Jennifer Dow classical education poetry

Curiosity and Surrender: Classical Education, Poetry, and a Longing for Light (with Jennifer Dow)

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I know it is a wonderful interview when I get just as many goosebumps while editing and preparing it for publication as I did when I first chatted with my guest! That was certainly the case with today’s conversation with Jennifer Dow. Jennifer will encourage you to ask questions and think about many things in a new way. She emphasized the vital importance of curiosity and surrender in classical education in general and in our study of poetry in particular. But, really, you just need to listen to the full conversation yourself! I can’t wait to hear in what ways you’re encouraged and challenged by this week’s Homeschool Conversations episode.

Be sure to check out all the other interviews in our Homeschool Conversations series!

Watch the video. Listen to the podcast. Read the show notes. Share with your friends!

Classica Education Poetry Jennifer Dow Homeschool Conversations podcast Curiosity and Surrender

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Who is Jennifer Dow

Jennifer Dow is a homeschooling mother, classical teacher, speaker, and consultant. Jennifer is a CiRCE certified Classical Teacher. She has taught nature study, humanities, logic, rhetoric, and the fine arts since 2009. She founded Paideia Fellowship and currently serves as the Executive Director and lead trainer.

Jennifer, an Orthodox Christian, lives in North Carolina with her three children and enjoys spoken word poetry, trying her hand at fancy cuisine, collecting more books than she’ll ever read, a lovely saunter through the woods, and the occasional Netflix binge.

Classica Education Poetry Jennifer Dow Homeschool Conversations podcast Curiosity and Surrender

Watch my interview with Jennifer Dow

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Amy Sloan: Hello friends. Today I am joined by Jennifer Dow, a homeschooling mother, classical teacher, speaker, and consultant. Jennifer is a CiRCE certified classical teacher, and she’s taught nature studies, humanities, logic rhetoric, and the fine arts since 2009. She founded Paideia Fellowship and currently serves as the Executive Director and Lead Trainer. Jennifer, an orthodox Christian, lives in North Carolina- Fellow North Carolinian. [chuckles]

Jennifer Dow: [cheers]

Amy: [chuckles] -with her three children and enjoys spoken-word poetry, trying her hand at fancy cuisine, collecting more books than she’ll ever read, as any good reader does. She enjoys a lovely saunter through the woods and the occasional Netflix binge.

The homeschooling quiz that set Jennifer on the path of classical education

Jennifer, thank you so much for joining us today and if you could start just by telling us a little bit about yourself, and your family, and how you came to start homeschooling.

Jennifer: Yes, sure. Let’s see. Which direction to go? [chuckles] I started homeschooling in 2009. I never expected to homeschool. It actually happened– I was taking some classes at the local seminary, and this guy– I know, it’s going to sound a little bad when I tell the story, but God definitely used it for me to be like, “Wake up.”

I was starting to learn that there are thoughts behind our thoughts, and there are thoughts behind the ideas we present, and science, and history, and literature. I was waking up to the reality of that.

Naturally, I was thinking, “I wonder what my kids are really learning in school? I wonder what ideas, and philosophies, and patterns of thought that are just coming to them, almost passively. I wonder if the teachers are even aware of the fact that they’re teaching these things.” Those questions led me to ask some questions in my seminary class, and this guy after class was like, “I just want you to know that it is God’s will that you homeschool.” He was very direct, very serious about it.

While I don’t believe that it is a sin to not homeschool – I definitely don’t believe that; there’s definitely different seasons, and different people doing different things – that message was for me.

It was true for me at that time. It was something I believe God was calling me to, and so that kind of launched me into my journey homeschooling. I didn’t know anything about education other than what my mom had taught me because she was a teacher.

I did two things to figure out how to start homeschooling is, I downloaded the North Carolina state’s standards and made a checklist.

Then, when I realized how overwhelming that was, I took a quiz in Mary Pride’s guide to homeschooling, and it said I should be a classical teacher, so then I bought classical books. [chuckles] That is how I started out. Two extremes, two extremes, but that was my entry point. [chuckles]

Amy: Oh my goodness, that is hysterical. I love that too because I think so many times, people think, especially with classical education, it comes from this, “I am profoundly thinking about these ideas, and I should go forth into classical education.” [chuckles] Sometimes our entry point to it is just all sorts of different ways.

Jennifer: I took a quiz. [laughs]

Amy: You took the quiz and you were like, “Okay, we’re going to move on from here,” but over the years, obviously, your understanding of home education and educational philosophy has grown and developed. How have you seen that change and progress over the years?

