Order, Harmony, and the Medieval Imagination (with Kelly Cumbee)

Kelly Cumbee Homeschool Conversations Podcast homeschooling encouragement Medieval Renaissance Literature
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When Karen Glass recommends someone “wise and experienced” for your podcast, you listen! And today’s guest, Kelly Cumbee, does not disappoint. Kelly brings experience as a veteran homeschool mom of 7 children who have graduated from her homeschool, so her perspective on home education is not to be missed. Kelly is also an enthusiastic lover of Medieval literature, especially the Faerie Queen. In our conversation, we dive into what defines the Medieval imagination, the reasons why studying Medieval and Renaissance literature still matters, and the ways we can gain an entry into this fascinating area of study. Hold onto your library card and book wish list and get ready for a delightful conversation!

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

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Kelly Cumbee Homeschool Conversations Podcast homeschooling encouragement Medieval Renaissance Literature

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Who is Kelly Cumbee

Kelly Cumbee is the mother of seven children whom she has educated at home from the beginning. Her homeschooling style is an organic outgrowth of her love for music, nature, stories, and tradition, so she feels very much at home in the Charlotte Mason-Classical stream. She is a 2018 graduate of the CiRCE apprenticeship program, has taken literature classes from Angelina Stanford, and has been teaching literature and Medieval and Renaissance cosmology to teens and adults in local co-ops and online classes since 2015. She will be offering a class on The Faerie Queene through The House of Humane Letters next fall, with a goal of helping other homeschool moms who want to read this great work to their own children.

Kelly Cumbee Homeschool Conversations Podcast homeschooling encouragement Medieval Renaissance Literature

Watch my interview with Kelly Cumbee

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Amy Sloan: Hello friends. Today I am joined by Kelly Cumbee. Kelly, thank you for being here today.

Kelly Cumbee: You’re welcome. Thanks for inviting me. It’s an honor.

Amy: Well, I am very excited. Karen Glass recommended that I talk with you, so I know that this will be a great conversation. Kelly is the mother of seven children, whom she has educated at home from the beginning. Her homeschooling style is an organic outgrowth of her love for music, nature, stories and tradition, so she feels very much at home in the Charlotte Mason classical stream. She’s a 2018 graduate of the CiRCE Apprenticeship Program, has taken literature classes from Angelina Stanford, and has been teaching literature and Medieval and Renaissance cosmology to teens, and adults, in local co-ops and online classes since 2015.

She’ll be offering a class on The Faerie Queene through the House of Humane Letters next fall with a goal of helping other homeschool moms who want to read this great work to their own children, and that sounds really fun. Before we start diving into the Medieval and Renaissance topic could you just tell me a little bit about your family and how you guys got started in homeschooling?

Getting Started Homeschooling: Why and How

Kelly: Yes. Well, my husband is retired military, so the first 18 years that we were married, he was active duty, and we moved a lot, and had a different kid almost every place we lived. I’ve been homeschooling from the beginning. I don’t know if you want me to go ahead and tell you how that came about.

Amy: Yes, I would love to.

Kelly: I was 18, or 19-years-old, I had never, ever heard of homeschooling before. A family that I was babysitting for started homeschooling their kids, and as soon as the mom told me, “We have decided to homeschool,” that was the first time I ever heard that phrase, and immediately I just knew, this is exactly what I’m going to do. When I met my husband, and we first started talking about getting married and all of that, I said, “I want to have a lot of kids, and I want to homeschool.” He said, “Okay, sounds good.” If you know me in real life, you’ll know that I never, ever make snap decisions. That immediate knowing that that was the right thing to do came after my whole 18, 19 years of life. I feel like it was just sort of the natural, automatic, almost outgrowth of my childhood, is what it seems like to me.

Amy: Well, tell me a little more about that. Was that because there was certain things that you had missed in childhood, or more certain things that you wanted to pass on to your own children in their education?

Kelly: It was both. I’m from Arkansas, and I grew up in a house that was right next to the woods, with a creek that came out into our backyard. My best childhood memories are playing in the woods, and playing in that creek, and being outside at night looking at the stars with my dad. My daddy was a chemist, so he knew everything. He was a scientist, but he loved nature, and loved the sky. My mother was a musician, and she was always playing the piano for us, and that kind of thing. All of those best parts of my childhood, combined with the fairy tales that I read, and all the old books. I always loved old books, and books about people who lived a long time ago and in different places and how they lived, say historical fiction kind of thing, but also Little House on the Prairie, and that sort of thing.

