Volume 1, Home Education, pg 279-295
A lot of what was said about geography applies just as much to history. This is another subject that should provide the child's mind with a storehouse of ideas. History should enrich the chambers of his imagination with a thousand tales, both tragic and heroic. History should also form in him, without him being consciously aware of it, principles that he will use later to judge the actions of nations. The same principles are what he'll use to rule the 'nation of members' within himself. All of this is what he should get from his history lessons. But what can he possibly get from a pathetic record of feuds, battles and deaths that are presented to him as nothing more than 'a reign?' And this is even more distasteful because it goes along with dates to be memorized. He can't remember them right. He can get the last two digits, but the centuries get mixed up so easily. How is he ever supposed to remember which events go with which reign? As far as he's concerned, one king is like another and one period is like another, except for the dates. But he muddles through somehow. He reads in his friendly, chatty little book all about the reigns of kings, from William the Conqueror to William IV and back to the vague times of British rule. And what is the result? There is no better way to fill a child with blundering ideas and narrow prejudices than to have him go through this kind of course of English history. This is even more true if his history book has a religious or moral tone and tries to point out the moral lesson as well as record the facts. Moral teaching is learned through history, but one small textbook in a classroom can't possibly be broad enough to make any kind of judgment for the child.
It's a serious mistake to think that children need to learn an entire outline of history, or a simplified version of the whole history of a country. He can't cover the geography of the whole world. Instead, let him linger happily with the life history of one man living in a single time period until he's practically thinking the same thoughts as that man and feels a comfortable familiarity with that time period. Because, although he is learning the intricate details of one person's life, he is also learning about all the things that touched that person's life, so he's learning about the whole period of a particular country's history. It's okay if a child spends a whole year enjoying everything he can find out about Alfred the truth-teller, or William the Conqueror, or Richard the Lion-hearted and Saladin, or Shakespeare's Henry V. and his victorious army. Let the child know about great people and common people who lived during that time, and what the court was like, and how the crowds were. Let him know what was going on in other countries at the same time our country was doing a particular thing. If he decides that people from another time period were more sincere, more generous, more purposeful than we are in our modern world, or that people in another country used to be greater than we are, then he is fortunate. [Translator's note--In an age where everyone tends to be insular in their thinking and think that only what's happening now is important, it's healthy to have a sense that we can learn from those who came before us.]
When considering which resources to use for teaching history intelligently, avoid most history books written specifically for children. [Yet, when H.E. Marshall's books and Van Loon's Story of Mankind were published, Charlotte Mason recommended them, suggesting that perhaps when Charlotte wrote her first volume, no enjoyable history books for children existed yet.] Also avoid shortened summaries, outlines, and brief overviews. When you consider how important history is to a child's education, there is no place for vague abstract history texts. As far as history books written for children, there is no need for them. Children who have been brought up by educated parents are able to understand well-written, literary history. They won't be attracted by twaddly, dumbed-down books designed to try to make history easy for children. If some parts are skipped, and mothers paraphrase in the way they naturally do so well, then the children can hear the early history of their country from a well-written popular history book with nice pictures. While reading to them, it will be necessary to encourage them to ask questions, and to ask them questions, to keep their attention and to be sure they're getting the facts straight. This is the least of what will need to be done. Even better would be to give them more thorough knowledge with graphic details of two or three early historical periods.
The early history of a country is much better suited for children than more recent history because events move in a few broad, simple lines, like an adventure. If there is any statesmanship represented, it amounts to resourceful men doing their best to cope with their circumstances. Mr. Freeman [possibly E. A. Freeman, 1823-1892, who wrote William the Conqueror] wrote some interesting early history for children. Still, it's even better to get an eye-witness account if possible. When children are too young for exams and can afford to take their time, they should be allowed to get into the spirit of history. They should read at least one account written by someone who was there and knew first-hand what happened. These old books can be easier and more enjoyable to read than most modern history books, because writers didn't used to know that history was supposed to have a veneer of dignity. So they ramble along as pleasantly as a stream in the forest, telling all about what happened. They stir your heart with their telling of some great event. They give a lively version of a pageant or show, they give you personal details of famous people and introduce you to common people who never made their way into the history books. This is just right for children who are eager to find out about real people behind great events. They don't care about progress or legislation. They just want to know about the people. Children think of history as a stage for the action of the people. A child who has heard the account of one such old chronicler has a better foundation for future history lessons than he would have if he'd memorized all the names, dates and facts he might ever need for every exam in his future.
The oldest, and the most exciting one to read, is Bede's Ecclesiastical History of England. Bede wrote a lot about himself as early as the 600's AD. He wrote, 'I always loved to learn and teach and write.' Professor Morley says, 'Bede has left us an early history of England. It is concise yet often warm with life, business-like and yet childlike in its tone. It is practical and spiritual at the same time, honest and fair, and the work of a true scholar who loves God and man. A lot of the most interesting things we know about early English history are from Bede. In the 1100's, William of Malmesbury said about Bede, 'Almost all of the knowledge about past events died with him.' And Malmesbury should know. His Chronicles of the Kings of England is considered the most perfect of all chronicles. His most vivid and graphic accounts are about things that happened in his own time, such as the dreary civil war of Stephen and Matilda. And there is Asser, who wrote about his friend and fellow worker, King Alfred, saying, 'It seems right to me to explain more about what I heard from my lord Alfred.' He says, 'When I came into his presence at the royal villa of Leonaford, he received me honorably. I stayed at his court for about eight months and read to him from whatever books he liked and had on hand. That was his routine, along with all the other things he did both physically and mentally during the day and night. He would either read books to himself or listen while others read to him.' Asser was not at the battle of Ashdown, but took the trouble to get the story from eyewitnesses. 'But those who were there and would not lie say that Alfred marched up promptly with his men to give them battle. King Ethelred stayed in his tent for a long time, praying.' And then there are the Chronicles of the Crusades by Joinville and Villehardouin which tell about Richard Coeur de Lion by Richard of Devizes and Geoffrey de Vinsany, and Lord John de Joinville's account of the crusade of St. Louis.
