Transcript for SS #50: A Little Less Talk and a Lot More Action (with Abby Wahl!)
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Brandy: You’re listening to Scholé Sister’s episode number 50.
Welcome to Scholé Sisters the podcast for the classical homeschooling mama who seeks to learn and grow while she’s helping her children learn and grow. Scholé Sisters is a casual conversation about topics that matter to those of us in the trenches of classical homeschooling who yearn for something more than just checking boxes and getting it all done. I’m your host, Brandy Vencel. You can find me Afterthoughts—that’s my main blog, and also Teaching Reading with Bob Books, which is where I keep my line of printable phonics lessons. You can hear more from me on my other podcast, Aftercast. My co-hosts today are Mystie Winckler and Abby Wahl. Mystie is a second-generation homeschooler with five kids and too many projects. She writes about practical classical homeschooling and organizing attitudes at Simply Convivial. Abby is not only a friend of ours she’s also one of the hosts on the Sistership. Abby is a country living farmer, rancher, a loving wife, a mom of five who homeschools, and she’s a reader. She reads whenever she can.
Speaking of the Sistership, this episode is sponsored by the Sistership. The Sistership is now a hopping place with an app. It’s for conversation and camaraderie and even book clubs, both online and local. Our goal with the new and improved Sistership is to foster community, not only with like-minded women online, but also with your local ladies who might not always be so like-minded. We are all better for iron sharpening iron and classical homeschool moms need to seek out dialectic that builds virtue by pushing us toward clarity and commitment. Visit ScholeSisters.com/Sistership to learn more. We have membership options from free to Premier and we’d love to have ya. This episode is not the much-anticipated second Dorothy Sayers episode. Unfortunately, we had some unforgivable technical problems and we have to re-record. This is, however, a fantastic conversation we had with Abby in which we jump off of Neil Postman’s thoughts on the need to not just take in information but also take action and apply this to the reading and thinking we do in our scholé time. And so, without further ado, let’s get to it.
[00:02:40] Scholé Everyday
Let’s start off with our Scholé Everyday. Who wants to go first ladies?
Mystie: I pick Abby.
Abby: Okay. Well, I just started a new book today and it is by Daniel Pink and it’s called, When and it’s the scientific secrets of perfect timing. It talks a lot about Chrono types like larks and owls and what he calls third birds and I took the little test because they have a little quiz in there which I love those things. So I am definitely a lark and my husband is an owl. So that’s super fun.
Brandy: What could go wrong?
Abby: Yeah. He just talks about how we have different energy, kind of, where we can focus during the day, which I totally believe and understand. He calls it peak and a trough and then a rebound and peak level is kind of like our Sherlock Holmes brain where we can have like logical, analytical, or deductive reasoning. And that’s when we should be doing things that really need focus and we can kind of tune out distractions and we should basically do nothing during the trough time.
Brandy: Is that like a time you’re tempted to be petulant.
Brandy: Just wondering
Abby: You basically make terrible decisions. Like we like going and buying a car if you had just gotten your wisdom teeth out. [laughter] Not that I don’t know anyone who’s done that before. Your rebound time is it’s kind of your creative time where you can be a little bit more fuzzy, but you just you don’t need the analytical skills things can come in and out. You’re kind of just in your flow and doing things, but you don’t necessarily want that high focus, you want to be able to let the edges blur, I guess, is how I think of it. It’s pretty good so far.
Mystie: I saw that one. I’m curious what you think when you get further into it.
Abby: I will let you know
Mystie: So is trough when you go get your steps.
Abby: Yes. Yes. Or he also makes a case for taking naps. So I am a big fan of the afternoon naps. So that’s a good time. I was also thinking to, though, it could be listening to kids work on phonics might be …
Brandy: If you can maintain a good attitude.
Abby: When they asked me for the thousandth time what’s IGHT mom?
Brandy: Just say “iggit” and see what they say.
Abby: I like it. I’m going to try that one.
Brandy: Alright, do you want to go next, Mystie, or shall I?
Mystie: I will. I have another non-book Scholé Everyday. So, this time it’s a magazine. My husband got me a subscription to Cook’s Illustrated for Christmas and I just got my first issue a couple weeks ago. So that’s exciting. I think it might be kind of a hint that maybe following recipes is a good idea. [laughter] Because if you’re going to do a Cook’s Illustrated recipe you really do have to actually follow the instructions, which I somewhat struggle with.
Brandy: Such a rebel.
Mystie: So the latest issue had browned butter blondies which I made for our church cookie duty and they were amazing! Very, very good. I did substitute white chocolate chips instead of milk chocolate chips like they said, so I still didn’t exactly follow the recipe—it made me feel a little bit better.
Brandy: Wow, I didn’t realize how deeply rooted this issue was.
Mystie: It was a [**] title. So, how could I not make them?
Brandy: Oh, good point.
Abby: Mystie, are you a rebel in the Four Tendencies by Gretchen Rubin? Have you read that book?
Mystie: I haven’t read her book. I read the Better Than Before where she I think she introduces it …
Abby: Yes, she does.