When I was 16, or 17-years-old, I read C. S. Lewis’s, Surprised by Joy, and his descriptions of his early childhood before he went to school so attracted me because they were so much like my favorite parts of my own childhood. I noticed that he said when his mother died, he was eight or nine-years-old when she died, and he had never been to school before, but she had started him with French, and they’d made a start with Latin. Presumably, she had taught him to read English as well, because he was reading and writing stories with his brother. I just thought how lovely that was. Then later on in the book, when he talks about going to Mr. Kirkpatrick, and they’re reading Greek, and Latin. These are great stories, and I thought, “Why can’t I go to a school like that?” That’s what I wanted so much.

When my friend, the woman that I was babysitting for, said “homeschool,” immediately I thought, I think I connected later, that that’s what C. S. Lewis’s mother was doing at home. She was teaching him stuff at home, and then also, that would mean that my children wouldn’t have to be stuck away in school during their early childhood at least. I didn’t really think too much about the plan until after I got married, and after we started having children.

I read Raymond and Dorothy Moore’s book, Homegrown Kids, and they talk about how, for the first through third grade, really kids don’t need much school. They just need to play outside, they need a lot of stories, they need to help around the house, that sort of thing, and then when they’re old enough for fourth grade, you can put them in school. That was my original plan.

The year that my oldest daughter was fourth grade, we had just moved, we were having a baby, and it wasn’t a good time to stick her in school. That year also, was the year that I sort of finally felt like I really knew what I was doing as a homeschooler. Things just kind of came together, and every year after that it was kind of, well, we’ll see if there’s a school that would be better for them. Then we moved again, and then we had another. Things were always happening, and it was always better to have them home for one more year.

Then by the time our oldest was ready for high school, I had discovered online classes for Great Books. I had little kids that needed to be taken care of, and little ones I needed to be teaching to read, so I found online classes for my older children, and I guess we’re always homeschooling, and so we always have. My youngest is 18, and she’ll be graduating this spring, and so we’ve just always homeschooled. [laughs]

Amy: Oh, wow. Congratulations on graduating that seventh, and final child, that’s such an accomplishment.

Kelly: Thank you.

Amy: I think a lot of the first-generation homeschoolers, I’m second-generation homeschooler, but a lot of those first pioneers speak about Raymond Moore, or maybe they heard him like on, Focus on the Family, I know I hear that a lot of times, or found the book. That may not be as familiar a name, I don’t hear it as often now from young new homeschool moms, but definitely had a huge impact on that first wave of homeschoolers for sure.

Kelly: I was just going to say, that family that I was babysitting for, she heard that Focus on the Family radio broadcast, and that’s why they started homeschooling. For me, it’s indirectly linked to that. I never heard the broadcast myself, but was influenced by someone who did hear it.

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Choosing the Good Things in Education

Amy: You heard this idea, and it was connected to C. S. Lewis, which I think is so good. That’s funny, I’ve never heard someone say, “You know what, I think I’m drawn to homeschooling because of C. S. Lewis.” [laughs] This idea of the wonder, and the childhood, outdoors. How do you feel like your approach to homeschooling changed, or grew over the years? When did you first start hearing about Charlotte Mason, classical education, how did things kind of grow and change?

Kelly: The year that my oldest daughter, I’m pretty sure it was the year that she was first grade, somebody recommended For the Children’s Sake, to me, and so I read that. There was so much in there that I just loved about what she was saying. I didn’t understand how to do narration, and I’d struggle with teaching my kids how to narrate. My older kids, I finally had to quit asking for narrations, because I don’t know what was wrong. It worked out later on, but I think because I was thinking of it as a subject, or something, I don’t really know why we couldn’t do it. There was so much that I loved about what was in that book.

Then I asked my father, because like I said, he was a chemist. I asked him, “What should I be doing for my children to prepare them for the sciences in case they want to go into that?” and he said, “Exactly what you’re doing.” He said, “They need to spend a lot of time outside playing, and just get to know the real world. With working around the house, and helping out with chores, they’re learning the properties of water when they wash dishes.” It hadn’t occurred to me that that kind of thing could be the foundation for academic study.

