Sunday, February 24, 2019

Quote for a Sunday: What breaks us apart

"At least for a moment we all saw, I think, that the danger of pluralism is that it becomes factionalism, and that if factions grind their separate axes too vociferously, something mutual, precious, and human is in danger of being drowned out and lost.” ~~ Frederick Buechner, Telling Secrets

Wednesday, February 20, 2019

From the archives: Herbartianism, Part Four

First posted February 2015
"On Froebelian principles it is certainly very irrational to hang a master because his pupil has committed a murder; but if Herbart is to be followed, the case for the master is not so clear....since the master can choose the ideas to be presented, and can modify and arrange them, there seems to be a prima facie case, for those who wish to hang the teachers of bad men." ~~ Sir John Adams, The Herbartian Psychology
A Froebelian teacher is "but a benevolent superintendent of the process of development which he allows to follow its own course." But if you want to be a Herbartian, you have to consider the idea that doing nothing for a child may be as harmful as doing something wrong. Adams goes on in this vein, saying that a teacher could be held directly responsible for the character of the adult she turns out, for either his success or failure. That's an awful burden to put on one human being.  But in fact, he says, it's virtually impossible for any adult, whether teacher or parent, to dominate a child's mind to that extent; really, you would have to be breathing down his neck 24/7, from birth to maturity.
It reminds me of a Ruth Rendell novel, The Crocodile Bird, which spends the first few chapters telling about a mother who, for reasons of her own, raises her daughter in isolation, away from all contemporary influences and media. The books they read together are all pre-twentieth-century. You might think that, farfetched as the story is, it does give an example of what Adams says is impossible: one person as "sole influence." You could quibble even with that and say that Shakespeare and the other classic authors were actually outside influences, but it doesn't matter much because even this mother's best-laid plans get thwarted. Her daughter accidentally turns on a television set in their employer's house, and it's all downhill from there.

Anyway...so, according to Adams, Herbartian educators may not shrink from their perceived responsibility for being The Ones to develop children's minds, but at least they don't want to turn out machines or monsters. Still, says, Adams, even if teachers do not play Dr. Frankenstein but just work very hard at supplying the proper ideas at the proper times, why doesn't our advanced education turn out adults who are all "honest, true, happy and clever?"

Oh. Well, says Adams, teachers don't always know the proper ideas or the proper times. We can believe in the theory without being, as he puts it, omniscient. Besides (and this takes up a good part of the chapter), what about the problem that some students are just smarter than others? Or is that just a fallacy? And are they born with intelligence, or is it environment? You've heard it all before, but the Adams/Herbart answer may surprise you.
"Tastes, dispositions, and will being eliminated, it is clear that what is left may be called, in a popular sense at least, pure intellect. That this intellect, considered apart from all the other elements of the soul, is equal among all men can hardly be denied, is hardly worth denying. When the process of elimination has been completed, we find that the intellect we have left does not amount to very much; to no more, indeed, than the simple undifferentiated being which represents the soul of the Herbartian Psychology."
And again:
"The conclusion of the whole matter is that we do not know whether all souls are equal at birth, and that after all it does not matter; for by the time the pupil makes his appearance in school, his soul is different from the other souls in his class. On the other hand, there is a sort of common lowest level of thinking. So far as we can reduce thinking to what is described in the old-fashioned Formal Logic Books, our minds may be regarded as equal." 
The first quote may leave us thinking that Herbart, via Adams, really doesn't think much of children's innate abilities (the Froebelian educator quoted in Part One said that too). You might even read it to say that we're all rather stupid until the teacher gets her hands on us. But the second quote says that, first, we do all have something unique that we're born with or that develops in the first few years of life; but that our learning processes, fast or slow, all follow the same patterns, and it really doesn't matter if you read early or late, or whether you take a long time to learn the times tables. This supports the idea of mastery learning: you get an "A" when you've completed the work or learned the skill, no matter how many times you have to try or how long it takes. But here is the point: that the same actual experience of learning will apply to everyone, whether we're slow in one area or quick in another. Though we may disagree about how much influence and indoctrination is acceptable, we can at least see how the principles of teaching and learning are true for each child; and that education means working with the way humans are made, not against it.

And on that point, Johann Friedrich Herbart and Charlotte Mason agree.

Part Five is here.

Monday, February 18, 2019

From the archives: Happy Blogaversary

First posted February 18, 2015.
It's ironic that the tenth anniversary (blogaversary) of Dewey's Treehouse falls on the same day as the first U.S. Common Core-based standardized testing.

It's ironic partly because this blog has never been all about education, but, in another sense, yes, it is. It's about the past ten years of watching our children experience different sides of home and government education. It's about the growth and changes of the AmblesideOnline curriculum in those ten years, and the ongoing discussions of Charlotte Mason and "subversive teaching." Even when I'm posting about what's for supper, it reminds me that "education is a life."