Mystie: … in Better Than Before but I haven’t read the book that’s all about that. I go back and forth between thinking I might be a rebel or a
Abby: Questioner with a rebel tendency.
Mystie: Yep. I think that. It’s like, ‘Do I really have to? Is it really going to make a difference?’ But the thing about Cook’s Illustrated is that with the whole full page article before the recipe, they really do explain why it actually is important to follow their recipe. Like what they tried and what happened, and so, I think the explanation of why their recipe is the way that it is, in seeing what they tried and why they adjusted and how they adjusted it, I find really interesting and it does help my motivation to actually follow the recipe and every single time I have, they’ve been right and I’ve been wrong, so it’s good for me.
Brandy: This is hilarious. It’s like they imagined you. They were like how do we write a recipe that convinces someone to follow the rules, the person who’s like, but why? Awesome.
Mystie: So then I went out and I gave Hans (my oldest) their Cook’s Illustrated or America’s Test Kitchen Cooking School Cookbook for his last birthday. So we have that on the shelf. He really likes it. It’s a great book for just a reading and their photography is amazing. But I took their pie crust recipe—I had to make a pie for something and so I said, “Okay, I’m not super happy with the all-butter recipe I’d been using, and I’m so-so on the half butter half Crisco recipe which I had been all in on last year, and then my husband is actually made more pies than me last year. I think I’m gonna make pie making my 2018 habit and he made more pies than me. But he uses all Crisco.
Abby: I know … I know that I want to be understanding about this but I have a moral dilemma. And in my family we don’t typically have a sweet tooth we have a butter tooth. So any excuse to use butter we just do, but since I’ve had some of the pie that your husband has made and I know it is delicious I will forgive him his use of this.
Brandy: Is this like that passage in the Bible that basically says don’t ask what’s in it?
Brandy: Just eat the food. Don’t ask many questions.
Mystie: So Cook’s Illustrated pie crust uses vodka.
Mystie: Then it is actually three-quarters butter and one-quarter Crisco.
Brandy: So have you tried it?
Mystie: I did try it and it was amazing and I’m a total convert.
Mystie: Yes. Yes! Because it has the butter taste. But what I really like about pie crust is the flakiness which is difficult with the butter.
Abby: Yes it is.
Mystie: And so this was just enough and then they said don’t do it by hand do it in a food processor, so I [sound-effect] I don’t want to get out another thing, but I did and it was totally worth it and faster, too.
Brandy: So, what does the Vodka do? I mean other than like something to drink while you’re making it? Just kidding. (I’m totally Russian right now.)
Abby: I know that another recipe that I’ve used uses vinegar. So it must be something in that that makes it, but I don’t know what is the reason.
Mystie: So the alcohol in it cooks out. And when it cooks out it dries differently so you get the higher amount of liquid which makes it easy to roll and easier to come together and then something about how when the alcohol cooks out of it while it’s cooking it helps lift…
Abby: Kind of create a steam effect …
Mystie: And so then it’s not as wet—whatever problem happens when it’s too wet goes away because the alcohol part of it cooks out and then it helps with the flakiness because of something scientific that happens.
Brandy: So interesting.
Abby: Some science words.
Mystie: Yeah, exactly. That’s what I feel about with half of what I read in Cook’s Illustrated, science just happened.
Brandy: Wow. Well, people can send their hate mail to Mystie at ScholeSisters.com.
Brandy: Please don’t send it to me. My daughter is gluten-free and I don’t even make pie crust. I do have shortening I use, it’s just not Crisco. I use Spectrum organic palm shortening when I really need a shortening because I do find that there are some times when I’m making a frosting but I’m doing like fancy decorating that I just need the stiffness of a shortening instead of just a butter … like a buttercream is softer, so it doesn’t hold a shape if I need to add a shortening. So I use palm shortening. I don’t even know if that’s actually better but I feel better about it because it says organic and Spectrum and palm and somehow …
Abby: You know what? We’re all going to die one day. So, whether it be Crisco inflicted or otherwise, I think we can …
Brandy: That’s so true.
Mystie: Organic inflicted.
Brandy: I still remember I was listening to Glenn Beck on the radio back when we lived in LA (and I guess he’s still on the radio. I feel like he was only on the radio back then) but anyway, I just remember him talking about Dr. Atkins and how Dr. Atkins he’d always eaten so perfectly, but he died—he fell off a mountain. So, he died in an accident and they were like, you know, he said when he’s falling down right? I should have ate the ice cream. I always remember that. (Probably a terrible joke.) So every once in a while I think about that when I’m like, should I or shouldn’t I do the shortening? I remember the lesson of Dr. Atkins and I go ahead and go for it.
Mystie: Alright, Brandy. How about you?