It's not necessary to add more to this list because just one such text every year, or just the appropriate parts, will be enough to stir the child's imagination and fill his mind with ideas. He will have heard the words of people who were really there and saw and heard it all, and they give their accounts in the matter-of-fact way that children prefer. Forever after that kind of experience, it won't matter how many dull outlines of history a child is required to read, he will always be able to imagine history himself.
Every country has its heroic age before official history begins. If there were giants around back then, the child wants to know about them. He has every right to savor whatever classic myths our nation has. To start him with painted savages as his first introduction to historical people makes his vision of the past as harsh and stark as a Chinese painting. But what if we don't have any record of an age like Homer's Iliad and Odyssey? We can once again rely on those old monks who chronicled the dim, distant past. In the 1100's, while Malmesbury was writing his History of the Kings of England, a Welsh priest named Geoffrey of Monmouth was weaving the oral tales of the common people into an orderly collection called History of the British Kings. These go back as far as King Brut, the grandson of Aeneas. He claims to have gotten some of his information about kings that no other historian had heard of from a 'book in the British language that Walter, Archdeacon of Oxford, brought from Britainy.' However he got it, his book tells us about Gorboduc, King Lear, Merlin, Uther Pendragon, and, best of all, of King Arthur. He makes Arthur sound many times greater and stronger than even Alexander the Great. His book is a treasure that children should be familiar with ten years before they ever read Idylls of the King. Parents should use caution when reading from Monmouth, though. His adventure tales are amazing and fun, but when he stops writing about wonderful stories and starts rambling on about historical facts and people, he becomes confusing. Many of these chronicles were originally written by monks in Latin, but are now available translated into English. But the mother should be aware that some parts may need to be edited as she reads. (Bohn's Antiquarian Library includes volumes by Bede and Malmesbury, and Dr. J.A. Giles' Old English Chronicles includes Asser and Monmouth.)
Jean Froissart wrote delightful chronicles and was tame when writing about the time he spent in Queen Philippa's court in England. His book is the best way for children to learn about the French wars. And the child should learn as much as he can about history this way. Whenever possible, the child should get his first impressions of time periods from first-hand accounts, not from modern historians who merely write commentaries and reviews. But mothers should exercise discretion when using these old chronicles, since they aren't all reliable.
In the same way, the best way to begin learning about early Greece and Rome is from Plutarch's Lives. Alexander the Great becomes more than just a name to children who read about him in Plutarch:
'When the horse Bucephalus was offered to King Philip for thirteen talents, the king went to the field with the prince Alexander and some others to see him in action. The horse seemed vicious and hard to handle. He refused to let anyone ride him or even speak to him, and would attack any groom who tried to approach him. Philip was annoyed that they had brought him such a wild, unmanageable horse. He told them to take the horse away. But his son, Alexander, who had been watching the horse closely, said, 'What a horse, and they're going to lose him just because they have nobody with enough skill and spirit to handle him!'
Philip didn't pay any attention to him at first, but the prince kept repeating himself and acting uneasy, so finally, King Philip said, 'Young man, you criticize your elders as if you knew more than they did. Do you think you can manage this horse better?'
'Yes, I certainly could,' answered the prince.
'If you aren't able to ride him, what penalty will you pay for being so rash?'
'I will pay the price of the horse.'
When they heard this, everyone who was there laughed. But the king and the prince agreed to the penalty, and Alexander ran to the horse, took hold of the bridle and turned the horse towards the sun. Apparently he had seen that the horse's shadow was visible to the horse and kept moving as he moved, and was spooking him. As long as the horse was agitated and fierce, he continued speaking softly to him and petting him. When the horse calmed down, he gently let his coat fall to the ground and leaped lightly on the horse's back and was safely seated. Then, without pulling too hard on the reins or using a whip or spur, he got the horse going. As soon as he sensed the horse's uneasiness decreasing, and felt that the horse only wanted to run, he put him to a full gallop and urged him on with his voice and spurs.
King Philip and all his court were worried for him at first and were watching in silence. But when the prince had turned the horse around and brought him back safely, they greeted him with shouts and cheers, except for his father, who wept for joy. Kissing him, he said, 'My son, find another kingdom that is worthy of your talents, because Macedonia is too small for you!'
Thomas North's translation of Plutarch gives a vivid impression that makes history seem as real and alive to children as the adventures of Robinson Crusoe.
Again, knowing as much as possible about just one short time period of history is far better than memorizing an outline of all known history. And children are able to understand intelligent ideas told with intelligent language. There's no reason to withhold the best that's been written about the time period they want to know about.
