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

Personhood and The Nature of the Child

Volume 1, Home Education, pg 182-184

No field of research has as little real study as the world of childhood. We see children every day, but no one has explored the inner workings of a child's mind. Thoughtful people suspect that our lack of knowledge causes us to make mistakes that injure children seriously. For example, all of our schemes of education presume that a child's mind and inner person starts out very small and grow as his physical body grows. But we don't know that that's the case. Children keep their thoughts to themselves for the most part, except for the charm and frank comments they sometimes share with us. But on those rare occasions when we do get a glimpse into a child's mind, we are startled that he has a keener intelligence, wiser thoughts and a larger soul than we adults. When a genius [such as Tolstoy] lifts the veil by writing about his own childhood, we are very grateful. When enough people, both geniuses and average people, have shared about their childhoods, there may be enough data to do a study from that. Then maybe we'll understand more about how a child thinks and realize what unfair things we've put children through in the name of education. In Leo Tolstoy's book Childhood, Boyhood, Youth, he writes about his childhood so personally that a mother will recognize her own child in the portrait he gives us.

'You're like my own dear mother,' wrote little Leo in a poem he wrote for his grandmother's birthday. Later he felt ashamed for it and sure that his father and grandmother would discover what a hypocrite he was. 'Why did I have to write that? She isn't even here, and I didn't have to write that. I do love grandma, and I respect her, but she's still not the same, and now I have lied.' This is the kind of thing children think about. We read it and recognize our own dim, childish memories from a time long ago when our own conscience was that exquisitely delicate. That memory should remind us to be careful of the tender consciences of children.

'The Story of a Child'

While I'm on this subject, I'd like to mention another book where a child reveals her inner world. This child was once called to give evidence long, long ago. This kind of study is very valuable because it forces us to remember our own childhood, to relive it and reproduce it with our imagination. This is the only way to understand children because children, in spite of their sincere openness and inclination to chatter, are not that easy to understand. They never say out loud the sort of things written in Margaret Deland's The Story of a Child. [Page images of some of this story are available from The Atlantic Monthly] Children don't explain these things to each other because they know that other children already know them. They don't tell grown-ups because they don't think grown-ups, not even their mothers, would understand. The family dog might, so children's secrets will be whispered in the dog's ear while the mother tries in vain to get her child to open up to her.

A poem says, Each person is alone in his own world of happiness or sadness. Our lonely spirits live and move about, separate from each other. We see things around us as happy or sad, depending on the mood of our heart.

And that's true even more for children than with ourselves. It's just a part of our nature that we can't change. The only way we'll ever be able to really be intimate with a child is to reach down deep and remember our own childhood. But we usually think of that memory as unimportant and let it slip away. So, Margaret Deland helps us to recover our own childhoods in her story about Ellen, although there's a difference. Our impulses seemed just as irrational, trivial, loving heroic and bothersome to grown-ups then, as Ellen's do to the adults in the story. We remember those days with tenderness, but also with discomfort. It does us no harm if the story makes us a little more humble, a little more careful, convinced that there's more going on in the child's mind than they're telling us. They need us to help and bless them.

Volume 1, Home Education, pg 195-196

Anne Sullivan's Views on Systems of Education

Like all great discoveries, the unlocking of Helen's human soul was marked by simplicity in all its individual steps. Miss Sullivan had little use for psychologists and their methods. She would not submit Helen to experiments and refused to allow her to be treated as a phenomenon, but insisted that she be treated as a person. She said, 'I don't want any more kindergarten materials. I am getting suspicious of elaborate and special systems of education. They seem to suppose that every child is some kind of idiot who has to be taught how to think. But if a child is left to himself, he will think more and better, although he may take more time. Let him come and go when he wants, let him handle real things and draw his own conclusions by himself instead of sitting in a classroom at a little round table while a sweet-voiced teacher suggests that he build a wall with his wooden blocks, or make a rainbow from strips of construction paper, or make straw trees glued to pots made of beads. Such teaching fills the mind with contrived associations that have to be unlearned before a child can develop his own ideas from real first-hand experiences.' It's a great thing to have a new kind of study of education, one in which we envision the human mind triumphing, not only over insurmountable natural obstacles, but over the dead wall of artificial systemized education. That can hinder a poor child more completely than blindness and deafness hindered Helen Keller.

Volume 2, Parents and Children, pg 206-207

A Child is Born Without Virtue or Vice

The wisdom of the ages--meaning philosophy and, more recently, modern science, especially physiology and psychology--shows that both of these extremes are inaccurate, and any theory founded on either of these two positions or somewhere in between is also mistaken. The truth is, a child is born neither true nor false. When he comes into the world, he has neither virtue nor vice. Yes, he has tendencies, but these aren't any more or less virtuous or evil than the color of his eyes. Even a child born to parents who lie isn't necessarily born a liar, because acquired tendencies aren't transmitted at birth. But still, a child born into a family that's been in the subservient class for generations might be less naturally predisposed to truthfulness than a child born into a family that's been a member of the ruling class for generations. [It seems that even Charlotte Mason couldn't totally remove Victorian class stigma from her thinking!] In the physical world, all substances need to be reduced to their purest elements before they can be chemically worked with. It's the same way in the moral world. If we want to treat a fault, we need to trace it back to the underlying elemental property of human nature that it probably originated from.

Volume 2, Parents and Children, pg 232

We Don't Accept the Concept of a Specific 'Child-Nature'

We try to make sure that the way we treat children and what we teach them is in harmony with nature--their nature as well as our own, and we don't buy the concept of a distinct 'child nature.' We believe that children are human beings at their best and sweetest phase, but also at their weakest and least wise. We're careful that we don't dilute life for them. Instead, we present to them the portions and amounts of it that they're willing to receive.

Volume 2, Parents and Children, pg 250-251

Children Are Responsible People

The school lessons of the old days couldn't have been much worse. The training was inconsistent, lacking any sound physiology or psychology, but our grandparents had one saving virtue, although, for the past 20-30 years, we've been working hard with a determined will to get rid of it. That saving virtue was that the older generation recognized that children were reasonable beings with minds and consciences just like theirs. They just needed guidance and control from adults since they didn't have much knowledge or experience yet. Just look at the strange, quaint books they used to read. More than anything else, these books talked to children as if they were reasonable, intelligent and responsible (extremely responsible!) people. This pretty much represents the attitude of family life in those days. As soon as a baby became aware of his surroundings, he became aware that he was a morally and intellectually responsible being. One of the secrets to effectively dealing with other people is realizing that human nature tends to do what it's expected to do, and to be what it's expected to be. Don't confuse this with a blind faith, like the affectionate and foolish Mrs. Hardcastle in She Stoops to Conquer, who bestowed that kind of belief in Tony Lumpkin. Expectation stimulates another impulse, the chord of 'I am, I can, I ought' that needs to be alive in every heart because that's the way we were created. All of the capable, dependable men and women that I know were raised this way.

Volume 2, Parents and Children, pg 252-253

Intelligence of Children

One time I was saying that children could easily learn to speak two languages at the same time. A man who was there said that his son was a missionary in Bagdhad, married to a German lady. Their three year old could express everything he had to say with equal fluency in three languages--German, English and Arabic. He used each language depending on who he was talking to. One thoughtful little four year old girl asked, 'Nana, who does God love best? Little boys, or little girls?' Her good-natured Nana wanted to please her, so she answered, 'God loves little girls the most, of course.' 'Well, if God loves little girls the most, then why wasn't He a little girl Himself?' Which of us more sophisticated adults who have supposedly reached a more advanced stage of evolution could have come up with a more conclusive argument than that? That same little girl asked another time, 'Nana, if bees make honey, then do birds make jelly?' That wasn't an illogical question. In fact, it only shows that we grown-ups are too dull and unobservant of Nature's mysteries to appreciate the wonder of bees making honey.