Brandy: Oh, that’s right. I still haven’t gone. Sorry. Okay, so mine is a book that I hope I haven’t already mentioned. I picked up this book and I read the first two chapters, I don’t know, a year ago, and then it just kind of got lost in the book stack because there were other things I needed to read. So I picked it back up this week and I’m like, ‘Oh I should have read this when I had first started it,’ because it’s so good. It’s A Mind for Numbers by Barbara Oakley and the subtitle is How to Excel at Math and Science Even If You Flunked Algebra. So far, I would say this is not really about doing better at math and science, even though that’s the angle that she’s taking which talks about it. It’s really about understanding how people learn. And so much of it overlaps with stuff we’ve talked about. I mean, she talks about things like short lessons and variety and the need to focus and then the need for a break. So she talks about basically like deep work alternating with she calls it diffuse thinking or diffuse mode, but basically it’s the whole – you know if you’re working on something you can’t solve the problem you go take a walk and your brain kind of figures it out while you’re not even really thinking about it?
Brandy: That would be like your diffuse mode to her. What is fascinating to me is just how much of what she’s saying. She’s taking a very scientific perspective. “We studied learning in a controlled environment and found
.” So much of it is just basic stuff that’s been being said for ever. Just in really modern science junkie type language. But anyway, it’s kind of fun because she talks, for example, she says something about and I did appreciate this too, but the idea that sometimes the way that we study gives us the illusion of understanding or the illusion of knowing and remembering because if we go back over our notes we’re like, “Oh yeah. Oh, yeah. Oh, yeah.” I remember that! But you don’t actually know it because you put your notes away and if someone was to test you on it, you wouldn’t know that so you have the way that we read over our notes the way we think of studying gives us the illusion of knowing something better than we know. So then she talks about what will be better would be to have what she calls to have a retrieval process and what she’s describing, I was like, ‘Oh she means you should narrate.’
Mystie: Interesting. So I’m like these words just make me laugh: retrieval process. Then it sounds “sciency,” but anyway, so, so many things! There’s definitely so many of the elements that we’ve talked about being in a Charlotte Mason education or a classical education are totally in here. Not a hundred percent of the time but so far the overlap is remarkable, so it’s been fun. And I thought about having my oldest read it. I had someone ask me about junior highers reading it. I think it might be a little bit old for junior highers, but I think high schoolers maybe getting ready to go into college and they’re going to totally direct their own learning at that point. I would, kind of, classify this almost a study skills at this point—them understanding how they learn. I could see that being beneficial.
[00:17:35] Topical Discussion
Brandy: So let’s move on to our topical discussion, which is, are we actually calling it this? I haven’t decided? I guess the information action ratio. And some people are going to hear that and go, “What??”
Mystie: We definitely need a catchier title.
Brandy: Yes, that’s true. Okay, fine! So, I am going to explain where this comes from though, so I believe it was Neil Postman who originally came up with this, probably someone had had the thought before, but he’s the one who gave it this name of “information action ratio,” and he talks about it in Amusing Ourselves to Death which is probably his most famous book and he talks about it really in regard to television news. You know, he’s talking pre-internet when he writes because when did he write this?
Abby: 1994, no, 1984.
Brandy: 1984. Okay, that would make sense. So he’s definitely before the age of Twitter and Facebook and all that kind of stuff and yet he’s talking about things, I think, we can totally relate to. It’s just worse now than it was then, but he’s talking about TV news and basically this idea that we can get all this information about what’s going on out there in the world. But all of it is so far removed from where we are, where we live, and our ability to have any impact on that situation. So, we get into the habit of listening to information but never acting on it because we really can’t. If someone says, you know, there was a hurricane on some random island in the Pacific, we’re like, I don’t even know where that is. There’s nothing I can do about it most of the time, right? So if you have a high information action ratio, which he says people had basically before the telegraph, that’s when they take action on a lot of the information that they get. So they might have less information than we have but then they actually have more information they can take action on. Versus he would say we live now in an age where we get tons of information, and very little of it can be acted upon. So, one of the things he talks about is it can have a negative… I mean, he doesn’t really use the word soul but basically he’s saying and have a negative impact on the soul because we get into this habit of hearing bad news and not taking any action, not doing anything about anything, not helping, there’s this sense of like, I don’t know if it would be hardness of heart. I don’t if you guys think that that’s the right thing to call it, but there’s definitely this negative impact on the soul that he’s talking about. Just, just, get in the habit of being basically a passive Observer of the world and just be totally taking in information from the Facebook firehose and never doing anything. We’re not really here to talk about the TV news. But I think this idea of having a high information and action ratio versus having a low one is an interesting thing to try to apply even to just what we do, with reading or reading blogs or listening to podcasts or any of that kind of stuff. So anyway, I’m going to open it up now, I think that’s probably enough explaining, unless you think I missed something but I thought we could maybe just start with talking a little bit more about this ratio and why we think, you know, it’s good to have a high one or dangerous to have a low one or what does it look like to have a high information action ratio—that kind of thing.
Mystie: Well, I was reading the chapter. I could start off by saying some things that might again have Brandy disinvite me to her book clubs.
Brandy: Oh, do it. Now that I’ve given out your email address, I feel way more confident.
