
The idea of synthetic educating is to come to the conclusion that no one truly is fully educated on ANY subject. No one holds ALL the truths on any subject. THIS is what protects us from tyranny. It frightens me for this generation coming up that they will all think in this manner. Our nation needs synthetic education to produce synthetic thinkers with great thoughts and ideas. I believe our future depends on it.