Topical CM Series

Charlotte Mason's ideas are too important not to be understood and implemented in the 21st century, but her Victorian style of writing sometimes prevents parents from attempting to read her books. This is an imperfect attempt to make Charlotte's words accessible to modern parents. You may read these, print them out, share them freely--but they are copyrighted to me, so please don't post or publish them without asking.
~L. N. Laurio

The Charlotte Mason Series in Modern English Arranged Topically

Education is a Life: Knowledge and Ideas

"A child has to know just as urgently as he has to eat." (Vol 6 pg 324)

Volume 2, Parents and Children, pg 29

Chapter 4 - Parents As Inspirers: The Life of the Mind Grows on Ideas

'Sow an act, reap a habit.               
Sow a habit, reap a character.
               Sow a character, reap a destiny.'

Summary of the Last Chapter

The last chapter ended with an incomplete summary of what we might call the parents' educational jobs. We determined that it's up to the parents to decide for the adult their child will become the ways he'll think, work, feel and act. They'll determine his disposition, his particular talent, what kinds of things he'll think about. Who can set a limit on what's in the parents' power? Parents rule the destiny of their child because they have the fallow field of the child's nature all to themselves. They take care of the first sowing, or else they choose someone else to sow those first seeds.

Educational Concepts of the Past

What is it that parents sow? Ideas. It's imperative that we recognize what the only educational seed we have is, and how to distribute this seed.

Volume 2, Parents and Children, pg 33-39

The Life of the Mind Needs Ideas to Grow

That intelligent, moral life that we call education can only survive on one kind of diet: it lives and grows on ideas. A person can go through years of schooling without ever getting a single vital idea. That's why so many well-fed bodies carry around a weak, starved mind--and yet, there's no 'society for the prevention of cruelty to children' crying out against parents for this. A few years ago I heard about a fifteen year old girl who spent two years at a school, and never once took part in a single lesson. That's because that's what her mother wanted. She wanted all of her daughter's time and effort to be spent practicing 'fancy needlework.' Needlework is undoubtedly a survival skill (although not quite survival of the fittest!) but it's possible to pass even a University Local Exam without ever experiencing the vital stirring of the mind that signifies the birth of an idea. If we've been successful at avoiding the disturbing influence of a life-changing idea, then we feel proud about 'finishing our education' when we graduate, and we close our books and close our minds and remain as ignorant as pygmies within the dark, dim forest of our own thoughts and feelings.

What is an Idea?

'A living thing of the mind,' according to past philosophers from Plato to Bacon to Coleridge. We say that an idea strikes us, or impresses us, or seizes us, or takes possession of us, or rules us. As it turns out, our common terms are closer to the truth than the conscious thought being expressed, which is usually the case. It's no exaggeration to credit this kind of action and power to an idea. We form an ideal--which is to say, an embodied idea--and our ideal exerts the strongest formative influence on us. Why do you devote yourself to a particular pursuit or cause? 'Because, twenty years ago, such and such an idea struck me,' is a common response to every kind of life with purpose, every life devoted to working out a particular idea. Isn't it amazing that, when we recognize how powerful an idea is, both the word and the concept seldom enters into our concept of education? Samuel Taylor Coleridge has successfully brought the concept of an 'idea' into the sphere of today's scientific thought. I'm not talking about the kind of scientific thought that's expressed in the science of psychology. Coleridge launched that term on the world himself, although, in his book Method, he apologized for the use of such an arrogant term. I'm talking about the science of how the mind and brain relate to each other and interact. Currently, this science is clumsily termed 'mental physiology' or 'psycho-physiology.'

In his book Method, Coleridge gives us the following illustration of how an idea rises and progresses:

The Rise and Progress of an Idea

'We can't think of any incident in human history that makes a more profound impression on the mind than the moment when Christopher Columbus, sailing on an unknown ocean, first noticed the startling change of the magnetic needle. Many more of these kinds of incidences happen when ideas from Nature are presented to minds that God chooses, and they unfold in prophetic succession. God destined these orderly glimpses to produce the most important revolutions in the state of man! Above all else, Columbus's clear spirit was methodical. He saw the great leading idea very distinctly that authorized him, poor pilot that he was, to become a 'promiser of kingdoms.''

The Beginning of an Idea

Notice the beginning of such ideas. They're 'presented to minds that God chooses.' This view of ideas fits accurately with what we know about the history of great inventions and discoveries, and even with ideas that rule our own lives. It corresponds well with the key we see in Isaiah about where 'practical' ideas that we see elsewhere come from:

'Does the plowman continue to plow and open and break up clods of earth? No, when he's finished clearing his land, doesn't he cast his caraway seed and scatter the cumin, and plant wheat in rows, and barley in the most suitable place, and the spelt along the borders? It's God who teaches him the right way to do it and instructs him . . .

He grinds cornmeal because he can't keep on threshing it . . . this knowledge is also from the Lord of hosts, Who is wonderful in counsel, and excellent in wisdom.' [Isaiah 28]

An Idea Can Exist as a Vague Appetite

Sometimes ideas permeate the atmosphere instead of striking like a weapon. 'The idea might exist in a straightforward, distinct, definite form, like a clear circle in the mind of a mathematician. Or it might only be an instinct, a vague yearning for something, like an impulse that fills a young poet's eyes with tears, but he can't put his finger on why. To inspire this 'yearning for something'--for things that are lovely, honest and noble, is an educator's earliest and most important task. How can these kinds of ideas that are perceived as an indefinite longing be imparted to students? They can't be handed out as the teacher determines, or dispensed on a set schedule. They dwell in the thought-environment that surrounds the child like an atmosphere that he takes in in the same way that he takes in every breath. This atmosphere inspires a child's unconscious ideas of the right way to live--and it comes from his parents. Every gentle look, every reverent tone of voice, every kind word, every helpful act, pervades the thought-environment that's around him like the air he breathes. He doesn't think about these things. They may never enter his conscious thought. But throughout his entire life, they inspire a 'vague appetite towards something,' and his actions spring from this yearning. Parents, you're an awesome and crucially serious presence in the life of the little child in your midst!

Children Draw Inspiration from the Everyday Life Around Them

Knowing that children get direction and inspiration from things going on casually around them makes us hold our breath--to think that our careless words and actions are the starting-point and direction in which they develop. There's no escape for parents. Like it or not, parents are the ones who inspire their children because the thought-environment of their children hangs around them like an atmosphere around a planet. Children absorb the enduring ideas that become those life-long yearning appetites from that atmosphere, appetites towards things that might be lovely or sordid, worldly or spiritual.

The Order and Progress of Definite Ideas

Let's hear what Coleridge has to say about definite ideas that aren't inhaled like air, but are conveyed to the mind in the same way that food is conveyed to the physical body. This is from his book Method:

'More ideas are born from the first, originating idea, in the same way that seeds germinate from a plant.'

'Events and images are the lively, spirit-stirring machinery of the external world. They sustain the seed of the mind in the same way that seeds without light, air and moisture would rot and die.'

'There are many paths we can take to pursue a methodical course. At the head of each path is its own individual, guiding idea.'

As varied and eccentric as the paths are, the ideas they came from have a logical order, and the paths progress in a rational sequence from them. In modern times, the world has suffered because we've subverted the natural and necessary order of Science by trying to test reason and faith with the limited physical experience of science. But, by the true laws or method, reason and faith don't owe any obedience to scientific process.'

Progress goes along the same path of the idea that it starts out from. But it requires a constant mental diligence to stay on the path. Therefore, the orbits of thought must be different from each other in the same way that original ideas are different from each other.'

Plato's Doctrine of Ideas

And this is the corollary and explanation for the law of unconscious thought that results in the 'way we think,' which is what ultimately shapes our character and rules our destiny. Thoughtful people see the way that biological science is shedding new light on the laws of the mind, and they see that these new discoveries are once again bringing us back to Plato's doctrine. He said that 'an idea is a distinguishable power. It affirms itself, and is in unity with the Eternal Essence.'

Nothing But Ideas Matter in Education

This whole subject is profound, but it's also practical. We need to get rid of the theory that education's function is mostly physical exercise of the mental muscle. Perhaps in the early years it doesn't make much apparent difference whether the parents see education as filling a bucket, writing on a blank slate, molding soft clay, or nourishing a life. But in the end, we'll discover that the child has only taken into his being those ideas that have fed his life. Everything else is thrown away, or, even worse, becomes like dust that clogs the system and injures the vital processes.

What Our Educational Formula Should Be

Maybe this is the way the educational formula should go: Education is a life. That life is kept alive with ideas. Ideas originate from a spiritual source, and

'God has made us in such a way'

that the most common way we get ideas is by passing them to each other. The parents' duty is to sustain the child's inner life with ideas in the same way that his physical body is sustained with food. Children are eclectic. They might choose this, or they might choose that. Therefore, 'sow your seed in the morning, and don't stop sowing in the evening, because you don't know which seed will grow, this one or that one--or maybe they'll both do well.'

Children are drawn to evil as well as to good, so we need to shelter them from any evil ideas that might lodge in their minds by chance.

The initial idea spawns subsequent ideas. For that reason, we need to be careful that children get the right initial ideas about the important relationships and duties of life.

Every subject and every trail of thinking has its own 'guiding idea.' Therefore, whatever a child studies will be living education depending on how much the study is energized by the initial guiding idea at its head.

Volume 2, Parents and Children, pg 41-43

Parents are the Ones Who Reveal God to Their Children

Parents in general probably feel the weight of the responsibility of their prophetic job more than ever before. Their role as revealers of God to their children is where parents are most severely limited, yet their success in this is what fulfills God's Divine intention in giving children to them to bring up--in the nurture and admonition of the Lord.

How to Fortify Children Against Doubt

How do we fortify our children against the doubts that fill the air? That's a worrisome question. We have three options. We can teach them in the same old way that we ourselves were taught and let them take their chances when it's their time. Or we can try to deal with each of the difficult issues and doubts that have come up and that they're likely to face in the future by offering them Christian dogma and 'proofs.' Or we can give them such a clear hold on vital truth, and such a thorough perspective of current issues that they'll land on the safe side of whatever controversies they come up against. They'll recognize truth in whatever new light it's presented in, and they'll be safeguarded against mortal error.

Of The Three Options, the First is Unfair

The first option (teach them in the same old way that we ourselves were taught and let them take their chances) is unfair to our youth. When the attack comes, they'll find themselves at a disadvantage. They'll have no response. Their confidence will be shaken, and they'll conclude that none of the truth they learned is useful as a defense. If it was, wouldn't they have been taught how to use it? They'll resent being proved wrong and being on the weaker, losing side--at least, that's how it looks to them--and being behind the times. So they'll go over to the side of the most aggressive current thinkers without a struggle.

'Evidence' is Not Proof

Now let's suppose that they've been fortified with 'Christian evidence' and defended with a wall of solid, dogmatic teaching. Religion without definite authoritative teaching degenerates into sentiment, but dogma for the sake of dogma offers no defense against the assaults of unbelief. As far as 'evidences,' the proverb, 'He who excuses himself accuses himself' [he who is most vocal about his innocence is often the most guilty] might be applied to the whole list of Christian apologists. Whatever truth we live by needs to be self-evidenced, requiring neither proof nor disproof. Children should learn Bible history with whatever light modern research can shed. But they shouldn't be taught to assume that evidences such as inscriptions on Assyrian monuments are proofs that the Bible is correct. They help to illustrate the Biblical record, but they're only supplementary proofs, nothing more or less.

The Outlook on Current Thought

How about the third option? Let's consider, first of all, the perspective of current thought. Young minds crave contemporary opinion. Young people are eager to know what to think about the serious questions regarding religion and life. They want to know what this or that influential person's opinion is. They don't confine themselves to the leading people that their parents have decided are worth listening to. On the contrary, the 'other side' of every issue is the attractive side to them, and they don't want to be out of step with cutting edge thought.

Free-will In Thought

The fact that their youth should take so naturally to new ideas doesn't need to come as a shock to parents. From the time their children are tiny, their training should prepare them for this plunge that they'll take. When that time comes, there's no way to prevent it. Children may jump into forming their own opinions openly, or, if their home is rigid, they'll do it in secret. But, whether openly or secretly, young people will think their own thoughts. They'll follow the leading of the people they choose to admire because, after all, they're actually modest and humble at heart and don't have the confidence to try thinking totally by themselves. They still look to someone else, but their allegiance switches from their parents. Parents don't need to resent or fear this transferal of allegiance. We all do this when it's our time to move towards independence and we feel the draw of other larger interests outside our own family.

Volume 2, Parents and Children, pg 77

Let him do as much as he wants to of his own accord. But never urge him, or applaud, or show him off. Next, let words convey ideas as he's able to handle them. Buttercup, primrose, dandelion, magpie each carry their own image. A daisy is a 'day's eye;' it opens when the sun rises and closes when the sun sets.

'That may very well be why men say
The daisy, or the eye of day.'

Let him feel like the common words that we use daily and take for granted are beautiful, full of story and interest. It's wonderful for a child to get the kinds of ideas that are appropriate for his own individual inborn qualities. The right idea at the right time is taken in without any effort. And, once ideas are in the child's mind, they behave like living creatures. They feed, and grow and multiply.

Volume 2, Parents and Children, pg 124-128

The Idea That Initiates a Habit

But even in this physical effort, the spiritual power of ideas has a part, because a habit is developed when we act on an initial idea by carrying out a corresponding action many, many times. For instance, a child may hear that Duke Wellington slept in a bed that was too narrow to turn over in because he said 'when I feel like turning over, it means it's time to get up.' The child doesn't like to get up in the morning, but he wants to be like the hero of Waterloo. You, as his parent, stimulate him to act on this idea every day for about a month, until the habit is formed. By that time, it's just as easy to get up on time as it is to sleep in.

Education has two functions: (a) forming the right habits, and, (b) presenting inspiring ideas. The first is more dependent than we realize on a physical process. The second is totally spiritual. Its origin, method and result are intangible. Could this be the meeting point where two philosophies come together that have divided mankind ever since men began to think about their thoughts and actions? Both views are right and we need both. Both have a role to play in helping people develop to their highest potential. The essence of modern thought, and, in fact, of all profound thought, is, Might the spiritual world have some kind of impact on the physical world? Every issue, from the question of how to educate a little child, to the mystery of the Incarnation, boils down to this point. If one can conceive that the spiritual might possibly impact the physical world, then everything else becomes clear, from the ridiculous stunts that people do under hypnotic suggestion, to the miracles of Christianity. It becomes possible, although not always easy, to believe when we're told that an effort of extreme concentration of thought and feeling has allowed some devout people to develop the marks of the cross on their own hands and feet. If we can just accept the possibility that spiritual forces can influence the physical world, nothing is impossible for our faith. All we ask for is a precedent. But, the fact is, this interaction of spiritual and physical forces happens all the time. It's our common and normal daily experience. Isn't it the impact of spirit upon matter that influences our physical flesh to show our character and behavior in our facial expression? And it isn't just our face that manifests our inner person--a good observer of human nature can read a person's body language fairly well even from behind. A sculptor knows how it works. There's a statue of the recently deceased Prince Albert in Edinburgh that shows different groups of people paying homage to the Prince Consort. If you stand so that you can see the backs and shoulders of the people, it's obvious which one is the scholar, soldier, peasant, and artisan. Isn't this the influence of spirit over matter?