Children Are Highly Gifted, but Ignorant

This is how children are--their intelligence is more acute than ours, their logic is sharper, their powers of observation are more alert, their moral sensitivities are more delicate, they're more abounding in love, faith and hope--in fact, they're everything that we are, only more so. Yet they're totally ignorant about the world and the things in it, about us and our ways, and, most of all, about how to control and channel and realize the unlimited possibilities that they were born with.

Volume 2, Parents and Children, pg 254

Our Perception of Children is Old, But Our Concept of Education is New

Our concept of 'Where have we come from?' includes our perception of the nature of the child as:

'A Being who thinks with every breath,
A sojourner between life and death,'

which is an old perception that our grandparents believed. But our concept of the goals and methods of education is new. It was only made possible during the late 1700's because it rests one foot on the latest scientific advances in biology, and the other foot on the mystery discovered in recent days, the mystery that matter serves the spiritual like a tool, and the spirit shapes, molds, and completely rules physical matter. The spirit can affect the physical changes of the brain, influencing what we might call the heart.

We know that the brain is the physical foundation and origin of habit, and behavior and character are both the result of the habits we allow ourselves to develop. We also know that an inspiring idea can initiate a new habit in the mind, and, from there, a new habit of life. Knowing these things, we recognize that education's great mission is to inspire children with living ideas relating to the relationships of life, all subjects of knowledge and fields of thought, and to devote careful guidance to forming the habits of good living that come from the inspiration of living ideas.

Volume 2, Parents and Children, pg 258-260

The Greatness of Children

The age of materialism has gone as far as it can go. We know now that matter is force, but it's force that's totally subject to something else. The spirit of a person shapes and uses his own material matter [his body] in his own ways for his own purposes. Who can tell the way of the spirit? This may be the ultimate question for mankind, the one that no amount of speculation can solve. When we consider the nearly unlimited capacity for loving, trusting, discriminating, understanding, perceiving and knowing that a child possesses in comparison to the dulled sensitivities and slower understanding of grown-ups of similar intelligence, we no longer think that spiritual life--the part of us that loves, worships, reasons, thinks, learns, and applies knowledge--always grows from less to more, or small to great. In fact, it seems that God gives the Spirit in unmeasured amounts to every child, according to his degree, like He did with the child Jesus.

Wisdom Means Recognizing Relationships

It's interesting how the Bible is always way ahead of our most advanced scientific thinking. The Bible says that Jesus 'grew in wisdom and stature.' What kind of wisdom, or philosophy, does that refer to? Doesn't it mean the ability to recognize relationships? The first thing we have to learn about is the relationships of time, space and matter. That was the kind of natural philosophy that made Solomon so wise. Then, slowly, little by little, more and more, we learn the moral philosophy that determines our proper relationships of love, justice and duty to others. Later we might reflect on the profound and puzzling question of the inter-relationship of our innermost being, which is mental philosophy. And in all of these and more, we begin to understand, slowly and faintly, the highest relationship of all--our relationship with God. This philosophy is called religion. What we call wisdom includes this science of the relationships of things. Nobody is born with wisdom, apparently not even Jesus Himself.

Wisdom Increases, But Intelligence Doesn't

Jesus grew in wisdom--in the sweet, gradual understanding of all the relationships in life. But the ability to understand, and the strong, subtle, discerning spirit that grasps and understands and puts all the relationships that bind everything to each other to their proper use--this wasn't rationed out to Him in a stingy amount. And we can reverently believe that it's given to us just as generously.

Differences in People

It's obvious that there are differences in people. How tall they are varies, and even their intellectual and moral abilities are different. It's good to recognize that these are differences in kind, not degree. Because of the law of heredity, different people receive more of one aspect and less of another so that mankind as a whole is balanced and complete. This is a different concept than the idea that children have only a small, feeble amount of heart and intellect until they reach the strong, mature spiritual development that, according to scientific evolutionist, distinguishes adult humans from young humans.

Ignorance is not the Same as Impotence

These aren't just abstract principles that we can set aside as irrelevant for any purpose except to give scholars something to debate. These are practical and simple things that everyone who's trusted to care for a child should consider.

In fact, we're not fully realizing children for what they are. We're under-estimating them. In the words of Scripture, we're 'despising' them, even though we have the best intentions in the world. The problem is, we confuse their underdeveloped physical bodies and complete lack of knowledge about the relationships of things with a lack of spiritual power. But it's more likely that the intellect is never as sharp, the moral sensitivity is never as strong, the spiritual perception is never as acute as it is in those days of childhood--days that we regard with a patronizing, yet kind smile.

All Possibilities Are Present in a Child

A child is a complete person with all the possibilities within him, present even at this very moment. They aren't educated into him after years of effort by his teachers. But that doesn't mean that our method of education minimizes the teacher's influence. In fact, it's an even greater thing to direct and use this wealth of spiritual power within the child than it is to 'develop the faculties.' I can't say urgently enough that, whether we like it or not, our educational system will depend on the concept we have of the nature of children. If we consider them like instruments that are suited and able to carry out God's divine purpose in the progress of the world, then we'll try to discern the sign of the times, recognize which direction we're being led in, and prepare children to carry forward the world's work by giving them inspiring ideas that relate to at least some aspect of that work.

Volume 2, Parents and Children, pg 278

If we begin with this concept of a child, then we'll realize that whatever seems dull and pointless to us is going to seem dull and pointless to him. Every subject can be taught with a fresh, living approach. Is it time for geography? The child can make discoveries right along with the explorer, go on journeys with the traveler, and receive new, vivid impressions from someone else's mind as his pen records his first impressions. Why should the child receive impressions that have been rendered flat and stale after intermediate editors have filtered through it and put what's left into a textbook? Is he learning history? He has no interest in strings of dates and lists of names, or pleasant little stories that have been dumbed down to their supposed comprehension level. We know better. We realize that his comprehension level is at least as great as our own, although we need to fill in surrounding circumstances and background information as best we can because he doesn't know about them yet.

Volume 3, School Education, pg 46-47

Sacredness of the Person

Of all the ideas that vague popular thought is using to raise us to a higher level, I think the most important one is the sacredness of the individual. Every person seems interesting to us these days. An interviewer does more than satisfy our common curiosity about people. What he draws out of those he interviews is interesting to us, whether he interviews a London street sweeper, a grocer, the librarian, a common middle-aged couple on an outing, an ambassador, an author, an artist or a member of the royal family. Every detail that helps us to understand the personality of someone else is welcome. It's the same with Kailyard literature [regional over-sentimental stories, usually Scottish]. It's popular for a good reason. It may or may not have literary quality, but it tells us what we want to know. It gives everyday details about the people of any country or region. Slang dictionaries, collections of legends, long biographies that give trivial details like how a man eats and what he has for breakfast, where he walks and how he sleeps--all of these give us mental food to think about. We greatly value people, and our interest is only increasing. Any system of psychology that's going to appeal to us will have to put great priority on the individual person. People can be influenced by one thing or another or marred by one sin or another. But we recognize that the indefinable person is present even while the person is still a baby, and will have to make his own way in life and shape for himself all of the experiences, environment and education that will influence who he becomes. A system of psychology that accepts man in this kind of relationship to his education is one we should adopt. This is the kind of psychology that every mother, teacher or manager already knows about.

Volume 3, School Education, pg 63-65

We Think of Children as People

First of all, we take children seriously. After all, they're persons just like we are--in fact, even more so. The first thing we need to clarify is what we mean by persons. We believe that the thinking, intangible soul is one with the acting, visible body in such a close union that,

'The body helps the soul every bit as much as the soul helps the body.'

