Wonder at Work: Part Two of Brad Bolt’s Reimagined Pedagogy

Wonder has to be experienced before anyone can hope to understand it. Unfortunately, the impersonal method of writing about wonder can at best offer glimpses of wonder instead of its encompassing embrace. If one hopes to experience wonder then I would advise them to wake up early in the morning before the world wakes from its slumber, gaze at the majestic stars above thy head, and allow the mind to ponder the beautiful illuminations and one’s position of adoration of the incomprehensible sky. As the Integrated Humanities Program (IHP) realized, “when man looks at the stars he is struck with wonderment, and wonder, the Greeks said, is the beginning of the desire to know”­­ (Robert Carlson, Truth on Trial: Liberal Education Be Hanged. Location of Publication Unknown: Crisis Books, 1995, 33). The interaction with the stars opened the students up to a world which was blossoming before their eyes. This world was full of beauty, truth, friendship, love and all of the other sensory-emotional experiences a person hopes to fill their life. One may ask the question, “Is looking up at the sky all I have to do to start experiencing and understanding wonder?” The answer is, “Yes!” Experiencing truth and beauty firsthand through the use of one’s senses is how wonder begins. The medium can and will change, such will be the case of substituting stars with literature, person to person interactions, and so on. Long story short, the individual must come into direct contact with a medium for truth and beauty then allow the mind to love and appreciate the beauty and truth being experienced though the senses.

Another concrete example of wonder at work, once again, comes from the IHP:

The IHP also offered Latin, taught in the beginning entirely by the oral method, that is, without the use of a textbook or formal grammar. This course was, as everything was in the IHP, presented in the poetic mode. The students, by listening carefully and repeating what they hear, learned to speak very simple Latin from their memories much like children begin to learn their native language without any study of grammar, without any books. This was gymnastic in that it allowed for direct wrestling with the Latin; it was musical in that it brought forth much delight and laughter in the challenge and mistakes of trying to conduct an entire lesson without using any English, pointing, gesturing, acting out, the words and meaning instead. Books and grammar were not excluded altogether if the student decided to continue with Latin, but they were simply delayed so that the mind would not be filled with paradigms and rules and all the systems of a disintegrated language. Rather, the student would have in the memory the sounds of Latin words and phrases used in real conversation. Once again, the emphasis was to do Latin, not to study it (James L. Taylor, Poetic Knowledge. Albany, N.Y.: State University of New York Press, 1998, 152).

This “delay of paradigms and rules and all the systems of disintegration” can and will be said about learning any science or discipline. If the individual only has the disintegrated aspects of any science or discipline the individual will not and cannot love and appreciate it because the individual does not know enough about the science or discipline for love to overcome the lust. All things in this world can be lusted after but can fall short of love because the soul has not experienced it and the intellect has not come to understand it. If and when the soul and intellect experience truth and beauty, the fruit of the interaction is wonder. This wonder is experienced, not taught. The experience of raising a child illustrates this point.

The anticipation of the birth and joy of being able to hold one’s child soon begins to enter into a deeper love and sense of wonder as the raising of a child is experienced. Reading a book about paradigms and rules of raising a child when experience has been gained allows the individual to properly place the information into a lived experienced in which growth occurs. As in the case of learning Latin, it is through the direct experience of doing the discipline in which one begins to understand it and once it is understood love and wonder increases. The love of the child, gained through the experience of raising the child, far surpasses any disintegrated theory of how to best love a child. The experience of gazing at the beauty and innocence of the child, fills an individual with wonder. This is what can be said about wonder. The more time an individual spends living in a perpetual sense of wonder, the more love of truth, beauty and goodness the individual begins to experience. Yes, paradigms and rules eventually play a factor but the IHP knows in order to gain this appreciation and love of learning and knowledge it has to be experienced, not taught in theory, but practiced. May God give us all the grace to live in a perpetual sense of wonder.

This is the second in a series of guest posts by Brad Bolt.

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The Track Less Traveled – A Guest Post

“What do you know?” These words quite regularly came from one of Dennis Quinn’s colleagues and was directed towards students (Iris Exiled, 21). Dennis Quinn was part of a school of wonder, better known as the Integrated Humanities Program at the University of Kansas. Quinn nor the school are the foci but both illustrate the power of wonder within the educational setting or conversion process. Ultimately, it is the experience of wonder which leads a person towards a fulfilling life. This fulfilled life is one steeped in truth and love, and the pathway towards truth and love ignite the fires within our souls and intellect to contemplate life outside of our ever present limitations, trials and tribulations. When the mind is grappling with the sense of wonder there is a sheer joy and exhilaration with the possibilities which exist before us. It is this true sense of life which keeps us coming back for more truth, it is this sense which calls us out of ourselves towards something genuine and concrete, something eternal. It is the sense of wonder which continually orients a person towards the contemplation of God.