There is No Middle Ground

That puts us in the midst of a dilemma. There's no middle ground open to us. Physiologists have proved conclusively that the physical brain is what thinks. In fact, physical thought can go on in the brain even without the conscious will or participation of the person. Even more than that, some of the best of our art and literature is the result of unconscious thought. So we have to admit one of two things. Either thought is strictly a physical process of the material brain tissue, just another chemical reaction, or the physical brain is the agent of spiritual thought, and the spiritual thought acts on it like the fingers of a pianist striking the keys of his instrument. If we can allow this, then the whole question is conceded. The spiritual can indeed impact physical material. It's an accepted fact.

The Individuality of Children is Safeguarded

As we've said before, parents and teachers are only allowed to play a minor role in the great work of education after all. You can bring a horse to water, but you can't make him drink. In the same way, you can bring the most suitable ideas to the mind of a child, but you have no way of knowing which he'll take to, and which he'll reject. And it's a good thing for us that a child's individuality is protected by this safeguard that's within each of them. Our job is to make sure that his educational plate is always refilled with appropriate and inspiring ideas. Once we've done our job, we need to leave it to the child's mental appetite to take what it needs, and how much it needs. But we need to watch out for one thing. The least sign of fullness, especially when we're talking about moral and religious ideas, should be taken as a serious warning. If we persist at that point, we may spoil the child's appetite forever, and he may never willing sit down to that particular dish again.

The Importance of Striking Ideas

The limitations we perceive in our own abilities when it comes to presenting ideas should make us even more careful about what kinds of ideas we set in front of our children. We won't be satisfied that they learn geography, history, Latin, etc. We'll want to know what striking ideas were presented in each subject, and how those ideas affect the child's intellectual and moral development. We'll have the resolve to consider the issue of education as Fouillée presented it calmly and sincerely. We probably won't agree with him in many of the details, but we'll most likely agree to his conclusions--the conclusion that it isn't the subject that's merely practical/vocational, but moral and social science topics that are covered in history, literature, or whatever, that we dare not leave out of the curriculum because our students are 'beings who breathe thoughtful breath.'

The charts of subjects studied in the Appendix are very helpful. Every subject is treated from what may be called the ideal point of view.

Volume 2, Parents and Children, pg 131-132

Every Kind of Thought is in the Domain of Ideas

When we discussed Fouillée's Education from a National Standpoint, we tried to show that the two kinds of philosophy (materialistic naturalism and supernatural idealism) have always divided the world into two camps because both are true, but neither is the whole truth. Matter and spirit, or, force and ideas, both work together to develop the character of a person. Somehow the brain makes a physical, tangible recording of the ideas that bring inspiration to the life. But those ideas didn't originate in the brain. Ideas are spiritual. They're transferred via spiritual means, whether the vehicle is printed words on a page, the glance of an eye, the touch of a hand, or the holy, mysterious breath of the Holy Spirit, the Spirit whose origin and destination are beyond our ability to discern. All thoughts that enliven us, and all words that set us on fire with passion are spiritual by nature and they appeal to what's spiritual within us. Once we recognize that every type of thought and all categories of feelings belong to the dominion of ideas, we won't be able to keep the great mysteries of our religion out of our common daily life. When we consider how a friend of ours sitting next to us communicates with us spirit to spirit with a quick exchange of ideas, we understand that the Spirit of God communicates with us in the same way. The closer two human souls understand each other, the less they need to rely on spoken words. It's a small step to go from this to the concept of the most intimate and joyful relationship of all, the communication between a devoted soul and his God.

Volume 2, Parents and Children, pg 163-164

The Law in Our Favor: The Power of an Idea

'Hath not a Jew eyes? hath not a Jew hands, organs, dimensions, senses, affections, passions?'

Conditions Bearing on the Power of an Idea

When attempting the regeneration of a person, the tool is always an idea that's so powerful that the mind seizes upon it eagerly enough to make a physical impression on the surface of the brain tissue. In order for an idea to be this powerful, it has to address some desire or affection within the person. For example, man wants knowledge, power, esteem, love, and the company of others. He also has the capacity within himself for love, esteem, gratitude, reverence and kindness. He has a vague, unidentified craving for something to use all this good on.

The Concept of Powerful Ideas is Compatible with Christianity

An idea that appeals to any of a person's strong desires and affections will need to be responded to in some way. An idea and a specific capacity are made for each other. They're meaningless by themselves, like a ball and socket. But, together, they make up a joint that's useful in hundreds of ways. But what about a person who's totally depraved? Does he have any capacity for good, such as the capacity to be grateful? Yes, he does. Depravity is a disease, a physical condition, but under that is a man who is capable of being healed. This isn't really the place to think of them, but consider the power of the ideas that make up the concept of Christ that's presented to a poor, degraded soul: divine help and compassion for his neglected physical body, divine love to address his loneliness, divine forgiveness to remove the shame of his sin, divine esteem to soothe his own contempt for himself, divine goodness and beauty to call forth the passion for love and loyalty within him, the story of the Cross being lifted up that no human soul can resist if it's presented properly. Once a person receives the divine idea, he receives divine life, too. That life grows and is nurtured and cherished by the Holy Spirit. The person becomes a new creation with new goals and new thoughts and a life outside of himself. The old things have passed away, and all things have become new. In a sense, the physical body embodies the new spiritual life.

It seems evident that the conversion process is so well-suited to man's physical and spiritual make-up, that it's inevitable for everyone--if only the concepts that Christ sums up are presented properly to the soul.

So then, it isn't a question of whether it's possible to convert the most depraved soul, or whether the ideas that need to be presented are powerful enough. It's a question of how to present these ideas so that a person can recognize and accept that the fullness of Christ is the only answer for the emptiness that he's aware of.

Volume 2, Parents and Children, pg 228-231

The Teacher Should Nourish the Child with Ideas

We believe that a parent's next duty is to nourish the child every day with loving, right and noble ideas. Once the child has received the Idea, he'll assimilate it in his own individual way, and work it into the fabric of his being. A single sentence that his mother utters might prove to be the catalyst that gives him an interest that could make him a painter, poet, politician or philanthropist. Lessons should have two goals. They should help a child develop the right mental habits, such as attention, accuracy, promptness, etc., and they should provide the nourishment of ideas that might bear fruit in his life.

Our Main Purpose

These aren't the only educational principles that we keep in mind and put into practice. But for the moment, it's worthwhile for us to focus on the fact that one of our purposes is to emphasize the importance of education in the two areas of forming habits and presenting ideas. At the same time, we need to recognize that developing faculties isn't a priority with children of the cultivated classes because this has already been done in a previous generation [and passed down to the children in the gene pool??]

We Need to Recognize the Physical and Spiritual Principles of Human Nature

But how do we put all of this into practice? Is it practical? Is it the most important issue we need to address today? It must be practical because it fully recognizes both facets of human nature: physical and spiritual. We're prepared to acknowledge everything that even the most advanced biologist can ask us. If he challenges us by saying, 'Thought is nothing more than a physical reaction,' then we're not dismayed. We know that 99 out of 100 thoughts that pass through our minds are involuntary. We can't help them because they're the result of the modifications of the brain tissue that were caused by habit. A mean person thinks mean thoughts, a noble man thinks great thoughts, because we all think the kinds of thoughts we're used to thinking. Physical science shows us why. At the same time, we recognize that the spirit within us is greater than the physical body that it governs. Every habit starte somewhere. The beginning of every habit is the idea that comes with a stir and takes possession of us.

We Recognize the Supreme Teacher

Ideas are the power in life that motivate. Because we recognize the spiritual potential of an idea, we're able to bow reverently and accept that God the Holy Spirit Himself is the Supreme Teacher. He deals with each of us in the things we call sacred and things we call secular. We submit ourselves to being open to the spiritual impact of ideas, whether those ideas are transmitted to us via text in a book, a human voice, or without any visible means.

Subjects Are Valued Only When They Present Fruitful Ideas

But ideas can be either good or evil. We've learned that choosing between all the ideas that present themselves is every human being's most important responsible work. We try to give our children the ability to choose well. We ask ourselves, 'Is there a fruitful, productive idea underlying this or that particular subject that my children are studying?' We discard the notion that 'developing the faculties' is the most important task of education. Any subject that doesn't arise from some great thought of life is rejected because it isn't nourishing or fruitful. Usually, but not always, we keep the subjects that promote habits of clear, orderly thinking. We still use some mental gymnastics to train the habit of clear, orderly thinking. Mathematics, grammar, logic, etc., aren't only academic. We suppose that they develop intellectual muscle. We don't reject the staples of traditional school education in any way. In fact, we value them even more--not for their distinct role in developing specific mental 'faculties,' but for their ability to develop habits by leaving physical impressions on the brain tissue.

Volume 2, Parents and Children, pg 244-246

It's safe to say that almost everything has a biological explanation, as long as we remember that man is a spiritual being whose physical parts behave in response to non-physical ideas. For example, the hand writes what the mind thinks in obedience to stimulating ideas.

Life is Sustained with Ideas

Do ideas originate from within the person?

Probably not. It seems that, in the same way that physical life is sustained by appropriate food from outside the body, the non-physical life is sustained from its own kind of appropriate food, which is ideas transmitted in spiritual, invisible ways.

Can the words 'idea' and 'suggestion' be used interchangeably?

Only in the sense that ideas convey suggestions that are carried out in actions.

What role does the person play in receiving the non-physical food of ideas?

The person is like a man standing guard at the door of his house deciding whether to invite in or turn away the various ideas that come around and claim to be good for his home.

The Will's Role in Receiving Ideas

Is the will's decision to accept or reject ideas the only responsibility that people have in conducting their lives?

Probably, because once an idea is allowed to enter, it will run its own course unless another idea supersedes it--and even that idea is accepted or rejected by the person's will.

Where Ideas Come From

How do ideas originate?

They seem to emanate from spiritual beings, as when one man communicates to another spiritual person an idea that's actually a part of himself.

How Are Ideas Conveyed?

Does it take the physical intervention of a person's presence to convey an idea to someone else?

No. Ideas can be conveyed through images or printed words. Objects in nature can convey ideas, too, but perhaps in that case the initial idea is still traceable to another mind.

The Supreme Teacher

Do you mean that the ideas that sustain our spiritual lives are derived from human beings, either directly or indirectly?

No, and this is the great fact that educators need to recognize. God Himself, the Holy Spirit, is the supreme Teacher of people.


He opens people's ears every morning so they can hear as much of the best truth as they're able to receive.

God is the Supreme Teacher in Both Spiritual and Secular

Are the ideas that come from the Holy Spirit limited to religious life?

No. When Coleridge wrote about Columbus and the discovery of America, he credited the origin of all great ideas and inventions to the fact that 'certain secular ideas are presented to minds that have been prepared to receive them by a power that's even higher than Nature herself.'

Is there any teaching in the Bible to support this view?

Yes, there's quite a bit of teaching in the Bible. Isaiah, for example, says that the plowman knows how to do the various aspects of farming because 'his God instructs and teaches him.'

Are spiritually-originated ideas all good?

Unfortunately, no. Sadly, mankind has experienced evil ideas that were also communicated spiritually.

What is man's responsibility?

To choose the good ideas, and to reject the evil ones.

This View Sheds Light on Christian Doctrine

Does this concept that ideas are the spiritual food that sustain physical life shed any light on Christian doctrines?

Yes. It means that the Bread of Life, the Water of Life, the Word by which we live, the 'food to eat that you know nothing about,' and much more, are more than figurative expressions, but we have to use the same words to describe man's physical and spiritual sustenance. We understand that ideas that emanate from Jesus and are of His essence, are the spiritual food and drink of His people who believe Him. It's no longer difficult or confusing to understand that we need to sustain our spiritual selves upon Him in the same way that our bodies live on bread.

Divine Co-operation in Education

Does this understanding of ideas have any practical consequence for the teacher?

Yes, now the teacher knows that his job is to put the daily nourishment of ideas in front of the child. He can provide the correct initial idea in every subject, and the ideas that respect the relationships and duties of life. Most importantly, he recognizes that he has divine co-operation as he directs, teaches and trains the child.

Volume 3, School Education, pg 50-51

But what about the intellectual exchange of ideas? Men who have long since died are still able to communicate their living thoughts through the works they've left behind, and these ideas are like the links of an endless chain that connect all people to one another, and allow people to influence each other across the boundaries of time and space. But ideas have no place in a philosophy where people can only know what's assimilated by their own mind after coming through their own senses. If we want to realize all of the goals and hopes we've set for ourselves in our own day, we'll need to reject Locke's philosophy, although we still have gratitude and even affection for him.

Volume 3, School Education, pg 68-71

His Education: We also suggested that, once a relationship is made, it leaves a permanent mark in the tissue of the brain. In other words, the physical impression that a thought or experiential memory leaves on the brain has the potential to become a habit. About ninety percent of our lives runs according to habit. So, if we want to be successful at education, we need to know something about the psychological and physical aspects of habit. We need to know how to start a habit and how to develop it. And we need to understand that a person being educated has two tasks--forming habits and assimilating ideas.

How Ideas Behave

Physiologists and 'rational psychologists' have helped us to understand the foundation of habit so that now everyone can employ the concept of habit development. The nature of ideas, what they do, how they behave, the ability of ideas to impact brain tissue and make a very real, physical impression--all of these things are vague and we can only guess about them. But that's okay. Other equally necessary facts of our existence, like sleeping and life and death, are also things we can't explain. Every branch of science has foundational facts that we have to accept without fully understanding. When a working theory is needed, the best thing to do is to accept the foundational facts that seem the most effective and adequate. So let's just agree with Plato that an idea is its own separate being, a living thing related to the mind.

No One Creates an Idea by Himself

Apparently, nobody has the ability to come up with an original idea on his own. Ideas appear to be the offspring of two minds. We sometimes say, 'Such-and-such put it in my head,' and that does seem to be how ideas work, whether they're simple or deeply profound. But, once an idea is born, it seems to live forever. It might be painted into a picture, or written >into a book, carved into a chair, or simply spoken to a friend who tells it to someone else, who tells it to still another person, so that the idea goes on being spoken about indefinitely. Who can tell how long an idea goes on and on? One of the most striking things that a history student notices is the persistent way that ideas recur. The other striking thing is that ideas sometimes elude discovery until the right occasion brings them to notice. The children we birth physically will die someday and be buried. But who knows what will become of the ideas that are birthed?

