On Education at Home: Ireland & Yeats’ Stolen Child

JACK BUTLER YEATS, TOP OF THE FALL, n.d.

The Stolen Child

W.B. Yeats – 1865-1939

Where dips the rocky highland
Of Sleuth Wood in the lake,
There lies a leafy island
Where flapping herons wake
The drowsy water rats;
There we’ve hid our faery vats,
Full of berrys
And of reddest stolen cherries.
Come away, O human child!
To the waters and the wild
With a faery, hand in hand,
For the world’s more full of weeping than you can understand.

Where the wave of moonlight glosses
The dim gray sands with light,
Far off by furthest Rosses
We foot it all the night,
Weaving olden dances
Mingling hands and mingling glances
Till the moon has taken flight;
To and fro we leap
And chase the frothy bubbles,
While the world is full of troubles
And anxious in its sleep.
Come away, O human child!
To the waters and the wild
With a faery, hand in hand,
For the world’s more full of weeping than you can understand.

Where the wandering water gushes
From the hills above Glen-Car,
In pools among the rushes
That scarce could bathe a star,
We seek for slumbering trout
And whispering in their ears
Give them unquiet dreams;
Leaning softly out
From ferns that drop their tears
Over the young streams.
Come away, O human child!
To the waters and the wild
With a faery, hand in hand,
For the world’s more full of weeping than you can understand.

Away with us he’s going,
The solemn-eyed:
He’ll hear no more the lowing
Of the calves on the warm hillside
Or the kettle on the hob
Sing peace into his breast,
Or see the brown mice bob
Round and round the oatmeal chest.
For he comes, the human child,
To the waters and the wild
With a faery, hand in hand,
For the world’s more full of weeping than he can understand.

JACK BUTLER YEATS, GLENCAR, SLIGO, 1949.

Visiting Ireland for the first time, in 2006, I recall as most often do, the strange effect of the landscape, the folklore, and the music on my senses. So much, that when I departed I wept on the plane, as I watched the clouds obscure my view of the beautiful countryside, below. It affected me in ways that no other meaningful location has ever done, even more than my beloved New England, which was tremendous. Ireland is rooted deep in my soul through the clans which my paternal grandmother, Cathrue, descended from so many generations ago. It is also where my husband Stratton’s family left for the promise of what was to become America, sometime in the early part of the 18th century. One of my deeply fulfilling educational experiences was a semester of study in Irish Literature which included that first visit in 2006, and which led to years of research and writing on the subject of Ireland. The narratives of such a meaningful location are many, but always central to thematic elements that lure one there again, and again, through mystery, wonder, and adventure. And so, as a student, I became very interested in Ireland because of the connections between my own personal narratives and those of Ireland.

It is a good place to begin, with such narratives, when earning an education worthy of a life journey. There is no secret to educating one’s self or one’s own, while recent trends for education in the home might seem overwhelming and burdensome. They needn’t be so, and this Wise Welsh Witch installment is meant to reassure and reaffirm parents who have decided to bring their children home for education. I encourage anyone making such a decision to obtain a copy of the core curriculum requirements in their state. By law, each state must make them available to the public. After taking some time to read through them carefully, decoding the pedagogy of over one hundred years of institutionalized learning, and then perhaps discovering the great shame of the invention of the American education system, you will be amazed with yourself and with your children for having survived any of it, at all. Try to do this together with other parents and include both your own, as well as, other children for discussions. You will be astonished not only by how you begin to think, but by how you begin to feel. Be prepared to cry a bit, but more importantly, be prepared to laugh a lot. Everyone is going to be alright.

JACK BUTLER YEATS, THE OPEN GATE, 1951.

To ease your concerns, and to demonstrate the most simplistic of educational philosophies, based on something called the Trivium and a tiny bit of information by John Holt, ( Google both, folks ), I’m writing about a place called Ireland, through a poem by an Irish author, some Irish paintings by his brother, and a lovely Irish song that captures both. These three actually cover areas of study such as, Geography, Literature, Art, and Music, which are each disciplines in the Humanities. I would also venture into the disciplines of hard Science and Mathematics, or even soft sciences, such as Anthropology, which could include the geology of coastal rock formations in Ireland, the geometry of cathedrals in Ireland, and the early pagan foundations of the Catholic church in Ireland, respectively. But for the purposes of describing education at home, those subjects should come much later, after students demonstrate a working knowledge of written and oral rhetoric in the examples of the disciplines in the Humanities, which I have mentioned. The following is actually a template, if you will, of a unit study, or even just a simple lesson plan that can be done together with students, which creates an adventure for the whole family.

Small children, around the ages of four or six need to learn to read, to do sums, and to observe the world around them. Big children, around the ages of eight, ten, and twelve, need to learn all the many parts and pieces of the languages of various disciplines, using reading, writing, and arithmetic skills, as they grow each year in more knowledge. Young adults around the age of fourteen, sixteen, and eighteen need to explore their own ideas about the knowledge they have accumulated through fully developed analytical and critical thinking skills, which makes for a complete education. They are ready to pursue higher levels of learning in other areas of study. By the time some people reach the age of sixteen, they are also ready to make choices for the foundation of their adult lives. Others may need more time to discover a new path on their journey into adulthood. This could mean pursuing a college education, or a trade, or a business. Students are ready for different levels of learning at different ages, which really means nothing, except that we are all different, and we all grow and learn at different ages, and we all need to spend more time with people of different ages each and every day.

