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

The Science of Relations: Interests, Affinities, and Intimacies

Volume 3, School Education, pg 65-66

Education is the Process of Making Relationships

We think of education as the art of making relationships, or, to be more clear, we think of education as the consideration of which relationship are appropriate for human beings and how those relationships can best be established. Humans come into the world with the capacity to make lots of different relationships. We as teachers have two concerns. First, we need to facilitate this by exposing children to the right ideas at the right time, and making sure that children have good habits that will allow them to make the most of their exposure to these ideas. And second, we need to stay out of the way so that our interference doesn't prevent the very relationships we want them to form.

Volume 3, School Education, pg 75-83

Fullness of Life Depends on Establishing Relationships

We begin to understand what kinds of habits we need to help students form, and that troubling question of what subjects children should be taught. We no longer debate the benefits of a classical education vs. a modern one. We no longer wonder whether it's better to master just a few subjects thoroughly, or to get exposed to a smattering of lots of different things. We realize that these questions miss the point. When I discuss the relationships that we may initiate for a child, I'll begin with what some might think of as the lowest rung on a ladder. Let's assume that a baby is placed in this wonderful world for the specific purpose of forming connections of intimacy, joy, association and knowledge with all the living, moving things in that world, as well as what St. Francis called brother mountain, brother ant, and brother stars. A full life, and joy in existence, depend on establishing these relationships. But what do we do instead? We think over the matter carefully. We decide that children will get confused if they learn science in more than one or two fields. We ask our friends, 'Which kinds of science will get the best grades on the SAT?' and, 'What's the easiest science to learn?' We research to find out which is the best science text in a specialized area of study. The student learns what he's supposed to from the book, he listens to the lectures, draws diagrams, watches demonstrations. The result is a student who has 'learned' a science. He can regurgitate facts and figures about that one specialized branch of science, at least, he can for a while. But he hasn't gained any affectionate intimacy with Nature. Let me describe what seems like a better way for the child.

The Ability to Recognize

This child's parents understand that recognition is the first step in intimacy. So they don't measure his educational progress only by his proficiency in the 3 R's. They also want to know how many living and growing things he knows by name, sight and habitat. A six year old can eagerly note the sequence when each different kind of tree puts on its leaves in the spring. He can tell you whether to look in the hedge, the meadow or the bushes for meadow eyebright, wood-sorrel or ground ivy. He won't think that flowers were made only to be picked, because,

'He believes that every flower
Enjoys the air that it breathes.'

He'll take his friends to see where the milk-wort grows, or the marsh trefoil, or the meadow fern. He doesn't take the birds in the air for granted. He soon knows when and where to expect the redstart and the titlark each spring. He admires the water-skater and dragonfly as interesting acquaintances. He's experienced the beauty of crystals with sparkling eyes, and he knows what lime and quartz look like, although he may not have been able to find them in their natural environment. He knows the lovely pink of felspar and lots of other minerals.

Aesthetic Appreciation

Appreciation for beauty usually comes after recognition. Notice how, from the time he's little, this young child tries to capture a flower's beautiful color and graceful form with his own paintbrush. A wise mother is careful to make her child aware and appreciative of stylized art. She has him look at a wild cherry tree from a distance, or a willow tree with its soft pussy willows. Then she shows him how the picture on a Japanese screen has captured the very look of the thing without being an exact representation. When he compares a single pussy willow or cherry blossom with the ones in the picture, he can see that the pictures aren't attempts at exact duplication. From an early age, he learns the difference between painting what we actually see, and painting what we know is there even if we don't see it. He learns that it's more satisfying to try to paint what is actually seen.

First-hand Knowledge

Soon the child goes from nodding acquaintance to pleasant recognition of familiarity, to real knowledge--the kind of knowledge that we'd call science. He starts to notice a similarity between wild roses and apple blossoms, a resemblance between buttercups and windflowers, and some sameness between the large rhododendron and the tiny clustered heather flower. At his mother's suggestion, he'll initiate his own research to find out what specifically makes them alike--and then he'll discover the concept of plant families. His little discovery is real science because it came first-hand. In his own small way, he's like Carl Linneus.

Appreciative Knowledge vs. Exact Knowledge

All this time, the child is storing up delightful associations that will come back to him and give him pleasure when he's an old man. With this kind of educated appreciation of things from the beginning, his foundation of exact scientific data won't be merely some dull facts picked up in text books to pass a test. He'll want this information because a natural desire to know about it has been planted in him. It works the same way with art appreciation. The child who has been taught to really see will appreciate pictures with an educated, discriminating eye.

How a Child Sets Up a New Relationship

This is how a child goes to work setting up a new relationship: one little seven-year-old girl was rowing in a boat for her first time. She commented, 'There sure is a lot of crab-water today!' The next day she remarked, 'There's not as much crab-water today.' When asked, 'How can you tell when there's crab-water?' she answered, 'It's so tough, and you can't get your oar through, and it knocks you off your seat!' Her facts were all wrong, but she was getting a taste of real science and would soon be on the right track. This is so much better than learning from a text-book that, 'the particles which constitute water have no cohesion, and may be easily separated by a solid substance.'

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

Chapter 8 - Certain Relationships that are Proper for Children

Geology, mineralogy, physical geography, botany, nature, biology, astronomy--the entire realm of science is like a beautiful fenced green field and we need to bring the child to the gate and leave it open for him. He doesn't need a thorough collection of facts. He needs what Huxley calls 'common information' so that he'll feel some connection with things on the earth and in the heavens. He'll feel as interested as if he owned it all--the same way that a man does when his parents die and he inherits their old house with its reminiscent heirlooms.

We expect more than the Jesuits did. They wanted to have a child until he was seven to educate him. But we want a child until he's twelve or fourteen, if not longer. After that, it hardly matters what anyone does with him--with this time to establish relationships, we'll be able to turn him out as a capable man, enthusiastic, energetic, full of living interests, available and able to be of service to the world. I think he'll even be able to pass his SAT's, since his education will teach him how to find interest in even the most boring tasks.

Dynamic Relationships

But we aren't done with his relationships with the earth yet. We still have to establish what I call dynamic relationships. He needs to stand and walk and run and jump easily and gracefully. He needs to skate and swim and ride and throw and dance and row and sail. He should feel free on the earth to do whatever gravity will let him do. This relationship between him and his environment is foundational, and nothing can compensate for it if he doesn't get it.

Power Over Material Resources

Another foundational relationship that every child should learn and be encouraged in is the power to handle materials. All children make sand castles, mud pies and paper boats. They should also experience working with clay, wood, brass, iron, leather, fabric, food, and furniture. They should be able to make things with their hands, and this should be a fun and satisfying experience for them.