Certain People Attract Certain Ideas

Maybe we can indulge one more hypothesis. In the same way that ideas pass from one mind to the next, an idea from someone else's mind means nothing to us until it goes through a process of growth inside our own mind. That's why different ideas seem to appeal to different people. It isn't that ideas have minds of their own and indulge their personal yearning to form into 'apperception masses.' It's because people have inside themselves, probably by inheritance, what they need to attract certain ideas. To help make it clearer, we'll illustrate the concept with something visible. The relationship is something like pollen and the ovule that it's supposed to fertilize. There are various random ways of carrying the pollen to the ovule, but there's nothing haphazard about the result. The correct pollen always gets to the appropriate ovule so that the plant can bear seeds after its own kind. This is the way people bring forth ideas according to their own personal kind.

The Idea That 'Strikes' Us

The question is, how can an invisible, spiritual idea make a real, physical impression on material substance--even substance as delicate as brain tissue? We don't know. But we have a bit of physical evidence that it does in the fact that we experience lots of physical reflex reactions whenever an idea 'strikes' us. Our eyes brighten, our pulse quickens, our color perks up, our whole body becomes more alive, capable, strengthened, no longer weighed down under our burden of flesh. Every habit we've ever formed originated with an initial idea. And every idea we receive is capable of initiating a habit of thinking or doing. Every human has the ability to communicate with others, and, after he dies, this ability can outlive him in the work he's done or things he's said. Life is so boundless! Once we recognize ourselves as spiritual beings, we're convinced that God's Holy Spirit has the same kind of intimate power that corresponds with the human spirit.

Expansion and Activity of the Person

This crowd of ideas comes to us with order and purpose even beyond our own busy efforts and good intentions. It's almost as if a new human being came into the world with the potential to make an unlimited number of relationships, but with a preference to certain of those relationships. But ideas have no way of adapting to fit different relationships. It's education's job to make sure that the person is adapted to the relationships most appropriate for him, and to be sure that the person expands and stays active. This is done with two things: ideas and habits. Every relationship needs to be initiated by its own 'captain' idea (see Coleridge's Method), which must be sustained by other appropriate ideas. These are infused onto the person's brain with proper habits. This is the job we have before us.

Volume 3, School Education, pg 78

When we consider that our main moral and intellectual priority in life is setting up relationships, and that the function of education is to put children in contact with the relationships that are appropriate for them, and to offer the inspiring idea that will initiate a relationship, we understand that little incidents like the one I just told are much more important than passing a test.

Volume 3, School Education, pg 81-82

There are thousands of children in our schools today who could become apostles, evangelists, missionaries to Asia who could unite east and west, great archaeologists who might make us aware of people who lived thousands of years ago. But we need to approach these children with living thought and living books in order to awaken in them a sense of a personal bond with others in the world.

The Awakening Idea

It's up to us to expose them to the awakening idea, and then to help them form a habit of thinking and living. Here's an example of what a young person could do. Quoting from the Academy: 'From the beginning of his career, young Henry Rawlinson was interested in the history and antiquities of Persia. He attributed his interest to his conversations with Sir John Malcolm the first time he had come to India, and when he had happened to be stationed in Kirmanshah, in Persian Kurdistan. The Rock of Behistun stands near there. It has an inscription carved on its face in three different languages. Now we know that the inscription is from Darius Hystaspes, who restored Cyrus' Empire. The wedge-shaped cuneiform letters it was written in had baffled all attempts to decipher the inscription. Risking life and injury, Rawlinson tried to climb the rock, which is almost inaccessible, so he could copy the easiest of the three inscriptions. After studying it for a long time, he figured out that it was Persian. Two years later he had discovered how Persian words were translated into cuneiform characters.' And what was the result? 'Now we can access the chronicles of empires that were more highly organized than any of the states in Greece, going back to dates much earlier than science had said man first appeared on the earth. The changes in our thinking as a result of this new information, can't even be estimated.' And it's all because Rawlinson climbed up the Behistun Rock, which was due to his interest sparked by talking with Sir John Malcolm.

Volume 3, School Education, pg 93-94

The Persuasiveness of Dominant Ideas

We're still nodding in agreement with Herbart when he recognizes that an idea has a force of its own--especially ideas that are trendy at the moment. 'The family circle and public discussion are both influenced by forces that are active in the social world. Those forces penetrate the entire atmosphere of human life via invisible paths. Nobody knows where these forces come from, but they are there. They influence humanity's moods, dreams, and inclinations. Nobody, no matter how powerful they are, can avoid their effects. No king can command their direction. Often, these forces originate as the idea of some genius, and once it makes its way into the public arena, it's swept up by the masses who don't remember its author. Then the idea, active in public thought, impels individuals to take some kind of action with conviction. Thus, it comes full circle. These ideas begin in the minds of highly gifted people, but permeate all of society. They don't reach just the adults, but even the young fall under their spell. Eventually, they come back around to other highly gifted people who refine them and elevate them to a definite form.

'Is the force of these ideas greater in the individual, or in society? It doesn't matter. The important thing is, their effect on one results in a proportional reaction in the other, and their influence undoubtedly affects the younger generation.'

The Zeitgeist [zeitgeist: the general spirit of the times]

We agree wholeheartedly with Herbart that nobody can escape the influence of the Zeitgeist. The Zeitgeist, in fact, is one of the most powerful spiritual forces in education. Parents, teachers and anyone else connected with training children need to recognize its existence and be prepared to make adjustments accordingly.

Volume 3, School Education, pg 99-100

Character doesn't just come from exposing children to great ideas. It's also the result of habits that we strive to instill based on those ideas. We recognize both principles--idea and habit. The result is that we have a wide range of possibilities in education, practical methods, and definite aim. Our goal is to produce a human being who is the best he can be physically, intellectually, ethically and spiritually; a person who will have the enthusiasm of religion, full life, nature, knowledge, art, and physical work. And we're not clueless about how to achieve it. I've tried to share in a previous chapter what I see as the root problem with Herbart's educational philosophy: it tends to eliminate individual personality, and therefore leads to odd futilities in teaching. It's more pleasing to note that certain basic ideas that have been around for a long time and are part of our own educational scheme, also appealed just as much to a brilliant, original thinker like Herbart.

Volume 3, School Education, pg 110-112

Stimulating Ideas

The ability for a habit to become morally binding depends on how much inspiring power the idea behind it has. When I was little, I had a book of sayings translated from Greek and Roman classics. The fine, rolling sentences full of substance made a big impression on me. It's easy to understand how Greek and Roman boys who were brought up on these kinds of literary ideas developed virtues that we seem to lack. In the same way, the early Church brought to life three evangelical virtues, four cardinal virtues, and the seven deadly sins. If we want our children to take up the mission of disciplining their habits, we'll need to revive this kind of teaching. When it comes to developing our children's habits, all we can do is get them started.


If you touch the right well-spring of inspiration, children will prove to be capable of an amazing amount of persistent effort. A ten year old I know made up his mind to run three miles a day by himself during his hot summer vacation because he was going to be in a race when school started again in the fall. And it wasn't that he was so interested in sports, but his older brother had made a name for himself by winning races and he wanted to do the same thing. When we consider how we as adults seem so unable to do the things we put on our to-do lists every day, it makes us appreciate the compelling power of children when they have the right inspiration. Fortitude is a big word, but it's what little boys need when they're sitting in the dentist's chair. It's helpful for a child to think of Fortitude as a manly, knightly power to tolerate pain and inconvenience without showing discomfort. The story of the Spartan boy who hid a fox under his shirt will cause a child to admire the boy's Fortitude, perhaps inspiring a girl not to fuss about physical irritations. She'll have the same shame in complaining as the disciples did when Jesus asked, 'Couldn't you watch with Me for even one hour?' and she'll brace herself to bear up so she can be of service. Brutus's wife Portia showed what she was made of when she hurt her sensitive skin to prove that she was strong enough to share her husband's concerns.


Service is another knightly quality. A child should be so inspired by heroic examples to serve, that he hates letting an opportunity to serve pass by him.


Courage should also be developed as a habit rather than a rash impulse. All children have courage in them naturally. They only need heroic examples to fan the flame of their bravery, and they need to learn that the task that needs doing is always more important than the person doing the task.


Caution is also part of chivalric service, whether we're serving our country or our family. Courage without caution is recklessness. But, as it relates to the physical body, caution is mostly concerned with the duty to stay healthy. I once heard about a boy at a school where a lot of instruction had been given about matters of health and hygiene. He got very anxious and stressed about the care of his health. That kind of worry isn't

what I mean by caution. The kind of caution I'm talking about should think of every power within our physical means as a way of serving and defending what's right. It's a shameful thing to do something carelessly or recklessly that would make any part of the body unfit for that kind of service.


The highest inspirational impulse we can have when it comes to physical purity is the scripture that says, 'Your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit.' But we present the concept so inadequately! There are so many inspiring ideas that should support the physical training and teaching that our children need. Teaching such virtues as purity, perseverance, courage, stability, caution, and moderation using inspiring examples should help teachers and parents to prepare their children better for their life responsibilities. Parents are wise to make sure that their children are fit and ready for service It's not just important that they maintain their physical health and cleanliness, but they also need to be able to manage and control their own bodies. Parents do this by training the proper habits and inspiring them with examples of chivalric service.

Volume 3, School Education, pg 116

Reason Provides Logical Proof for Any Idea We Entertain

Certain individuals might or might not be trusted to come to a morally right conclusion about any premise on their minds. In any case, the reasoning ability itself acts in a mostly mechanical and involuntary way. It doesn't necessarily arrive at the right conclusion. The only job Reason does for us is to logically prove any idea that we decide to entertain. For example, we've already said that schools of philosophy in both eastern and western thought entertain the idea that the real, physical world doesn't exist, it's man's conception. Logical proofs of this concept pour into their minds so much that books proving this seemingly absurd idea abound. We all know that if we entertain the notion that a servant is dishonest, or that a friend isn't really our friend, or that a certain dress makes us look fat, some power from within us that's unconscious to us will go to work collecting evidence and presenting clear-cut evidence to confirm it to us. This is how wars and persecutions and family feuds all over the world have started. That's why it's so important for children to learn that their reason is limited. Then they won't confuse logical arguments with eternal truth. They'll know that the important thing is the ideas they allow themselves to entertain. The conclusions they draw from those ideas aren't foolproof because they evolve all by themselves.

Volume 3, School Education, pg 117-118

Great Eras Come from Time to Time

The knowledge that's given to us seems to come to us in meals. There are great eras of scientific discovery or ages of literary activity or poetic insight or artistic creativity that seem to come from time to time, followed by long intervals so that there's time for the world to assimilate the new knowledge or idea. After that, the world seems to be swept off its feet with a flurry of great minds involved with that idea. Yet we haven't learned to discern the signs of the time, or realize that this is the routine way that God provides us with knowledge which is, after all, just as divine as God's nurture and admonition. The medieval church recognized this great truth. John Ruskin eloquently explained how the 'Captain Figures,' or inventors, of grammar, music, astronomy, geometry, arithmetic and logic all spoke what had been put inside them as a result of the direct outpouring of the Holy Spirit--even though none of them had any recognition of God as we know Him. We could revolutionize education if we could understand that seemingly dry and dull subjects like grammar and math are supposed to come to children in a living form, revealed by the power of the Spirit who 'shall teach you all things.'

Nothing is as Practical as Great Ideas

It might seem like the line of thought I'm suggesting is interesting but impractical. Yet nothing is as practical as a great idea because nothing else produces so much practical effort. We must not shun philosophy. Education is nothing more than the application of philosophy. It's our job to train children according to the wisdom we have within us, rather than according to the latest new trend in educational methodology.

'Man, know yourself,' is good advice that we might rephrase as, 'Child, know yourself, and know your relationships to God and mankind and nature.' In order to give children the preparation they need to live, parents need to know a little bit about the laws of the mind and where knowledge comes from.

Volume 3, School Education, pg 121

Living Ideas Provide Sustenance

Intellectual life, like all the other facets of spiritual life, can only live and grow on one food: the nourishment of living ideas. I can't repeat this too many times or emphasize it too insistently. This is probably the area we fail in most often when raising children. All we feed them are dry, gray ashes from a fire of ideas whose spark of original thought has long since been extinguished. We give children inferior story books with tired clichés, unimaginative situations, mere threads of other people's thoughts, and unoriginal, worn-out attitudes. Our children complain that they already know how the story is going to end! Even worse, they can predict how every page will play out. Just the other day I heard someone say that children don't like poetry, that they prefer an exciting story told in prose. I have no doubt that they like the story, but poetry does appeal to children, although in other ways.

Volume 3, School Education, pg 123-125

Selecting and Appropriating for Themselves

If children are provided with an abundant feast of ideas, they'll naturally take on the process of selecting from them on their own. Tennyson's lines--

'Our elm tree's ruddy-hearted blossom-flake is fluttering down,'

'Ruby-budded lime,'

'Black as ash-buds in the front of March'

have done more to interest children in botany than any Science and Art Department with all of their equipment, lectures and exams.

Browning also provides nature inspiration:

'Beside boulders with lichens that look
Like spots on a moth, and small ferns attach
Themselves to the polished rock.'

Concepts of nature, life, love, duty, heroism--children will discover and select for themselves from the books they read. The authors of the books children read contribute more to their education than any deliberate lessons. This is precisely why children need to choose these vital ideas and allocate them for themselves.

I'll discuss the burning question of what kind of curriculum will provide children, not with the hard, dry bones of mere facts, but with facts that are wearing warm flesh that's been made alive by having the vital spirit of dynamic ideas breathed into them. The other day, a teacher complained that it was difficult to teach from Freeman's Old English History because it had too many stories--never recognizing that that it was the stories teaching living history, while all the rest was dead.

Inherited Stinginess Regarding Schoolbooks

Sometimes there's an unconscious inherited stingy attitude that came down from the days when people had less money and there weren't as many books. It can make parents unnecessarily restrict their children's school books. Children should have living books, varied from time to time, and not thumbed through from one generation of schoolchildren to another until the mere sight of them is tedious. But the subject of feeding children's minds with ideas is so extensive and important that I'll have to be satisfied with giving just a few concise suggestions. For further study, books about these topics should be helpful:

1) What kind of books children like in fiction, poetry, travel, history, and biography, which is the most interesting subject.
2) The concepts about life and behavior that children assimilate from their reading.
3) Concepts of duty that are assimilated in the same way.
4) The concepts of nature that children latch onto
5) The leading, life-giving ideas in school subjects such as geography, grammar, history, astronomy, ancient history, etc.

Once more, I'd like to bring up John Ruskin's description of the 'Captain Figures' heading each of the Liberal Arts in his commentary of the fresco at the Spanish chapel from Mornings in Florence. And I'll conclude with a wise quote by Coleridge about Plato's method, which should always be on the mind of anyone involved with training children--

Plato's Educational Aim

'He didn't want to help the passive mind store the various bits of knowledge that were deemed most important, as if the human soul was nothing more than a storage bin or banquet room. He wanted to place the mind in the relationship of circumstance that would incite its growing and germinating abilities so that it would produce new fruits of thought, new concepts and imaginations and ideas.'

