Final Notes on “Free to Learn” by Peter Gray

Page 167 “By doing what they want to do, which is to play with other children, children learn to compromise and not do exactly what they want to do.” And it works all so naturally, without any control by others. Children who naturally aren’t very social don’t need to be forced to socialize and play. With the support of loving, uncontrolling adults in their lives, children will learn what their real needs are and how work in the world to get those needs satisfied.

Page 170 Kids work through trauma (real and imagined) through role playing and pretend. It’s strange to me that therapists will use this same idea in an office to help people work through things but most adults see no value in children doing it. Kids play at “cops and robbers” to experience danger and create their own positive ending. It’s healing and learning.

Page 171 “The Value of ‘Dangerous’ Play” “…suggested that a major evolutionary purpose of play is to help the young learn how to cope with emergencies.” They are learning new skills. We all had the chance to learn as children and now it’s our kids turn. They won’t learn our lessons. They need to learn their own through safe “dangerous” play.

Page 172 “…human children, like other young mammals, deliberately put themselves into fear-inducing, vulnerable positions in their play.” I’ve watched my boys do this throughout their lives. They constantly seek the edge of things. They search out an older/bigger boy to play fight with. They consistently push their boundaries, and then come back to Mom for reassurance when things get out of control. I’m always there to wipe the tears but not reprimand them for doing what children need to do to grow.

Page 175 “Play is nature’s way of teaching children how to solve their own problems, control their impulses, modulate their emotions, see from others’ perspectives, negotiate differences, and get along with others as equals. There is no substitute for play as a means of learning these skills. They can’t be taught in school. For life in the real world, these lessons of personal responsibility, self-control, and sociability are far more important than any lessons that can be taught in school.” And every year we take more and more of that away from our children and force them to focus on “STEM” skills in a formal academic environment. Then we wonder why each generation gets more and more angry, violent, and anti-social.

Page 195 “Children must feel safe and cared for in order to devote themselves fully to exploring and learning, and children learn best from those with whom they have caring, trusting relationships.” This is what gets me. So many people push their young children away thinking that they must be forced out of the nest to gain competence. Children WANT to grow up and be independent. You can’t force them to BE independent. As young children they need spent that time to fully trust you, that you will be there when they fall. They won’t get that if you drop them off at Sunday school screaming and crying. They won’t get it if when they scrape their knee you tell them to quit crying because it’s only a scratch. They need to be “babied” when they are babies. The shiest, timid child will eventually walk away from you and join a friend in climbing a tree eventually. You can’t speed the process up.

Page 210 “Trustful parents are not negligent parents. They provide not just freedom, but also the sustenance, love, respect, moral examples, and environmental conditions required for healthy development. They support, rather than try to direct, children’s development, by helping children achieve their own goals when such help is requested.”

He uses the example of “direct-domineering parenting” as one that developed suddenly in response to an agricultural and then capitalistic society. I don’t agree with his negative assessment of the style. I believe that a change in society demanded a change in parenting that served that society well. But, as everything else in this world, things are changing again and our parenting styles need to evolve as well, not remain stoic in an attempt to keep the world as it was.

Page 226 “The nuclear family is a fine thing as a home base for raising children, but for healthy development, children need to explore beyond it, even when they are little.” And our school system is never a healthy place to do that, but that is where most people would turn right now when they believe their neighborhood is not a safe place for their kids. To me, it’s a reason to promote/organize and attend regularly a good park day, or playgroup when kids are able to play together uninterrupted by adults who are nearby in case of emergencies. This is really lacking in our area and I’ve tried so hard to get people to come but they just don’t see the value in it and don’t make the time in their lives for it.

Page 233 “…a system of voluntary, noncoercive schools…where children could play, explore, and learn in an environment conducive to healthy intellectual, physical, and moral development.” Government schools, by nature, cannot be this. Government is non-voluntary and coercive in nature. It cannot promote and force people to pay taxes to support, a program that let’s people do as they please and grow to govern themselves. It’s like working yourself out of a job.

This book has some amazing insight and ideas, put into words that really strike home. I’d love everyone in my family to read it and understand what it is we are doing in our home. We’ve followed our instincts and created a home and lifestyle that I believe promotes peace and love. My husband and I are still very much in love with each other and enjoy each others company. Our children are teenagers now and are happy, well-adjusted young men that enjoy being around their family and friend and find the love of life everywhere they go. My clingy and timid child that my family said was spoiling because I didn’t force him to do things he didn’t want to do, is now a young man looking out to the world to make his way. This lifestyle does work in our world, the one that is developing right before us.

Notes on “Free to Learn” by Peter Gray – Part 3

The more we turn the screws of obedience and schooling, the more uneducated and violent our children become. It’s a natural reaction to external control over humans. We aren’t wired for this.