It's not easy to choose the right history books for children. Concise summaries of the bare bone facts should be avoided. We must be equally careful to avoid generalizations. A young child's mind naturally wants to gather information and group it for making the kinds of generalizations later that adults tend to make, and which is entirely appropriate and necessary [so long as we do it ourselves, thinking it through logically.]
But, too often, we lack the ability to reason through things on our own and we accept someone else's conclusions without question. Still, we should avoid giving young children final conclusions about history that are based on someone else's opinions. Children want all the details about what happened and about the people involved for their imaginations to work on. They start forming their own opinions little by little as they learn more.
Mr. York Powell has explained the kind of teaching for young children that I'm talking about. The preface of his book, Old Stories from British History, says, 'The author chose the kinds of stories that he thought would be enjoyable for his readers, and, at the same time, would give them some knowledge about the lives of their forefathers and how they thought. Therefore, he has not just written about important people like kings and queens and generals. He has also written about ordinary people, and children, and even birds and animals.' The book includes stories about King Lear and Cuculain, King Canute and Otto the poet, Havelock and Ubba, and many other brave, glorious tales. Powell's two books, Old Stories from British History and Sketches from British History, are perfect for our purpose because they are easy enough for children to read for themselves. The stories are written in good, plain English with a bit of charm, and lend themselves well to narration. It's interesting to hear 7 or 8 year olds tell back a long story from this book without missing any details and getting everything in the right order. Yet their narrations aren't merely parroted phrases from the book. When a child really enjoys something, his individual personality comes through in his exuberance at talking about it. With this book, the child tells back the story accurately, but in his own words while still retaining some of the author's style. By the way, it's very important to let children narrate in their own way. They shouldn't be coaxed and helped with cue words from the text.
A narration should have the child's unique stamp on it as evidence that the material has been assimilated and gone through some processing in his mind.
Narrations that are nothing more than rote memorizations are of no value to the child.
I've already talked about the kinds of old chronicles that should nourish children's minds. But often, these are too spread out to be used successfully for narrations. It's better to use appropriate short tales for narrating.
I'd like to mention two more books that children love. These encourage patriotism and lay a wide foundation for later history lessons. They are Tales from St. Paul's Cathedral and Tales from Westminster Abbey by Mrs. Frewen Lord. It's wonderful to take children on a trip to actually see St. Paul's Cathedral and Westminster Abbey in real life and let them find the actual places where their heroes are enshrined. The children know so many details and are so alive with interest that they inspire and teach even the grown-ups. Of course, there are many other historical stories for children, and some of them are very good, like Prisoners of the Tower by Violet Brooke-Hunt. But mothers should be careful. Choosing lesson books may seem simple, but it takes delicate tact and understanding with children, especially when it comes to history.
Many children of 8 or 9 will be old enough to enjoy A History of England, by H.O. Arnold Forster, who is widely respected for his educational books. Besides being a skilled writer, Mr. Forster has a gift for seeing a defect and a way to fix it, and being able to spot what's missing and fill it in. He noticed that English children weren't learning about the things affecting their lives and the laws governing them. So he changed that by writing The Citizen Reader and The Laws of Every-day Life.
The History of England, or History, as the children call it, forgetting that there is history in other parts of the world besides England, was written as a collection of adventurous stories that don't necessarily have relevance to political and financial holdings. But, as Forster says in his preface, he was reluctant to use a title as unpleasant as A Summary of English History or An Outline of English History.
Those titles seem at first glance to imply that the books have none of the interest and romance that are always a part of what real people do, and that an elaborated chronological table has been used instead of interesting stories. But if you read English history and miss the interesting, sparkling episodes and dramatic incidents, then you've missed all the fun and most of the lessons history can teach if studied the right way. Forster succeeds and his book is as full of interesting, sparkling episodes as it can be, considering that he's writing to children who have no background in history. He gives a survey of all of English history in a pleasant, plentiful, well-illustrated book of about 800 pages. This example shows what I mean, and don't we all wish we could have learned about architecture from such a clear paragraph: 'On page 23 we have pictures of two windows. One is what is called a pointed window. All its arches go up to a point. It was built a long time before the Tudor period. The other arch was built in the time of Queen Elizabeth. In it the upright shaft, or mullion, of the window goes straight up to the top without forming an arch. This style of building a window is called the Perpendicular Style, because the mullions of the window are 'perpendicular.' Some of the most famous buildings in England built in Tudor times, and in the perpendicular style, are the Chapel of King's College, Cambridge, and Hatfield House, where the Marquis of Salisbury lives, in Hertfordshire.' Mr. Forster has done for children and for the unread what Professor Green did for more advanced students with his book, Shorter History of England--he has shown many people that history is fascinating. This is a good introduction to real history, and it uses real information. The portraits [whether this refers to illustrations or biographies is unclear] are especially valuable.
Children will need to have a sense that what they're reading has a specific time when it happened before their collection of knowledge gets too vast. To do this, make a century table, something like this timeline chart, only longer. [Perhaps what Charlotte meant looked like this?] To make one, divide a long sheet of heavy paper into twenty columns. Put the first century in the center and let the rest of the columns represent a century, either BC or AD.
Let the child write the names of people he reads about in the century they belong to.