Volume 3, School Education, pg 126

Ideas are living and have the ability to inspire.

Volume 3, School Education, pg 134

Phoebe Anna Traquair painted frescoes on the walls to illustrate the Benedicte Omina Opera. 'Holy and humble men of heart,' for example, is pictured as three men of our own time from three different schools of thought. The only one I remember is Cardinal Newman. The power that this kind of master-idea can have, and the unity it can bring to a life, might be exemplified by our beloved Victoria's prophetic childhood statement, 'I will be good.' Few children in Britain haven't felt thrilled at that phrase. Maybe one day Queen Victoria will know how much good was done because that simple child's promise was fulfilled so well, and it inspired the whole Empire to have a similar moral impulse.

Volume 3, School Education, pg 150-15

The Way the 1700's Implemented 'Education is a Life' Causes Intellectual Weariness

An even more consuming fatigue set in at the end of the 1700's, and that was also the result of focusing on a part instead of the whole of education. 'Education is a life' was the formula then, although not consciously. The result was an obsessive chasing after ideas. It's pathetic to read about Madame de Stael and her crowd, or the cultured group who met at the fashionable court of Hotel Rambouillet, and stayed up late because they couldn't sleep. They spent long nights making up character sketches of each other, brain teasers, word puzzles, and other useless intellectual games. Then some of them would meet early for breakfast to compose and sing little songs fashioned after specific themes. That might bore us as much as it bored them. We might err by focusing too much on one thing as they did, but at least we have less stress because we aren't always restlessly pursuing interesting notions. But their experience can be a lesson for us at the beginning of the 1900's. Their mistake was that they didn't understand the concept of proportion. We tend to focus on education as atmosphere; they focused on education as ideas. But the truth includes both of these as well as a third aspect of education.

Volume 3, School Education, pg 155-161

The Diet of Great Ideas

Michelangelo wrote to his friend Vittoria Colonna that 'good Christians always create good, beautiful figures. In making a representation of our adored Lord, it isn't enough for the artist to be a great skilled master. I believe that he must also be a moral, righteous man, possibly a saint, so that the Holy Spirit will give him inspiration.' The truth is, only one diet affords what men and nations need to become great. And that diet is a diet of great ideas passed on by a power even higher than Nature itself to people who have prepared themselves to receive them.

Science: The Approved Teaching of Our Day

I think that the PNEU has the leaven that can leaven the whole lump of dough. Let's determine to work with a purpose and passion. Let's restore to the world that great scheme of unity in life that produced such great men and great works in the past, and let's enrich that with current knowledge. We don't need to be afraid that the kinds of ideas that will help education will oppose science. Many of us feel, for good reason, that science is the new teaching that's being emphasized in our age. That makes some people very happy. They see it as a sign that moral and religious struggles are about to be eliminated from life, and then life, for better or worse, will run along an easy inevitable path. Others are confused and are desperately looking for a middle ground where science and religion can be reconciled. Still others take refuge by rejecting the theory of evolution and all that goes with it. They hope to cling to religion by interpreting it more and more narrowly. Whichever group we fall into, we probably err by not having enough faith.

First of all, let's be convinced that, for a believer, science and religion can't possibly be at odds. Once we're assured of this, we might be able to see scientific evolution as a process of revelation that's brought about in every case as far as I know by a process described by Coleridge: 'Ideas about nature were given to men who were selected by a divine power even higher than nature herself. These ideas suddenly unfold in a prophetic kind of succession, these systematic views were destined to produce the most important revolutions in the state of man.' Huxley says that biology is useful because it 'helps to give the right ideas in this world. After all, this world is absolutely governed by ideas--and very often, by the wildest and most hypothetical ideas.' He goes on, 'people who refuse to go beyond the fact rarely get as far as the fact. Anyone who knows the history of science knows that almost every advance has been made by the anticipation of nature--in other words, by the invention of hypothesis.' Surely men of science will find the unifying principle they seek that Coleridge spoke of. If they did, then they would be able to distinguish themselves, not just as the proclaimers of truth that they're ready to take a stand for, but as servants of God who prepared themselves to receive revelation from God, who is the Truth.

Evolution is the Master-thought of the Age

Few of us can forget the mental image that Carlyle described of the Tiers etat [French commonality; the French nobles refused to treat their concerns seriously and this was a cause of the French Revolution of 1789] waiting for organization. 'Wise as serpents, harmless as doves. What a spectacle for France! Six hundred inhuman people who are needed to bring it back to life and save it, sit on their long benches, desperately wishing for life.' Coleridge wrote just as accurately about botany, although not as vividly. He said that botany, as it existed in his day, was waiting for a unifying idea that would organize it. He wrote, 'What is Botany right now? Not much more than an enormous collection of names, a huge catalog, meticulously arranged. Every year and every month, more names are added in various categories, and each has its own filing method and reference system. It's the innocent diversion, healthy hobby and impressive collection of amateurs. Botany still doesn't have the kind of energy and devotion that true philosophers would give it.' Our generation has been given the key word to interpret life, both animal and plant, but we don't know what to do with it.

For Ages, People Have Looked for a Unifying Principle

The human mind finds a great deal of rest and satisfaction in the concept of evolution. But we shouldn't forget that, for three thousand years, thinkers have been busy trying to explain the world with a single principle that would also explain Reason and the human soul. Herakleitos and the men of his time thought that they had found the answer when they said that 'the true Being is forever changing.' They thought that 'the universal change and evolving of things' explained it perfectly. Demokritos and the men of his age thought they had solved the riddle when they said, 'nothing exists except atoms moving around in space.' Many times since then, with each world-changing discovery, science has declared, 'I've solved the mystery!' when it's found a principle that seems to explain all things and eliminate the existence of personality.

But Personality Still Remains

A little familiarity with history and philosophy will make us stop and think. We'll recognize that each new discovery that has given the world a clearer concept of how nature works is like a lake that appears to be at its end, but as soon as your boat gets close enough, it proves to be deceptive--it's really just an opening to a part of the lake that goes even farther on! And knowledge from God is something like that. It does more than give us the broader perspective that we get from knowing history. Knowing about history teaches us that there's a 'stream of tendency,' as Wordsworth puts it. There's an impersonal stream of force that can't be measured, and it's shaping people and events. But beyond that, there's also the variable force of Individual Personality that has the ability to turn the 'stream of tendency' for its own purposes, although Personality is just as likely to be swept away in its current.

Parents' and Teachers' Attitudes About Evolution

It may seem like I'm dwelling on a topic that has little to do with raising and teaching children. But I think that a vital part of a parent's preparation is his own attitude about the concept of evolution and age-appropriate lessons to teach it. If parents brush off the driving ideas that move the age they live in, then they can hardly expect to maintain influence over their children's minds. If they're afraid and suspicious of new scientific revelations, then they'll plant a seed of distrust and conflict in their children. On the other hand, if they rush in like a zealous novice and proclaim the newest scientific revelation as the final answer that explains everything about human nature and even makes God unnecessary, unknowable or distant and negligent, then they risk lowering the level of their children's lives to the mere struggle for existence that we hear so much about these days. Such a life has no reason to hope, set goals, set oneself apart for God, or make sacrifices. But parents need to recognize that every great concept in nature is like a new page of God's revelation to people who are ready for the information. They need to realize that a newly discovered scientific concept, no matter how far-reaching and comprehensive it seems, is not final or conclusive.

New ideas shouldn't be assumed to be in opposition against the personal knowledge of God, which is the greatest knowledge of all. If parents have this mindset, then their children will grow up with an attitude of respect for science, reverence for God, and an open mind that's appropriate for people whose lives are so short and who never get to the point where they've learned everything there is to know. That's enough about the diet of ideas that are being served to the world at this time of history.

Education is a World Concern

Maybe we include poetry, or art, or philosophy, who knows what else, but we need to make sure of two things. We need to make sure that we, as well as our children, stay in touch with the great thoughts that educated the world in the past, and we need to maintain the right attitude in ourselves and our children about the great ideas of our own age. It's tempting to focus education on our personal favorite topics so that we lose sight of the fact that education is a world concern. The important lessons of the ages have already been determined. Each generation needs to be concerned about the ideas of its own age, as well as the ideas from all of the generations before it. After all, nobody feels like they've mastered a book when all they've read is the last page. And this brings me to the point that I'm anxious to share with you.

We don't recognize how important the need is for the principle of unity in education. We don't have one major 'Captain' idea that can make it clear which of the many educational ideas floating around will suit our purposes. Since we don't have any guiding principle to give us some focus, we feel like we can pick and choose whatever strikes our fancy. One person thinks science should be all the education his son gets. Another likes the classics. A third prefers an education in mechanics. A fourth thinks that a specialized technical education is a good idea, and a fifth who's obsessed with physical health chooses a school that makes nutrition and exercise the bulk of its program. (I don't mean to imply that we should neglect health, but as long as general conditions are healthful, then it's best for children not to focus much attention on their personal health.) Everyone thinks he's free to do whatever seems right in his own eyes when it comes to his children's education.

Volume 3, School Education, pg 172-173

Our Job is to Give Enlivening Ideas

We know that the brain is where habit originates, and that behavior and character are both the result of whatever habits we develop. We also know that an inspiring idea sparks a new habit of thought, and, therefore, a new habit of life. We recognize that education's great work is to inspire children with enlivening ideas in every area of life, every category of knowledge, every subject we think about, and to deliberately help children to develop the habits of good living that come from inspiring ideas. In attempting this important task, we seek and have the promise of receiving the help of God's Spirit. We recognize His Spirit in a sense that's new to our modern way of thinking--we recognize Him as the Supreme Educator, teaching humans things that men have labeled as secular, as much as He teaches them things that are considered religious.

Volume 3, School Education, pg 178

So much for how to tell which are the right books. The right way to use them is another matter. The children need to enjoy the book. Each of the ideas in the book needs to make a sudden delightful impact on the child's mind, causing an intellectual awakening that signifies that an idea has been born.

Volume 3, School Education, pg 182

I don't need to emphasize what kind of educational tools we should use. We know that 'Education is an atmosphere, a discipline, a life.' By that, we mean that parents and teachers should know how to make the best use of a child's circumstances (atmosphere) in order to advance a solid education; they should cultivate his self-discipline by training him to have the kind of habits that will make his life run smoothly (discipline), and they should nourish his mind with ideas, since that's the kind of mental food that develops their personalities (life).

Volume 3, School Education, pg 185

Spontaneous living is going on all the time, and the only thing we can do to help that is to drop in inspiring ideas when we have the opportunity.

Volume 3, School Education, pg 212

I suspect that it's most often the still pool that the angel comes down to stir. A steady, unruffled routine of work without privileged extras lends itself best to the angel's 'stirring'--which takes the form of what Coleridge calls a 'Captain Idea,' striking our mind, and initiating contact with an affinity.

Volume 6, Philosophy of Education, pg 10-11

But the mind can't be measured or weighed. It's spiritual. Therefore, its food must also be spiritual. The mind needs the nourishment of ideas--what Plato called images. I came to understand that children are equipped with all they need to deal with ideas.

Explanations, comprehension questions, drawing out points, are unnecessary. They bore children. Children are born with a natural hunger for the kind of knowledge that is informed with thought. Like the stomach's gastric juices digesting food, children use their own imagination, judgment and what some people call 'faculties' to digest a new idea. This discovery was enlightening, but a bit startling. All of the teacher's hard work to present vividly, illustrate accurately, summarize and draw out by questions were nothing but obstacles. They intervened between the children and their mind diet of ideas. On the other hand, when children are presented with the right idea, they go to work on it with the focus and single-mindedness of a hungry child eating his dinner.

Volume 6, Philosophy of Education, pg 20

The mind, like the body, doesn't like limp, dull and unpleasant food. It wants its meals to be in literary form [such as, in stories]. The mind's diet is restricted to one thing: it can only absorb ideas and facts when they're connected to the living ideas on which they hang.

Volume 6, Philosophy of Education, pg 25-26

The living mind needs the nourishment of ideas to survive. A mind doesn't have intellectual life if it isn't receiving several ideas as often as every day. But surely science experiments, the beauty of nature, field observation, rhythmic movement, exercises for the senses--aren't those all ripe with ideas? Generally speaking, yes, they are. They present ideas in invention, discovery, and even art. But, for the moment, consider the ideas that influence life: character and behavior. It appears that these kinds of ideas pass directly from one mind to another. They aren't hindered by 'educational' props, but they aren't helped, either. All children get lots of these ideas by word of mouth, from family traditions, sayings that pass on a way of thinking. This might be thought of as oral literature. But, to get back to the body/mind analogy--we understand that bodies need three square meals a day. In the same way, a mind fed on a casual diet of ideas will be poorly nourished and weak. Our schools graduate students who are clever enough, but who lack ambition, the power to reflect on thoughts, and the kind of moral imagination that helps them understand what it's like to be in someone else's shoes. All of those qualities thrive on a good diet of ideas. But those kinds of ideas don't come in regular school textbooks or lessons, at least not very often. I'd like to focus on quality. That's just as important for the mind as it is for the physical body. Both mind and body need regular, balanced meals.

It's not so easy to give a healthy diet to the mind. Some say that children don't have brains, or have inferior minds, or other harsh things. But many of us have seen the intelligence of children first-hand when they're fed the proper diet for their minds. Unfortunately, teachers don't usually bother to find out what a healthy mind diet is. And so, we come dangerously close to what Plato condemns as a 'lie of the soul,' which is the corruption of the highest truth. Protagoras was guilty of that corruption when he said, 'Knowledge is what can be discerned with the senses.' And we say the same thing when we use educational methods based only on sensory learning. Knowledge is not sensation, and it isn't developed through the senses. We feed on the thoughts of other minds. When we reflect on those thoughts, we add on to those thoughts, and we become more thoughtful people. We don't need to be encouraged to reason, compare or imagine. We do it naturally. The mind, just like the body, has everything it needs to digest its food. But, if it doesn't work at digestion, it atrophies and stops working.

But children 'ask for bread' and we 'give them a stone.' We give them dry facts about things, and their minds don't even try to digest them. Instead, their minds vomit them out (perhaps in the form of answers on a test?) But, if information relates to a principle and if it's inspired by an idea, then it will be devoured enthusiastically. And that information will be used to build onto the spiritual nature in the same way that food builds physical tissue in the physical body.

Lord Haldane of Cloan once said, 'Education is a spiritual matter.' And that is very true. Yet we continue to apply education to the outside, like one would do with physical activity, or by coating the body with scented oils. But we're beginning to understand. If no one can understand the hidden things of a person except his own spirit, then the only real education is self-education. As soon as a child begins his education, he begins learning as a student. Our role is to make sure he has plenty of food for his mind. He needs intellectual nourishment of good quality, and he needs lots of it. Each of us naturally has a limited amount of ideas in our minds, but we know where to get more. The best thoughts that the world has are stored in books. We must introduce our children to books--the very best books. Our concern as educators is to have abundance and orderly serving of them.

