Some Pages From Some Books

I said that I would dive into my pile of new books by reading The Green Witch. I did glance at a few pages. But other books were calling my name with much more urgency. After settling the children for a nap, I found a place to read and decided to browse a few, rather than working to finish one. Some of the books I chose were new to me, some were comfortable members of my library. These are the pages I was able to read and the bits of information I was able to skim off the top.

First, I read a page on kudzu, from Leaves in Myth, Magic & Medicine by Alice Thoms Vitale. This book has always belonged to my grandmother and, not per her death (she is very much alive), has come to reside at my house, on my coffee table. I have loved (and envied the owner of) this book almost before I was sure of what a book even was.

Kudzu caught my eye in the index. I have always been intrigued by kudzu. Mostly for its name, but also for its reputation. I am from the North, so have never seen, touched, or pondered on the leaf of the invasive, fast-growing vine of the South in person. I have heard many times of kudzu, however, and am sure I have seen it draped along fences and small trees from the passenger seat as we travel the highways of Mississippi, Tennessee, Missouri, or Arkansas.

I discovered that there are many people, throughout the world, working to use the ‘mile-a-minute’ plant in innovative ways. The leaves are interesting, calming in a way. Now that I know its leaf, I think I would be able to identify it among many others (a personal goal of mine is to be able to identify many plants and trees by the leaf or stem or bark. My great grandmother was able to do this and, though I never met her, I want to know her by learning what she knew).

After the page on kudzu, I picked up the third edition of Montessori: The Science Behind the Genius by Angeline Stoll Lillard. Maria Montessori is another idol of mine so I read anything with her name attached. I attended a private (pretty much the only kind) Montessori school ages 4 to 6 and during that time fell in love with learning and discovery. Montessori developed her own method, materials, and curricula after extensive research, observation, and work in various fields. She was a physician, a feminist, a speaker, a teacher, a writer. She was an incredible woman and I owe my outlook on learning to her hard work and brilliance.

Traditional public schools have many faults, as Lillard argues. The biggest being in their design and overarching view of children and how they learn. I do not agree with their style and have always felt pushed, roped in, or quieted in conventional American schools. My goal for the future is to teach Maria’s way, but I have much to learn. For now, I will simply gather the information that I need and prepare my casa for the bambini to learn in.

But to go to school in a summer morn,

O, it drives all joy away!

Under a cruel eye outworn,

The little ones spend the day

In sighing and dismay

Schoolboy by William Blake

On one of the first pages of Lillard’s book, I encountered this poem that embodies how I came to view school, after being introduced to the public school system in fourth grade (I skipped third grade and I make no motions to brag here. I usually forget this fact of my life and owe it to being taught to love learning, rather than an extraordinary intelligence).

Figure 1.1 The Casa dei Bambini today at the original location, at 58 Via dei Marsi near the University of Rome. Photograph by the author. (page 17 Lillard)

I also found this photo in that book, and was immediately charmed upon finding it. I would love to walk down this street and see where Montessori’s first experiment in teaching her methods took place.

Finally, when I had tired of educating myself, I pulled out a pen and circled (with many wobbly lines) some words in a book of word-finds with the theme of inspirational quotes. My second puzzle was a quote I thought I might share.

He who wishes to teach us a truth should not tell it to us,

but simply suggest it with a brief gesture,

a gesture which starts an ideal trajectory in the air

along which we glide until we find ourselves

at the feet of the new truth.

Jose Ortega Y Gasset

I believe it is important to take a break often while studying (I have kids so there’s always a reason to stop) and think about other things. I like to use my hands while I think, and puzzle books always come in handy for decompressing. How strange that the words I circled were so meaningful (at least to me, at that time).

So, I will take Ortega Y Gasset’s advice and leave you on your trajectory. May it lead you to a pile of new books and some kind of new truth.