Page 67 “Children don’t like school because, like all human beings, they crave freedom, and in school they are not free.” School is a prison sentence. Even if you come to the school already full of the knowledge they say they will give you, you HAVE to be there every day. How anyone does not see this is a mystery to me.

Page 70 “An implicit and sometimes explicit message of our forced schooling system is this: ‘If you do what you are told to do in school, everything will work out well for you.’ Children who buy into this message stop taking responsibility for their own education.” Some do. I’ve heard many adults state that the only reason that things didn’t work well for them was somehow they didn’t work hard enough at doing what the schools told them to do. And now they send their children to the same school and tighten down on them more than their parents did to get them to do what the school says to do so that things will go well for them. After several generations of this, we pretty much all believe it even though it rarely works and our children seem less and less capable of taking care of themselves as adults, and become more and more violent against themselves and others.

Page 75 He’s talking about cheating on tests. It benefits everyone. All that matters is the score on the paper, not that you’ve actually learned anything or that you are capable of being an adult citizen. The teachers look good on paper. The students look good on paper. The parents look good because their children are passing the tests. This is why people get angry when I tell them to just make up grades on a report card from a home school. It really doesn’t mean anything. When you go to get a job or apply at a university, they file those papers away because now their bureaucratic paperwork checklist is filled and then they look at the real person in front of them.

Page 80 “Students who allowed themselves to pursue a love of some subject would risk failing all the others. To succeed, students must acquire the limited information and shallow understanding needed to perform well on the tests.” I know so many people that think this is necessary and normal. Well, yes it would be nice if Johnny could pursue history to his hearts content and really be able to converse about it in the real world, but you know, he has to pass his exams on algebra and literature at a basic level. It’s ridiculous.

Page 85 “…students taking physics or history seemed motivated to get the highest grades they could while learning the least possible amount of the subject matter.” Tom was amazed when he found this out on his language learning program. It’s free and voluntary. You’d think people would be on there because they wanted to learn the language to the best of their ability. But they are there to get a “high score” like a video game. It doesn’t matter if you made it through the level if you don’t have the high score, right?

Page 87 Learning about democracy and self-government in a totalitarian system where you have no choice whether or not to be there, let alone what goes on there and how you spend your time. The irony fantastic and I’m beside myself with wonder that so few people can see that this is having a huge effect on how we govern ourselves and how much we’ve given over to “authority”.

Page 88 Talking about having “democratic schools” for public education instead of our current system. Why does it have to be schools? Can’t it be a family or group of families? If we only stopped making school “mandatory” we would improve the situation quite a bit. It can’t be a democratic school if you are there by force.

Page 130 “Curiosity, playfulness, and meaningful conversation are all thwarted in school, because they require freedom.” The minute you take away the freedom all the opportunity to learn is lost. If it weren’t, people would learn quickly that they are not free and demand their freedom. It’s a catch 22 thing.

Page 146 “All sorts of play can be ruined when the rewards are made to appear to be the main reason for engaging in the activity.” And the reward can be as simple as stay here and “learn” until I let you go home and do what you want to do. The school becomes work instead of play and work is not for learning new things.

Page 153 “From an evolutionary perspective, negative emotions, especially fear and anger, arose to deal with emergencies, and emergencies are not the proper occasions for trying out new ways of thinking and behaving.” You have children going through 12 years of negative emotions to get through school and into life. Then they are fully trained in that negative mindset, they never want to “learn” again. Much like Pavlov’s Dog, they are conditioned to equate negative feelings with learning. I’ve recently (in the past year) began learning to meditate to remain calm. That calm follows me throughout the day and I can easily get back to that feeling so that I am ready to learn new things. It’s been revolutionary for me!

Notes on “Free to Learn” by Peter Gray – Part 3

Page 33 “Hunter-gatherer children learn about plant-based foods in the same general way they learn to hunt. They hear stories. They join their mothers and other adults on gathering trips.” Just like going to the grocery store! My children weren’t shut away in a classroom. They were with me in the world, experiencing it, with adults nearby to answer questions and help.

All of their play is in age-mixed groups, of children ranging from about four on up to mid-teens.” Much like the park days we participated in when the kids were younger. The more mixed the ages, the better they all seemed to get along.

Page 34 “Social play (that is, all play that involves more than one player) is, by its very nature, a continuous exercise in cooperation, attention to one another’s needs, and consensual decision-making. Play is not something one has to do; players are always free to quit. In social play, each player know that anyone who feel unhappy will quit, and if too many quit, the game ends.” This is what is missing and it best served by homeschool park days. I wish more people would see it though. There are very few people that understand this and make the effort to come to the park once a week. They don’t prioritize it and get to it if they can. They use it as a reward for kids if they’ve completed school work. And then if they do come, they feel compelled to jump in and direct anything the kids are doing. Instead of bringing a ball and leaving it for kids to play with, they organize a game of baseball and make sure that all the kids are allowed (or forced) to play.