Volume 6, Philosophy of Education, pg 39-41

It is no less true here that what is born of the spirit is spirit. The way to the mind is quite direct. Mind must connect to mind via ideas. 'What is mind?' asks the old riddle, and the answer is still the same: 'No matter.' We teachers need to realize that physical, material things have little effect on the mind. There are still schools where all the work is physical and technical, where lessons are given with blocks of wood or scientific equipment. One elementary school teacher wrote, 'Yesterday the father of one of my pupils told me, 'You've certainly given me some work to do. E. wouldn't let me alone until I promised to set up my microscope and get some pond water to look for monad protozoa and other wonders.' That is what should be the correct order: what was born of the spirit (the idea) came first and was compelled to confirm and find examples of it. We wonder how these things can be, and the answer isn't obvious.

Like faith, education is the evidence of things not seen. We have to begin with the notion that the body's task is to grow. It grows upon healthy food, which is itself made up of living cells. Each cell is, in fact, a perfect life in itself. Analogies are never adequate or accurate, but, in a similar way, the only proper nutrition for the mind is ideas. And ideas, like the single cells of physical tissue, appear to go through the same stages and functions as a life. We receive ideas with appetite and some interest. Ideas seem to feed in an odd way--for instance, we hear of some new treatment for AIDS, or a poet's latest thought, or the new direction that some school of art is taking. We take in the idea, we accept it, and, it seems, for days after that, everywhere we turn, every magazine we pick up, every person we talk to, brings food for the notion we've just received. The casual reader might say, 'You can't prove that.' But watch how your own minds acts towards any idea in the wind. You'll see that the kind of process I've just described will happen. And it's this same process that needs to be considered when educating children. We can't continue taking things as casually as we've been doing. Our job is to give children the great ideas of life--ideas in religion, history, science, but it's the ideas they need, although they may be clothed with facts. And we must give the child space to deal with them in his own way.

For example, this might be how a child deals with geography:

'When I heard about any country across the sea, I would envision the glory of that place. That vision would rise up in me until the whole thing filled and expanded me. I saw its goods, its rivers, meadows, people. I felt like I owned the vision of that place, as if it had been prepared just for me. That's how much joy I had in my vision. When I heard the Bible being read, my spirit felt like it was really there in another time. I could see the light and splendor of those ages, and the land of Canaan, the Israelites entering in, the ancient splendor of the Amorites, their peace and wealth, their cities, houses, grapevines and fig trees. I saw and felt all of this in such a real way that it seemed as if these places could only be entered into by the spirit. I could physically stay in the same place, yet visit and enjoy all these other places in my mind. No matter how long ago something happened, even a thousand years ago, it could always seem to be right there in front of me.'

I'm quoting Traherne again because I don't know of any other writer who still has such a clear memory of his infancy. But Goethe gives an equally thorough and convincing account of his early experiences with the Bible (see Volume 5). I use the word 'experience' with caution because the word implies the process children use to get to know something. They 'experience' everything they hear and read about. In this way, ideas feed their minds quite literally!

Volume 6, Philosophy of Education, pg 55

The mind is the same. It needs its food, and it needs to be left alone to assimilate and digest knowledge on its own.

Volume 6, Philosophy of Education, pg 76

One final fallacy that hinders our work as teachers is undervaluing knowledge. It's currently characteristic of the British to belittle knowledge. One well-known educationalist recently nailed up a thesis about what children need from education. The list included only two items: Children need to know a skill to earn a living, and children need to know how to behave as a proper citizen. The writer of the thesis apparently doesn't realize that the quality of a man's work is directly in proportion to how much of a complete person he is. The more broadened a person is, the better his work will be and the more dependable he will be. Yet we remove the humane influence of literature from common education, and it's that literature which results in efficiency. One school with 9,000 adolescent students has its students attend in batches of a few hundred at a time so that they can rotate and learn various skills and crafts. But in three years in this school, students don't spend even one hour learning any kind of humane knowledge. The reading and thinking that's left out is the very thing that should be making these students better people and better citizens!

Volume 6, Philosophy of Education, pg 89-90

Knowledge itself is fascinating. All of us have the kind of 'satiable curiosity' that Rudyard Kipling's Elephant had, although we often content ourselves with scraps of information from the daily headlines. Knowledge is like mother's milk. It helps us grow, and the very act of ingesting it is satisfying.

The work of teaching can be simplified once we realize that children, all children, want to know everything about human knowledge. They have a natural appetite for whatever is set in front of them. When we realize this, our teaching seems like less of an effort because our convictions give us confidence. Richeliu closed the colleges in France, both Jesuit and secular. He wanted to prevent the 'mania' of poor people educating their children instead of focusing their time on training for jobs and war. This same 'mania' is still with us, not just with parents, but with children, whose hungry souls yearn for mental meat. But we starve them, not by closing their schools, but by giving them lessons that no living soul can digest. How tragic that teachers and students complain that schoolwork is monotonous. It's commendable that some teachers try to make education less drudgery with entertaining methods. But the mind doesn't live and grow on entertainment. It needs solid meals.

Volume 6, Philosophy of Education, pg 102

But we can be sure of overcoming our bad habits because, built into us, we have everything we need to learn whatever good habits of body and mind that we deliberately attempt to. We entertain the general idea, and that gives birth to the act of actually doing it. If we do the action again and again, it will become a habit. We've all heard, 'sow an act, reap a habit. Sow a habit, reap a character.' But we need to go even one step further back--we need to first sow the idea or notion that motivates us to act in the first place. A lazy boy might hear the story of the Great Duke who wanted to sleep in a narrow bed while on the battle field so that, when he rolled over in bed, he'd have to get up. The story plants the idea of getting out of bed promptly. But his teacher or mother will instinctively know when, how often, and in what creative way to repeat the story before the habit of promptly getting out of bed is formed. She knows that the motivation has to come from the child himself, a desire to conquer his own self that becomes an impulse of chivalry that he can't resist. It's possible to sow great ideas casually, and this may be the kind of idea that needs to be sown informally because, as soon as a child picks up on his mother's deliberate attempts to influence him, he may resist the whole idea.

Volume 6, Philosophy of Education, pg 104-111

3.--Education is a Life

Principle 8. "Education is a life" means that education should apply to body, soul and spirit. The mind needs ideas of all kinds, so the child's curriculum should be varied and generous with many subjects included. (The eighth of Charlotte Mason's 20 Principles.)

We've left the instrument implied in the last part of the phrase, 'education is a life,' for last. I say implied because life can't exist by itself or support itself. It needs nourishment--regular, planned rations that are suitable for it, otherwise it will die. Everyone knows this about life. Perhaps the greatest discovery of the twentieth century will be the realization that the mind needs the same thing or else it will die. Food is to the body what gasoline is to a car. It's its only source of energy. When we understand that the mind, in the same way, only functions when it receives its fuel, then we'll see education in a new light. If the body is fed with pills and artificial food, it starts to deteriorate. One glance at a bunch of couch potatoes at a football game makes us wonder what kind of mental food those guys have been living on. In spite of big, burly bodies, they seem to be empty and depleted of life. The mind is only capable of handling one kind of food: ideas. It lives, grows and flourishes on ideas and nothing else. Mere dry facts of information are as unpalatable to the mind as sawdust is to the body. The mind has no more faculties to deal with improper food than the body does.

'What is an idea?' we ask, and we find ourselves plunged in a question too incomprehensible to answer. Our greatest thinkers, including Plato, Bacon, and Coleridge, concluded that ideas are living things of the mind. We talk about how an idea 'struck us,' or 'seized us,' or 'took hold of us,' or 'impressed us.' If it's a big enough idea, it might even 'possess us.' In other words, ideas seem to have a life of their own.

If we ask a person why he has certain life habits, or intellectual preoccupations, or dedication to a particular cause, or obsession with a hobby, he'll usually say that some idea or another struck him. The power of an idea is something everyone recognizes. What phrase is more common, or holds more promise than, 'I have an idea!' We all perk up and listen in eager anticipation, like trout attracted to an alluring fly. There's only one place where the attraction of ideas seems to have no place--our schools! Just look at any publisher's list of textbooks and you'll see that they're all barren, carefully drained of the least hint of any idea, reduced to mere dry, dusty bits of fact. Private boarding schools do a little better. The diet that their curriculums offer may be meager enough to starve the average child, but at least they offer a few ideas. Though sparse, they do offer a few of the best thoughts from the best minds to nourish the minds of their students.

Samuel Coleridge, in his book Method, has done more than other thinkers to give us our current scientific perception of what an idea is. Psychologists define ideas as insolens verbum ["haughty, arrogant word"??], a term that Coleridge came up with, but Coleridge preferred to show the mind's reaction to an idea. Here is what he wrote about the progress of an idea in Method:

'The event in human history that most impresses the imagination is the moment when Columbus was adrift on the endless, unknown ocean and first noticed the change of the magnetic needle. Many other instances have happened in history when ideas that were always there in nature were suddenly noticed by men hand-picked by God, as if unfolded in a divinely-scheduled sequence of discoveries, and those ideas resulted in changes that improved man's lot in life. Columbus had a methodical mind and his logic led him from the magnetic needle on a compass to its foundational idea, entitling him to the title, promiser of kingdoms.'

This shows how the origin of an idea fits interestingly with what we know of great discoveries and inventions. It does seem that God specially selected men to give those ideas to. It not only matches our understanding of the ideas in our own lives, but the origin of practical ideas as mentioned in Isaiah 28:24-29:

'Does a farmer always plow and never sow? Is he forever cultivating the soil and never planting it? Doesn't he finally plant his seeds for dill, cumin, wheat, barley, and spelt, each in its own section of his land? The farmer knows just what to do, for God has given him understanding. He doesn't thresh all his crops the same way. A heavy sledge is never used on dill; rather, it is beaten with a light stick. ... The LORD Almighty is a wonderful teacher, and he gives the farmer great wisdom.' [NLT]

Here is what Coleridge says about the kind of ideas that infiltrate the atmosphere of our lives, rather than suddenly illuminating the mind in a lightbulb moment:

'An idea can exist in an obvious, tangible form, like the idea of a circle in a mathematician's mind. Or an idea can be merely an internal instinct, a vague longing towards something, like an impulse that fills a poet's eyes with tears.'

These indefinite kinds of ideas should draw a child towards things that are honorable, lovely and admirable. [Phil 4:8, NLT] They should not be offered on a rigid schedule, but, instead, they should be a part of the mental atmosphere that surrounds him, breathed in like the air around him.

It's scary to think that our flawed words and ways should be grasped as inspiration by children. But recognizing that fact will make us even more careful to avoid any corrupt, unworthy thoughts and motives in our interactions with them.

Coleridge goes into more detail about the kinds of obvious, definite ideas that are ingested as food by the mind:

'From the originating idea, successive ideas grow, just like a seed that germinates.' 'The lively soul-stirring events and images in the outside world around us are like light, air and water to the seed of the mind. Without the presence of them, the mind would rot and die.' 'The path of any methodical course can take many varying twists and turns, but each path has its own particular guiding idea at the head where it begins. Ideas are as varied in importance as the paths that come from them are varied and different. The world has suffered a lot recently because the natural order of science, which is necessary, has overshadowed everything else. Science is limited to physical experience, and has no business requiring that reason and faith meet its standards. But reason and faith are not physical. According to the laws of scientific method, they owe no obedience to the physical arena of science. Progress follows a path that starts at the head with the originating idea. As it sets out down the path, the mind needs to be alert to keep it from going off on rabbit trails. That's why different orbits of thought need to be as different from each other as the originating idea themselves.' (Method, by Coleridge)

Biological science is making discoveries that shed new light on the laws of how the mind works. We are returning to Plato's doctrine that 'An idea is a distinct presence that exists without our approval or consent. It is in unity with the Eternal Essence.'

I've repeated these Coleridge quotes I used in Volume 2 [Parents and Children] because his opinion confirms our own experience. This should be enough to make us reconsider the way we teach. The whole subject is profound, but it is also extremely practical. We need to get rid of the wrong theory in our minds that says that education's function is mostly a gymnastic procedure of drawing knowledge from students, without also putting some in. Our current emphasis on 'self-expression' has given new life to this notion. Yet we know that there isn't much inside us that we haven't received from somewhere else. The most we can do is to give our own individual twist to an original idea that's passed on to us, or apply it in a new way. We are humble enough to realize that all we are is torch-bearers, passing on our light to the next generation in the same way we received it ourselves. Yet even we invite children to 'express themselves' about a tank or a Norman castle or the man in the moon. We fail to recognize that the charming things children say about things they don't know are not profound manifestations of self-expression. They're just a hodge-podge collection of notions they picked up here and there. It's doubtful whether original compositions should be required of children--their consciences are so sharp, and they're very aware that their material is borrowed and not really original. It might be preferable for them to read whatever they want about the subject before they write about it, and then give them liberty to write what they like about it.

When a child is very young, it doesn't seem to make any difference what philosophical idea we had when we educated them, whether we had the notion of filling a bucket, writing on a blank slate, molding a lump of clay, or nourishing a life. But as the child grows, we'll come to find that the only things that are assimilated into who he becomes are the ideas that fed and nourished his mind. Everything else is tossed aside, or, even worse, becomes an obstacle that can even harm him.

