Thursday, February 6, 2014

The Living Page :: Chapter 1 and Some Thoughts on E-Keeping

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.


  1. Great question Celeste! I enjoy paper so the whole idea of e-keeping just never crossed my mind...but I certainly understand your points... technology does give way to some of this, doesn't it? I'm new to smart phones and iPads not because I consider myself old, but just as choice. I've yet to use the functions already there for notes and such but it's just a matter of habit at this point. I'll enjoy reading more too on how important the actual physical paper and pen are to the process...

    1. Hi, Jenny! Haha--yes, I think I may be the only non-"paper girl" over at 4Real! ;) Actually, when I'm brainstorming I sometimes prefer paper because it's faster...but then I transfer it over to Evernote when I'm done. ;) But I'm open to being convinced of the importance of more notebooks in my life because I do trust Miss Mason's thoughts on education. Looking forward to reading more on this topic!

  2. Hi Celeste, I think I'm actually a Non-paper girl too. I have tried so many different Notebooks for myself and you know, the only one I consistently keep up with is my sketchbook/nature journal and my master homeschool notebook with all my kids yearly plans and transcripts, etc. I have gone to almost completely to e-organizing for myself. I just don't seem to "need" a huge home keeping notebook anymore. It just adds to my clutter, iykwim. My dd used to be a paper kind of girl, but now she doesn't really have time for crafty stuff anymore, and she does most of her school on her computer, so you just have to learn how to adjust and reconfigure your learning style (especially Miss Mason's style) to suit your time and place. I do not have the Bestvater book, but am enjoying the conversation and have used the Charlotte Mason method for so many years now I can appreciate all the different ways in which people choose to incorporate her methods to suit their families. Loved all your thoughts here!

    1. Yes, the homekeeping notebook--a perfect example of the kind of thing I used to long after and spend time on (in the early days of my marriage and motherhood, when they were all the rage on 4Real) that I have decided just isn't my style. I consider myself a super-organized person, actually, but paper doesn't play much of a part in that. In fact, the lack of paper helps to *keep* me organized, mentally and physically. So I can definitely relate to the experience of you and your daughter. Thank you so much for stopping by, Meredith! :)

  3. I'm glad you're raising these questions! I was asking them myself when I read, but still with no definite answer. In a way, blogging can be a written narration, right? Would it be more effective to have written it by hand first? I go back and forth on that. Some of my best posts really WERE written by hand, and then typed. What does that mean? And my commonplace book...would I remember the quotes as well if I were typing them up? I don't know.

    I actually AM a paper person, but the issue for me is losing things. Losing notebooks, for example. So far, I've just tried to be very, very deliberate about keeping them in one place, which doesn't come naturally for me. I wonder if, over the long haul, I really will miss a few quote because I can't find my commonplace. And if that was all on Evernote, I would know where it was, right? So then I wouldn't miss it, and wouldn't that be good?

    I've gone in circles over this. I look forward to hearing what you think about it.

    1. I have gone back and forth over the importance of actual writing, ever since I would oscillate between writing and typing when composing research papers in grad school. I have always found the best balance for me personally to be to take notes on paper (I can be quick, immediate, include sketches, etc.) and then to actually sit down at the computer screen to write. But even much of my note-taking has been virtual these days, thanks to Evernote. So I'm interested in exploring this concept further in the context of the notebooks.

      And I didn't mention this in my post but thought about it: when we had our home broken into a couple weeks ago, the burglars took our laptops (in addition to other things, obviously). Luckily, our files were (pretty much) backed up, so all that "stuff" was still on our external hard drive, in "the cloud," etc. We didn't lose it. But if a notebook goes missing, gets taken, burns up in a fire, gets water spilled all over can't be replaced. That kind of permanence is attractive to me. What about the convenience of having everything right where you need it? And having it in a way that feels more permanent (despite its virtual-ness)? All of that, I think, ties into your missing-notebooks question.

      But, like I said, I'm willing to be convinced. I know enough of CM to know that she's almost always right. ;) Now I just have to figure out what she would have thought of Evernote... :)

    2. Well, let me know if you figure out what she would have thought. :)

      Laurie Bestvater is pretty clear that she doesn't think it will work -- that the physicality is imperative. I'm still vacillating, of course. My thought is that perhaps the technology doesn't lend itself to the right "spirit" and so we wouldn't do it with children, but maybe for ourselves we could figure out ways that really *do* capture the spirit while still accomplishing some of the other goals as well?