Between For the Children’s Sake, and what my daddy said back then during those early years, somewhere around, let me see, I think it was probably the year that my oldest was fourth grade, that year, because we had moved to a new place. I met some friends who were homeschooling classically, and so I started reading some of their materials. I tried the ages and stages approach for a while, we tried really hard to be, and it didn’t fit. My style was way too relaxed, I need an order, and a rhythm of the day, but I just couldn’t. My structure was too structured, having babies, and moving, it just didn’t work, and it didn’t fit my concept.

Like I said, I’d been reading older books, and that style of education didn’t fit with what I had gotten from the older books that I’d been reading. The ideas of studying Latin, learning a classical language as a course, C. S. Lewis did that, of course, we should do that, not that I always ever managed to teach that to my own kids. I used to say, I taught beginning Latin for a long time, for a lot of different beginning Latin programs, and we did a lot of beginning Latin, but we never got too far. My older kids took online classes from somebody who taught them Latin, and my younger kids just kind of didn’t get it, because I didn’t have it myself and there wasn’t time.

Amy: There’s only so much time, there’s too many good things. You just can’t do even all the good things.

Kelly: Right. I missed that, but I don’t feel like we gave up. I don’t feel that we gave that up in favor of worse things. It was good things that we were choosing, but didn’t have time for Latin. I guess it turned around that the stuff that I was learning from my classical friends fit well in a lot of ways with the older books and my ideas about education, but maybe not the exact methods. I just cobbled things together for a while. Like I said, the online classes for older kids. Then I discovered Ambleside online when my younger set – I’ve got a gap between my four and then I’ve got three younger ones – when the oldest of my younger set was ready for first grade. I took all three of them and we did Ambleside Online year one together. We just did it together, all of us using Ambleside and that was wonderful. That was so good for all of us.

Amy: I think it’s really encouraging too for moms to hear. Especially right now, I feel like we’re just inundated with so much information, and not like good and bad information. There’s plenty of bad information, but there’s so much good information, so many good options, so many good books you could be reading, good things you could be studying, languages. I don’t know, there’s just so much that’s good and we can start feeling overwhelmed or I can start feeling overwhelmed thinking of all the things you’re not doing. Like you’re a failure because you’re not doing all the good things Mom A is doing and all the things Mom B is doing.

“Oh no. Look at this person on the internet who just told me I should also be doing this other thing.”

It’s really good to hear that you can have a good education full of good, beautiful things and not have done all of the possibilities. I think we just need to remember that we’re finite human beings, we can’t do everything. Our own unique family and us as moms, who is the person that God made us to be, the perfect mother for our unique children, we get to have freedom to pick and choose among the good things.

Kelly: I read Clay and Sally Clarkson’s book, Educating the Wholehearted Child, that was another early one that I read, and they said that in there. They said God gave your children to you on purpose. Whatever you have to offer them, God means for you to give that to them. Not that you’re supposed to neglect important things, but you don’t have to be ruled by the idea that there’s one right way to homeschool every kid, because that’s not the way it works.

The Golden Years of Homeschooling

Amy: What have been some of your favorite parts of homeschooling? I guess we’ve talked about some a little bit. Have there been any in particular struggles of homeschooling and how have you overcome and grown in those over the years?

Kelly: My favorite part I think was always just all of us being at home together. I always loved not being tied to the traditional school year, so we could travel and visit relatives when it fit our schedule, or my husband’s work. When nobody else was going to be traveling so that it was easier and less expensive, that kind of thing. The flexibility was good. After my husband retired from the military, we bought some acreage, we lived in Virginia for 14 years. We’re not there now, but we had acreage and we had chickens and goats and raised a lot of different kinds of poultry. We raised a pig one time. We had the freedom to do that kind of thing while homeschooling, I loved that.

I loved that year that we started Ambleside Online when I still had all my children at home. The older kids who were high school age and had a lot of their own studies, that they sat in with us for morning prayers and for poetry and for Plutarch. Then they would go do their own thing while I did our own story with the younger kids and all of that. Then in the afternoon, when the younger kids were having their quiet time, I would meet with the older kids and we had things that we were reading together, we’d read Shakespeare together, that sort of thing. I read The Faerie Queene with them, and then we had discussions.