Page 37 “To be a successful adult hunter-gatherer (really an adult anywhere, anytime),one must not only be able to share and cooperate with others, but also be able to assert one’s own needs and wishes effectively, without antagonizing others. Practice at such self-assertion occurs in social play everywhere, as players negotiate the rules and decide who get to play what part.” I see this at our homeschool activity club on a small scale and it’s pretty awesome. I’ve also found that children that are respected and not forced to share and “get along” until they are ready, are more respectful and generous with others. It’s as if they have to have their bucket of self full before they can share with others. When they are younger (the under five set) that bucket is quickly filled. The older they get and the more they are forced to share and get along, the slower the bucket is filled and they become nastier as they grow older. It’s really kind of sad. Most people will force a baby to share and play nice with others thinking that if they don’t they will spoil the child and make them fierce, when in reality the opposite is true.

Page 44 “The hunter-gatherer way of life was knowledge-intensive and skill-intensive, but not labor-intensive.” He paints pre-agricultural life and idyllic, as if ever thing was much better back then. If it were, why would anything have changed? Farming is more reliable for food than hunting and gathering. More people were fed. More people lived. More people were safe. It’s a natural evolution of society. We’ve moved on from agriculture now but people refuse to see it. They want to go back to each family working their own land from dawn to dusk. Or wandering the land looking for food. Why not look forward and see what we have now can evolve into a lifestyle that emulates the hunter-gatherer way of life but in a much more peaceful and secure way? I see us using new technologies to evolve society into something that is the best of both worlds and something new; the peaceful, respectful life of hunter-gatherers and the food security and safety of agricultural society.

Page 49 “they found that the more violent a society was overall, the more likely it was that parents used corporal punishment.” I really don’t see how people don’t see this.

Mainstream society sees children as something to raise up and train in the way they should go, but we don’t. I see them as fully formed masters of their own individual lives. As parents, we are to give them the soil to grow in. We are there to support them in growing into what they are destined to become of their own accord.

While I agree with his ideas about parenting and society, I really don’t see the evolution of society as such a negative thing, more like a natural progression. It seems he condemns the very thing (agriculture and capitalism) that has brought us to the technological age that we are in. I see it as a new evolution, a way to become something even greater than we were in the past. I don’t look back longingly on primitive societies. I look forward to a new age born out of the old.

I’m also not a fan of the way he treats religion as a scourge on the earth. I agree that men who wish to rule others have used religion to those ends, but I do not believe that is the nature of God.

Page 61 On Prussian education. “The principal theme of the German curriculum was nationalism.” “Schooling came to seen as a state function that was essential for national security, not unlike the army.” When I read about the Prussian education system all I see is our own. It terrifies me because people don’t see it in our system today at all. It’s as if we are brain washed not to see it. Our system isn’t about “education” at all. It’s about control. And it’s become the new state religion along with nationalism.

Notes on “Free to Learn” by Peter Gray – Part 2

Page 12 “The rise in psychological disorders in young people” “Here in NYC, the kids start Kindergarten at 4…About 2 weeks into the school year, he was getting letters home from the teacher that he was ‘falling behind academically’” And now kids are placed in pre-school programs at 3 years old. And then we wonder why so many teenagers are having problems!

Page 16 “One thing we know for sure about anxiety and depression is that they correlate strongly with people’s sense of control or lack of control over their own lives.” Some people have less of a problem with a lack of control than others, that’s why not everyone goes crazy under our education system and parenting practices. But the majority of people do. The more we direct and control children’s lives, the more problems we see. And the answer to most of those problems right now is a medical diagnosis and drugs to make them fit into the molds we’ve made, and those molds aren’t even producing the citizens any of us would like to see in the world but we keep on creating them. It’s mind boggling.

Page 19 “In the name of education, we have increasingly deprived children of the time and freedom they need to educate themselves through their own means.” And that would have some positive to it if the outcome of that education had anything positive about it.

Page 21 Then he gets into how great “hunter-gatherer” societies are and that’s where I disagree. He goes on about their stability and progress for thousands of years. That may be so, but we’ve moved on from there. The ship has sailed. Many people read this and come to the conclusion that we need to go back to that lifestyle and I’m terrified by it. That lifestyle can only support a few people in small groups, not the billions we have today. We invented agriculture and then industry. Life is markedly better, longer, safer, cleaner, than it was then. In my opinion, we don’t need to go back to hunter-gather lives, we need to move forward out of the industrial age. We need to create a new lifestyle for this information age and beyond.

