Chapter 1––Self-Education pg. 23
The best education isn't applied from without by giving lessons that don't penetrate into a child's character. The mind is living, and real education happens within the person. People are living, changing beings and no amount of soakings or wrappings on the outside will nourish them––they need to ingest food on the inside.
Children's minds are illustrated more accurately by human bodies than by plants that can be tweaked and pulled by a gardener and have no personality of their own. Bodies need air, water, rest, and food. So does the spirit/mind. Lessons may attempt to shape the mind with exercises, but they have no real effect on the mind because that's not the kind of food the mind needs.
So then, what kind of diet does the mind need? The answer is more complicated than a list of rules, so Charlotte simply offers some considerations to help us answer the question ourselves.
The mind needs ideas, and it needs them as regularly as the body needs meals. Schools offer some ideas in science and art lessons, but no ideas that inspire character. The kinds of ideas that affect character pass from mind to mind––by word of mouth, family traditions, words of wisdom. Dry lesson books have none of these ideas. Hands-on lessons offer experiences, but not the kind of thoughts that the mind relishes. Names, dates and facts may be memorized but they aren't what minds spend time reflecting on and going over.
Real education is spiritual, it feeds the inner soul. If the mind takes hold of an idea, it will attach facts to it, where facts alone will simply be forgotten. Because each person's spirit is individual and mysterious, we don't know which ideas will strike any one individual with inspiration; that part is done inside a person by himself as his mind works out the idea. Thus, real education is self-education. Since we don't know which ideas will "take," we offer lots for the mind to choose from. Yet none of us are such wise teachers that we can offer so many ideas ourselves. But we know where to get them––from books!
Yet, even with the abundance of books available, schools offer children what wouldn't even sustain the mentally ill mind. Charlotte knew what children need––a combination of old and new ideas which are detailed in her other books. Teachers as well as students benefit from Charlotte's ideas. There is life and interest in learning, although test results may not reflect any major change.
Charlotte's ideas are not some brilliant new invention; they have always been around. But seeing the truth of them will cast a light on what education should be, and that light will inspire teachers to find their own ways of application. That is why Charlotte didn't give a list of rules. What she offered was more like light. Her method is so simple, yet sounds too good to be true: "It fits all ages, even the seven ages of man! It satisfies brilliant children and discovers intelligence in the dull. It secures attention, interest, concentration, without effort on the part of teacher or taught." The results are children who are more articulate, are too occupied with learning to fall into base sin, have enough variety of interests that they can share common interests with their parents, love books and learning, and are careful about getting work right the first time without needing the prodding of rewards and grades.
After Charlotte's first book was published (Vol 1, Home Education), parents asked for help implementing what she wrote about, so she developed a correspondence school with a curriculum designed so that children could partially educate themselves rather than relying on their teacher or governess. The school motto was "I am, I can, I ought, I will," and there were 20 Principles, beginning with "Children are born persons." The results of these correspondence schools astonished even Charlotte herself! Children showed great ability to focus, love of learning, sharp thinking, delight in great books, and knowledge of many subjects. They could narrate back a passage read once, even months later. This is real education, and won't cease when a child graduates, but will be continued for life. With a broad, varied curriculum, right judgment will also be learned.
Children in the earliest grades should hear wonderful literature and narrate before they learn to decode phonics and write because their interest in books will make them want to know how to read and write. Although formal lessons don't start until age six, children start their education from the time they narrate great books and hear well-written language and big words in context.
All children have different abilities, but, no matter how brilliant or dull, each child improves by becoming a person who reads and thinks. But children educated this way don't just hide in books, they can relate to ideas in science and technical principles, make useful things from wood, cloth and other real materials, and enjoy nature's wonders; they are busy and aren't just gloating over their own intellectual progress.
Parents desiring this for their children need to learn the philosophy and reasons behind the method; just following a CM booklist won't be the same. A student could still rush through such a booklist to get a good grade without internalizing any of it. Parents must learn the theory behind Charlotte's methods, but learning the theory isn't so difficult; it can be summed up in only 20 Principles. Her method is very effective––who wouldn't love a method of schooling where the student is motivated enough to educate himself rather than needing to be force-fed his lessons?
Chapter 2––Children are Born Persons pg. 33
Principle 1. Children are born persons––they are not blank slates or embryonic oysters who have the potential of becoming persons. They already are persons.
As we age, we cease to be amazed by daily miracles such as the sun rising, or flowers, and we no longer marvel at great truths. Our babies are cared for dutifully with food and love, but we don't stop to realize that this tiny creature is already a complete little person, rather than a blob like an oyster. If we don't see the baby as a person but rather as an oyster, our job seems to be one of turning the baby into a respectable person by using imposed methods.
But each baby is a miracle, a unique individual who comes complete with personality and tendencies. The feats that all babies do in the first two years of life––making sense of the world, learning to walk and talk, learning the concepts of cold, hot, hard, soft––are truly miraculous. And all babies learn to do these things, whether adults take pains to teach them or not, because each baby comes with a mind pre-wired to learn these things. "His education does not produce his mind;" his mind was already there and primed to learn.
Children's questions about God show that they are born with a spiritual appetite; we don't have to create that in them. Children love fairy tales, perhaps because such tales bring them back to a world they're already familiar with in their mind's eye. Imagination is already there, and children can fancy all kinds of things. Children already have a sense of right and wrong, evidenced by the guilt that even a baby shows when he knows he has been naughty.
But this volume is concerned with school children, not babies. That babies already have curiosity, imagination, conscience and are wired to learn, should show teachers that curriculums don't make their minds. The mind is already there. And teachers' lessons don't form a person from a blank slate; the child was already a person before ever entering the classroom.
The physical brain, as long as it has nourishment and rest, does not tire. The mind is spiritual, so it doesn't suffer physical weariness. This gives great possibilities, and we must be careful not to overlook the spiritual mind in planning a method for educating. Physical things like play, appropriate environment, bodily agility, hands-on experience are good, but don't affect [the spiritual part of] the mind because the mind is not physical, it is spiritual. The mind needs the ideas of other minds to feed it. Ideas are not of the material world and can't be measured, but they urge a child to find out more––and this is what motivates a child to want to learn. We've all experienced how we hear something that sparks our interest, and suddenly we notice it everywhere because now our mind is receptive to it. This kind of learning, being more of the spirit and less of the physical world, is difficult to assess and grade. It is immeasurable, invisible, intangible ideas that we need to give to children as their education, and we must let children deal with those ideas as they see fit.
When children hear the Bible read to them, their minds react and experience it in their own way. Scripture feeds their mind. All of the subjects they learn about––geography, history, etc.––need to be reacted on and experienced as well, or they are lost on children. But schools tend to bore children with lectures, graphs and illustrations that pale in comparison to the pictures their mind conjures up if the book is well-written with vivid descriptions. Such books as Lang's Tales Of Troy and Greece or Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream provide rich material for a child's mind to work on. Children need this kind of lively material often and they need various kinds of it. All we need to do is provide it; the child's mind will do the rest.
This does not benefit the child only in his school years. Adults who have a store of ideas will have lots to think about outside of their job and will continue to enjoy learning history, science, geography, literature, after work hours.
Children should have plenty of great works of art and beautiful scenes from the outdoors in their memories to form a mental gallery. The mind expands, and the more it takes in, the larger it gets.
Children also have hearts full of love. They love everyone, even the family dog and their broken toys. They understand justice and fairness before we ever teach them.
Children are so amazing, and already capable of so much. What does a humble teacher have to offer? Dull lessons are a waste of the child's time. In the same way that war made even average men rise to the occasion and act heroic, all children have the capacity to excel under the right conditions. Charlotte's experience seeing tens of thousands of exam essays convinced her that all children are more capable than we've given them credit for. The children she knew of could write well and, since their education respected their intelligence, they felt valued and were thus happy and well-behaved. Their teachers didn't need to resort to rewards, discipline measures, and crowd management. Even children in slums were enthusiastic about subjects like Shakespeare when teachers knew what they were capable of and didn't dumb down lessons for them. Charlotte concluded that the evidence she saw in her students proved that her methods are effective.
Chapter 3––The Good and Evil Nature of a Child pg. 46
Principle 2. Although children are born with a sin nature, they are neither all bad, nor all good. Children from all walks of life and backgrounds may make choices for good or evil.
1. Well-being of Body––Children are neither so bad that they need all harshness, nor so angelic that they can be trusted to raise themselves in a pure state. They are miniature versions of ourselves––capable of both good and bad actions. When education is a tool of religion, we can train children so that we make the most of their good tendencies and lessen the bad ones. Religion is more than just saving souls; it can provide room to broaden minds in a Christian context and teach all kinds of things. It is exciting to think how the world might be affected if all children everywhere received such a broad education!
Babies are born in a perfectly healthy state––they don't develop disease until later. Perhaps their minds are also in such a state; bad habits have not set in yet, and we can have full opportunity to develop the good habits before any bad ones get fixed. For every bad tendency, the potential to develop the opposite good tendency is there and only needs training.
Many mothers have a way of getting their children to rise to good behavior, possibly because they know their children well and are less apt to underestimate them. They know what they are capable of, and they demand more from them as a result. In every child the tendencies for greed and selfishness are there as surely as hunger and thirst, and parents must not let them get a foothold in the child's character. Children's senses must be cultivated to sharpness without making the children picky about likes and dislikes. We must also allow children to exercise their muscles in healthy, relaxed play, and not cause stress to a child that could later contribute to a nervous breakdown.
It is tempting for a good teacher to solicit the love of students to use as a motivating factor––to want the children to work hard to please the teacher they adore. But that is a misuse of power. By encouraging the students to worship the teacher, the habit of seeking and following those with a stronger personality is set and may lead to them blindly following less noble leaders later.
2. Well-being of Mind––We tend to think that, though we must behave properly, what we think is our own choice and can't hurt anyone. But the mind is as prone to developing good or bad intellectual habits as the physical body, and teachers must be sure that every child's intellect is quickened with lively books and subjects, not dull text books and lectures. Every child finds real science and history fascinating––learning about the smallest particles, or stars, or events that happened long ago. Children never fail to pick up on the moral in a story; we don't need to spell it out for them. They may hear a king described as 'feeble and violent,' and will remember that and, without any moralizing being imposed upon them, will learn the lesson.
Even math is satisfying when students can feel success over a challenging problem, but too much lecturing will dampen interest. Literature comes naturally to children if good books are used. Hard words don't need to be explained, and children may find the interruption annoying. They can usually pick up the meaning from context, and will sometimes even use the word correctly in their narration! When we assume children won't be able to understand Sir Walter Scott or Shakespeare, we are under-rating them. Even challenged and learning disabled children are capable of more than we give them credit for.
Using marks, grades and rewards may motivate children to do well in school, but it builds bad intellectual habits. It makes children value the reward more than the knowledge. Boring lectures and repetitive reviews to make sure children 'get it' teach children to tune out. Specialized study at the expense of other more varied subjects makes children unbalanced. No one should be encouraged to bury themselves in any one topic so deeply that he can no longer enjoy art and poetry. People can enjoy and do many things, as Leonardo Da Vinci and other well-rounded men did.
Testing comprehension with questions is as illogical as giving the third degree about every ounce of food the child ate. Students may become proficient at answering questions, but that only qualifies them for Trivial Pursuit and Jeopardy––it doesn't encourage them to reflect on what they read and let moral lessons go deep into their person.
Imagination can be used to store beautiful thoughts and pictures, or evil, ugly things, depending on what the mind is exposed to. Shocking pictures, thrilling movies, cheap novels may put questionable things into the mind that stay there for life.
Reason is valued by the ignorant, but it's important to teach children that reason isn't infallible––reason can find all kinds of 'logic' to justify suspicion, doubt and contempt. Reason gone astray causes workers to go on strike over petty issues.
The beauty sense should make us thirst for lovely words, pictures and nature scenes. But learning to admire the wrong things in childhood or only the things we're used to can destroy the beauty sense and make us critics who can't recognize beauty or appreciate much of anything.
