Parrot AND Poet

You may be aware of Dorothy Sayers’ wonderful talk (later turned into an essay), “The Lost Tools of Learning.” In that essay she summarizes the medieval Christian understanding of the stages of childhood development. She argues that, according to the medievals, we develop in three stages: parrot, pert, and poet. The first stage is that during which children are able to memorize with ease. The second is that when they begin to analyze what they’ve been taught, and the third is that when they begin to understand that there are transcendent realities beyond sense perception. The medievals described these stages of learning as “grammar, logic, and rhetoric.” Whenever we learn something new we must always learn the stuff, how the stuff works, and how to talk about the stuff.

There’s a great deal to be learned from Sayers’ essay. It is foundational to the recovery of what is now called “classical education.” I hope that you’ll take a few moments to read it. If our churches adopted this approach it would revolutionize our approach to Christian education and Samuel Chelpka is a wonderful example of what is possible. Here’s a National Public Radio story on Samuel. He’s also been featured on ABC news.

Samuel is the son of Chris and Della. Chris graduated last spring from Westminster Seminary California and is pursuing ordination in the Orthodox Presbyterian Church. The Chelpkas are a musical, artistic family and Samuel may be quite gifted but, if Sayers is right (and I have strong anecdotal evidence that she is) there are ways in which Samuel may not be all that exceptional. If Sayers (and the medieval world) is correct, then we are born parrots. From a very young age we possess the ability to memorize a great deal of material, even if we do not understand it. Children may learn more than one language and grow up easily bilingual. They delight in putting things to memory because this is how they are made. It’s what they do. We noticed that with our children. We called them little camcorders. They seemed to be recording everything for later playback and there were and they did. We learned to be careful what we said because we never knew exactly when the tape might be played back.

There are other things to be learned here. Children are able to enjoy and appreciate beauty earlier than some think. This aptitude witnesses to their (and our) status as image bearers.  Beauty is a refection of perfection, of glory, and of God.

We might also note that the ABC reporter asks if he “watched” Collins recite the poem and Della replies that, no, he “listened” to the poem. We live in a visual age, but we’re made to listen to words, to take them to heart. Perhaps this why Scripture says that faith comes by “hearing”?

Check out the links above. Enjoy the poem and Samuel’s joy in the poem.

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