In America, our health and education systems organize everyone to do everything at the same time and the same age, which creates a segregation of the generations. This has proven to be rather unsuccessful, as you may have observed by the state of things in our country. American education has a lot to answer for, because “No Child Left Behind,” actually meant that nearly every child got left behind by the year 2008, and so, bringing your children home for their education really begins with a detoxification of everything the American education system, based on the outcome of human capital for the benefit of wealthy corporate interests, has taught both you and your children. Commodification, merchandising, and advertising for consumer culture have been the deliberate stimuli programmed and stored in our subconscious, for our decision making since we were very small children. This began for everyone inside all the many institutionalized learning environments in America in the very early part of the last century, which has continued to stimulate global tension and anxiety. But I digress, as the History of Education in America, a subject in need of much attention, is fraught with conflicts both political and economical that do not serve, and have never served real learning. Even so, try to remember that in all things academic, start with the interests of your children, who are your students.


JACK BUTLER YEATS, SEA WIND, 1954.

Help your students, young and old, to discover what gets them excited and interested to learn. For me, this example of Ireland and Irish narratives does that. Experiment with this model for yourself, if you like. Read together with partners or friends, through the W.B. Yeats poem. Read it very slowly. Ask yourselves some questions. Take notes. What are some of the definitions of the words that Yeats uses? Where are some of the places in Ireland that Yeats mentions? Why does Yeats repeat some of the phrases in his poem? Next, look at one or more of the paintings by his brother, Jack Butler Yeats. What does everyone notice? Why does everyone notice what they notice? What more can everyone find? Look long and look carefully. Write down everything that comes to mind. Next, listen to the song, “The Stolen Child,” sung by Loreena McKennitt. Ask everyone to close eyes their, or engage everyone in creative movement, or gaze at one of the paintings, while everyone listens. Play it once, then play it as many times as needed, for everyone to write down anything and everything that comes to mind, heart, and body — and even spirit, which eventually leads to religious studies, which leads to global studies in every discipline, and on, and on, and on. Research all the curiosities and discover all the answers. Projects, essays, and reports for any age are each inspired by such research and study, as this.

When completed, you have learned a holistic approach to education, and you have the makings of a template for a great lesson plan, and moreover, an entire unit study, which you can make record of for your children’s transcripts. Use it to help students choose an area of interest. Make the scope larger, or make it smaller. Make it simple, or make it complicated — adjusting for age ranges, even if you have several at home. Locate other sources, or none at all. The way in which you decide upon all these things will depend upon the ability of your student. You were the first teacher they ever knew, so you have an advantage, even over institutionalized learning teachers. How do you know what they can and cannot do? You spend time with them and you learn about them, but especially you learn how they learn. Who taught them how to put on clothing, brush their teeth, or buckle a seatbelt? You did, and you can teach them to read, write, and do sums, as well. Is there a deadline for the completion of assignments? Yes. The deadline is when your student is able to reach a new level, a new challenge, or a new goal. Do you have the ability to discern such things? Yes, you certainly do. Will some things be forgotten, missed, or even incomplete? Yes, and guess what? Those things are also forgotten, missed, or incomplete in the institutionalized learning environment that your children just departed.

How do I know this information is correct? Because, before I embarked and even while I earned my first undergraduate degree, I educated both of my children at home. One of them all the way into an ivy league college and the other, all the way into a public high school. Both of them adapted to new learning environments very well and both of them enjoyed successful undergraduate careers in the colleges of their first choice. Was it a perfect education that I gave them? No, it was not. There were things I did not cover, things I should not have covered, and things I wish I never covered at all. Some of those decisions were in my control and some of them were not, but the college board exams that they took were the real test of the success in their home education, and one of them scored in the 95th percentile, while the other scored in the 85th percentile. Be aware, that there is always a critical need, when bringing children home to educate, for a village of experts in various academic areas. It really does take a village, so find yours and enroll your students in supplemental areas of study, as I did. Do I know everything and do I have all the answers? Not at all. But, I do know enough to recall those first years of doubt and dismay through a lot of worry and fear over what turned out to be nothing, when I began to educate my children at home.

JACK BUTLER YEATS, SWAN, 1936.

There are tremendous resources, state, local, and regional that will assist you as you begin to educate your own. Many, many community colleges museums, galleries, libraries, and other such places of exploration and discovery now have interactive resources — and even better — YouTube channels with enough opportunities for education to keep you and your students busy growing and learning together for years to come. You should be aware that in most all institutionalized learning environs, your children spend at least three out of six hours a day in front of a screen. One public school day now contains about three hours of actual teaching time, so dispense with guilt, moderate as necessary, but be aware. Tech and screens are fabulous tools, so long as they do not become the only tool. Your family is earning an education, and like all other expeditions you do together, from a trip to market, to a trip to seaside holidays, you are the leader. You’ve been doing this kind of research and education for years, but you just never noticed. No matter your own background, your own education, your own career, and certainly no matter your own wealth or lack of it, you can teach your own, and you can teach your own with great success. The stolen child in Yeats’ poem is your child. You are bringing them, hand in hand, back home to become your student, once again. In times such as these, what could possibly offer you more of the kind of mystery, wonder, and adventure that you crave for your own narrative, just now?

“For he comes, the human child,
To the waters and the wild
With a faery, hand in hand,
For the world’s more full of weeping than he can understand.”

On Education at Home: Ireland & Yeats’ Stolen Child, by Robin Whitham McCrady, Copyright, 2020.  All references, citations, sources, and bibliographies are available upon request.

Wise Women, such as Midwives, Astronomers, Mathematicians, Healers, Philosophers, Herbalists, and Storytellers were once persecuted, as Witches,” from Wise Welsh Witch.

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