There was two or three years maybe when everybody was sill home and things were just going really well. It’s just kind of the golden years in my memory. I was very aware of it while it was happening, that this was really very special and brilliant and couldn’t last because the older kids were getting older. Anyway, that was a very precious time.

Amy: That’s where I am right now because my oldest is 15 and my youngest is 5. Everyone can go to the bathroom by themselves, and buckle themselves, or get their own breakfast and lunch. It’s this great time period, I’ve gotten past the diaper stage but I still have everyone home. We come together and we have our poetry and our prayer and our shared family culture time in the morning before the older ones their independent work, very much like what you were saying. I just think about that, I’m like only two more years. It’s sad, but it makes me really appreciate and want to continue to prioritize those times that we do spend together.

Kelly: That’s a beautiful time. It is.

Math Deserves Wonder, Too

Amy: What about some of those challenges? I know there were some.

Kelly: The hard thing for me was always math. I had come to the impression during my school education that I was no good at math, which as an adult later, when I read Paul Lockhart, A Mathematician’s Lament, if you’ve ever read that, it was an eye-opener. Oh, okay, read that. It was such an eye-opener because what happened was I was really good at math before I went to school and school wrecked it. Because I was thinking mathematically, but I was not good at memorizing formulas and then regurgitating them, which is how school math is taught. I don’t know if they still teach it that way, but that’s how it was when I was in school. You just memorize and regurgitate.

They didn’t want to know if you were thinking or if you understood. It was just, can you follow the formula? I was just not good at that. When I started teaching my children math my main goal was for them not to hate it, and that worked out for all of them, except for one, the one that struggled the most. Then we felt like she just needs math drills to get her math facts. Oh, poor thing, it wrecked it for her. As an adult now, she started taking math classes and she loves it now. What I did was mostly, I kept math really, really low key, and we played games. I had a kid assigned to set the table and they had to count out all that silverware, things like that.

We cooked a lot and we cooked from scratch. When you have a big family, you’re always at least doubling your recipe so there’s a lot of math that goes on that way. Mostly real-life stuff and just playing card games and things like that. Then when they got older, I got them a tutor, like when they were high school level, because I did not want them to hate math and think that they were failures like I did. Just keep it low key. As long as we were able to keep it low key, it worked. When we started getting stressed out, like, “You don’t know your math facts.” Then they got stressed out and then they felt horrible and they hated it.

Amy: A lot of times it’s just developing that the attitude of love and wonder. We talk about wonder when we talk about going outside or wonder as we do nature study or read a poem, but math deserves wonder too. It is beautiful and reflects the character of God. As soon as we know it’s not something we wonder about, we’ve just got to like drill and kill this, not very fun.

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Medieval Literature and the Medieval Imagination

Well, let’s talk about one of your areas of great interest. I know that you love Medieval and Renaissance lit, and I want to talk to you a little bit about this. Basically, I do this podcast so that I have an excuse to talk to cool people. I remember reading The Discarded Image by C. S. Lewis in high school and just having this mind-blown moment, realizing how differently the Medieval people viewed themselves and the world around them in contrast to how I did. That really struck me and made me realize that as I’m reading these works of literature, it’s important for me to understand the framework that the authors are coming from.

I would love to hear what first grabbed your attention about Medieval and Renaissance lit and then could you give us a few of the key distinctives of Medieval thinking?

Kelly: Okay. What first grabbed my attention. Like I said, I grew up reading a lot of fairy tales and I had a book of King Arthur stories and that sort of thing. I always loved those things. Then when I got too old for fairy tales, I started reading science fiction. A lot of the really best science fiction has a lot of the same, I don’t know, soul that’s in the Medieval stuff, but I didn’t think of myself as liking Medieval stories or anything. This has actually been fairly recently within maybe seven or eight years ago, I mentioned to Angelina Stanford that I liked That Hideous Strength the best of all of the three Space Trilogy.

