I found myself getting more and more frustrated with her obvious biases, her meanderings into psychology, her anecdotes that were intended to prove a point about writing or thinking but that just made me wonder more about why she was telling them or why she had reacted to certain events as she did. Then I got to the chapter on teaching writing to elementary students, and this:
"Throughout the nineteenth century and much of the twentieth, schoolteachers were likely to be joy killers--they were people who disciplined us for not practicing penmanship just so or for misspelling or for laughing aloud in class or for not folding our hands on our desks. In reaction, first the "progressive" schools, then other private schools, and finally the public schools, began in the 1930's to encourage individual personality and especially fun in elementary classrooms. Quite right too.In that regard, I think Carol Bly and Charlotte Mason had a common philosophy. The business of education is a serious one, and though it can also be enjoyable, we need to take learning seriously and make sure our children understand that as well.
"The irony is that American children have been watching kidding and practical jokes on television for fifty years. They are a long way past the days when children learned somber hand skills and violin playing in the cultivated living rooms of their elders. These days they are tossed into fun day-care groupings at less than age one. They are bused to fun, interactive museum demonstrations. At home they master fun computer games at an early age. They are choking with fun. Schools of education....need to pull up rein and consider whether or not a better task for education might be saving the children's own serious nature, not barreling them into still more and more superficial fun.
"We had better do the oddly psychological work of giving children "permission" to be serious."--Carol Bly, Beyond the Writers' Workshop, published in 2000.
I had a short conversation this week with my nine-year-old about that. We were reading The Insect Man, Eleanor Doorly's quirky but interesting little biography of Jean-Henri Fabre. Did you know that, at least according to this book, Fabre lost his teaching position and was essentially drummed out of town for promoting higher education for girls? I pointed out to my daughter that we women enjoy a huge privilege that wasn't available to many girls even in the 1800's. I did not go into the fact that it is not available to girls in many parts of the world even today, but it was on my mind as well. If our right to an education was so important that someone like Jean-Henri Fabre was willing to put his job on the line for it, what right do we have to trivialize it?