Page 24 “Education, by my definition, is cultural transmission.” Yes! Much of what he describes as hunter-gather society is very much a family lifestyle. Like communism, it works on very small family scale. Families should share and support each other. And a society that is made up of families like this can become very positive and productive places. But you can’t put that lifestyle on a large society scale. It doesn’t work without the relationship between individuals. I cannot be expected to share and trust another human being 1000 miles away as I do those that live in my own house.

Page 26 The difference is “trustful” parenting which some would call indulgent. It creates confident and competent adults. My problem with being a trustful parent is that I wasn’t raised that way. It’s infinitely more difficult to trust your children’s instincts to grow up and mature, when I don’t trust my own. It’s an obstacle I’ve had to climb at every stage of my children’s lives. I’m glad I had the internet to read about other people’s families as they emerged from the stage before mine!

Page 29 This describes my sons’ childhood. “They allow children to watch and participate in essentially all adult activities, as they please. Children often crowd around adults, and young ones climb into adults’ laps, to watch or ‘help’ them cook, or play musical instruments, or make hunting weapons or other tools, and the adults rarely shoo them away.” Children in our age need more chances to be around working adults, not closeted away with other children their own age. This is the biggest problem with our parenting and education system today.

Notes on “Free to Learn” by Peter Gray – Part 1

Notes on “Free to Learn – Why Unleashing the Instinct to Play Will Make our Children Happier, More Self-Reliant and Better Students for Life” by Peter Gray

I’ve been meaning to read this book for a long time and I’m so glad that I finally did. I’d recommend this book to everyone. It’s a must read even if you don’t have children. Our current education system does not match our societies dreams and aspirations for the future. We’re destroying our children by forcing families to believe this is the only and best way for children to learn. Read this and you’ll understand why and how much better life can be if we learn to trust our children.

“The idea that you have to go to school to learn anything or to become a critical thinker is patently ridiculous to any kid who knows how to access the Internet, and so it is becoming harder and harder to justify top-down schooling.”

I made loads of notes in this one! There was so much that really resonated with me. While I don’t agree with his world-view, I do see his assessment of our current education system, the changes in our world and their effects on our children.

Page 3 “…time works quickly when you are six and every day has the power of two weeks.”

Page 5 “The drive to play freely is a basic, biological drive. Lack of free play may not kill the physical body, as would a lack of food, air, or water, but it kills the spirit and stunts mental growth. Free play is the means by which children learn to make friends, overcome their fears, solve their own problems, and generally take control of their own lives.” A couple things came to mind here. I’ve heard many parents use this as an excuse to let children “solve their own problems” on the playground but it seems that it causes more problems mostly due to the children being far to young to communicate effectively to solve problems without an adult (or older child) around. The hunter/gatherer people he speaks of had groups of children playing where the ages were from toddler to teen. On our playgrounds we’re dealing with five or six very young children. It’s not the same.

Also, I see so many young adults now that don’t seem to know how to take care of themselves. The race track comes to mind. Their parents obviously took care of most things and now that they are on their own, they are overwhelmed with the amount of learning they need to do to take care of their own needs. That doesn’t mean that I make my kids do everything for themselves and not help. I help them and they help me. But when they want to take things on themselves, I let them even though I have a feeling they will fail at it. Better to fail now at 15 with parental back-up, than at 20 and alone.

Page 6 “Children are biologically predisposed to take charge of their own education. When they are provided with the freedom and means to pursue their own interests, in safe settings, they bloom and develop along diverse and unpredictable paths, and they acquire the skills and confidence required to meet life’s challenges.” And not always along the lines a parent or teacher would have them go! As a unschooling parent, I need to allow my children to develop skills needed in THEIR world, not mine. It’s a hard row to hoe at times but easier when you trust that children will learn on their own what they really need to learn.

Page 7 I hear a lot of parents talking about how their children thrive on structure and need them to provide that structure for them. I just don’t agree. We need to allow our kids to structure their own lives and help them to do it by supporting them. I like to have a schedule of my morning, so I’ve learned to create that for myself. If my child expressed that need in some way, I’d help to support his need and find ways for him to do it. My sons both have a need for racing and have developed their own systems of training that if I had mandate would never have been followed. “By ‘unstructured’ he really means structured by the players themselves rather than by an outside authority.”

Page 8 “The school system has directly and indirectly, often unintentionally, fostered an attitude in society that children learn and progress primarily by doing tasks that are directed and evaluated by adults, and that children’s own activities are wasted time.” I’m amazed at how many homeschoolers live with this attitude. But I’m encouraged by those that have been homeschooling a long time eventually see this is wrong. Now, if we could only start to catch people early, like before they become parents, so that they can see that their children’s play is not wasted time but very important work that needs to be supported not suppressed!