Intimacy with Animals

The fourth relationship is between them and the animal kingdom. This relationship should be one of intelligent understanding and kindness. We should all be on friendly terms with the 'inmates of our house and garden.' Every child wants to be friends with the creatures around him, and,

'The one who prays best is the one who best loves
All things, both big and small;
Because the wonderful God who loves us,
Has made and loves them all.'

The Great Human Relationships

Perhaps the major part of a child's education should be concerned with the great human relationships--relationships that consist of love and service, authority and obedience, reverence and pity and kindness, relationships with family, friends, neighbors, causes, country, like-minds, people in the past, and people in the present. In one way or another, history, literature, archaeology, art, ancient and modern languages, travel, adventurous journeys all record or express the feelings and thoughts of real people. Because we're human, we're interested in all other people. After all, we're all one flesh, and of one spirit. Anything that one of us does or experiences is interesting to the rest of us. There are thousands of children in our schools today who could become apostles, evangelists, missionaries to Asia who could unite east and west, great archaeologists who might make us aware of people who lived thousands of years ago. But we need to approach these children with living thought and living books in order to awaken in them a sense of a personal bond with others in the world.

The Awakening Idea

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

Human Intelligence is Limited to Human Interests

We can't all be like Henry Rawlinson. But it does seem probable that the only thing that limits our intelligence is lack of interest. What I mean is that we don't establish enough personal connections with humanity itself--with those we love, those who we owe duty to, those we're responsible for, and, most of all, we fail to make real, living relationships with those who are near or far off in time and place. Our scholars work away at the drudgery of learning one or two foreign languages, and at the end of ten to twelve years, they still don't know them very well. But if you give him a motive by introducing him to people he longs to know but can only communicate with in that language, then he could probably be like Sir Richard Burton and speak in almost any known language.

The Full Human Life

I think we could have a great revolution in education if we stopped thinking of people as a collection of assorted 'faculties' and realized that we are people whose mission is to get in touch with other people of all kinds and in all conditions, from all countries and climates, and from all times, both past and present. If we realized that, then history would seem fascinating. Literature would be like a magic mirror, showing us other people's minds. Anthropology would become a duty and a delight. We would tend to become responsive, wise, humble and reverent people, recognizing the responsibilities and joys of the full, abundant human experience. Of course, it isn't realistic to accomplish all of that in a student's education, but we can look to that as our goal. Every life is shaped by the ideal it sets for itself. We hear discussion about lost ideals, but maybe they're not really lost, just changed. When the ideal we focus on for ourselves and our children becomes prosperity and comfort, we may get it, but that's all we get, and nothing more.

Volume 3, School Education, pg 84-85

The Moral Relationship of One Person to Another

If we accept that the priority of education should be establishing relationships, then the relationships between our fellow human beings should be the most important ones to establish. Any relationships that aren't founded on the duty to our neighbor--such as relationships founded on common likes in art or literature--are likely to degenerate into sentimental attachments. And, oddly enough, the ability to think independently seems to vanish when moral insight disappears. You might wonder, 'how are we supposed to get a systematic plan to teach our children ethics?' I really don't know how to do it if we choose to forego the Ten Commandments and old-fashioned expositional teaching illustrated with examples. There are thousands of supplementary ways to teach ethics, but they need to rest on a solid foundation of awareness of the duty God placed on us and our responsibility to others, whether we accept it or not. Without that foundation, supplementary teaching will probably be casual and not very binding. The moral responsibility of one person to another is the foundation of all other relationships. We have an obligation to past generations to make use of what they discovered, and to advance mankind from where they left off. We owe it to those who will come after us to prepare the next generation to be better than we are. And we owe it to the present generation to live full lives, to enlarge our hearts and broaden our souls. We all need to come out of ourselves and reach out to all the relationships we're meant to have.

Volume 3, School Education, pg 86

A Person's Relationship With Himself

There's another way in which we need to prepare a young person for his relationships in life. He needs to be familiar with a working psychology/philosophy that will help him as he relates to himself and others. Maybe the world isn't ready for a true science of life, but, unfortunately, we're more limited than the ancient world. They took full advantage of what they had, and the result was that they produced men like Marcus Aerelius, Epictetus the Stoic and Socrates. They didn't think their youth were ready for their futures until they had learned philosophy. Modern science has added a lot of knowledge that will help us relate to our own individual selves in such areas as self-management, self-control, self-respect, self-love, self-help, self-denial, and so on. This knowledge is even more important because our ability to handle our relationships with others is dependent on our relation to ourselves. Every person carries the key to human nature within himself. The more we're able to use this key, the more tolerant, gentle, helpful, wise and reverent we'll be. A person who has 'given up on expecting anything' from his servants, his children, his employees or other workers is displaying how ignorant he is about the wellspring of conduct within each of us.

Volume 3, School Education, pg 161-163

Our 'Captain' Idea: Education is the Science of Relationships

A child should be brought up to have enthusiastic relationships with earth and water. He should run, ride, swim, skate, lift and carry. He should be familiar with different textures and know how to work with different materials. He should know the names of everything on the earth around him--the birds, animals, insects, plants and trees, and he should know where to find them in their natural habitat. He should be familiar with literature, art, and the thoughts of the past and the present. I don't mean that he should know all of these things. But when he reads a newspaper article about the discovery of ancient frescoes from the palace of King Minos in Crete, he should feel the same thrill that the Cretan peasants felt when they were digging their gardens and their shovels uncovered the frescoes. He shouldn't be thrilled just because of the proximity of Crete to England, but because he has a living, active relationship with the past. Blood may be thicker than water, but thought makes a person more alive than blood. The child also needs to have a living relationship with his own current era, and have a sense of where it's going in historical movement, science, art, social issues and ideals. He needs to have a broad perspective, intimate relationships with things all around him, and he should display a strong sense of virtue in what he does, determines, sympathizes with, and relates to. This isn't an impossible goal. In fact, it can be pretty much accomplished in any intelligent child by age thirteen or fourteen because it doesn't depend on how much is learned, but on how things are learned.

A Wider Curriculum

Children should be given a wide range of subjects with the goal of establishing at least one of the relationships I mentioned in each subject. They should learn from first-hand sources--really good books, the best ones available in each subject they're studying. They should get at the books for themselves. They shouldn't have to listen to a flood of diluting talk from their teacher. The teacher's job is to point things out, stimulate interest, give guidance and provide limits in order to help the child as he acquires knowledge. But in no way is the teacher supposed to be the wellspring and source of all knowledge herself. The less parents and teachers interpret for the child and lecture from their own personal supply of information and opinions, the better for the child. Pre-digested food fed to a healthy person doesn't help to strengthen the digestion. Children must be allowed to reflect for themselves and sort things out in their own minds. If they need help, they'll ask for it.