Education is a life. That life needs ideas to keep it alive. Ideas come from a spiritual place, and God has created us so that we get ideas in the same way we pass them on to others: by expressing them in talk, or printed words, or the text of Scripture, or music. A child's inner life needs ideas in the same way that his physical body needs food. He probably won't use nine-tenths of the ideas we expose him to, just like his body only assimilates a small part of the meals he eats. He's very eclectic--he might choose this or that. We don't need to be concerned about what he chooses, we just need to make sure that he has a variety of things offered to him, and in abundance. If we pressure him, he will be annoyed. He resists force feedings, and he hates predigested food. What works best is a mental diet presented in an indirect literary form. That's the way Jesus taught when He used parables. What makes parables so wonderful is that they are unforgettable, every detail is remembered, yet the way they're applied might pass and leave no trace in an unworthy person, no influence at all in the person. Jesus took that risk, and we must. too. We just might offer children a meal of Plutarch's Life of Lysander, thinking that the object lesson will show what a good leader or citizen should avoid--but the child may love Lysander and think his 'charming' ways are admirable! But we have to take that chance, just like Jesus did when he told the parable of the Unjust Steward [Luke 16]. One note: it seems like we need ideas to be presented with lots of padding, such as the way we get them from novels, or poems, or history texts written with literary style. Neither a child's body, nor his mind, can survive on pills, no matter how much research goes into formulating them. From a big, thick book full of living ideas, he may only latch onto a half dozen that speak to his heart and nourish his spirit. And there's no predicting which ideas will ignite a spark in him; they tend to come from unexpected places and in forms we never would have guessed. No person can force a portion of Scott or Dickens or Milton to inspire him and feed his soul. It's as the Bible says, 'Stay busy and plant a variety of crops, for you never know which will grow.' [Eccl. 11:6, NLT]

One of the rash things we do wrong is in offering our own opinions to students (and even to other adults) instead of ideas. We believe that an opinion expresses thought, and that, therefore, it carries an idea. Even if it once did, the very act of crystallizing it into an opinion kills any life it might have had. John Ruskin said that a crystal is not alive. It can't feed anyone. We think we're feeding children when we give them our church's convictions, Euclid's theories, or history summaries. And then we wonder why they never seem to retain what they learn. M. Fouillee, who wrote Education From a National Standpoint, thought that the idea was everything in philosophy, and in education. But Fouillee barely touched on education's role in forming physical, intellectual and moral habits. Here's what he wrote:

'Descartes said that scientific truths are victories. If you tell students the key point in the victory, the most heroic battles in scientific discoveries, you'll get them interested in the end results of science. By getting them excited about the conquest of truth, you develop a scientific spirit in them. Imagine how fascinating math might be if we gave a short history of the major theorems of math. Imagine if the student felt like he'd witnessed the work of Pythagoras, or Plato or Euclid. Or imagine if he felt like he'd been there with modern intellects like Descartes, Pascal or Leibnitz. Great theories would no longer be lifeless, anonymous and abstract. They would become living truths, each with a thrilling history of its own, like a statue by Michelangelo, or a painting by Raphael.'

This is a way of applying Coleridge's 'captain idea' at the head of every train of thought. An idea shouldn't be some stark generalization that no child or adult could feed on. Ideas need to be clothed with both fact and story. That way, the mind can do its own work of selecting what it needs and initiating a new birth of ideas from a collection of colorful details. Dickens' David Copperfield says, 'I was a very observant child,' and, 'All children are observant,' but he doesn't just state the fact as a dull fact, he lets us come to that conclusion ourselves by telling us many charming incidents.

There is more than one way to get from point A to point B. Everything I've said should reiterate my point: that varied reading, and lots of it, as well as people's ideas expressed in the various forms of art, are not an optional luxury to be offered to children when we happen to think about it. It is their very bread of life. They need it regularly, and they need a lot of it. This, and more, is what I mean when I say, 'The mind feeds on ideas and therefore, children should have a generous curriculum.'

Volume 6, Philosophy of Education, pg 117

Just like the physical body, the mind needs regular and adequate nourishment. This nourishment comes from ideas that are assimilated when the mental diet is enthusiastically devoured, and growth and development are the result under this kind of diet. The fact that children like lame, uninspired talk and insubstantial, insipid storybooks doesn't prove that it's good for them. They like lollipops, too, but they can't live on them. Yet some schools are making a concerted effort to meet the intellectual, moral and spiritual needs of children with mental candy.

Like I said before, the kinds of ideas that children need to nourish their minds are mostly found in books with literary quality. If children are provided with these kinds of books, then their minds will do the work themselves to sort, arrange, select, choose, reject, and group the ideas together.

Volume 6, Philosophy of Education, pg 102

'Our country's youth won't be inspired to greatness by learning about economic doctrine or physical science. They can only be raised to a higher moral level if they receive ideas that stimulate their imaginations, inspire their characters, influence their souls. It is the task of all good teachers to bring those kinds of ideas to their students.' [Quote from John Stuart Mill]

Volume 6, Philosophy of Education, pg 127

If all children stay in school, the world will be a much different place. Every person will have received a broad, varied education. The ideas taught in school will become relevant to the real world. If, as Plato said, knowledge is virtue, and that knowledge is enhanced with religious teaching, then we shall see in our own lifetime how righteousness can exalt a nation.

Volume 6, Philosophy of Education, pg 134

It's important to understand what we're choosing between. Things are just things; they symbolize deeper ideas. Several times a day, we're faced with two ideas represented by things, and we have to choose based on right and reasonableness. We need to be on guard against letting ourselves be carried along and then calling it 'tending to our duty' instead of consciously making a decision.

Volume 6, Philosophy of Education, pg 135

The will affects everything we do and what we think--yet what it actually does is a small action. It's confined to a very little place between the conscience, and the reason. That's where all ideas have to present themselves. Should we accept a new idea, or reject it? Conscience and reason each have their say, but the will is supreme and makes the decision. The will's behavior is determined by all the principles we've collected, and all the opinions we've formed. At first, we entertain the novel idea and ponder it. We vaguely intend to do something with it, then form a definite purpose about what to do, then we resolve. And the result is that we take action or change our thinking to embrace or reject the idea.

Volume 6, Philosophy of Education, pg 224

The mind ruminates on great ideas. Given great ideas, the mind can work to great ends. But if education doesn't teach a child to wonder and admire, it probably doesn't teach him anything at all.

Volume 6, Philosophy of Education, pg 237

Maybe the first thing we need to do is to get a real picture of how the mind and knowledge work together, something I call 'the relativity of knowledge and the mind.' The mind takes in knowledge, not to know, but to grow. The mind grows wider in its variety of interests, more profound in depth, better able to make sound judgments, and more noble. But it can't grow without the food of knowledge.

Volume 6, Philosophy of Education, pg 239-240

There's only one cure for ignorance, and that's knowledge. School is the place where children get knowledge. Whatever else teachers do for children, their first priority should be giving them knowledge--not in carefully measured dosages like a pharmacist counting out antibiotics, but in regular, generous servings. If we ask, 'What is knowledge?' we find that there's no clear, concise answer at hand. We know that Matthew Arnold had three classifications of knowledge: knowledge about God and divine things, knowledge about man, which is humanities, and knowledge about the physical world, which is science. That's enough to start with. But I'd like to challenge his classifications. I'd like to classify all knowledge under the heading of humanities when it makes a direct appeal to the mind through a literary means [books].

Volume 6, Philosophy of Education, pg 256

Like I said, knowledge is the food that the mind needs. Knowledge is, roughly, ideas clothed with facts. This is the kind of mental diet a child needs--in large quantities and about varied subjects. The wide curriculum I have in mind is designed so that, in every detail, it meets some specific need of the mind.

Volume 6, Philosophy of Education, pg 259-260

We are paying the price today for the wave of materialism that swept over the country a hundred years ago. People don't set out specifically to be materialistic today, but our educational thought is in the midst of a trend that's carrying us where we don't want to go. Anybody espousing a new method is welcome to us. We've stopped believing in the mind. Although we might not say out loud, 'the brain secretes thought in the same way that the liver secretes bile,' yet we still have a strictly physical concept of the mind. Therefore, the spiritual mind isn't the objective in our educational methods. One might say that, 'mankind is like a horse, and things are in the saddle riding mankind.' We've come to believe that ideas or knowledge can't reach children.

Volume 6, Philosophy of Education, pg 277

Without a popular body of legends, no country can have any unselfish art. Shakespeare's art, for example, was selfish until he turned to the great tales in the four most popular books in his time--Raphael Holinshed, Thomas North's Plutarch, Geraldi Cinthio's Hecatommithi and Francois De Belleforest's Histoires Tragiques. Ever since newspapers became popular, topical events have replaced epics. Now inspiration comes to artists directly, without the life-giving cropping and enlightening of many previous minds.'

It's this life-giving vitality of many minds that we want. We beg educational workers and thinkers to join us in forming a collective body of thought that will be common to everyone. Then England will surely be great in both art and life.

Volume 6, Philosophy of Education, pg 281

We've already discussed what kind of intellectual food the mind needs. First of all, a good education should make children rich towards God, and not like the fool Jesus talked about in Luke 12 who was not rich towards God. A good education should also make children rich towards society, and rich towards themselves. I won't belabor the point by observing that moral bankruptcy has co-existed

Volume 6, Philosophy of Education, pg 283-286

Denmark was just as devastated as Germany after the wars with Napoleon. But they had experienced some new spirit after freeing their serfs in 1788, and that spirit prepared the ground for Nicolai Grundtvig, the poet/historian who became the 'Father of the People's High Schools.'

He said, 'Wherever there's the most life, that's where the victory will be.' And he saw a way to increase life by making 'Danish High Schools accessible to young people all over the country.' These schools would inspire 'admiration for what is great, love for what is beautiful, faithfulness, affection, peace, unity, innocent cheerfulness, pleasure and happiness.' Notice that nowhere does his vision even mention 'efficiency.' Yet he assured King Charles VIII that such a school would provide 'a wellspring of healing in the land' so that he would never need to fear whether the newspapers chose to praise or blame. The king listened to him. In fact, he urged an even broader implementation than the original pamphlet advised. By 1845, the dreamed-of schools began to be a reality.

We won't trace the complete history of those schools, but by 1903-4, their schools had over 3000 men and even more women. Wise men embraced the hope that 'the new Danish school for youth will be fortunate enough to blend all social classes into one people.'

All of the Danish High Schools bear the influence of their 'Father,' and their students sometimes sum up his teaching with the three statements, 'Spirit is might; Spirit reveals itself in spirit; Spirit works only in freedom.' We can easily trace where these statements came from. In fact, the entire movement seems to have been very Christian from its very beginning. And I don't mean Christian in a narrow, exclusive sense, but in the broad sense illustrated by Simone Memmi's fresco in Florence's chapel in Santa Maria Novella. Some of the teachers pictured there as being divinely gifted by God's spirit were actually notable pagans. Yet they were still under Divine inspiration. This seems to me to be an educational concept worth reviving, especially in these days of utilitarian vocational emphasis. Grundtvig seems to have understood this concept, although he probably came up with it on his own. His great hope is that 'above all, some knowledge of literature, especially the poetry and history of one's own country, will create a new breed of readers all over the land.'

I can't go into the question of Agricultural Schools. They say that 'the Danish Agricultural School belongs to the Danish people, and must be just as much based on Christian faith and national life as the people are.' In the carefree days before WWI, we all admired the quality of Danish butter. But did we ever think about the resolve and efficiency with which the Danish peasants went from making poor butter in their individual little farms, to manufacture butter of uniform quality in national dairy co-ops? One leading Swedish professor attributes this to the High Schools. He said, 'Enriching the soil provides the best ground for seeds to grow. In the same way, training the people's fertile minds in classic literature is the best way to make them productive. And this is even true for farmers.' [Thanks to Continuation Schools, ed. by Sir Michael Sadler, and published by the Manchester University, 1908.] These are serious words. They deserve our consideration at this moment when we're also at the brink of a new venture.

The three countries around Denmark watched the experimental schools with keen interest, and it wasn't long before People's High Schools sprang up in their countries, too.

The northern High Schools can only operate in the winter [when farming can't be done], so they weren't open when I was visiting. But I did notice a couple of things that I can trace to their influence. For one thing, Copenhagen impressed me as a city with a soul, unlike Munich. At the Hague, I saw a craftsman in his work clothes showing paintings in a gallery to his seven year old son. The little boy listened carefully and looked eagerly. In the great Delft porcelain factories, young workers manifested evidence of culture and gentleness in their faces and manner. But the thing that struck me most was what I saw in a general store in some remote market in Sweden. The villagers were peasants. One shop sold cabbages, herrings, cheese and calico cloth. But in its small-paned window was a shelf tightly packed with paperback books that hadn't been left alone long enough to get dusty. I couldn't make out all of the titles, but I noticed that they included books in French, German and English. I saw thin volumes of Scott, Dickens, Thackeray, Ruskin, Carlyle and the latest popular literature. It made a person feel like the village was a slice of heaven. One could imagine a long winter evening in any home, with one person reading aloud as the rest of the family did the evening's chores. When friends meet, or when lovers stroll, they must have lots to talk about. How sad for us when we hear that a youth we know and like is quick at making friends, but the friendships never progress because they never have anything to talk about. Imagine the little plays acted out, or public readings given by the villagers. I wish such things would happen in our own country. Then the excitement of city life wouldn't be such a draw to our young people. A village with a happy community life sustained by the villagers themselves will satisfy its people so that they're content to stay.

Our upper and middle classes, whether professionals or not, are also content--not because of their money, but because of their intellectual well-being. It's their mental stimulation that makes them 'haves' as opposed to 'have nots.' You don't have to look far to find the reason why. Some people make it their business to sow seeds of discontent in the gaping minds of the masses. A full, satisfied mind passes by, but an empty mind will grasp at any new notion eagerly. And who can blame it? A hungry mind will take whatever it can get, and even a bakeshop owner tends to be lenient with a starving man who steals a loaf of bread. I'm not hesitant to say that the Labor Unrest that plagues our times isn't so much the fault of the working man, but of the society that hasn't considered that its citizens have hungry minds and they need the right kind of intellectual nourishment.

Volume 6, Philosophy of Education, pg 288-289

That's really the challenge of education for all ages. There's so much to cover in so many fields of knowledge in order to live intelligently and with moral insight. The method of learning just one thing, but learning it so well that you can handle any kind of knowledge may work on an academic level, but it won't work if our vision is to 'Enlighten the Masses.' That method assumes that the mind, like the physical body, can develop in various areas with the right exercise. But recent educational thought shows us that the mind is more than that. It's independently active, it exists in everyone, and it only asks for one thing: nourishment. Feed the mind what it needs, and it will take care of all the things it needs by itself. As a well-fed worker is capable of doing his job, a well-nourished mind can do its job--it can know, think, feel, and make wise judgments in most cases. The good, noble-minded person is the one who has been fed with the mental food that's appropriate for him.

Volume 6, Philosophy of Education, pg 290

The fact is, a wonderful discovery has been entrusted to us. This discovery is the greatest thing to happen to education since the invention of the alphabet. Listen again to what Coleridge said, on page 106 of this book, about where great discoveries come from. He makes no distinctions about what kinds of minds receive divine great ideas. In fact, he doesn't even describe them as particularly great minds. They were just 'prepared beforehand to receive' the great ideas.

Volume 6, Philosophy of Education, pg 302

He needs knowledge as much as he needs bread and milk. He's as hungry for knowledge as he is for lunch. An abundant regular diet at frequent intervals providing lots of variety is the necessary right of every child--not just for his growing body, but for his curious mind, too. Yet we try to satisfy him with licorice candy.