At this point, children don't need to focus on exact dates, but this simple table of the centuries will give the child a graphic memory of when things happened. He will have a panorama of events pictured in his mind in their correct order.
History provides great material for narrating, and children enjoy narrating what they've read or heard. They also love to draw pictures. Some children who had read Shakespeare's Julius Caesar and Plutarch's Life of Julius Caesar were asked to draw a picture of their favorite scene. The results showed how well children can visualize, and, of course, whatever can be visualized in the mind is a possession for life.
The pictures these children drew are interesting from a psychological point of view, too. They show what different and sometimes obscure details appeal to the mind of a child. They also show that children can enjoy figuring out mental challenges as much as educated adults. Admittedly, the drawings aren't perfect, but, like the art of primitive peoples, they tell the story directly and vividly. One girl, aged nine, drew Julius Caesar conquering Britain. He is riding in a chariot mounted on scythes [reaping sickles?] and he is wearing a blue robe, complemented with the blue in the sky. In the distance, a soldier is planting the Roman flag with a black eagle on a pink background.
In the foreground, a Roman and a Briton are engaged in hand-to-hand combat. Each has a very long sword. Other people are busy at various things.
In another picture, Antony is making a speech after the death of Caesar. The artist is an older girl and she shows more of the architecture. In her picture, you look through an arch leading into a side street. In the foreground, Antony is standing on a platform at the top of some marble stairs. He looks scornful and indignant. Below is a crowd of Romans in togas. Some are scornful, some are alarmed. In the back is Antony's servant wearing a uniform and holding his master's horse. Caesar is laying on the ground behind Antony and his royal purple robe has been thrown over his body. The best part of the drawing is that it tells a story.
Another girl, aged 14, draws a picture of Calpurnia begging Caesar not to go into the Senate. Caesar is standing fully armed and looks annoyed. Calpurnia is holding his outstretched hand with both of her hands and is kneeling before him. Her loose blue night-robe and long golden hair add color to the picture. Since this girl is older, her picture shows more artistic skill.
Another student draws Brutus and Portia, very dignified, in an orchard with a red brick wall with some shrubbery growing along it. Not much of the story is apparent in this picture.
Another student shows the scene in the forum. Caesar is sitting in royal purple. Brutus is kneeling before him and Casca is standing behind his chair with a dagger in his outstretched hand, saying, 'Hands, speak for me!' while Caesar is saying, 'Why is Brutus kneeling without his boots?'
In another picture, Lucius is playing the harp for Brutus in a tent. Brutus is armed head to foot and sitting on a stool. He is vainly trying to read while Lucius, a pretty figure, is playing his harp. Two armed sentries are sleeping on the floor.
One picture shows Claudius at the women's festival. He is disguised as a woman. The ladies have wonderful eyes and are carrying flaming torches.
One spirited picture shows Caesar reading his history to the conquered Gauls. They are standing in rows on the hillside, listening to the great man patiently.
In all of these pictures, some of which are drawn by even older students, we see how different images are remembered by different children as they listen to a great work. This glimpse into the minds of children should convince us how important it is to nourish the mind with good material. The kind of weak, diluted resources that schools too often give to children do not stir their imaginations.
Narrating and illustrating aren't the only ways that children express the ideas that fill them when they are exposed to great materials. They will also role play their history lessons, dressing up, making up vivid, detailed episodes, acting specific scenes. Or they'll have a stage and make their dolls the actors, while they paint scenery and make them talk. There is no end to the creative ways children will find when they have something to express.
It is a mistake to think that nature feeds children's imaginations, or that their imagination works on a diet of dull children's storybooks. Let children have the kind of meaty material they need in their history texts and historical literature, and their imaginations will be stirred up without any help from us. The child will live out the intricate details of a thousand scenes that he reads, even when he only reads sketchy accounts about them.
Volume 3, School Education, pg 67
One of the ways we accomplish this is that, instead of giving students outlines of history [that list off all the events that happened], we put them directly in contact with one of the thinkers who lived then. And we're not satisfied that they only learn the history of their own country. We also try to give them some interest and knowledge of what was going on at the same time in the other countries in Europe. To make sure that the history we teach seems more real to the children, we also use some of the literature from the same historical era, and the best historical fiction and poetry about that period. And we do the same with other subjects.
Volume 3, School Education, pg 200-201
But Ruskin's lack of living touch with the past, except when that kind of touch came through some newly discovered history of a place he happened to be in, is evident in his account of his first impressions of Rome:
'The whole of my Latin learning that I had to help me begin my studies of Rome, consisted of the first two books of Livy, which I hadn't learned very well, and the names of places that I'd remembered but never looked up on a map; a page or two of Tacitus, and the part in Virgil's book about the burning of Troy, the story of Dido, the episode about Euryalus, and the last battle. Of course, I had read the Aeneid half-heartedly, but I considered most of it nonsense. As far as later history, I had read some English summaries about the vices of their rulers, and I thought that malaria in the Campagna was a consequence of the Pope. I had never heard of a good Roman Emperor or a good Pope. I wasn't sure whether Trajan had lived before or after Jesus. I would have been satisfied and relieved if anybody had told me that Marcus Antonius was a Roman philosopher who lived at the same time as Socrates . . . Of course, we drove around Rome and the saw the Forum, Coliseum and so on. I had no distinct idea what the Forum was, or what it had ever been, or what the three pillars or the seven had to do with it, or the Arch of Severus. Whatever the Forum might have been, I didn't care in the least. As far as I could tell, the pillars on the Forum were too small and their capitals weren't carved very well, and the houses above them weren't nearly as interesting as the side of any alley in the old part of Edinburgh.'