Performance is not true learning but it can be measured by authorities.

Page 10 “If we want to increase children’s opportunities for free outdoor play, we must strengthen neighborhoods in ways that allow parents to perceive them as safe.” This is one of the things I believe our community center club can promote with our homeschool group! Kids are perceived as safe here while parents congregate and chat about grown up things. It’s something our playgroup at my house provided when my kids were pre-school age! And I didn’t even realize then what we were doing and how much it served our children.

Final thoughts on “The Aeneid” by Virgil

Page 189 Aeneas searching for the golden bough that Sibyl sent him for. The image this line brings to my mind is so clear. This is why I love this book! “As mistletoe in the dead of winter’s icy forests leafs with life on a tree that never gave it birth, embracing the smooth trunk with its pale yellow bloom, so glowed the golden foliage against the ilex evergreen, so rustled the sheer gold leaf in the light breeze.”

Written just before the birth of Christ, The Aeneid is a tale of the origins of Rome. Is it true? Or all a myth? Was Rome founded by a group of Trojans that survived the war?

Page 223 “I’ll plead for the help I need, wherever it may be – if I cannot sway the heavens, I’ll wake the powers of hell!” Seems a bit defeating to me.

Page 228 The gods make the people fight. There’s a scene here where both human sides are at the beginnings of a truce when one of the gods flings a spear and kills a man that makes both sides take up arms again and continue the battle. Why would the god do that? They have some ultimate plan that needs to be carried out by humans? Or, more likely, the author of the story is making an excuse for something that happened between the humans. Some guy took it upon himself to hurl a spear because he was crazy or something. So, of course, what made him crazy was the gods and they were using him to further some plan of theirs.

Page 243 Again, the words, they make my heart ache. “Watching it all, the Trojan hero heaved in a churning sea of anguish, his thoughts racing, here, there, probing his options, shifting to this plan, that – as quick as flickering light thrown off by water in bronze bowls reflects the sun or radiant moon, now flittering near and far, now rising to strike a ceiling’s gilded framework.”

Page 255 “With those words on his lips, he gave his wife the embraces both desired, then sinking limp on her breast he courted peaceful sleep that stole throughout his body.”

Page 272 “Nisus asks, ‘do the gods light this fire in our hearts or does each man’s mad desire become his god?” How’s that for a deep question that we still ask ourselves thousands of years later?

Page 309 “Each man has his day, and the time of life is brief for all, and never comes again. But to lengthen out one’s fame with action, that’s the work of courage.” And action is war and death is not the only way. This story is about the founding of a nation but many of these lines about humanity can be applied to peaceful things. We can sit at home and be safe, working our job and paying our bills, raising our children and taking no chances, but are we really living?

Page 318 “Grim repose and an iron sleep press down his eyes and seal their light in a night that never ends.” He’s dead.

The story isn’t told as Aeneas is the good guy and everyone he encounters that keep him from finding his ancestral home are bad guys. They are all told as pawns in a huge game of the gods. Sorry I had to kill your family to get you to do what I wanted you to! No worries! I totally understand that it’s the will of the gods that you get my land and kill my sons. See you at the feast tomorrow my new master!

Page 381 In the middle of a battle, one man loses his sword and is about to die but a god brings it back to him, magically, and he wins the battle. I can’t imagine what this would look like in real life. What actually happened in this battle that made them describe it as the gods intervened?

And they all live happily ever after as Romans. I love it! I’d like to read this again and pay closer attention to the character of Aeneas. Does he change as he finds his new land? Does he become a better leader of men? I get a bit swept up in individual scenes and forget the bigger picture when I read. What I’d really like to have a group of people to actually talk about this book with. I can read other people’s thoughts on the book but then it’s like reading another book to me. Talking, out loud, with others about the same book, hearing their take on character and story, is what would really help me move forward. Oh, well. Maybe some day, right?!

Notes on “The Aeneid” by Virgil (Fagles) – Part 2

Page 100 His wife Creusa is lost. “I saw her stricken ghost, my own Creusa’s shade. But larger than life, the life I’d known so well.”…”My dear husband, why so eager to give yourself to such mad flights of grief? It’s not without the will of the gods these things have to come to pass.”…”The Great Mother of the Gods detains me on these shores. And now farewell. Hold dear the son we share, we love together.” I’m sobbing here. I love it that in stories you can have such concrete evidence that you are on the right track, that everything is in the plan.

Page 105 “To what extremes won’t you compel our hearts, you accursed lust for gold?” One of those things that has apparently never changed!

Page 110 “The Harpies…no monsters on earth more cruel, no scourge more savage, no wrath of the gods has ever raised its head from the Styx’s waters. The faces of girls, but birds! A loathsome ooze discharges from the bellies, talons for hands, their jaws deathly white with a hunger never sated.” Eeek! They’re nasty.