We Shouldn't Choose or Reject Subjects

With this 'Captain' Idea of Establishing Relationships as our guide, it's easy to see how unwise it is to choose one subject or reject that subject because we deem it more beneficial or less necessary to a child's future. For example, we might decide that eight-year-old Thomas doesn't need to waste his time studying Latin Grammar. We plan to give him a marketable skill or scientific background; what good will Latin be towards that? But we don't realize that we're depriving Thomas of more than a Latin Grammar textbook. Thomas has to translate something like, 'Pueri formosos equos vident.' ['The boys see a beautiful horse.'] Thomas, being human, is a reflective being. He's heard something about the strong Romans whose language he's now learning about. Roman boys catch his interest. And he wishes he had one of their horses! The Latin Grammar isn't just dull words to Thomas. At any rate, Thomas knows better than we do that 'dull' doesn't apply to words! I know that it's only every now and then that a notion grasps the attention of young boys, but when it happens, it works wonders and does more for his education than years and years of the daily grind of textbooks and lectures.

Let's try, however imperfectly, to make education a science of relationships. In other words, in one or more subjects, let's try to let children work with living ideas. When it comes to education, even small efforts are honored with great rewards. We believe that the kind of education we're giving exceeds everything we intended or imagined.

Volume 3, School Education, pg 170-171

Our Goal in Education is To Give a Full Life

Now we begin to realize what it is that we need. Children require so much from us. We owe it to them to spark their interest in a lot of different things. 'You have set me in a wide, spacious place' should be the delighted expression of every intelligent soul. Life should be full of living. It shouldn't be spent merely passing time doing tedious activities. I don't mean that life should be nothing but doing, or nothing but feeling, or nothing but thinking. That would be too intense. When I say that life should be full of living, I mean that we should be in touch and able to relate with some genuine interest no matter where we are, what we hear, or what we see. This kind of interest isn't something we give to children. In fact, we'd prefer that children never say that they've learned botany or chemistry or conchology or geology or astronomy, or whatever. The question isn't how much a student knows after he's completed his education, but how much he cares, and how many categories of things he cares about. How wide and spacious is the place he's been set in? And, so, how full is the life he has in his future? It's true that you can bring a horse to water but you can't make him drink. The problem is that we're not even bringing the 'horse' to water. We give him pathetic little text-books that are nothing but outlines of dry facts, and the student is supposed to memorize them and spit them back out when it's exam time. Or else we give him assorted facts that have been diluted in talks prepared by his teacher that might still have a spark or two of living thought hiding somewhere in the mixture. And yet, all this time, we have a treasure of books that are swarming with ideas fresh from the minds of brilliant thinkers in every subject we'd want to expose children to.

Volume 3, School Education, pg 182

Chapter 17 - Education as the Science of Relationships:
We are Educated by Our Intimacies as Illustrated by Wordworth's Prelude and Ruskin's Praeterita

'But who's going to divide up his intellect in some geometric pattern,
Splitting up his mind like a province of neatly shaped farmlands?
Who can know in which moment his first habits were sown, like seeds?
Who can point to different areas of his mind and say,
That part of the river of my mind came from that particular fountain over there'?
     -- adapted from Wordsworth's 'Prelude'

Volume 3, School Education, pg 185-193

Spontaneous Living

As we know, the laws of habit are one of God's divine laws. Forming good habits and inhibiting bad habits are some of a parent's most important duties. But we need to remember that all habits, whether they're helpful ones or hindering ones, only come into play occasionally. Spontaneous living is going on all the time, and the only thing we can do to help that is to drop in inspiring ideas when we have the opportunity. All of this is old news, but I hope my readers will indulge me in saying again that our educational tools don't change, they stay the same. We can't leave out carefully and tactfully forming good habits any more than we can leave out subtly suggesting productive ideas and taking wise advantage of circumstances in our child's life.

What Does Fullness of Life Depend On?

What exactly is education? The answer lies in this phrase: Education is the Science of Relationships. As I said before, I don't mean it in the sense that Herbart did. He meant that ideas are related to each other, so we need to take care and be sure to pack the right ideas in the right order so that, once they've gotten into the child's mind, each idea can attach itself to its cousins and form a cliquish 'apperception mass.' What I mean is that we personally have relationships with everything that exists right now, everything that's ever existed in the past, and everything that will exist in the future above us and all around us, and, for each of us, our fullness of life, broadness of mind, expression and ability to be useful depends on how much we grasp these relationships and how many of them we seize.

George Herbert expresses it well:

'Man is all symmetry,
Full of proportions, one limb connected to another,
And connected to the whole world besides;
Each part of him can call on its farthest brother,
Because the head and the foot have a private bond,
And both have a connection with moons and tides.'
(Charlotte Mason added the emphasis.)

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.

Business and Desire

Hamlet said,

'Every man has business and desire.'

That was undoubtedly true in the boundless days of the great Queen Elizabeth. But what about us? Yes, we have business, but do we have desire? Are there lots of enthusiastic interests calling to us after we're done with the work we have to do? Maybe not, otherwise we wouldn't be enslaved by the uninspired 'joys' of Ping-Pong, Solitaire, Bridge and other trivial games. The thing is, real interests aren't things that can be picked up on a whim at the spur of the moment. They spring up from affinities that we find and hold onto. As one old writer said, 'When it comes to worldly and material things, whatever is used is spent and gone. But when it comes to intellectual and spiritual things, whatever isn't used is lost.'

Once we recognize that it's up to us to provide more for our children than financial security, the question is, how do we go about it?

Setting Up Dynamic Relationships

A child should have what we call dynamic relationships with the earth and water. He needs to run, jump, dance, ride and swim. Here's an example of how not to do it from Praeterita:

'And so on to Lianberis and up Snowdon . . . if only my parents had recognized my real strengths and weaknesses. If only they would have given me a shaggy old Welsh pony and let me spend time with a good Welsh guide and his wife! If I'd tried to get any coddling, they would made a man of me . . . If only! But they could never have done that, it would have been as unlikely as throwing my cousin Charles into the Croydon Canal. My father took some time off from his work once or twice a week and took me to an enclosed square sky-lit riding school in Moorfields with sawdust on the floor. It was more like a prison. Even the smell of it as we turned into the gate to enter it was a terror and a horror and abomination to me. There, they put me on big horses that jumped and reared up, and circled, and sidled. I fell off every time the horse did any of these things. I was a shame to my family, and felt disgraced and miserable. Finally I sprained the forefinger on my right hand (it's never been the same since) and riding school was abandoned. They bought me a well-broken Shetland pony and the two of us were led around the roads of Norwood with a rope by a riding teacher.