Wordsworth was also aloof. He was vaguely aware of
'Old, unhappy, far-off things
And battles long ago,'
but the past histories of nations didn't interest him. According to what he wrote in the Prelude, even the anguish of the French Revolution hardly made an impression on him, although he took a walking tour in Europe and experienced a moment where,
'The nations hailed their great expectancy
As if they were awakened from sleep.'
But in his case,
'I looked upon all of these things
As if I were seeing them from a distance. I heard and saw and felt,
And I was impressed, but I had no real concern.'
Volume 3, School Education, pg 235
In history, students aged twelve to fourteen should have a pretty thorough knowledge of British history, contemporary French history, and Greek and Roman history. They should get their Greek and Roman history from biographies. Perhaps nothing else besides the Bible is as educational as Plutarch's Lives. The wasteful mistake that's made so often in teaching English history is in having children from about nine to fourteen read through several short abridgments beginning with Little Arthur's History of England [by Maria Callcott]. But their intelligence at those ages is sufficient to steadily work through a single more substantial book.
Volume 6, Philosophy of Education, pg 50
History, with its collection of interesting characters, is as good as a story because children can picture the scenes in their minds. We make a big deal about the costumes, tools and other details about historic periods. But children just need a few appropriate and exact words about the subject and they can envision it in their heads. In fact, with the lively imagination that comes with their intellect, they can picture long movies about it!
Children are amazing in the way they can take examples offered to them, and make them their own. When a child hears that Charles IX was 'feeble and violent,' he'll always remember that characterization, and he'll learn a lesson about self-control. We shouldn't point out the moral of the story. That needs to be done by the children themselves, and they do it on their own every time. What we think may be too difficult doesn't seem to affect them. One teacher wrote about her eleven-year-old students, 'They can't get enough of Plutarch's Life of Publicola. They always groan when the lesson is over.'
Volume 6, Philosophy of Education, pg 169-180
I've already said that history is a vital part of education. Michel de Montaigne said that teachers should learn who the worthiest minds of all time were by studying history. We especially, who live in one of the great epochs of history, need to know what's happened before our time in order to be accurate judges of what's going on today. For example, the League of Nations has reminded us, not only of the Congress of Vienna, but of the many Treaties of Perpetual Peace that have marked the history of Europe.
'Things done for the first time, that have never been done before, are to be feared. Do you have a precedent for this action?' (loosely paraphrased from Shakespeare's Henry VIII)
We applaud the candid king's wisdom, and we wish we could find precedents for WWI, and the uneasy peace and depressing uncertainty that have come after the war. We recognize that we lack sound judgment to decide upon the complex issues we face. We're aware that we would have more confidence if we had more familiarity with what's happened before, and that comes from knowing history. The more educated people in the places where England rules [England had dominions in India, Australia, Canada, and Africa; Kipling wrote that, 'the sun never sets on the British Empire'] complain because the young people there have no sense of history. Therefore, their driving thought is, 'we are the people.' Even if Westminster Abbey itself was destroyed, they wouldn't care. Why should they be sentimental about the places where great events happened, and where great people lived and worked? Unfortunately, this apathy about history isn't just typical of those in the dominions. Youths right here in England are just as apathetic. Their elders don't have stories to pass on and information that might inspire the young people with the idea that every country in every period of time has had important deeds to be done, and great men who have risen to the occasion. Any day, a person--maybe even themselves--might be called on to do some heroic service that will change the course of history. Patriotism that is logical and thought-out depends on a thorough knowledge of history from reading many books. Our youths need to be informed patriots, not emotional fanatics.
If we don't know enough about history, it's the fault of our schools. Teachers will blame a lack of time. They'll say that the best they can squeeze in is a sketchy overview of British history taught with lectures where students take notes and write reports. We all know how unsatisfying that method is, even when the teacher is an entertaining lecturer. Not even a great writer like Thackeray himself could give real knowledge in his lectures titled The Four Georges. We need to get more from history lessons than impressions and opinions, but it does take time.
The method I advocate can multiply time. Every hour spent in school can be quadrupled and we can cover a surprising amount of world history in a thorough way in the same amount of time that most schools are only able to work in the barest sketch of English history. We know that students are very interested in history and will put their whole attention into it if they have the right books. Our own rambling lectures are usually a waste of time and strain students' attention. Our PNEU teachers only provide two things: knowledge, and a keen sympathy to student interest inspired by that knowledge. It's our job to make sure that every student knows, and is able to tell back in either oral narration or written essay. Using this method, we can cover so much material so well that students won't need to review before their exam. We insist on a single reading, because we are all naturally careless, and our tendency is to put off the effort at paying close attention as long as we think we'll have a second or third chance to get the information. But it doesn't take any extra work to pay attention. Complete and entire attention is a natural function of the mind. It takes no effort and causes no fatigue. In fact, the stress of mental labor we're sometimes aware of is when our attention wanders and we have to make ourselves bring it back. But the kind of attention that most teachers want is already in each of their students. They're born with it, and it's a tool to be used to educate them. It isn't something that school trains into them. Our business is to give students material written with good literary style, and make them certain that they won't have a second chance to go over a lesson.