Growth in Jennifer’s understanding of education

Jennifer: Yes. A great question. A lot. [chuckles] A lot. Before I had started homeschooling, I did take a Communications class and was instructed to read a book called How to Speak, How to Listen. It was by Mortimer Adler. In that book, he was talking about the liberal arts, and I remember feeling very jealous that I had not received that education. I think that must have subconsciously informed my decision to go with classical education, after the quiz, but then after that, I got into– The most well-known book was of course, A Well Trained Mind, and so, I bought that and started doing that in the first year. We did it on our own.

After that, we joined Classical Conversations, did that for a few years, and in the midst of that, that’s when I was introduced to the CiRCE Apprenticeship, and that I would say is probably the biggest turning point for me in my pursuit of classical education. It was then that I knew that whether I was homeschooling my kids or not that I always had to be a part of classical education. It changed me so much. I really received my classical education in the apprenticeship.

Not only did I learn how to teach, I learned how to think about education, I learned how to be a classical teacher. In a lot of ways, I became a better mother, and friend, and human being. It affected every single area of my life, and I woke up to the reality and the power of a truly humane classical liberal arts education.

I also encountered Charlotte Mason when I was in the apprenticeship. A lot of people were reading her, and I’m like, “Well, who is this person?” and I started reading her and exploring the intersection of the liberal arts and Charlotte Mason and meanwhile teaching more and more classes, not just in my own homeschool but not having access to CC anymore, I’m like, “Okay, what are we going to do?” We started something, and we didn’t expect it to grow.

We just expected to go back to CC, but then all of a sudden, we were meeting a need, and we were like, “I kind of like this a lot,” and so we started the one day a week homeschool community and just more and more classes, and every year getting deeper into the nuances of, “What is this thing that I’m teaching? Who are these children that are sitting in front of me, and how do we pursue truth, goodness, and beauty, and hold all the particular’s intention with all of this goodness?”

Every year, it’s those two paths, going deeper and deeper. Mastering the particulars, and the mechanism of teaching and the plans, but also going deeper into the heart of what this is and what it really is leading us to. Every year, deeper and deeper.

Amy: I love what you just said in your expression of your own education that you are receiving because when I think about classical education and why a Christian classical education is so important to me and my family, it’s for that very reason. I think about what kind of human do I want to raise. It’s not about just filling my children with a bunch of facts or making sure they’ve checked off a certain book list, but it’s really thinking about that whole person. Even you mentioned relationships and friendships.

Education is beyond the small, narrow thing that we sometimes think of it. It’s one of the reasons why I’m so thankful for the homeschool education I received. I’m a second-generation homeschool mom and sometimes I say that I was classically educated before it was cool- [chuckles] -because that was basically what my mom did, just no one was calling it that at the time. When I was later on in my teens, I suddenly realized that I knew all the things, and I could look and think, “we’re really going to be this new thing called classical educator,” you know?

Jennifer: Yes.

Amy: “You should have made sure I memorized all these lists and things, and I didn’t do that, but I shall do it with my children.” It’s so ridiculous thinking back on that now.

Jennifer: [chuckles]

Amy: Of course, you’re humbled, and you have to learn all of the things you don’t know, and coming now in my mid-30s, realizing, “Actually, what my mom was doing is pretty much actually real classical education.” Anyway. It’s just funny to think about.

Jennifer: We all have to go through that.

Amy: Yes.

Jennifer: My teenagers are going through that right now, and I’m just trying not to cringe too much. I’m like, “Oh, bless your heart. Yes. Yes.” [chuckles]

Amy: “Yes. Yes. Yes. The lord will sanctify you as well. It’s all good.”

[chuckling]

Classica Education Poetry Jennifer Dow Homeschool Conversations podcast Curiosity and Surrender

Joys and Challenges of Classical Education

Amy: Jennifer, as you’ve grown as a homeschool mom and educator, I would love to hear if there’s anything about classical education, maybe a joy that has surprised you, or maybe a challenge that you weren’t expecting about classical education that has come in front of you, whether you were ready or not?

Jennifer: The challenge that first came to my mind, I’m sure I would think of other ones given more time, but the first one that comes to mind is when I was reading Cheryl Swope’s book, Simply Classical, where she is writing about classical education for kids with special needs. I have one kid who has a little trouble with attention, but my kids don’t have real intense special needs like her children did.

I was very interested in the book because I heard somebody say it’s one of the best 10 books in 50 years about classical education, or most important books related to classical education.

