"The greatest and most important difficulty of human science is the education of children" -Montaigne
You've probably noticed that I'm really working hard on learning what an education is so I can make sure that my children get one. The Essays of Montaigne had some really great insights and confirmed to me that we're heading in the right direction (although I still have a long ways to go in figuring it all out).
My favorite Essays were "Of the Education of Children" and "of Pedantry". I loved his comparisons about what an education is and what we often think of it as. He compares the mere memorization of facts to the ability to exercise judgement.
"[I] prefer manners and judgement to mere learning" 488
"Whosoever shall narrowly pry into and thoroughly sift this sort of people, wherewith the world is so pestered, will, as I have done, find, that for the most part, they neither understand others nor themselves; and that their memories are full enough, but the judgment totally void and empty." 456
The Thomas Jefferson Education book talks about how often, in school, we are taught what to think, but that leaders need to learn how to think. Monaigne talks about how there's nothing so grand about being able to memorize information and spit it back out. He reminds us that even parrots can do that. In order to really learn, we need to digest the information, we need to make it our own.
"[See] if he has made it his own, taking instruction of his progress by the pedagogic institutions of Plato. 'Tis a sign of crudity and indigestion to disgorge what we eat in the same condition it was swallowed; the stomach has not performed its office unless it have altered the form and condition of what was committed to it to concoct."491He discusses the best kind of things to study. This is very much in agreement with the 4 phases of learning in TJED. Core phase (or the foundation to a good education - what an education should focus on for about the first 8 years of life) is learning about right and wrong through work, play, home and love. Here's what Montaigne says about it:
"Methinks the first doctrine with which one should season his understanding, ought to be that which regulates his manners and his sense; that teaches him to know himself, and how both well to dig and well to live. Amongst the liberal sciences, let us begin with that which makes us free" 516
"One asking to this purpose, Agesilaus, what he thought most proper for boys to learn? 'What they ought to do when they come to be men'" 467He also discusses some ways to own what you learn or to learn how to think:
"We take other men's knowledge and opinions upon trust; which is an idle and superficial learning. We must make it our own." 450Through reason:
"If he embrace the opinions of Xenophon and Plato, by his own reason, they will no more be theirs, but become his own. Who follow another, follows nothing, finds nothing, nay , is inquisitive after nothing."493Narration (saying things in your own words):
"I would not have [the teacher] alone to invent and speak, but that he should also hear his pupil speak in turn."I try to do this with the kids by asking them what we talked about the previous day when we're starting a lesson and I encourage Rock to ask them what they learned about when he gets home from work.
Hearing a variety of ideas:
"so the several fragments he borrows from others, he will transform and shuffle together to compile a work that shall be absolutely his own; that is to say, his judgment: his instruction, labour and study, tend to nothing else but to form that." 494This is an important reason for our family reading time every evening from the classics and for our discovery time.
"I could wish that Paluel or Pompey, those two noted dancers of my time, could have taught us to cut capers, by only seeing them do it, without stirring from our places, as these men pretend to inform the understanding without ever setting it to work, or that we could learn to ride, handle a pike, touch a lute, or sing without the trouble of practice, as these attempt to make us judge and speak well, without exercising us in judging or speaking." 496This reminded me of the importance of going on field trips and nature walks and experiments. We can't really make things our own if we haven't experienced them. It reminded me of when we read a children's version of the Epic of Gilgamesh last year and Gilgamesh was going through a dark cave for 3 days. We had recently been to Timp caves and they had experienced the total darkness in caves, so this part of the story came alive to them.
"Let him examine every man's talent....By observing the graces and manners of all he sees, he will create to himself an emulation of the good, and a contempt of the bad."I try and want to teach the kids that we can not judge people because we do not know their experiences or what is in their hearts, but we can notice the results of their behavior or we can guess what those results may be, and learn from their mistakes as well as their example.
"In this conversing with men, I mean also, and principally, those who only live in the records of history; he shall, by reading those books, converse with the great and heroic souls of the best ages. 'Tis and idle and vain study to those who make it so by doing it after a negligent manner, but to those who do it with care observation, 'tis a study of inestimable fruit and value."This is what I'm trying to do with the books I study - I get so much more out of them when I sit and write about what I've learned. Also, when we're reading books together, I try to pause and ask a question that might cause the kids to reflect on certain principles.
"Human understanding is marvelously enlightened by daily conversation with men, for we are, otherwise, compressed and heaped up in ourselves, and have our sight limited to the length of our own noses." 510I love this justification for book clubs and for discussing principles I'm working on, and issues, with people around me. I always learn a lot as I discuss what I am learning with others. I'm going to try to read more of the books that my kids are reading so they can discuss them with me and they can learn more.
Observing the world around us and our place in it:
"But whoever shall represent to his fancy, as in a picture, that great image of our mother nature, in her full majesty and luster, whoever in her face shall read so general and so constant a variety, whoever shall observe himself in that figure, and not himself but a whole kingdom, no bigger than the least tough or prick of a pencil in comparison to the whole, that man alone is able to value things according to their true estimate and grandeur. This great world which some do yet multiply as several species under one genus, is the mirror wherein we are to behold ourselves, to be able to know ourselves as we ought to do in the true bias. In short, I would have this to be the book my young gentleman should study with the most attention." 512
I love nature, and I can't help but pause and marvel at the grandeur of it if I take the time to look around me once in a while. I need to take the kids out in it more - even on the cold days there are so many beautiful things that we are missing.
Of course, the best way to know ourselves is through sincere prayer, study and meditation so we can see ourselves as God sees us and so we can communicate with the source of all truth. I read from a talk by Elder David A Bednar this morning:
"We perhaps might be inclined to rely primarily upon our individual and collective capacity to reason, to innovate, to plan, and to execute. Certainly we must use our God-given abilities to the fullest, employ our best efforts, and exercise appropriate judgment as we encounter the opportunities of life. But our mortal best is never enough.
President Young testified that we are never left alone or on our own:
'My knowledge is, if you will follow the teachings of Jesus Christ and his Apostles, as recorded in the New Testament, every man and woman will be put in possession of the Holy Ghost. … They will know things that are, that will be, and that have been. They will understand things in heaven, things on the earth, and things under the earth, things of time, and things of eternity, according to their several callings and capacities.'
Learning to love learning equips us for an ever- changing and unpredictable future. Knowing how to learn prepares us to discern and act upon opportunities that others may not readily recognize. I am confident we will pass the test of learning what to do when we do not know what to do or how to proceed."Montaigne got me thinking about the difference between wisdom and learning. I want my kids to be wise. Unfortunately, too often in school we worry so much about memorizing facts which we later forget. I do want my kids to memorize certain things so that those things will be available for them to recall when they need them (scriptures, times tables, wise poems, important documents) (Hmm... I'm thinking I might right a post about certain things we do to help them memorize things without requiring it), but much more importantly, I want them to learn how to judge what is of value. To me, this is learning how to think. I want them to differentiate the fluff from those things that really matter, and then seek for those things with all their hearts and minds. If they can learn to do this, nothing will hold them back from reaching their potential. They will find a way.