A teacher's personality can be useful, but from an intellectual standpoint, not an emotional one. The teacher should look very interested. It's motivating for the students to think that their minds and their teacher's mind are working in harmony. But a sympathetic teacher who thinks that paying attention is hard work will overlook a student's wandering focus and distractedness a hundred times. And then the teacher has to finally draw in that child's attention, which is tiring for both him and the student. The teacher thinks he's being understanding, but he's actually doing a disservice to the student.
A six year old child in Form IB doesn't have stories from English history. [He has real history, not stories; PNEU students at this level were using An Island Story by H.E. Marshall.] He has a certain number of pages of consecutive reading, perhaps forty pages per term. His book is chosen carefully. It's a well-written, large volume [i.e., not a typical first grade book?] with nice pictures. Children won't be able to read it themselves since it isn't written down to a six-year-old's level. So the teacher reads it aloud, and the student tell it back, paragraph by paragraph, passage by passage. The teacher doesn't talk much, and never interrupts a child who is narrating. The first attempts at narrating may be stumbling, but soon the children get a feel for it and are able to narrate back long passages accurately. The teacher might let other children correct narrations. The hardest part for the teacher is looking receptive and interested, perhaps commenting on a passage that's been narrated, or showing a picture, that sort of thing. She'll keep in mind that the child as young as six has begun the serious business of getting an education. It doesn't matter whether he understands every word, the important thing is that he's learning that knowledge comes from books. We know that if a person, whether a child or adult, can tell something, they really know it. But if he can't put it into words, then he doesn't really know it. The practice of 'telling back' was probably used more often in the 1500's and 1600's than it is now. In Shakespeare's play Henry VIII, three men meet together. One of them has just come from the Abbey after witnessing the coronation of Anne Boleyn. The others ask him about it, and he tells them all about it with the detailed vividness and accuracy that we usually expect from children. For Shakespeare, this 'narration' was a stage device, but he probably wouldn't have used it if it seemed strange, so people in his day must have been used to narrating. Even today, we appreciate someone who's good at telling stories with flair. Only a generation or two ago, men studied the art of telling a good story, because it was expected of a gentleman. But someone may ask, isn't that kind of skill just rote memorization? When someone has to memorize a passage, they use some tricks and lots of repetition, but their mind isn't thinking about the passage, they're usually thinking about something else. Their mind isn't really actively involved in the act of memorizing. But reading a passage with the whole mind focused on that passage so it can be told back is a totally different thing and has a drastically different effect. French philosopher M. Henri Bergson (1859–1941) made a distinction between word memory and mind memory. Once we understand the significance of that difference, it will inspire major changes in our educational methods.
With mind memory, as we read, we visualize a scene in our mind, or we become convinced by an argument, or we take pleasure in the style of sentences and try to think up some sentences of our own in the same style. And that bit of text is assimilated into our mind and becomes part of us every bit as much as the dinner we had the night before. In fact, more so! Because yesterday's dinner doesn't matter tomorrow, but even several months from now, we'll still be able to tell about that passage we read. It's as if we literally consumed it with all the detail and sharpness it had the first time we told it. All the powers of the mind (sometimes called faculties) are actively involved in dealing with the intellectual material that's treated this way. We must not interfere with the assimilation process by asking questions to get the child to reason, or show elaborate pictures to help his imagination, or point out moral lessons to sharpen his conscience. These things happen naturally, as unconsciously as the body digests food.
Seven-year-olds are promoted to form IA where they remain for a couple of years. They use the same wonderful book, Mrs. H.E. Marshall's Our Island Story, reading about the same number of pages in a term. In form IB they read the first third of the book, which contains simpler and more direct stories. Students in 1A read the second two thirds of the book. All the children learn to love English history. 'I'd rather have history than my dinner,' said a healthy boy of seven who obviously rarely missed his dinner.
In 1A, history is expanded and illustrated using short biographies of people from the historical period being studied, such as Lord Clive, Nelson, etc. They also read Mrs. Frewen Lord's delightful Tales from Westminster Abbey and from St. Paul's to help personalize historical heroes. It's refreshing to hear them narrate with interest about Franklin, Nelson, Howard, Shaftesbury. They love visiting the monuments. One wouldn't think that children would be very interested in John Donne, but many onlookers were surprised to see a small group of children noticing tell-tale marks from the Great Fire that could still be seen on his monument.
There is probably no better method of imparting a reasonable and dutiful patriotism than making children familiar with the monuments of great heroes, even if they never get to see those monuments in person. In Form II (ages 9-12), students have a more challenging history curriculum, but they cover it easily and they enjoy it. The book they use is more difficult than the one used in Form IA. It's an interesting, well-written history of England, from which they read about fifty pages per term. Form IIA students also read a book about the social life in England to parallel the chapters they're reading in their history text. Children are introduced as early as possible to the contemporary history of other countries, since studying only English history tends to lead to insular and arrogant thinking.