Of course, I wanted to read it, but the whole first section of the book is her story about herself as an educator, how she thought through and wrestled through discovering what her kids needed. It hit me so hard because what I realized, and I think we each probably have a tendency on one side or the other as humans to either be over the top strict with ourselves or really lax with ourselves. I tend towards the Bilbo side of things and I’m a little like, “Can we just have our tea in front of the hearth and that’s all that’s necessary?”

While that’s wonderful, I had to face the fact that if I’m going to be serious about my craft of teaching, then I get to cultivate that craft and take that seriously. Until that moment, I had never seen myself as a teacher. I was just, “Oh, I’m just a homeschool mom. I just going to do this thing and we’ll be fine. I have everything I need.

It was so dignifying to see myself as a legitimate educator. Before then, when I first found out I was going to homeschool and decided to make that choice, my mom was really hard on me. We’re great now, but there was a lot of hard conversations and I started to get a lot of flak from people who had teaching degrees. If I was honest, there was a part of me that wondered if I really should be doing this.

When I read that book, what I realized is, “Absolutely, I can be doing this.” The other side of that is there is a definite responsibility to cultivating my craft as a teacher if I’m going to do this and I get to decide and make that choice but when I read that and it opened up for me, what a master teacher looked like, and I wanted that and I loved it and it was beautiful. I wanted to have that discipline and focus and commitment to my students, to my children, and so it gave me a vision.

It was like a punch in the gut, a little bit like, “Hey, you’re making this not as big of a deal as it is, but also you can definitely do this, and here’s a path forward, and here’s a vision.” For the first time, it gave me a real vision of what a teacher looks like and what I could achieve. I feel like that answered both questions.

Amy: Yes, definitely. I have actually not read that book, but I’m going to go put it on my wishlist on Amazon right now because this sounds amazing. I really appreciate, too, just the reminder that we need to continue our professional development as homeschool moms. I think it’s important for us to remember that we can do this. There can be this artificiality of the expert like, “How could you do this? You’re not an expert,” and we need to combat that, but we can tend sometimes the other direction too, and forget that this is something to take seriously and if we want to do a good job, that requires work on our part as well.

Jennifer: Absolutely, yes. I think that is so important. There’s not magic fairy dust that comes when you get a teaching certificate, that doesn’t exist. It’s a skill-set. Teaching is a skill-set that we can learn if we want to.

Classica Education Poetry Jennifer Dow Homeschool Conversations podcast Curiosity and Surrender

Poetry: what is it and why is it important?

Amy: Okay. I just want to have like a million conversations with you. I have all these different topics so we’ll just have to have you back on here, but for today for this middle section, I want to talk to you about one of my favorite topics, which is poetry. When I was planning Season 3 of the podcast, I was actually shocked that it hadn’t really come up as a main topic for a podcast episode yet because it’s very important in central in my own home school and in the work I do with Humility and Doxology. Let’s start with a big picture and talk about what even do we mean by poetry and then why is poetry an important part of a classical education?

Jennifer: I am really excited about this topic as well. I’m just going to preface this with, I am not the poetry teacher who knows all the particular things. I’m more like, “I love poetry and it has changed my life.” I’m going to talk about the entry points and how it’s done that so just disclaimer as we talk.

When I think about what poetry is, the first thing that comes to mind is to compare it to literature from a practical sense, just giving ourselves the right category. One way that I teach my students to see the distinction between a novel and a play and poetry is that I see poetry as zeroing in on a moment, whereas literature or a novel is more like a whole world.

By zeroing in on the moment, a lot can open up. I see it like if you look at something under the microscope how you can see so many more details and see it from a completely different perspective. It opens up for you. Or even the way the light moves through a prism and then the light scatters and you see all the light that was contained within the one light.

Poetry is like that. It opens things up and shows us all the colors. Whereas, if we were to just experience the moment, not so mindfully, it would have just felt like normal light.

Amy: That is a beautiful description. I’ve never thought of poetry in that way. A lot of times people will say, “Oh, I just don’t really like poetry,” or even they “hate poetry”. I’ve wondered if sometimes that’s because their experience with poetry was limited to a lot of hyper analysis of the rhyme scheme and the meter and imagery, which are all important things. I want to ask a two-fold question.

Entering into a poem with curiosity, openness, and wonder

One is, how do we read poetry where we’re thinking about the nuance and we’re thinking about the actual techniques that the poet is using. We’re thinking about the craft of the poem, but without just breaking it down into its pieces and losing the whole, and then how do we teach our students to approach poetry in that same way?