'I would do pretty well as long as we were going straight, but then my mind would wander and I'd fall off when we turned a corner. I might have gotten the hang of it if they hadn't made a fuss about it and continued to ask how much I'd stayed on and how many times I fell off, but as soon as I'd get home, my mother would give me the third degree about my day's disgraces, and I just got more stressed and nervous with each fall. Finally, riding lessons were given up altogether. My parents consoled themselves as best they could by concluding that my inability to ride horseback must signify that I had great genius in some other area.'

Ruskin's Accusations About the Limitations of His Situation

Ruskin suffered for his condition. His parents were suburban middle class people who tend to think too much about bringing up children, but not very wisely. They tend to choke out a good part of living with too much over-protectiveness and coddling, and they're apt to be convinced that their children don't need any other outlets than the ones they themselves think to provide. Suburban life is a necessity in our culture, but it's a misfortune, too. Well-to-do people in a suburb are around their own kind too much. They're cut off from the lowly, from the great, from honest work, from adventure, and from needs. I think that all parents who live in the suburbs should read Praeterita. Even though John Ruskin shows chivalrous loyalty to his parents, his book gives an accusation, not of his parents, but of the limitations of his situation. One can almost hear the child crying out on every page, like Laurence Sterne's caged starling--'I can't get out, I can't get out!'

One might say that, whatever the faults of his education were, a great man like John Ruskin was the result. But who can say how much better an influence Ruskin might have been if he'd been allowed his right to a free life when he was little? And it's also safe to admit that not every child born and living a sheltered life in a mansion will be another Ruskin! We can't follow the setting up of Ruskin's further connections with the dynamic relationships that were suitable for him, because his parents didn't allow it, so nothing happened. He says that his mother 'never allowed me to go near the edge of a pond, or be in a field that a pony was in.' But he comments 'with thankfulness the benefit I got from a ditch in Croxted Lane that had tadpoles.' He says that Camberwell Green had a pond, and 'one of the most treasured joys of my childhood was when my nurse would let me stare at this contemplative pond with awe from the other side of the way.'

Wordsworth's Recognition of His Opportunities

Wordsworth's childhood was a lot more rough and tumble! When he was nine, he was sent to the school in the little village of Hawkshead, and he lived with Mrs. Tyson in the cottage [perhaps in a dorm setting??]. Most things at home and school pleased him. He didn't get lessons in horse riding, skating, hockey or tennis, but the local boys probably made it clear that he'd have to do what they did if he wanted to fit in. But by the time he went to school, he was already a healthy, strong little boy because his mother had allowed him to really live.

'How many times as a five year old
In a small creek cut off from the stream
I spent the whole day playing in the water,
Basking in the sun, playing, and basking some more.'

Here's what he says about his childhood:

'My soul had good time to take root, and I grew up
Nourished by both beauty and fear.'

Before he turned ten, he moved to his 'beloved Vale.' He says about it,

'There, we were let loose
To enjoy an even greater variety of amusements.'

Those Hawkshead boys did all kinds of things! He writes about times,

'When I hung
Higher than the raven's nest, by clumps of grass
And half-inch fissures in the slippery rock
Hanging precariously and almost (it seemed)
Held up only by the gusty wind
That blew against the crag.'

Those boys went skating:

'Wearing steel blades,
We'd skim along the polished ice playing organized games
That imitated the chase,
And the sports of the woods--blowing horns,
The dogs barking, and the hunted rabbit.'

They played:

'Week after week, and month after month, we lived
A life of activity. Every day our games
Lasted in summer until it got dark.'

They went boating:

'When summer came,
On bright days when we had half the day free,
We would sail along the plain of Windermere
Racing with our oars . . .
This kind of race,
Never ended in disappointment,
There were no sore losers, no frustration, no jealousy.
We rested in the shade, everyone satisfied,
Both the winners and the losers.'

Young Wordsworth also had his share of horseback experiences when he and his schoolmates would return to school with plenty of things to talk about after their long vacation. They would hire some horses from a 'courteous innkeeper' and ride off, 'proud to curb, and eager to spur on the galloping horse.' And then they'd come home:

'Through the walls we flew,
And down the valley, making a circle
In a carefree way. Through rough and smooth paths,
We scampered towards home.'

Volume 3, School Education, pg 194-207

Chapter 18 - We are Educated by Our Intimacies Part II: More Affinities

An Affinity for Material Resources as Illustrated by John Ruskin's Opportunities

Wordsworth doesn't say much about affinity for material resources and the joy of handling and making things. But Ruskin seemed to be possibly interested in that, which is first evident with 'two boxes of smoothly cut wooden blocks,' and possibly resulted in his road-making days while he was at Oxford. He writes:

'Afterwards, I was given a small two-arched bridge that had impressive wedge-shaped stones and headstones, and level layers of masonry with beveled edges that dovetailed the same way that the Waterloo Bridge does. The centrings were well made and there were inlaid steps leading down to the water so that this bridge model was accurate and instructive. I never got tired of constructing it, dismantling it (it was too strong to be knocked down, so it had to be deconstructed piece by piece) and building it again.'

We know that he kept himself busy building a small dam and a reservoir when he lived at Herne Hill and Denmark Hill. When he was still a little boy, he scrubbed the steps of a hotel in the Alps with a broom and a pail of water because they bothered his mother. I think this shows that his nature was crying out for more opportunities.

Intimacy with Natural Objects

We don't read that either boy had much intimacy with natural objects, like birds and flowers. Here again, it seems like Ruskin just never had the chance because he was deprived of opportunities. All of the flowers that he knew were cultivated garden varieties. Is there anything more pathetic than this? 'My main prayer to the kindness of heaven during the season when flowers bloom was that the frost wouldn't touch the almond blossoms.' (Those who have read Love's Meinie and Proserpine will know that, later in Ruskin's life, he had compensations that made up for his childhood disadvantages.)

Wordsworth seems not to have had any special intimacy with flowers until he acquired it from his sister Dorothy. He writes, 'She gave me eyes, she gave me ears.' We've already seen that his knowledge of birds came from the horrid sport of robbing birds' nests. Yet, one day when he and his wild friends rode to Furness Abbey, he wrote,

'That simple wren sang so sweetly
In the center of the old church
That I could have moved in and stayed there forever
Just to hear such beautiful music.'

