Part 1 deals with character training using specific examples:
Guy Belmont had a raging temper that was cured when the boy began to distract himself with a game of outwitting his temper as soon as he felt the rage coming on.
Kitty was a flighty little girl whose attention flitted from one thing to the next. Her mother used short, varied lessons to hold Kitty's attention and encouraged Kitty to spend more time in her games to practice focusing her attention for longer periods of time.
Agnes sulked every time she felt slighted. She determined not to allow herself to brood on her own feelings when she realized how much her dark moods upset her family.
Dorothy Elmore was a lovely young woman who brooded when things didn't work out her way. When she learned that battling her moods was better done by distracting her thoughts than dwelling on resisting them head on, she was able to overcome her dark moods.
Parents are reminded that they must not lash out in anger and wound a child's esteem. Parental authority is a God-given duty to raise children to be decent; it is not a license to be harsh with children, and it is not a freedom to neglect training them. Happy children will behave, but that shouldn't cause parents to shield children from every negative experience.
Fanny Smedley told innocent tales that happened to be untrue. Hers was a case of having trouble telling the difference betwwen truth and fiction. Indulging her taste for fancy with fairy tales while giving her exercises in accurate message-relaying helped her.
Fred Bruce tended to forget errands. He was made aware of his fault and challenged to focus his attention fully on instructions so he wouldn't forget, and making lists also helped.
Mrs. Jumeau was a loving mother who would have days where she was weak and bedridden for no apparent reason. It was discovered that her natural desire for love, affection and attention were causing her unconscious mind to use feigned illness to get what she needed from her family. When she was made aware of this, her conscious mind was able to take over and she stopped having her strange illnesses.
One mother was looking forward to having her children home from boarding school for the holidays, yet anxious because their irritable tendencies made them not get along. Unconditional love from her made them secure so that they didn't harbor secret doubts about her affection, which was the root of their rivalry.
Part 2 tells the story of the PNEU. It began with a few couples discussing what education should be. Childrens' natural curiosity should be encouraged and parents should have enough basic knowledge of the world around them to answer a child's questions. Natural experiences in the family's life can then become opportunities to learn.
Vacations can be made more educational by taking time to really get to know the intricacies of one area. Rather than rushing around from one attraction to another, a more relaxed pace will give children intimate knowledge of the natural environment of one place.
Mothers should learn the basics of child physiology so that they aren't at the mercy of experts whose recommendations change with each revision of their books. If mothers learn something about the scientific make-up of children, they will be better able to do what is necessary to make their children healthy and happy, which makes children more prone to want to obey and is the best environment for teaching good habits.
In chapter 4, a dejected schoolmaster reflects on past failings and his hopes for the future. All children even the children of poor, remote families, deserve the kind of education that will allow them to make the most of their gifts and find truth. Students should learn both God's word and scientific findings so that they grow up used to thinking about both and reconciling and asking questions. Their life will present many difficult issues and they need to be prepared to ask serious questions and look to God for answers.
In chapter 5, a dinner is imagined in which the couples from chapter 1 meet and reflect on how much better the world is now, after 100 years of their educational reform. Children loved to learn, they retained everything because they had learned to fully focus their attention from their mothers at home, good habits had caused them to grow into adults with character and integrity, their spiritual enthusiasm had revived churches, and even their health was so good from keeping healthy habits that doctors were left with enough free time to study disease prevention.
Part 3 covers the education of older students.
Examinations are useful for assessing how students are progressing, but can degrade education by encouraging teachers to 'teach the test.' Such schools focus on academics rather than character training, leaving parents to train their children themselves after school hours.
Team sports are wonderful for teaching teamwork, but isn't the same as imaginary play. School may not leave enough time for real play.
Girls schools may not even have team sports, girls can be silly and cliquish unless there is a responsible, mature girl as their role model. If there is a good trained governess to tutor her, a girl might be better off staying home. Girls should be made to take walks since that may be the limit of their physical activity.
Parents can enhance the school experience by pleasantly discussing class subjects at the dinner table and showing an interest in school.
Parents must resist the urge to be a pal to their children and use their authority to train their children in proper habits, but they should be gentle rather than harsh. Parental authority should be the unspoken force motivating a child to do well in school.
Children get to an awkward stage when they begin to understand justice and it manifests in a strong sense of their own rights and accusations of unfair treatment. It is important at this time to be fair and give the child space to have his own opinions. They should also understand that justice goes both ways and focus on the rights of others to prevent a selfish outlook on life.