If God hadn't revealed the doctrine of bodily resurrection to us, then we'd have had to imagine it anyway, because we can't even conceive of an individual without a physical, bodily form. Our friend's mannerisms and the thousand subtle changes of his expression that express his moods, the elegant power of his skilled hands, his familiar and endearing way of walking--we're unable to separate these from our concept of him. Physiological science and rational psychology has advanced our understanding of what the amazing brain cortex is capable of. It's the very root of our consciousness. It provides us with images and impulses and is the source that gets the motor nerves to act. In other words, the brain is where habit starts. Education has an unlimited potential to teach a child the best habits of behavior, and the most noble habits of thought. Education can make sure that these wonderful habits are etched deep into the mind, ready to be spurred to action with the right stimulus. We believe all of this. Even more, we believe that the possibility for a rational education depends on the physiological foundation of habits etched in the brain. This is a new discovery, only learned in our generation.

The Person Wills, Thinks, and Feels

We believe that this ability of the brain to record habits isn't all there is to it. A person needs some way of expressing and relating to the world outside himself. We also believe that the person wills, and thinks and feels. The inner part of a person that makes him who he is is always there, even when he has no conscious awareness of himself. He's not made of separate parts or faculties that act individually. Whenever he does something, whether it's taking a walk or writing a book, all of him is involved. We're used to thinking of people in dual terms--body and soul--but we need to correct our thinking. Man is one whole entity. A person is one, not several. He's neither a collection of ideas nor a bundle of muscles and nerves--he's both. Yes, he needs both bodily and mental food, but that doesn't make him two people. Deliciously prepared food makes people smile, and wine can make their hearts glad. We all know how even our spirits are refreshed after a much needed meal. On the other hand, a person can be well-fed, but have dull eyes and a lifeless expression because he isn't receiving the ideas that feed his mind. Vital, living thought is as necessary for the physical body to be healthy as it is for the soul to be happy and healthy.

An Adequate Doctrine

Since this is our perspective, we believe that our own philosophy is adequate. We're following advances in biological psychology with great interest, and we're using every new thing that's useful to us. At the same time, we're also following the evolution of philosophy. We realize that physical science and philosophy both see the changing human animal from a different angle--people include both aspects while being more than the sum total of them. Our educational philosophy may not be conclusive, but at least it isn't narrow and limited. We haven't cone up against any issue of life or of the mind that our philosophy doesn't encompass. I'm not sure how necessary our philosophy is, but I have to accept that a philosophy that's thorough enough to include the whole nature of man and, at the same time, scientific advances, is necessary. We find that, unlike the other theories, ours is in touch with the three great ideas that seem to be popular right now. We view the child's person as very sacred. We don't obscure his individual personality behind his academic mind or his conscience or even his soul. In this day and age, perhaps we should also include his physical development. A person is a combination of all of these, and yet still more. Our philosophy protects the child's individual initiative and demands that the teacher take a back seat. Even when the teacher is the parent, the child's individuality shouldn't be overwhelmed. It's way too easy to bury the child's character with 'personal influence,' which was so prevalent in the 1850's.

Volume 3, School Education, pg 68

A Human Being

I've presented a working hypothesis to my readers that proposes that man is a consistent whole--a spiritual being that has a physical body. He's able to respond to spiritual forces. His body is what he uses to express himself, to take in information and impressions of his environment, and to establish relationships with the world around him. His will, conscience, affection, and reason aren't different entities inside him. They're different things that the one person does.

His Capacities: Man is capable of relating to lots of things, so he has different actions that he can do. If he has enough relationships with his world, his ability for personal growth seems to be unlimited and incalculable.

His Limitations: If he's deprived of all the relationships he should have, he is unable to develop in those ways, although he never seems to lose the potential to grow even in those aspects.

Volume 3, School Education, pg 75

A Child Has Every Ability He'll Ever Need to Serve Him

Well, then, what is it that we, as educators, do for the child? We obviously don't need to develop the person; the person is already there and probably already has every ability he'll ever need to serve him for his entire journey through life. Some day even the word 'education' will be out of fashion, perceived as belonging to the days when teachers thought their job was to draw the 'faculties' forth from the child. Instead, there will be a new word for what goes on between teachers and students--maybe something like 'applied wisdom.' After all, wisdom is the science of relationships, and the thing we need to do is to do our best to put students in touch with all the relationships that are proper for them.

Volume 3, School Education, pg 114

Our intellectual thoughts aren't a separate thing from our outward actions and spiritual prayers, or even from our physical state of being. Man isn't a combination of separate entities. He is one spirit that lives in a visible physical form, and he's able to do many different things. He can work ethically, love unconditionally, pray faithfully and live righteously--but all of these actions are the outpouring of his thought-life and the kinds of things he thinks about.

Volume 3, School Education, pg 129

Every child is born with a conscience--a sense that he ought to choose right and reject wrong. But children aren't born with the ability to tell good from evil. An educated conscience is rarer than we think.

Volume 3, School Education, pg 158

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.

Volume 3, School Education, pg 172

Children as They Are

Children haven't changed. They're still the same as they were then--more acutely intelligent, more keenly logical, more alert to observe, quicker in moral sensitivity, more abounding in love and faith and hope--in fact, they're just like us in every way, only more so. Yet they're totally ignorant of the world and what's in it, and of us and the way we are, and, most of all, how to manage and channel and express the limitless possibilities that they're born with.

Volume 3, School Education, pg 186-188

Every child is heir to a vast inheritance, inheriting all of the past ages and everything in the present. The question is, what procedures (speaking educationally, not of legal papers) are necessary so that he can take possession of what's already his? The point of view is changed. It's no longer subjective, but objective regarding the child.

The Child is a Person

Seen from this perspective, we no longer talk about how to develop his faculties, or how to train his moral nature, or guide his religious sentiments, or educate him towards his future career or social standing. We don't need the joys of 'child-study.' Instead, we accept the child as he is--a person with a lot of healthy affinities and inborn attachments. Therefore, we perceive that our task is to give him a chance to make the largest number of these attachments good [by exposing him to as many things as possible.]

A Baby's Self-Education

Infants are born into the world with hundreds of these inborn sensors, and they go right to work to establish them with surprising energy:

'The baby,
Nursed in his mother's arms, sinks off to sleep
Rocked on his mother's breast. With his soul,
He drinks in the feelings of his Mother's eyes!
For him, there exists in one dear Person
A virtue that radiates and exalts
Things through the widest connections of sense.
He's no bewildered and depressed outcast.
All of his infant veins are interfused with
The appealing and obligatory bond
Of nature that connects him with the world.'
-- adapted from 'The Prelude'

He attaches his being to Mother, Father, Sister, Brother, Grandma, the man in the street that he calls 'dada,' the cat and dog, spider and fly. Earth, air, fire and water are dangerously fascinating to him. His eyes crave light and color, his ears crave sound, his limbs crave movement. He's interested in everything, and from everything he receives:

'That calm delight
Which, if I'm not mistaken, must surely belong
To those first inborn attractions that help connect
Our new existence to things that exist in the real world,
And, in our first days, make up
The bond that joins life with joy.'
-- adapted from 'The Prelude'

And, when he's left to himself, he also gets real knowledge about each thing, and that knowledge reinforces his relationship with that particular thing.

Our Role is to Remove Obstacles and to Pique Interest

Later on, we step in to educate him. It's only in the proportion to how many living relationships we expose him to that he'll have wide, meaningful interests that will give his life fullness. It's only in proportion to how aware he's made of the laws that govern every relationship, that his life will be lived in duty and service. As he learns that every relationship with both people and things needs to be maintained with deliberate effort, he'll recognize the laws of work, and the joy of labor. Our role is to remove obstacles, pique interest and provide guidance to the child who's trying to get in touch with the vast world of things and thoughts--the vast world that's his rightful inheritance.

