Prejudice the Soil

The essentialist rejects the progressive theory of growth with nothing-fixed-in-advance, a planless education based upon the unselected experiences and needs of the child or even selected by cooperative, shared discussions of pupils and teachers.  Growth cannot be self-directed; it needs direction through a carefully chosen environment to an end or ends in the minds of those who have been entrusted by society with the child’s education.  The problem is not new; it was first posed in modern times by Rousseau and has been the subject of controversy ever since.  It was answered for all time by Coleridge nearly 100 years ago in the following story.  –Isaac Leon Kandel, Prejudice the Garden Toward Roses?, 1939

Kandel then quotes from Coleridge’s Table Talk, July 26, 1830.

Thelwall thought it very unfair to influence a child’s mind by inculcating any opinions before it should have come to years of discretion, and be able to choose for itself.  I showed him my garden, and told him it was my botanical garden. “How so?” said he, “it is covered with weeds.”—“Oh,” I replied, “that is only because it has not yet come to its age of discretion and choice.  The weeds, you see, have taken the liberty to grow, and I thought it unfair in me to prejudice the soil towards roses and strawberries.”

E. D. Hirsch argued that Romanticism took root in American education and has continued to infect it with the kind of naturalism prescribed by Rousseau (The Schools We Need, 1996).  What I continue to appreciate about Coleridge is that he breaks the Romantic mold as it displaces the divine with the human.  The result is, as seen in the above quote, that Coleridge perceived the true nature of education as that which seeks to “exhibit the ends of our moral being.”

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Created Creator

At the end of each of the second, third, fourth, fifth, and sixth days of creation, God looked upon the work which He had made and our author tells us with rhythmic regularity:

and God saw that it was good; and there was evening and there was morning, the second day…

God saw that it was good. So evening and morning were the third day…

God saw that it was good. So evening and morning were the fourth day…

God blesssed them, saying, “Be fruitful and mulitply, and fill the waters in the seas, and let birds multiply on earth.” So evening and morning were the fifth day…

Then God saw everything that He had made, and indeed, it was very good. So evening and morning were the sixth day.

I love that fifth day on which God blessed the crops. On the sixth day He blessed the animals and placed man above them to “fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion…” This was paradise, the state of nature, in which all things were ordered to their own blessedness.

And God saw that it was good.

What does that mean? Does it mean that He was pleased with His work? I cannot imagine that He was not. But then why does the author not simply say, “God saw that His work was pleasing?”

I think the answer might be rather simple. It was indeed pleasing to Him, but why? Because it was good! And why was it good? Because it embodied His intentions.

To take an anthropomorphic stance for a moment (and after all, that is what Genesis one does), we could easily say, first God planned out His work. He gave it time and space within which He would do it. He developed ideas for what He wanted done. He even delegated His tasks, certainly to His Son, probably also to angels.

Then, for a week, He worked. At the end of each day He assessed His work . At the end of the week, He assessed His week’s work. He said it was good. It came out the way He wanted it to. He had an idea, a plan, and a process. It worked!

He wove the matter of His task out of His words. Then He modified the matter to move His ideas from His infinite mind into the finite matter before Him. The earth, which was formless and empty at the end of the first day (it had no shape and took up no space!), was now a gathering of forms filling the emptiness.

Both the process of creation and the product of creation were structured and rhythmic and beautiful.

They were utterly flawless. He had executed His task perfectly. He had even created, miracle of miracles, a physical being that bore the image of God – clay breathing the breath of God, living the mysteries of reason and will.

Clay able to imitate its maker.

He saw that it was very good. Delighting in it, He willed it to flourish, so He blessed it. Part of that blessing was the appointment of a wise and just lord who shared His desire for it to flourish.

It was good, therefore, because each part was a successful embodiment of the idea He had intended. It was very good, because all the parts were ordered to a formal harmony, an order of soul-wrenching beauty. It had a lord, and every subject knew its place and delighted in it.

He had made the lord of the creation in His Own image, fit to rule with love and blessing. The lord was fit to rule, beginning with the act of naming. He was fit to exercise a just and wise dominion because he was given all the faculties of a just and wise ruler. He could see and know and act on the creation for its own good and flourishing. Made by a creator, he was creative himself.

And it was very good.

But if he failed in his duties, everything would change.

Back to the soil

Since I advocate gardening for all sorts of non-pragmatic reasons, it’s refreshing to read that a group of kids are having an impact on their local community – by growing a garden!

Read about it here.

Do your children/students garden? Does your school give the kids a garden?

Let me out!

James Taylor argues in Poetic Knowledge that kids need to spend time outside. So bad have things become that The Charlotte Observer wrote an article about parents who try to spend time outside with their kids. This article underscores the real reason education is dying in America.

Playing with Dirt: Productive Seeds for Teachers

Continuing my fall garden prep, I was out this morning on one of those Sweater Wearing Days that remind you of childwood walks in the woods and play in the dirt. I felt that energy of childhood surge in me – you know, that desire to be covered from head to toe in dirt!

You don’t get to do that much at school. In fact, you aren’t allowed to do that at school. In fact, most teachers regard dirt as an evil thing. That’s because schools are a feminist plot to destroy boyhood. Boys love dirt, and its not just because they’re disgusting animals. It’s because they have grown up to work in the dirt for many thousands of years. Genesis 1 tells us we were made to till the garden.

