Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Receptive Reading & More

In reference to those Right Questions I just wrote about --

I just received CS Lewis's The Discarded Image from ILL and this bit of the preface spoke to what I was trying to say about putting yourself into the receptive but not credulous mode -- he is talking about researching to get help with the more difficult older books:

"Frequent researches ad hoc sadly impair receptive reading, so that sensitive people may even come to regard scholarship as a baleful thing which is always taking you out of the literature itself. be always looking at the map when there is a fine prospect before you shatters the 'wise passiveness' in which landscape ought to be enjoyed."
James Taylor writes similarly in Poetic Knowledge:

Unlike the scientific mode of learning that proposes methods and systems for acquiring knowledge, the tradition that has been thus far reviewed reveals rather a way of knowledge, like a path or winding road, with interesting detours off the road, more than the superhighway of modern education. It is a way more akin to the natural human response to discovery of the world. It is a way of leisure and reflection of what is there, the way things are, and when one is considering the kinds of knowledge, it is seen that there is a natural order after all that corresponds to the learner and his universe..
I wonder if CS Lewis's point about the scholarship possibly leading out of the literature is the reason that I have always hesitated to impose on my kids those "look up vocabulary words in the dictionary" type exercises that seem to be common in literature unit studies. For "hesitated", read "never had the heart to even try."

It's interesting that Charlotte Mason used the term "wise passiveness", too. Of course, it is from Wordsworth.

A bit more from James Taylor:

An education that appeals only to the intellect at the expense of the senses and emotions results in teaching mainly to the problem-solving intellect, the active intellect, neglecting at great peril the receptive heart and soul that knows for certain what it knows, and wonders and dreams about what it does not know. The risk in all this denatured teaching is to make one “narrow of heart”, as Dom Gerard explained to me. And John Senior used to say it is the heart and intuitive mind that knows the good, it is not a problem to be solved, but like truth and beauty are realities to be admired and shared, not analyzed and dissected.

Now we must remember that the light of the intellect is always at play throughout the soul and avoid the error of the Romantics who seemed to think that the emotions were the seat of wisdom. However, the light of the intellect does not confine her illumination to just the reason, but also in some mysterious manner to the exterior and interior senses, the emotions and the will in one complete wash of light.
My love for connecting quotes is running away with me, again... I meant originally to mention how CS Lewis's point might also connect with my ongoing slight hesitation about narration. For years, I've heard that it is essential to a CM education; but urgency usually raises my adrenaline level without actually affecting my actions, UNLESS I can see why.

I have thought for many years that narration right after a reading could short-circuit the reception process -- bringing it too quickly to a rational, verbal-linguistic level. So in that way, almost taking the child "outside" the literature and into his own verbal-linguistic brain, which might actually shut down some of the other attributes of intelligence that are used for understanding and assimilating "the best that has been thought and said."

Now, I am pretty sure that my reasoning has taken a wrong turning somewhere, but until I've solved the problem I'm likely to go on muddling through with narration as a half-measure.

Intuitively, the Waldorf "breathe in -- breathe out" approach appeals to me more because it seems to add the element of time to assimilate, especially with my crew of introverts who need their space. The way I grew up, I would read something and think, and think, but the thoughts didn't become words of my own till much later, sometimes years later.

Still, I have so much respect for CM's thinking which has often proved correct even when my intitial reaction was a bit hesitatnt. And she was emphatic on the value of the immediate retelling. So one of my mental projects for this summer is to try to figure out this narration thing enough to be able to actually use it. I know I've said that before, but then, anything worth doing is worth doing badly -- or over and over again, until I get it right ;-).


Stephanie said...

(ping!) Willa, I think you've just cleared something up for ME, anyway ... so all your ruminations are not in vain! (Does that make you feel any better? lol!)

The IMMEDIATE re-telling is answering the question, "What did it say?"

The thoughtful, delayed, processed retelling is answering the questions, "What do you think?" and "What connections do you make?"

It's not for evaluation that the retelling happens immediately - it's merely an exercise in retention. But it is not an exercise to try to catch out the student in an error. It's "tell as much as you can" instead of "can you remember this one small part of the whole?"

Steph said...

I always liked the Waldorf approach of "sleeping on" a story before narrating it. I can't really verbalize why, it just felt right to be. I really don't think there are any set rules about narration. And I liked the distinctions Stephanie made between immediate and delayed retellings.

I loved what you said about being "receptive but not credulous" when you read. Your reflective posts are a real treat for me.

KathyJo said...

I find narration incredibly useful, but I don't overuse it. In first or second grade, they start narrating Aesop's fables. Very short, and it just gets them in the habit of remembering and thinking about what they've read or heard. I consider it pre-composition. As they get older, I'll occasionally have them narrate from SOTW or one of their science books. Then, around fourth grade, we start Classical Writing, which has the student narrate the model story each week.

It only dawned on me as I read your post, though, that I never have them narrate literature selections. :) They come discuss those with me when they're ready, if they ever want to.

As my oldest has hit that scary middle school age, I'm pondering more and more how much of the scholarly lit stuff is necessary for education. I believe that the reading and coming into contact with the ideas is important, but I'm still unconvinced that finding every last bit of symbolism and blah blah blah is important. Of course, this may be why math was my best subject and not English. :D

Laura A said...

I really like those first two quotes with their winding road analogies.