3. Intellectual Appetite––We all have natural desires that motivate us to grow, but any one of these desires, if allowed to get out of balance, can damage our character. We all want approval, involvement, first place, companionship, and knowledge. When schools use children's desire to be in first place to motivate students, the competition tempts students to attain first place with aggression or cheating. Prizes encourage greed. Rewarding those who excel with teacher's acceptance may make students over-achieve and put undue stress upon them. All of these secondary motivations replace the true curiosity and love of learning which should have been the child's companion for life. The desire to know is all a child needs to motivate him to learn.
4. Misdirected Affections––All children have a moral sense; they all understand justice. It is unnecessary for teachers to lecture about the moral point in a story and play on the child's feelings of guilt or praise; that causes children to act properly merely to please the teacher, not because it's the right thing to do. Morals can't be force-fed into a child, children naturally pick and choose individually from the examples they come in contact with. Our job is to provide plenty of books in all subjects with good examples so that children can choose whatever suits them. One child may be inspired by Plato, another by Peter Pan. We can't know in advance, so we offer both. Teachers are limited humans, and don't always display the best example, but excellent books can introduce children to the most noble heroes.
All children understand justice and fairness, especially as it concerns their rights, before we ever teach it to them. But they must be taught to understand their duty and the rights of others, which are as important as their own. Children have a duty to others, to think the best of them and to speak truth (justice in word) to everyone. Integrity (justice in action) must be displayed by working honestly without shirking. Opinions must be thoughtfully researched for them to be just. And, since the principles we live by control our actions, they must be considered carefully rather than absorbed from the culture. That should make us as educators all the more careful about which ideas our children are exposed to through books.
We may think that children who haven't been exposed to the best won't be able to handle it when it is offered to them, but the opposite is true. Deprived children are all the more starved for quality and, in Charlotte's experience, handled Waverley, Coriolanus, Rembrandt, Botticelli and poetry very well. That these children so readily took to these works testifies to the quality of the classics.
5. The Well-Being of the Soul––All of us crave a connection with God. How can we help children to commune with God? Not with tedious, repetitive lectures, but by introducing them to the Bible and devout writers and letting them come face to face with the material themselves.
Our goal in education is not to encourage self-expression. We finite beings are so limited, and emphasizing self-expression only encourages introverted focus on the self and sensory impulses––greed and lust. Our goal is larger than that––we want to make children useful to the world.
Chapter 4––Authority and Docility pg. 68
Principle 3. The concepts of authority and obedience are true for all people whether they accept it or not. Submission to authority is necessary for any society or group or family to run smoothly.
Charlotte opens by saying that authority and submission (docility) are a natural and needed part of life. The invention of the telephone showed the world that radio/electric waves in the air that we didn't even know existed could be made useful. The war showed the world bravery that had never been seen before in men, although surely the impulse had been there all along. And now, in the world of education, something is being discovered that isn't really new, it had been there all along, but was never noticed. That discovery is the principle of authority.
We are all willing to accept a learned man's authority on topics within his expertise, or the authority vested in a police officer. The willingness to submit to authority––to kings, parents, teachers, foremen, etc.––seems to be built into man, and it's a good thing, because society couldn't function without the order that results from it. Even anarchy isn't really lack of authority so much as transferring authority to oneself, and men too proud to submit to authority will willingly submit to fate.
Authority is sometimes accused of tyranny and slavery, but that is only true when authority is abused.
The concept of authority/submission is as natural and certain as the orbits of planets, and teachers must make sure their students stay in an orderly orbit of docility rather than rebellion. The current trend is to set limits without the student perceiving them as restrictions, so children feel as if they have liberty to do as they please, and are content enough to go along with that. This seems to work because, from all outward observations, the children are happy and behaving. But children who are never faced with the choice to submit or not, will never learn the joy of choosing to give their willing obedience.
Children with no limits who really are allowed to do anything and everything they want never learn to obey willingly.
So how do parents and teachers secure willing (not coerced) obedience? First, parents must allow children to suffer natural consequences so they learn that there are some rules (like gravity) that everyone is under. Setting lots of rules to prevent a child from experiencing the law of gravity (like never letting him climb trees or curbs) will make him chafe under what he perceives as arbitrary rule. But understanding first-hand that gravity means you can fall and get hurt will help him see that your rules are for his protection.
Children who understand that parents and teachers rule because they must obey a higher authority over themselves will not feel inferior, but children who suspect that others boss them around for their own pleasure or power will never willingly submit. But if submission is given willingly and cheerfully, then the child feels free, and, since happiness is a state of mind rather than circumstances, the child will be both obedient and happy in his perceived freedom. The thought of rebelling won't be there.
In the classroom, this same principle applies to the habit of attention. If lessons are short and interesting, children will be too intent to be distracted. So attention is expected by the teacher rather than forced.
Charlotte reminds teachers that lessons must not be limited to mental exercises any more than academics should be brushed aside for physical education. Children need the balance and variety of a generous curriculum if they are to enjoy the world with all of its diverse interests.
Parents and teachers must make children understand that they (the parents and teachers) are under (not in) authority––the teacher or parent isn't the head, but only acting under a higher authority. They must submit to the higher authority just as the children must submit to parent or teacher. No one is his own boss; everyone has someone they must obey. Ultimately, that Someone is God.
Children should understand that they obey parents because they choose to. Not everyone can be in charge. This prepares children to submit to a small body of government officials elected by the people. Teachers can give children the experience of being in charge themselves by rotating a list of class offices.
Children should understand that they have a duty to learn their lessons, and to learn them the first time. Teachers must enforce this by never repeating a lesson. They must never take it upon themselves to make sure children learn; that's the children's responsibility. The teacher's job is to provide the lessons; it is the child's job to assimilate them.
Teachers should not underestimate children. Children don't need teachers to drill them again and again, and explain every little thing; their minds are capable and they can learn without that. They don't need books dumbed down for them. They don't need the teacher to entertain them in order to pay attention; focused concentration isn't difficult or straining, it just needs to become a habit. The teacher merely needs to provide the best books and the children will do the rest because their insatiable curiosity wants to know everything!
The current trend to replace education with vocational training is wrong. Children are short-changed if all they learn are marketable job skills. A generous curriculum and wide education enhances the whole person and builds noble character, and an enhanced person will be happier and a better employee no matter what kind of job he has.
Focused attention isn't a tool or teaching tip that teachers can pull out when they please; attention is the very foundation of education. A child must use his own authority to tell himself to pay attention. A person who can do this will be an asset to any employer.
A child made familiar with works of art and music will educate himself when presented with art and music, but a child dragged through a museum listening to lectures that are supposed to get information into him will learn to tune out. If all children receive a cultural education, then both rich and poor will have a common interest and this may help equalize them and tear down class barriers.
Children who graduate from school and then have no interest in much besides weekend football games on TV are as maimed as wounded WW1 soldiers. Their education has failed them and they are deprived of the joy that culture might have added to their lives.
Chapter 5––The Sacredness of Personality pg. 80
Principle 4: These principles are limited by the respect due to the personality of children, which must not be encroached upon whether by the direct use of fear or love, suggestion or influence, or by undue play upon any one natural desire.
What we need today isn't so much an improvement in education as a better understanding of children. If we could see that children are people just like us, we would automatically change the way we educate. We would not be so quick to damage any part of the person out of our own perceived notion of superiority and right to do what we want with our young charges in an attempt to keep them dependent on us. Our rules for children tend to be "don't do this," and "don't do that," but God places children above adults and even says we should have faith like theirs.
Teachers don't beat their students into subjection anymore like Dickens characters, but they often do something just as harmful––they use their students' love and desire to please to entice and motivate them at the expense of the children's very personalities! Children should be learning for the love of knowledge, not to win the praise of the teacher. Some teachers are very good at finding out what makes a child motivated and they play upon this to urge the child on, but that can backfire––once the child realizes what's happening, he may despise that trait that was used by the teacher. Education must train the child's character, but if he is waylaid instead, trying to please a beloved teacher, he doesn't investigate his character and desire change for himself. By encouraging worship of a favorite teacher, children aren't free to develop their own personalities, they're too busy trying to impress. And the tendency to idolize stronger personalities makes the child easy prey for bad leaders looking for followers.
Teachers who feed a child's healthy desire for praise may encourage him to be a slave to the vanity of the approval of others, and the child may not care whether these others are worth emulating. Trying to impress the wrong people sometimes causes people to do wrong in order to be noticed.
Teachers who play on a child's natural desire to be the best may win accolades that make the school look good, but students get so wrapped up in competitive drive that love of learning is pushed aside. Attainment of rewards––scholarships, for example––have the same effect.
Schools would do better to make more efficient use of time by assigning books and narrations, which teach both reading comprehension and public speaking in one lesson, rather than lists of questions and tests. That would impart knowledge rather than encouraging cramming to pass tests. Rewards could then be downplayed to their proper place and children could once again learn for the sake of learning.
Those who love power should beware that it doesn't become an intoxicating obsession to lead at any cost, because ambition may make men incite others just to be their leader. Teachers should not abuse a student's desire to lead and make it a motivating factor in schoolwork. Instead, students should be taught to master their own character and master knowledge rather than people.
The desire to be accepted by our peers may make girls cliquish, or boys delinquents. But if students can learn a little about everything, they'll be able to fit in with everyone. And if they love learning, they will seek others who do, too, rather than seeking silly, idle friends.
Abusing any of these natural desires puts them out of balance, and using them to make a child learn destroys the child's natural curiosity to know real things, and makes him merely curious about trivial things and gossip, and then he will only attempt the challenge of real knowledge if there are rewards; it becomes a vicious cycle. Students don't read unless a test is coming up, so they have shallow thoughts instead of reflecting on noble character. They content themselves with unfulfilling jobs instead of seeking greatness. They require the teacher to entertain them to hold their attention.
Teachers who used CM's method of reading great books and then just narrating found that students loved literature and became articulate thinkers. But teachers still use tests and grades, so students find lessons boring and teachers have to go over the material over and over to force it into students' minds.
Some may fear that the kind of education I'm advocating for everyone might cause a social upheaval, but it won't, no more than equal opportunity. Those who see life in terms of survival of the fittest have this fear because education and equal rights makes the less advantaged more fit. And this might be true if education is obtained with prizes and rewards––the student then advances in society for more reward and at the expense of others. But the student truly educated for love of knowledge will also have gotten some character and will not desire to supplant everyone else.
Chapter 6––Three Instruments of Education pg. 94
Principle 5. The only means a teacher may use to educate children are the child's natural environment, the training of good habits and exposure to living ideas and concepts. This is what CM's motto "Education is an atmosphere, a discipline, a life" means.
If we can't use suggestion, affection or influence to motivate children to learn, what can we use? Three things––atmosphere, discipline and life. That may sound limiting, but those three things are more vast than we suppose!
1. Education is an Atmosphere
Principle 6. "Education is an atmosphere" doesn't mean that we should create an artificial environment for children, but that we use the opportunities in the environment he already lives in to educate him. Children learn from real things in the real world.
Some say that environmental factors––color of a room, background sounds, childproof rooms, pleasant people––affect the child's mind and education, and that everything that is part of a child's world should be controlled for the best results.
But children are not hothouse plants; they get bored with an artificial environment. Plants shielded from the weather are destroyed in the first storm because they aren't used to it. And children shielded from the real world don't grow. They need relationships with real people to learn about moods, humor, sacrifice and love. There is no other way of learning about people than by living, working and playing with family and friends. They need to see parents under stress, although parents must still maintain authority and control, and parents should never allow their burdens to be shouldered by their children.
In school, teachers must not dilute and sweeten lessons so that they are insincere and soft. Children need to hear the truth and they need lessons to be a challenge. If students are pressured, it may not be lessons that are too hard, but competition for top ranking may be causing stress.