Last night I finished reading Not for Profit: Why Democracy Needs the Humanities, by Martha C. Nussbaum. (Martha C. Nussbaum is the Ernst Freund Distinguished Service Professor of Law and Ethics in the Philosophy Department, Law School, and Divinity School at the University of Chicago.) In vocabulary and in some of her suggested solutions to education issues, Nussbaum does not run along all the same tracks as Charlotte Mason or the Circe Institute. She spends a lot of time discussing the Socratic method, and she has a surprising amount of respect for the current U.S. president, although (even in 2010) she said she did not entirely trust his educational outlook. I think that she's not totally into "dead white (Protestant) guys"; she would prefer a more global and inclusive curriculum. She believes in democracy, in spite of what "Uncle Eric" says about it.

However, when it comes to the need for a more humanizing education, and the consequences if it's lost, I'm right in there with her. Charlotte Mason warned against utilitarian education. Nussbaum warns against allowing education to be controlled by economics. This week, the Truth in American Education website posted this:
"Then the vice-chair of the NGA Education and Workforce Committee said something peculiar.

 “'The Elementary and Secondary Education Act will allow states to align our needs through early education to higher education with the needs of our innovative businesses, developing a stronger workforce development pipeline, expanding opportunity for all of our people and ensuring that students are prepared for success in all phases of life,' said Governor Maggie Hassan (D-NH). 

"There you have it.  They believe education is about the needs of our business and not the needs of our children and their families.  It’s not about teaching kids to be well-educated, well-rounded citizens.  Instead education is to be a pipeline for the workforce.  That’s the shift from classical education to workforce development."
A word that Nussbaum uses throughout Not for Profit is "sympathy." In a list of abilities that citizens should have (page 25), she includes "the ability to have concern for the lives of others, to grasp what policies of many types mean for the opportunities and experiences of ones fellow citizens, of many types, and for people outside one's own nation." Next on the list is "the ability to imagine well a variety of complex issues affecting the story of a human life as it unfolds...in a way informed by an understanding of a wide range of human stories, not just by aggregate data." (emphasis mine)

On this day when the success or failure of Common Core will be tested...by computer, no less...let's celebrate sympathy. Let's hold up the failing hands of imagination. Let's have some fun that is funny.


Happy Blogaversary. Climb on up, share some stories, have some cake.

Saturday, February 16, 2019

The Intentional Thrifter(s) Find Art

The thrift store where I volunteer has had a special display of artwork this month. Every time I went in, I was drawn to this print by a local artist. Mr. Fixit had dropped in there as well and noticed it. Last night we finished dinner and said, "The store's still open, let's go see if it's still there."

It was, and we bought it. It's hanging over one of the bookshelves.
 

Other recent finds:
An off-white shirt. The last one I bought had a peplum at the bottom, which was cute but hard to tuck in. Sometimes plainer is better.
A tote bag that somebody made out of upholstery samples.
Purple boots (to replace my purple shoes that wore out faster than we could fix them).

And a couple of books.

Thursday, February 07, 2019

Best conscious-consumer post I've read this week

"Whatever I might gain from convenience or price, it’s often worth it to wait to decide if I’m making the right choice or spend more money for something that I truly love…if only so I don’t end up in this exact same situation a year from now, wondering how on earth I managed to buy so many things that I hate.
"The Konmari method also gave me permission to say goodbye to those mistakes, something I feel awfully guilty about as a person invested in sustainable living. I shouldn’t hoard stuff I don’t even like to make myself feel better about wasting less; instead, I should learn from my past decisions so I can make better sustainable decisions in the future."

Friday, February 01, 2019

What I did with my closet (A little KonMari Tidying)

I said recently that I don't own any plastic drawers, but they had already been on my mind. Not because everybody and their aunt are talking about KonMari, but because I had been looking at the assortment of bins and boxes on the closet floor, and thinking of possible improvements. And not because I love plastic, but I did figure out that Sterilite's wide-drawer unit was just the right size for the space, if we left the wheels off, so it was probably the simplest choice. 
So you may have already noticed the drawers in this week's minimalism posts. I've added scrapbookish inserts to the fronts of each drawer, but they can easily be removed or changed. 
Some people would probably use closet drawers for underwear or basic stuff. For me, these are more like spark-joy holders. One drawer is for scarves, because I'm strange like that, and also because adding the drawers meant losing the basket they were in. (I will probably eliminate a few of these.)

One drawer is for doilies, mats, and small tablecloths, because I've never been able to arrange them "joyfully" before, or get at them easily, and because we got rid of their bin. Also some crocheted pinecones which never had a real home before.
The third drawer is for summer clothes. Now I can use my suitcase again.
Fitting in the unit moved two plastic bins on to a new life in the storage room, and it eliminated several cardboard boxes. I also cleaned out our "medical" supplies and found a new spot for the overnight-guest bedding, and it all made me feel very productive. And yes, I do things other than clean my closet, but this seemed like a good way to take better care of my stuff. 

Besides, it was too cold to go out.