Monday, November 10, 2014

Education is a discipline: how little can you pack?

A Yahoo video popped up the other day, showing how you can fit shoes, socks, t-shirts, pajamas, and a man's suit and shirts into a very small suitcase. It's all in the way you stuff and fold.

In the comments, people complained and asked why you would want t-shirts rolled up into (possibly) smelly shoes, and why you would want those dirty shoe soles touching all your other clothes. Someone else asked, what if you want to bring something back with you? My own question was, where are the other things like toothpaste? But the idea of "packing tight" is attractive. It implies order, discipline, economy. It makes some of us envious.
"For his trip to England, he dressed in his most comfortable suit. One suit is plenty, he counseled in his guidebooks, if you take along some travel-size packets of spot remover. (Macon knew every item that came in travel-size packets, from deodorant to shoe polish.) The suit should be a medium gray. Gray not only hides the dirt; it’s handy for sudden funerals and other formal events. At the same time, it isn’t too somber for everyday. He packed a minimum of clothes and a shaving kit. A copy of his most recent guide to England. A novel to read on the plane. Bring only what fits in a carry-on bag. Checking your luggage is asking for trouble. Add several travel-size packets of detergent so you won’t fall into the hands of foreign laundries." ~~ Anne Tyler, The Accidental Tourist
And yet even Macon is eventually forced to abandon his medium-gray world of caution and control and things tightly fitting in, for a less predictable but more human life.

Charlotte Mason wrote about the extremes of the educational spectrum.  She talked about what happens if you focus only on "atmosphere" and miss out on "discipline" and "life."  Or vice versa. Obviously, they need to be balanced, maybe like the three sides or three points of a triangle.  And integrated with each other: the atmosphere includes discipline, the discipline gives life.

It's when we try to pack education too tightly that we don't welcome surprises, exceptions, questions, subjects, and people that don't fit our lesson plan. For some reason I'm thinking of the time that Mr. Fixit and I toured a middle school with Ponytails, and I asked the teacher/tour guide a couple of innocent questions about things like which students got to write math competitions. I expected the answer to be "anyone who wants to!" Instead I got something more like "we choose a few of the best students." So much for participation and opportunity. When did the students get to do art and music? Well, each one of those but for only half the year. And so on. We ended up homeschooling through middle school, and Ponytails wrote math contests, and did art and music whenever she wanted, and learned some Latin and economics, and took photographs, and made crepes.

It's when we pack too tightly that we miss certain common-sense facts of life. Yes, as someone says, it fits, but do you want to wear those shirts now that they've spent the night inhaling the shoes? You may have a math program that worked fine for one child, but that misses the mark with the next one. Or, as we did, a math program that one hated, and then when we recycled it for the next one, she hated it too.

In a way, Charlotte Mason says, her philosophy of education does demonstrate economy and lack of clutter. As a travelling missionary once explained on a message board, it really is possible to stuff a year's curriculum into a diaper bag, if you choose carefully.  But as Ruth Beechick said, we teach the child, not the curriculum.  It's more important that we use and teach what is important, than that it all fit into the suitcase.

And don't forget space for souvenirs.

Cute dog photo found at
Praying mantis ootheca courtesy of L'Harmas 2014.

TIMELY P.S.: The HeadGirl, now mom to three, posts about how they all spent an inefficient but enjoyable afternoon experiencing pumpkins. My point exactly.

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