Children need the reality of truth and life, but that doesn't mean they should be let loose to be influenced by anyone and anything. They need some control over who they spend time with and what comes into their lives; parents must find a healthy balance.
2. Education is a Discipline
Principle 7. "Education is a discipline" means that we train a child to have good habits and self-control.
Children don't need to be persuaded or coerced into learning if their lessons are selected properly. Although they will still have to exert effort to learn, they will enjoy the process. Learning to focus and pay full attention comes naturally to children and, if it is expected of them, will become a habit and will enable them to retain knowledge from just one reading. Concise articulation, obedience, sorting fact from sentiment, neatness will all help make self-education easier. Education should teach children to live moral, useful lives that are enhanced with cultural interests and alive with Christian spirit.
The mind and body should both be trained in good habits because they affect each other and can work together to bring right action. For instance, smiling can help dispel a black mood, or, conversely, focusing on pleasant memories can bring a smile to the face. Although children shouldn't be harshly abused to turn them into machines for the convenience of adults as they were in the days of child labor, we should not be afraid to discipline children and teach them good habits, because good habits will make their own lives better. If they do the right, orderly thing by habit, they will be spared deliberating over what to do next, and the resulting lack of disorder and bad choices will make their lives smoother.
In the beginning, learning a habit takes some effort and may be resisted. Generally, the most lasting habits are those we want and instill in ourselves, so it's best to find ways of inspiring our children to make good habits on their own, rather than trying by force to make them conform just because we want it. Children may respond to the idea of chivalric victory in conquering their own bad impulses. Parents must never imagine that children are doing them a favor by learning a good habit; the habit is for the child's good, and it does the child a disservice to let him get away with lapses.
Parents need not fear that habits of religious routines will make God seem mechanical; God can touch our children as they go through routines of daily prayer, regular worship and weekly service.
Carefully trained habits will seem confining as children get older unless their minds are kept full with great books. Children taught only outward habits will either become narrow-minded and afraid of change, or will rebel and flit from one trend to another. Habits that were forced on a child as an outer behavior will be shed by children as soon as they can get away with it. For habits to last, they must be internalized as a result of the child being inspired to keep the habits for himself.
3. Education is a Life
The life of any being needs regular food to survive. The mind is alive and will starve if it only feeds on weekend football and gossip magazines. The mind needs real ideas––knowledge and inspiration––to really live and grow.
What is an idea? An idea is living thing of the mind. It's hard to describe tangibly, but we've all felt an idea's effect when we've been inspired to take action, impressed to do something. Text books don't kindle interest in us to get up and do, or make a change because they've been reduced so much that no real ideas are left in them. For instance, reading that "Columbus discovered America in 1492," leaves us cold, but reading of Columbus's struggles to make his dream of a new discovery happen, makes us want to make our own discoveries.
Where do ideas come from? They come from God. Even the practical idea to farm land came from God, as noted in Isaiah 28. An idea may strike us like a light bulb suddenly coming on, or it may create a vague sense of longing. The best ideas make children yearn for the noble and good. Ugly words and attitudes from us, such as an unkind comment about a neighbor or a display of temper at a careless salesclerk, will plant bad ideas in our children's minds.
Sometimes an idea so motivates us that it's like a beacon light at the end of a tunnel and we set everything else aside to pursue it. Great inventions have come from men pursuing an idea this way––ideas have a power all their own that can drive men.
We rarely have original ideas; most of our thoughts are either ideas we got somewhere else, or improvements on another idea. For that reason, self-expression is rarely original, or even all ours. It's just a rehash of what we've heard or seen elsewhere. Children asked to write a composition will usually repeat something they know because they don't have a collection of original creations in themselves yet.
Schools try to force information into children, but, for all the effort of teachers, only those original ideas that the child stumbles across will be retained. The rest is just words to be disregarded and forgotten.
Ideas are living and have power because they are spiritual, coming from God. But they travel from person to person packaged in oral speech, writings, pictures or music.
Children may only keep ten percent of the ideas that pass their way, so we need to present lots and lots of good ideas for them to choose from, and then let them decide for themselves which ideas suit them. We don't tell a child what to think of an idea––one child may see a book character's flaws as a lesson on what to avoid, another may think those flaws are something to copy. We must give children the freedom to decide what to think.
Crystallizing ideas into polished opinions devitalizes the idea. Church dogma, math proofs, historical abstracts do not inspire. Knowledge about people––devoted saints, struggling inventors, battle heroes––does. Ideas must be clothed in an interesting story about a person to be received by the child's mind. And this is why children need living books, and lots of them, in various subjects.
Chapter 7––How We Make Use of Mind pg. 112
Principle 9. The child's mind is not a blank slate, or a bucket to be filled. It is a living thing and needs knowledge to grow. As the stomach was designed to digest food, the mind is designed to digest knowledge and needs no special training or exercises to make it ready to learn.
Principle 10. Herbart's philosophy that the mind is like an empty stage waiting for bits of information to be inserted puts too much responsibility on the teacher to prepare detailed lessons that the children, for all the teacher's effort, don't learn from anyway.
Herbart may use the term "soul," but his idea of the "soul" isn't a living thing that gives a person his essence and intuition. It's more like an impersonal box that ideas and thoughts come into. His soul isn't alive and has no power to do anything––it can't arrange or choose the ideas; the ideas come and go as they please. So a person is no more than whichever ideas happen to be residing in his mind, and it's only by chance that certain ideas got in first and crowded out opposing ideas. Those ideas that get in join with other similar ideas and clump themselves together in what Herbart called "apperception masses." The biggest apperception mass wins control of the person's thoughts and actions.
Psychology isn't an exact science––it deals with intangible thoughts and unprovable theories. All it can do is try to make generalizations by studying behaviours of lots of people. Educational philosophy is the same way. How do you measure real intellectual growth?
Herbart's theory appeals to teachers because it seems to give them power: if they can choose which ideas get to the child's mind first and present them in the order they want them to clump together in the child's mind, the resulting person will be something of their own creation. Subjects are correlated so that they relate with each other (just like modern unit studies), and Charlotte makes a joke about ideas being more capable than we are if they know how to jump and cling together by type!
Her example is a series of lessons based on Robinson Crusoe (and I think the version used is an abridged edition divided to neatly fit each lesson): object lessons about the sea, fish, boats; math is contrived to solve problems such as how to build Crusoe's goat pen; even singing uses songs specially made up to fit the book. Children find this very entertaining, but they don't usually remember much about the book because they didn't exert any effort in extracting anything. The teacher did all the work. And after squeezing every drop of life from the book to use as a lesson, what child will ever want to read Robinson Crusoe again? Charlotte's own students were able to talk more eloquently about Robinson Crusoe after reading the original version and doing nothing more than narrating.
Another unit study had 100 lessons based on apples, including a craft making a paper ladder to climb up the tree, but (another joke from Charlotte) not one lesson included eating the poor apple!
Children need more varied topics; this kind of limited topic bores them after a while. There are too many interesting things in the world to reduce lessons to apples, or Robinson Crusoe.
The mind is much more complex than Herbart gave it credit for. The mind is a living thing and needs sustenance––and what it feeds on are ideas. As children prefer candy to vegetables, they may prefer entertaining twaddle to real ideas, but "feeble and tedious" lessons and books, even though children may like them, are no better for their minds than candy is for their bodies. Yet schools attempt to slip in moral lessons and intellectual training with entertaining yet diluted lectures and texts.
Children need books written in high literary quality. When their own mind has done the work of sorting, prioritizing, sequencing and articulating knowledge from a well-written book, then they will really be learning. It isn't the job of the ideas to arrange themselves into masses, it's up to the student to extract knowledge for himself.
Creating contrived unit studies is fun for teachers, and the resulting projects can look very impressive, but the Herbart method assumes that only teachers are qualified to dispense knowledge. Real knowledge and, more importantly, character growth, aren't passed on this way. Students aren't brought to a higher level of intellectual excellence and may end up with no more to show for their schooling than vocational training, a job, and no moral principles. Students need to be taught to do the work of learning for themselves rather than have teachers jump through hoops to make knowledge fun. It isn't the person who has observed entertaining presentations who succeeds, but the person who has learned the mental discipline of concentrating and is familiar with hard work.
Schools teach skills without teaching how to think, often spending years teaching the foundations of phonics and arithmetic that can be learned in a couple of months, and that kind of repetition wearies students. So students learn the mechanics of de-coding text, but don't always learn how to really read. They learn how to produce neat handwriting, but they don't learn what to write about. This kind of training befits a nation of clerks, not great thinkers.
Schools have students for a long time––what a great opportunity to train them to be noble and good! But schools drop the ball and the result is that, while school should have trained youth to self-educate into adulthood, students graduate and go on to be less thinking as adults than they were when they first came to school. They only keep whatever learning applies to their job, and the rest of the person "curls up and sleeps forever."
A better education, one that enables students to continue to be interested in learning, and that trains them to be decent and responsible, benefits everyone. The well-educated graduate has many interests that will add variety and life to his leisure time. The employer gets a higher caliber of employees working for him who can quickly learn the specific skills needed for a specialized job, and society gains citizens who are creative thinkers motivated to do their duty in serving the community. Volunteers provide sacrificial services that a community can't buy.
It is found that employers would rather have an intelligent, responsible employee that they can train, over an employee who may be trained in a vocational school with the corresponding skills, but who has little else in character. Denmark and Scandinavia gave students a broad cultural education instead of training them to specific tasks and had good results with its population as employees. Germany, on the other hand, focused on utilitarian training and vocational skills, and its population became "morally bankrupt." (Charlotte didn't live to see WWII and Hitler; it's reasonable to assume that she would have blamed WWII on Germany's poor educational philosophy.)
Reading classics in dead languages (Virgil, Sophocles) isn't necessary; reading noble works by English writers (Milton, Shakespeare, Bacon) works just as well if character and culture are the goals of education. If students have learned to pay full attention so that they get it the first time, a lot can be covered in 400 school hours a year. Narration also prepares students for public speaking, which is a skill everyone should have.
Charlotte, once again expressing her humor, imagines a factory training future employees in a public school with unit studies on soap: "its manufacture, ingredients, the Soap Trade, Soap Transport, the Uses of Soap, how to make out a Soap invoice, the Sorts of Soap, and so on ad infinitum." And all the factories could get in the fun, providing contrived lessons on all kinds of practical resources and technical aspects. It will keep school children entertained and busy for years––but prepare them for nothing but labor.
Instead, schools should recognize that students are more than robots to be trained for employment. They are living beings infused with God's spirit, and hungry for truth and beauty. Enriching youth with noble ideals is like fertilizing the country's soil, and citizens who can think for themselves and who have been inspired to patriotism with the heroic tales of their people will do as much good for their country as rich, fertile soil does for crops. Students must be allowed to admire what is good before learning to criticize what is bad, so they should hear great deeds of their countrymen before hearing of the faults of their country. There is plenty of time to learn of evil; let them savor goodness as long as possible––as the song says, let their "illusions last until they shatter."
Adult education programs could offer classes in physical training and handicrafts (and, by handicrafts, Charlotte didn't mean busy work with construction paper, but learning practical skills to make useful, real things that an individual could take personal pride in doing well). These things could be offered as after-work activities which people would gladly sign up for because they would be fun. They could even offer light competitions. Besides making things, these clubs could teach nursing, acting, gymnastics, etc.
Or, if schools become more effective at teaching character and adding zest to children's lives, maybe parents would be glad to let the schools have them for another year to make up for time lost in fun activities. A well-educated population with wide interests will be a blessing to any society because 'knowledge is virtue,' and virtue makes everyone better.
Chapter 8––The Way Of The Will pg. 128
Principle 16. Children have two guides to help them in their moral and intellectual growth––"the way of the will," and "the way of reason."
Principle 17. Children must learn the difference between "I want" and "I will." They must learn to distract their thoughts when tempted to do what they may want but know is not right, and think of something else, or do something else, interesting enough to occupy their mind. After a short diversion, their mind will be refreshed and able to will with renewed strength.