Page 123 “We press him hard – who is he? Who are his parents?” Here’s something that has changed a lot over the years. Even in stories, no one cares where you came from or who your parents were anymore. I wonder if that says something about our culture? We don’t seem much interested in any kind of history anymore. The only thing that matters is right now.

Page 129 “But, oh, how little they know, the omniscient seers. What good are prayers and shrines to a person mad with love? The flame keeps gnawing into her tender marrow hour by hour and deep in her heart the silent wound lives on.” Poor Dido, left all alone with this love in heart for Aeneas. I think unrequited love has to be the worst thing in the world. It can be the start of something wonderful or terrible depending on the person it hits. I wonder if the gods we make up in our minds can understand it.

Page 133 “Rumor, swiftest of all the evils of the world. She thrives on speed, stronger for every stride, slight with fear at first, soon soaring into the air she treads the ground and hides her head in the clouds. She is the last, they say, our Mother Earth produced. Bursting in rage against the gods, she bore a sister for Coeus and Enceladus: Rumor, quicksilver afoot and swift on the wing, a monster, horrific, huge and under every feather on her body – what a marvel – an eye that never sleeps and as many tongues as eyes and as many raucous mouths and ears pricked up for news.” It goes on another paragraph. It sounds like rumor is the root of all evil. She sure seems like she’s found a good home in modern times. She spreads even more quickly and does more damage in our modern times. She’s found an even more perfect disguise in the form of social media!

Page 162 It’s scenes like this one that make me love this book! “A laughingstock, shorn of glory, she came crawling in…Like a snake caught, as they often are, on a causeway, crushed by a bronze wheel or heavy rock flung by a traveler – trampled, left half-dead, trying to slip away, writhing in gnarled coils, no hope. Part fighting mad, its eyes blazing, its hissing head puffed high – part crippled, wounds cutting its pace, struggling in knots, twitching, twisting round itself. So the ship limped in,…”

Notes on “The Aeneid” by Virgil (Translated by Robert Fagles) – Part 1

Years ago I tried to read Homer’ Odyssey and lost interest right away. Someone recommended Fagles’ translation and I decided to try it. It was wonderful! And I read The Illiad and The Odyssey strait through without a problem. Some of it I read to my sons as a bedtime story. They loved listening to it. They didn’t understand all of what was going on but the rhythm of the writing lured them in to listen longer. I bought “The Aeneid” in the hopes that Fagles would do it justice as well and I was not disappointed. The story is gripping and it amazes me to think that this book is thousands of years old and here I am reading it in my livingroom. I wonder if Virgil knows. I especially liked reading the translator’s postscript! There was so much to learn there about the process of translating itself. It was enlightening to think about how you not only translate individual words, but the feeling. And what if the book was written a thousand years ago? How do we really even know what feeling the author was really trying to get across?! Anyway, on with my notes!

Page 65 “There is a country – the Greeks called it Hesperia, Land of the West, an ancient land, mighty in war and rich in soil.” It thought this line was funny because we live near a town called Hesperia and race dirt bikes there often. I doubt it is mighty in war and it is definitely not rich in soil since it is the middle of the desert.

Page 68 “Schooled in suffering, now I learn to comfort those who suffer too.” Nice thought, isn’t it? To help those suffering to overcome it or bear through it because you’ve already been there.

Page 98 “If you are going off to die, she begged, then take us with you too, to face the worst together, but if your battles teach you to hope in arms, the arms you buckle on, your first duty should be to guard our house.” Wow! I’m amazed at how few words he used to convey such a strong message.

Final Notes on “The Well-Educated Mind” by Susan Wise Bauer

Page 47 “The good reader bases his opinion on intelligent analysis, not mere reaction.” This takes time and thought. You can read a book that you do not agree with at all and it can still move you forward. You should be able to say why you don’t agree with the text and what you believe is wrong about it. And even then, there may be some truth on some pages and not in the whole.

Page 49 Discussion about the books with a group of people! Can this be done online on blogs like this one, or chat rooms? Thomas Jefferson wrote letters to friends about books. Why would online discussion not be the same? Not as quick as sitting together over tea, but much faster than a letter! Jefferson said in a letter “…I am glad to have some one to whom they are familiar, and who will not receive them as if dropped from the moon.”, speaking of talking to a peer about books. Like the difference between posting something about a book I’m reading on my Facebook timeline and posting the same comment to a discussion forum filled with fellow readers.

Getting ‘the answer’ isn’t exactly the point of the exercise. In classical education, the question-and-answer process is used as a teaching method; today, we call this ‘Socratic dialogue.’” We don’t ask questions to get answers and then walk away. We ask questions to bring up thought and discuss what we believe are the answers that ultimately lead to more questions and deeper thought. It’s not a test with correct answers.

