Sunday, January 15, 2012

Dorothy Sayers and TLTOL (part eleven)

Wow! This is a really long essay. But I'll keep plowing through since I've already done so much of it.
Let us amuse ourselves by imagining that such progressive retrogression is possible. Let us make a clean sweep of all educational authorities, and furnish ourselves with a nice little school of boys and girls whom we may experimentally equip for the intellectual conflict along lines chosen by ourselves. We will endow them with exceptionally docile parents; we will staff our school with teachers who are themselves perfectly familiar with the aims and methods of the Trivium; we will have our building and staff large enough to allow our classes to be small enough for adequate handling; and we will postulate a Board of Examiners willing and qualified to test the products we turn out. Thus prepared, we will attempt to sketch out a syllabus--a modern Trivium "with modifications" and we will see where we get to.
But first: what age shall the children be? Well, if one is to educate them on novel lines, it will be better that they should have nothing to unlearn; besides, one cannot begin a good thing too early, and the Trivium is by its nature not learning, but a preparation for learning. We will, therefore, "catch 'em young," requiring of our pupils only that they shall be able to read, write, and cipher.
My views about child psychology are, I admit, neither orthodox nor enlightened. Looking back upon myself (since I am the child I know best and the only child I can pretend to know from inside) I recognize three states of development. These, in a rough-and- ready fashion, I will call the Poll-Parrot, the Pert, and the Poetic--the latter coinciding, approximately, with the onset of puberty. The Poll-Parrot stage is the one in which learning by heart is easy and, on the whole, pleasurable; whereas reasoning is difficult and, on the whole, little relished. At this age, one readily memorizes the shapes and appearances of things; one likes to recite the number-plates of cars; one rejoices in the chanting of rhymes and the rumble and thunder of unintelligible polysyllables; one enjoys the mere accumulation of things. The Pert age, which follows upon this (and, naturally, overlaps it to some extent), is characterized by contradicting, answering back, liking to "catch people out" (especially one's elders); and by the propounding of conundrums. Its nuisance-value is extremely high. It usually sets in about the Fourth Form. The Poetic age is popularly known as the "difficult" age. It is self-centered; it yearns to express itself; it rather specializes in being misunderstood; it is restless and tries to achieve independence; and, with good luck and good guidance, it should show the beginnings of creativeness; a reaching out towards a synthesis of what it already knows, and a deliberate eagerness to know and do some one thing in preference to all others. Now it seems to me that the layout of the Trivium adapts itself with a singular appropriateness to these three ages: Grammar to the Poll-Parrot, Dialectic to the Pert, and Rhetoric to the Poetic age.
To apply this to my children, they are all three (ages 2, 4, and 7) in the Poll Parrot stage, although I can already see seeds of the Pert age in dd7. I haven't caught any of them memorizing license plates or poetry, but they absolutely repeat and mimic movies they like. Dd7, while taking longer than I would have liked to memorize addition facts, is actually learning them and for the last two or three years has exhibited a very good ability to memorize facts about random animals. Dd4 has picked up many addition facts just from observing me work with dd7 and hearing addition fact songs in the car occasionally. Dd2 is frequently a copycat, as one might expect of someone trying to navigate a world that's still quite new to her.
Dorothy Sayers may not have been a recognized child psychology expert, but based on what I have seen with my children so far, I think she seems to adequately describe children as learners. I would only say that she underestimates the ability of children in the Poll Parrot stage to reason things out on their own. As an academic undertaking, I think expecting critical thinking from dd7 would be a lost cause because she still lacks the ability to quickly process complex causes and abstract concepts. However, she does like to think things over and come to her own, sometimes unexpected conclusions. At this point in her life, I choose not to formally exercise this developing reasoning ability for fear I'd unintentionally quash her independent use of it. Reasoning should be a lifelong practice that a child engages in for his/her own goals and not just for school assignments.

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