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What is a Well-Educated Heart?

Recently, a dear mom friend of mine introduced me to The Libraries of Hope founded by Marlene Peterson. I am striving to provide my children with a classical education and I love art and music, so naturally, I was intrigued and wanted to know more.

According to an article by The LDS Women Project:

Marlene Peterson believes that the desire to learn any subject begins in the heart, and is sparked by stories, music, imagery, and poetry — the Arts. She has built a free online library called Libraries of Hope: an open-source collection of stories, poetry, and classical artwork which parents and teachers can use to educate the hearts of children. She additionally has published more than seventy printed volumes of this collection. . . She is the mother of nine children. . . and is a popular speaker at home education forums across the United States.

Here are some excerpts from The Well Educated Heart's Marlene Peterson interview with LDS Women Project:

Why do you think that stories and music and poems are such powerful teachers?

Children don’t have the capacity to reason when they are born — they have this wonderful gift of several years when the heart is open and impressionable; and the heart responds to the arts, to story! That’s the language the heart understands. The first step in learning anything is to feel desire. The arts kindle desire!

The arts reach a place that’s deeper than words. . . . I came across a poem that said, “The deeps of our souls, like the deeps of the ocean, are silent.” Music and imagery travel where words can’t reach. If we give children the right kinds of stories and music, we give them a desire for beauty and goodness that will last their entire life.

Do you see a way that the arts could be integrated better with the academics? Can they influence each other?

I think the purpose of the arts is to awaken desire and to stir feeling, so they are naturally integrated. When we teach science we tend to jump into the textbook approach, but we bypass that part where children fall in love with the world, and feel wonder. So the way the arts and the academics integrate is that the arts are used to open hearts: to awaken that desire to know more, and to love it. . . .

What is the task of the parent in educating the heart?

I focus on home-schoolers because they have the luxury of more time, but this absolutely fits in with traditional schooling. Schools are going to focus on the mind, and if parents understand that they need this balance, they need to be sure that at home they’re balancing with heart. The good thing about art is that it’s in very small pieces. It doesn’t take long to share a story, or to listen to some music. Just put some music on while you’re eating dinner!

You mentioned turning on music during dinner. I’m interested in other ways you see parents of young children fitting self-education and development into their schedules, and sharing the arts with their children.

My daughter has five little girls, and she says, “Oh mom, I wish I could have had a time in my life to learn all of this before the children came.” When you have little children you are so busy! In this season of life you probably don’t have a lot of time to do all you’d like to feed your heart. So with young children, I say you just learn with them! If you missed out on fairy tales growing up, you’re going to learn with them as you share the fairy tales with them. If you missed out on Mother Goose rhymes, you’re going to learn as you share them with your children. It’s not like you have to block out three hours of your day for self-education. You’re going to be educated along the way. . . . I think if you can always be just one step ahead of them, you’ll be just fine. You don’t have to arrive at this moment of “okay, I’m fully prepared now.” It’s a process.

What about your own children? Were they all home-schooled?

. . . They were public-schooled, and charter-schooled, and homeschooled. It really was individual!

How should parents and teachers use the art with children?

I think we often expose little children to art that’s beyond their comprehension, and they don’t like it because it doesn’t relate to anything that they’re familiar with. In the Libraries of Hope, I link to art from the era of Classical Realism — artworks that depict children in families and nature scenes, and stories from history. I look at art from this period, and I find it so “pure” that a child could understand it. How do you use it? You let them see it! And you tell them the stories behind it, to get them started. . . .

As you’ve developed the Well-Educated Heart philosophy over the last few years, have you felt your own heart change?

