Thursday, August 24, 2023

From the archives: The Thing That Lives in Your Brain

 First posted August 2006. Slightly edited.

We realise that there is an act of knowing to be performed; that no one can know without this act, that it must be self-performed, that it is as agreeable and natural to the average child or man as singing is to the song thrush, that "to know" is indeed a natural function. Yet we hear of the incuria which prevails in most schools, while there before us are the young consumed with the desire to know, can we but find out what they want to know and how they require to be taught. (Charlotte Mason, Philosophy of Education, p. 52)
We recently watched an episode from this past season's Dr. Who. In the classic sci fi tradition (as in, didn't we just see another episode like this about sucking up peoples' brains, and hasn't just about every sci fi show ever made plus The Exorcist used this idea?), the episode features an entity living in a little girl's head, using her brain (so that she sometimes talks in a REALLY WEIRD VOICE), and sucking up other human beings for its own purposes.

This particular entity happens to be sustained on love and companionship--LOTS of companionship (in fact, in its natural state it has millions or billions of siblings). The problem is that it's inhaling companionship in the form of people, at an ever-increasing rate (by the end of the show, it has sucked up an entire Olympic stadium full of spectators and has plans for the rest of the world). Of course in the end (SPOILER), it finds its proper companions and joins them inside a little egg-sized spaceship, leaving the little girl free of the REALLY WEIRD VOICE.

There is a point to telling you about this (and it's not meant as an advertisement for the show). We each have such an entity inside our physical brains (or somewhere in there): it's our mind, and it's sustained on knowledge. In its healthy state, it desires, craves knowledge; other things cannot properly be substituted. Knowledge, not information, and there's a difference: information is short term, spit back out again or forgotten, made up of facts without "informing ideas." Knowledge is long-term, swallowed, digested, processed, used. It's like when you say in French "Je connais," which is different from "Je sais." They both mean "I know," but they are different kinds of knowing. "Je sais" is used for a fact, like "I know it's raining out," but "Je connais" is used in "I know you."

If the food is available, the entity will suck it up in whatever quantities are available (even Olympic-sized). It will do whatever it can to find its proper food AND YOU CAN'T STOP IT. BWA HA HA HA.

Well, you can. Unfortunately.

There is a cure for knowledge-hunger. Just like vinegar smashed up the Slitheens, if you can get hold of some Incuria it's quite easy to stop the knowledge-hungry mind.
I can touch here on no more than two potent means of creating incuria in a class. One is the talky-talky of the teacher. We all know how we are bored by the person in private life who explains and expounds. What reason have we to suppose that children are not equally bored? They try to tell us that they are by wandering eyes, inanimate features, fidgetting hands and feet, by every means at their disposal; and the kindly souls among us think that they want to play or to be out of doors. But they have no use for play except at proper intervals. What they want is knowledge conveyed in literary form and the talk of the facile teacher leaves them cold. Another soothing potion is little suspected of producing mental lethargy. We pride ourselves upon going over and over the same ground 'until the children know it'; the monotony is deadly. (Philosophy of Education, p. 53)
Incuria is related to the idea "not curious" and it's properly translated "carelessness," but in this sense, it means a lack of appetite for knowledge. Not caring about it. Someone who's incurious is apathetic, unobservant, careless. 
"What would you like to eat? I don’t care. Some lovely cream of wheat? I don’t care. Don’t sit backwards on your chair. I don’t care. Or pour syrup on your hair. I don’t care." (Maurice Sendak, Pierre)
Where do you get enough Incuria to stop the appetite for knowledge? You can start by offering lots of TV and computer time; provide lots of dull school lectures; and most of all, spread the idea that knowledge is Dull and Irrelevant and that anything contained in a book of over 100 pages isn't worth the trouble. You can make the entity go away or at least not bother you much.

But please don't.
But what if all were for all, if the great hope of Comenius––"All knowledge for all men"––were in process of taking shape? This is what we have established in many thousands of cases, even in those of dull and backward children....we are so made that only those ideas and arguments which we go over are we able to retain. Desultory reading or hearing is entertaining and refreshing, but is only educative here and there as our attention is strongly arrested. Further, we not only retain but realise, understand, what we thus go over. Each incident stands out, every phrase acquires new force, each link in the argument is riveted, in fact we have performed THE ACT OF KNOWING, and that which we have read, or heard, becomes a part of ourselves, it is assimilated after the due rejection of waste matter. Like those famous men of old we have found out "knowledge meet for the people" and to our surprise it is the best knowledge conveyed in the best form that they demand. Is it possible that hitherto we have all been like those other teachers of the past who were chidden because they had taken away the key of knowledge, not entering in themselves and hindering those who would enter in?  (Philosophy of Education, pp. 291-292, emphasis hers)

From the archives: The Homeschooler Supply Chain

 First posted August 2009.