Our Mistake

The tragic mistake that we make is that we assume that we're the tour guide who's going to show him the world. Not only that, but we act like there's no connection between the child and the universe unless we decide to set one up for him. We imagine that we have all the control, and if we decide that a low-income child only needs to be educated in the 3R's, what right does he have to want anything more? If his idea of life is Saturday nights spent partying at the local bar, it's not our fault! If our own children graduate from high school and college and don't have any meaningful interests or connections to worthwhile things, we're convinced that that's not our fault, either. We resent it when they're called 'dull slouches' because we know that they're really decent people. And so they are. They're splendid material that never quite completed in development.

Volume 3, School Education, pg 223

Is There Such a Thing as a 'Child-Mind'?

We gain courage to challenge such a wide program just by applying a few working ideas or principles. One concept we challenge is the notion that there's such a thing as a 'child mind.' We don't believe that children are a different species than us. Yes, their ignorance is unlimited, but, on the other hand, their intelligence can run circles around our slower wits. In practical use, we discover that knowing this fact has great power. Teachers no longer talk down to children, and they don't strain to explain every word they use, or poke and pry to make sure that children understand every detail.

Volume 6, Philosophy of Education, pg 4

The soul, spirit and mind of a man is something more than just his physical body. A person's spirit is the person. His physical body lives and breathes merely as a vessel for his thoughts and feelings. Now we recognize that man is a spiritual being. And so we need to make sure that the education we give the next generation is made up of the great thoughts and great events that influence the way our nation thinks.

Volume 6, Philosophy of Education, pg 10-11

I worked at an elementary school and a church high school, so I was able to observe children in varied age groups. But children aren't as open at school as they are at home. Being with my friend's children taught me to view them as persons, and I began to suspect that they are more than we adults are, except that they haven't learned everything they need to know yet.

I did find one limitation with these children. My friend claimed that they couldn't understand English grammar. I disagreed and said that they could. I even wrote a little grammar book for children aged 7 and 8, which is not quite ready to publish. But I found that my friend was right. She let me give my lessons with as much clarity and freshness as I could. But it was useless. No matter how hard I tried, they couldn't understand the nominitative case. Their minds rejected the abstract concept, just like children reject the idea of writing an essay about 'Happiness.' But I had learned something--a child's mind accepts or rejects new knowledge according to what it needs.

Once I had established that fact, the next step in logic was obvious. In accepting and rejecting knowledge, the mind is actively seeking what it needs. The mind needs nourishment to grow and be strong, just like the physical body. 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 11-12

And then I asked myself, Can't people do just fine with a bare minimum of knowledge? After all, how much is really necessary? My young friends gave me an answer. Their insatiable curiosity showed that the whole world and its history was barely enough to satisfy any child, unless spiritual malnutrition had made him apathetic. My next question was, What is knowledge? Ages of intellectual thought haven't answered that question yet! But perhaps all we need to know is that the only knowledge a person has is what he has digested when his mind has actively chewed on it.

Children's natural inclination to learn, and their eagerness to know everything, made me conclude that the areas made accessible for children to learn about should never be artificially restricted. He has a right to as much and as varied knowledge as he's able to take in, and he needs it. Any limitations on his curriculum should only depend on what age he leaves school. In other words, a common curriculum up to age 14 or 15 should be the right of every child [regardless of social class].

We no longer believe that old medieval notion that intelligence is only born in children of the privileged classes, or that intelligence is inherited or can be developed by artificially manipulating the environment a child grows up in. Of course, inheritance plays a part, but so many factors come into play in genetics. Environment can make a child's learning fun or stressful, but learning is a spiritual thing of the soul, and can't be forced by making the child look at things or making him manipulate his fingers. Things of the mind are what appeal to the mind. Thought gives rise to more thought, and that is how we are educated. This is why we owe it to every child to put him in touch with great minds so that he can have access to great thoughts. Then he can be in communication with the minds of the people who left us great works. The only essential method of education seems to be that children should read worthy books, and lots of them.

Volume 6, Philosophy of Education, pg 13-15

The main idea is that children are already persons when they're born, which makes them affected by the same motivations to behavior that we adults are. One of those is the desire for knowledge. Everyone hungers to know, because curiosity is natural to everybody. History, geography, what other people think, which is humanities, are things that we all like to know about, and it's good for us to know about them. Science is, too, since we all live in this world and want to know more about it. Everyone needs beauty and wants to know how to evaluate it, so art is something worth knowing about. Ethics and social studies teach us how to act in life. And everyone needs to know about religion, because all men, not just those on the battlefront, hunger for God.

Since all children have that thirst to know, their unspoken demand is to have a wide and very diverse curriculum. They should learn something about all the many different issues that humans should know about. The various subjects included in their curriculum should never be curtailed because of convenience or time constraints.

Considering the wide range of things that children have a right to know about because they are persons, how can we get them to learn those things? What should they learn in the few years they go to school? We have discovered answers to those two questions. I say discovered rather than invented, because there's only one way to learn. Intelligent people who can talk about any subject, and experts who know a lot about a specialized subject, both learned in the same way--by reading to know. I have discovered that this method of reading in order to know is available to any child, whether homeschooled or in a large classroom.

Children are born with all they need to deal with knowledge, in the same way that they're born with all they need to deal with digesting their food. They already come pre-wired with a hunger to know and an enormous, almost unlimited ability to focus their attention. Their ability to remember seems to be related to their power of attention in the same way that the stomach and intestines are related to the total digestion of food.

Volume 6, Philosophy of Education, pg 18

A child is a complete person with all the spiritual needs and abilities of any person.

Volume 6, Philosophy of Education, pg 18

He already has:
The desire for knowledge (curiosity).
The ability to take in knowledge by paying attention.
As much imagination, reflection, judgment, etc. as he needs to deal with knowledge, without the need for outside props.
Natural, inborn interest in all the kinds of knowledge that he'll need as a human being.
The ability to retain and articulate that knowledge, and assimilate what he needs.

Volume 6, Philosophy of Education, pg 19

Children need a variety of knowledge--about religion, humanities, science, art. Therefore, they should have a broad curriculum with a set amount of reading scheduled for each subject.

Volume 6, Philosophy of Education, pg 23-24

A person isn't built up from without, but from within. He is a living creature, and any attempts to apply education to the outside of him will be mere decorative ornaments, and won't be a vital part of him.

This sounds so obvious. But consider what the conviction that 'a child is already a person' and that a person is, first of all, a living being, implicates. Nothing that is applied to the outside of any living creature will sustain life and promote growth. Bathing in wine and wrapping in velvet will have no impact on the physical health of the creature, other than being a hindrance. The creature's life has to be sustained by what it takes in, not by what's applied to its surface.

Perhaps the only accurate analogy with the human mind is the physical body, especially a human body. That's what we know the most about. The familiar analogy comparing a child to a plant in a garden is misleading, especially since it always seems to involve a gardener who directs the direction in which every twig grows, and the position of every leaf. But even without a gardener, the child as a garden plant doesn't hold up. It fails to recognize something that plants don't have, but that every child has--a unique, individual personality. So let's use the body analogy and compare it to the mind. The body lives on air, grows with food, needs exercise and rest, and thrives on a carefully selected diet that has plenty of variety. The same is true of the mind (by mind, I mean the entire intellect, soul, feelings, everything that isn't physical). The mind breathes in air, needs activity and rest, and thrives on a diet that has plenty of variety.

Volume 6, Philosophy of Education, pg 25

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.