Ruskin's Flower Studies

Ruskin might not have had exposure to a wide variety of wildflowers, but perhaps he made up for that by giving enormous attention to the few that did come his way. In the same way that blocks and his model bridge gave him his first exposure to the principles of architecture, maybe his early flower studies were what gave him his ability to see and express detail. He writes about flowers, 'I passed all of my time staring at them, or staring into them. I pulled every flower to pieces, not in morbid curiosity, but admiring wonder and fascination until I knew everything that could be seen with a child's eyes. I used to hoard little treasures of seeds as if they were pearls and beads. I never had any intention of planting them.' Yet he complains that books on Botany were more difficult than his Latin Grammar.

Ruskin's Pebble Studies

Ruskin writes, 'If there'd been somebody to teach me anything about plants or pebbles, it would have been so good for me.' He loved the pebbles of the Tay River, and followed up his acquaintance with these by studying the pebbles at Matlock bath (from the River Derwent). 'I was ecstatically happy to pursue my studies of minerals by looking at fluor, calcite, and lead ore that were in the glittering white broken rocks, speckled with blue-gray lead sulfite that made the walkways by the hotel garden sparkle, and were also in the hills of the pretty village and paths along its cliffs. I can't describe the joy I felt when I was allowed to go into a cave.'

A Life-Shaping Intimacy

Later, he went up Mount Snowdon in Wales. 'I remember, during the climb up, that the most exciting part was finding a 'real' mineral for myself for the first time, a piece of copper pyrite!' This eagerly sought-after knowledge of pebbles resulted in his life-changing intimacy with minerals, which led to him writing The Ethics of the Dust.

Ruskin's Insatiable Delight in Books

As far as Books, we read that John Ruskin grew up on the Waverley novels, Pope's translation of The Iliad, many of Shakespeare's plays, and a lot of other delightful books. But he doesn't indicate that he ever had the kind of experience we're looking for--a sudden, passionate, insatiable delight in a book that indicates a real connection. We don't see that until he's introduced to Lord Byron. He says he first read Byron 'about the beginning of the teen years':

'Very certainly, by the end of 1834, I was pretty familiar with all of Byron's works, all except Cain, Werner, the Deformed Transformation, and Vision of Judgment. I didn't understand them, and my parents didn't think it would be a good idea for me to. I rejoiced in the sarcasm of Don Juan that I could understand. As soon as I got into the later cantos of it, I made a firm decision that Byron would be my master of verse, in the same way that Turner was my master in painting. I made that decision in the fledgling period of existence without being conscious of the deeper instincts that prompted it. I only recognized two things. First, his was the most exact truth of observation. And, second, the way he chose to express himself was the most concentrated that I had ever yet found in literature. But the totally new and precious thing that I found in Byron was his measured and living truth. His truth was measured as compared to Homer, and living as compared to everybody else. He taught me the meaning of Chillon and of Meillerie, and encouraged me to seek first in Venice--the ruins of the homes of Foscari and Falieri that Byron wrote about and made alive for me so that I came to perceive them as real people whose very feet had worn out the marble I walked on.'

Wordsworth's Insatiable Delight in Books

Here's how Wordsworth took to his books:

'I had possessed a treasure for a long time--
A little yellow book covered in canvas,
A slender summary of the Arabian tales.
From friends I met when I lived in a new place,
I found out that this beloved book of mine
Was just the tip of the iceberg--
That the Arabian Nights had four whole volumes,
Full of similar content. Truly,
It was divinely promising!
And, from then on, when I returned home
During school vacations, I'd find
The glorious collection of books I'd left
And I'd be in heaven! Often
I've laid
Down beside the murmuring stream of the Derwent River
On the hot stones in the glaring sun,
Reading, devouring as I read,
Wasting the day's glory, I was so desperate!'

'They Must Have Their Nourishment' of Adventure

I can't leave out the advice that comes next:

'A gracious spirit presides over this earth,
And over the heart of man. It comes
Invisibly to works of unreproved delight,
And with a kind intent, it directs those
Who don't care, don't know, and don't think about what they do.
The tales that add charm to sleepless nights
In the Arabian Nights, legends written
For comfort by the dim light of monk's lamps;
Fiction for the ladies they loved were made up
By young squires; endless adventures told
By decrepit warriors in old age,
Out of the memories of the very plans
They had as young men.
These spread like daylight. And they will live
In some form until mankind ceases to exist.
We have unspoken yearnings and hidden desires,
And they must have their nourishment. Our childhood,
In all its simplicity, sits on a throne
That has more power than all of the elements.'

Children Need to Roam Freely Among Books

And here's more advice:

'Every once in a while, with reluctance, I would stoop
To reading concise themes. Yet I rejoice,
And, humbled by these thoughts, I pour out
Thanks with uplifted heart that I was raised
Safe from an evil that current times have put
Upon today's children. This pest
Might have dried me up, body and soul
Right where I was
If, instead of living in an environment of free choice
Where I was allowed to wander through libraries
Rich with mind food, like an open field
Of lush, happy pastures wherever I wanted,
I had been followed, watched constantly, and chained
To the depressing way chosen for me.'

Words Are 'A Passion and a Power'

Later we read about the first time he was captivated by poetry:

'I was ten
Or younger the first time my mind
Consciously enjoyed the charm
Of words in rhyming sequence, and found them to be sweet
For their own sakes, having a passion and a power.
And I enjoyed phrases chosen for their pleasure,
Or impressiveness, or love. Often, on public roads
That were nearly empty because the sun
Was just rising over the hills, I would go out
With a close friend, and for almost
Two delightful hours, we would stroll along
By the still banks of the misty lake
Repeating our favorite verses together as if we had one voice
Or talking together as happy as the birds
That were chirping around us.'

Ruskin's Sense of Local History

Ruskin's awakening historic sense seems to be a continual thing, and we can learn a lesson from that about the importance of places. In his case, historic interest and the delight of beauty seemed to be the same thing. We've already seen that in his quote about how Byron's poetry affected him. And here, he writes about the, 'three centers of thought in my own mind: Rouen, Geneva, and Pisa. They taught me all I know, and were mistresses of everything I did from the first moment I entered through their gates.' Before them, there was Abbeville, which 'ushered me into immediate healthy work and joy . . . Of course, my most intense periods of joy were when I was in the mountains. But it was also a happy, unmatched pleasure that I never got tired of to see Abbeville on a bright summer afternoon, when I'd jump out into the courtyard of the Hotel de l'Europe and rush down the street to see the Church of St. Wulfran while the sun was still shining on its towers. These are reasons why we should cherish the past--until the end.'

