Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Beauty in the Word: Chapter 1

This is part of the continuing informal look at Beauty in the Word by Stratford Caldecott with Cindy at Ordo-Amoris.

I have read this book before and, as with all good books, a second reading provides totally different thoughts and insights.  I won't attempt to cover all the territory he does.  I'll just say that I have spent a lot of time looking into educational philosophy and I think he does a good job of putting these different approaches into a nutshell.  I am going to pull just a few quotes that really struck me as I try to homeschool my kids - and convict me about my own attempts at education.

To be pure is to be simple, in the sense of undivided.  For every sin sets part of me against the rest.  Impurity involves a loss of integrity, of integration; it is a dissonance, a crack in the mirror of the soul.  
Equating purity with simplicity and focus opens up a whole new realm of sin in my life. It is one that I have been wrestling with recently - but it was unnamed - which made it even harder to "pin down".   I am often divided in my attention - in my thoughts, conversations, readings, organization systems, etc.  I recently had a friend join me in an effort to de-stuff my house of all the things that I really don't need.  She was shocked at how many "organization" type things I have - that I don't need - because it holds stuff that I just need to get rid of!  My physical surroundings are reflecting my inner state and it has really been brought to a head these past few weeks.

I live up to my name - Melissa, honey bee - so I do collect ideas and thoughts, stuff and even friends. However, if it isn't submitted to him then I begin to get very chaotic, lost and frustrated.  Everyone around me feels it as well.   I do think that there are areas where I need to do less or get rid of things that aren't mine to carry.  But much of it is reminding myself who my audience is - am I focusing on what God is calling me to do or am I listening to all of the other voices around me?  It is when I start dividing myself in an effort to appease others that my purity of heart is lost - that life gets "unsimple" and sin creeps in.

As I enter into planning for next year this purity of heart and purpose needs to guide my thinking.

She (Simone Weil) almost goes so far as to say that the subject studied and its contents are irrelevant; the important thing, the real goal of study, is the 'development of attention.'  Why? Because prayer consists of attention, and all worldly study is really a stretching of the soul towards prayer.  
I read the essay and she does come close to saying that - but not quite.  In her own words
So it comes about that, paradoxical as it may seem, a Latin prose or a geometry problem,
even though they are done wrong, may be of great service one day, provided we devote the right kind of effort to them. Should the occasion arise, they can one day make us better able to give someone in affliction exactly the help required to save him, at the supreme moment of his need. 
Basically, she is reminding us that the mastering the content is not the only lesson learned in our studies. Failure teaches as much as success - and extended attention - regardless of outcome, has merit.   In fact these things are "subordinate to the orienting of the soul to God, implicit in the act of attention." 

Are my children able to pay attention to things that I don't consider "academic" but do show that they can focus (LEGOS anyone)?   Can I trust that this is developing their ability to pay attention?  Do I give them time in their schedule to really pay attention to things or do I keep them moving at a steady clip?  

This actually gets to a key difference between Montessori and CM.  Montessori maintains that kids will get absorbed in their learning and pay attention for extended periods of time once they are "normalized".  CM, encourages short lessons so that you don't lose a child's interest, gradually lengthening their focus time.  I think what Montessori observes is more along  the lines of what what Csiksezentmihalyi calls "flow". 

The teacher must therefore be the one who submits first.  He must submit to God and to the objective truth he hopes to teach.  It is only in the name of that prior obedience, and the limitations it implies, that the teacher has a right to demand obedience of the student.  It follows from this also that genuine authority must grow in proportion to humility. 
So, it is about my submission prior to my child's obedience and submission.  This goes back to purity of heart and attention.  Am I submitting to the task that He has given me or making up my own projects, interests and diversions?  Am I under his authority or letting someone else hold more sway?   This is the only way, especially in the long run, to help my sons understand proper authority and obedience.  The Godly use of authority should lead to humility - but does it?  Am I trying to Lord my authority over my children or am I demonstrating what humble submission looks like?   

To make the content of the curriculum relevant to the everyday life of the pupil, it is essential not to shrink the content to match the pupil's present experience, but to expand the life of the pupil to match the proposed curriculum. 
This reminds me of the feast metaphor that CM uses often.   So, in the first chapter we see three key ideas - purity, attention and authority - that could easily guide our schooling.  That's not even the point of this chapter! 

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