Volume 6, Philosophy of Education, pg 29

Our school motto was, 'I am, I can, I ought, I will.' That motto has been very effective in making children aware of the possibilities, capabilities, duties and their power to decide whether to do right or wrong. They have all these things simply because they're human.

'Children are born persons,' is the first tenet of my educational creed. I was surprised by 6-18 year-old children's responses to this kind of education. Yet they only displayed the ability to focus their attention, thirst to know, clarity of thinking, good discrimination in books and capability of handling many subjects at the same time--things I already knew they could do.

Volume 6, Philosophy of Education, pg 30-31

All children are different. They are as different from each other as adults are. A couple months ago, I had a five-year-old boy in our correspondence school. His records said that he could read anything in five languages. He was currently teaching himself the Greek alphabet and could locate places on Bradshaw's Continental Railroad map. He was a sturdy, active little boy, and he brings all of these attributes to school with him. He is as exceptional as even a man would be who could do all those things. I think that all children bring many of their own capabilities to school, but their teachers miss it. In particular, their intellectual ability is usually ahead of their physical ability. But teachers tend to drown children's minds in a flood of over-explanations, or they dissipate children's intellect with busy work that wastes their time but doesn't teach them anything.

Volume 6, Philosophy of Education, pg 33-45

Chapter 2 - Children are Born Persons

Principle 1. Children are born persons - they are not blank slates or embryonic oysters who have the potential of becoming persons. They already are persons. (The first of Charlotte Mason's 20 Principles)

1. The Mind Of A Child

As soon as the soul spots truth, the soul recognizes it as her first and oldest friend.'
'The repercussions of truth are great. Therefore we must not neglect to correctly judge what's true, and what's not.'
-- Benjamin Whichcote

It shouldn't be any great surprise that a chapter written to show a great truth should open with the meaningful words of the wise Benjamin Whichcote. But truths get old and wonders cease to amaze us. We're no longer entranced about the stars in the heavens, or new buds on the trees in spring, or the clever way that birds build their nests. Even babies are no longer miracles, except to their parents and siblings. The completeness and perfection of their newborn brother is what children marvel at most--his toes and fingers, his ears, and all his other tiny little perfect parts. His parents have some understanding of babies. They know that his most important task is growing, and they feed him with just what he needs most. Wise parents give him freedom and space to wiggle and stretch and play, and that strengthens his little muscles. His parents know what he might become, and it gives them hope that he may do something to benefit the world. But, for now, he needs food, sleep, shelter and lots of love. We all know that much. But is the baby anything more than a 'huge oyster'? That's the question before us, and, in the past, educators have been inclined to say, 'No, the baby is just a huge oyster.' Their notion is that, with a push here and a pull there, compressing something somewhere else, they will turn out a person according to the pattern they had in mind.

The other view is that the infant's body is the setting for a jewel so valuable that, if you put the child on one side of a scale and the whole world in the other side, the child would outweigh the world. One poet, Thomas Traherne, looked back on the hazy memory of his infancy and remembered this:

'I was entertained like an angel with God's creations in all their splendor and glory. Isn't it strange that a baby should be the heir of the whole world and see mysteries that even scholars' books don't reveal? The cornfields seemed like great, immortal plains that would never be reaped and had never been sown--I thought they had been there from everlasting to everlasting. The dust and pebbles in the street seemed as precious to me as gold. The green of the trees enchanted me. Their sweet, unusual beauty made my heart leap. Boys and girls playing in the street looked like moving jewels. I didn't know that they'd ever been born, or would ever die. It seemed like the streets were mine, and the people were mine--their clothes and jewelry and coins were just as much mine as their sparkling eyes, fair skins and shining faces. The sky was mine and so were the sun, moon and stars. The whole world was mine and I was the only spectator to enjoy it.'

Only a poet like Traherne could remember and reproduce such vivid memories, although maybe all of us can remember when we felt like we were spectators at the show of life. Perhaps we can remember happy times before we knew how to speak to say what we thought. Punch [the magazine] had an amusing feature where a baby commented on his perception of his nurse and his surroundings, especially the pulling and pushing that he was subjected to. But, in reality, babies aren't critics. Their business is to take it all in, and they keep busy at this every day.

We suspect that poets say more than they really understand, express more than they really see, and that their version of life needs to be taken with a grain of salt. But perhaps the truth is, that, no matter how hard they think, they can't find the words to explain what they know and remember. So Wordsworth, Coleridge, Vaughan and the rest can do no more than hint at the glory that exists in childhood. We are not poets, and that sometimes makes us inclined to discount what poets say. But even the most ordinary of us have witnessed the surprisingly alert and tuned-in mind of a child. Consider that, in their first two years, children have managed to learn more than they will in any other two-period of their lives. Suppose an outer space alien were to land on Earth. Imagine all the things he'd have to learn to be able to get by here! Our concepts of hard/soft, wet/dry, hot/cold, steady/unstable, far/near would be as foreign to him as they are to an infant who reaches out his hand and thinks he can grasp the moon. We don't know how aliens get around, but it seems reasonable that the ability to run, jump, climb stairs, and even sit and stand would take as much resolve and practice as the years someone puts in to learn to skate, dance, ski, fence, or any other sport. And yet, a baby does this in just two years! He learns the properties of all different kinds of matter, colors, some ideas about size, the difference between solid and liquid. By his third year, he has learned to communicate with surprising clearness. Not only that, but he has learned a language, or maybe even two, if he's had the opportunity. I know a three year old who has mastered three languages, one of which is Arabic. He has mastered it so well that he can say anything he needs to say in any of those three languages. Don't we all wish we had this kind of fluency when we travel to other countries!

Lady Mary Wortley Montagu writes about children she knew of in Constantinople who could prattle in five different languages, and knew a good bit of each language. Even if we aren't convinced that children are born with minds as complete and beautiful as their perfect little bodies, we at least have to admit that they have as much mind as they need, to do all the things and learn everything they need to. In other words, a child's mind is like the instrument that education plays upon; his education doesn't produce a mind in him. His mind was already there and active before he ever entered the classroom.

Who can measure the limits of a child's thoughts? His constant questions about God and speculations about Jesus are more than idle curiosity. They are symptoms of a God-hunger that we're all born with. He may be able to comprehend as much about the infinite and the unseen as we complacent adults. Is it possible that our ways confine him, and that he needs fairy tales as a joyful escape to places where all things are possible? We hear that children have no imaginations and that they need to see and touch and taste to know. Infants devote themselves to learning the different properties of things by touching, pulling, tearing, throwing and tasting. But when children are older, they need only a glance to size up new things, even things that have complicated structures. Life is a continual progress for children. They don't go over and over the same things, they love to move on to new things. Quoting Traherne again:

'One sad, lonely evening I was alone in a field. All was still and silent, as if everything was dead. Suddenly a horror came upon me. The dead heaviness of the place, the loneliness, the wildness terrified me. Fear surrounded me. I was only a small, weak child and I'd forgotten that there were any other people alive in the world. Yet, a kind of hope and expectation comforted me from all sides.'

Traherne never forgot the lessons he learned. He goes on:

'This taught me that the world [of people] was where I belonged. The beauties of the world were made to entertain me. The presence of cities, churches, and kingdoms would sustain me, because being alone in the world is a desolate and miserable experience.'

Reason is just as much a part of children's minds as imagination. As soon as a child can speak, he lets us know that he has wondered the 'why' of things, and he asks us a thousand questions. His 'Why?' is endless! And his logic isn't as senseless as we might think. Look how early a toddler manages to charm his daycare giver or mother to get his own way! He will feel out her moods and play on her feelings. It is born in him to be like a tyrant. His daycare giver says, 'he has a will of his own,' but she is wrong. His passionate displays of greed, stubbornness and temper are not really signs of his will. It is only when the little boy is able to stop all these and restrain himself with a quivering lip that his will comes into play. For he also has a conscience. Before he even takes his first step, he knows the difference between right and wrong. Even an infant in-arms will blush when reprimanded by his daycare giver. His strong will acts in direct proportion to his learning the difficult art of obedience. After all, no one can make a child obey unless he wants to--unless he wills himself to [you can force compliance, but not willing obedience.] And we all know how even the tiniest rebel can cause mayhem at home or in the classroom.

