Monday, April 7, 2014

Beauty in the Word: Chap. 2, Part 1 - Power of Names

Although the unofficial study of Beauty in the Word has been put on hold at Ordo- Amoris, I still want to spend time reflecting and connecting this work with others.  Although I am not as seasoned nor witty, I have found that blogging through books helps me to think more clearly about them and provides an easy record to return to about thoughts and links that came up through them.  

To the book.

Caldecott calls the first stage - remembering - as opposed to the more traditional grammar.  The first part of this chapter is a look at the role of remembering and naming as found in Genesis.  As he says
Memory then, is the mother both of language and of civilization.  This is what gives us our link between Remembering and language.  

After watching the tour of Wes Calihan's library, I decided to check out his new series of studies for high school students.  In that series he references a C.S. Lewis speech.  In that speech, Lewis discusses naming historical eras and how he believes that he was living through a truly watershed moment in history - in part because an old way of thinking was passing away with the coming of machines.  It is a short and interesting read and it indirectly speaks to how language impacts our thinking.  Caldecott made me think about this quote from Lewis

In the individual life, as the psychologists have taught us, it is not the remembered but the
forgotten past that enslaves us. I think the same is true of society. To study the past does indeed liberate us from the present, from the idols of our own market-place. But I think it liberates us from the past too. I think no class of men are less enslaved to the past than historians. The unhistorical are usually, without knowing it, enslaved to a fairly recent past.
Over Christmas I got into a debate with a friend who teaches middle school social studies.  She mentioned that most of the world really focuses more on geography than history as the basis of their studies (if you follow Montessori that is true - which is one of my personal difficulties with her program).  In a public school you can't really teach history well (any longer) because it requires you to put value on the memory of something.  If someone is a hero than obviously another person is not - and we can no longer make those distinctions as a society.  Thus goes civilization.

Enough of the tangent. From general reflections about language, Caldecott begins to talk about naming in particular.  Some of what he says reminds me of Andrew Kern's lecture A Contemplation of Creation which talks about what naming truly is and how it connects to the fundamental elements of an education.

Caldecott brings out an aspect I had not heard before
In Greek, the word nomos contains the meanings of both 'name' and 'law.'  It may be that what Adam is doing by naming the other creatures is simply ruling, as he was intended to do: ruling not for his own selfish aggrandizement, but in accordance with the reality of things and with the wisdom of God. 
Basically, naming well seems to be right ordering and ruling.  So teaching our kids to name rightly is giving them the ability to steward well.  Caldecott also ties naming into being a good observer of the world around us. Drawing attention to the details and helping them know their world.  (CM quotes are in my head here as well).

Are words that powerful?  Is naming is ruling?  

Caldecott also shows the difference between naming as ruling and how naming helps us come to know ourselves in community.
According to the Genesis account, the move from language as naming to language as interpersonal communication is marked by a cry of joy addressed to God: "This at last is bone of my bone and flesh of my flesh, she shall be called Woman [ishshah], becuase she was taken out of man [ish]" (Gen. 2:23)  . . . In naming her, and therefore himself (ish), he also becomes aware of the necessity to govern himself.  
Caldecott points out that only God knows our true name - the one that describes our nature as he made us that He will give us in the end.  So, in some ways, without our true name we can't fully know ourselves - but through relationships with others and with God we come to know ourselves better.  In older traditions, he points out that naming was tied to mission.  I would also say for many it is tied to history and remembering as we name children after grandparents, etc.  It is a powerful thing to name.

Finally, Caldecott talks about the one who cannot be named - God.  He is being as the name "I am" demonstrates.  So powerful!  His many names help to show aspects of who he is, but no name is sufficient nor should it be, because naming properly is ruling and we are not to rule God.

Unfortunately, I am concerned that some might see this idea of naming = ruling to mean that we should try to cram as many facts into small children as possible so that they know more.  That is not Caldecott's position - AT ALL.
All of this suggests that the earliest stage of education is not simply the learning of words, of names, of vocabulary, but the learning of how to name.  This is the art that the poet re-learns, and so it can best be taught by teaching the power of poetry, and of poesis, in general - both by learning and by doing (though we will come back to poetry under the heading of Rhetoric later).
Everywhere I go people are talking about poetry.  I learned to dissect poetry well in high school but I never learned to love it.  I am trying to go back and re-learn how to enjoy the images and ways of expression poets have.  This is also why Wright's book on the Psalms - speaking about how they are truly God's book of song and poems, is so crucial.

I do believe that there are times for jingles and songs - but not if they displace poetry and literature.

So naming truly is a fundamental piece of your child's education. This is often overlooked as people rush into arts and crafts and other projects - but just giving them vocabulary and time to play with words is essential.

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