Jennifer: There’s, I think, a lot in that question. I think, yes, my personal opinion, I think there’s multiple reasons why people when they say they hate poetry or they don’t like poetry. I think there’s multiple reasons for that when they’ve had an encounter with poetry in the past, it’s been a very analytical or a disenchanted encounter with it. That’s definitely one reason.

I think another reason that often isn’t discussed is that the mode of being that it takes to enter into a poem is not necessarily comfortable for everyone.

One of the ideas that makes a classical education, what it is, it’s in my opinion, the foundational idea, David Hicks talks about it in his book Norms & Nobility. In Chapter 1, he says the classical spirit of inquiry is what’s central to what makes classical education what it is.

That classical spirit of inquiry has three parts: general curiosity first, second, an openness to all the questions. You can just form a, he uses the term, imaginative hypotheses. All the questions, all the wonderings about anything it’s all on the table. Third, basically creative method in testing them.

When you’re exploring this question or that, you could discover insight and answers in a religious experience, in a poem, in a science experiment, in a work of literature, while walking through the woods. All of these things are valid ways of inquiring, entering into, discovering answers and insights into your questions.

All of that begins though and this threads all the way through curiosity. Curiosity is interesting because I’ve noticed with homeschool moms, with all teachers, with all humans, some people seem to be curious, they want to know everything and other people are almost averse to it, like, “Don’t ask questions.” Where does that come from? That probably is a whole another discussion, but I think this question of curiosity has to be discussed first because curiosity is a form of surrender.

Curiosity makes a lot of, I guess, proclamations about a thing without making them. If I’m curious about something I’m open to it, which is a form of surrender, I’m giving myself to this thing.

If I’m curious about something, I feel like it’s worth knowing about. If I’m curious about something, I am excited and energized by the discovery of something about it.

It’s dignity and surrender and excitement and possibility all mixed up together applied to one thing.

That is very difficult for some people. I’ve even experienced things in my life where I’m not curious about them, sometimes it’s just because it didn’t occur to me and I’m not slowing down enough to be mindful, other times it could be because it doesn’t feel safe. I don’t want to be wrong.

I don’t know if I’m allowed to ask this question, or if I asked this question or say my thought, will people judge me, or maybe you were brought up in a classroom where you were shamed for asking questions.

There’s a vast number of reasons why somebody could have an aversion to curiosity but I think when we do that, it is very difficult to enter into a poem because that is the way of being that is required to enter in and enjoy it and to experience it.

Outside of that, depending on their experience, that may have affected it, but I think that might have a bigger impact on whether somebody really enjoys poetry or not because what are we talking about here?

If it’s true that a poem is a moment, who’s going to take the time to think about a moment? You have to have a certain mindset and way of being and to be willing to go there.

I think that’s part of the conversation. Honestly, I think it’s probably the biggest part of the conversation or and it’s not anyone’s individual fault. I don’t think there should be any shame about that.

We’re given educational environments where it’s not okay to explore. It’s not okay to just rest in something and we’re not given environments where we can just settle in and think about it. If we don’t have that, it’s really hard to really talk about a poem because it’s a moment. It’s a moment that’s stretched out and made wide and made to see all its colors.

If we have a tendency to reduce things, so the more analytical of us, there are some of us that are just more naturally analytical, which is fine. We need these people. We all have different skillsets. We’ll be less likely to enter in because it’s easier to see life as an equation. Two plus two is four.

I think it has a lot to do with ways of being and what we have a tendency towards but I think if you find yourself in one of those spaces like that, that tends to be your vibe.

Poetry is always an invitation to explore a world that you have yet to explore. It’s always an invitation. Nobody’s making you go there. But it is an invitation, and it’s worth it. It’s quite beautiful.

Amy: Oh yes, indeed. You’re talking about curiosity and wonder, which I always think is linked to humility and doxology. I think about how you can’t take yourself too seriously when you’re reading a poem. You can take the poem seriously, but you can’t really take yourself too seriously, or you’re not going to be able to fully enter into the poet, to that moment and to what’s happening, to be willing to listen in a new way and to see in a new way. I think that humility is really linked up with wonder. You can’t have one without the other.

Jennifer: What do you mean? What would it look like to take yourself too seriously? What do you mean by that? I love that.

