28 March 2011

An Education

I can count it a matter of good fortune, for many reasons, that last week included a visit from Debbie of Debbie's Garden, who came to spend several days with us and relish the Ohio not-quite-spring weather. Debbie and I have always enjoyed one another's company, and can while away many an hour over a pot of tea, discussing everything from theology to interior decor to home schooling. We are both very interested in education in general, not just home schooling, and we ended up having a conversation yesterday that, combined with a recent trip to an art museum, led me to ponder the roots of my own educational experience.

For the most part, I've had a tendency to perform well and achieve highly in school, which might cause others to think that I like school and embrace it as a positive institution. Not so! I spent the first few years of my formal education considering school to be boring drudgery and a huge waste of time, and found it to be intermittently so for some years following. I learned to read at the age of 3, and knew all my numbers, and I could do basic arithmetic not too long after that. Consequently, kindergarten through third grade, I performed rather poorly due to the fact that I believed school was a place one went for several hours a day in order to stare out the window and daydream. Why pay attention and apply oneself when the teachers just kept teaching things (such as letters and numbers) that one already knew years ago? To this day, I don't know why I wasn't given opportunity to perform more advanced work. My schooling nearly murdered my inherent love of learning.

Enter educational salvation in the unlikely form of the Calvert School Grade 4 curriculum. A year of being homeschooled provided the proper milieu, wherein I was removed from the traditional school setting that bred indifference or even hostility, and the subject matter revealed to my eager 9-year-old mind the great ideas, entire worlds just waiting to be tasted, then devoured. I can easily point to some of these books, for they are even now sitting (worn but still fully functional) on my bookshelves: Mighty Men and Famous Legends, small volumes of epic tales and historical figures that were specially adapted for young people, and A Child's History of the World, an archaic* but still readable tome that quickened my soul and truly changed my life. Literature and history flowed together in a torrent of humanity (aha! the humanities!). The ancient civilizations of Egypt, Sumer, Assyria, and Babylon leapt into my imagination and lingered there. I stumbled wide-eyed into high classical cultures and found myself doomed to wander between Troy and Athens, between Homer and Plato: a fate from which I have never since been freed, nor would I wish to be. I read the watered-down Beowulf, and Grendel (not to mention his mother) terrified me. Arthurian romances left me cold (still do) but I found myself resonating with tales from the Celtic, Germanic, and Nordic worlds. It might not be too strong an assertion to state that in those months, when I had not yet even two digits to my age, I managed to find and define myself in a profound way. I discovered the great sea of "other" and wrestled with the eternal struggle for balance between "same" and "different".

Those revelations of Grade 4 would have been enough to carry me, I think, through college and beyond. But as fortune (or God) would have it, Grade 5 held surprises of its own: none so soul-impacting, but still important in defining my life and the direction it would take.

The fifth grade found me once more in a traditional school setting, and once more, I resorted to daydreaming and window-gazing, to the (no doubt) frustration of my teachers. It was not rebellion but rather a retreat. I simply live better and more happily inside my head; I always have. But Grade 5 was the year that I ventured outside my head to first encounter SCIENCE, in the form of basic life science as taught by Mr. Renshaw. Somehow, it all just made sense to me, it was easy for me to learn and remember, and I liked it. Taxonomic organization appealed to my sense of fitting things into systems, and the cell operated in a manner that seemed utterly reasonable. Single-celled organisms fascinated me in a special way, and I particularly recall the thrill of seeing hundreds of them scooting around in a drop of pond water under a microscope: a tiny, previously-unknown world in which I could partake, if only as an observer for a moment in time.

My other courses that year were taught by Mrs. Renshaw [It has not yet been revealed to me why the Renshaws were chosen to play such a large role in the formation of my educational self, but such is the case.], and while I can't claim to have liked many of them except for social studies, one subject I really did love was Bible. Naturally, I'd read the Bible before, learned it, knew plenty of Bible trivia, but never before had I been trained in the methodical study of just one book of the Bible (in this case, Acts) over the course of an entire school year. I definitely remember filling in blanks in a workbook, and I am sure we also did contextual work by looking at maps and learning about Jewish, Greek and Roman history and culture. It was a strategic and disciplined approach that worked very well with a little girl of my temperament, and at 10 years of age, I did not find it too challenging at all. While I was not at the level of parsing Greek verbs or writing theological treatises, the work that we did for Acts was on par with what Bible classes did in my Christian high school. Be that as it may, I can definitely trace my love of scholarly study of God's Word back to Grade 5 Bible class.

I really believe that some essential part of who I am, who God made me to be, was formed and fed by my early education. Certainly, I have never lost interest in those topics that caught my attention during those years. Classical languages and literature, ancient and medieval history, the sciences, and most of all the Bible and theology, are still my favorite things to read, think, and talk about. Perhaps I was just immensely fortunate that God reached my heart through my mind, and at so young an age.

I'm interested in finding out how other people were formed by their educational experiences. Leave a note in the comments! Was it a book you read, a class you took, just one specific idea that you encountered?

*Editor's note: First published circa 100 years ago, A Child's History of the World is a product of its time and place, i.e. very Eurocentric. Deal with it. If you read it, judge it on its merits in a proper contextual format. If you use it as an educational tool, don't criticize it for its lack of political correctness; rather, supplement it with other materials that provide alternative perspectives and a fuller view of world history.

21 March 2011

Spring Cleaning

==> Drinking Triple Sec because you just want to finish it up and get the bottle out of the cupboard.