If indeed boys are supposed to get dirty and if indeed schools give them a bad attitude toward dirt, this is no light matter.

I’m a luddite, so I dug up the garden with a spade (what we rather loosely called a shovel where I grew up). Since the whole thing was covered in grass, it became burdensome enough to divide it over three weeks. Today I finished off the third of three 4X4 squares.

Last spring I wasn’t yet a Luddite, so I turned the soil with a gas rototiller. What a difference experience! Last year I had to get the machine working after lifting it into my van and driving it home. It took, if my memory serves, about an hour to thoroughly rototill the whole 10X4 rectangle. At first it was a pain because of all the brick houses that have melted into the soil around here, but then it rolled that soil like a bulldozer laying asphalt. When I was done I came to an appreciation of the power of that little machine.

This time I used the spade. It took a total of about 8 hours, including all the time spent whacking the clods against the deck and spade to free the grass roots and toss them in the will-be mulch heap (a question on that below) and tossing the sticks and telling Winky (our boxer, lab, chow) to fetch them. A blister has begun to form on my hands. I was quite pleased and a little smug about how nice the soil was this time compared to last spring (2006). When I was done I came to an appreciation of the soil.

I think I prefer the latter appreciation. If I were to start over in a new location, I would almost certainly rent a tiller for the first big plough. But after that, I would also use a spade. By using a spade and my hands, I gained a direct knowledge of the soil. I began to note how it behaves, where the best portions are and where are the sections that need more sand or loam, at least a few of the effects of water flow, etc. etc. All things that I would have had no need to know if I had used the rototiller, but all things that will help me be a better gardener in my little lot.

We love our technology. We love our efficiency. But we don’t always realize what it is costing us in the way of valuable knowledge. My goal was not to turn the soil as fast as possible. It was to prepare it and myself for a spring garden. It was to gain a living respect for the place of my garden, to better know and appreciate the actual specific facts that make up the life of my garden.

If I had overpowered it with the efficiency of the rototiller, all that would have been lost.

My question: are you supposed to keep grass out of your compost? Please advise.  

My garden blog

Here begins my gardening blog posts.

I am keeping this blog because I love the idea of gardening and I believe gardening has an awful lot to teach us about life, but I’m a lousy gardener. So, having resolved to give it another shot, I’m going to keep track of things here and also ask for advice.

I’m beginning to blog on it today because I began my next spring garden today. Karen and I discussed how much we want to shoot for (she’s no specialist either) and decided on a 14X4 foot plot. We’re going to divide it into three four foot squares and use the square foot method.

Here in Charlotte the soil was derived from the brick houses that have been built here for about 2000 years. Everywhere you look, you see great red brick houses and the soil has come over time to match those houses as they have disintegrated and filtered into the soil. As a result, the soil is firm and red. Very clayey.

So last year (2006) I added bags and bags of loam to our garden plot and tilled the kilns right out of it. This year we had a puppy so we didn’t even try to grow a garden. Well, I thouht about it once or twice, but every time the temptation assaulted me I remembered the puppy and realized an excuse was ready at hand. So this year, no garden.

But I want to grow one next year and I’d much rather prepare the soil now while it soft and warm and mushy and friable instead of in March or April or more likely May or June when it’s hard and compacted and frozen and non-compliant. So Karen and I went out and looked at it for awhile. When nothing happened we started to discuss what we should do with it. Eventually we decided to plant the three four foot squares mentioned above. The one on the left would be for vegetables and maybe a fruit or two, the middle one would be for flowers and herbs, and the one on the right will be for more vegetables and maybe a fruit or two. Andrew would like to grow a  watermelon or twelve.

Over the past year the soil has covered in grass with a special portion converted into a doggy hole. So the first preparation task was to get some of the grass removed and to fill the hole. Andrew came out and helped me with this. I dug up the left portion with a spade and we shook the grass off and threw it in a bucket to begin a compost heap. I’d like to imagine it will be usable next spring, but I think that’s overly optimistic. Does anybody know a way to get a compost pile to be ready for the following spring when its already October? I’m told it takes about a year.

Here was my first pleasant surprise. Last year, I had to take a tiller to the soil and it was a battle between a grizzly and an angry rooster. The rototiller was running all over the yard and occasionally turned on me. After the battle I counted three murdered groundhogs, fourteen armies of termites littering the field of battle (I think I saw their president delivering a eulogy), and two dead bears. This year, I simply put the spade in the soil, gave it a bit of a push, and low and behold the lovely soil I had begun to cultivate last year was still sort of there! The grass shook out easily, the soil turned eagerly, and within 45 minutes or so Andrew settled in to raking it to a lovely, even, smooth surface. It made me want to plant some crops right now. I thought about winter rye, but that would have required locating and acquring some and I was pretty tired out by this point.

Next step: middle square and right square. Then I want to add some loam, check the Ph and adjust it if necessary, and otherwise begin to condition the soil for spring. With a little luck, I’ll get some winter rye planted or maybe cover the garden with straw.

Oh, even before that I’d like to get some low lying fencing to make it attractive. I’m sure we’ll need chicken wire or something unsightly, but I like the idea of some attractive mini-fencing. Any ideas?

Also, I’m open to any suggestions people might have for how to condition the soil. I’m thinking about adding vermiculite or perite and some peat moss. I might get some horse manure from a nearby farm (there are a few within say five miles).

So there it is. My first garden blog. Hopefully I’ll have some pictures to post and food to sell in the future.