Mystie: We just have to go back to our first episode of the season and say the one who kicks someone out is the one who’s being divisive. Well, I …
Brandy: I can’t mute her though, right?
Abby: She’s the host, so probably not.
Brandy: Oh, good point.
Mystie: I’m in charge.
Abby: What I found is that the problem with all of the information and action ratio is there’s a disconnect because when we went from the local news or gossip at church or at the local pub where people would gather together, you know, you had all this information and then with the advent of technology it just spread it out further and thinner and thinner and thinner and so there was a physical disconnect and I think that in our age right now what we are dealing with is people who are hungering for community and this action information ratio, we have more access to, kind of, the same types of people right? Like there’s a blog or a website for any kind of interest or hobby that you could possibly have—group pages and all these other things but in this it becomes just these snippets; a hundred and forty characters, right? You see a picture and a little information down at the low. So I think that the larger problem is is a disconnection, right? It removes us from real people and real things through the handheld device that we often view what’s happening around us. So that may not be exactly what you wanted to talk about, but that’s where I went.
Brandy: I wonder if that’s why we like the “Like” button or the Facebook emojis are what it’s some minimal amount of action you can take because what did he say? The Voting is the second to last Refuge when it comes to take action because the last Refuge is giving your opinion to a pollster.
Mystie: And I thought internet has given us some more opportunities to take action,
Brandy: Right, we can now choose from a set of 5 emojis on Facebook. But my favorite is when that malfunctions and there’s like sad things with a “haha” on them or good things with the angry face—this happened one time but I do wonder if things like that were invented to kind of soothe that point of tension.
Abby: I have that too. It’s the tension between knowledge and information too. Knowing what we are supposed to do with all of this information; knowing what is the next right step? What is it that we are needing to do? We all know about decision fatigue, and now we just have more opportunities to experience that with all of the information that we take in every day.
Mystie: Okay, so one of the sentences that he has in chapter 5 in Amusing Ourselves to Death, he says,
“In both oral and typographic cultures information derives its importance from the possibilities of action.”
I stopped there and said is that true? Is that where information gets its importance—the possibility of action? It seems like he is thinking of information as news, information of happenings, and without saying that that’s what he means, that seems to be the only kind of information he’s really ever talking about. And I don’t think as far as education goes that that is primarily what knowledge has been considered to be made of.
Brandy: True. But, I was wondering if this is why this sort of concept, this information action ratio concept, is sort of why we have Charlotte Mason saying things like “all education is self-education” or “that education is only really happening when there’s a certain level of self activity” that if even in learning we do need to take action, it’s going to be a different kind of taking action than when I read something bad on the news or hear something bad at the local pub (as Abby put it) but I’m wondering if in order for “information” to become something deeper we still have to have action?
Abby: Well, isn’t that what David Hicks says in Norms and Nobility? The purpose of education is not the assimilation of X or the retention of information but the habitation of the mind and body to will and act in accordance with what one knows. So in this case, I think that I agree with David Hicks.
Brandy: Good choice. [laughter] That’s always safe.
Abby: So the action part of it is, yes, you do have the information but the knowledge to know what to do is the next step. I was thinking about this and I’ve been listening, reading to A History of the American People by Paul Johnson with my oldest. It was talking about this—Thomas Jefferson was a prolific writer and Statesman and did all these wonderful things. He actually wrote lots and lots of anti-slavery. He wrote extensively on the wrongness and the terrible moral problems with it and yet he kept bought and retained slaves. And he continued to live a life and incur massive debt, and he was never able to set any one free. And so he has this big Mark against him even though he knew better he wrote about it and yet he did nothing to act to will that into a different thing. So I think that this is not a new thing.
Brandy: So we can’t just blame TV?
Abby: No, I don’t think so.
Brandy: Well, there goes that angle.
Mystie: Maybe that’s not saying that before TV people did act on the information but Thomas Jefferson had the ability to follow through to do something with the knowledge that he had. And so I think there’s kind of two layers there that I think would be better to distinguish between. There’s the action of learning which still isn’t putting the knowledge into practice changing something about the way you live isn’t the same as the action that is required to learn. So narration is something that you have to do for the self activity of learning but that doesn’t count as a virtuous action like becoming a virtuous person. You have to learn before you can but I think that what this information action ratio is talking about is applying information to your life and that most of what we see on the news isn’t related and so we get used to taking in information without doing anything about it.
Abby: We become consumers rather than producers and not producers as necessarily an economic point but using our time wisely, redeeming the time. I was thinking, too, my kids did Suzuki violin for a few years and we had to read Shinichi Suzuki, and he said knowledge is not skill knowledge plus 10,000 times is a skill. It takes a lot of practice to make knowledge actually real.
Brandy: It makes me wonder about how this relates to reading. I’m thinking here we talk a lot about books on education and reading them and I was trying to think about this, so there’s on the one hand I feel like I can read a book and I can pull out one thing to apply right now and I don’t think that meant that the rest of the reading was wasted, but on the other hand, I feel like we really could (and I think I’ve talked about this before in reading marriage and parenting books) we really can enter into a habit of feeling like because we read it, sort of meant we did it. I actually stopped reading relationship-type books because I realized that I already knew what I needed to be doing but I felt better about not doing it if I read a book that reminded me of – does that makes sense?