Amy: I think that with a poem, if you come to the poem as a puzzle to be solved, you are setting yourself over the poem instead of coming with openness to listen to what the poem is saying, or to be willing to be challenged, to think about that moment or that idea or that emotion and that thought in a new way. But instead if you come, “okay, I’m going to break you down and I’m going to figure out the answers to the questions you’re asking. If I can’t figure out the answer to the question, well then there’s something wrong with the poem,” as opposed to maybe there’s something that I’m not ready to think about or maybe something that I don’t know.

I think sometimes it’s hard for some of us to just say, there’s something we don’t know or can’t fully understand yet, not that we may not ever understand it but that can be a scary place to be, to say, “I don’t understand what this is saying and so I’m not even going to try or give it a moment. It must be a problem with the poem, not with me.”

Jennifer: Right. Oh, I love that. I love the distinction you made that taking yourself too seriously is putting this pressure on yourself to have to figure it out. We do that to ourselves. I know I do that to myself.

Interacting with poetry alongside our children

Amy: All the time. Okay. This is the big idea, but then we’re just sitting with our kids (and it’ll be different if you’re sitting with your little kids versus your slightly older children). You just have a poem and you’re in the living room, what does this look like? We’re not necessarily sitting here with our children saying, “And now children, let us approach this with wonder and humility, opening ourselves to curiosity.” How do we just do the poem in the living room?

Jennifer: That’s a great question. I think the first thing is, and this was if you want to hear somebody else talk about poetry that much more skilled than I am and has way more experience than me, Christine Paren. She is incredible. I would just like to sit at her feet all the time and just like, “Tell me more about poetry.” I love the way she talks about poetry, but one of the things she said is just read it multiple times. Let it flow through your mind, let your ear, hear it, let it roll off your tongue.

One of the things that I’ll do in my classes and at home is we just read it a minimum of three times and we take turns depending on the reader. Now, if they’re a new reader then it’s better to just let the more skilled readers say it out loud, but just say it out loud at least three times. If there’s even recordings have a couple other people say it, because it’s really great when you can have more than one person say it, because reading aloud is also interpretation.

Whenever we read something, we’re interpreting it, by the way we say the sounds and the cadence we give to it and the emphasis we give to it, it’s a form of interpretation. That’s why in some church traditions, they won’t read the Bible, they’ll sing it because then it takes the individual’s interpretation out of it and allows just the words of the scripture to come through. I always found that fascinating, but yes, first just reading it.

One of my favorite books is called Approaching Poetry. It presents like a textbook, but when you actually read it, it’s really good. I really enjoy it. My favorite thing is how the authors talk about entry points.

One of the things that I have noticed in the classical education world is a serious attachment to one way of reading or another way of reading as though everything is not harmonious. Now, there are some things that aren’t in harmony, but as I’ve been exploring this, one of the things I’ve noticed is that rather than only one way being right, I’m seeing that these are different entry points that allow us into a text, allow us into a poem, allow us to enter a work of literature.

Now, not everything is an entry point. Some of it is just our own mind about a thing but there’s a lot more.

With poetry, you have a ton of different entry points. You have the words themselves, what do the words mean? You have the sounds, you have the rhythm, you have the meter, you have the imagery and the symbols. You have all these different things that make a poem what it is, and they’re all different entry points and because the poem doesn’t exist without all of them, then each is valid way to discover it and play with really young kids.

3 questions from John Muir Laws you can ask about anything

3 Questions to Ask About Everything

Okay, so here’s an example, I let my– this is an example of a 6th grader, she’s not really young, but she’s my youngest so that’s my most current reality. She got to pick the poet that we were going to study this year for the first term. She decided on Robert Louis Stevenson. One of the things that we did is of course we just read it three times and then as we were talking about it I just asked her – and I always use these three questions with everything. They are gold. I got them from John Muir Laws and he uses them when teaching about nature study and it’s “what did you notice, what did you wonder, and what does it remind you of?

These three questions can be used to study everything. If you can’t figure out what to do, read something slowly and attentively and then ask those three questions.

That is the foundation and launching point for everything. It cultivates attention, it cultivates curiosity, it causes you to go back to the experience rather than your own mind because you’re asking questions about the text, about the words, about what you notice.

It sounds like, “Oh, I notice that in this particular poem is about a boy. Two different worlds: a boy playing in his yard and then reading a book about a boy playing. There was this comparison of these two worlds and where the book took him.”

She was noticing all these things and then I asked this question, I asked, “If this was a painting what would it look like?” Then she came up with some really cool ideas and she’s like, “I imagine there was a mountain in the middle and that there was a house on this side and a house on this side and they both were playing at the same time.”

