Volume 6, Philosophy of Education, pg 184
The purpose of the literature selections isn't so they'll know who wrote what during which king's reign, but to instill a sense of the vastness of the era, not just the Elizabethan era, but all the historical periods that poets, journallers and storytellers have left living pictures of. This way, children get more than the kind of facts that have no cultural value. They gain wide spaces in their minds where their imaginations can go for vacation journeys that prevent life from becoming dreary. Also, as they make judgments, their minds will go over these memory files they have stored and they'll have a broader base of knowledge to draw from when considering decisions about a particular strike, or issues of country rights, or political unrest. Every individual is called on to be a statesman since each person has a say in how the government is run. But being a good statesman requires a mind alive with the kind of imaginative impressions that come from wide reading and some familiarity with historic precedents.
Volume 6, Philosophy of Education, pg 185-189
Like literature, this subject is treated like a supplement to history. In Form I (grades 1-3), children begin to form impressions about the way the world works from tales, fables and stories about famous heroes. In Form II (grades 4-6), they actually begin to learn Citizenship as a subject, gathering inspiring impressions about what makes a good citizen while continuing to learn the things that every citizen should know. Plutarch's Lives is especially inspiring. The teacher reads these aloud, leaving out what may not be suitable, and the students narrate them enthusiastically. They learn to answer questions like, 'In what ways did Pericles make Athens beautiful? How did he persuade people to help him?' And we hope that children will catch the idea of preserving beauty and making their community more beautiful. This is a fresher way of instilling this idea than constant lessons and reminding, which will only bore them. They will also be able to answer, 'How did Pericles handle the people during war so that they wouldn't force him to take an action he knew was wrong?' And from these kinds of questions, we believe that students will gain some understanding of the delicate issues of leadership. Then, when they learn about their own current time period, they'll be able to answer, 'What do you know about (a) Local City Councils, (b) State Councils, (c) Church Councils?' And this should help children realize that they too are learning and preparing to become worthy citizens, and that each person has several duties, even if he doesn't lead in government. Mrs. Beesley's Stories from the History of Rome is better for Form II (grades 4-6) than Plutarch. Macauley's Lays of Rome helps to make it even clearer. When we teach children about men and events that deal with citizenship, we'll be faced with the problem of exposing children to good and evil. Many sincere teachers share the concerns of this teacher who said,
'Why are we giving children the story of Circe, with its offensive display of greed? Why not just give them heroic tales that present noble examples to live up to? Time is so short, why waste it on bad examples instead of making the most of every opportunity to give examples of living a good life and having good manners?'
'Why should students read Childe Harold, and become so familiar with a poet whose works are so unedifying?'
Plutarch is like the Bible in this respect: he doesn't label the things his characters do as good or bad. He leaves it up to the reader's conscience and judgment to make that distinction. What to avoid and how to avoid it is as important for a citizen to know as what's good and how to do it, whether he's a citizen of heaven or of his local community. Children recognize an artificially doctored story as soon as it starts, and they begin to get bored with it. But true stories about real people with all their good and bad qualities never get old. Even though Jacob was chosen by God, we don't get bored about hearing him because we know he was a real person. We recognize the truth in his own words, 'the days of my life have been few and evil.' We recognize that the foreign kings he came in contact with had more integrity than he did, just like in the New Testament, the Roman Centurion had a finer character than most of the Jews who were religious in name only. Perhaps we've been made so that heroes who are perfect, and goodness that's totally virtuous, bore us. But when we read about great figures who had failings and weaknesses, we preach little sermons to ourselves. Children are no different than us. They need to see life in its entirety to learn from it. Yet, at the same time, they need to be protected from obscenity and rudeness that might be in their reading material. A newspaper might tell about real people and events, but it's in no way on the same level as Plutarch's Lives or Lang's Tales of Troy and Greece. A 10-12 year old who is familiar enough with a dozen or so of Plutarch's Lives that they influence what he thinks and how he acts, has learned to put his country first, and to see individuals from the perspective of whether they serve their society, or do a disservice to it. And those are his first lessons about the science of proportion. Children who understand that society isn't the government but the people, will be glad to learn about the laws, customs and government about their own country. They'll also come to understand something about themselves, their mind and body, heart and soul. They'll want to know how to govern themselves so that they can be of service to their society.