This track or pathway towards the contemplation of God is traveled by everyone. The secular, individuals who do not hope to reach this end or are unaware this end exists, and the religious, people actively attempting to strengthen their relationship with God. The secular and religious person start off riding the same train whether they realize it or not. Unfortunately, both the secular and religious get off at one of the many false summits, believing they have reached absolute truth and the end of their journey. This person says to their self, “I know everything now, there is nothing left to ponder because I have all of the truth I need to live a fulfilled life of purpose and meaning and the remaining journey is one filled with unknown and meaningless contemplations which will only lead towards a disillusioned sense of absolute truth.” However, the train does continue and the contemplations only grow in beauty and majesty. The track less traveled, the one which perpetually carries on and leads towards the Absolute Truth, the contemplation of God, is the focus of this work. It is aimed at the secular and religious alike and charges them with continually answering the question, “What do you know?” in hopes the person will stop getting on and off the train at false summits, will catch the next train as it approaches their current resting place and the individual will reenter the train, take their seat and enjoy the ride, growing in their love of truth, beauty and God. The train is fueled by wonder and it is wonder which keeps the individual on the train and sustains the conversion process, or the contemplation of God. In order to prove this thesis three areas will be expounded (1) explanation of wonder, (2) necessity of wonder within conversion and (3) actual examples of wonder used as a tool within the educational or conversion process.

(This is the first in a series of guest posts by Brad Bolt.)

Playing the Gender Game

Okay class, which of these two poems was written by a man and which by a woman? That question (and the poems themselves) made for an exciting opening salvo for a class on the distinction between gender and sex. Here are the poems I used:

Those lines that I before have writ do lie,
Even those that said I could not love you dearer;
Yet then my judgment knew no reason why
My most full flame should afterwards burn clearer.
But reckoning Time, whose million’d accidents
Creep in ‘twixt vows and change decrees of kings,
Tan sacred beauty, blunt the sharp’st intents,
Divert strong minds to the course of altering things;
Alas, why, fearing of Time’s tyranny,
Might I not then say ‘Now I love you best,’
When I was certain o’er incertainty,
Crowning the present, doubting of the rest?
Love is a babe; then might I not say so,
To give full growth to that which still doth grow?

 

How do I love thee? Let me count the ways.
I love thee to the depth and breadth and height
My soul can reach, when feeling out of sight
For the ends of being and ideal grace.
I love thee to the level of every day’s
Most quiet need, by sun and candle-light.
I love thee freely, as men strive for right.
I love thee purely, as they turn from praise.
I love thee with the passion put to use
In my old griefs, and with my childhood’s faith.
I love thee with a love I seemed to lose
With my lost saints. I love thee with the breath,
Smiles, tears, of all my life; and, if God choose,
I shall but love thee better after death.

In order for the exercise to work, I had to bet on the students NOT knowing the authors of these poems already. Turns out only one student had read either of these poems in high school. Midway through our blind attempt to discern which poem a woman had penned, this student “revealed” her knowledge and “helped” the rest of the students decipher the mystery. Ironically (perhaps fittingly) this student had misremembered the identity of the author, thereby plunging the class deeper into the abyss of unknowing. The students thought the exercise would be a cake walk. All the expected arguments were made and the common stereotypes bandied about, but the more we spoke the more arbitrary our decision seemed to be.

After revealing the true identity of the authors (Shakespeare and Browning, respectively) we discussed why we thought it would be easy. Wouldn’t one expect people of different genders to express the fundamental truths about human love in radically different ways? I mean Men are from Mars and Women are from Venus, right? I think the fruit for the class (at least the lowest hanging fruit) was the discovery that men and women might be more similar than we thought. Different, yes, but not aliens from distant planets. Shakespeare and Browning express fundamental experiences of love, beauty, and goodness in unique ways, but not incommensurate ways.

For part II of this class session I ask the students to split up into men and women. Working together, they come up with a list of the ten most annoying characteristics of the opposite sex. (I borrowed this exercise from David Cloutier.) A representative of each group then proclaims these attributes and the fun begins. In addition to garnering laughs, this exercise tends to ruffle the feathers of students’ assumptions about sex and gender. Why? Because after the initial discussion about whether the attributes are true, false, or exaggerations, I ask each gender/sex group to work together again state which of the attributes are entirely socially constructed and which are entirely biological. Inevitably, the students come back from their attempt befuddled. It turns out that arguing for the complete social constructivist theory of gender is a lot harder than they thought. At the same time, the entirely biologically-centered theory of gender falls on equally hard times. Students come away seeing the relationship between biological sex and the category of gender in a much more nuanced way than they had before.

Thoughts? How do you introduce gender theory?