Page 51 “When you read chronologically, you reunite two fields that should never have been separated in the first place: history and literature. To study literature is to study what people thought, did, believed, suffered for, and argued about in the past; this is history.” Historical fiction is only fiction that was written today about the past and can be useful, but stories like Jane Eyre and Robinson Crusoe show us just as much history, even if it is completely fictional!

Page 59 “Reading the first words of a novel is like glimpsing the first crack of light along the edge of an opening door.”

Page 64 About the novel, “Popularity is always a double-edged sword, though. The intellectual elite had already been suspicious of the novel, because of its identification with the “romance.” It seems that they may have been right. If something is popular, it means that most people want it or understand it. Doesn’t that mean that it’s been dumbed down to a point that most can grasp the meaning instead of the more intelligent few? But that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s a bad thing. Just because a food is bland, doesn’t mean it’s less healthy.

Page 68 “One of modernism’s most unattractive aspects was its snobbery. Modernist writers distrusted the masses and put all their faith in a small, well-educated elite. Several prominent modernists (most notably Ezra Pound) supported fascism and sneered at democracy.” Was? I believe the “modernist” has only evolved into a new form. They call themselves “progressives”.

Page 69 “Postmodernism says: There are many ways to portray real life and no single authority can pick which one is right.” and “Everything we think about ourselves – every ‘truth’ we know about our own existence – has been instilled in us, since birth, by our culture. We can’t get ‘outside’ of society’s structures in order to see what is really true.” Sounds like a bit of an excuse not to try. I’m reading a book right now about a human raised by Martians without another human around and then is taken back to Earth. He would not have any human culture to speak of, but he would be completely stuck in the same way but to Martian culture. He’s really putting Martian “truth” on human society.

Page 73 “…go back through the bracketed or bookmarked sections that you noted on your first read-through. Some will now appear irrelevant; others will suddenly reveal themselves to be central.” That’s exactly what I’m doing right now. Not all my notes make it into this post. I edit out those that seem irrelevant now that I’ve read the whole thing. And I add my thoughts to the ones that seem to hold up through the story.

When you evaluate nonfiction work, you will ask: Am I persuaded? But when you evaluate a novel you must instead ask: Am I persuaded? Do I see, feel, hear this other world?” That’s the difference. Nonfiction is information. Fiction is story, the people, the place, “being there.”

Page 74 “fable or chronicle” Fable is in another world. Chronicle is written in ours.

Page 76 Paying close attention to “character” is something I find difficult to do on a first read. I tend to devour novels at first. It’s as if I HAVE to get to the end right away to see what happens. The second time I read it, I learn more about individual characters and what they are up to, how they change, what makes them really part of the story.

Page 80 “allegory or metaphor” I’ve always had a hard time telling the difference. Allegory “involves a one-to-one correspondence between different story elements and the realities for which they stand; an allegory is a set of related metaphors, whereas a metaphor is a single image that may bear multiple meanings.” Allegories are hard to create accurately.

Page 82 The third stage of reading. “Is it true?” The first two stages of reading fiction are to gather information. What is the author trying to say? And the third one brings us around to deeper thought.

Page 84 “Did the writer’s times affect him?” Of course, they did! And that doesn’t mean there is not ultimate truth in the story. In my experience, when you get down to the real meaning of the story, its truth applies to any time in history. The situation and characters may change, but the truth in it is still truth hundreds of years after it is written.

Page 85 “You may find it helpful to keep a brief timeline of some sort, either along the top margins of your journal or on a separate piece of paper, so that you can remember momentous events.” It’s important to know what was going on when the author was writing. What was influencing him? Had Hiroshima just been bombed? What his country being changed somehow? What was in the local paper in the last ten to twenty years?

The primary purpose of a novelist is to lead you through an experience, not to convince you of a point.” That hits home! That is what life is all about, learning through experience. And what could be a safer and more effective experience than a novel? I can only live about 80 years and in one specific area, but I can read of so much more and that makes my life richer. It’s what separates us from other species. It’s what makes us “in the image of God”, the ability to communicate and learn from the experiences of another.

Page 86 “The novel…simply explores realities: It opens numerous doors for you to peer through, but makes no suggestions as to which threshold you should cross.”

The pretty much sums up the whole idea of reading, doesn’t it? The rest of the book discusses a long chronological list of books from fiction to science. Many of the books listed I have already read and will be reading again. I know a lot of people read this book and then get right to her list but my reading list includes a lot of more modern books than she has listed. I really think we need to make our own reading lists. Everyone’s list probably overlaps in many places, but each one is an individual journey that needs to be followed. I want to follow my own road in reading and so I’ll continue to do so. I will make a note in a book if it’s on her list so that I will remember to read her commentary afterward.