I said, “I love That Hideous Strength, it’s my favorite one because most people don’t like it and they don’t understand it or anything, so that’s my favorite one.” She said, “Well, of course, you like it best, it’s the most Medieval.” Then I thought, she could see something in me that that’s what I was drawn to. That’s when I started paying more attention to Medieval literature. Started noticing that actually a lot of stuff that I do like, I mean I love King Arthur, obviously that’s Medieval. The Song of Roland is not Medieval, but it’s some of the foundational stuff that feeds into the Medieval romances, stories like that and The Faerie Queene and everything.

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I just think that it’s like you talked about wonder, there’s that element of it that’s present. Medieval literature is weird and I like that. The more you get into the Medieval imagination, the more you see, like in The Discarded Image when he talks about how the Medieval mindset was very much organizing and categorizing a place for everything and everything in its place. At the same time it was rich and beautiful, and poetic, and harmonious, and the whole cosmos as a dance. Those ideas, I think are what just speaks to my soul.

Maybe it’s because I grew up with the fairy tales and King Arthur it’s a kind of going home, maybe it’s that kind of thing but that’s where I feel most at home, it seems, when I read various kinds of literature. You find that soul in a lot of different genres, like I mentioned science fiction. There’s a lot of modernistic and other kinds of literature that have the same soul that I recognized sometimes.

Amy: Thinking about these time periods of literature, obviously it’s not like someone woke up one morning and was, “Now it’s time for the Medieval literature to begin.” Then one day, “Oh, now it’s the Renaissance”. This is all sort of a flow and ideas, and cultures that are working themselves out in this way. Is there a difference in the approach of a Medieval writer versus a Renaissance writer? What are the things that stay the same or are there things that are changing and distinct? For someone who is really new to this ideal, can you give who are some of the authors, you mentioned a few, what kind of time period-ish are we thinking about here or talking about?

Kelly: With Medieval literature, I’m so not good with dates. In The Discarded Image C.S. Lewis talks about how the late antiquity there’s a lot of stuff there that was drawn on, so that by the time you get to the eight or nine hundreds the kind of literature is changing. But it’s based on the ancient literature and taking ideas and building on those ideas. Then by the time you get to the Renaissance, the Enlightenment happens. There’s a philosophical kind of change that eventually works its way into the literature.

What was happening imaginatively in the Middle Ages, the idea of the Ptolemaic universe where the earth is the center. Then there’s all these nested spheres, and all the different planets and everything is circling and it’s a great dance and then throne of God is outside of that.

The cosmos is this finite created thing, but for us standing on earth, it’s just a straight up and down thing. You look up and that’s where heaven is and we’re down at the bottom. Which means as modernists we might think being the center of the cosmos means you’re the most important, but for the Medieval, it’s not that at all. You’re at the bottom of the universe and that’s where the garbage flushes off, to the bottom. Like we’re the drags of the universe. The best parts are higher up, farther out, best part. It’s a very humble approach to the cosmos and watching the stars and watching the planets to see what they do, and see how all that fits the model.

One of the things about the Medieval mindset is that they knew that their perspective was limited, that we can’t see the universe the way God does. We can only see what’s happening around us and so we have this theoretical model, this Ptolemaic system. We need to be sure that the data we perceive actually fits that model and can be explained by that model.

They used a phrase “saving the appearances” that means the things that appear to us in nature, we need to figure out do they fit or not. If they don’t fit, maybe the model needs to change.

What happened eventually was Copernicus with his idea, things had gotten so complicated that he thought what if it’s the sun that’s in the middle and everything is going around the sun? That actually simplified things and it made things fit better, so they started to think along these lines. Then maybe if they’re not circular orbits, maybe they’re elliptical orbits. Then the thing that was the most shocking, traumatic happened was a nova was discovered and that was in 1572, a new star. Prior to that time, the idea was that everything below the moon, obviously everything down here changes, we see life, and birth, and death but everything beyond the moon doesn’t appear to change. It circles around, there are cycles.

These cycles just show their full unchanging nature. They’re not actually changing, there’s no growth and death, but then a new star was discovered. Clearly there was something the previous model hadn’t accounted for, that it’s changing out there. That was a really mind-blowing thing. Philosophically, how do you account for that? You’re seeing a lot of that in the Renaissance and this is happening during Elizabethan England and in a lot of the Renaissance literature there is so much happening. The model had to be simplified and then it was radically changed because everything outside the moon is not necessarily unchanging.