It was just beautiful the way that she described it. What was cool is when she began describing what the painting would look like, she said so much more about the poem than when she was trying to answer specific questions. Then through imagining the painting she expressed more about it and this boy’s life, or that boy’s life, and it was beautiful. That’s one way that we’ve approached it, one example.

Amy: I love that. Robert Louis Stevenson is one of family’s favorite. One of my favorite moments happened, I guess this was maybe last year with my then seven-year-old. We are at the playground playing and she’d just gotten a little bit overstimulated and was having a little bit of trouble and she comes over to me on the bench and she says, “Mom, I just need to recite my shadow to you because it always makes me feel better.”

She just recited my shadow with great gusto and then she felt better and she went back to playing and she was fine. You connect with the poem and I’m not sure what it was about that poem in particular that was speaking to her in that moment. Sometimes you don’t even realize the connections that kids are making.

Jennifer: I love that because what it brings up for me is how poetry really names things that are hard to name at times. So much of the human experience is in immaterial experience and things that are hard to put words to. Not all of us find it easy to name our emotions. I am one of them, I have to think a lot, I don’t know if you’re an enneagram fan, but I’m a seven and I stay in my head. Whether that has anything to do with being a seven or not, I know that as a person I stay in my head, and it takes a lot of effort for me to move out of my head into my heart. Poetry helps me do that because it’s a heart-centered experience of the world, rather than a head-centered experience. It requires me to animate more of my being and encountering so it’s very healing for me in that way.

Moving outside the classical canon of poetry

Amy: Shall we just be reading classic poems, “important poems” or is it okay to read silly poems or modern poems?

Jennifer: Yes, I definitely have a very strong opinion about this but I think that we need to be reading all kinds of poetry. One of my favorite past-times, when I go and do something just for me, I often go to spoken word and poetry slams. Which is a very different form than what you would see in most classical schools. I’m just going to talk about that form for a minute, to describe why I think moving outside of the typical classical canon is really powerful.

For example, with a sonnet, a sonnet is a sonnet, you have very particular rules for the lines and this is with a lot of the poems. Of course, you have free verse and that sort of thing as well.

One of the things I’ve loved about spoken word poetry is that in that form, that you don’t have it unless you have an audience. Yes, a poet usually writes a poem when they are with themselves but there is something about getting on the stage, being with the audience that is a sort of alchemy. Not just for the poet themselves, but for the entire audience.

It is a space of communal healing and a place where you can get free on the mic. It’s incredible. Now, if you’ve never really gotten into it and you’re going to go look up some spoken word poems, they do generally have stronger themes, often stronger language. Be prepared for that but it has been so powerful to experience that community around words where it’s okay to just say it all.

It’s a different kind of form, but it is a form and it has its own rules and it has its own way that is important and the way that you show up in it. It brings something of value that we don’t experience when we’re just dealing with the page poems. In the spoken word world they would call sonnets and lyrics and that sort of thing page poems, they’re written for the page versus spoken word poetry.

You have an entirely different experience. Just like with page poets, there is a variety of poets who are some, well awesome, and some not so awesome, the same thing in the spoken word world. Some are outstanding and others are just learning but that’s the other cool thing is everyone shares the same stage and gets to grow and experience and evolve as a poet and a human.

Classica Education Poetry Jennifer Dow Homeschool Conversations podcast Curiosity and Surrender

I don’t know how to describe it, it’s this communal education, this communal healing, there is really a space for it. It feels good to get on the mic and just leave it all there and nobody is judging you either, it’s beautiful. That’s an example of one form that I think it’s really important and a great outlet for some people.

I think another thing is the whole point of education, and C.S. Lewis talks about this in The Four Loves in the section Affections.

Is that as we get beyond our own selves, step out, we enlarge our world, and if we’re only sticking to things that are in our own small world, we’re just going to keep repeating ourselves back to us.

An education is meant to extend our world, which means stepping outside of our culture, which means stepping outside of our small thing.

Sometimes that means going back to the ancients. That’s why many of us value the ancients but I also think there is value in exploring what is modern, especially poets who’ve been able to put words to modern problems. We are in a very unique time in our history. We have all these, well, it’s not that unique, it’s unique in some ways but these are similar problems, but we have poets and artists putting words to things in ways that they haven’t before.

Maya Angelou and Langston Hughes and the social justice issues and it’s powerful. There is this, and he’s a theologian there’s a lot of people who don’t – He’s a controversial theologian – I don’t really understand all of what he writes about but the one book I have of his has to do with the priests as the poet. This function that the poet has in a community as a sort of priestly role and I love that because I found that to be true. I think modern poets, especially, give us an opportunity to see the situations that we are currently living in in our society in a way we couldn’t have seen them otherwise.