Mystie: You sense a problem and you want to do something about it and it’s super easy (I think especially for our personality types, I-N personality types) to count reading a book about it as doing something about it. It’s like sometimes we need to be told, “No, sorry, you’re gonna have to, like, actually do something with other people about that.”
Brandy: So how does this apply to … ? Obviously what you’re talking about with history or something not every book we read has an immediate application and I don’t think every book we read should actually have an immediate application because I think that would just mean we were reading like certain genres all the time. But at the same time can we … Okay, so I’m going to read this quote from Charlotte Mason because this is one of the things that made me think about it. So she has a section in Ourselves about pity and she talks about something she calls “idol pity.” So she says,
“There are people who like to enjoy the luxury of pity without taking the real pain and trouble of helping. They say, “How sad,” and will even shed tears over a sorrowful tale, but will not exert themselves to do anything to help the sufferer. Indeed, on the whole, they would rather pity imaginary people who need no help and it gives them pleasure to cry over a sad tale in a book or play. The tears of such people who are rather pleased with themselves because they think they have feeling hearts are like the water of certain springs and the limestone which have the property of coding soft substances with stone. Every movement of pity which does not lead to an effort to help goes to form a heart of stone. There are none so difficult to move to help as those who allow themselves the luxury of idle pity.”
I was thinking about that in regard to this that I think it goes beyond pity, though I totally see her point, and I think that is why sometimes I find it beneficial to not read as much news. I don’t need to know every bad thing that happens in the world because I’m just forming this habit of hearing about bad things that I darn well know I’m not going to do anything about. But I’m wondering about things like parenting books, marriage books, education books—at what point are we actually training ourselves to have that disconnect? Do you know what I’m saying?
Mystie: And accumulate knowledge in that case, that’s not necessarily putting it into practice.
Brandy: Right. And I don’t think we can apply everything all at once but I’m wondering is there a point at which it gets dangerous for us to have that disconnect? I know if I was reading Scripture that there would be danger if I am in the habit of reading Scripture and then acting in contrary wise and I don’t feel even feel that tension anymore. My heart became hardened just through the habit of not living out what I’m reading—that would be dangerous. So does that apply to other things? And then what does that mean for our relationships with the books?
Mystie: I think this will help me make sure I bring this back around but this is one thing that throughout my red flags while reading the chapter in Amusing Ourselves to Death, like I said, he seems to use the definition of information as bits of news rather than a broader sense of knowledge, and that his actions also are immediate actions that you’re taking, so the red flag was that he is presenting a materialistic view of the world in this, so this is all, basically, a superficial view of both information and action which contrasts with Norms and Nobility where he doesn’t use the word information he uses the word knowledge and it’s about shaping your loves, your affections—there’s this spiritual, personal connection. So even in the second paragraph of the prologue Hicks says,
“The teacher’s ancient and perennial desire to connect the wisdom of the past with man’s present and future actions, to educate the young to know what is good, to serve it above self, to reproduce it, and to recognize that in knowledge lies this responsibility.”
I think those are categories for how we’re supposed to be putting our knowledge into action and knowledge helps us to know what is good, to put our values above our convenience, to reproduce it—to do it, and to recognize that we have a responsibility—we have duties that we have to fulfill. And so, the actions aren’t only (not that we have to take everything as self-help, how do I have to necessarily take a specific action like that’s on a to-do list, although, you know, we do have those also) but even helping shape our affections is an action we should be taking or another phrase Hicks uses is an allegiance to a pattern of truth and then there’s the quote the Abby already mentioned. That quote bears repeating.
Abby: All the time.
Mystie: “It’s not the assimilation of facts or the retention of information.” When he uses the word but maybe facts and information is what Postman is talking about.
Brandy: For sure.
Mystie: And Hicks is saying, “Education is not really about that. It’s about the habituation of the mind and body to will and act in accordance with what one knows.” And so, I think there’s two different maybe their phases, I think it would be tempting (especially for us at the stage we’re at) to say let’s do all slow reading so that we have time to really apply what we’re learning. But there’s also that earlier phase, and I think we go through cycles too, where you have to read a whole lot to figure out where am I? What do people say? You don’t want to go all in just on one person really early. I think that reading a lot really fast to get a broad overview really helps with that giving yourself that foundational sense of truth and where your allegiance is, and that sort of thing.
Brandy: Well, and also I mean, you don’t want to just apply everything you read in the sense that how do you even know if you agree with it completely? Because there are things that we’ll read that will decide, no, I actually don’t want to do that because I read this [other thing] and you made me second-guess that application or whatever.
