Poetic knowledge and “unschooling”

Poetic Knowledge is a book about how books aren’t particularly helpful for teaching poetic knowledge. Ironic?

Good ideas, just a bit hard to follow at times and with very little suggestions about how to practically implement it. It contains several long philosophical discourses that essentially boil down to the fact that EXPERIENCE is really important in education.

“One does not know the content of a desire unless one knows what ultimately satisfies it. By its satisfaction [pleasure] we learn what the desire is desire for.” – Jonathan Lear on Aristotle

I’m certainly cheering when he proclaims:

[without] the judgment of the senses, all higher learning tends to become dehumanized and increasingly destructive.

That’s right! Increasingly abstract knowledge becomes ever more not-human. Then, when we swing that knowledge around like a sword, it cuts up and disfigures our own brothers and sisters. One only has to look at much modern economic theory or even systematic theology to see this at work. Some disciplines, such as pure math can occasionally escape the orbit of earth without falling back to cause a crater, but nearly all the sciences, and especially the humanities, cannot.

What does this have to do with education? In the last chapter James Taylor recounts a personal anecdote I could relate to. He remembers teaching a high school literature course in years past:

When I saw three of [my old students] about twelve years after their graduation, they were eager to tell me how much they had enjoyed my class. When I asked them why and what they remembered, they all said they only remembered that we read the Iliad and The Count of Monte Cristo together, and that they were the best books they ever read. The remembered very little of what I had said. I realized, seeing their sincerely happy faces at recalling this class, that it was fine, and good for my vaity as well, that the recalled little of what I had said but that their memory of the experience of the class was one of overall great fondness. I think this was possible because those books were read in an atomosphere of pure enjoyment – no notes were to be taken, no pop quizzes. We read a great deal aloud and would talk whole hours about one scene, recreating it in our minds, savoring some moment or event that seemed true to us.

What do you remember from your school days? Probably something similar to this and not a heck of a lot else.

“Everything teaches”

Everything teaches. This idea comes up a lot. I was struck at how much of his educational philosophy overlaps with the “Unschooling” method of homeschooling. Though anathema in many traditional circles, I think it has a bunch to offer, at least when tempered with a bit of parenting common sense and when not carrying too much hippie baggage. My wife has written some good thoughts on that.

My friend who lent me this book went through it with a study group of teachers from the local classical Christian school. He scribbled down some possibly helpful notes in the margins.

What might the school that Poetic Knowledge advocates look like?

  • Great books
  • no notes
  • no lectures
  • memorized orally
  • literary approach
  • calligraphy
  • stargazing outings
  • traditional songs
  • waltz
  • classics taught ‘poetically’
  • Latin taught orally
  • rhetoric taught from literature
  • travel to Europe

Nice work if you can find it. Or if your kids can handle it.