Horizontal Learning vs. Vertical Learning

While many of us are taking advantage of the summer to plan for next year, I thought I’d share a quote which spoke to me recently. In his essay on New Mexico, D. H. Lawrence captures perfectly the essence of my thoughts on what education should provide and what the combination of public school and media exposure have created in us.

Superficially, the world has become small and known. Poor little globe of earth, the tourists trot round you as easily as they trot round the Bois or round Central Park. There is no mystery left, we’ve been there, we’ve seen it, we know all about it. We’ve done the globe, and the globe is done.

This is quite true, superficially. On the superficies, horizontally, we’ve been everywhere and done everything, we know all about it. Yet the more we know, superficially, the less we penetrate, vertically. It’s all very well skimming across the surface of the ocean, and saying you know all about the sea. There still remain the terrifying underdeeps, of which we have utterly no experience.

The same is true of land travel. We skim along, we get there, we see it all, we’ve done it all. And as a rule, we never once go through the curious film which railroads, ships, motorcars, and hotels over the surface of the whole earth. Peking is just the same as New York, with a few different things to look at; rather more Chinese about, etc. Poor creatures that we are, we crave for experience, yet we are like flies that crawl on the pure and transparent mucous-paper in which the world like a bon-bon is wrapped so carefully that we can never get at it, though we see it there all the time as we move about it, apparently in contact, yet actually as far removed as if it were the moon.

As a matter of fact, our great-grandfathers, who never went anywhere, in actuality had more experience of the world than we have, who have seen everything. When they listened to a lecture with lantern-slides, they really held their breath before the unknown, as they sat in the village school-room. We, bowling along in a rickshaw in Ceylon, say to ourselves: “It’s very much what you’d expect.” We really know it all.

We are mistaken. The know-it-all state of mind is just the result of being outside the mucous-paper wrapping of civilization. Underneath is everything we don’t know an are afraid of knowing. (The Spell of New Mexico, ed. by Tony Hillerman, p. 29-30)

This summer is dedicated to trying to figure out how to remove that paper wrapping around the world so that my children may experience it deeply, vertically, developing roots that will last a lifetime.

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0 Responses

  1. Thanks for sharing this article. It’s clear that we need to do more digging in a different way. It’s not enough to know it’s, we should also experience it.

  2. Dana,
    I think I’ve read this somewhere before. 🙂 Really I was going to comment about this at bibleprinciples but forgot. This is a wonderful idea for me to meditate on as I prepare for lessons. Thanks!

  3. Thanks Ed and Renae. I wasn’t going to post this here, but then I thought that it really has been awhile since this homeschooling blogger has written anything specifically about homeschooling.

    I’m thinking about starting a summer-long series on vertical and/or reflective learning. Maybe a thought or two every weekend when things are pretty slow around here anyway.

  4. Oh my! I just read that quote last night LOL In Last Child in the Woods…and it spoke to me too. It was like somebody finally put words to my feelings.

    My husband and I have always sent our children on many traveling excursions, sometimes at great cost, but well worth it (you can see my son in front of the Eiffel Tower on my homeschooling blog.)

    Being a blended family, I tended to send them even if it interferred with their public school schedules. My feeling was that they would get more out of and learn more from their travels than sitting in a classroom with a text.

    My husband on the other hand saved travel for school sponsored trips or summer trips, as school attendance is very important to he and his oldest son.

    Now with our shared youngest child and homeschooling him, we have lots of trips planned…the 1st in 2 weeks. We are so excited for him.

    Your sharing this quote will definitely make it stand out in my mind this summer as we plan our many activities for summer and this upcoming school year!

  5. Shawna, I almost mentioned that book. That is where I first read it, but I checked with the library and they had the book the essay was written in. So I checked it out to read the whole thing!

  6. Our system of education may have it’s flaws, but what’s more important is our willingness to learn. If we are always willing to learn, then there’s no reason for us to say that we know everything.

  7. I find that some of my older friends keep insisting that their knowledge of the scriptures increases each year, going deeper into their studies; not a superficial once over. They start with a new set, one that has not been marked and referenced before so they have fresh eyes on familiar verses. They look for specific ideas and find them in places that had hidden them up until then.

    These friends are not strangers to the scriptures and so the same would apply to other aspects of our lives. Thanks for another reason to ponder.

  8. The bible? Oh yeah, I read that book. That’s enough, right?

    (You know I’m only joking, right?)

    Anyway, the bible amazes me. Parts of it are hard to get through. I have a tough time with Chronicles. And there are times I labor to pick it up and read any. But it is one book I can get lost in…repeatedly. And you can read the same verses and see different things, especially as you begin to take time to research a bit of the culture and the language being used.

    None of that is necessary to understand what is being said, but it becomes so much deeper and richer. One is like looking at a stunning photograph of the Grand Canyon and the other is like standing there, taking it all in. There is nothing wrong with the picture, but there is so much more to it as well.

  9. Shawna, I thought of this later, but as a child we never traveled too much. My family did not have the money so it was mostly camping trips here and there.

    In high school, I received a scholarship to study in Germany for a year. When I first got there, I would get so frustrated because people would come up to me and speak English without me having ever spoken a word. How on earth did they know I was an American? It was so funny, because it did not take long before I could recognize Americans from across the train platform without hearing a word from them. Tourists have a different air about them anyway, but particularly American tourists stand out.

    Anyway, after living with a family in a single, rural place for almost a year, exploring every avenue, getting to know my neighbors, birthing a calf, and all the other things that went with that year I have looked at travel differently. I love travel and seeing new things and new places. But as a tourist, you really are only scratching the surface. There is a whole world going on in the lives around you, and you really don’t get a glimpse at it. You are kept at a distance and you hold them at a distance. You remain an observer.

    Of course, spending enough time there to really build relationships has its drawbacks. I sometimes suffer terrible homesickness for Germany. Which is an odd feeling since I’m not German!

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