Abby: And I think, too, so often we do just need to actually try it out. We can read things and we can try it out and see, ‘well, this is not working for me,’ and then move on. There is benefit in trying things out and then realizing that’s a fail and then learning from that, too. And I think that we’re so often we’re just worried about always doing the wrong thing, making the wrong choice, trying the wrong thing, and then we just don’t do anything. And I think that that is also a problem because yes, we keep reading about it, we keep researching, we keep reading, keep adding more books to our piles, and yet, because we have so much information we can’t actually try and do that because I think there’s a fear in there too.
Brandy: Well, I think there’s a perfectionism trying to discover the perfect application actually paralyzes (especially certain personality types) against action in the first place.
Mystie: Or even feeling like you have to know the whole system entirely and put it together. I mean, it is a form of perfectionism, but feeling like you have to have the entire whole picture before you can do anything about it.
Brandy: Well, I think in homeschooling we can make people feel that way. Like with Charlotte Mason, “Well, here, just read these thousands of pages so that you can act on them.” You know what I mean? And that’s like, “Well, what am I supposed to do on Monday?”
Abby: And I also think so many people are just like, “Well, just tell me how to do it.” Right? Just give me a system, give me a formula (which is why curriculum companies exist and there’s so many), but the thing is is there’s nothing that will prepare you better than just doing it. I put off Plutarch for years with my kids. I had read him. I’d been doing my own thing with Plutarch, but I was just hesitant because I don’t know how to do this right. And then one day we just started and we’ve had successful Plutarch lessons, and it wasn’t because I had an immersion, or a practical here’s-the-best-tips-on-how-to-study-Plutarch, we just went with it. So I think that sometimes just throwing yourself into the deep end and seeing where you land is just one of those things you have to do.
Mystie: And even being willing to just start the baby step version. Maybe get paralyzed by all the things that Morning Time could be but really just start off by reading a Psalm and singing a hymn. There you go, you had Morning Time.
Brandy: That’s true. I think people adding it (to speak just to Morning Time), if they’re adding it with older kids they’ll feel like they need to do all the things, but all of us who started it with little kids did exactly what you’re saying. It was just that. That’s how so many people started. That’s a great starting place. Even if your kids are twelve instead of three.
Abby: You might get an easier buy-in if you don’t try to make it three hours long.
Brandy: Good point.
Mystie: We’ve gone back closer to that original way we started off and really paring back to what I think is essential so that I continue to have that buy-in from the oldest who has a lot of other things on his plate. And then also just making sure that we get to those things that I think are really important with my youngest who’s six. If we have this long loop, she never will really actually memorize it; what was review for the older three are still kind of newish to her. So if we tighten up and really just have a year where it’s shorter and recycling through things on a much shorter level there’s nothing wrong with that either. There’s there are reasons for going back to that just basics even, eleven years in.
Brandy: That’s true. Okay, so to come back to the information action ratio, here’s … this is so funny … in our notes I realized I keep writing ration instead of ratio, I’m going through and deleting n’s. For some reason, I just really want to write ration …
Mystie: Here’s your ration of action.
Abby: You have a daily allotment of it. That’s it.
Brandy: They’re probably really is only so much I can tolerate so it’s for the best. But I’m wondering how does something like the information to action ratio, which I do think you’re right, Mystie, has its limits in the material world or in time. He’s talking about things that you wouldn’t act on five years from now you would act on now because it’s a natural disaster or something that happened. How does that relate to something like wisdom? So Mystie, you’ve often pointed out that wisdom isn’t just knowing, that there’s an action component.
Mystie: Yes. I was just trying to look that up. I know that’s I know that I got that from George Grant and I had it in my Morning Review all the time. I mean if George Grant said it then it’s way more brief and …
Mystie: concise and pithy than anything I’ll say. Part of it comes from Norms and Nobility and the whole virtue is not just knowing something but how you live in light of what you know. And that’s not even knowing all the things so that you can do the right thing. It’s living and acting in accordance with the knowledge you’ve gained so far and continuing to seek more knowledge because the more you know, the more you know you don’t know.
Abby: Quite a few of the Proverbs talk about seeking out wisdom and what wisdom looks like, wisdom cries aloud in the street, wisdom is doing and following after her …
Mystie: So, it’s George Grant who said,
“Knowledge is knowing, understanding is knowing what to do, wisdom is knowing what to do next, virtue is actually doing it.”
So that completely jives with Hicks. I mean, I’m pretty sure George Grant has read Hicks but that’s not just Hicks is saying that because Aristotle said it and George Grant’s read Aristotle too.
Brandy: I think what I like about that, too, is that you do have to start with just knowing.
Mystie: It does start there.
Brandy: It does start there. And I think that is why there’s still a really good argument for wide reading even if you can’t apply all of it because also the idea if we’re being formed. So the formation Charlotte Mason is concerned about, I think, is very related to the formation Neil Postman is concerned about. So you’re getting in the habit of hearing very particular things and having feelings that have no action with them. But that, I think, is different from being formed in a good way by everything you’re reading as a way of preparing to act in daily life because the specific situations aren’t in what you’re reading. That’s what you face in your daily life. So as you’re living through your daily life you’re living out your reading, ideally … unless you’re Thomas Jefferson. [laughter] Good ol’ Tom.