New lands are being discovered, this whole continent that they didn’t know existed. All the exploration and everything so there is this fabulous time of exploration and growth of knowledge that’s really exciting for the people living then. In a sense, there is a simplification of the very complex Medieval model of the cosmos. They seem opposites but they fit together because they’ve harmonized everything. That’s what’s going on philosophically.

Now, in the stories, because the imaginative universe of the Middle-Ages is so beautiful and so rich, those motifs and those metaphors continue to be passed out on literature for a long, long time. The literature doesn’t change right away, even in Shakespeare, in his plays he talks about the cosmos very much like a Medieval person would. Even though obviously, he knew that it’s not the earth that’s in the middle and everything goes around. These metaphors and these ideas are so beautiful and so powerful that they stay in literature for a long time afterwards.

Amy: Even, of course, C.S. Lewis is highly influenced by Spenser and all of those ideas. I remember, after reading The Discarded Image going and reading The Voyage of the Dawn Treader and just being like, “Wait a minute, what’s happening here? You stole all these ideas, now I know where they came from.”

Kelly: Yes, he is very deliberately reintroducing Medieval ideas in his stories, but that’s what he was doing. I heard a story recently that when he- I don’t know if this is when he wrote The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. Part of what inspired him to write them was that during the bombing of London, kids were being evacuated from London, that he was around a lot of children who just had no imagination. They were already suffering the effects of modern ideas of education, what children need to read, and everything and it was tragic. Part of his stimulus for writing those stories was to re-introduce this whole imaginative world to young readers. [crosstalk].

Why Should We Study Medieval and Renaissance Literature?

Amy: That is fascinating, I had not heard that. Someone may be thinking, “Okay, this is all very interesting but why does this topic matter?” Why is it important for us to understand these ideas and study Medieval and Renaissance literature now?

Kelly: At least two things. One thing would be because if you’re reading a lot of literature like you said earlier, you need to know where they’re coming from. When they talk about things you need to know what they meant when they said it, so that you don’t misunderstand what they’re saying. Part of it is just as a part of our literary heritage. We need to understand what the metaphors are about so that we can understand the literature.

Then the other thing, in his studies of Medieval and Renaissance literature C.S. Lewis specifically when he was talking about Spenser and Ariosto’s Orlando Furioso those stories. He said that style of story-telling when read receptively has psychotherapeutic powers, it can heal your soul. I’m always game for reading literature that’s going to bring order and harmony and healing.

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Getting Started with Medieval and Renaissance Literature

Amy: Yes, indeed. We could all use more of that. If someone wanted to start exploring some of these authors or ideas, I would love to hear what you would suggest for the beginner titles. Are there particular ideas they should be looking for? What questions should they be asking, especially if they’re new to Medieval or Renaissance lit?

Kelly: If you’re very, very new, really The Chronicles of Narnia!

The questions you could be asking? You mentioned The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, because in that one, Eustace Scrubb is so very much a modern kid, so very much influenced by modern education and that kind of thing. Poor kid, he is one of those men without chests that Lewis talks about in The Abolition of Man. He has no soul, no imagination, no love for any of the good things.

In his stories, just reading and absorbing those and noticing what he’s saying about what is it to be virtuous, because it’s not necessarily what we think of as virtue. That’s a good place to start for very beginners.

Of course, just reading fairy tales, and even the mythology, so that you’re beginning to have those reference points. If somebody mentions Apollo, you know what that means. It’s not just a guy with arrows or the sun. Apollo stood for music and light and healing and poetry and education and the laurel was sacred to him. Anybody who’s crowned with laurel leaves, that’s a reference to Apollo.

Anytime you run across laurel leaves, which happens in The Silver Chair when Eustace and Jill are sitting outside behind the gymnasium and she’s been bullied and she’s crying. It’s this horrible modern Experiment House school. While they’re sitting there, and Jill has just been pouring out her heart to Eustace, and he’s sitting there, just being sympathetic. It says, “They sat, the drops dripped off of the laurel leaves.” Just that little phrase, that nature is weeping with them because of how horrible what they’re being subjected to is in education. Apollo is the patron god of the education of the young, and the laurel is his leaf, his tree.

Anything that you read that gives you those references, that helps you understand that kind of thing, can help you get more into the literature. C.S. Lewis’s Discarded Image.