Volume 6, Philosophy of Education, pg 303-305

Now that we've gone on and on about the importance of knowledge, you might be wondering, 'What is knowledge?' And we can only tell you what it's not. It's not instruction or information. It's not becoming scholarly or having a lot stored up in a person's memory. Knowledge is something that passes from mind to mind, like the light from a torch. But the torch can only be lit by the mind that generates the original idea. [Which makes teachers merely torch-bearers, not the fountain of all knowledge that they sometimes fancy they are!] We know that thought brings forth more thought: it's only when an idea sparks our own mind that our own mind is vitalized to bring life to ideas of its own. And it's these ideas of ours that direct what we do and how we act. We hardly need to convince anyone that reform is badly needed. But now we actually begin to see what could make reform work. To educate a child, you need the direct, first-hand impact of great minds to interact with his own mind. We may not know lots of great minds in our circle of friends, but most of us can get in touch with great minds by reading books. If we want to know whether a school is truly providing an intellectual diet that really feeds its students, all we have to do is look at their booklist for the current term. If the booklist is short, we know that students aren't getting enough mind food. If the books aren't varied enough, we know they won't be well-rounded. If the books are second-hand compilations [which textbooks are] rather than original works, then they won't have any real food in them to nourish the mind [much like vitamins that may have some chemical value, but no real food.] If the books are too easy [not just reading level, but if they don't make him question], if they're too direct and tell him what to think [rather than challenging him to form his own opinion], then students will read them, but they won't chew on them and assimilate them so that the books become a part of them. A person needs a good meal to stimulate his body to secrete digestive juices. In the same way, the mental energy need to be stimulated so that the mind will digest and extract what it needs. And it needs a large variety and generous amount from which to select the nourishment it needs. And it needs it to be disguised as something appetizing and appealing. As our example, we have the highest authority [Scripture] demonstrating that the indirect method is the best way to dispense literature, and especially the indirect form of poetry. It's true that the Parables of Jesus are mysterious--but is there any knowledge in the world more precious than what they contain?

So our tendency to undervalue children is damaging. We water down their books and drain them of their literary flavor because, in our ignorance, we think that they can't understand what we understand ourselves. And, even worse, we explain and then ask questions. A few educational catch-phrases might do us some good: 'Don't explain.' 'Don't question.' 'One single reading of a passage is enough.' 'Make the student tell back the passage he's read.' The student has to read in such a way that he knows, and the teacher's job is to see that he knows. The activities of generalizing, analyzing, comparing, judging, and so on, are things that the mind does for itself. That's part of the process the mind goes through when it's actively learning. Do you doubt it? Try it yourself. Before you go to bed, read a chapter of something like Jane Austen, or the Bible. Then put yourself to sleep by retelling it back to yourself in your mind. You'll be surprised at the degree of insight and visualization you gain from this kind of mental exercise.

As I've already said, a seven-year-old can retell Pilgrim's Progress chapter by chapter, even though he can't read it himself, and a half dozen other of the best books we can find for him. At age eight or nine, he'll work contentedly with a dozen books at a time--history, adventure, travels, poems. Between the ages of 10-12, he reads a good number of seriously written books about British and French history, Shakespeare's historical plays, Plutarch's Lives translated by Thomas North, and a dozen other worthy books. As he progresses in school, his reading becomes wider and more difficult. But everyone already knows what kind of books are appropriate for high school students. The problem isn't the kind of books given in high school, but the amount--not enough are used. The reading list is too meager to make a full, well-balanced man. Lots of first-rate books should be scheduled in every term. The one point I must make is that, from the time a child starts school at age six, he should be distinguished as being 'an educated child' as compared to other children his age. He should love his school books, and he should enjoy his end-of-term exams based on those books. Children brought up mostly on books compare favorably to children educated with more lectures and less books. They're enthusiastic about a lot of things, keenly sympathetic, have a wider focus, and make sound judgments. And all because they were treated from the beginning as human beings capable of serious conversation and able to remember and think ahead to the future. They're people who enjoy leisure time, too, and have time for hobbies, since their school work is easily completed in the mornings.

Volume 6, Philosophy of Education, pg 308-310

To get back to my original concern--is book-learning pretty much all there is to knowledge? Wellington attributed the winning of Waterloo, not to the battle-field, but to the classrooms at Eton. Caesar, Thucydides and Prometheus Bound have won more battles off the military fields than on them. Just a little bit of meat goes a long way, so even the average boy at one of the boarding schools becomes a capable man from the bit of literature he gets there. Unfortunately, as capable as he is, he's also ignorant. He doesn't know the literature and history of his own country, much less any other. He thinks of knowledge as something to be filed in storage rather than a state that a person is in, or isn't in. Once he earns his degree, he closes his books and packs them away. He might read the headlines in the newspaper every morning, or maybe even a magazine or two, but otherwise, he fills his time with sports, games, TV, or his own projects. We wonder vaguely how we might get some knowledge into such a person, and impart a taste for knowledge in him. We consider dropping Greek to make room for other things, but, on reflection, this doesn't seem like such a good idea. Culture begins with the knowledge that everything has always been known, and everything has already been said as well as it can be said two thousand years ago. If we can only drum this knowledge into a student slowly over twelve years, then we can prevent him from thinking too much of himself, or joining the mobs crying for power and revolution. There's no better way to know what people are like inside than to know something about what they said in their own words and language.

Let's not forget that we, as a nation, have to make up for something we've already lost. Not so long ago, the entire population, whether rich or poor, were intimately familiar with one of the three great classical literatures--the Bible. Men's thoughts were influenced by it, their speech was molded by it, their conduct pretty much governed by it. The rustic adventure of Genesis, the passionate poetry of Isaiah, the divine philosophy of John, Paul's rhetoric, and the rest of the Bible are written in what Matthew Arnold calls 'the grand style.' This is the undefiled wellspring from which Englishmen have gotten the best of their literature, philosophy of life, ideas about history, and the most vital knowledge there is, although we're now trying to do without it. I'm talking about the knowledge of God.

Volume 6, Philosophy of Education, pg 315-317

If the conduct and destinies of men are decided by knowledge, then it's worth our while to learn something about the nature of knowledge, even though it's vague. Matthew Arnold helps us by offering three classifications of knowledge that make common sense: knowledge of God, knowledge of mankind, and knowledge of the natural world. Another way to say it might be The Divine, the Humanities, and the Sciences. But I think we can go a step further. I think that Letters (a scholarly education), if they don't make up the main content of knowledge, are at least the container that knowledge comes in. Letters are the silver bowl, the exquisite vase, even the alabaster box that holds the ointment.

If man can't think without words, and if the person who thinks with words is sure to express his thoughts, then what about that habit of speaking in single syllables that's becoming common among all classes? The trivial, silly chatter that many women and a few men like to engage in doesn't count. That isn't meant to express real, intelligent thought. The Greeks thought that the main purpose of education was to teach a person how powerful words could be, and train him to use words well. They understood that, if words come from thoughts, then thoughts also come from words. The Greeks didn't bother with learning and studying any other languages, modern or ancient, they just focused on their own. Thus, they became experts in their own language. With their well-developed language came great thoughts expressed in just the right form needed for the occasion--in wise laws, victorious battles, glorious temples, beautiful statues, and classic drama. Great thoughts promise great deeds. And great deeds only come to a people who are familiar with the great thoughts that have been written and said before. How did the youngest of our great Premiers bring about the 'revival of England'? He was strengthened with vast reading that made him believe that impossible things could be accomplished because he'd read of such feats before. He'd read about a thousand things spoken about so wisely that the only result could be a wise action. When we say that our nation is suffering from a contempt for knowledge, we mean that men are ridiculing Letters, which is the container for all knowledge.

Let's take a look at the three classifications of knowledge to find out which one we're most misusing. Some people think that they have all the divine knowledge they need by listening to a sermon every week in church. But, even though our preachers may have a degree, they still don't lift us as much as they should into that gentle realm where words fitly spoken bring about thoughts of peace and divine purpose. It's a worthy ideal to make worship the main purpose of our church services. But people need to hear about 'the Way that enables us to go, the Truth that enables us to know, and the Life that enables us to live.' And we need to hear it in 'words that burn' and ignite our spirits. We wish for the kind of preachers from the old days, who shook the pulpit and 'shook the nation's soul.'

Maybe it's true that the church doesn't feed us enough of the knowledge that gives life, but we aren't starved, either. We also get a small share of literature, poetry, and history--a phrase here, a line there, just enough to light up our day once in a while. Charles Fox said, 'Poetry is everything,' and the black conqueror of the Sudan said, 'Without learning, life wouldn't have any pleasure or flavor.' Knowledge is good for us, although we aren't sure why that's true.

Volume 6, Philosophy of Education, pg 319

Maybe our duty is to give serious consideration to the problems of our society. Maybe then we'll finally realize that man truly can't live by bread alone. Maybe we'll understand that intellectual 'bread' (or even cake) is all we ever offer to people in all socioeconomic classes. We are losing our sense of every kind of values, except financial. Our young men no longer see visions. Instead, they're attracted to a career only if 'there's money in it.' Nothing comes from nothing. If we bring up our children on corrupt dreams and selfish ambitions, should we be surprised if every man looks out for number one?

Volume 6, Philosophy of Education, pg 321

Even the shock of a revolution is worth it, if it convinces us that the strength of our nation lies in knowledge, and in the education of its people.

Volume 6, Philosophy of Education, pg 321-327

IV- New and Old Concepts of Knowledge

So far I've stated that 'knowledge' hasn't been defined, and is probably undefinable. It's not something a person piles up in storage to access later, it's more like a state of being that people often leave, but they can re-enter. The hunger for knowledge is as universal as hunger for food. The best way we know how to pass on knowledge works well with an elite few, but not so well with everyone else. Those whose educations fill them with a collection of facts and statistics instead of enriching them with real knowledge will base their reasoning on those facts [in place of experienced, discerning judgment.] In England's current crisis [presumably the miner strikes], England has found that her people lack intellectual spirit. For various economical reasons, England has had a failure in her food supply--the supply of the proper mental diet for minds. I've explained how knowledge can be divided into three categories, as suggested by Coleridge, who has some authority. I've tried to point out how, even though knowledge can be divided into categories, the vehicle that carries it is one and can't be divided: It's generally impossible for the mind to receive knowledge in any way other than letters [books].

We know that medieval people had a better concept of knowledge than we've come up with. We think of knowledge as something compiled of shreds and bits and pieces-- we have sketchy knowledge of this or that, with huge gaps in between.

Medieval people, with their scholarly minds, worked out a magnificent 'Philosophy of the Catholic Religion.' They were probably basing that on the scattered hints in Scripture. Their concept is pictured in the great fresco painted by [supposedly] Simone Memmi and Taddeo Gaddi that John Ruskin taught us about. It's also implied in the Van Eycks' 'Adoration of the Lamb.' In the first fresco, we see the Holy Spirit descending, first upon the four cardinal virtues [prudence, justice, temperance, and fortitude] and the Christian graces [faith, hope and charity], then upon the prophets and apostles, and, under these, upon the seven Liberal Arts [grammar, rhetoric, dialectic, arithmetic, geometry, astronomy, and music]. Each of these Seven is represented by its leading figure--Cicero, Aristotle, Zoroaster, etc.--and not one of them is a Christian or a Hebrew. This presents the idea that all knowledge (in its original, untainted form) comes directly from heaven and is planted in minds that are prepared to receive it, as Coleridge says. It's planted in whichever mind is prepared, without regard to whether it's the mind of a pagan or a Christian. This seems to me to be a truly enlightened, broad-minded idea that corresponds perfectly with the way the world operates. Another idea that's just as wonderful and even more specific is the Greek myth of Promethius. This makes us suddenly aware of how haphazard and useless our own notions of knowledge are. We're tempted to cry out with Wordsworth,

'God, I'd rather be
A pagan who was brought up believing an outdated creed!'

and yet know that God, at great sacrifice, brought gifts of knowledge to all mankind. That seems much better than to sit serenely with some vague misconception that knowledge arrives as confused odds and ends, and nobody knows how or from where it comes, or that knowledge is created by itself in the thoughts of a few men here and there who find in their own minds new insights about the ways of the mind and heart, or new perceptions about the ways of life. or an idea about improving the species.

Our confused theories of education stem from our jumbled concepts of knowledge. Let's quote a passage from Ruskin's description of the fresco in the Church of Santa Maria Novella that I mentioned above:

'On either side of the chapel, Simon Memmi has represented the power of God to teach, and the power of Christ to save. That's how the Florentines understood the world at that time...

'...Let's look at the intellect first. Under the descending Holy Spirit, we see the point of the arch, with the Three Evangelical Virtues (faith, hope, love) under it. Florentines believed that, without these, there could be no science or intelligence. Under those are the four Cardinal Virtues: Temperance, Prudence, Justice, Fortitude. Under those are the great Prophets and Apostles. Under the Prophets, pictured as if the Prophets were summoning them, are the allegorical figures of the seven theological sciences, and the seven natural sciences. Under the feet of each of these is the figure of the man who taught it to the world.' (from Ruskin's book Mornings in Florence.)

In other words, the Florentines living in the Middle Ages believed that 'the Spirit of God had the power to teach.' They believed that not only the seven Liberal Arts were completely under the direct outpouring of God's Spirit, but every fruitful idea or original concept, whether geometry, grammar or music, was directly derived from a Divine source.

Whether we accept it or not, we can't fail to see that this is a harmonious and uplifting blueprint of education and philosophy. The Scriptures abundantly support this kind of theory about how knowledge comes to us. It's too bad that the demands of Ruskin's immediate work prevented him from researching further into the ultimate origin of knowledge. But that doesn't mean we can't do some research ourselves. In the phrase, 'the power of God to teach,' we have an inspiring idea that's full of possibilities. If we entertained this medieval philosophy right now in our current crisis, what good might come of it?

First, there would be a great sense of relief when we had some unity of purpose and real progress in the way we educate the race. There's great ease of mind in knowing that knowledge is dealt out to us according to how prepared we are and what our needs are, and that God whispers knowledge into the ear of the person who's ready. God does that for the purpose of delivering that knowledge to the rest of us. The poem Abt Vogler [by Robert Browning] says, 'God has a few of us that He whispers in the ear.' Another poet [Rudyard Kipling, The Explorer] says,

'God chose me for His whisper, and I've found it, and it's yours!'

The next benefit is that knowledge would no longer be divided between sacred and secular, great and trivial, practical and theoretical. All knowledge is sacred, and is dealt out to us in proportion to how ready we are for it. Knowledge isn't a scrappy collection of shreds and bits, but a beautiful whole, a great unity that embraces God and man and the universe. It's one unit, but it has many parts and none is superior or less important than any other. All are necessary because each has a specific function. The third benefit is our understanding that knowledge and man's mind go together like air and lungs. The mind can only live on knowledge. Without knowledge, the mind goes stagnant, gets weak and dies.

Next, it isn't up to man to decide, 'I'll learn this or that, but the rest of it isn't my concern.' It's even worse for a parent or teacher to limit a child to less than he can get of the whole field of knowledge. The domain of the mind is every bit as much under a Divine Master as morality or religion. A child has to know just as urgently as he has to eat.

Next, life doesn't have just one segment of time singled out for regular intellectual meals. We have to eat food daily for our entire lives. And our minds also need mental food every day for our whole lives.