      I don't know.

      Part of me also wants to be practical and say that sometimes figuring out the way in which we will actually do it is important because we can't practice what we won't do.

  4. Very interesting thoughts! I do not have the book, but it has now gone to the top of the list of "books I want".

  5. Ugh - I somehow lost my first attempt at commenting.

    I've really been thinking about your post, Celeste. Particularly since we both ask the same question with regard to technology and its place in notebooking. I found myself relating to much of what you shared with regard to your motivation for notebooking electronically.

    You asked:
    >> What part of notebook-keeping is grounded in natural law: is it the notebook itself, or just the act of Keeping of it? <<
    ...and I think I'm willing to go out on a limb and take a stab at an answer. Prejudices for paper aside, I really do believe that it is the keeping that is the needful and essential element here. After all, Charlotte Mason herself said, "Be inspired by an idea." It is the idea that is inspiring. Not necessarily how that idea is conveyed. I'm willing to accede that a notebook that asks for a *creative telling back* (more of a narration), such as a nature notebook, could perhaps be best executed with the utmost potential for expression of creativity - so perhaps by hand. But those notebooks that are vessels used to capture treasured ideas and thoughts seem ideal for any canvas best fitting the keeper.

    My only reservation would be that I'm not sure I see electronic notebooks as "quiet" the quiet of a paper book might be considered. I guess that even if a digital format itself were unencumbered by *noise* there would still be the peripheral potential for noise. So...I can see an argument might be there. But, I can't see that point as strong enough to counter that it's the idea that is important to capture.

    Those are my thoughts someone who LOVES her Evernote notebooks!

    I hope you'll consider taking some screenshots of some of your electronic notebooks and share, Celeste! I'd love to see some of the tools you use to "keep!"

    1. Hi Jen--thanks so much for thinking this out a bit with me...

      "I'm willing to accede that a notebook that asks for a *creative telling back* (more of a narration), such as a nature notebook, could perhaps be best executed with the utmost potential for expression of creativity - so perhaps by hand. But those notebooks that are vessels used to capture treasured ideas and thoughts seem ideal for any canvas best fitting the keeper." << This is an excellent and helpful distinction--you captured the difference that I was not able to do verbally.

      I think you are right that there is a factor of "quiet" that needs consideration. I also think that the blank "page" of an Ever-note might not have the same spirit as a literal blank page. Hmmm...

      I will certainly share some e-notebooks later on in this discussion. Thanks so much for the invitation. :)

  6. I'm coming in late here (and I haven't even read the book, so I guess I'm really going out on a limb!) but I find the paper keeping and e-keeping discussion is extremely interesting as it is something I've been mulling for awhile now. It is actually one of the two things that has kept me from buying this book, because I've assumed she'd take an all paper stance and I wasn't sure I was particularly interested in that. (The other being the lack of a ebook version - I much prefer to read books electronically these days. It is so much easier to read and highlight an ebook while nursing!)

    I've been coming at it from two directions. First, the practical. I type a lot faster than I write, and I like to organize what I write, move things around, and categorize them. Paper notebooks drive me slightly crazy because I don't like having to find them, I dislike starting a new notebook for each new book or project, and I don't like trying to guess how much space I'll need in a notebook in order to use the same notebook for multiple books. And I really don't like mixing notes from multiple books into the same notebook!

    However -- and this is a big however! -- I want to model note keeping, written narrations, recording quotes I like to my children. If they see me sitting in front of my computer typing away, they have no idea if I'm writing a blog post, commenting, writing a narration, working on lesson plans, responding to email, etc. I can tell them, but I don't think it actually makes any difference. To them, it is just mom, typing away at the computer again. However, if I sit down at the table with a book and my journal or my commonplace book, they know what I'm doing and they are far more interested. It is a far better way of modeling what I hope they will grow to enjoy themselves. Will they likely grow up to type everything too? Well, quite possibly. But is it better for me to model on paper rather than on computer, especially when they are little? I'm grudgingly thinking it might be better.

