In my early days of both mothering and home education, I tended to make idols out of the wise older women who had gone before me. This many years later, I know that we all are as fragile as tissue paper some days, make that a LOT of days for many of us. I am now drawn to homeschooling mothers who are for real, who don’t necessarily display their battle wounds for all to see, but exude both the realism called “living in the trenches,” and the hope of the One they call Beloved.
That all said…I got all flustered fan girl when I saw Cindy Rollins sitting at the Friday evening retreat last week. (cue blushing) I think I even compared her to U2’s Bono…Oh my goodness. See? We can still be silly giddy girls in our late 40’s! But Cindy is definitely someone who has been in the trenches of decades of motherhood and homeschooling her eight boys and one girl. Her humility and graciousness, in person, was just what I expected after following her online for a while now.
These days, we hear the truth spoken less and less in the public square. It is refreshing to hear it loud and clear by people like Cindy Rollins and the organization she is affiliated with–Circe Institute. Cindy reminds me of the “why’s” of home education. I am grateful for the opportunity to have met her and hear her speak in person. I promise I’m not putting her on a pedestal, just passing on what the Holy Spirit lead her to say at our retreat!
Cindy’s talk was titled, “The Habit of Being.” She started off with this quote from the Duke of Wellington, Arthur Wellesley, “Habit is ten times nature.” We aren’t in the business of changing a child’s natural inclination of being an introvert, or chatty, or spontaneous. That’s not what this refers to. I suspect that would be against CM’s first principle stating children are born persons, unique and individual ones at that. But, we must develop habits that encourage discipline in our children. This allows children to develop as God intended with their own personal gifts. Gifts are cultivated when habits are cultivated! Habits formed well make for a surer path.
Modeling Good Habits
Cindy says that the best way to teach good habits is through modeling them! This is actually more important than WHAT we teach. If you know my family, habits are…difficult. I just wanted to insert a “let’s be real here!” moment. We are not well-disciplined in some areas partly because of our medical issues and creative mindsets. We are very good at “rolling” with it. But I can see this year, we need to work on some habits of attention and discipline. This starts with me! I’m continuing to form my habit of morning prayer. This seems like a no-brainer, but after spending many years jumping out of bed and running to suction a little one’s airway with their trach…my prayer time was really “Ok Lord, let’s go!” and immediately tend to the urgent needs of a medically fragile child. While I am really no less busy, the tone has changed in some ways, since neither child has a trach or feeding tube. Now, I need to discipline myself to get up and immediately spend quiet time in prayer before the house gets a movin’. 😉 This is one way I can model to my children the discipline and habit of prayer.
The Habit of Narration
Another point Cindy made was that narration is a perfect tool for synthesizing new material. For narration to be the efficient mode of learning that it truly is, the habit of attention needs to be formed in children. The goal for older children is to narrate every day. This is something that is developed over time, not mastered in a few days! She said there can’t be a habit of “hit or miss” with narration for it to be effective. For most of us, this means short passages read with good attention. It would follow that the narrations should be short as well, not overwhelming the child, but forming the habit of reading a passage once and then being able to narrate from that one reading. Read more about narration here.
Cindy stressed that small amounts of quality school time tended to faithfully over the long haul is way more effective than running to and fro chaotically, trying to make up for “lost time” by frantically pushing facts into their heads. Small habits add up to a lifetime of learning. In the end, that is what we want…children who are life long learners. I think we can get there by tending the Garden of Small Habits!
Anchor to the past
I loved her idea that we need to “anchor” our children to the past, a past that the current culture eschews so much. By anchoring in the past, we can show our kids that ideas truly have consequences and consequences ALSO have ideas. Culture shows us this time and time again. Right now, we are living in a “post consequence” time of bad ideas. I had to chew on that one for a while. Wow. While we don’t run from some modern educational resources (math curriculum, etc) there is a richness and depth with older works that is hard to find these days. I see this in many things: Liturgy, hymns, Catechism….
Another point of Cindy’s to consider is that classical education should be humbling to us and our children. It’s ok not to know everything! In Karen Glass’ book, “Consider This,” she makes the same point that the underpinning of classical education is humility! Without humility, we become unteachable!
When we develop good habits, we limit our decisions that need to be made, thus decreasing “moral fatigue.” When we are constantly having to make decisions, we “drain” our moral bank. Again, wow! This makes so much sense and furthers my resolve to develop the daily habits that can not only make life run smoother, but allow learning to happen unencumbered by chaos. I write all of this knowing that, again, having special needs kids has its own set of rules that make following certain habits hard. But…I’m going to pray to be led to start with the ones that God wants first. Prayer…right there…first.
One of Cindy’s long habits while raising nine children was to read poetry during her morning time. She said, “Don’t explain poetry, just read it, and re-read it! Let them puzzle it out.” I love poetry, so it’s not hard or intimidating for me to read poetry to my kids. BUT…I do have to restrain myself from tramping all over the reading time with imposing my own reflections. I usually will read a poem once. Then, I’ll ask the kids to listen again, and to be listening for a line that particularly resonates with them, they don’t have to know the why or how, just that they like how it sounds. This takes away the “Oh, I need to explain why I like it” fear. Now, they still DO explain a lot of times why they like, or even love a certain line. But, that choice is their’s to be made. One of Lily’s favorite lines from poetry last year was by Emily Dickinson:
“Hope is a things with feathers…”
To hear her little breathless reading of Dickinson’s words was one of the highlights of my year. Lily couldn’t verbalize why she loved it, but that’s more than ok. I’m convinced that good poetry resonates with us because it speaks the quiet language of our souls that has become increasingly difficult to hear since The Fall. But, lines like the one above whisper of it, that intimate and beautiful relationship with Our Creator, yes?
Again, the reality is, poetry isn’t necessarily “loved” by all of my kids. But I believe so strongly in it because poetry “sticks” its landing. The images are powerful tonics that we draw on for the rest of our lives. Cindy said this herself, relaying a story of how one of her boys, in the military, was on a ship that was undergoing quite a difficult time. Things were extremely tense but as he stood a long watch, he recited the poetry, Shakespeare and Bible passages he had heard all throughout the ongoing “Morning Time.” This young man, and those around him, drew strength from the timeless truths in such things. It calmed everyone and they persevered. As Cindy reflected throughout her talk, it just takes a small amount of work, like reading poetry, done diligently, that forms the habit of attention and bears much fruit.
“Routine is the condition of survival” says Flannery O’Connor. Yes, Flannery O’Connor, who lived with the debilitating effects of lupus, and died at the young age of 39. Her life was cruelly impacted by her illness, but in spite of that, she cultivated the habit of daily prayer and morning writing, every single day. What an inspiration to us all!
Cindy closed with this–duty and service are habit-forming and, ultimately, build the Kingdom of God.
Thank you so much, Cindy, for stepping in at the last moment and speaking at this retreat. It was a gift to us all! And thank you, again, to Ambleside Online for the beautiful retreat!