2. The Mind of a School Child

It's time to leave the young child, at least until he's grown old enough for school. I've tried to show (in Volume 1) what parents and teachers should do for the young child teaching himself about everything he sees and hears, and growing stronger with everything he does. This Volume is mostly concerned with the formal schooling part of education, but I was anxious to be sure that teachers understand that the child who comes into their classroom arrives with a mind that has amazing potential. He has a physical brain, too, of course, which is a part of his mind, like an instrument. Like a piano that is not music but is merely the instrument for music, a child's brain is the instrument for education. I don't think we need to concern ourselves with the way the brain, as a physical organ, has the same needs as the rest of the physical body--it's fed in the same way the body feeds, rests in the same way the body rests, needs fresh air and healthy exercise to keep it strong. But the brain depends on the mind [the intangible, invisible spirit and soul of a person] to do its functions.

The world has been obsessed with psychology lately. Psychology concerns itself with 'the unconscious mind,' that place beyond the influence of nerves and blood (which we'd do best to leave alone) that we tend to ignore in our educational efforts. We neglect the mind and focus instead on a set of physical symptoms. But the mind is spiritual. It doesn't suffer fatigue like the physical body does. If the brain is adequately nourished along with physical body, and gets fresh air and rest, it also shouldn't get fatigued. With these two conditions, we have a vast field of possibilities for education. But it's up to us to come up with a theory and practice that recognize the role of the mind. A saying that we normally associate with religion also applies here: What is born of the flesh is flesh. But we forget this when we teach children. We make lessons seem like play, and, although play is good and necessary, it isn't the path to the mind. We strive to make a child's environment perfectly appropriate, which is good, but it's not the path to the mind. We teach children beautiful physical motions, and that's fine, since the physical body also needs training, but we are mistaken if we think that these things approach a child's mind. 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!

What about our geography lessons? Do they take our children there in their spirits? Do they feel like they're experiencing and living in the story of God's calling to Abraham? Or the story of the blind man who was healed on his way to Jericho? If they don't, it's not the teacher's lack of sincerity or intention to blame. The fault is the teacher's lack of confidence in children. He doesn't have an accurate assessment of a child's mind, so he bores his students with a lot of talk about things that they're quite able to understand for themselves--in fact, they understand it better than he does. How many teachers know that children don't need any pictures except the paintings of great artists, which serve a different purpose than illustrating? Children can see in their minds a picture more glorious, and usually more accurate than we, with our jaded experience, can envision. They're able to read between the lines and add in all the details that the author left out. A nine-year-old who'd been reading Lang's Tales of Troy and Greece, drew a picture of Ulysses on the Isle of Calypso cutting down trees to make a raft. A ten-year-old who was enjoying A Midsummer Night's Dream, drew the Indian Princess bringing her beautiful little boy to Titiana. Meanwhile, we adults are content just to know that 'Ulysses built a raft,' or, 'the boy's mother was an Indian princess.' This is how the mind of any child works, and we need to make sure we aren't starving these fertile grounds of intelligence. Children need intellectual food, and they need a lot of it, and all different kinds. They know perfectly well what to do with it themselves--we don't need to bother coming up with separate exercises for each of their minds' 'faculties.' The mind is one and it works as one unit. Reason, imagination, reflection, judgment, etc., are all like worthy seamen summoned by the captain. They all swarm on deck when it's time to unload the cargo. The cargo is that rich, fragrant bounty of ideas, and the boat is the child's mind waiting to receive. Don't we want every child to say, or, at least, feel, 'I was wonderfully broadened' by a geography lesson? Then let him 'see' a place through the eyes of those who have seen or conceived it. Barometer charts, temperature graphs, contour lines, relief maps, section cutaways, summarized sketches, etc., won't do it. When a child looks at a globe, his mind should be so filled with the panorama of images of places he's collected that he'd rather ponder them than go out to play. And it's so easy to give him this life's joy. Let him learn about the world in the same way we prefer to learn about it when we travel. Let him learn about its cities and people, its mountains and rivers, and his lesson will leave him with a piece of the place he has just read about, whether it's a county or country, sea or shore, and the place he pictures in his mind will seem like 'a new room prepared just for him, he'll be so broadened and pleased with it.' Truly, all the world is the child's possession prepared just for him. If we keep what's rightfully his away from him with our technical, financially-minded, or even historical approach to geography, or with attempts to make geography illustrate our own pet theories, then we cheat the child. What the child really needs is the whole world, every bit of it, piece by piece, and each piece a key to the next piece. When he reads about the Bore [surge wave] of the Severn River, he feels that he would know a Bore anywhere. He doesn't need to see a specific mountain to feel like he knows it. In his mind, he sees all that is described to him with a vividness that we adults underestimate. It's as if the only way to those places is in the spirit. Who can accurately assess a child? The genie of Arabian Nights isn't as marvelous as he is. Just like a genie, a child can be freed from his bottle and let out into the world. But woe to us if we keep him imprisoned in his bottle.

We've established that children have minds and we know that a person's mind is needed to earn a living. But there's much more to it than that. The working class will have more leisure time in the future, and there is a lot of discussion about how this leisure time will be spent. No person can use his leisure time well if his mind isn't used to being active daily. The routine duties of life don't supply any intellectual food, and only a little bit of monotonous mental exercise. Science, history, philosophy, and literature must no longer be luxuries of the educated classes. All classes need to be educated. They need to partake of these things just as they do their daily meals. They need to have the pageants of history, the wonders of science, the intimate acquaintances of literature, the speculations of philosophy, and the assurance that religion offers to every person. Education should be preparing people to wander in these realms of gold.

How should we prepare a child to use the sense of beauty that every child seems to be born with? His education should familiarize him with entire galleries of mental pictures by great artists from the past and present, such as Jozef Israels' Pancake Woman, his Children by the Sea; Millet's Feeding the Birds, First Steps, Angelus; Rembrandt's Night Watch, The Supper at Emmaus; Velasquez's Surrender of Breda. In fact, every child should leave school with at least a couple hundred paintings by great artists hanging permanently in his mental gallery, as well as great buildings, sculpture and beautiful forms and colors that he sees. It would also be good to supply him with a hundred lovely landscapes, too, such as sunsets, clouds and starry night skies. Anyway, he should have plenty of pictures because imagination grows like magic. The more you put in, the more it can hold.

It isn't just a child's intellect that arrives at school fully furnished. His heart does, too. How many of us can love as a child can? He showers love on Mommy, Daddy, sister, brother, neighbors, friends, the family pet, an ugly stump of a broken toy. He's so generous and grateful, so kind and simple, so empathetic and full of goodwill, so loyal and humble, so fair and just. His conscience is always alert! He demands to know if a story is true, or if a person is good. These are important questions to him. His conscience reprimands him when he misbehaves, and, little by little, as he learns, his Will begins to help him and he learns to have self-control over his own life. We teach the child to say his prayers without realizing how real his prayers are to him.