Have you heard of the proverb story about the elephant and the 8 or 10 blind men? Where everyone is touching a different part and they are arguing about what it is?

Well, a poet has this ability to show us different parts if we’re willing to enter into the experience. Different aspects of it. Yes, I think it’s powerful and I’m also not one of those people that think only good stuff is old stuff. Some of the poets today they’ll be classics and even if they’re not, they’re a human being.

Is it true that each human is made in the image of God or isn’t it? I am of the mindset that if I’m beholding something the image of God made, there’s something quite possibly that I can glean from it. Now, obviously, there’re some that are more radiating with truth, goodness, and beauty than others but to just say no, none of that because whatever, just to shut it down without giving it a fair chance, I’m not a fan of. I know I’ve only been blessed by it. Sure, I’ve read some really bad poems and then I’m like, “Okay whatever” but then oh my gosh I’ve experienced so many wonderful poems I would’ve never learned had I allowed my prejudices to get in the way of exploring more.

Amy: Doesn’t that go back to what we were saying earlier about wonder and curiosity and humility and listening? Kind of all relates together.

Jennifer: Yes. I get it though because I think this might be another thing that prevents the curiosity, since you brought it up, is fear. Especially, and I’ve noticed this with some of the moms that I’ve homeschooled with and led, is this fear that unless I’m doing the form perfectly that I’m sinning somehow.

There’s a sweep of so much pressure on ourselves to be perfect and I’m just done with that because I did that for a long time and it’s exhausting.

Jesus did not die on the cross and raise from the dead for us to be ashamed all the time and afraid. That’s stuff for the land of the dead and I’m interested in living in the land of the living.

That’s what He offers us and if it’s true that the Holy Spirit guides us into all truth, then I can feel free to be curious. If I’m butting up against something that’s like, “You know what, maybe not,” I’m going to feel that check in my spirit. He hasn’t failed me yet.

Amy: Yes. I love that.

2 of Jennifer’s favorite poems

Amy: Is there a particular poem that you have really loved that you could read to us today?

Jennifer: Sure. Do you want me to read one that is more well known or less well known?

Amy: Either or both.

Jennifer: Okay, how about I read my two favorite poems then?

Amy: Yes please do.

Jennifer: Hold on I’m going to– I almost have this one memorized. I was hoping to have it fully memorized so I could perform it but I did not get it all the way memorized.

All right so the first poem I’m going to read is by Wendell Berry. Fangirl over here. I actually committed to reading a collection of his poems this year and I’m reading the collection of Sabbath Poems. One of my goals this year was to cultivate my ability to be mindful and attentive and still and embrace solitude more. I thought that reading his Sabbath Poems would help me cultivate that.

I try to read one every day but not always. Anyway, this first one is one of my favorite poems of all time. To me, it really expresses what it feels like to wrestle through something that’s hard and what’s waiting on the other side when we are brave enough to do so.

I go among trees and sit still.
All my stirring becomes quiet
around me like circles on water.
My tasks lie in their places
where I left them, asleep like cattle.

Then what is afraid of me comes
and lives a while in my sight.
What it fears in me leaves me,
and the fear of me leaves it.
It sings, and I hear its song.

Then what I am afraid of comes.
I live for a while in its sight.
What I fear in it leaves it,
and the fear of it leaves me.
It sings, and I hear its song.

After days of labor,
mute in my consternations,
I hear my song at last,
and I sing it. As we sing,
the day turns, the trees move.

Amy: I love it. Isn’t it beautiful? My kids laugh at me because I say this all the time, but it did…it gave me goosebumps. They’re like, “Mom, everything gives you goosebumps.”

Jennifer: As it should be, darling. As it should be.

The second one is probably my favorite poem of all time. It is by a poet named Frances Ellen Watkins Harper and it’s called Let the Light Enter. Frances Ellen Watkins Harper was actually a contemporary of Frederick Douglass and one of the first, if not the first, African-American women journalist and she spoke on the Abolitionists’ Circuit.

This poem is sub-titled The Dying Words of Goethe and I want to bring up the background to this. I’ve always loved this poem but then when I researched the background to it I fell even more in love with it. Goethe is a playwright and he wrote a famous play called Faust. There’s different renditions of it but one of the things that happens in this play is that this guy sells his soul to the devil. Like I said there’s different renditions. There’s some that he is redeemed and saved from hell and others where he’s not.