Absolutely. So much more joy and clarity! . . . It has all happened so gradually, I think we don’t understand what has just been gifted to us in the last ten years. All these masterpieces of art that not even royalty could have seen — that were buried in palaces and estates and museums — they have been put up on the internet! We can access them for free. And the literature that you would have to travel and get permission to go into a museum to view, it’s all online for free! YouTube has only been around about ten years, and it has given us music that has been composed by the noblest minds that have ever lived. . . .The greatest treasures for the heart have been re-gifted to us in the last ten years. . . . That’s how I envision Libraries of Hope. It’s a place to come and to be uplifted and inspired by the finest things that have been gifted to us from the ages. And as they fill your heart, you incorporate them in your own home and family, and feel uplifted and inspired. And that’s what this is all about.

I have honestly just scratched the surface of the Libraries of Hope website, and so far, I am amazed at the depth, breadth, and loveliness of it. It's incredible that Marlene Peterson has invested so much time and effort into her collections of beautiful art, music, and stories. Amazingly, she offers much of her curated materials for free on the internet!

As a big believer in classical education, (we mainly use Memoria Press curriculum in our home), one thing on which Peterson and I agree is her assertion that "Stories can heal our hearts, stories can heal our homes and the world. Don't underestimate the power of a story." There is a vast amount of wisdom woven into classic tales, and literature of every kind to deepen our understanding of any subject. And even more than that, stories deepen our very beings, as we allow them to stir our souls. However, in our fast-paced world, who has time to seek them all out? I love the idea of classics and classic books, and I am trying to build our at-home library, and yet I am simply stunned at the immense collection that has been painstakingly pulled together for anyone to enjoy. Could I, a busy mom of 4 children, have found all of these resources? Would I have ever have found the time? This is where Peterson's library of collected works becomes invaluable. She has done the leg work that most of us otherwise wouldn't. Whether you are a homeschool mom, a mom with kids in public school, or a school teacher, the collections offers wonderful works and a feast for eyes and ears. Peterson also states in her introductory course, "The definition of barbarism is ignorance of the arts and, conversely, the definition of civilization is knowledge of the arts." Being an avid fan of Shakespeare and his storytelling, it's upsetting to observe angry calls to do away with his works and others like them. As our culture seems to be taking some ugly turns, I think Ms. Peterson makes an excellent point.

In the artistic arena itself, in libraries and in college English departments there are shocking schools of thought that call the classics, irrelevant, outdated, and worthy of banning. Sadly, because they are being viewing these classic plays and books through a post-modern lens.

Other educators are concerned solely with students learning STEM subjects. While these are incredibly important in today's academic world, without the arts, aren't we missing something vital to our shared humanity? Consider the following quote from Professor Carol Reynolds:

“. . . The message is always sounding: the arts matter, the arts express deep and important values, the arts shape us, feed our souls, stimulate our minds, discipline our emotions, and change our lives. . .

Yes, the Fine Arts give a child new eyes, new ears, new limbs, and new hands. The arts connect the past and present better than any history book can do. They freshen the mind and open-up the path to math and science. They create real channels for older, accomplished people to pass on our most valuable cultural treasures and the wisdom that comes with them. Making the Fine Arts a core means wrapping a child’s studies around a skein of gold threads that can be stretched endlessly and woven into every corner of that child’s academic, spiritual, and family life. . . . It will stand at the center, never depleted in power or capability, daily showing a child how diligence, discipline, patience, sound, motion, and color all come together in the magic of human creativity.”

Some reviews of the Well-Educated Heart call the website a bit overwhelming and therefore challenging to navigate. Other users may not yet have "caught the vision" of Marlene Peterson's Mothers of Influence. A quick search on google produces many glowing reports as well. Anyone who visits her libraries will observe her passion and obvious love for all things bright and beautiful. While some may or may not subscribe to Peterson's personal philosophy of education, and the jury is still out for me on its merits. After viewing her offerings, I do think her website and libraries could be an invaluable resource for any mother who desires to awaken in her child an appreciation for beauty, and provide them with a true liberal arts education. I encourage moms to find a few minutes to explore the Libraries of Hope introductory courses. Gaining a well-educated heart may be a lifetime personal pursuit, but Peterson's Well Educated Heart and Libraries of Hope resources could be a fine place to start.

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