Saturday, October 12, 2013

Knowledge of the Universe

As many of you know, Science is not my forte. Neither is math. These are the joy of left brain, administrative people, not right brain creatives like me, right? Well, that's not completely true.

Strauss and Brahms
The little known fact about musicians, artists, and creative people in general is that they can be extremely precise, detailed, and mathematical. We are an oddity, I realize! There is this innate determination toward perfection that runs deep within the soul of a creative person. You wouldn't think it's there at all, judging from the artist's loft or the musician's lair. Look at Beethoven! He was a total, disorganized mess!

Or was he?

If you were to look at the exterior scene where he created his masterpieces and his bedraggled clothes and disheveled way of living, yes. (Brahms was also a bit disheveled in dress, as were many famous artists and writers). But take a peek at Beethoven's music, and the complexity will astound you. It's an interior, introverted focused approach. We all have it or at least the possibility of it. So when discussing knowledge of the universe -- such a vast, expansive thing to talk about -- let's not forget that although those obsessed with the Humanities (guilty!) are not typically going to go into science as a career, they can and do study science voraciously.

Here are my somewhat sparse imaginings about Science, the most vivid of my memories from the past 17 years of homeschooling. The first thing I remember doing with our children is ordering caterpillars and watching them build cocoons and become butterflies. Our poor little girls did not want to let their butterflies go free! It was tough to watch them tearfully say goodbye to their precious new friends. But isn't that sort of the point? We hope and pray that our children will engage with what they are learning, and this was one occasion where there was clear engagement, that's for sure! After that experience, they found caterpillars outside and redid the experiment again. This time, the giant brown moth that pushed his way out of the cocoon was quite different than the pretty blue butterflies, yet they were ecstatic! They named him Fred, as I recall. And again, they were fully "on" and engaged.

The next few years we used Apologia curriculum for Science, since I really had less than no clue what living materials to buy. When they did an experiment with eggs in Physical Science, they built bleachers for the rest of the eggs to sit on and watch the experiment along with them. They had drawn faces on all the eggs, named them, and included them in the whole process. Again, totally engaged. Sometimes they videotaped their experiments so they wouldn't forget a moment -- all were precious. Other times, they wrote lengthy dissertations about the topic at hand. As high school approached, we switched from homeschooling solo to joining a co-op and thankfully, I was no longer their inept Science teacher. They retained that same vigor and interest they had begun with so many years prior.

Here is Miss Mason's take on it:

"If we ask, what is knowledge?––there is no neat and ready answer at hand: Matthew Arnold, we know, classifies all knowledge under three heads,––the knowledge of God, divinity, the knowledge of man, known as the 'humanities,' and the knowledge of the physical world, science, and that is enough to go on with. ...

One thing at any rate we know with certainty, that no teaching, no information becomes knowledge to any of us until the individual mind has acted upon it, translated it, transformed, absorbed it, to reappear, like our bodily food, in forms of vitality. Therefore, teaching, talk and tale, however lucid or fascinating, effect nothing until self-activity be set up; that is, self-education is the only possible education; the rest is mere veneer laid on the surface of a child's nature."

So how do we encourage attending and engaging on the part of the student without force-feeding knowledge? Ah, that's the all-important question. I just spent a weekend learning how to teach Science at the Landry Academy's Mom's Retreat in the mountains near Asheville, NC. Beautiful setting for a marvelous group of teachers to pour their hearts' deepest loves out to a thirsty crowd! We pricked our own fingers and found out our blood types, spit into a cup and cultured our own DNA, dissected animals (I did not participate in that part), and learned that finding out how the universe works for ourselves is really the best way to secure knowledge for ourselves

They gave us the keys to unlock the doors to this knowledge. They taught us about type A and type B antibodies and told us what chemicals they were handing out that would cause our DNA strands to separate from the rest of the solution. In other words, they laid out the feast for us, set the table, and we partook. So our job is laying it all out there for our students. How?

Well, when it comes to Science, I'm not the best person to ask. Still, I think the best education is caught, not taught. Find someone who is an expert in their chosen field and who is excited about it. Bring them into your school and let the kids sit at their able feet and take in knowledge. Want to learn about the planets? Bring in an astronomer. Biology? Contact someone who specializes in infectious disease or something in the medical field.

Jean Henri Fabre
There are living books that cover these areas of specialization, too. I remember when my children were young reading The Life of the Bee by Maeterlinck, Fabre's fantastic books, Madam How and Lady Why, and Arabella Buckley's Fairyland of Science. But Science has changed so much since those books were published that we need to find newer living books to use. We can still use the old conversational ones like Storybook of Science, but it's important to add up to date, informative works that engage while offering hands-on work students can do alone. Let them take in knowledge and let it give them vitality of mind, as food gives us physical vitality or energy.

Here are a few websites and blogs where those more able than I have shared about science:

Charlotte Mason Home
Be Like Fabre
Aut to be home in Carolina

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