Notes on “The Well-Educated Mind” by Susan Wide Bauer – Part Two

Page 18 “Secondary schools don’t typically train us how to read seriously, how to study…all that’s missing is training in the art of reading.” I really think it’s a lot more than that. Years of school have taught most people only that they don’t want to learn anything anymore. Starting too early and on subjects they are not interested in has trained people into believing that they are not capable of real education.

Taste, swallow, digest; find out facts, evaluate them, form your own opinion.” That’s all education really is. Why is that so difficult to understand? Because most people have had their instincts to learn drilled out of them. Children in our culture have not being given the chance to learn themselves at a young age. They’ve never been given the chance to explore and know what works best for them in sleeping, eating, and learning. They’ve been molded and shaped into what the previous generations were taught. And it’s getting worse over time because the each generation knows less and less about themselves and how to run their own lives.

I’m not too keen on the trivium method of education. It all seems so forced from the top down, especially on younger children.

Page 19 “It is impossible to analyze on a first reading: you have to grasp a book’s central ideas before you can evaluate them.” The first reading for me is always just a quick read through. I try not to make any judgments, I go with the flow of the book making a note in the margin or on a piece of paper as I read. My “second reading” is typically what I’m doing now, going back through my notes and writing out my thoughts from the time and adding to it what I’m thinking now that I’ve finished the book. I may read it again in the future, especially novels. I get so much more from a story when I put it down and read it again later. I find all the character building moments that I missed the last time.

Page 20 “Have you ever, in listening to a debate among adult and presumably responsible people, been fretted by the extraordinary inability of the average debater to speak to the question, or to meet or refute the arguments of the speakers on the other side?” This was something we were all just commenting on while watching the “presidential” debates. They aren’t debates at all. Debates are people trying to communicate and understand each other. This was just a bunch of people arguing for entertainment purposes. It’s the same when we are reading things online and many times in group discussions. No one is listening to the other side of an argument, they are only waiting for their turn to make noise.

I would think that our senate and other statesmen would have better and more productive debates than ones we would have at our Thanksgiving dinners, but it looks as though that’s not the case.

Page 22 “The first task of self-education is not the reading of Plato, but the finding of thirty minutes in which you can devote yourself to thought, rather than activity.” That’s it in a nutshell! Years ago, I started with reading for thirty minutes in the morning over my cup of coffee instead of checking my mail or turning on the tv news. I’ve grown that to two hours to read and one to write and think, like I’m doing now. It’s slow and steady. I can typically read about three books a month which is a sight more than many! And I find the more I read, the more I can relate to people and ideas I find everywhere else. Even thought I think I’m not getting much out of a certain book, years later I’ll read or see something else and find my mind going back to it. Or I’ll read it again and find that I really understand much more than I did the last time.

Page 25 “When you gather data, you become informed. When you read, you develop wisdom.” And that doesn’t just mean books, in my opinion. You can do both with the same book, too! The first time you go through it, you’re gathering the data. When you go through it a second or third time, you’re really reading it and understanding what it is all about, gaining wisdom.

Page 35 Journalling! That’s what I’m doing here. Many of these books talk about creating a “commonplace” book, a book where you write notes about what you’re reading. I’ve tried it several times but I rarely go back and look over those notes to really make them stick in my mind. My process is a bit different but I believe it works well for me. I take a regular piece of copy paper and fold it into thirds like a pamphlet. I write the name of the book and my start date at the top and use it as a bookmark. Many of my books are too small to write real notes inside of and when I re-read them I find those notes distracting at times. Instead, I make a star next to an important passage and make note of the page number on my “book marker” with my thought about it. When I finish the book I make a file on my computer for that book and go back through those notes and write my thoughts out in a fuller form. I keep the paper in a file in my desk, kind of like a journal. I share my thoughts here in the hopes that I might encourage another reader out there to read the same book and share their thoughts as well.

Page 37 “The goal of classical self-education is this: not merely to “stuff” facts into your head, but to understand them. Incorporate them into your mental framework.” Sometimes, in my case, I’m just trying to remember that I read them at all!

Page 43 “When you first read through a book, don’t feel that you have to grasp completely every point that the writer is making.” I think that’s where a lot of people feel they fall short. They begin to read, don’t get it right away, and give up. I love reading groups where we are all reading the same book, though they are very hard to find in real life. I love hearing what someone else thinks of the book, what they discovered, how it changed them. It’s often very different from what I read. I remember reading “Little Britches” and being not very impressed by most of it. But then I heard a young man’s impression of it, and an older mother’s. My perception changed and I had to read it again with their eyes. It was a beautiful thing. I find similar points of view online through other people’s blogs. I only wish that more people were spending more time writing about what they read.