Being In Touch With the Past is Necessary

But Ruskin's lack of living touch with the past, except when that kind of touch came through some newly discovered history of a place he happened to be in, is evident in his account of his first impressions of Rome:

'The whole of my Latin learning that I had to help me begin my studies of Rome, consisted of the first two books of Livy, which I hadn't learned very well, and the names of places that I'd remembered but never looked up on a map; a page or two of Tacitus, and the part in Virgil's book about the burning of Troy, the story of Dido, the episode about Euryalus, and the last battle. Of course, I had read the Aeneid half-heartedly, but I considered most of it nonsense. As far as later history, I had read some English summaries about the vices of their rulers, and I thought that malaria in the Campagna was a consequence of the Pope. I had never heard of a good Roman Emperor or a good Pope. I wasn't sure whether Trajan had lived before or after Jesus. I would have been satisfied and relieved if anybody had told me that Marcus Antonius was a Roman philosopher who lived at the same time as Socrates . . . Of course, we drove around Rome and the saw the Forum, Coliseum and so on. I had no distinct idea what the Forum was, or what it had ever been, or what the three pillars or the seven had to do with it, or the Arch of Severus. Whatever the Forum might have been, I didn't care in the least. As far as I could tell, the pillars on the Forum were too small and their capitals weren't carved very well, and the houses above them weren't nearly as interesting as the side of any alley in the old part of Edinburgh.'

Wordsworth and Ruskin were Aloof From the Past

Wordsworth was also aloof. He was vaguely aware of

'Old, unhappy, far-off things
And battles long ago,'

but the past histories of nations didn't interest him. According to what he wrote in the Prelude, even the anguish of the French Revolution hardly made an impression on him, although he took a walking tour in Europe and experienced a moment where,

'The nations hailed their great expectancy
As if they were awakened from sleep.'

But in his case,

'I looked upon all of these things
As if I were seeing them from a distance. I heard and saw and felt,
And I was impressed, but I had no real concern.'

The Kind of Knowledge That's Learned in Schools

When it comes to the knowledge that's learned in schools, Ruskin gives some pretty dry details of his experience in learning Euclid, Latin grammar, and other subjects. But neither Ruskin nor Wordsworth seems to have been 'pricked with the rapture of a sudden inspiration' during any of his lessons, unless Hawkshead Grammar School wants to claim this:

'We have so many joys
In youth! But life is so wonderful
When every hour brings tangible access
To learning--when learning is delightful,
And completely lacking any sorrow!'

But the praise of nature's unfolding season comes after this, and I'm afraid it's their lessons that the poet had in mind.


Everyone's been interested in the illuminating will of the late Cecil Rhodes, and I imagine that most mothers and teachers have thought about the four qualifications for scholarships [this was the birth of the Rhodes Scholar.] The third criteria is 'fellowship,' and the fourth is 'leadership instincts and an interest and concern for his classmates.' It's good that a talent for friendship as an essential element is brought before us in such a prominent way. That's the rock that Ruskin's education was split on, as he was sadly aware. He never knew the joys of friendship. The main blessings of his childhood were, 'peace, obedience, and faith--these three were the main good, and, after these, the habit of focusing attention with both the mind and the eyes.' He goes on to list the 'equally dominant disasters':

'First of all, I had nothing to love. My parents were rather like visible forces of nature to me, no more loved than the sun or the moon, although I would have been annoyed and bewildered if either of them had disappeared (and more so now that both of them are gone!) I loved God even less. It's not that I had any quarrel with Him, or dread of Him. I simply thought that what people told me about serving Him sounded unpleasant, and what I heard about His book didn't sound very entertaining. I had no friends to quarrel with, either--nobody I could help, and nobody to thank. Servants were never allowed to do any more for me than was part of their required duty. And why should I have been grateful to the cook for cooking, or to the gardener for gardening? My present conclusion about my general education of those days is that it was both too formal and too luxurious. At the most crucial time of my character development, it left me excessively cramped, yet undisciplined, and that it only protected my innocence, without helping me to practice doing the right thing.'

As we've seen, Wordsworth, by comparison, lived the life of his schoolmates with entire abandon. He was always either with a crowd of playmates, or he was with one friend. He was only alone during those moments of deeper intimacy that we'll discuss later. The simple life of his 'beloved Vale' took such passionate hold of his strong northern nature that neither Cambridge nor London nor revolutionary Europe (as we just read) could displace his earliest images, or give direction to his most profound thoughts. Sir Walter Scott claimed to be 'intimate with all classes of my countrymen, from Scottish noblemen to Scottish farmers.' And the result was the Waverly Novels. Wordsworth was happy to be familiar with the good-natured peasants of his own valleys, and poetic souls like his own. Maybe such limitations were what went into making the poet of plain living and high thinking, but limitations are dangerous [and shouldn't be deliberate].

Chapter 19 - We Are Educated by Our Intimacies

Part III - Vocation

I could trace how various other affinities came about in the lives of Ruskin and Wordsworth, but I don't have the space. All I can do is to show the joy of pursuing each new interest after being introduced to it, and then the resulting occupation in intense intimacy that never ends for the heart and soul. In these two geniuses, that intense intimacy became their vocation, or career.

Turner's Call to Ruskin

Ruskin's career began when,

'On my thirteenth birthday, February 8th, 1832, my father's partner, Henry Telford, gave me Samuel Roger's book Italy, a Poem, and that determined the direction that my life took . . . as soon as I saw Turner's pictures, I decided that they would be my only masters, and I worked to imitate them as best I could with careful pen shading. . . .

'Finally my father gave me a copy of the Turner painting, 'Richmond Bridge, Surrey,' [possibly 'Richmond Hill and Bridge', or this one; Richmond Hill is in Surrey] not intending to start a collection, but just so I'd have one, assuming that one would be all I'd ever need or want to have.'

And here he talks about how he bought Turner's 'Harlech:'

'Any seeds of nobility that existed within me were all centered on my love for Turner. It wasn't just a piece of paper I bought for seventy pounds, It was a Welsh castle and village, and Mt. Snowdon in blue cloud.'

Sincere Work

It wasn't until he was 22 that he produced what he considered his first sincere drawing:

'One day, on my way to Norwood, I noticed a little bit of ivy winding around a thorny stem. Even to my critical judgment, it seemed to be a decent composition, so I decided to make a light/shade sketch in pencil in my gray pocket notebook. I worked carefully as if it was a piece of sculpture, and I liked it more and more as I drew. When it was done, I realized that I had been wasting my time ever since I was twelve years old, because nobody had ever told me to just draw what was really there!'


