Wednesday, September 14, 2016

A Guide to a Well-Educated Mind

When I was a sophomore in high school, Mr. Carpenter, or Carp as we called him, became my favorite English teacher. He opened my mind to a new way of critical reading that has changed my outlook on reading ever since. 

I wish I could say I remember everything but he helped me recognize that even describing colors in novels could be symbolic. We read To Kill a Mockingbird and my notebook was flooded with notes and hidden meanings that I would not have gathered if I read it by myself. That is still a book I need to reread because I hear with that book, the more you read it, the more you glean from it. 

Carp told us to be "sponges for knowledge". I love being able to soak up what I read and apply it to my life. Lately, I've been feeling the need to read more critically, or at least try harder things. Dickens has been an author I've been meaning to read for years but have yet had the courage to crack open a page of his books. Sometimes I just opt to get what's on hold at the library at the moment or the newest book hot off the shelf, that I neglect to delve into books that will challenge and hopefully inspire me at the same time. 

The reason for starting to write down my reviews on books came from talking to my Mom. She encouraged me to do this after listening to Susan Wise Bauer on this podcast about classical education. "You don't know how you feel about a book until you have told it to someone else or written it down in your own words." That intrigued me enough to listen to the podcast. Here are some points that I gained from it.

When you're reading a novel ask yourself these questions: 
-Who's the protagonist?
-What does he/she want?
-What does he/she really want?
-How does he/she get it?

She goes on to say to use cliff notes to search out intelligent questions with the classics. She also encouraged parents to have unabridged audio books of classics playing so your children can listen to. They might not remember everything about the book but they can pick up vocabulary that way. 

I jumped on board and requested her book, The Well-Educated Mind: A Guide to the Classical Education You Never Had and have only finished part 1 (which is 50 some pages). But there are so many interesting points that I want to write down before I forget them. The 2nd half of the book goes through the great book list in biographies, novels, plays, poetry, etc. and she tells you how to read each one. You can tell she is one smart cookie.

My takeaways thus far. 

-She breaks down classical education learning in three stages:
1. Grammar stage-get the basic knowledge of what you're reading like the facts.
2. Logic stage-the critical thinking part where you decide if the information is correct or not and make connections.
3. Rhetoric stage-You express your opinion about it in writing and speech. 

-Make time to self-educate yourself. Morning time is the best.
The case that morning time is better stems from the idea that your mind works better/sharper in the morning. I do agree with that and I might try to apply that when I try to read one of the great books, but for me right now, scripture study in the morning is more of a priority. I might just need to get up earlier to squeeze both in.

-Being informed vs. being enlightened
When we receive data, we are being informed but when we apply that data or try to understand it and gain wisdom from it, then we are enlightened.

-Journal to organize your thoughts while you read
"What we write, we remember. What we summarize in our own words becomes our own." Truth. I'm just thinking back to my college classes (particularly psychology) and if I wanted to study for a test, I would take out a sheet of blank paper and write everything I remember from the class. Transferring from mind to paper helped to solidify the things I was learning. I think this is also working in my personal scripture time because this week I would read a chapter and then summarize it and then write down what it means for me. 

Susan gives a wide variety of books, plays, poetry, etc. that I'm excited to dive into. I'm not sure how many I'll read but I'm going to give at least a few in each category a try. This is going to take me years. I might even throw in my own that I've been meaning to read (Middlemarch, Tale of Two Cities) into these exercises of gaining information, analyzing, and then expressing my opinion. It's all a little daunting but hopefully will be worth it!

How do you engage your mind? Have you read any of Susan's books? Thoughts?


  1. I loved this blog! Good for you for reading and then analyzing, and evaluating. So proud of you! You always inspire me. I checked out that same book you mentioned by Susan Wise Bauer but didn't have a chance to get to it. Hope to later. I have so many classics I want to read.

  2. All truth! Thanks for enlightening me with all this!

  3. All truth! Thanks for enlightening me with all this!

  4. I need to call you lady! I have thoughts I'd love to bounce off you. I also want to push myself in my reading. Classics seems to be where to start! I've started to compile a list and so far I've only gotten through one of them. Ah! Have you read Elder Hollands devo during education week? He mentions quite a few classics that have religion undertones that have shaped society. They've all entered my list. Have you read any?? We just need to chat soon!

    1. Yes I did listen to his talk and wrote down the books he mentioned but have yet to read any yet. I need to get on it! Some of the ones he mentions are also on Susan's list. Which book did you read? And I vote yes on needing to chat soon. It's been too long!