The Living Page and Synthetic Thinking

thelivingpageI imagine readers of Consider This reaching the end of the book and thinking, “I wish there was more information here about how to actually do this.” Especially with regard to developing synthetic thinking, which is such a paradigm shift for many of us.

I am happy to be able to say that there a few resources you can look to for further ideas and concrete suggestions. One of those is The Living Page: Keeping Notebooks with Charlotte Mason by Laurie Bestvater.

Since the beginning of 2015, I have slowly been working my way through this book, taking pleasure in each sentence or reference that reinforces the ideas in Consider This. It isn’t remotely surprising that this is so, since Ms. Besvater and I have learned at the feet of the same great teacher.

The Living Page deals primarily with the various notebooks that Charlotte Mason either suggested or actually incorporated into her teaching methods. However, The Living Page is much more than that. It is actually an invitation to partake fully of a synthetic understanding of life and relationship. Ms. Bestvater recognizes the timeless nature of Charlotte Mason’s ideas, and the necessity of not merely doing what Charlotte Mason suggested, but understanding why it is important.

Keeping personal notebooks was a reflection of Charlotte Mason’s respect for children as persons. Ms. Bestvater has much to say about the way that notebooks allow a child to make personal connections with knowledge. Education is the science of relations, and many delightful pages are devoted to developing the way in which Charlotte Mason’s notebook practices allow children a comprehensive and consecutive way to establish those relations.

One doesn’t have to use the term “synthetic thinking” to discuss the idea. In fact, few people do, which is why it’s not a bad idea to begin learning to recognize the concept in whatever form it appears.

…if Mason says or does it, there is a specific reason. Looking at her pedagogy closely, one does not see a cobbled together educational grab-bag but a cohesive philosophy, a unity generating an elegant method that supports human learning in the most profound ways. (The Living Page, p. 38)

Ms. Bestvater quotes this passage from Ourselves (Book I, p. 37) with special emphasis:

…we begin to understand that we too are making History, and that we are all part of the whole; that the people who went before us were all very like ourselves, or else we should not be able to understand them. If some of them were worse than we and in some things their times were worse than ours, yet we make acquaintance with many who were noble and great, and our hearts beat with a desire to be like them.

Ms. Bestvater understands synthetic thinking very well, including the link it plays in affecting actual behavior and actions, and she leads us through Charlotte Mason’s use of notebooks to show us one very powerful way in which that synthetic understanding of the world, and life, and ourselves can be developed. She reminds us again and again that the notebooks are part of this important process, not merely products.

Speaking of the history timeline and notebooks used by Charlotte Mason, she says,

It is designed to support sorting and relationship, connection, observation, and meditation. (p. 54).

Without any deliberate collaboration, Consider This and The Living Page dovetail beautifully. There are not so many contemporary books on education that support and encourage synthetic learning that we can afford to overlook even one of them.  This is not a book to be missed. If you haven’t read it, I encourage you to do so, and if you read it before you read Consider This, I recommend reading it again and paying particular attention to the way that “paper postures” can play a vital part in helping our students develop the synthetic, relational knowledge of life that Charlotte Mason desired for all of us.

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