I remember when, immediately after my graduation from University, my cousin, older than my mom and more like a beloved uncle to me than anything, stood beside me at a wedding reception and, leaning over, quietly said, "You thought you would be smarter." My eyes grew wide as I turned to look at him in relief and astonishment. "Yes!"
Brian had given me words for the uneasiness I was feeling instead of the elation and empowerment I thought I would after so many years of struggle and diligence. There were reasons for these feelings. My high school was one of those you see in the movies- drugs, violence, embezzlement of funds that resulted in classes without books and, in my case, one without a teacher. For someone who loved learning and longed for a deep and rich education, it may have taught some hard life lessons through the fire of experience, but the beauty and delight of education- of knowing things worth knowing- was sorely lacking. Taking college classes on the side at the local community college was the same or better depending entirely on the teacher. But I will say as someone who had to transfer universities several times because of sickness and death and finances- the best teachers I had in college were almost all at that community college because they taught for the right reasons. It makes a difference. So don't let others make you feel less for attending a community college or learning on your own. The most passionate and influential of teachers are often found there and- better than most universities- they often actually work in their fields instead of ivory towers and teach out of love for their subject matter and for those students that they know are at a serious disadvantage, whose lives they want to make better.
I believe this is why I was drawn to the Charlotte Mason Method. See if after reading this passage from the Preface to Volume Six of her series, you agree: "It would seem a far cry from Undine [by La Motte Fouque] to a 'liberal education' but there is a point of contact between the two; a soul awoke within a water-sprite at the touch of love; so, I have to tell of the awakening of a 'general soul' at the touch of knowledge. Eight years ago the 'soul' of a class of children in a mining village school awoke simultaneously at this magic touch and has remained awake. We know that religion can awaken souls, that love makes a new man, that the call of a vocation may do it, and in the age of the Renaissance, men's souls, the general soul, awoke to knowledge: but this appeal rarely reaches the modern soul; and, notwithstanding the pleasantness attending lessons and marks in all our schools, I believe the ardour for knowledge in the children of this mining village is a phenomenon that indicates new possibilities. Already many thousands of the children of the Empire had experienced this intellectual conversion, but they were the children of educated persons. To find that the children of a mining population were equally responsive seemed to open a new hope for the world. It may be that the souls of all children are waiting for the call of knowledge to awaken them to delightful living." (You can read this book annotated, alongside her others, for free, through the time and generosity of those at Ambleside Online.)
"Knowledge to awaken them to delightful living." Coming from a difficult childhood and adolescence, this idea and ideal awakens enthusiasm and hope within me. For me it is a second chance at the education I wish I had had. It is also an opportunity to turn several hurts into blessings.
For a little over four years I have suffered with seizures that have repeatedly taken away my ability to read, write, think, speak, and walk. I've kept trying, discouraging as it has been, and in part because of that, I am reading, writing, thinking, speaking, and walking- though not at the level that I used to. I am using this year working my way through the free Charlotte Mason Curriculum at Ambleside Online as a type of therapy and brain recovery as my seizures are easing up. I am supplementing some of the materials as I go along to get the most from this experience as I can as an adult. In the end, I think those years of seizures will turn out to be a blessing. I won't be able to finish the curriculum in one year, but I will finish. And even before I do, I will feel smarter and be more educated in quality ways. How do I know this? Because for the past few weeks I've been reading and listening to many of the books suggested for Year 0 and narrating them orally afterwards. It was daunting to do because my memory and comprehension have been shot by the seizures. I actually was nervous to do it in the beginning because my attempt to narrate a chapter in a classic novel first was an absolute disaster. So I started smaller. Much, much smaller. Picture book smaller. And to my surprise, I began to understand and remember what I was reading exponentially better. Delight is breaking through some of the clouds in my life. And I am healing.
My hope in sharing this journey as I am able to is that it will be contagious and healing for you as well. It's never too late. How do I know this? I am in my mid-forties, still bedridden a lot. But after my first heart surgery in my twenties, I was massively beaten on a stress test that morning (the crazy treadmill one) by a man in his nineties. I am passed by people of all ages who are faster and better than I am in almost everything I do every day, but that ninety-something-year-old man taught me a sweet lesson in the end. He showed me that my best health, skills, and happiness could still be ahead of me. Happy 2023! May it be a banner year for all of us- a year of delightful living.