One that might be a little easier to read than that initially is Tillyard’s book, The Elizabethan World Picture. He’s talking about, like I said, the Renaissance, the Elizabethan model was based on the Medieval model but much simplified. When Tillyard is talking about The Elizabethan World Picture, he’s giving you a really simple outline of this Elizabethan thought, and then that’ll be a step closer to the Medieval thought. It can help, be a transition for you to move back that direction.

C.S. Lewis’s book, The Abolition of Man, because of him talking about the nature of education. What he’s saying is radical, it is because he is so against modern education, which is what almost all of us have been brought up under for the last hundred and something years. If we look at our grandparents’ education, it’s better than ours. My grandmother learned Latin in a one-room schoolhouse in rural Arkansas. Still, when she was ready to teach school in the 1920s, she had to go to a normal school, which is like a teacher’s college, but the normal school is, the federal government has decided we need everybody to be educated exactly the same way and it needs to be modern. The teachers have to go there before they can teach, and that started 100 years ago, at least.

Amy: Wow. That is fascinating. I have to tell you, when you were telling the quote from The Silver Chair, I have read The Chronicles of Narnia a million times. I still have my childhood copies and they’re falling all to pieces, and I have never picked up on that allusion. I was just getting all the shivers. It makes me want to go back and reread the whole series again every time, just really paying attention to those details because Lewis is doing these things on purpose. That was so exciting.

Kelly: He was brilliant.

What Kelly Cumbee is Reading Lately

Amy: Well, Kelly, I am asking these questions to all of my guests this season. The first question is just what are you reading right now? Not right this second.

Kelly: I always have too many things going at one time. I’m reading this, it’s interesting, Sir Philip Sidney’s Arcadia. This is a pastoral romance, which I have heard a lot about but I’ve never read. I’ve read pastoral romances before but I’ve never read this one. I got interested in this one because I had just taught at my local co-op King Lear. When I was teaching King Lear, I found out that the character of Gloucester and his two sons, that subplot, came from Philip Sidney’s Arcadia. I thought, “Okay, I’m going to read that then.”

Also, I am reading the Mabinogion, which is a collection of Welsh tales. I started reading it because King Lear himself is a Welsh god in the ancient days right prior to– If you know Geoffrey of Monmouth, the story of King Lear and his daughters is in Geoffrey of Monmouth. He was a legendary king at the time of the 1200s or whenever he was writing, but way before that, he was an ancient Celtic god of the sea.

There are all these stories about his children that just come into the whole British imagination. There are a lot of fairy tales that are based on his stories and his children. The ballet, Swan Lake, is based on a whole stream of stories that are about his children. I went into that. The Mabinogion also, it goes from these early stories about the children of Lear and some of the things that happen to them and then it morphs into King Arthur stories. I’m about halfway through that. That’s exciting.

Amy: I’m going to have to look into that. My 13-year-old daughter did NaNoWriMo this past fall, and her setting was Wales. It was a fantasy thing, so she wanted to bring in elements of Welsh mythology and legends. I was like, “I don’t know any.” She was having to try to do some research on her own and find books at the library. That sounds like something she would love to read.

Kelly: She should read that. It’s really good. I have it on audio, but the translation that I have– Oh, it’s back in my bedroom. Let me see, the translator’s name is Sioned Davies. The names are all Welsh and I cannot pronounce them. I got the audiobook of the same translation. I’m listening to it and reading along. The audiobook is delightful. I love this narrator. He so just brings it to life. I love that.

That’s a good thing to do because the names are weird. I would not have ever known how to pronounce. There’s this one name spelled P-W-Y-L-L, I would have said pwill or something, but it’s “puif” because Welsh is very strange. I have Welsh ancestry so I feel like I need to honor that, but it’s a very strange language.

Amy: It’s like when Gaelic words or something will show up and I’m like, “I have no idea how to pronounce it.” I know it has nothing to do with what I would expect phonetically this to sound like.

Kelly: Sometimes I think they should just use a different alphabet. I’m reading Agatha Christie for fun, and I’m reading a book called Sidney and Spenser: the Poet as Maker. It’s the relationship between Philip Sidney’s work and Edmund Spenser because it’s not clear that they ever actually knew each other, but Spenser so much admired Sidney and imitated a lot of his work.