    What I've decided to do at this point is to type my written narrations in Evernote, write my regular journalling in Day One (on my computer), write my favorite quotes in my physical commonplace book, keep a paper nature journal, and do other brainstorming and heavy thinking on paper. I would like to work on improving my writing, and I'm thinking about working through some writing exercises. I am thinking those will be on paper too, or at least will start out that way and then get revised and polished on the computer.

    But I'm curious to learn more and understand this all better... and I'm beginning to think I should just go ahead and get the book and join in on this discussion! (Particularly since this comment is long enough to be a blog post!!)

    And that's terrible about the burglary!! I'm glad you didn't lose too much data... how awful!

    1. I'm right there with you on the practical considerations. Being able to cut-and-paste, type quickly, copy from one document to another, tag and file, juggle multiple physical notebooks...the ease of using a computer for all that is really appealing. And more than the practical considerations, I'd add that it's definitely the perfectionist side of me coming out when I say that I love the usability of digital forms when it comes to writing and recording. There's something so "nice and neat" about managing things in a paperless way. :)

      And yes, I definitely share your concerns about modeling good habits for my children. This is one of my sticking points. I mean, obviously I think there is some inherent value in using *paper* because that's a habit that I want to pass along to my children. If I didn't think paper was better in some way, then I wouldn't care of my children used it or went digital, right? But I do care, I think. And I do want them to know that I'm doing something productive (whether it be journaling, reading an e-book, writing, typing up commonplace quotes, etc.) rather than frittering away time on some e-game or something like that. So the perception is significant as well. The children see me work on my nature journal, and they love working alongside me. They see me engaged and interested in the notebook in front of me, and that interest is catching. If they aren't able to see me notebooking in other ways (because, as you said, in their mind I'm really just typing away at the computer), will their interest in those pursuits wane? My habit right now is keeping a Nature Journal and Calendar of Firsts on paper, and I plan to add a Book of Centuries when they reach that point in their studies. I also do, as you said, brainstorming on paper on occasion.

      Anyway, still thinking all this out as I continue my way through the book. I want to read it all before making any decisions. :) Thank you for sharing how you're handling this--sounds like there are quite a few of us wondering about these same questions. (And yes, please do get the book. I'd love for you to blog along too. :))

    2. I kept thinking about your comment, "I mean, obviously I think there is some inherent value in using *paper* because that's a habit that I want to pass along to my children." I also looked back at what I wrote and realized I sound a lot more definitive about what I'm doing as far as keeping than I actually feel! I ended up ordering the book early in the week and I'm caught up with where I'm supposed to be in this discussion. I am so glad I bought the book - it has given me a great deal to think about and I think it will be very fruitful for myself and my family. Thanks for the nudge!

    3. I'm glad you got it, Amber! I hope you'll be posting as well--I'd love to read more of your thoughts. I'm working on the copybook post right now... :)

  7. Hi Celeste! I just came across this series in an effort to "teacher train" myself this summer �� I know I say this every time, but I just love your blog and appreciate your organized way of thinking. So, once again, thank you!
    This is a great question, I'm wondering what your recent thoughts on it are. This article came to mind as I was reading your post:
    Not that test scores are the end result of a CM education, but I thought the findings were interesting.
    Personally, I like typing in this season of my life because I feel like I can get more done in between interruptions. But then, is more really better? Maybe less with more intention is better.
    This was a great post!

    1. What you said there at the end: "Maybe less with more intention is better." THAT. That's the conclusion I have eventually come to through my own reading on the topic and, more importantly, my practice of keeping over the course of the few years that have passed since I wrote this.

      I actually wrote a few updates as part of this series where I share where I eventually came out on this debate, but also a recent post at Charlotte Mason Living on this topic that you might like since I think you're coming from a really similar perspective to mine:

      And there is certainly a place for typing also! When I am pulling a post together, or planning a school year, or writing a talk, or whatever, I really use a combination approach -- some things are genuinely more efficient in type, and efficiency sometimes IS the goal. I'm not going to handwrite my final notes for a webinar, for example! There is room for quote-keeping in a variety of formats. But I think the format DOES matter and that efficiency isn't usually our goal as learners. Those were two points I became convinced of over time. I still love thinking this through, though!

      Thanks for stopping by and adding your thoughts to the discussion, Rachel! I will check out that link because studies on these topics are really interesting to me. :)