3. Motives For Learning

Now put a teacher in front of a class full of little persons who each have their own beauty and their own wide soul. The teacher will wonder, 'What do I have that I can offer them?' His boring run-of-the-mill lessons are seen to be as useless as dust when he realizes what children truly are. He won't be able to go on offering them his stale lessons. It feels wrong to bore them, or to use unworthy goads like greed or competition to motivate the very minds that his lessons have dulled. He must not be like Timon, who sent invitations to a feast where he served only warm water. The teacher knows that children's minds get hungry regularly, just like their bodies. But their minds don't hunger for dry facts and information, they crave real knowledge. The teacher knows that his own collection of knowledge isn't enough to satisfy them. His own lectures don't have enough substance, and his interjections disrupt the child's train of thought. In other words, the teacher isn't enough.

Yet, children lack an extensive vocabulary, and the background of concepts gained from familiarity with culture, especially children from the inner city. Children's minds have been compared to a large pitcher--roomy enough to hold a lot, but with a narrow neck that only lets in a trickle at a time. And so education has tended to dilute teaching so that it's as sparse as lukewarm dishwater. And, as a result, the pitchers go away still unfilled.

But now that's all changed. During the war [WWI], we saw large hearts and patriotic spirits revealed in our soldiers. In the same way, our schools have revealed that each child is a person of infinite possibilities. When I say 'each child,' I include mentally challenged children. They are not an exception. I am familiar with some experiences of the Parents' Union School. I have just seen selected exam papers from tens of thousands of children from elementary schools, secondary schools, and homeschools [correspondence schools, many using CM-trained governess/tutors.] The children have relished knowledge! Their answers are so good and interesting! They spell and write so well! We don't need their teachers to tell us how much the term's work was enjoyed. Their enthusiastic narrations speak for themselves. Every one of these children knows that life offers hundreds of interesting arenas for the mind to roam in. The children are good and happy because care has been taken to understand what children truly are and what they need. This care has been very amply rewarded by results that change the entire outlook of education. In our Training College [Scale How, where teachers and governess/tutors learned how to teach and train children], student teachers aren't taught how to hold children's attention, how to keep order [crowd control], how to grade papers, how to discipline with punishment or even rewards, how to manage a large classroom or a small one-room school with children of all different grades. When teachers understand what children are capable of and what they need, these things take care of themselves. To hear inner-city children telling about King Lear or Scott's Woodstock, by the hour if you let them, or describing Van Eyck's Adoration of the Lamb or Botticelli's Spring in minute detail, is a surprise. It's a revelation! We stand amazed--we had no idea it was in them, whether we're parents, teachers or onlookers. And with this feeling of awe, we'll be better prepared to think about how children should be educated, and what resources should be used. Let me add that all the claims I make have been substantiated with thousands of instances just in our experience alone.

Volume 6, Philosophy of Education, pg 46-48

A well-known educational specialist has accused us of bringing up children as 'children of wrath.' He's probably exaggerating, because the opposite view, perceiving children as perfect little angels, is just as dangerous. The truth is, children are very much like ourselves. They aren't that way because they've become so. No, they were born that way. They have tendencies and dispositions towards good and evil, just like us. And they have an interesting intuition about what's right and wrong. This indicates some influence of education. There are tendencies towards good and evil in body, mind, heart and soul. The hopeful task before us is that we might strengthen the good in us so that the evil is crippled. This can be done only if education is subservient to religion. We are no longer merely concerned about saving our own souls, but our religion is more open-hearted and responsible. Our religious thought now encompasses our whole community, nation and race. It's time for our education to reflect that.

When we acknowledge that education is the birthright of all children simply because all humans deserve to know, rather than thinking of just our own child, or the privileged children of the upper classes, we have a sense of openness. It's as if we can breathe more freely. The prospect is exhilarating. Recognizing the potential in every child, regardless of his social status, should revolutionize education and make the weary world rejoice.

Doctors and physical specialists say that all newborns [except those born with birth defects?] begin healthy. A baby may inherit a predisposition for lung disease, but he is not born sick with the disease. It is our job to see that conditions keep him from ever realizing the disease that he has a tendency toward. [Having a predisposition for TB doesn't doom you to actually ever having TB!] In the same way, all possibilities for good are contained in the child's moral and intellectual capacity. But every potential for good may be hindered by a corresponding tendency to do bad. We begin to see what we need to do. It's up to us to know our child, to know what his passions and weaknesses are. We need to discern the pitfalls that his traits might lead him to, and the wonderful possibilities he might have if his better tendencies are allowed free reign to make his path through life smoother. No matter how disappointing or repulsive a child's failings might be, we can be encouraged with the certainty that, in every case, the opposite tendency is there. We just need the wisdom to figure out how to bring it out in him.

Mothers come by this kind of wisdom more naturally than outsiders, such as teachers. Of course everyone knows of at least one exception--there's always one parent who can't do a thing with their child and hopes that the teacher can whip him into shape. But how often we're surprised to see that Robert and Polly are more themselves at home than they are at school! Perhaps that's because parents know and love their children better than anyone else. Therefore, they believe in them more, since our faith in possibilities, both divine and human, grows as we know more. For this reason, it's good for teachers to get some understanding of the human nature that's in every child. Everyone knows that hunger, thirst, rest, and virtue are given by nature to help the body grow and function. But every child has tendencies to greed, restlessness, laziness, and corruption. Any one of those vices, if allowed free reign, can ruin the child, and ruin the man he'll become.

Volume 6, Philosophy of Education, pg 62

We believe that the PNEU has benefited education by discovering that all children, including the mentally challenged, know what they need and are desperately eager to get the nourishment they need. They don't need to do any exercises to prepare themselves to take in this nourishment. A limited vocabulary, underprivileged home life, or lack of familiarity with books isn't a hindrance. In fact, those challenges can be strong motivators in the same way that the hungrier the child, the more readily he eats his dinner.

Volume 6, Philosophy of Education, pg 65-66

We also need to be familiar with the raw material we have to work with if our education is going to be effective. So we need to know about children, and what they need--but not their needs based on how we can make them useful cogs in society's wheel, or based on the standards of the current culture. We need to know their requirements based on their personal potential and unique needs. We don't want to educate them towards 'self-expression.' After all, a young child doesn't have much to express yet, except what he's already learned from lessons or experience. Even if he's not yet accomplished at expressing originality, what he can do is take in and digest knowledge, and give it back in his own individual way because his unique mind has modified it and re-created it and made it 'his own.' This unique originality can be produced from the same mind food that everyone else is getting. It becomes original as it reacts on the unique mind of each particular child.

Volume 6, Philosophy of Education, pg 75

Teachers tend to belittle their high position and obstruct the process of education because they cling to two or three fallacies. (1) They regard children as inferior, and themselves as superior beings. Why else would they be given the position of authority as a teacher? If they only realized that children's minds are as potent, or even more so, than their own, they wouldn't see their mission as spoon-feeding their students, or predigesting it to make it tolerably understandable for their students.

(2) Another way we belittle children is when we're convinced that they can't understand a literary vocabulary. So we explain and paraphrase to our heart's content--but it doesn't do them any good. Educated mothers realize that their children can read and understand almost anything. They don't offer explanations unless they are asked to. All this time, we thought that the children of educated parents were bright merely because they inherited intelligence.

Volume 6, Philosophy of Education, pg 76

...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.

Volume 6, Philosophy of Education, pg 80

Our own conceit persuades us that we're superior only as long as the child is dependent on us. Everything we do for the child is out of our grace and favor, and we adults have a right to do whatever we want with our own children or students. But we need to consider that, in God's eyes, children have a higher place than adults. We are told that we need to 'become as little children,' they aren't told that they need to be more like grown-ups. The rules God gives us for bringing up children are mostly negative: Don't despise them, don't hinder them, don't offend them with our harsh, clumsy acts or lack of thought. The only positive rule we have is to 'feed' (or, 'pasture') 'my lambs.' We are to place them in the middle of an abundant supply of food.