The will is hard to define, and many people are such creatures of habit and crowd followers that they may never determine to will themselves to do anything. The will is the part of us that chooses to do one thing or another, and the more difficult a decision is to make, the weaker the will is and the easier it is to let public opinion sway us, or the more likely we are to fall back on the way we've always done things––habits. But what we will shapes our character, and education should train the character, not the outward behaviour.
Temptations may seem physical, but what is really being tested is our inner will, and it is those few who have strength of will who don't succumb to cultural trends and even encourage everyone else to set a higher standard. Teachers must set a goal of turning out such students who can make a difference in their society. Those who don't will with a purpose are being dragged along by their culture without even realizing it. We're either making thoughtful decisions in our lives, or letting society choose for us and following blindly by choosing the path of least resistance. One result of this can be mob rule and riot, with a crowd committing acts they would never choose individually.
Teachers should provide plenty of noble, inspiring thoughts for students to choose from, since the thoughts that we act on come from somewhere else and rarely originate from our own creative originality (has anyone ever truly come up with an original thought on their own?) We all store up thoughts and ideas that we come across, and we tend to act on suggestion and let others influence us. Strengthening the will can help children to stand strong for what's right, even when faced with opinions and ideas that are wrong. Reading Charlotte Mason's book "Ourselves" (volume 4 of her series) can help illustrate the concept of choice in thought to students, and their duty to choose what's right by using the conscience and the will. The books children read in school instruct their consciences, illustrating good and bad character by example. But how do we teach students to use their will?
We should explain to early teens how easy it is to drift along with the current of society unless they actively choose to think and decide to do right for themselves. By 'the will,' we don't mean stubborn resolve ('willfulness') to have one's own way, like a toddler having a tantrum because his mother won't give in to him. Such a person isn't choosing, but is allowing his passions to choose for him because his will isn't strong enough to choose what's right. Once they understand that, students may begin to divide people they read about as willful and selfish, or ruled by their will to choose what fits their purpose. Even well-intentioned characters can be impulsive and weak-willed. And some people can have strength of will and make remarkable sacrifices for selfish, evil ends. Thus, it is important to set a purpose on something worthy outside of oneself if the will is to be used to make good, noble choices.
Even someone with a strong resolve can have weak moments when his will is vulnerable. Temptation also undermines our will. The best way to train the will is to use the will to make wise choices in small matters; only then can one become accustomed to doing what he doesn't feel like, but knows is right––choosing, rather than letting culture dictate what to wear, read and think.
Every small decision has a larger principle behind it that should govern us––every decision is motivated by a desire to please God and help others, or to make our own lives more comfortable and pleasurable. What we buy, whether we chase fads or bargains, how we spend our leisure time and money, will either be selfless or selfish.
Any time we choose or reject an idea, the conscience and reason have a part, but the will has final say, and the will has been influenced by previous decisions and opinions we have adopted. We tend to think that, so long as we behave properly, we can think whatever we want––but, in fact, what we choose to think will influence who we are. We must choose carefully even the opinions we hold.
A bad idea may gain the approval of our reason if everyone else approves it, and may even gain the approval of our conscience if we can justify it in our own mind. Then it becomes difficult for the will to resist, but when the will is weak, it can be rested by doing and thinking of something totally different, and then returning to the decision refreshed much later.
Although decisions are made spontaneously, it takes a lifetime to train the will to choose what's right instead of what's convenient. Teachers should emphasize that our decisions should please God, rather than emphasizing the inner self by focusing on self-discipline and self-control. It isn't the self that matters in decisions, but something outside of self––God Himself. Even personal virtue for the growth of the individual should be less of a goal than duty and service to God and others.
Chapter 9––The Way of the Reason pg. 139
Principle 18. Children must learn not to lean too heavily on their own reasoning. Reasoning is good for logically demonstrating mathematical truth, but unreliable when judging ideas because our reasoning will justify all kinds of erroneous ideas if we really want to believe them.
Principle 19. Knowing that reason is not to be trusted as the final authority in forming opinions, children must learn that their greatest responsibility is choosing which ideas to accept or reject. Good habits of behavior and lots of knowledge will provide the discipline and experience to help them do this.
Sometimes, watching our own reason unfold in us to prove or disprove a point startles even ourselves. Every argument has two sides that can be "proved" with evidence. Macbeth reasoned his way to a tragic end––the result of allowing the notion of self-glory.
Reason doesn't always lead to tragedy––it propelled Madame Curie and Florence Nightingale to acts of heroism. Everything invented or made started with an idea that was supported by reason.
Children need to know that they, like Adam and Eve, or Cain, can be misled to sin by their own reason. Reason is a servant to be used, but should never be trusted to rule the mind. Just because something can be reasoned doesn't make it right. And popular opinion doesn't make a notion right.
When we allow ourselves to dwell on a thought, that's when reason comes in to make it sound logical, so we must never allow ourselves to linger on thoughts and ideas that we know are wrong. No one ever commits a crime without first justifying it in his mind with logic. And reason can be used to make a case that Bacon wrote the plays we attribute to Shakespeare, or even to "prove" that a Dr. Johnson wrote the Bible! Knowing the limits of our own reason can save us from some errors in thinking.
We must learn how to find fallacies in views that are wrong when they become popular with the public. Charlotte gives a demonstration of how to do this using the ten maxims of Marx's Communist Manifesto. Just one point she uses is his attempt to equalize people and control classes––she says that controlling classes in society is like trying to control the ocean's waves. And, while she agrees with Marx's proposal to educate all children, she sees this more as an attempt to teach children Marxist dogma and make them violent revolutionaries. Charlotte sees the Communist Manifesto as an excellent topic for teacher/student discussion to practice finding fallacies. Reason, like anything else, needs material to learn with.
It isn't necessary to dissect and expose every wrong idea that students come across in society––there are too many to keep up with! But learning a few principles by going over such things as Marx will show students what to look for so they can detect fallacy for themselves.
When we teach students that a miracle is no less amazing because it's common (such as sap rising in a tree, or the birth of babies, or the sun rising every morning), we protect them from critics who "prove" that miracles don't exist. Teaching them what true Christianity is will prevent their faith from being shaken by every wave of new doctrine that comes around (I've heard that Christians who are knowledgeable inside and out about their religion will spot heresy right away, much as a bank teller is trained to spot counterfeit money by doing nothing more than handling real money.)
Students who understand that God's purpose isn't to make us happy, won't rush off to the next prophet who promises personal fulfillment. Knowing that religion isn't for our ease and comfort will prevent us from falling into sin by seeking the wrong things that end in idolatry and self-worship.
In the past, teaching a little catechism was enough to protect children from doubt. But today children have to deal with science seeking to cast doubt on Scripture itself. Charlotte says that the solution here is to explain the importance of faith because Scripture can't be proved with scientific evidence.
Children enjoy arguing the smallest point just to be able to use their reasoning powers, yet they don't enjoy using their logic on math and grammar. So maybe the best thing is to give them literary material to practice reasoning with, and take the pressure off them in grammar and math, although they must not totally neglect those subjects. Let them analyze the fine points of arguments and save the parsing of sentences for later. They should understand that laws in math are not variable and are absolute, not subject to argument. Yet students who don't love math shouldn't be forced to spend too much time with it when there are so many other things they might be learning. Not every student is a born mathematician and not all students should be expected to perform as if they were. (I suspect from Charlotte's view on this that she wasn't great at math!)
Chapter 10––The Curriculum pg. 154
Principle 12. "Education is the science of relations" means that children have minds capable of making their own connections with knowledge and experiences, so we make sure the child learns about nature, science and art, knows how to make things, reads many living books and that they are physically fit.
Principle 13. In devising a curriculum, we provide a vast amount of ideas to ensure that the mind has enough brain food, knowledge about a variety of things to prevent boredom, and subjects are taught with high-quality literary language since that is what a child's attention responds to best.
Principle 14. Since one doesn't really "own" knowledge until he can express it, children are required to narrate, or tell back (or write down), what they have read or heard.
Principle 15. Children must narrate after one reading or hearing. Children naturally have good focus of attention, but allowing a second reading makes them lazy and weakens their ability to pay attention the first time. Teachers summarizing and asking comprehension questions are other ways of giving children a second chance and making the need to focus the first time less urgent. By getting it the first time, less time is wasted on repeated readings, and more time is available during school hours for more knowledge. A child educated this way learns more than children using other methods, and this is true for all children regardless of their IQ or background.
Though schools may pride themselves on their wisdom in choice of curriculum, the truth is, that choice is actually abdicated to those who make the exams because schools feel pressured to "teach the test." The inefficiency of this is apparent when younger children who have spent less time in the school system (but have had a CM education) have broader interests and more thinking ability than older children who have more years of education, but a narrow focus on a few college prep courses. With proper planning, students can be as proficient in many subjects as in Latin and math. The average student will benefit by broadening his field of topics, and the gifted student will have more scope to sharpen his mind.
If we have no clear idea about the reason we educate, then we tend to limit learning to what will look impressive and guarantee a good job. But if we keep in mind the goal of helping each student grow in all areas, we will want to offer education from a much broader perspective and teach all kinds of things, even when they won't translate directly to the workforce. Children want to know about all kinds of things––what people used to do and think, what God is like, how to do things, ways to be useful. We have no right to decide which subjects have priority, we must let children find out about all of them. We needn't feel that too many subjects will overwhelm a student––if we keep lessons short, he won't be spending any more time on schoolwork, and the variety will be refreshing.
Note: "Forms" discussed in the following chapters were similar to our
"grades," and were divided up roughly, but not exactly, as follows:
Form I––age 6-9 (grades 1-3)
Form II––age 9-12/13 (grades 4-6)
Form III and IV––age 13/14-15 (grades 7-8)
Form V and VI––age 16-18 (high school)
Section I: The Knowledge Of God pg. 158
Of the 3 things children should know about––God, man and the universe––God is the most important and has potential for the child's happiness. Mothers know their children better than any teacher could, and know better than to talk down to them, as religious curriculum lessons tend to do. Mothers can model their love for God naturally and bring Him up while viewing nature. They have more opportunities to do this in the course of the day than teachers, who have lessons to move along.
Children shouldn't begin the kind of education that requires conscious mental effort until they are six, even though they may be capable of it. There are too many things from nature that are more important for them to learn, and those things aren't learned from lessons, but by casual familiarity from being outside.
Children who immediately tell someone, even a sibling, about what they've heard will remember it better (the concept of narration is that the mind retains what it articulates), so mothers should encourage their children to tell someone about religious things they learn.
The best, most well-written literature on the subject of religion is the Bible itself. No Bible story book can match it. Children as young as six should listen to stories directly from the Bible and then tell them back. Goethe learned Hebrew from studying passages from the Old Testament at age ten, and, although he never became an orthodox Christian, that experience instilled a love in him for the Bible that gave him comfort all his life. Ideally, Old Testament stories should be familiar first to lay a foundation for the New Testament.
Goethe enjoyed posing challenging questions about God to his Hebrew teacher, but his teacher wouldn't respond to the goad. He would smile, and recommend that Goethe read a commentary to answer his questions. Charlotte thought this was a wise idea and recommended Canon Paterson Smyth as a good commentator for ages 6-12. His materials had the students reading Old Testament stories, bringing in prophets as they correlate to the kings being read. The Paterson Smyth text was read as an opener, there was discussion, then the Bible text was read, and the students narrated. Last, the teacher brought up the point of the lesson––something about God, or a moral quality in a reverent manner rather than an attempt to force practical application.
Students aged 12-15 would read H. Costley-White's Old Testament expunged of inappropriate content, yet still in the King James English. Psalms and Proverbs were brought in as they correlated to the story being read, and notes and illuminating comments were added in this version. Questions were included that are difficult to answer, but gave the students food for thought. This prepared them for later questions and difficulties that might cause doubt and lapses of faith.