Mystie: Also the first president to completely disregard though constitution.
Brandy: Mystie’s still bitter two hundred years later.
Mystie: That’s what I remember from history of the American people. I was at the gym listening to it. I felt like standing up and going, “What? What? Are you kidding me? That didn’t last long.”
Brandy: Yeah, really.
Mystie: Oh, yeah, that’s what the Constitution says, but actually, this is more expedient for us right now, so let’s just do it—President number three.
Brandy: Well, we had a good run.
Mystie: You know, it really reminds me of James 1 where he says be doers of the word and not hearers only deceiving yourself. So I think that’s part of really the way the whole world is built. There’s what’s inside of you and that has to come out. Our spiritual and physical, our internal processes and our external actions are all supposed to be connected and consistent. And what we’re supposed to do is to be working on that, improving our internal compass and knowledge base and also how that’s coming out and making sure the two stay one piece.
Brandy: Because if we’re really being formed by our reading then it will come out.
Mystie: And not just in joining the right groups online.
Brandy: And that’s really what James is saying. If you really are changed by this truth, then it will come out. So it’s it really is the same kind of a thing.
Abby: Mystie, you did a series on your blog about the teacher of the seven laws of …
Mystie: The Seven Laws of Teaching.
Abby: And it talks about how when you have real knowledge you are compelled … it’s such a deep and profound learning that it compels you to act in a different way or in accordance with what is right. That’s like the fourth level of learning which is the highest form and I always loved that because that is what ultimately we are seeking, right? To act according to what is right. And like you said, not just mere hearers but doers of the word.
Mystie: I think another thing that we have to be careful of in are consuming of information, whether that’s data points from online (just like our version of news, you know, like what so-and-so is doing), the Instagram feed, or the Facebook feed, or whatever, might not be global news that we’re paying attention to so much as looking at what other people are doing and then also our reading and hopefully also gathering knowledge—I think those are kind of two distinct—there’s definitely still a place for learning from one another and finding out what other people do so that you have ideas…
Abby: Yeah, for sure.
Mystie: … but to be aware that it’s very easy for that overabundance of information to diffuse and weaken our attention on the place where our attention and our responsibility actually lies.
Abby: I have a quote for just that. Herbert Simon, he won the Nobel Prize in 1971 for economics and he said, “A wealth of information creates a poverty of attention.” And I think that goes to what you were saying, Mystie, because we’re just distracted and that’s what it is—isn’t there a book Age of Distraction?
Mystie: It’s the subtitle.
Abby: But anyway, we are in an age of distraction and it’s hard to pay attention to what’s really important if we’re not careful.
Mystie: And we know from Charlotte Mason how important attention is, right?
Abby: That’s right.
Brandy: That’s right. Okay, so I feel like we should start bringing this to a close. And so, one of the things we talked about trying to do in order to raise the information action ratio would be to try to do—this I think was Abby’s idea, actually—we’re gonna blame you Abby, especially when it gets hard.
Mystie: Hey, if it gets hard we could just make Abby make our callbacks.
Abby: There you go.
Brandy: “Here’s the recording.” So we thought about doing a Call to Action at the end of each but try to isolate … it wouldn’t be the only possible application, of course, from discussing these ideas, but try to come up with one recommended application, including for ourselves, not just for you who are listening, but to try to take the information and knowledge gained from the discussion and put it into action. So just trying to think of a way to relate the conversation to real life in some way. So, were we each going to come up with one? Or were we concurring on one? How are we doing this? This is our first time.
Mystie: Well, I think that we should just remember in coming up with the calls to action, or thinking about how to apply what we’re reading at any time, to remember that it’s a bigger thing than a task to check off.
Mystie: If we’re going by Norms and Nobility then what teachers and learners are trying to do is to know what is good and to serve that above self, to reproduce it, and to recognize that responsibility comes with knowledge. So part of it is recognizing what does being responsible with this information look like in my life?
Brandy: Ooh, I like that. I like that as a guiding question for trying to do this segment. What does it mean to be responsible with this information? I think there are a couple of ways to look at this. So, how do you heighten a ratio, like an information action ratio? There’s two ways to do it. There’s to make the i smaller and there’s to make the a bigger. I think both of those are possible ways of being responsible with this if we decide oh, I have a really low IA ratio and we need to improve this here. Because, for some people, doing something like a social media fast, they find that really, really helpful. And so, that would be making the i smaller, right? So I’m going to lower the amount of information coming in because it’s overwhelming me or it’s … what did you say, Mystie? It’s like messing up my attention, basically, right?
Brandy: So it’s decreasing my attention so much so I’m going to lower my i and that’s going to actually make the overall ratio bigger. But then the other thing would be taking more action basically, right? Increasing the A. So then how do we do that?
Mystie: Well, I think part of it is looking at what are your responsibilities, your personal responsibilities? Like what are my vocations? And how does what I’m reading or seeing here inform those or help me understand those better or love them more or pay attention to them better and then I think that helps us see in that ratio. Am I taking in a bunch of information that’s not really applicable to anything I’m responsible for? And how is that affecting the areas that I am responsible for?
