“I’m taking Poetics to college with me,” said Anna Jobe, an eighteen-year-old senior who is getting ready to graduate Tapestry this year. Her mother, Tina, assures me that it’s true. “I’ll need to buy a new copy for my other rhetoric kids, because Anna is taking hers!”
Why? Well, apparently, because it has worked pretty well for her in college so far. Anna has been dual-enrolled in homeschool high school (where her family uses Tapestry) and community college for several years. Poetics rarely seems to leave her backpack, because she uses it in both places. Anna explained to me that,
I can literally take Poetics and my old vocabulary cards and go straight in and do all of my community college literature from it, because the characteristics of historical literary movements, as well as basic categories and terms, don’t change: it’s all the same stuff. The college professor will say, “let’s talk about Gothic literature from the Romantic Era” and I can just go look up that genre, with all its characteristics, and with all the lists and biographies of famous writers, and also see it laid out from a biblical perspective. I also use Poetics to study for Literature tests at my community college, where it works better than reading back through all my Norton Anthology introductions.
But Anna was not always such a big fan of Poetics, or even of the systematic literary analysis method taught at the rhetoric level in Tapestry literature. Her story is one of gradual growth:
I started with Tapestry when I was thirteen, and now I am finishing my senior year of high school as an eighteen-year-old. I really enjoyed the dialectic level, but my first two years at the rhetoric level were challenging, and it was only in the last two years that I saw why they were worthwhile.
I remember especially, when I was fourteen, that I couldn’t figure out why it was important to go through the book of Numbers in the Bible for history. I also didn’t like the book on the Bible by Ryken for Literature, which back then was your first introduction in Tapestry to systematic literary analysis.
At the time in Year 1, starting out high school with my first co-op experience, what I remember thinking was fun was the time we paraphrased the Iliad, memorizing parts and making a video of it. I have a friend who has video equipment and is really good at video editing, so that was great! I was Aphrodite. But the Old Testament and systematic literary analysis. . . I wasn’t crazy about those! It is strange to realize how both of them eventually became meaningful and important to me.
I really see the hand of God in how my attitude towards those two things changed, beginning with how I felt about the Old Testament. Year 1 coincided (read: God’s providence!) with the year that my dad challenged all of us to read through the whole Bible. That year I got a triple dose of it, because there was Dad, and there was Tapestry Year 1 where you read a lot of the Bible, and then finally I was also a counselor that summer at a camp where the theme was the Exodus. I had never really understood the Old Testament before, even growing up in the church, but doing Year 1, where you really have to go through it and pull it apart… it’s not baby steps any more (like Sunday School) and I had to read the Bible as both history and literature and understand it for myself.
Looking back, I see how that year was a turning point for me spiritually. It strengthened my faith and helped me to see what was really going on in the Bible, even though I wasn’t really into it at first. Then, the following summer, through being a camp counselor, God gave me an opportunity for the first time to really vocalize my faith, and I was so much better prepared for that because I had a knowledge of the Old Testament, where you see how God delivers people from the domain of darkness and brings them to Himself. That year really grew me a lot.
Now, I see how even during Year 1, learning literary analysis helped me to understand the Bible and love it more. I didn’t realize you could analyze a Psalm, for instance, or that there are different types of Psalms. Now, I understand the Psalms so much better!
As I’ve said, I wasn’t always a fan of literary analysis. But now in Year 4, it’s become the basis of everything I do in Literature, and has given me not only a new love for that subject but also great confidence in tackling new books. English used to stress me out enormously. Now, I can take pretty much any new book, read it, and discern what the themes are, what the tone is, what the author is trying to communicate, what the time period is, what the genre is… If you give me a new book now, it doesn’t go over my head.
Also, now when I’m describing a new book to other people that I’m reading for pleasure, I don’t just say, “it’s an awesome book and I loved it.” I know what I loved about it, and how to describe why it’s great. I can say, “I loved it because of the symbolism” or “I really like the way this author uses omniscient point of view.”
One of the biggest impacts of Tapestry for me has certainly been the Literature. I have had an excellent Literature teacher in our co-op, Mr. Ezzell, who is like another parent, and the Literature really prepared me well for college. Writing, however, has also been very important. My mother teaches writing in our co-op, and when I was a freshman, we did a solid year of writing “boot camp.” Every single week we did a twenty-minute essay. We learned how to structure an essay, how to come into it with three points already prepared. That year was good hard work and it paid off! The history and literature and writing of Tapestry… I didn’t realize how well they would prepare me for college!
This year has really been a year of harvest. I got a perfect score on writing on my SAT, and also tested out of writing composition and literary analysis in community college CLEP tests. I haven’t taken the CLEP test for History yet, but I’m planning to!
On these tests, they give you various passages and ask you to understand what is being said, then write two essays about it. One was a literary analysis test, so… they gave me five stanzas of a poem. I sat there and said, “Okay, this is iambic pentameter, and the rhyme scheme is this and the structure is that and the themes are this, and the texture is this,” and it’s all stuff that they drilled into you through Poetics. I didn’t love doing it when I was on Canterbury Tales, but wow! Now I have a great score on this test and I realize, “Oh, wait, I just saved myself so many hours of study and so much money!”
I don’t have that much time. I dance fifteen hours a week and work two part-time jobs. But English doesn’t stress me out any more, even though I’m working all the time. (It used to hugely stress me out.) But, if you do writing and literary analysis enough, you get to the point where it’s easy. Recently, for a community college class, I wrote seven pages on Frankenstein. It wasn’t hard. I opened up the book, was reading through it, spotted something and realized “Oh, that’s significant.” I know how to take apart any book for myself and find out what’s important in it.
I don’t know what I’m doing next in my life, exactly. I thought I was going in one direction, but that opportunity fell through, so I’m waiting on God to see what He has planned. But there’s a Christian private college I will be visiting soon, and if I went there, I’d be able to go in as an eighteen-year-old junior. It’s amazing to think of saving two years, not to mention the tuition!
Due to dual enrollment and success in passing CLEP tests, it is not at all unlikely that Anna will enter college as an eighteen-year-old sophomore, or possibly even junior, with 40 college credits completed. Belhaven College, a Christian school that offers a classical education degree, requires students to study worldviews, history, and literature from a classical perspective. The College is impressed with Anna’s transcript and CLEP achievements through Tapestry. They have already offered her a scholarship that would cover more than half her tuition for the remaining credits needed for her degree.
Now, Anna is definitely swimming in the deep end of the pool. Dear moms, please don’t feel that your kids “ought to” take on 4 years of rhetoric level Tapestry along with 3 semesters of community college and a semester of CLEPS! Personally, when I was a kid, I couldn’t have done it. However, one of my favorite things about Tapestry is its “scalability”—the way it can be taken in or let out to suit the needs and abilities of a variety of students. Anna is thriving on her heavy workload, so I’m glad that Tapestry has been good for a deep-ender like her!
Most of all, though, I’m glad that Tapestry provided a way for the fourteen-year-old that Anna was, who didn’t see the point of reading Numbers, or of literary analysis, to grow in her faith and develop a passion for the systematic study of literature, as well as a deeper love for the Psalms. That is something that I hope can happen for a wide variety of students, whatever their rate of progress or workload.