Students ages 15-18 used Dummelow's One Volume Bible Commentary with introductory information about each book and notes throughout the text. Thus, students who graduated from Miss Mason's schools had a thorough knowledge of the Old Testament.
What about the New Testament? The same methods and commentaries were used, and the Scripture itself provided doctrinal lessons. Drilling topical moral lessons into children can be counterproductive, as it tends to bore them and may incite them to take the opposite opinion. It is best to let the Bible itself be the teacher.
In a culture where critical analysis of Scripture has wearied people of religion, a fresh look at Jesus from a study of His life may be a good thing, perhaps something in the form of an epic poem. Charlotte herself wrote such a work; there were six volumes, which are being put online. These were used in her schools. Charlotte suggested using commentaries, a catechism, prayer book and church history as supplementary reading on Sundays, which might be a way for each family to teach their children the doctrines of their own church.
Section II: The Knowledge Of Man pg. 169
History––Through history, children learn about the worthiest minds of the ages. Many events happening today are similar to things that have happened to people before––treaties, for instance. Something totally new is untested, but having a precedent can help us see how a thing might work out. People with no sense of history think in terms of their own generation, as if it were the only one that mattered, and won't value things of the past like great art and buildings. But we need to know how average people like us responded to great events, and know that we, too, may find ourselves in a position of having to respond to events in our own time. Patriotism depends on today's children knowing about brave deeds done before and taking pride in them.
But how can such a vast topic as history with so many countries, people and events be done justice in the short time students are in school? Trying to cram it all in leaves no more than vague impressions of history, nothing of substance.
Charlotte's idea is to skip the boring lectures, use a well-written account read just once, and have students narrate it. This gets children into the habit of absorbing it the first time, which means no time is spent repeating and reviewing. That leaves extra time to get in more reading. If the text is interesting enough, getting students to pay attention will not be a problem.
At age six, teachers read "not stories from English History, but a definite quantity of consecutive reading, say, forty pages in a term, from a well-written, well-considered, large volume which is also well-illustrated," a paragraph or passage at a time, and the children narrated it back. "The teacher's own really difficult part is to keep up sympathetic interest by look and occasional word, by remarks upon a passage that has been narrated, by occasionally shewing pictures, and so on."
At this age, understanding every word is not important so long as the child is beginning to understand that knowledge comes from books and he can get it for himself (he doesn't need a workbook or comprehension questions to dictate what he should have learned from the reading.) If the child can tell it back, then he and we can be assured that he really knows it. It is likely that people in the past had to rely on accurate narrating to relay events to one another since newspapers were not readily available. When we tell something, it becomes a part of our permanent experience that we won't forget even years later (which is why review isn't needed at the end of the year.) This only works if we let the child do the work of deciding what to say. If we ask questions, make pictures, explain the lesson we think he should have gotten, then it's us doing the mental work.
Charlotte's students aged 7-9 read An Island Story, slowly at first, but more as they get closer to age 9 so that they finished the book in two years. Biographies of selected people in the book were used to supplement, so that children really got to know a few heroes.
Children aged 9-14 used a more difficult book of English history, reading about 50 pages per term (there were three 12-week terms in a school year.) To make children aware of the world and their country's small place in it, the recent history of other countries was also studied. Her students learned about neighboring France, reading about what was happening there at the same time as the period of English history being studied so that students understand that things were going on in other parts of the world while their own country was making history. Ancient history was studied by using a book about the museum (The British Museum), which talked about things in the museum and the history it was from. Besides learning about history from real things, this would give them a greater appreciation for their museum. Students kept a Book of Centuries (timeline in a book). Her older students (age 13) were also reading a book about India's history.
Students aged 14 continued the Book of Centuries and the museum book, and used a stiffer book of English history.
High school aged students were reading Green's Shorter History of the English People, Macaulay's Essays on Frederick the Great and the Austrian Succession, on Pitt and Clive, an American history of Western Europe, a history of France written by a French author but translated into English, and a book survey of ancient history. They used a history chart like the one described in the Parents' Review article Teaching Chronology.
The school went progressively through the entire world's history chronologically; if a student joined the class at age 12, he would just jump in where the class was and catch up on the next rotation. It appears that there were two rotations of history, one done in the younger years and one done in the older years (maybe once in the first six years of school, then repeated in the last six years?) so that, by the time a student graduated, he had a thorough familiarity with the pageant of world history in his mind. In the high school years, literature, architecture, art, poems were matched to the period of history being studied as much as possible.
It is not good to begin and end history with the study of one's own country. It encourages insular, arrogant thinking. When power is increasingly in the hands of the masses (as it is in a democracy), then it is necessary that the masses be familiar with history. That's why it's so important to make sure that all social classes receive a good education. Uneducated masses tend to result in unrest and may result in revolution. Education isn't just the means to a good job for the individual, but is for the protection of the nation.
Literature––In Charlotte's schools, literature was matched to the historical period studied, except in Form I (ages 6-9). Form I read fairy tales, Aesop's fables, Parables of Nature, Pilgrim's Progress, and Lang's Tales of Troy and Greece. They also used heroic tales such as The Iliad. The difficult names weren't a hindrance––in fact, children love the beauty of the long, unusual names. Classics such as Kingsley's Water Babies, Alice in Wonderland, and Kipling's Just So Stories are great for this age. Children started reading their own books at the end of this period (in what seems to be the equivalent of third grade).
Form II (which sounds like fourth, fifth and sixth grades) was a leap in difficulty in the calibre of books. Bulfinch's Age of Fable, Goldsmith's poems, and Stevenson's Kidnapped were some of the books used. Students read some of their own books, but harder books like Shakespeare, Scott's Rob Roy, and Gulliver's Travels were read aloud to students. By the end of that period, students were reading almost all of their own books. With such a variety of really great books, there was something for everyone––gifted children extracted more, but even slower children got something from it.
Forms III and IV (grades 8-9) read a History of English Literature, Shakespeare, and Scott's Waverley novels. Form III might read Goldsmith's or Burns' poems. Form IV might read Milton's L'Allegro, Il Penseroso, Lycidas, Pope's Rape of the Lock, or Gray's poems. The purpose of their reading was not to memorize dates, but to give "a sense of the spaciousness" for the historical period. Then their minds might be filled with pleasant things to think of in dreary days and they would have examples on which to learn how to form wise opinions which would help them in assessing the current affairs of their own society.
Forms V and VI (high school) also read literature that mostly corresponded to the historical period. So, depending on the history, they might read Pope's Essay on Man, Carlyle's Essay on Burns, Frankfort Moore's Jessamy Bride, Goldsmith's Citizen of the World (edited), Thackeray's The Virginians, the contemporary poets from an anthology, Boswell, The Battle of the Books, Macaulay's Essays on Goldsmith, Johnson, Pitt; the contemporary poets from The Oxford Book of Verse, and She Stoops to Conquer. They read about the same amount as any other high schooler, but, because the books were more interesting and because they had learned to pay attention and narrate, they retained more of it.
Morals and Economics––Citizenship was related to the historical period, just like literature. In the earliest years, children formed conclusions about morals for themselves from their stories. But in form II, citizenship became an actual scheduled subject and was learned by allowing stories such as Plutarch's Lives, Mrs. Beesley's Stories from the History of Rome or Macaulay's Lays of Ancient Rome to inspire children to be good citizens. After reading and narrating, the teacher would ask questions like, "In what ways did Pericles make Athens beautiful? How did he persuade the people to help him?" to help plant the notion into children's minds that making your environment beautiful is a good thing, without any lectures or nagging. Or, "How did Pericles manage the people in time of war lest they should force him to act against his own judgment?" helped children understand the difficult situations that politicians were sometimes under. Then she might have asked about their own leaders so that they would see how they also could be good citizens in their own time and place.
Should children only learn about the lives of excellent and worthy people? No, because they also need bad examples so they know what not to do. Children (born with minds fully capable of making judgments and able to figure things out!) have no problem discerning which of the actions of story characters are evil; they don't need us to shield that from them or even to explain and moralize it for them. Also, characters who are all good are not realistic and bore children; they need people like themselves who are capable of both good and bad and don't always make the right choices. They do extract the lessons from that in their own minds.
Even so, they should be protected from the truly base things of life. Even the newspaper is a little too harsh and realistic for them.
What about books that might be very useful, but have something in them not fit for children? Can we believe that, "to the pure, all things are pure"? Can we teach them to handle such things by teaching them the importance of keeping their minds pure with a book such as CM's Ourselves (Volume 4 of her series)? It's best if we can use expurgated versions of some books. If that isn't possible, such books can be read aloud so the teacher can clean up and edit as she goes. Even "processes of nature" (presumably dealing with reproduction) in plants and animals should be discussed in such a way that they don't plant impure thoughts into a child's mind. But the best safeguard against such trouble is to avoid an empty mind. Give the child plenty of really interesting and useful to think about and do, and he won't have idle time to let his thoughts linger on impure thoughts.
It's not enough to tell children to be good. They need to know in what specific things to be watchful, and that every area is a chance for them to choose to do right or wrong. Ourselves was Charlotte's attempt at writing a book to help children with that. But the most influential thing they will have is the stories they read and find examples in.
Composition––In Form I (grades 1-3), composition isn't really a subject but is done orally (through narrations?) Although some teachers put a lot of focus on composition exercises that teach formation of sentences, those don't help and may discourage the desire to write––in the same way that drills to practice chewing technique might decrease enjoyment of eating.
Composition is the art of expressing oneself, and even toddlers do this very naturally––they're always telling about things that interest them, although we may not understand their gibberish. By age 6, children can tell about things pretty well, and if an adult wrote down their narrations of stories they've heard, there would be an impressive collection with more details than grown-ups would remember.
Young children (age six) should narrate a paragraph at a time because they need time to remember and compose their mind to the task. Children 7 and 8 can narrate a chapter at a time. No corrections or interruptions are allowed.
Children don't need instruction about beginning sentences with a capital letter and ending with punctuation; they will pick up these kinds of details from their reading. They should read books, and the author should be left to communicate to the child without our interference––we don't need to explain and describe words or phrases unless the child asks us to.
Form II (grades 4-6) students were reading more books on a wider variety of subjects, so their essays were more colorful as they narrated favorite parts of their schoolbooks. They wrote or told about literature, Shakespeare, history, scripture, poetry. Composition was thus a natural part of every other subject rather than a separate unrelated lesson. Everyone likes to tell what they know, so it was no struggle to get students to write their narrations. Children are creative enough to write engagingly about their books, but are willing to let the teacher do their thinking for them if she relies on a contrived curriculum to come up with writing exercises.
Forms III and IV (grades 7-8) wrote short essays or short poems about their reading. This was still narration, but in a more specific form. Students never had to write about something that a book hadn't warmed their interest for.
More formal lessons about how to write were given to high-school aged students, but not too much. This was done by suggesting one or two improvements in a student's written work. By this time, most students who have had a CM education will have formed their own style naturally. And since they've had real material to write about, they won't have learned to fill a paper with just empty words that sound impressive, but they will be actually saying something. Some of their assignments might be writing a letter to the editor of the newspaper about a current event, creating dialogs for characters from a term's literature, poems and essays about current events, or a patriotic play.
Besides learning to put their thoughts on paper, writing like this helps students understand how authors write, which can make them better readers. And being able to articulate on real subjects will make them better citizens who are more useful to their community.
Samples of writing from CM's students are included in the chapter.
Languages––English is spoken in phrases and sentences, not separate words, so children should start grammar by learning the main parts of sentences––what we're talking about (subject clause) and what we say about it (verb clause). All the student needs to know to begin with is that a sentence must have both parts to make sense. Without those two parts, it's just a meaningless string of words. The abstract concept of grammar escapes children. No matter how talented the teacher is, their minds can't grasp it. When the child becomes comfortable with that concept, he can learn that the thing talked about is called the "subject."