Abby: I think one of the easiest ways to increase your awareness on action is habit tracking. And I think that that’s a great way because I think feedback is so helpful and you are checking a box, but you are trying to create something bigger, right? I am trying to create the habit of acting in accordance with my knowledge and that is seeking good things. And so, Brandy, you have the habit tracker for mother culture, right?
Abby: Intellectual reading. And we can do that, and then also even Commonplacing I would consider an action right because even just the action of writing down something that struck you makes it form in your mind more succinctly, narrating what you’ve read to your children or someone (which is way harder than … you know, we take turns in my family and I am included in the turns and it’s definitely something that is a hard thing to do). I think there’s lots of actions we can take when we are taking in information or in what we’re reading, but I think habit tracking would be a great way to do that.
Mystie: Because it’s focusing your attention and keeping that in the awareness loop instead of just taking something in and thinking, ‘Oh that’s interesting,’ and then we move on and forget about it. It’s something that brings it back. And if it’s a good habit, it’s a tiny habit, right?
Brandy: I try to set up a habit tracker at the beginning of each month. This is kind of a new thing I’m doing this year. One of the things I like about that is it helped me, I have a limited amount of space, I can’t Implement every habit I have ever thought about, and it’s, kind of, helped me to think about how Charlotte Mason talks about habits deliberately and thoughtfully formed. So when I say, well these are the number of habits I’m going to work on and I’m limited in how many I’m allowing myself, then I have to really think about what’s really important and what’s going to pay the biggest dividends? What habits do I need the most?
Abby: Dare we say essential?
Brandy: No, we can’t say something like that. [laughter] It’s been an interesting thing to try to think of it that way. It’s a way to pay attention without having to work hard to pay attention because you decide in advance and then after that you’re assigning yourself to check a box.
Abby: And isn’t that what keeps us from or what is inaction is just decision fatigue. We don’t know what the next thing is and habits are great because they just take away that decision. It’s just something easy, that’s almost not effortless but we’ve already decided in advance how we’re going to do this; the who, the what, the when, the where, and the why. I’m a big habit fan and habit nerd. I have a weekly habit scorecard.
Brandy: Wow, look at you. Well that reminds me of what you said about Plutarch though. You read about it and you thought about it and you did it by yourself and then at some point you just decided now I’m going to do this and you probably decided how often you were going to do it, like once a week or whatever, and then that’s when your Plutarch life was born with your children. You just finally decide to do it.
Abby: Some of my kids are still like, “What?” But we are still going forward.
Mystie: And Brandy something you said I think is important too to emphasize and that is that your habit tracker forces you to limit the actions so the having a high information to action ratio isn’t an excuse for that perfectionism to come in again and say I have to do everything because that could be another problem on the other end of things. That can be not enough action just in one ear out the other, moving on and reading the next book, or doing the next thing, or not doing the next thing, but the other end is thinking like I have to now implement all of this right away and that isn’t the case.
Brandy: And it’s not realistic. If you read a book on education, you’re probably going to identify lists and lists of things that you could do or want to do or want to change and you can’t actually overhaul everything at once. Most of us, at least, are not successful when we try to do that. I think that’s what I like about habits and, Abby, that’s probably what you’re talking about too, really, is this idea that it’s a method that gets you where you want to go but it’s a manageable method instead of dropping yourself into the deep end and hoping that you remember how to swim well.
Abby: I’ve been reading volume 3 of Charlotte Mason which is School Education (but it’s very approachable), and one thing that Charlotte Mason was saying was that, everyone is born with capacities, everyone has limitation, and everyone has the opportunity to have an education. And I think that that’s a great way to think about this too. We have the capacity to act but we do limitations—sometimes it’s just not in our season of life but we can do things that are immediately in front of us that are the right thing, and then it is our job, our privilege, our duty to get an education and work on deficits or limitations and grow.
Brandy: I like that. So anything else we should touch on before we close up shop for today?
Mystie: Sounds like a good ending spot.
Brandy: I think so. Good job wrapping us up, Abby.
Abby: Oh, yeah.
Brandy: Alright. Well, thanks guys for being here today. This was a fun talk with you guys. I appreciate it.
Mystie: We’ll do it again soon.
Brandy: I hope so.
That’s it for today. Thank you so much for listening and being a part of The Sisterhood of the podcast. Remember our show notes can always be found at ScholeSister.com. Just add a slash ss (/ss) and the episode number. So for example, this podcast is number 50. And so the show notes are found at ScholeSisters.com/ss50. We are, if you can’t tell, so thrilled with the opening of the new and improved Sistership. To sign up just go to ScholeSisters.com/Sistership. In our next episode Pam and I are talking with classical education convert, Amanda Gautier-Parker. Amanda started out as an unschooler, but over the years she made her way to a classical, and later, Charlotte Mason approach. Her story is one you won’t want to miss. Until then we want to remind you once again that homeschooling is a marathon you needn’t run alone. So open up your eyes and look around you, find your sisters.