Sidney had read some of Spenser’s work, The Shepheardes Calender, and talked about it in his The Defense of Poesy that he wrote. He talks about The Shepheardes Calender, so it’s how their works influenced each other and mostly how Spenser’s work grew out of Sidney’s work. That’s interesting. [crosstalk]

Amy: I’m going have to go and dig out my library hold list. I doubt any of these books is at the library. It probably means I’ll have to just make another ThriftBooks order.

Tips for the Homeschool Day Going Wrong

Kelly, my next question for you, it’s been really fun to hear all the different answers to this, but what tips would you give to a homeschool mom when the homeschool day just seems to be going all wrong?

Kelly: Go outside. Send the children outside, they need to be outside anyway. Even for myself, I have found that if things are just horrible, if I just go outside, really it really does help. Being outside and being in nature, to me, is so important. I should have said this even when talking about the Medieval and needing to know things about the Medieval mind. Being in touch with nature and knowing your local trees and birds and flowers and those things, knowing your seasons, your weather. Knowing how all of that works and the whole cycle of life and birth and death, that’s so intrinsic to Medieval literature.

They mostly lived outside. We’re so cut off from that that we miss an awful lot of the significance of what’s happening in the story, is because we don’t know what season it is when they say, “It was the season when this was happening.” That should trigger certain things in the readers imagination. The more time you spend outside, the more– I think it’s just healing to your soul anyway, being out, and just seeing the clouds. You don’t have to memorize anything about clouds, you just rest and lift your eyes up to God. The heavens declared the glory of God. It’s healing just to go outside and be in nature. That is exactly what.

If my kids are getting rowdy, you need to go outside now. If they’re being loud, that’s an outside voice, go outside. If you want to be inside, you have to be quiet and decorous because we behave in different way inside than we do outside. It’s even healing for me to go out, go out and take a walk and just de-stress. Clears your mind, then you can come back and reset.

Amy: Definitely. Sometimes in the middle of the day, just like, “I’m going to go out for a walk all by myself just for a little bit.” It’s amazing how just even a little reset outside can really make a difference in your attitude. Well, Kelly, where can people find you all around the internet?

Find Kelly Cumbee Online

Kelly: Well, I have a blog. I’m not a very good blogger, but that’s badgermum.blogspot.com, and I can spell that out later if you need that. I’m teaching classes through the House of Humane Letters. I’ve done a couple of webinars. I did a webinar on As You Like It and on King Lear. I’m actually doing a series of mini-classes on recovering the Medieval imagination. That’s called Seeking the Discarded Image. I’ve got two sets of that done. I’ve got at least a third set planned for the future. Then like I said, I’m going to be teaching The Faerie Queene there starting in August.

My Fairy Queen classes are geared towards homeschool moms. It’s going to be in the evening, and have a more relaxed schedule. It’s not going to be the tight school schedule to give moms time to read, and have a break to catch up because I know what it’s like.

Amy: What better way to get some rejuvenation time than to read The Faerie Queene .

Kelly: Oh, yes. All six books. We’ll read a book and then have a break, and read a book and have a break. They’ll be time to get caught up or let it sink in before we go on to the next book. I’ll spend the first class just introducing the next book, and then we’ll have four classes where we’ll cover three candles at a time. We’re going to go quickly through it when we get to each book, then there will be a break week, and then the next week is another introduction, so no homework due.

We’ll have a long break over Christmas because January is dark and dull, and I don’t work. I can’t. I have to rest. School starts back at the beginning of February, and then we’ll have the next three books plus the Cantos of Mutabilitie. Anyway, I’m excited about that. I’m really looking forward to that. Many people want to have read it, and be able to read it to their children and are intimated because it’s a huge book, it huge and it’s archaic language. Anyway, looking forward to introducing people to it, and just helping them get through this, so they can read it, so everyone since it’s great. Kids love it, kids aren’t intimidated by it if you’re reading it to them.

Amy: Well, I’ll definitely have links to that in the show notes for this episode at www.humilityanddoxology.com. This has been such a delightful conversation. Thank you, Kelly.

Kelly: Thank you. I enjoyed it.

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

Homeschool Conversations Video Interviews Podcast HumilityandDoxology.com Amy Sloan

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