You know you're a homeschooler when...

your back-to-school supplies consist of four plastic magazine holders, eight pieces of posterboard, a roll of clear sticky plastic, a set of foam dominoes, Beaver Ed's Brain Busters Nature Card Game, Beaver Ed's Kids' Quiz: Human Body, three sketch books, ten pencils, two hundred file cards, two packs of Velcro dots, one pack of reinforcements, two sets of Scrapbook Kit Alphabet and Word Stickers, and four vinyl erasers.

All from Dollarama.

From the archives: Passion for Learning, Part One

First posted August 2013. Edited slightly to correct links.


When I think of passion in learning, I think of Cindy Rollins' Ordo Amoris blog.  "Passion" is not a recommended word to search for, generally, but if you limit the search to Cindy's blog, you get snippets such as "So that is what valor looks like but even more so that is how valor is memorialized, with passion not malaise" and "I just have a passion for literacy (reading and cultural)" and "I am passionate about the *idea* of living in a republic that followed our Constitution."  A shared passion for living and learning is definitely a good thing, and Cindy is one of its vocal and valued homeschooling proponents.

As a longtime homeschooling parent, and a pursuer of Charlotte Mason's philosophy, I would like to say that a passion for learning is something we just don't have a problem with around here.  But it wouldn't be entirely true...or at least not if  "passion for learning" equals "passion for schoolwork."  Almost-seventh-grader Lydia loves to read, but mostly the books of her own choosing, not the "assigned" ones.  She likes to write, but again, not so much when it's assigned work.  I've seen this pattern emerge with the older girls, too:  "out of class" time is separate from "school."   If they feel that "their time," when lessons are done, is honestly "their time," then they seem to feel that they also have to differentiate their own reading, writing and other activities from assigned "schoolwork."  I've never heard any of them begging for more math homework.  This question of ownership--and therefore passion, or lack thereof--has been a source of frustration (on my part, it doesn't seem to bother them!) for almost two decades.  Some readaloud books have blurred the line between "this is school" and "just Mom and me reading," but in general, that's the way it works, or doesn't work.

The funny thing is that some, most even, of what we do in school...even the difficult stuff, even if it's "coerced" or at least teacher-decided, has been very successful.  The Squirrelings have enjoyed Great Expectations and Silas Marner, and I'm pretty sure that Ivanhoe will also be a successful readaloud later in the year. They are good readers, and, when they want to, they can put words together pretty well too.  (Ponytails' work in public-school English class has earned her praise and high marks, in both ninth and tenth grades.)  But I hardly ever see one of them browsing for more Dickens or George Eliot or Scott; the Apprentice did read Jane Austen on her own, but that was the exception.  Lydia's current personal reading consists of Harry Potter and the Cornelia Funke Inkheart books.

Some homeschoolers (or teachers) might suggest that the way to get older students to engage with learning would  be to leave the curriculum up to them.  If it's put on their plate, it comes from outside, isn't personally meaningful; if they've chosen it, they'll be interested.  I would say yes, to a point; I do give options wherever practical.  But, thinking of Charlotte Mason's quip about expecting people to make their own boots, it's even less consistent with our family's homeschool practice to let the kids decide if they're even going to wear shoes.  So to speak.

Since we follow, more or less, the AmblesideOnline Curriculum, it's already pretty much decided: Year Seven follows Year Six and is followed by Year Eight.  This year is Lydia's Year Seven, and, within reason, I'm expecting her to take on the work that's given in that outline. Promoting engagement by completely freeing up the curriculum is not an option for us.  It's not in tune with Charlotte Mason, it's not what I'm comfortable with, and it's not even (really) what our kids expect.

So how else do we find delight, engagement, passion, without expecting too much (or too little) of 21st-century, somewhat-distracted kids, and without turning them into prigs about learning?
 ("Mr Samuel Arrow, a wonderful man who... used to get us up from our beds before dawn for a good flossing.")

More (and a book review) in Part Two.  Make sure to come back, especially if you think I'm too hard on my kids.  Because you might be right.

Wednesday, August 23, 2023

A Reminiscent Wednesday Hodgepodge

From this Side of the Pond
1. What's your earliest memory?

Hanging out with my grandparents.

2. What's something about you today that the old you would find surprising? 

The me holding the cookies? Probably everything, including the fact that I'm now as old as my grandmother was then.

3. Do you like to fish? Are you a fish eater? Favorite fish (to eat)? Favorite way to prepare fish? 

I fished only once in my life, and it's not something I want to reminisce over. Preparing fish: "Spread battered fish fingers on cookie sheet and bake until crispy." I am not an adventurous fish cooker.

See also this "fishy" Hodgepodge from a few years ago.

4. What's your biggest first world problem? 

Without getting too personal, serious, and outside the scope of a Wednesday Hodgepodge?


5. What one word would you use to describe your year thus far? 


Going to the flea market every couple of weeks will do that to you.

6. Insert your own random thought here. 

I'm starting to see the end in sight for a project that has covered most of this year, and which accounts for a good deal of its reminiscent character. I'm not even sure what not having to have it actively in my mind will feel like. But everything has its right time.