Later we hear the story of his real initiation:

'I took out my notebook and carefully began to draw a little aspen tree that was across the road. Casually, but not lazily, I started drawing, and as I drew, my casual air passed away. The beautiful lines of the tree insisted on being recorded diligently. They became more and more beautiful as each line rose among the others and took its place. With increasing wonder every instant, I saw that they were composing themselves using finer laws than any that men knew about. Finally the tree was there on my paper, and everything I thought I had known about trees before seemed to be nothing. From that point on, 'He has made everything beautiful in His time' became my interpretation of the bond between the human mind and the things it can see.'

A Passion for Nature

Let's intrude on the bringing about of one more intimate interest. We've seen how already young Ruskin has been exposed to mountains. Now he's going to have his first view of the Alps. He, his parents and his cousin Mary went for a walk on the first Sunday evening after they arrived at the garden terrace of Schaffhausen.

'Suddenly--look! Over there! None of us had for a moment thought that they would be clouds. They were as clear as crystal, sharp against the pure horizon of sky, and already rose-tinted with the setting sun. It was infinitely beyond everything we'd ever thought or even dreamed. The walls of Eden, if we could have seen them, couldn't have been any more beautiful to us. Nothing could have been more powerful, like gazing around heaven, or at the sacred walls of death. For a child with my temperament, this was the most blessed entrance into life.'

What about Wordsworth? How shall we trace that pure, gracious, absorbing intimacy with Nature that was the master-light of all of Wordsworth's seeing? He reveals--

'The simple ways of my childhood
Are mostly what first caused me to love
Rivers, woods and fields. The passion was
Still in its infancy, sustained by chance
With nourishment that came
Even though I wasn't deliberately looking for it.'

We can't trace every step of Wordworth's growing delicate passion. We can only look at a phase here and there. As a boy, he and some of his friends from school were boating on Lake Windermere late one evening. They decided that one of them, the 'Minstrel of the Troop,' would stay behind on a small island:

'We rowed away gently, while he played his flute
Alone upon the rock. And then the calm
Still water effected my mind
With a weight of pleasure. The sky
Had never been so beautiful, the sight came into my heart
And captivated me like a dream.
In this way, my sympathies were broadened and
The daily common things I saw
Grew dear to me. I began to love the sun
Although not as much as I did later. Then I loved him as a pledge
And guarantee of this earthly life. It's a light
That we see and makes us feel alive.
It's not so much for the light and warmth that he shines on the world,
But because his rays
Made the morning hills so beautiful
And touched the western mountains with his glorious sunset.'

The Calling of a Poet

We can take one more look at this amazing child who, after he grew up, believed that every child is born a poet in the same way that he was.

'I was seventeen.
At this time
Blessings seemed to surround me like an ocean.
The days flew by, the years passed.
I had received so much
From Nature and her generous soul
That all my thoughts overflowed with emotion
I could only be content when, with incomparable joy,
I felt the emotions of God spread over all these things:
Over everything that moves and everything that's still;
Over everything that, even though it may be beyond the reach of thought
And human knowledge, and can't be seen
By the human eye, yet, to the heart, it still lives;
Over everything that leaps and runs and shouts and sings
Or beats the joyful air; over everything that glides
Under the waves, and even the wave itself
And the powerful deep waters.
. . . If I ever fail to speak of you
With a grateful voice, you mountains and lakes
And waterfalls, you mists and winds
That live among the hills where I was born.
If I have been pure in heart during my youth,
If, even though I spend time in the world, I'm content
With my own simple pleasures, if I've lived
And communicated with God and nature, separated
From little upsets and unworthy desires,
It's you I have to thank for that gift.'

Volume 3, School Education, pg 208-209

Children Have Affinities and They Should Have Relationships

I can't take the time to stop and collect any more of the lessons and insight from these two wonderfully educational books, The Prelude and Praeterita. For now, it's enough if we've seen how children attach themselves to the affinities they're born with if they have the opportunity and proper freedom. Our role is to make sure plenty of opportunities are freely provided at home and at school. Children should have relationships with earth and water. They should run, jump, ride, swim, and establish the relationship that a maker has with material resources, and thy should do this with as many kinds of material resources as possible. They should have treasured intimate relationships with people, through face to face talking, through reading stories or poems, seeing pictures or sculpture, through finding flinthead arrows and being around cars. They should be familiar with animals, birds, plants and trees. Foreign people and their languages shouldn't be something unknown to them. And, most important of all, they should discover that the most intimate and highest of all relationships--the relationship to God--fulfills their entire being.

This kind of a plan isn't overwhelming because, in all of these things and even more, children have natural affinities. As human beings find their place in the universe, they put out feelers, trying to connect in every direction that's suitable for them. We need to get rid of the notion that the only way a child will ever know the 3 R's or Latin grammar is to focus his education on these and nothing else. The truth is, that for us as well as for our children, the broader our range of interests is, the more intelligently we'll understand each one of them.

Volume 3, School Education, pg 216

'Education is the science of relationships' means that normal children have a natural, inborn desire for all knowledge, and they have a right to be exposed to it.

Volume 3, School Education, pg 217

The Parents' Union devoted ten years to learning how to use the three tools of education (circumstances, habits and ideas). Then, a few years ago, we took a slight departure from that and asked ourselves what end goal we should have in mind as a result of wisely using these tools. What is education? The answer we accept is that Education is the Science of Relations.

Volume 3, School Education, pg 218-220

What concerns us personally is that we all have relationships with things in the present world, and what's been in the past, what's in the skies above us, and what's around us. A full life and our ability to be useful depends on how many of these relationships we realize and take hold of. Every child is heir to an enormous inheritance. Our concern is, what are the practical things we need to do to help him gain possession of what's already his?

Education is Objective, not Subjective

This changes our perspective. It's no longer subjective regarding the child [what do we feel like teaching him?] It's objective [what knowledge does he have a right to?] So we no longer focus on developing the child's faculties, or training his moral nature, or guiding his religious feelings, or grooming him to function in a particular social circle, or for a specific career. Instead, we accept the child as he is--a person with lots of healthy affinities and budding connections. We try to help him solidify as many of these connections as we can.