By fourth grade, CM's students were picking up grammar concepts from their French lessons. They would give simple narrations in French of a paragraph the teacher had read to them. She would help the children translate it so they understood it. Being required to narrate in French is more effective at helping children learn a language than memorizing phrases. They also learned French songs and fables. This continued so that, by high school, they could read and narrate French literature. A native French speaker would also read aloud to older students as many as 9 pages without interruption, and the students would narrate in French. Using Charlotte's method of narration, students were fluent in French after less than three hours of lessons per week––quite a feat!
Art––Ideas abound about how to teach children to draw. Teaching mechanics isn't effective because art is of the spirit. Appreciation of art is not learned by knowing the technical aspect of reproducing what the eye sees, but by reverencing well-made pictures. Therefore, CM's students would study six prints per term, one at a time. They would hear a little about the artist's life and what set his pictures apart, but the focus of art lessons was taking in every detail of the picture itself. Then the picture was turned over so the students couldn't see it, and they narrated it by telling about details of the picture from memory. Students typically remembered enough to keep the discussion going for a half hour. In this way, the picture became etched in the children's minds forever as a permanent legacy.
After a few years of this, children would be familiar with enough paintings to look forward to a trip to the museum to find a painting they knew. This is the best way to help children enjoy a visit to an art gallery. Seeing common details in art opens our eyes to the beauty that's right in front of us, but that we often don't even notice.
Children were not made to endure lectures about "schools of art" and style until much later, possibly as late as high school. The children were allowed to let the artist speak directly to them by simply viewing the painting.
High school aged students might be required to roughly duplicate from memory a painting in watercolors as best they could. But this was done for the purpose of narrating, not to teach skill by copying. Copying paintings might lessen the student's reverence for the art.
Drawing was taught by gifted artists, and children drew in nature notebooks and would illustrate readings, but more for narration and field study than for artistic skill. Students were taught a bit about architecture, and worked with clay and handicrafts.
Music appreciation was a later addition to Charlotte's curriculum after she heard of a mother playing classics at home and realized that listening to music would add joy to her students' lives.
Section III: The Knowledge Of The Universe pg. 218
Science––Huxley (perhaps Thomas Huxley, 1825-1895, whose lectures and essays as well as lectures on Science and Education are online) thought that science should focus on common things. Charlotte felt that even science should be taught from literary sources––meaning interesting books with an emphasis on words and descriptions rather than pictures and diagrams.
The principles of general science are simple, yet profound and can be taught largely with literary books. The detailed, technical aspects that require graphs and diagrams can be learned later if the student has a desire to go on to specialized science, but for most students, the basics are sufficient.
Charlotte said there weren't a lot of suitable texts, but there were enough to use for school. She liked The Sciences with its "explanations of common items and experiments by an American" (Edward Holden was the American.), Life and Her Children by Arabella Buckley, Madam How and Lady Why by Charles Kingsley, and The Changing Year as a supplement to students' own observations.
Form III students (7th grade) could make rough sketches of ditches, hedges, shorelines with the kinds of plants native to that environment. They knew technical names for plant parts (stamen, calyx, pistil) and how plants were fertilized. They knew constellations. This knowledge was obtained first-hand, by being outdoors, not by memorizing lists in books. Learning about nature with plant lists and bird lists was an ongoing study that students never stopped, with other fields of science added every term.
Page 220 begins a list of questions that Form IV (grades 9/10) were expected to answer, which will give an idea how much they were learning. There are questions covering physiology, geography, geology, biology, botany, astronomy because it was felt that everyone should have knowledge of how the world works. In fact, that was more important than preparing for college courses and tests because only the top students went on to college, but every student needed to know something about the universe he lived in. Charlotte liked Some Wonders of Matter by Bishop Mercer, and Ethics Of the Dust by John Ruskin (a book about crystals?) as high school texts. Nature notebooks that began in earlier years were continued because students enjoyed recording what they saw.
Geography––Geography has suffered from our desire to teach only what we deem "useful." We have replaced the wonder and beauty of the earth's surfaces with lists of exports and cities to memorize. Children aren't yet obsessed with profit, and don't care about those dry facts––they'd rather imagine themselves on the mountains, or seeing the unusual sights of a place.
In Form II (grades 4-6) children should be familiar with the map of their country––where its rivers, regions and interesting cities are. They should learn interesting things about places they see on a map––enough to imagine the heat of the coal mines, or battles that took place in its seas. These are things they have read about in their history and literature books.
In Form III (grades 7-8), students branched out––Charlotte's students studied maps of Europe and the countries around England. They began with the country's seas and shores and worked their way inland, learning about the diversity of the land and its people. After such study, they knew such facts as: "three rivers which flow into the Baltic" and "What lands form the southern and eastern shores of the Mediterranean?"
Information about places was presented with interesting literature that took students on a virtual tour, pointing out various interesting features of the place told with colorful, descriptive language. By this kind of reading and correlating mapwork, students were able to figure out what was exported and which were the main cities. There was no need to memorize lists. Charlotte did not like to use pictures; she wanted children to picture places in their own imagination from literary sources.
Older students studied other continents. A study of Africa would include Egypt, the Nile River, The Sahara desert, The Barbary States, South Africa, Cape Colony. They also followed the currents events of the place they were studying by reading from newspapers.
Some geography books used in her schools: Seeley's Expansion of England, The Peoples and Problems of India, Geikie's Elementary Lessons in Physical Geography, Mort's Practical Geography, and Kipling's Letters of Travel.
Mathematics––If the brain needs to have its faculties developed, then focusing on math as a tool to train the ability to reason makes sense. But we know that children are born with all the capability they need; their minds are complete and don't need our exercises to make them ready. They will develop according to God's design whether we interfere or not. But math has another function––there is a beauty in its absolute truth. 2 plus 2 will always equal four; it's a truth that is not relative. And some amount of hard work, as math can offer, is good for the mind.
But a curriculum that makes math its top priority at the exclusion of other subjects will be unbalanced and encourage rigid exactness in problem solving rather than creativity. Schools tend to focus on math because its exactness makes it easy to test. But too much math may make students focus on the small problem in front of them and miss the bigger picture; they aren't encouraged to look "outside the box." Some educators make a case for math as being part of every other facet of life, such as theory of war––but that is misleading. Understanding math does not equal understanding of war theory, or history, or any other subject. It's sometimes used to measure things, but is not really related to other subjects beyond that, and does not make all students broader and more intelligent all around.
Charlotte makes the case that mathematics is worthy to be studied for its own sake. All students should learn about all subjects if they are to be well-educated, unless the student is a born math genius who lives and breathes math. But the average student should not be held back by a difficulty with math. It does students a disservice to value only those worthy who are good at math, and it causes colleges to overlook students who are gifted in other areas.
The key to inspiring students in math is to have a gifted teacher like Euclid who can instill great ideas. Every student should learn math, but math shouldn't take up too much of a student's efforts when there are so many other subjects he needs to know about. The ability to focus attention serves students well in learning math.
Physical Development and Handicrafts––Charlotte didn't think it was necessary to write about physical education and handicrafts because her schools were doing what was common then to all schools.
Chapter 1––A Liberal Education In Elementary Schools pg. 235
An education that teaches about varied subjects is every child's right and enhances their lives with virtue that lasts beyond their school years. Such an education must include the humanities––learning about people––their ideas, their history, their literature, their artifacts, and their values. Charlotte's PNEU schools were successful at teaching humanities even to children from illiterate homes, while not neglecting other subjects.
Many schools spend time trying to develop a child's mind rather than feed it––training his reason and judgment and ability to think. Children already have those abilities and just need the food of ideas to let them do their work. It is like trying to get the digestive system into shape by exercising the esophagus, the tongue, the swallowing ability, when all that's needed is food. All of the demonstrating, lecturing, summarizing that teachers do kills the student's desire to know things beyond weekend games.
The mind naturally wants to find out about things because that's how it grows. Teachers don't need to dissect knowledge into fun, easy portions to get students to learn. They only need to be the guide, introducing students to the material and discussing it with the students, who have minds as fit as the teacher's.
Teachers do a disservice to children if they regard them as raw material to be shaped into people. Children are already people and just need information and experience to meet their potential. Children have an amazing capacity to feel deep sadness, abandoned love, and confidence. Their learning isn't limited to what they see and hear from the teacher; their minds are always working, always thinking, even when the teacher has finished her lesson. It is what goes on in the mysterious thoughts of a child that constitutes his learning, not the teacher's contrived efforts. Ideas from books are all that's needed to give the busy mind something to work on.
What kind of knowledge does the growing mind need? Knowledge of God, of man (humanities) and of the world (science). All of these can be taught from books that men have written––beautiful poetic books. Humanities can encompass anything written in the form of literature where the author's mind appeals to the reader's mind. It isn't until the child works on it, reflects on it, thinks about it, that he learns, and no amount of lecturing can do that for him. Narration requires the child's mind to work on the information by forcing him to remember it, sort it and articulate it.
Children's minds need knowledge, teachers don't need to manipulate students into receiving it. If teachers just present the knowledge, the other things they strive to develop, like character, will take care of themselves. How does this happen? When teachers recognize what they are capable of, children rise to the occasion and put forth the effort to learn. Teachers sometimes clarify and help, but it's the student who does the work needed to learn.
1000-2000 pages were read per term, but only once––there was no time for re-reading, so the student had to pay attention the first time. Students were tested with narration, either oral or written. Students typically did well on these exams and were able to articulate and spell well. Exams were 20-60 pages of written narrations, which included 'substantives:' proper names, places and dates the child had remembered from the term's reading. Students narrated with ease, even when asked to do so in poetic form!
Regular class time during the term was spent mostly simply reading and narrating. In elementary years, the teacher would read a couple of paragraphs and some children would narrate. Since students were expected to extract knowledge, the teacher would read slowly and clearly. Reading aloud was sometimes the only option because there was only one copy of the more expensive books available. It might take 3 years to get through one entire book with slow, careful reading. This made careful listening very important. No notes were taken and there was no homework.
Children both from privileged homes and poor families did well with this method. This made Charlotte optimistic that education of this kind might bring the poor up to a better social class by giving them the mind power to help themselves. Perhaps education might finally bring equality to all people. At any rate, Charlotte felt that Jesus' command to "feed My lambs" included education as a child's birthright.
Lists of rules and dates do not feed children's minds; children instinctively know what they need and they will reject anything that won't grow their minds. Many educational models are the type that children reject; they don't recognize what children are capable of when allowed to let their curiosity lead them to really learn. Children already have "power of attention, avidity for knowledge, clearness of thought, nice discrimination in books," and don't need teachers to secure their attention. They just need literary books like Pilgrims Progress. Children as a whole tend to be unable to narrate from the wrong book, yet their personal tastes are not a reliable guide because they are as likely to enjoy twaddle as they do junk food.
It is tragic when the very place where a person should discover the joy of learning that should delight him all his life––school––becomes a drudgery because the wrong methods are used. Instead, Charlotte's method could benefit students from all walks of life and with varying degrees of intelligence.
Chapter 2––A Liberal Education In Secondary Schools pg. 250
Even in Charlotte's day, public education was criticized and people thought that money in the form of higher salaries for teachers would fix it. But it isn't money that's needed; teachers have been effective with very little money. The problem is that teachers are forced to teach what students don't care about (dry facts, dead languages, higher math), and games and tricks have to be used to make learning palatable. Yet devoted teachers haven't given up, they still see the value of education.
Students have things they want to know, but teaching it with dull lectures turns them off to learning.
The human mind is mysterious and hard to pin down, yet real education won't happen unless teachers reach the students' inner minds. Every student should learn about God, with the Bible as his curriculum. Every student should learn about men from history, language and art. And students should learn about the world around them from nature study and the order of mathematics.
One method says that if a student's mind is opened with one thing, like math or science, he will go on to get more knowledge, so schools should pick one subject and stick to that. Gifted students who excel at that one thing will do well, but most students will suffer.