Two nights before, my mother had snapped off a thread, looked at the quilt in surprise, and said, "I think it's finished. How can it be finished?"...She stood up and laid it out on the big kitchen table. There they were, all those orderly, geometric patterns of our past... (Lois Lowry, A Summer to Die)

Linked from The Wednesday Hodgepodge at From This Side of the Pond.

Wednesday, August 16, 2023

Wednesday Hodgepodge: Get Me Down From Here

1. What motivates you to work hard?

If Socrates asked that question, he would probably keep asking it no matter what you answered. Why? "Because I need something to do." "Because I like to see things get done." "Because I don't want people to think I'm lazy." "Because I want to help support our household." Why? "Because I want to keep learning to do things better." "Because I want to feel like I'm a little bit successful." Why? "Because I want to be of some use in the world." Why? "God gave me a job to do, so I'm doing it."

2. It's been said "Ignorance is bliss" it? 

No way.

“Wisdom is the right use of knowledge. To know is not to be wise. Many men know a great deal, and are all the greater fools for it. There is no fool so great a fool as a knowing fool. But to know how to use knowledge is to have wisdom.” Charles Spurgeon

3.Would you rather be stuck on a broken elevator or a broken ski lift? Explain. Have you ever actually been stuck on either? Of the common fears listed here what's your #1-

heights-enclosed spaces-snakes-public speaking-the dark-flying

Neither. But the ski lift would be worse. And yes, I have been stopped on one long enough to make me very nervous.

And you forgot to include mice.

4. What's something you like about the town or city where you live? 

The free summer music festivals.

5. Life is too short to_________________________________. 

I'm not sure of the answer to that. I think one person's "doesn't matter" is another person's "really important." I personally have never spent time individually decorating sugar cookies, for example, other than sticking chocolate chips or raisins on gingerbread people for eyes. But I met a woman recently who said that she decorated cookies every single weekend for years because her grandchildren would come to have tea parties with her, so there you go.

6. Insert your own random thought here. 

Do you want to see my nebulous fall wardrobe? Some people might think that putting that much time into thinking about what one wears definitely falls in the "life is too short to" category. But for me, thinking it out ahead of time makes it easier, because I know I have what I need.

Linked from The Wednesday Hodgepodge at From This Side of the Pond.

Saturday, August 12, 2023

"Nebulous" (Fall Clothes 2023)


"Snow Fantasy," by Lawren Harris (1917)

This fall's wardrobe is going in a direction I didn't expect.. 

No, I haven't taken on an office job, or a hostessing position with a great clothing allowance. My life is very casual, and much as I like looking at blazers and dresses, I need to stay realistic. Working at home days are casual. Running around days are casual. Even church is casual. 

I've also had some changing thoughts about colour. Most years, my summer colour has been navy blue, and then in the fall I switch to grey, teal, and burgundy. This means, though, that if I thrift cool-weather clothes in navy, they tend not to get worn. But why not navy this fall, for a change? I'm a bit greyed out on grey.

Bead bracelets found here and there

While browsing through Vivienne Files posts, I came across the (imagined) story of a photographer who spends the fall at an observatory.  This is the first post about herthis is the second. Her (very casual) wardrobe is based on a photograph of "The Spinning Pulsar of the Crab Nebula," and includes navy plus bright pink, sky blue, and purple accents. Many of her clothing items match what is already in my closet (including the neglected navy things), and a couple of thrift store trips have  rounded things out.

You can read the rest of the post here.

Wednesday, August 02, 2023

Hello August (Wednesday Hodgepodge)

1. Hello August. What's one thing you're looking forward to this month? 

 I'm looking forward to not having anything in particular to have to look forward to.

2. What are you doing to beat the heat right now? If you live in the southern hemisphere are you enjoying cooler temps or counting the days until summer? 

We drove to Kincardine on Lake Huron yesterday, although it wasn't terribly hot.

3. How do you see the world? 

"Our capabilities seldom match our aspirations, and we are often woefully unprepared. To this extent, we are all Assistant Pig-Keepers at heart." (Lloyd Alexander, The Book of Three)

And also

"Simplicity, happiness and expansion come from the outpouring of a human heart upon that which is altogether worthy." (Charlotte Mason, Parents and Children)

4. What food product do you think is better store bought than home made? How about something you refuse to buy because it is so much better homemade? 

Better store bought: Cheerios. Peanut butter. Cabbage rolls made fresh at the European deli, because I'm not going to bother making two cabbage rolls.

Better homemade: Brownies, even if you have to make them in the microwave because it's hot out.

5. Are you easy to get along with? 

As easy as most Assistant Pig-Keepers, and possibly more so than some. Especially if we have brownies around.

6.  Insert your own random thought here. 

A couple of weeks ago (between me remembering to post Hodgepodge responses and then forgetting again), my husband and I went to a free jazz festival in our town. One of the musicians referred to the events (or non-events) of the past few years, and said that it was hard for jazz musicians to function while distanced from each other, because community is where this kind of music lives.

And I thought that could apply to many other things in life as well.