Next, we shouldn't confuse knowledge with the kind of 'learning' that happens in school. A person can 'learn' by amassing a pile full of facts, but it's only true knowledge that enriches personal growth and makes a child a better person. That is its own reward [i.e., it shouldn't be necessary to 'prove' the validity of a person's character growth with economic productivity charts.] We're sometimes amazed when a person who's known for their intelligence is well-grounded and modest. They're not trying to hide their talent. It's just that they truly don't feel that they have any unusual giftedness. They're just being themselves, yet we can feel the force of their personalities. People with confidence and integrity, with forceful personalities, who can make decisions and have sound judgment are just what this country needs most. If we want to train up this kind of person to lead in our country, then surely knowledge should be one criteria we want to instill.

There are various trendy 'new' educational systems that seem fun, but that feature only the tiniest grain of knowledge diluted in a gallon of warm, weak water. One theory says that it doesn't matter what a child learns, what matters is how he learns it. That makes about as much sense as saying that it doesn't matter what a child eats, what matters is how he eats it--so let's just feed him sawdust! Another theory is Rousseau's primitive man theory. It says that a child can only learn what he experiences first-hand through his five senses and from his own wits. One would think that there wasn't such thing as knowledge waiting to be passed on by a torch-bearer. Then there's the frivolous theory that originated in the Church of England and shows up in some of Scott's Waverley novels--in the games that Lady Margaret Belleden had her tenants play, for example. Those young men and women had been trained from childhood to be 'flexible, active, healthy, alert, prepared to dance and sing, and with eyes and ears ready for whatever was beautiful, intelligent, happy and able. (I'm quoting from a useful letter in The Times). Between our morris dances (folk dancing), pageants, living pictures, miracles plays and things like that, we're reviving the ideals of education in the Stuart days. It's not a bad thing to have a goal of bringing more joy to life. But we live in complex times and more is required of us. Real knowledge plays no part in the sort of self-activity and self-expression of this kind of educational theory, or a half dozen other educational theories I could bring up. Whatever we determine to cultivate will eventually be manifested in perfect displays of active fun, alert minds and enjoyment of performances.

The message we really need is, 'With all that is in you, get understanding.' In one sense, understanding is an active thing that the conscious mind does to assimilate knowledge. And that's relative--the mind can't do that if it hasn't already acted on the intellectual food that was presented to it. The Gospels keep repeating the poignant question, 'Why won't you understand?'

This is what's wrong with our nation--we don't understand. I'm not just talking about ignorant people. Even educated men and women use erroneous arguments, rely on prejudices instead of principles, and mistake cliches for ideas. Perhaps these failures aren't ignorance so much as insincerity. But insincerity is a result of ignorance. Darkened intelligence can't see clearly. 'It's as bright as day for those who know,' but knowing doesn't come easily for those who 'cram to pass tests instead of to really learn,' as Ruskin says.

I don't mean to cast criticism on the vast excellent educational work that almost all teachers are doing. No matter which elementary school you go into, you're impressed with the competence of the teachers and how intelligent the children seem. I've already mentioned how well the public boarding schools do, and I'd like to give warm, hearty applause to High School girls, too. They're thoughtful and well-educated. They don't deserve the stings and arrows of criticism that are often thrown their way. As for our Universities, they remove the stigma that many of us have experienced. We sometimes feel that stigma when we're in the middle of one of the places where intellectual people gather. Those places add dignity and grace to metropolitan cities. Our new Universities are promising for our future.

We've undoubtedly come to a good place to start, but the journey is far from over. I don't need to repeat all the weaknesses that arise from ignorance, but I'll take a closer look at the field of education as it relates to knowledge and the inborn desires of the mind for the knowledge suited to it. For now, we need practical people to understand that what the nation really needs is abstract knowledge. The general weakness of the population to understand the science of relations [everything relates to everything else] should prove that, as well as the failure to understand the science of the proportions of things.

Volume 6, Philosophy of Education, pg 327-333

We are trying to do something. We're trying to unlock the nature of children by using the right key. That key is knowledge--familiarity enough with birds and flowers and trees to know them by name, if not more. And the magic of poetry makes knowledge come to life. Adults and children should be able to quote a verse that will make the bud of an ash tree seem blacker, or add sweetness and wonder to a 'flower in the crannied wall,' or make a lark's song sound more thrilling. All of the field clubs around the northern towns have members who are accomplished botanists, bird experts and geologists. Their Saturday nature rambles don't just add zest to their week. They're also just plain fun. We hope that schools will offer opportunities so that women will be more prepared to participate in these excursions. Right now, the field work is so thorough that it requires more endurance than they're used to, and more than has ever been expected of them.

In one sense, we're doing well. Our bodies are made so that any physical movement that involves contact with the earth is a source of joy for us, whether it's a game of leap frog or flying kites. We've noticed this, so we're encouraging things like swimming, dancing, and hockey. All of these give immediate enjoyment and permanent health. We also know that the human hand is a wonderful and precise tool that can be used in a hundred different ways that require intricacy, accuracy and strength. Using the hand in this way brings pleasure in the process itself that's separate from the end result. We understand this, so we make an effort to train young students to accurately handle tools and do handicrafts. Maybe someday we'll see a revival of apprenticeship in various trades, and we'll start to see quality work again as people take pride in the work of their hands. Our goal should be to make sure that each person 'lives his life' with pleasure, but not at the expense of someone else. The world is such that, when a person truly lives his life [rather than just survives day to day], it benefits those around him as much as it benefits himself. Everyone thrives on the well-being of others. We also understand that the human ear is attuned to harmony and melody. Each person has a voice that can express musical notes and hands that are capable of delicate motion to draw out musical tones on instruments. The ancient Greeks were the first ones to realize that music is a necessary part of education. Art is also necessary. We are finally realizing that anyone can draw, and everyone enjoys it. Therefore, everyone should learn how to do it. Everyone enjoys looking at pictures, so education should train people to appreciate pictures of quality.

People can sing, dance, enjoy music, appreciate the beauty of nature, sketch what they see, be satisfied in their skill at crafting things, produce honest work with their hands, understand that work is better than wages, and live out their individual lives in any of a number of ways. In fact, the more interests a person has, the more enjoyable his life will be. When he's doing all of these things, his mind is agreeably occupied and challenged. He thinks about what he's doing, often with excitement and enthusiasm. He feels like he must 'live his life,' and he does. He lives it in as many ways as there are open to him, and he takes nothing away from anyone else to fulfill his abundance. In fact, the collective joy of well-being increases all around him through shared feeling, and others following his example.

This is the kind of ideal that's beginning to be awakened in our schools and in public opinion. It will provide the next generation with lots of ways to live their own lives--and in ways that don't encroach on anyone else. This worthy gift is what our generation can contribute towards the science of relations. Now we understand that a person should be raised and educated for his own benefit and what's best for his own personal growth, not primarily for the uses of society. Yet he will benefit society, because it's the person who 'lives his own life' most fully who is the greatest blessing to others. He'll be the one with the most skills because he wants to be able to do many different things in order to fully enjoy life. And, with the skills to live on his own resources, he won't be a drain on society.

But a person is more than eyes that enjoy beauty, a heart that finds satisfaction, limbs that delight in moving, hands that find joy in creating something that's done right. Anyone can have these things, except those who are totally depraved. But what about man's eager, yearning, restless, insatiable mind? It's true that we teach him the mechanics of phonetic reading in school--but we don't teach him to read. He can't focus his attention for very long, he has a poor vocabulary, and he's not in the habit of thinking of anyone besides himself. His best concept of fun is buying tickets to a football game.

We neglect the vast region that belongs to every human, and is, therefore, his birthright: his mind. I'm not talking about the physical tissue of the brain. If the mind is well-fed and exercised, it will take care of maintaining the physical tissue. But what we fail to do is to feed our children's minds enough mental nourishment. Picture the mind like a spiritual octopus, reaching out in lots of different directions, trying to pull in lots of raw material that the mind will turn into knowledge. Nothing in the world's infinite variety bores it. The heavens, the earth, the past, present, and future, giant things and miniscule things, nations and men, the universe--the mind is fascinated by all those things. But there seems to be an unwritten law we never suspected about what kind of raw material is assimilated and converted to real knowledge. It wasn't a coincidence that the Greeks made up the word logos. Logos, translated The Word, isn't just some meaningless title applied to the Son of God. And it's no accident that every time Jesus spoke, His words had the distinction of having exquisite literary quality. In fact, one girl remarked after hearing the lyrics to a hymn, 'That's not poetry. Jesus would have said it much better.' When Jesus prayed about His final days and work, He said, 'I have given them the words You gave to me.' One disciple spoke for the others when he said, 'You have the words of eternal life.' The Greeks understood better than we do that words aren't just things or events. With all primitive societies, rhetoric seems to have been an important skill. The wonderful old sayings that we discarded as outdated inventions are becoming popular again because we're finding that no modern mind can come up with sayings as good as the old ones. Men may change the world, but it's words that inspire them and motivate them to action. A person is limited by how many things he knows by their proper names and can qualify by using the correct terms. This isn't just some nitpicky rule. It has to do with the mystery we call human nature. Our newfangled method of education that emphasizes 'things not words' is inherently demoralizing. The human mind needs 'letters,' or literature, and desires them more urgently than the body craves bread. It was recent enough that some people still remember how newly-freed slaves in America devoured books with the appetite of the famished Israelites who fell upon food in Sennacherib's deserted camp.

A man is only able to 'live his life' in the proportion to how much his mind has been nourished on books. A lot of menial factory labor is done alone. Miners and farmers can't focus on the block being hewed or the furrow being plowed forever. How fortunate it would be if a worker could be going over in his mind the trial scene in Heart of Midlothian, or the antics in Guy Mannering. How beneficial if his imagination is busy thinking about 'Ann Page' or 'Mrs. Quickie.' His work will go faster if, within the deepest parts of his soul, a holy tune is playing. Yes, regular working people do these things. Many of them are able to say, 'My mind is like an entire kingdom within me!' And many can cry out with Browning's Paracelsus, 'God, you are mine! The human mind must seem precious to the greatest Mind. Spare my mind.' Many of us have seen the words, 'Have mynde' on the tiles that pave the choir loft at the church of St. Cross. But do we remember that the 'mynde' needs its meat as much as the body does?

Faith is growing weaker these days. Hope languishes in the seriousness of our times. But love and charity are as strong as ever. If it were within our power, we'd make everybody rich, or, at least, we'd take some of the money that billionaires have and share it with the multitudes who really need it. There will undoubtedly be some good, bold hero who will rise up like Robin Hood and do that sort of thing. Maybe he's already risen. Yet, after all the charity has been done, we'll find that we still haven't enabled the people to fully 'live their lives' until we provide them with a literary education so successfully that they'll want to continue learning on their own for the rest of the their lives. Someone might object, 'That all sounds good, but look at the masses. Are they capable of learning about literature? When they talk, they use the kind of language you find in newspapers. The only way they can understand books is if they're condensed and abridged to make them easier to read.' But, don't working men speak in journalese because their newspapers are willing to meet them halfway and present news in the language they understand? Neither their schools nor society has exposed them to real books. The fact that they adopt the language of the only source who will write for them proves my point: people have a natural aptitude to understand literature. I'm going to go straight to the top and appeal to the highest authority by citing Christ, who didn't shrink from presenting the most profound philosophical truth to the multitudes. Even Socrates didn't think the multitudes were worthy to receive such knowledge, but Jesus did.

I'd like to quote a letter from 'a working man' who responded to a letter of mine that The Times Weekly Edition did me the honor of reprinting. My apologies to the author. (By the way, I think it's wonderful that this kind of newspaper is being read by working men.) The man who wrote this letter says that he's 'Thankful there are still people left in England who think of education as something other than a way to earn a living.' And we should all be thankful that there are a few working class people who value education for its own sake, and don't want it offered to them simply as a means to increase their income.

The truth is, literature has a universal appeal. Books satisfy a certain desire in all of us. People like young Tennysons and De Quinceys will read profusely no matter what. They'll find their own books on their own. It's the average youth, or the slow ones that I urge us to provide with a literary education. Minds like theirs will respond to literature even when they won't respond to anything else, and turns them into intelligent young people who are open to learning more about lots of different things. For working class people who have more intelligence than the limits of the education they received, books are an accessible method for them to learn more. They've already learned to read, spell and do arithmetic, so it isn't necessary to make them take remedial classes in those things. They have intelligent, mature minds and can deal with finding answers to their literature questions when they need them. To help in this regard, every working men's club should have an encyclopedia. Some people naturally take to learning, and they'll tackle Latin grammar, Cicero, Euclid and trigonometry on their own. They're fortunate! But, in general, for most people of all ages and classes and frames of mind, literary books are a necessity. They need them every day to satisfy the intellectual craving that everyone has. Neglecting that need causes emotional disturbances that lead to evils that distress all of us.

Volume 6, Philosophy of Education, pg 334

Viewing literature as the essence of education is nothing new. Neither is the belief that education means turning a youth into a library of facts. But now we know that the mind needs information presented in a methodical, orderly way. It needs that just as surely as it demands knowledge. Maybe our educational failures are the result of us adopting any haphazard educational scheme if the person suggesting it is persistent enough.

Volume 6, Philosophy of Education, pg 335

There are some things we need desperately. We need a new set of values. Before WWI, we all read about how a few millionaires died in the Titanic. At that fateful moment, all their money meant nothing. It didn't matter to them. In fact, it's possible that they felt relieved of a weary burden. We don't need more money. What we crave is more life. We need more abundance in our lives, we don't have enough compelling interests. We rush from one meeting to another, glancing anxiously at the clock to see how we're doing with time. We're glad to have made it through another week--who can say that perhaps, at the final end, we might not just be glad it's over? We need hope. We keep ourselves so busy and excited about some new purchase, not realizing that the satisfaction we get is in the process of attaining and the effort, not the thing itself.

Volume 6, Philosophy of Education, pg 342

Our failing has been that we've offered the pretense of education, the mere wordiness of knowledge, instead of knowledge itself. It's time for all those people who don't undervalue knowledge to roll up their sleeves and get to work. There's still time to save England and make her an even greater nation, worthy of her blessings and opportunities. But our beloved country won't stand still. If we let our people sink into the mire of a utilitarian, materialistic education, our doom will be sealed. This generation will see us take third place in the world. It's knowledge that exalts a nation, because righteousness comes from carefully planned knowledge, and prosperity is the result.

Volume 6, Philosophy of Education, pg 346-347

These letters are pathetic. Thank goodness they're also reassuring. They prove that the desire for knowledge can't be extinguished, no matter what schools do, or leave undone. But schools are to blame when a pursuit that should result in perpetual refreshing becomes as hard as laboring under a heavy burden, and there's no pleasure in the process.

Volume 6, Philosophy of Education, pg 348

Schools should feed their students knowledge until they've created a healthy appetite in them. Then the students will go on satisfying their hunger for knowledge every day for the rest of their lives. We need to give up the farce of teaching students how to learn. That's just as ridiculous as teaching a child how to lift a fork to his mouth and chew without giving him any real food! They already know how to learn. Lessons given for the sole purpose of improving the mind shouldn't be a priority in the future.


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