Of course, we start with French history. Both forms read from the very well-written First History of France, reading the chapters that go along with the period they're studying in English history. The enthusiasm with which children write or tell about Richelieu, Colbert, and Bayard tells us that they are quite capable of handling this early introduction of foreign history. Because the books tell the stories sharply and clearly, the children gain so much knowledge about the history of France that it illuminates the history of their own country, and gives them a sense that history was progressing in other places, just as it was in England during the time period they're studying.
Ancient British history can't always be studied alongside French history. Instead, we use a book about a British museum [The British Museum for Young People] that is arranged chronologically. It was written for P.U.S. (Parent's Union School) students by the late Mrs. W. Epps. She had a wonderful gift for understanding how the ages progress and how that is represented in our great British museum. I have already mentioned one child's visit to the Parthenon Room and her excitement in recognizing something she had read about. This shows how valuable this kind of book is for opening ancient history to children. Ms. G. M. Bernau has made these studies even more valuable by producing a 'Book of Centuries.' Children draw pictures in it as they come across household objects, art, and other things from the century they're reading about. Touching on the British museum in this way is very valuable. Whether the children actually have the opportunity to visit the museum or not, this inspires an interest in going. Also, they are made aware of what kinds of treasures there are in their own local museums.
In Form III children continue with the same history of England as they were doing in Form II, as well as the same French history, and the same British museum book. They continue adding to their 'Book of Centuries.' In addition, they read about 20-30 pages per term from a short book about the history of India, a subject that they are very interested in.
Their geography studies touch on the history of other parts of the British Empire.
In Form IV, students move up to Gardiner's Student's History of England. It is clear and sufficient, but somewhat stiffer than what they've been used to. At the same time, they read Mr. and Mrs. Quennell's History of Everyday Things in England. This book is also used in Form III. Form IV students begin an outline of European history. They continue the British museum book and their 'Book of Centuries.'
All teachers know how difficult it is to find just the right book in each subject. For a few years we regretted that Lord's delightful book Modern Europe was out of print, but it's back in print again.
In Forms V and VI (ages 15-18) history is more advanced and there is more of it. They are illustrated with the literature of the period being studied. For instance, their English history text, J.R. Green's Shorter History of the English People, might be amplified with Macaulay's Essays on Frederick the Great and the Austrian Succession, on William Pitt, and Lord Clive. For the same period they read from an American book about Western Europe and a well-written book about French History by M. Duruy, translated into English. They might read Madame de Stael's L'Allemagne or another equally well-written book as part of their French lesson. It's not possible to study Greek and Roman history in this kind of detail, but a well-written, enthusiastic overview is provided with Professor de Burgh's The Legacy of the Ancient World. Students make history charts marking every hundred years, using the plan of the late Ms. Beale of Cheltenham detailed in this Parents Review article. It uses a square divided into one hundred blocks of ten in each direction. Each block has a symbol in it depicting an event to illustrate that particular ten years. For instance, crossed battle-axes might represent a war.
The geographical aspects of history are studied under geography. The reading plan I've just described is very valuable because it gives youths a knowledge of the past that relates to and illuminates the present. I remember meeting some brilliant Oxford undergraduates, sharp and interested, but sadly ignorant. They said, 'We want to know something about history. What can you suggest for us to read? We know nothing.' No youth should go to college without a basic course of English, European, and especially French, history, such as our P.U.S program provides. This kind of general knowledge of history should be learned before taking any advanced course, and should be required before students take academic studies to prepare them for research work.
You will note that the studies throughout the school years are always chronologically progressive. Children rarely cover the same material twice. But if it should happen that the whole school has studied up to the current time period, and there is nothing else to do but begin again, the books they use will shed new light and bring them up to date with the latest discoveries.
But any period of history studied in Forms V and VI depends on the supplement of literature. Plays, novels, essays, biographies, and poems are all used. Whenever possible, the architecture, painting, and art produced in the historical period are also studied. Thus students are able to answer the following kinds of questions to test and record the term's reading,--'Describe the condition of (a) the clergy, (b) the army, (c) the navy, (d) the general public in about 1685.' 'Trace the rise of Prussia before Frederick the Great.' 'What theories of government did Louis XIV hold? Tell about some of his most important ministers.' 'Describe the rise of Russia and its condition at the beginning of the 18th century.' 'Suppose Evelyn (in Form VI) or Pepys (in Form V) is in counsel at the League of Nations. Write three day's worth of their journal entries.' 'Write about the character and habits of Addison. How does he appear in Esmond?'
It's a wonderful thing to have a pageant of history as a backdrop to one's thoughts. We might not be able to remember this or that detail, but the imagination has been inspired. We will know that there are many good arguments on both sides of every issue, and we will be saved from having crude opinions and acting rashly. Our own current time will be enriched with the wealth of all that has gone before.
Perhaps the most serious flaw in school curricula is that they don't give a comprehensive, intelligent and interesting introduction to history. To end with, or even to begin with, the history of our own country is fatal. We can't live sanely unless we understand that other people are the same as we are, but their individual circumstanes are different. They have a history like we do, but with different particulars, they have been immortalized by their own poets and artists, they have their own literature and their own patriotism. It's as if we've been asleep and our awakening is a shock. The people that we have failed to teach rise up against us in their ignorance, and 'the rabble,' '...make decisions as if the world has just begun, history didn't exist, and there were no traditions.' (loosely translated from Hamlet)
Unfortunately the decision does rest with them, and they'll need all the luck they can get. They know nothing of Antiquity and Custom, which approve and help support every present word or action. It's never too late to learn, but we must not hesitate in offering a rich and generous diet of history to every child in the country in order to make his decisions count, make his actions well-reasoned and his conduct reliable. The lack of stability has plunged us into many stormy seas of unrest.
