I'm happy to be reading through Laurie Bestvater's The Living Page: Keeping Notebooks with Charlotte Mason. The book was my Christmas gift to myself this year, but I hadn't had a chance to read it yet.
Jumping right in...
I will admit up front: I am not a paper lover.
Well, that's not entirely true. I love the idea of notebooks. I love browsing and handling pretty paper. I love the look of a fresh journal, soft blank pages ready to be written on. I have kept diaries and commonplace books from time to time, and I currently keep a Calendar of Firsts and a nature journal, both of which I really enjoy. I'm very particular about my pens and pencils. I much prefer real books to electronic ones. I like sketching and keep an art notebook. I even dabble in calligraphy. And reading through the notes and sketches of the great minds and artists are usually even more interesting to me than their most famous works.
And I consider myself a Keeper, in the intellectual way she means. I thoroughly agree that rearranging, narrating, brooding over--these are all steps toward actually knowing. I have always been drawn to lectio divina in my prayer life. I find value in keeping notes of memories, books read, quotes loved. I have learned more from the act of nature journaling than I ever expected to. And I have already seen these practices bear fruit in my children's education.
But coupled with those tendencies, I hate clutter. And I'm far more practical than sentimental. So if I can somehow accomplish the same "keeping" without the clutter of notebooks, journals, and paper, paper, paper, I'm all for it. That means that my journaling these days is done in a (very, very long) Word document, my lesson planning in a spreadsheet, my "note keeping" of all sorts in Evernote. Baby books? Each child has a spreadsheet charting their "firsts" and a file in the cabinet for the ephemera. Photo albums? We flip through folders of digital photos on the tablet when we want to reminisce. The kids' art? I display them for a while, then keep the few best and take photos of the rest before tossing them in the recycle. I disposed of all my childhood journals when I got married and moved out. After many years of being a die-hard fan of a particular agenda (the Quo Vadis Trinote, the closest thing to agenda perfection there is!), I went paperless and opted for Google Calendar. My mental stability just can't stand clutter, and this is heightened because of the amounts of paper we have the potential to accumulate as a big (and growing!) family. So paper has to prove itself as essential before it finds a place in my home.
So I come to this book with an eager curiosity. I have read quite a bit about Miss Mason's various notebooks, and we have incorporated several already into our schooling, based on the ages of my children, with much success. I'm excited to learn more!
I'm convinced of several of Bestvater's premises right from the start:
:: Keeping is important. Bestvater makes mention of the great minds that have been Keepers, and that's convincing. But more convincing for me is my own experience over many years of writing-as-thinking, note-taking, various forms of journaling, and so on. For me, the act of Keeping isn't in question--it's has been for me a path to knowledge, spiritual growth, and more.
:: Keeping is important for children. This is her main focus in this book: the role Keeping can play in education. I am a digital-friendly person, but my children decidedly are not. They don't have any media exposure at all, in fact, so their Keeping is naturally paper-based, and I intend to keep them digital-free for now because I see the value in that practice for young ones.
:: Miss Mason does not suggest methods without good reason. Bestvater quotes Miss Mason: "there is no part of a child's work at school that some philosophic principle does not underlie" (6). I have found in the past few years of studying Miss Mason that to understand her methods is to understand the reasons behind her methods. I try to be a CM purist when it comes to educational theory, so when I do have to make changes (and I sometimes do!), I try my best to ascertain her reason for the recommendation in the first place so that I can try to make a change that is still in keeping with the underlying principles. My preference for e-Keeping is no different; if Miss Mason considers the physical notebook itself important, I would like to be sure I understand why before choosing a different path.
:: Physicality can matter. In my religious upbringing, the physical nature of man simply wasn't important. The Sacraments, bodily mortification and sacrifices offered up for the salvation of souls, the gestures and postures of the liturgy, the sacramentals, the sweetness of the chrism, the rising smoke of the incense--all of these things are distinctly Catholic, and I am so thankful for them as a convert. I do not deny the importance of the physical nature of things. And I'm open to being convinced that notebook-keeping should fall into this kind of category, where physicality matters.
So my first thought when approaching this book is in line with Bestvater's stated focus: I'm looking forward to seeing how I can enhance my children's educational "paper postures" to take full advantage of the benefits of Keeping in Miss Mason's eyes.
But the second question I'm hoping to consider has more to do with my own practices: whether I can live by "paper ways" without a bunch of, well, paper. This chapter had me coming at that question from a variety of angles:
:: What part of notebook-keeping is grounded in natural law: is it the notebook itself, or just the act of Keeping of it? Is it the narrating, the copying, the rearranging? Or is it something about the physical act of writing or drawing itself? Is it the process or the product, or both? Ms. Bestvater hints at this in Chapter 1: "is it not the Keeper's full human life that Mason esteems? What if the emphasis is meant to be on the formative process--the growing person who feasts upon and then shares the Great Ideas in creating the art, rather than the artifact or achievement itself?" (12).
:: How much importance does the physicality of the notebook carry? I have the feeling based on Ms. Bestvater's sweet retelling of the journal she and her aunt shared that there is something about the physical act of keeping that endows a moment, quote, person, thing with worthiness, as if the act of Keeping proclaims that the thing is important enough to be kept. Does e-Keeping proclaim that importance in the same way? Or does e-Keeping, in requiring the time but not the space, suggest that the things kept are not worthy of that space? She writes of that time in her life: "But mostly what I carried away was the sense that I was important. I had been taken seriously ... I knew that love notices" (15-16).
:: Is all Keeping created equal? Are there some notebooks that might be replaced by less papery options? Which have particular value in keeping as physical notebooks? She talks about the fascinating combinations of arts and sciences in the journals of thinkers from DaVinci to Merian, and I haven't found a sufficient alternative to the noticing that physical drawing requires--which is why we do have nature journals here and can't imagine replacing them with a digital format. But what about other kinds of notebooks?
:: What is the place of technology in Miss Mason's vision for notebooks?
Does e-keeping "nurture the science of relations and the art of mindfulness" sufficiently? Can it bring us to the "school of Divinity" in the same way? Ms. Bestvater mentions technology briefly a few times in this chapter, mostly as an alternative to notebook-keeping, but I wonder if the two can mesh. After all, as she herself notes, we're enjoying the original journals of John Muir in digital form now, so there is a place for us to use technology as a way of getting at the great minds of others. But what about our own Keeping? Could there be a place for technology there too?
So put simply, is it the paper postures or the paper postures that Miss Mason feels are grounded in the natural laws of education? I'm hoping to find out.