We started back homeschooling last Thursday at a very slow pace. Now, almost a week later, we are starting to gain momentum.
My focus for this year is MEMORIZATION. To explain what I mean by this, I will add that I have been reading Stratford Caldecott's new book "Beauty in the Word: Rethinking the Foundations of Education." He writes:
Thus by speaking of Memory or Remembering we are really speaking of the foundations of attention, of the integration of the personality, and of the road to contemplation. We are also speaking of ‘conscience.’ Remembering is the gathering-together of the self in the light of consciousness, which in us tends to be a piecemeal process, but in God is complete and ‘instantaneous.’ For us, therefore, the training of memory is essential if we are to discover and enlarge our human identity in the image of God. It is an essential foundation for any education worthy of the name.I have been thinking this over and my main conclusion is that though Remembering is not the final word in what education is about (as the rest of the book makes clear, by relating Dialectic to Thinking and Rhetoric to Communicating) , it is a starting word. And whereas children remember a lot of things they were not formally taught, when you are talking about teaching as opposed to simply facilitating or mentoring or providing an environment conducive to learning, one of the key things you do is teach the student what he is to know.
I started thinking that part of my ongoing frustration with homeschooling in spite of some marks of success is that I am not really acting as a teacher most of the time. Which is fine during unschooling years, but rather dreadful in more academic years.
Usually when I sense that I am missing something the best way to deal with it is to focus on it for a given time period. This is what I did several years ago when I did a radical unschooling sabbatical. I learned SO much.
So this year I am doing a memorization sabbatical.
Fortunately, it is amazingly easy to find materials that support Remembering. Last year I got Classically Catholic Memory. This year, for my 5th grader, I got quite a lot of Memoria Press books in addition. Their curricula focus on (1) studying excellent literature and (2) recitation, which is a learning method that was very commonly used until just a bit over a century ago. I read about it in the Ignatian Ratio Studiorum... a recitation was supposed to be conducted at the beginning and/or end of every class.
In the first afternoon hour, a poet and a Greek author should be recited from memory
On the break-day, in the first hour, what was taught on the preceding break-day should be recited from memory
On Saturday, in the first hour of the morning, the lessons of the entire week should be recited from memory in front of the group, and they should be gone over again in the second hour.
This was also the method of the one-room schoolhouse, of course.
You can also see mentions of the method in books like Elements of Practical Pedagogy by the Lasallian Christian Brothers.
Of course, the difficulty with memorization as a key learning device is that it can become rote and formalistic, detached from real things, what Richard Feynman called "fragile knowledge". Given that this is a possibility, I think that for me the very simplicity combined with solidity of the Memoria materials makes it unlikely that it will play out that way, especially in the homeschooling environment, where I can immediately see by tone or comment how the knowledge is taking root in the mind.
Today Paddy and I were going through the introduction of First Form Latin. It is about pronunciation. I expected it to be painful to plow through things like the differences between Church and Classical pronunciation and long vs short vowels, but he actually engaged pretty solidly with it.
When we worked on the Classification of Living Things in Classically Catholic Memory: Alpha, he was reciting Domain, Kingdom, Phylum, Class, Order, Family, Genus, Species with fair fluency, but I knew it meant little to him. So I looked up the classification of squirrels (since we have an ongoing nature study fascination with Sciuridae) and we talked about where they diverge from us on the classification tree. This brought it much more into his sphere.
Another potential difficulty with a memorization-heavy curriculum besides the possibility of letting it become formalistic and nominalistic, not relating to reality, is that it might crowd out literature or conversation time, which is a kind of remembering way more important to me than recital of grammar forms or taxonomic divisions. I think that in some periods of time in educational history, story and cultural heritage were crowded out by lists of mere facts. But again, it doesn't have to be that way. My mom can remember memorizing great swathes of poetry and Scripture which she had inside her head for the rest of her life. Certainly this didn't detract from her relationship with literature: quite the opposite.
OK, well, that's my scattered post for today! and 35 minutes to spare : ). I found something else I wrote about Memory, back a few years ago. ... noting it mostly for my own future reference.