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“So where shall we meet?”
I was arranging to have lunch with a friend, and we were trying to answer one of the most difficult questions that can ever be posed to two or more people: Where do you want to eat?
I had spotted a pizza place recently that looked promising, so I suggested it. We had a winner! Until she asked me where it was.
I had a general idea of which road it was on and had mentally filed it under “Between home and church,” but I couldn’t get much more detailed than that.
Thankfully she could pop the restaurant name into her GPS app and it could tell her what I could not.
Isn’t it funny how we think we know something—we think we’ve made it our own—until someone asks us to explain the details. As we fumble for the right words and go back and correct ourselves a few times, we realize how casual our “knowledge” really is.
Charlotte Mason hit the nail on the head when she said,
“Whatever a child or grown-up person can tell, that we may be sure he knows, and what he cannot tell, he does not know” (Vol. 6, pp. 172, 173).
If you want to truly know something, make sure you can explain it to someone in your own words.
Tool #2: Put It in Your Own Words
Retelling something in your own words is a great way to self-educate. Many of us use the technique when we’re recounting conversations or telling a friend about a blog post we read or a movie we saw recently. You can use the same method to help you remember anything you are trying to learn.
“Now this art of telling back is Education and is very enriching. We all practise it, we go over in our minds the points of a conversation, a lecture, a sermon, an article, and we are so made that only those ideas and arguments which we go over are we able to retain” (Vol. 6, p. 292).
In a Charlotte Mason education, telling back is called narration. The student uses narration often, because it is powerful and because it gives him practice in educating himself.
Narration is such a powerful tool that you can pair it with any of your senses. It doesn’t matter whether you read a book, listen to music, look at a picture, smell a piece of leather, hold a frog, or taste-test a new recipe. Pay full attention, remember what you experienced, and try to put it in your own words in detail. The better you can do that, the better you can self-educate.
And once you get comfortable with narrating by retelling, you can branch out and narrate in other ways. You can reproduce what you learned by talking, by writing, through art, music, or drama.
The key is to turn the full gaze of the mind on the material and take it in with the intention of making it your own, of really knowing. Then express that knowledge in your own words, adding a bit of yourself into your reproduction.
“Knowledge is not assimilated until it is reproduced” (Vol. 6, p. 155).
When you can tell all about it, that’s when you realize that you have assimilated the knowledge. It has become a part of you.
You have self-educated.