Monday, April 13, 2015

One Little Quibble with Karen Glass' New Book

I have finally finished reading Consider This, by Karen Glass. I found much of it fascinating--and I loved the reiteration of the Charlotte Mason principle: "education is a life." Since the term "classical education" is so broad and has been used in so many different ways, it is just downright funny to me for someone to argue about whether a educational approach is really "classical" or not! In fact, it seems that everyone is just describing what they believe the true, best education is and arguing why the term "classical" should be put on it!  But all of that is for other posts.
Here I just want to quibble over the word "synthetic" to refer to whole, personal knowledge versus analytic knowledge. I'm glad that she explained the reason she chose it over other more common terms. As she said on page 33:
I choose to use the word 'synthetic' partly because Charlotte Mason uses it, and partly because of the actual definition. It is made up of two Greek roots: syn (with) and thesis (to set forth)--to place things together.
This makes it a little bit more forgivable (smile). Glass also explains on page 117:
James Taylor, author of Poetic Knowledge, tells us that the opposite of 'poetic' knowledge is 'scientific' knowledge. David Hicks in Norms and Nobility contrasts 'dialectic' thinking with 'analytic' thinking. I will continue using the term 'synthetic,' but it should be understood that we all mean essentially the same thing. In the simplest of terms it is the difference between knowing a thing and knowing about a thing.
Yes! The best education is going to approach the student as a whole person and help them toward a whole knowledge about a real and valuable world. Seeking a whole understanding of the natural world and language means that we believe there is meaning in life--ultimate meaning. It is a search for wisdom, and it is found in a hopeful and humble approach to life and learning.

But I just can't help it! I prefer the term "integral knowledge," since it comes from a Latin adjective. The root meaning of "integrated" or "integral" seems to come closer to what we are looking for: integer, integra, integrum means "whole, complete, undamaged, vigorous." The Greek term is not as close to what we are trying to get at; in fact, one of the meanings of the word "synthetic" is "not real or genuine; artificial."

A real, lively experience of any subject in its wholeness must be connected as quickly as possible with the analytic study of its jargon and principles. Previous to, during and after, an analytic study of any subject, allow your child to enjoy whatever it is. That is not a waste of time.

I was very much influenced by the Charlotte Mason movement. One of my first books on homeschooling is For the Children's Sake, and I am greatly inspired by it. Yes--education is a life. To me that sums up the power of the Charlotte Mason approach. What we seek for our children is an education that is "whole, complete, undamaged, vigorous!"


  1. I like your term "integral knowledge". I must say I was at first a tiny bit confused when reading about this synthetic knowledge in Consider This. Continuing to read, I understood the idea.

  2. I love the way the root meaning of the Latin word, integer, helps us understand the concept of "integrated study." I always knew that integer= whole (as in a whole number), but then I was that it was used in Latin to mean "undamaged" and "complete" --having all of its essentials! It shed new light on the meaning of "integration."

  3. I had a little chuckle since I knew you were coming from the Latin teacher side of things in your choice of "integrated study" over "synthetic knowledge". I haven't read Karen Glass's book, but I hope so in the near future. Thanks for your thoughts on it.
    Jan Powell