Religious training shouldn't be left to schools. Each day should begin with a 20-minute devotional time. Sundays should be set aside for rest and pleasure - enjoyable literature that encourages reflection, poetry reading and hymns.
Schools can't be depended on to teach culture so parents must take that upon themselves. There should be evenings devoted to family readalouds, and the books used should be stiff but enjoyable classics. A few great books savored slowly is better than rushing through lots of books. Poetry should be included in evening reading time, and many classic poets should be read to give children many choices to see what they like. Very young children should hear stories recited, not just read, by parents. They should learn to use specific description rather than saying that everything is 'nice' or 'good.'
Time spent talking around the dinner table provides an opportunity for parents to find out what's on their childrens' minds and have some input while their children try on different opinions. Parents can use mealtime to throw out topics that will get children talking. Current events are great because children will find that interesting after spending their school day with history.
Parents can train childrens' tastes by having a few well-chosen and functional things at home and by avoiding too much clutter. If art is too expensive, parents can remind themselves that a nice landscape from the window is the best art. In music, too, a few of the best works is better than so much that children tune it out.
Young girls who have finished their schooling and aren't yet married should not be allowed to fritter away their time; there is still more training for them if they are to become dutiful, gracious women of service. They must learn that noble impulses aren't enough - all people have good intentions, but only those who follow through and act on them achieve greatness. Reading Charlotte's book "Ourselves" will help girls recognize and deal with bad tendencies. Only a few women will do great deeds, but any girl can achieve a great character by developing good habits.
Girls should learn to make purchases by listing criteria and not allowing themselves to get side-tracked into buying something tempting that she didn't intend to buy. A girl on the verge of womanhood should make her own choices about friends, leisure and money. She should know how to care for her health and care for others with courtesies of letters and calls. She should know enough about the world to have a sensible opinion about politics. She may not be in a position to rule a nation, but she will have influence with her husband, family and friends. She should have a faith based on real knowledge, not sentiment. She should know how to cook, clean, sew and manage a household.
If a girl doesn't get married, she will get bored just hanging around at home and should get a respectable job - in Charlotte's day, that meant as a nurse, teacher or trained governess.
Part 4 shows how the boyhoods of a few men affected the men they became.
Two Peasant Boys compares fictional boys Jorn Uhl by Gustav Frenssen and Gneschen from Carlyle's Sartor Resartus. Jorn never knew his mother and was raised by a drunken father and his grandparents. He was left alone much of the time, and that allowed him time to be free and think his own thoughts. Gneschen was loved and nurtured. He learned to be a dutiful man through obedience to loving parents, but Jorn only submitted to his duty when he saw that it was in his best interest. Jorn had no loving example of Christianity, so he rejected God. Both Jorn and Gneschen barely endured school, and ended up educated from their own reading outside of school - that is, they were educated in spite of school! And both learned about love and responsibility the hard way - their schooling failed them here as well.
A Genius at School is a very long chapter about Goethe's childhood, based on his autobiographical book Wilhelm Meister. Goethe had an excellent academic education from his parents, but his mother allowed him to maintain a distaste for anything unpleasant and never encouraged him to do his duty for his fellow man. So he grew up to be an intellectual genius, but lacked compassion for mankind and failed to use his genius for the benefit of the world when he had the opportunity.
Pendennis of Boniface is about Thackeray's boyhood. Arthur Pendennis had a doting mother who was more a friend to him than a parent. He never learned good habits and, while he was brilliant, he gained nothing from school and learned from his own reading. Because he never took philosophy and religion seriously, he wasted time in trivialities and never amounted to much in spite of his intellect.
Young Crossjay is from Meredith's book The Egoist. Crossjay is the rejected cousin of the egoist Willoughby. He tried to make up for his guilt at rejecting Crossjay by giving him gifts and being soft with him, even though disciplining him might have better prepared him for the Navy job he wanted. Although Crossjay accepted Willoughby's gifts, he saw through his hypocrisy and didn't respect him.
Better Than My Neighbor explains that children need balance. They may tend to think themselves superior to others if they expect everyone to share their convictions, or, in their desire to be good at something, they may hold on to one positive attribute that they possess and judge others by how they measure up in that respect.
A Modern Educator is Charlotte's praise of her colleague, T. G. Rooper, who had died three years before this book was published. Some of the articles he wrote for The Parents Review can still be read. He was devoted to the cause of educational reform and worked with Charlotte Mason's PNEU schools.
2004 Leslie N. Laurio
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