Volume 6, Philosophy of Education, pg 125

We obsess over how a youth might be made most useful to society. But we don't seem to care whether he's the most that he can be for his own personal development. We rationalize that, if a person is trained to get a job, then he will be useful to the world, and isn't that the best thing we can do for an individual? We forget that Jesus said, 'Man does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.' Some of those words are the truths clothed in religion, poetry, art, scientific discovery, and literary expression. These are the things by which we live, and in which our spirit flourishes. Spiritual life and growth needs ideas for its food, like the body needs bread every day.

Volume 6, Philosophy of Education, pg 126

The individual needs to be taught and encouraged to do his own thinking. Physical science doesn't teach this, no matter how thoroughly it's learned.'

Volume 6, Philosophy of Education, pg 147

An education that only trains a child to reason has its uses, but, really, children already have that ability. What they need is material to practice on.

Volume 6, Philosophy of Education, pg 237

We notice that our youth seem apathetic. They get excited about football games, but don't care about things of the mind. What if these things are the result of the very methods we use in our schools--the simplified, pleasant ways in which we explain, coax, demonstrate, illustrate, summarize, and do all the helpful things we do for children that they're quite capable of doing for themselves? In fact, they were born able to do those things.

Volume 6, Philosophy of Education, pg 238-239

Not only do we under-value ourselves, but we unwittingly under-value the very children that we would lay down our lives for with passionate devotion. For so long, we've been taught to think of children as the end product of education + environment. So we forget that, from the first, they are total little persons. As Carlysle has well said,

'To the person who has a sense for the godlike, the mystery of a person is always divine.'

We can either reverence children, or we can despise them. We can't do both. We can't reverence them if we continue to think of them as incomplete, undeveloped beings who need our input to arrive at completeness of human-ness. We should see them as complete persons who are weak and ignorant. Their ignorance only needs to be informed, and their weakness only needs our support, but their potential is as great as ours. No matter how kindly we treat children, we are despising them as long as we see them as incomplete persons.

As soon as a child can form words to communicate with us, he lets us know that he can think with surprising clearness and directness. He sees with the kind of intent observation that we've long lost. He enjoys and sorrows with an intensity we no longer experience. He loves with a wild abandon, trust and confidence that we, unfortunately, can't share. He imagines with a creative power that no artist can match. He acquires intellectual knowledge and mechanical skill at such an amazing rate that, if an infant could continue to progress at the same rate into adulthood, he could learn the entire field of knowledge in his lifetime! (It might be helpful to re-read the early chapters of David Copperfield in relation to this.)

I'm defining the child as he truly is. I'm not making him out to be as divine as the heavens above, like Wordsworth does. And I'm not making him out to be as low as the depths, like evolutionists do. A person is a mystery. We can't explain him, or account for him. We can only accept him as he is. The wondrous individuality of personality doesn't disappear or cease to be when a child begins school. He's still 'all there,' to use a slang term in a different way. But we begin to lose access to his mind from the day he enters the classroom. The reason for this is because we've embraced the belief that knowledge only comes from what we get through our five senses. We think that a child can only know about what he sees and handles--we forget that he can conceive in his mind and figure out in his thoughts. I'm belaboring this point because our faith in a child's spiritual/intellectual ability to learn is one of our chief assets. Once we realize what a wonder a child's mind is, we begin to see how important it is to nurture it, and we see that knowledge is the food of the mind in the same way that meals are the food of the body.

Volume 6, Philosophy of Education, pg 245-246

Like all great ventures of life, this method that I propose is a venture of faith--faith in the power of knowledge, and faith in the power of children to absorb it. It will succeed because of the nature of two things: the nature of knowledge, and the nature of children. If the two are brought together in ways the mind can handle, a chemical combination takes place and something totally new appears: a person of character and intelligence, an admirable citizen whose own life is so full and so rich that he won't become a useless drain on society.

Education is closely connected with religion. Every passionate teacher knows that he's obeying the precept to 'feed My lambs'--to feed them with all good, healthy things for man's spirit--most importantly, the knowledge of God.

Volume 6, Philosophy of Education, pg 246-247

But what if all of our educational tools, our illustrations, our clarifying, our leading questions, our tireless patience in driving a point home with the students, were all based on false assumptions? What if we made a mistake in our assessment of the immature mind of the child by assuming that immature meant imperfect and incapable? 'I think I could get it, Mama, if you didn't explain quite so much.' Is this the silent thought-cry of school children today? Children really are capable of so much more than we give them credit for. But we get their capable minds into action the wrong way.

Volume 6, Philosophy of Education, pg 247

Children are already persons from the time they're born. This is the first article of the educational creed that I want to advance. Being born persons implies that they come pre-wired with the ability to pay attention, hunger for knowledge, ability to think clearly, discriminating tastes in books even before they can read, and the ability to handle many subjects [and keep them all straight].

Volume 6, Philosophy of Education, pg 253-254

There's so little known about how the mind works that's it's open to anyone to make discoveries in this mysterious territory. I'm not talking about psychology. We hear a lot about that, although we actually know very little. I'm talking about the mind itself. Its ways are subtle and hidden. Nevertheless, the only valid education is education that focuses on the mind. The main challenge is the huge amount of subjects to introduce children to. They have a right to them as human beings, and they need to find out about the things that they're drawn to as people and that they'll spend the rest of their lives pursuing further.

Volume 6, Philosophy of Education, pg 264-265

If the mainstream public learns about 'Sancho Panza,' Elsinore, 'Excalibur,' 'Rosinante,' 'Mrs. Jellaby,' redstart, 'Bevis,' and bogbean, then the privileged classes should be familiar with them, too. If one social class learns about the art of the Van Eycks, with 'Comus,' 'Duessa,' 'Baron of Bradwardine,' then the other classes should know about them, too. And they should all be able to use that knowledge with as much effect as a political leader does when he quotes something familiar from Horace. Such a quote should touch some sentiment in all of our hearts, because things we're familiar with seem like old friends to us. What we need is some common ground, a bond of common thought that comes when everybody reads the same books and is familiar with the same art, the same music, the same interests. When we have this solid ground of shared knowledge, we'll be able to relate to each other in both public speeches and personal conversations. We'll all hear about 'the wonderful works of God in our own language' [Acts 2:11] because we've all learned the same things, we'll all be familiar with the same great conversation that's been recorded in the books of the ages by those who lived before us, and whose purpose was to teach us. And we'll be able to speak persuasively with those who have received the same education and will listen to logic, rather than belligerently opposing reason in their ignorance.

Volume 6, Philosophy of Education, pg 290-291

But what we've failed to see until now is that a craving for knowledge (curiosity) exists in everyone. All people have the ability to focus their attention without measure. Everyone prefers knowledge in a literary form. People should learn lots of different things about all the different thoughts that humans reflect on.

Volume 6, Philosophy of Education, pg 298

But the inspiration and joy that come from entering into an intellectual world that has all kinds of pleasant things to relate to is something that every student should have. It's like a wellspring of healing, and a fountain of joy.

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 339

Yet, even as we're just now emerging ourselves from the trap of materialism, we're all too willing to plunge our children into its heavy ways via 'practical' and 'useful' education. But children have rights. One of their rights is the right to be free within the world of their minds. Yes, let them use things, know things, learn by handling things, by all means.

Volume 6, Philosophy of Education, pg 348

The multitude of things that all people want to know about should be made accessible at school. Students shouldn't learn with diagrams, condensed summaries, or abstract principles. Like 'Kit's little brother,' children should learn 'what oysters is' by eating oysters! The only way to knowledge is with knowledge itself. Schools must not begin by getting the mind ready to deal with knowledge. They need to begin by reading all the best books about all the sorts of things that these 'Twins,' like anybody else, wanted to know about.


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Paraphrased by L. N. Laurio; Please direct comments or questions to AmblesideOnline.