It is said that Goethe in his dying words asked for more light. When I was reading that I could not help but think about the connection between Goethe and Faust and I wondered. It just got me wondering. I wonder about that connection and those ideas as I read this poem. I’ll go ahead and read it.

Let the Light Enter poem
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Let the Light Enter

By Frances Ellen Watkins Harper

The Dying Words of Goethe

“Light! more light! the shadows deepen,
        And my life is ebbing low,
Throw the windows widely open:
        Light! more light! before I go.

“Softly let the balmy sunshine
        Play around my dying bed,
E’er the dimly lighted valley
        I with lonely feet must tread.

“Light! more light! for Death is weaving
        Shadows ‘round my waning sight,
And I fain would gaze upon him
        Through a stream of earthly light.”

Not for greater gifts of genius;
        Not for thoughts more grandly bright,
All the dying poet whispers
        Is a prayer for light, more light.

Heeds he not the gathered laurels,
        Fading slowly from his sight;
All the poet’s aspirations
        Centre in that prayer for light.

Gracious Saviour, when life’s day-dreams
        Melt and vanish from the sight,
May our dim and longing vision
        Then be blessed with light, more light.

Amy: Thank you so much for sharing this with us.

Jennifer: My pleasure.

Amy: If you can send me either links to those or the text I would love to be able to have the text of that in the show notes too.

Jennifer: Oh, yes. Absolutely, I will.

What Jennifer Dow is reading lately

Amy: After that, I almost feel like we should just say, “Amen” and close it [laughs] but I do want to ask you these last few questions that I’ve been asking all my guests this season. The first is just what have you been reading lately?

Jennifer: Right now I’m reading a ton of stuff for my high school class but personally I’m reading a book called Mountain of Silence. It’s about the life of the Eastern Orthodox monks specifically in the Greek tradition and how their spiritual regimen plays a part of their sanctification. It’s so fascinating because I have always thought of monasticism and all the rules as at times it’s felt arbitrary when I heard about it. This book is opening up how they’re actually therapeutic exercises that lead towards somebody’s healing and sanctification. I’m totally fascinated by it because I love that stuff.

I’m reading that, and then in my high school class, we are in ancient Greece right now. We’re reading The Iliad and we’re reading Dorothy Mills’ Book of the Ancient Greeks. Then, I’m reading one called The Greek Experience to inform my understanding of the Greeks at a deeper level and it’s so good. It better be because I paid $50 for it at a used books store. [laughs] I am so happy with that.

Then with The Iliad, the guide I chose is one called Pattern in the Iliad, another random book I found at a used books store. It’s amazing, he’s talking about how the pattern of The Iliad is really metaphors placed in different spots and repeated. Where they’re placed and where they’re repeated, really is what forms the form or gives shape to this epic poem. That’s a little bit of what I’m reading.

Amy: Oh, that’s fascinating. The Iliad has long been a favorite of mine, so I’ll have to add that to my list. Oh, my goodness, I have so many books now to add to my list after this. [laughs]

Tips for the homeschool day that’s going off the rails

Finally, if you were talking to a homeschool mom, what tip would you give, what strategies would you give her, for that day that just seems to be going completely off the rails?

Jennifer: Yes, I would say that remember, I think it’s Isaiah 54, where that verse where God says, “And I, myself, will teach your children.” I’ve constantly been amazed, and we’ve been through a lot of tragedy in our home in the last three years, how much that is true. That even when everything is going crazy, that my children learn in spite of me and my capacity, but how much that God really does love them more than I even can.

Every single time. If I’m willing to surrender to that and follow his urging, wherever it leads, even if it’s something that I’d rather not do, then we’ll be okay.

Amy: Yes. Such an important place to put our hope as a homeschool mom. So important. Jennifer, where can people find you all around the internet?

Find Jennifer Dow Online

Jennifer: Yes, you can find me at paideiafellowship, that’s P-A-I-D-E-I-A, .com. We have a blog there and also we have now an ongoing a classical homeschool mom coaching program. It’s a living apprenticeship by homeschool teachers for homeschool teachers, and we’re having so much fun with that. Then, of course, on social media at either @jenniferrdow or @paideiafellowship.

Amy: Fabulous, and I will have links to those things, your site, and social media, and the coaching program, in the show notes for this episode at humilityanddoxology.com. Thank you again so much for taking time to chat with me today. This has been a real treat.

Jennifer: It’s been a pleasure and an honor. Thank you.

Check out all the other interviews in my Homeschool Conversations series!

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