Stability distinguishes the educated classes. When we think about how our times are disturbed by labor unrest, and when we reflect on the fact that political and social power is shifting to the majority (the working class), we can't help feeling that it is right to educate people of all classes. Right now, an emotional, ignorant working class is a danger to our nation. I'm not sure that education that provides everyone the same opportunity to climb the ladder of success is the best motive for national tranquility. It's right for everyone to have the same opportunity to reach the top, but that's no revelation. Our history tells about many men who have risen to leadership. The Roman Church and the Chinese Empire are largely founded on the doctrine of equal opportunity. However, let's not forget that men who climb to the top tend to be unstable members of society. On the other hand, the desire for knowledge for its own sake is satisfied with knowledge for its own sake, rather than using education to gain a competitive edge.
With education, our young people will be inspired with vision. The hardships of their daily lives will seem less burdensome. An alert and informed mind will lead to decent, honest living rather than a restless desire to subvert society for the sake of opportunities that might be gained by upheaval of the entire system. Wordsworth is right:
'Men are humble if they are trained and bred correctly.'
These times are critical for everybody, but especially for teachers. It depends on them to decide whether to aim for personal good, or for the good of the general public. They must decide whether education should be merely a means of earning a living, or a means of progressing towards high thinking and decent living, and therefore an instrument of the greatest good for society.
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.
Volume 6, Philosophy of Education, pg 184
The reading for Forms V and VI (ages 15-18, grades 10-12) is more comprehensive and challenging. It also corresponds with the historical period they're studying, which may be current history supplemented with occassional modern literature.
Volume 6, Philosophy of Education, pg 185
Like literature, this subject (Citizenship) is treated like a supplement to history.
Volume 6, Philosophy of Education, pg 266-267
We don't limit our focus to the top students. We don't need to. The top students work well on their own. In fact, so do the average and challenged students. Historical people become real to them, and they get familiar with a pretty wide range of history. They don't grow up in woeful ignorance of other countries' histories. For example, they understand that life in India is better today than it used to be because they know something about Akbar, and they know that he lived at the same time as Queen Elizabeth. They take to heart the lesson learned from young Phaeton's presumption. Midas, Circe, Xerxes and Pericles enrich their thoughts in the background. The different Forms (grades) cover a lot of reading because we've learned that a single reading is all that's needed to get a pretty clear knowledge of a subject, if the right book is used. That means that many books are needed, and every book is read through from beginning to end so that the student's knowledge isn't just vague bits here and there.
Volume 6, Philosophy of Education, pg 268
Students taught along these lines are familiar with a large number of books, many historical and literary persons, and quite a range of natural phenomena.
Volume 6, Philosophy of Education, pg 273-274
After religious knowledge, the most important thing to know is history. In fact, our curriculum is built around history. History is like a beautiful, green countryside in the mind. It becomes richer and fuller when we add knowledge of historical people and events, and when we can include national pride. Nationhood is the only way to combat the intolerable individualism that our modern education breeds. As James Amyat wrote in his preface to Plutarch's Lives,
'Reading history is very valuable. History can give us more examples in a day than all the experiences of a long life. Those who read history when they're young, as they should, will gain the same wisdom of understanding world affairs that old, experienced men have. Yes, even if they never leave the comfort of their house, yet they'll be cautioned and informed about everything in the world.'
And that's why the Old Testament is so valuable. It has history, poetry, the law and the prophets. Perhaps nobody understood the educational value of scripture more than Goethe, although he never did realize their spiritual worth. We try to use first-hand accounts from the same time period when studying the Bible.
We use what's in some of the rooms in the British Museum as a basis. Events from Greek and Roman history come up, not just for their historical significance, but for their distinctly ethical value, too. And we use Plutarch as our foremost authority.
Thomas North wrote, 'Plutarch has written the most profitable story of all authors. Other authors wrote about things that came to no consequence. But Plutarch was sharp, educated and experienced. He chose the notable actions of the best people from the most famous nations of the world for his subject.'
We study English history in every grade. But in the earliest years, it's studied alone. We know from experience that it's not always possible to get the perfect book, so we use the best one we can find and supplement it with the best literary essays from the historical period. Literature hardly even seems like a separate subject because it's so closely associated with the term's world or English history. It might be a first-hand document or a story to teach a little about the time period. It's amazing how much actual knowledge children get when the thoughts and ideas from a time period are meshed with their study of the same time period's political and social developments. I'd like to make a point about the way poetry helps us to understand the thoughts and ideas of a time period--including our own. Every age, every era, has its own poetry that captures the soul and spirit of the time. It's a wonderful thing for a generation to have someone like Shakespeare, Dante, Milton or Burns to collect and preserve its essence as a gift for generations to come.
Volume 6, Philosophy of Education, pg 339
I don't hesitate to say that all of a child's education should be provided through the best literary book available. His history books should be written clearly, focused, with personal conviction, direct, and appealingly simple. That's what characterizes works of literary value.