We have a challenge in choosing books, the same challenge that has concerned all great thinkers from Plato to Erasmus to concerned school officials in our own day.
I'm referring to the vulgar and raunchy things that come up in so many books that would be otherwise useful for teaching sound judgment. Milton assures us that to the pure, all things are pure. But we're still uneasy. When older students read the Areopagitica, they learn that seeing impurity makes you impure. Younger children learn from reading Ourselves. Properly taught children will learn to keep watch even over their thoughts because they know that God's angels are watching them. When possible, we use expurgated editions of books (books that have had objectionable content removed). When that's not possible, the teacher reads the book aloud and leaves out unsuitable content. We try to be careful when teaching about the natural processes of plants and animals [presumably referring specifically to reproduction] not to awaken impure thoughts in students. One word about this -- the strict rules that school officials have about games isn't just for the sake of the games themselves. St. Paul exhorted us to keep our bodies always under subjection. Games that exhaust the physical body need some understood boundaries to keep students decent. And they do, although some incidents of indiscretion have occurred even in the best schools. A fact not always recognized is that these kinds of incidents that distress teachers and parents have their root in the mind, and especially in an empty mind. And that's why parents who take their children away from the corruption of public schools to teach them at home so often miss the mark. The increased free time that homeschooling provides is like sweeping the room in the mind free, and can be an invitation to secret sins of the mind that thrive in solitude. And schools also make the mistake of not providing students with enough work that's interesting and absorbing enough to cause students to think and reflect on it so that students' minds are always wholesomely occupied. A child needs plenty of mental food, and I don't mean from haphazard reading of this and that, which causes idleness that leads to mischief, but with a definite plan of teaching to know. If a child has enough healthy mental food on which to imagine, speculate, and aspire to, then he'll be a pure-minded youth who doesn't mind hard work and enjoys the fun of games. This may look like a detour from the subject of citizenship, but all children need to know that they owe their society the contribution of a sound, pure mind and body.
Ourselves, our Souls and Bodies [Volume 4 of the CM Series] is used extensively in our PUS [Parents Union Schools]. I don't know of any other book that tries to present a basic diagram of human nature that will enable students to know how they can be effective in their efforts to be good. The book tries to instill the concept that all people have within themselves the possibilities to be beautiful and noble, but each person is also subject to attacks and obstacles of various kinds. Students need to be aware of them so that they can watch and pray. Lectures that try to appeal to children to behave are boring (to children as well as adults!) But a systematic teaching that presents all the possibilities and powers that we all have in our human nature, as well as the risks and pitfalls that go along with them, will enlighten students and stimulate them to use the abilities they have to control themselves.
But the goals we have in mind in teaching everyday morals and citizenship are best illustrated with a few essays written by students of different ages. They deal with managing oneself and they exemplify the virtues that make a person useful to his society. Their exam papers can be viewed at the PNEU office. One little girl, as she came out of her bath, said, 'Oh no, I'm just like Julius Caesar! I don't even want to do a thing if I'm not the best at it!' This shows that children gather the principles that will guide their lives from unlikely sources, and in the most unlikely ways.
Volume 6, Philosophy of Education, pg 274
Civics [political philosophy] is a separate subject, but it's so closely tied in with literature and history on the one hand, and ethics (everyday morality) on the other hand, that it hardly seems like a separate subject.
Volume 6, Philosophy of Education, pg 288
An ocean of possible things to learn will overwhelm us--and we only have eight hours a week. We'll need to compromise in one of two ways if we want to make good citizens in such a limited amount of time. Good citizens need to have rational, solid opinions about things like law, duty, work, and wages.