Charlotte's method benefited all children, not just the gifted ones. She harnessed the ability to focus attention that all children have so that students didn't need to be bribed to learn with prizes and grades. The mind has amazing capabilities that may surprise us all if students can only get into the habit of applying their attention. Children want to know and don't need rewards, or games that make learning fun––when given ideas presented in literary form, children will learn to satisfy their curiosity. Many subjects can be covered in a curriculum without confusing the child, but the information must be presented in interesting literary form, or else the mind won't take it. Even a hands-on subject like nature study is enhanced by reading good books.
It's typical in most schools for students to read their lessons for an hour and not remember a bit of it. Teachers get them to take notes and memorize lists, but it doesn't help. Students' minds refuse to be forced to learn, and their inner mind goes on holiday during school. But if they have an engaging text to read, their attention will be there with no effort. And if the student is made to sort it and articulate it, he will remember it. Adults tend to sort and recite to themselves when they want to remember something; narration forces the student to go through this process.
Youths can remember what they read if their minds have been trained to expect only one chance to read so that they give it their full attention the first time. When teachers lecture and go over and repeat material, they unwittingly train children to tune out because they know it doesn't matter if they don't get it all this time, it will all be reviewed later. But if a student pays attention the first time and then narrates it, exam results show that, months later, even with no review, they still remember.
Try it yourself––read something, then when you're trying to get to sleep that night, go over it in your mind and see what you remember. Although you may be frustrated at what you forgot, the parts you do remember and go over will be in your memory forever. In the same way, what students assimilate and reproduce by articulating will be fixed in their memory forever. Meanwhile, the student is receiving ideas that his reason and imagination will feed on in ways we can't know.
In Charlotte's day (and ours), the physical brain rather than the spiritual being of the person was the focus of education. The object is to get information in as efficiently as possible. But the inner workings of students are mysteries to us; we can't insert specific information to get a desired result because we have no idea how each student's mind will respond to the information. Teachers should not use their influence to dictate what the child must extract by lecturing and asking leading questions. Instead, we should give lots of stories with literary quality and let the students' minds work it out for themselves, and each student will take something different from it, resulting in varied narrations. The key is that students must expect to be held accountable for what they read by narrating. As simple as it sounds, narrating after one reading is the magic that makes it work.
Most of us have a pet topic that we can talk at length about, but we can't talk intelligently outside of that area. By going through whole books one time and narrating, students can be knowledgeable about many subjects and be able to talk intelligently at length about lots of things, knowing more than vague impressions. Charlotte lists specific names and places that her students used in their term exams to illustrate this.
Suppose a teacher is convinced that students already have all the faculties they need to deal with information, that students don't need teachers' lectures to tell them what to learn, that they don't need text books and contrived lessons, that rote memorization isn't really learning, that lots of varied subjects give a broader base of education, that even average students can learn from books if only one reading is allowed and narration is required––what about character?
If students are taking less time to learn the basics because of the improved efficiency that attention affords, then more time is left for peripherals like art, music, and character-building classic literature––and, if all students are doing this across the country and learning about the same art, music and literature, it becomes real cultural literacy and shared experience that can bond citizens and give a foundation from which to share ideas. "How persuasively shall we speak to those who know, and therefore do not present the dead front of opposition––the natural resource of ignorance!" Citizens will be inspired by the same examples of heroism, patriotism and kindness from the same books, will have cried over the same sacrifices, loved the same characters. (To accomplish this, classics must be available in English! Reading in original languages can be reserved for elite schools.)
Charlotte mentions Joan and Peter, a Story of an Education, by H. G. Wells as an illustration of the pitfalls against making academic success the goal of education rather than knowledge which inspires character and high ideals.
By letting the classics speak for themselves and letting each student gain what his own mind needs to, teachers can leave students alone to learn themselves––no more spending all their time with the gifted students at the expense of the average ones. The books provide the lessons, and no games are needed to keep classes interesting.
Children who come home excitedly chatting about the stories they have read will narrate to (and therefore educate) their parents and household servants, and family conversations will become more meaningful. This is what is to be gained from a generous, magnanimous education.
Charlotte's PNEU schools chose curriculum wisely because they knew that even the youngest children could appreciate and narrate from great literature that was read to them––even if they hadn't yet learned to read and write, or came from impoverished backgrounds with no prior schooling. Teachers who have a vision for education as a means to truly enhance people, rather as a way to get them a job, should remember that it's never too early or too late to introduce classic literature.
Students learn to speak and write well from reading well-written books and narrating, not from grammar and comprehension worksheets. Narrating in front of the class will help students get used to public speaking. Charlotte's students did oral narrations from age six to eighteen.
Schools desiring the kind of success of PNEU schools must understand a few principles and stick to them––admitting that narration or nature study is a good idea and tacking it onto another curriculum won't yield the same results because Charlotte's educational model is more than a few methods, it's an entire philosophy. Even using her booklist won't yield her results unless her principles are followed. Teachers must let go of the notion that students need great books deciphered by a teacher to know what to learn from them; students are quite capable of dealing directly with the author by reading the real book for themselves. Teachers are not the disseminators of knowledge––books are.
Children need books at home because they must get into the habit of reading, not just during school lessons, but in their leisure, and they must have access to their school books because they need to learn to extract information from books themselves. Good readers become good spellers because they see words spelled correctly in their books, and having books (not textbooks, but real books) at home gives more opportunity to read.
Teachers should have some freedom in choosing school books. Children need guidance because they don't always choose what's best, they often choose what's easiest. Books should be chosen in all the subjects children should know about, with details as follows:
Knowing God should be the goal of any religious curriculum. In Charlotte's schools, the teacher explained customs of the times and perhaps showed a map of the area covered before reading the passage for the lesson––and the text was always the Bible itself. The Old Testament was included because the New Testament should be understood in the context of the Old Testament.
History gives us a proper understanding of our own place in the grand scheme of things, and gives us examples of heroism that inspire patriotism and help us avoid "the intolerable individualism of modern education." Historical information from Biblical times can help students understand scripture in its cultural relevance.
The home country's history (for Charlotte's students, that was England) was studied with the best book at hand, and literary essays supplemented when that was lacking. Literature could be correlated to the historical period studied to help learn more of the culture and politics of the time period. Every historical era has some literary genius whose work should be used, such as Dante, Milton or Shakespeare.
Composition isn't a separate subject but is learned by reading and narrating. Civics is intertwined with history and literature.
Science was also taught with literary books. Teachers in Charlotte's day were disillusioned with science textbooks, so they were trying a method of letting students make their own discoveries. But Charlotte didn't think the baby needed to be thrown out with the bathwater––it is true that textbooks are dull, but good books should be used along with drawing from nature observation.
Art, music appreciation and foreign language were taught as discussed in previous chapters.
Charlotte's curriculum related subjects to each other to some extent, but she wasn't obsessed with getting every detail to relate to everything else. Since people will learn what they want to know, her curriculum taught things that were interesting for their own sake. She did not 'teach the test,' but taught to satisfy students' curiosity.
Secondary schools influence students for life, and the students coming from our schools will soon be running the country. Adopting Charlotte Mason's method in all schools will enhance and broaden each student and enlarge his mind, which will be beneficial for the nation as a whole.
People who only know the confines of their own existence and current society are self-focused and create narrow cultures driven by the latest events, but exposure to classics from other ages makes a society more outward-focused, because they see themselves as part of a broad pageant of history rather than as existing in a bubble. This encourages them to think great thoughts, which build character better than any character curriculum designed to tell students what they should do because thinking, rather than outward behavior, results in real inner character. Getting students to think great thoughts should be the goal of education.
Chapter 3––The Scope of Continuation Schools pg. 279
After Napoleon, people learned that wrong thinking and ignorance leads to war. So Prussia educated students in philosophy. Western Europe (Germany) also began an intellectual revolution, but that evolved into a technical utilitarian education, which helped the country's productivity, but did nothing to make the people moral. Charlotte mentions a "Dr Kirsehensteiner" who wanted students to be taught to be of service to their country (does she mean German education reformer Georg Kerschensteiner, who, according to this, "wanted to educate working-class children with manual work because he believed that a more abstract approach to learning would not fulfill the socially relevant virtues of behaviour and performance"?). In the US, Dewey pushed for similar humanist education, and Charlotte remarks that immorality was rampant in these countries.
A utilitarian education is focused on giving the youth skills to get ahead in the world and be of practical use to his society, but does nothing to enlarge the mind. Only wide reading can do that. Adults hunger for more out of life and clamor for adult education classes. How useful it would be to train students to educate themselves so that they can continue their education by reading even after graduation. A truly good education should do no less than help students understand God, mankind and society, and themselves.
Germany excelled at trivialities like making shutters and springs, but in major matters like war, it was the broader-educated British who had character, and though German goods were cheaper, people desired English things because the quality was better.
Denmark began higher education for adults after the Napoleonic wars. Rather than attempt to teach people to be productive, their schools emphasized life, admiration for the beautiful and good, and Christianity. Students in those schools were industrious, but were also readers and thinkers who could discuss important topics. They had things to talk about in the evenings around the fire with their families.
People whose minds are full of great thoughts from art, music and literature won't be as susceptible to thoughts of discontent when radicals try to stir up trouble with issues such as labor unrest. The example of Denmark is to be imitated more than that of Germany. Good character and right thinking come from an education in humanities that emphasizes knowing God. Denmark's schools were for adults, but youth are more difficult to teach.
Schools have students for 8 hours a day. Having them do what they do in their off hours and what they'll be doing for the rest of their lives––working at a trade––seems like a waste of that time. Why should schools pay to train employees? School hours should be spent developing the mind, and that doesn't mean pouring our own opinions into to them and telling them what to think to make them model citizens in our own image. It doesn't mean pouring in a pre-planned package of information that awards the recipient the title of 'educated' as if the child was a bucket to be filled. It doesn't mean making the child an expert in one subject so his mind might learn how to learn other subjects, as if the child were a machine that needed to be primed the first time in order to be made useful for its task.
The mind is much more than a bucket or a machine, it is a living thing that needs ideas to nourish it. Given its proper diet, it grows in mysterious ways of its own and thinks, and reasons, and learns simply because that's what God designed it to do. Students need knowledge of God from scripture, knowledge of mankind from history, art and geography, and knowledge of the world from nature observation and understanding of physical laws like gravity and physics.
Training the senses does not feed the mind, and lectures are tuned out. Students only learn what they assimilate themselves by reflecting on ideas within the recesses of their own private minds––which is why Charlotte says, "there is no education but self-education."
Even average minds grow when fed great ideas. Charlotte's ideas seem so simple and so obvious that it's easy to think, "I do a little narration and a bit of nature study, so my student must be getting a CM education." But we forget that everyone has a curiosity that craves knowledge, and everyone has the natural ability to focus their attention and Charlotte's methods can be trusted to work when followed fully.
Knowledge presented in a literary form (interesting story or text) is naturally and easily assimilated, and should be made available on all the subjects that people wonder about. Each person should get this literary presentation first-hand, not related by a third party. Even young underprivileged children can listen with interest to real books and tell them back, and this exercise of telling back stamps the material into their memory while forcing them to digest, understand, sort and recreate it in order to narrate––and this results in "the act of knowing" so that they 'own' the knowledge.
Charlotte's exam results from her PUS homeschool students showed that even disadvantaged children could do as well as anyone else if forced to own knowledge through required narrations garnered from literary materials. A list of specific names, events and places from real exams by students who were not the most gifted is given on page 294, showing that students were remembering many details from the term's books. This kind of education in the humanities is not only effective but affordable, too––no more expensive than the cost of some classic books. And such an education that provides love of learning, knowledge of so many things, dutiful service and wise thinking really is more utilitarian to the nation than the so-called 'utilitarian education!' Citizens will share more of a bond if all students are reading the same classics and can share common experience with the same books.
Utilitarian education breeds ignorance, but an education in the humanities is the cure.
Chapter 4––The Basis of National Strength pg. 300
The common man, though often heroic when it comes to labor unrest, lacks imagination and reflection because of a lack in his education, and tends to have a mob mentality where everyone has the same interests (such as watching football, or watching the same TV shows) rather than individual diversity.
Teachers are as dedicated as ever, so why is education failing the average man? Because current educational methods undervalue children and undervalue knowledge, relying on rewards to bribe children to learn facts that don't nourish the mind any more than candy nourishes the body. Or students are trained only in those skills they'll need in their jobs rather than educated in things that delight the inner spirit and satisfy curiosity and wonder––knowledge purely for the sake of knowledge that enlarges the mind and results in character. A person taught to love knowledge will find many things to delight the mind and will have something extra to enhance life, and maybe a mental escape from the humdrum life of a menial job.
What is knowledge? It is more than memorized facts and information. It is ideas, it is that spark of life that passes from one mind to another, inspiring reflection and resulting in some outward behavior or action. A really great idea might inspire a person to strive for excellence, or pursue a worthy goal, or to be a better person. This kind of life-giving spark of ideas is found mostly in books written by great thinkers who had noble thoughts to pass on.
Students need original books about a wide variety of topics, and lots of them. The books must be challenging enough to require some effort in order to stimulate the mind to receive nourishment, in the same way that the smell of food stimulates the body and prepares it to digest food. Books that are too easy will be skimmed too briefly on the surface to be internalized.
Books that are made easier for students by diluting and explaining aren't acknowledging the abilities of children. If narration is required after only one reading, students will focus and make sure to get it the first time; they don't need comprehension questions and lectures to tell them what they were supposed to get from their reading. Charlotte's students were reading from Pilgrim's Progress, Shakespeare, and Plutarch's Lives.
Charlotte felt that every child older than 12 should seem more educated than same-age peers and should love books. Students who use lots of books and narration are more enthusiastic and sympathetic than students who get less books and more lectures. Napoleon is a worthy example of this––he was not a typical scholar, but read widely––and he conquered the world! Queen Louisa of Prussia made the education of her people a priority, and the result was the German Empire. A "noble view of education" exalts a nation, and Germany's later abandonment of humanities resulted in disaster. A great nation must instill character in their youth by allowing it to mature slowly under the influence of wide reading.
II––Letters, Knowledge and Virtue
A mother wrote to Charlotte with an anecdote about her daughters. They had been raised on great classic books and decided to take up Latin instead of math and geography. Because they had developed the ability to focus their attention and were used to classics, they had the mental discipline to learn more Latin in 6 months than their mother had learned in 6 years. With good habits of attention, more learning can take less time.
Many think classics such as Scripture and Greek literature take too much time in a curriculum, but they don't have to. And, really, no school can afford to deprive students of great literature and knowledge of the ancient cultures. Such knowledge helps students understand that previous peoples had wise, noble ideas and that current society is just one small part of a vast world that spans time and space. It keeps people humble rather than arrogant about their own culture.
It is a mistake to train all students to be intellectual scholars; not all are gifted in that area. But every student should receive training in virtue from reading classics. Those destined for scholarships will want to read classics in the original languages, but what about average students? Scholars go over the same material again and again, but with proper focus, students can get it the first time so that what top scholars need to pass an exam can be learned by less gifted students in much less time than one might think.
Charlotte suggested that a test might be devised that would "safeguard Letters, ancient and modern, without putting too high a premium upon scholarship." All students would receive a basic education in the humanities that included enough classics to open a field of interest that would remain for a lifetime. Literature for school would be read for enjoyment, not analyzed to death. Books would be assigned to be read in school and out of school, during vacations and weekends, with oral or written narration required. A country needs to have all of its citizens well-educated, not just a handful of elite scholars.
III––Knowledge, Reason, and Rebellion
For all of England's interest and research in education, Charlotte's generation was turning out students who were irresponsible. People who had been educated in the school system were not models of integrity because of ignorance in their belief that reason is infallible and can replace knowledge.
Man makes up his own mind which course of action to take, but he needs knowledge to choose correctly, because any course of action may be justified in a man's mind if he looks for it. It's human nature to logically justify our own actions.
In past generations, simple people had only to observe what everyone else was doing and follow local discussion and sermons to know what was right and wrong for him and his family. But labor unions in Charlotte's day––and media in ours––makes individual men's opinions carry more momentum, so we each have to consider our opinions carefully. Are we simply being carried along by popular opinion, or have we thought out what we believe?
If great thoughts are expressed and passed on to future generations through words, then words must have great power, and it is a tragedy that many students don't understand their power well enough to want to articulate well. Letters and words are the vehicle of education. Words are even the usual vehicle of the gospel message.
The wonder of science and the humanity of the men who made science history may move us, but emphasizing hands-on science at the expense of reading is a mistake. Science for its own sake fascinates, but doesn't make us better people in and of itself. Reading about the trials of scientists from literary sources is great, but finding well-written books isn't easy.
The problems facing society are partly from a lack of inspiration and vision in people––too often, money is the motivation for pursuing a career, and looking forward to weekends is the highest anticipation. The kind of labor unrest that leads to tyrannical unions and socialism may stem from the shallowness and short-sightedness that utilitarian education promotes, and often, spiritual concerns are neglected when these become the causes that men work for.
It is everyone's duty to understand the concerns in their community, because, even though all the concerns may not directly affect us, we all have opinions that could influence others––we might get others on a higher plane and thinking of what's right and best for everyone. If changes must be made, we might help those changes so that things are fair for everyone (and possibly avert the kind of mob rule that turned the French Revolution into a nightmare!) It is important for all citizens to have knowledge with which to sift and weigh public opinion.
IV––New and Old Conceptions of Knowledge
Knowledge is mysterious and indefinable; it isn't the same thing as information that can be deposited into a mind and then stored as a reference. The mind hungers to really know and understand things, and only what the mind actively works on will be stored in the memory. The rest just vanishes away and is forgotten. Those who have been educated merely to store facts may tend to apply reasoning to statistics and not use wise judgment in drawing conclusions.
In past ages, men assumed that even secular knowledge––literature, math, science, etc., were divinely inspired, even when that knowledge came to us via secular minds. Everything was tied together––the cardinal virtues of temperance, virtue, prudence and justice relied on evangelical virtues and intellect, and vice versa. God plants ideas into the ears of men who will hear, regardless of their religion, at the time when He deems society ready for the idea. All knowledge is therefore sacred. And the mind feeds on all kinds of knowledge. We can't pick and choose which fields to know about and which to throw out, we need them all. And we dare not choose to limit the fields of knowledge we expose children to. Children need to know secular things just as much as they need to know scripture; if the mind is deprived of knowledge, it weakens just as our bodies would if they were deprived of an entire food group.
The kind of learning that happens in many schools is not the same as the knowledge that makes more of a person by enlarging his mind and imparting wisdom and integrity. The world needs more of such persons rather than students who only learn dates and facts by rote memory.
One educational theory in Charlotte's day said that it didn't matter what a child learned as much as how he learned it––if the child could become an expert in math, his brain would be primed to pick up other knowledge in other fields, and he would have learned how to go through the process of learning. But that makes no more sense than saying that what a child eats doesn't matter as much as how he eats it––you might as well feed him sawdust, Charlotte says, so that his body will understand how to process raw material and he can go on to eat whatever he wants.
Rousseau said that children get all the knowledge they need first-hand, through their senses and experiences. But that discounts all the knowledge of past generations that has been passed down to us in books.
Another educational trend in Charlotte's day was making learning fun with dances, plays and activities. That may make school enjoyable, but doesn't do much to pass on the knowledge of great minds found in books.
What students need is wisdom and understanding, the ability to recognize erroneous opinions, prejudices and shallow ideals. Students need to understand 'the science of relations'––how things relate to everything else.
V––Education and the Fullness of Life
What is the aim of life? To be free to make choices and express oneself––even at the expense of the rights and comfort of others? Life is much more than that, and Charlotte's schools were helping students to realize their potential and live full lives by teaching them to find joy in knowledge, nature, literature and art. Every career person should have an interest apart from their job that affords pleasure and personal growth.
Charlotte's schools also encouraged physical activity––swimming, dancing, hockey––that might add enjoyment and fitness to a person his whole life. Crafts were taught so that students might enjoy years of being able to create truly useful things and carry on trades that were becoming lost arts. The goal is for people to live satisfying lives that help others rather than being a burden to others. Charlotte's schools exposed students to a vast number of fascinating fields of interest so that each might find the ones that would add fulfillment to his own life and make him less reliant on others.
Schools tend to expose students to too few topics; a person whose mind has been opened to whole worlds of ideas won't have years enough to find out about all he wants to know; such a person will never be bored or grow stagnant.
Books provide the best way to introduce ideas to students, and a mind opened by great books will continue to feed itself, even after graduation. Whatever job a person ends up with, his mind will meditate on characters in his books so that he will continue being a thinker and using his imagination even out of school. Even farmers and factory workers should get to know and be inspired by the likes of Robin Hood and Socrates. A literary education isn't just for a few elite scholars, but should be for the common man to satisfy his mind's hunger for something more than a weekly paycheck. Depriving ordinary men of such knowledge makes them baser and more apt to be discontent and cause problems.
VI––Knowledge in Literary Form
A varied education should be available to all classes of students. At the beginning, knowledge must be conveyed through interesting books; only later, when interest is secured, will students be so captivated by a subject that they can appreciate the drier facts. A varied education that truly enhances the whole person isn't accomplished by accident or through a haphazard collection of educational theories jumbled together. An idea of one's goals and a structured plan for getting there are necessary.
Students should be saved from a life of trivial events and scurrying from one activity to the next seeking stimulation. So many people are anxious, bored, depressed. Knowledge is the answer. Foremost is the knowledge of God that comes from committed seeking of God and thorough, systematic reading of the Bible with the goal of knowing.
The trend to discard fairy tales is not effective; regardless of how experts say that children need to learn from things and not tales, children seem to defy the experts and they still love fairy tales. In fact, they seem to need and crave them. Children apparently need more than things and experiences, they need words and literature. They do need to handle things, but they should also have the best, most literary books in every subject. All the scientific graphs and images in the world can't open a child's mind like a story or literary description. They should read entire books and poems rather than edited portions, although omissions for the sake of morality should be made. And they should narrate to test comprehension.
John Bull was calling for a utilitarian, materialistic education to teach students only their future trade or future responsibilities, but Charlotte urged educationalists to demand more from education. Since morality and goodness is passed on through literary means and a nation's strength rests on the integrity of its people, no nation can afford to dismiss the use of literature in schools.
Supplementary––Too Wide a Mesh pg. 343
Throughout history, education has been available only to a few elite. The majority of the population were deprived of knowing anything beyond a few basic skills, and never had the opportunity to have their character deepened with classic literature.
Yet, advantaged students may spend twelve years in school and never learn to love books and be truly educated. They may make use of their own natural abilities such as leadership and good-naturedness, but never develop the deep-rooted integrity that is role-modeled in books. Higher schools tend to focus on helping the top students pass exams while neglecting the average students who show no promise of making a name in the world.
Charlotte mentions two young men who discovered they had learned very little in their elite education. They devised booklists and encouraged each other to get through the list, and to develop their faculties by memorizing the most trivial bits of information. It is encouraging to see that their desire to know wasn't killed by their schooling, but they needed a better approach. They were trying so hard to get information into their minds, but missed the whole point, which is learning out of a simple curiosity and desire to know. School had failed them––when it should have instilled a thirst for knowledge by creating an appetite with offerings of ideas, school had instead attempted to teach how to learn but never offered the fascinating material that would have secured their desire to find out more.
Rather than teach students to pass a test, or assume that students can't understand rich material, schools should simply supply interesting books in various subjects and let the students fill up on real knowledge, the kind that will make them want more and instill the idea that learning is something to continue all their lives.
2004 Leslie N. Laurio
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