A newborn comes into the world with a thousand feelers, and he sets right to work eagerly to connect to the world. From everything around him, he gets,

'That calm joy that, if I'm not mistaken, surely must be part of
Those first-born affinities that connect
Our new existence to things that exist in the world.
And in our first days, they become
A bond that unites life and joy.'
-- adapted from 'The Prelude,' by Wordsworth

When he's left to himself, he also gains the kind of real knowledge about each thing he comes across, and that knowledge helps to cement a relationship between him and that thing. Then later, we step in to educate him. The number of wide, essential interests he'll have, and how full his life will be, depends on the range of different living relationships we've exposed him to. He'll be a person of duty and usefulness if we make him aware of the laws that govern all relationships to the world. When he recognizes that relationships with people and things take effort to maintain, he'll learn the laws of work and the joy of expending effort.

Our role is to remove obstacles, to stimulate interest, and provide guidance to the child as he tries to get in touch with the universe of things and thoughts around him. Our mistake is that we assume the role of showman to the universe and think that there's no connection between the child and his world unless we decide to set one up.


Do we have lots of captivating interests outside of our obligatory work? If we do, then we won't be enslaved by trivial amusements.

Real interests aren't something we take up on the spur of the moment. They emerge from whatever affinities we've found and connected with. And, the way I see it, the goal of education is to help children get as much use out of the world as possible.

When we're influenced by these kinds of considerations, the phrase 'Education is the science of relationships' will help us to form a definite goal in our efforts.

Educational Unrest

We've all become familiar with the term 'educational unrest,' and we all sense how appropriate the phrase is. There have never been more capable and dedicated teachers and educational staff in schools of all social classes. Money, labor and research are all spent generously on education. Theories are studied, and great pains are taken to find out what's going in education in other places. Yet something's wrong, and it's more than a 'divine discontent' that leads us to work harder. We know that a major change is needed in how we approach the problem, and we're ready as long as the change is something more substantial than just an experiment. I think that school principals are the most ready to support a sensible reform. But, since they're more experienced and intellectually trained, they're too wise to jump on the bandwagon of change unless it has a reasonable philosophical foundation, as well as practical, utilitarian results.

A Unifying Principle

Up until now, the Parents' Union has emphasized our home-training views to the public rather than our ideas about school teaching. But that's only because we're not willing to disturb the system that's already in place. But, for the last twelve years, we've successfully worked out a unifying principle and the way to implement it in our training college and school. We exist because we have a definite goal and because our existence is needed to meet that goal. I don't think I need to speak right now about the few principles that should guide us as we raise children [that's in Volumes 1 and 2], but the principle that's supposed to guide us in teaching knowledge (education) might indicate why so much of education is a failure, and show us how to improve.

Volume 3, School Education, pg 222-223

Education is the Science of Relationships

The idea that gives life to the teaching in the Parents' Union is the idea that 'Education is the Science of Relationships.' That phrase means that children come into the world with a 'natural appetite,' to use Coleridge's mental image, and with a natural attraction to knowledge of all kinds and in all forms. They have a natural interest in the heroic past and in the age of myths. They want to know about everything that moves and lives, and strange places and strange people. They want to handle materials and make things. They have a desire to run and ride and row and do whatever gravity will allow them to do. That's why we think it's wrong to select certain subjects and exclude others when a child is young. For instance, it's not right to decide that a child shouldn't learn Latin, or doesn't need science. Instead, we strive to make sure that he'll establish enjoyable, intimate relationships with as many appropriate interests as possible. He won't just get a slight, incomplete smattering of this or that subject, either--we'll let him plunge right into vital knowledge, and introduce him to a great field of knowledge before him that will take more than his lifetime to explore. Having this concept in mind, we try to get that 'touch of emotion' that indicates that living knowledge is being taken in. We probably only feel when we enter our proper vital relationships.

Volume 3, School Education, pg 241-242

Relationships and Interest

Throughout this book, I've talked about relationships, and not interests. Interests can be casual, unworthy and fleeting. Everyone, even the most ignorant person, has interests of one kind or another. But creating a valid relationship implies that some knowledge has begun in that area. The problem with the way we think about education is that we don't realize that knowledge is vital. Therefore both adults and children suffer from malnourished minds. Our intellectual void is undoubtedly partly due to the fact that educational theorists use organized methods that undervalue real knowledge. I think that these kinds of theorists tend to place more importance on the physical workings on the brain than to what comes from the brain. In other words, they think that it's more important for a child to think than it is for him to know. But I say that a child can't know without having thought, and that he can't think if he doesn't have a regular, abundant supply of various materials of knowledge. All of us know how reading a passage can stimulate us to think, wonder, and make inferences, which all result in getting us some additional knowledge.

The undervaluing of knowledge isn't a deliberate conspiracy, it isn't even realized. But the more education is perceived as a series of psychological problems, the greater the tendency will be to treat, modify, and practically eliminate knowledge. Yet that knowledge is the very air, food, exercise, and whole life of man's mind. When we provide 'education' without including abundant knowledge, we're like people striving for physical development by giving lots of exercise, but almost no food. The purpose of a child's education is supposed to be getting knowledge and delighting in knowledge. One of our prophets [Thomas Carlyle] was right when he said, 'If even one man dies ignorant when he could have had knowledge, that's tragic.'

Volume 6, Philosophy of Education, pg 31

The students I've been talking about aren't just into books. They're busy with real things, too. After all, 'Education is the science of relations' is the foundational principle of their curriculum. A child goes to school with many interests and tendencies, and school should give him the opportunity to explore as many of them as possible. Children should learn a lot about science since they have no problem understanding basic principles, although technical details will be over their head. They should practice different crafts so they know what it's like to work with wood, clay and leather and how fun it is to handle tools. They can then form their own relationships with materials.

Volume 6, Philosophy of Education, pg 72-73

These days, it seems like educators are mostly concerned about making it easy for the mind to work. But I must urge that, while physical activities like hand crafts, gardening, dancing, etc., are useful to train the nerves and muscles to be ready and responsive, physical exercise does nothing to keep the mind alive. We also must not put the focus of children's education on drama--even when it's Shakespeare--or poetry--even when it's beautiful, lyrical poetry. Yes, children need these things, but they come into the world waiting to connect with lots of different things. They need to establish relationships with places far and near, with the expanding universe, with the long-gone days of history, with current social economics, with the earth we live on and all of its delightful plants and trees, with the affectionate families who love them, with their home country and foreign countries, and, most of all, with the highest of all relationships--their relationship with God. With all these things to learn about, only the most ignorant teacher will let his students spend most of their time on math, or crafts, or singing, or acting, or any one of a hundred specialized subjects that try to pass for a complete education.

Volume 6, Philosophy of Education, pg 87-88

It's pure fun to mingle with our peers, but a lot depends on the people we choose to hang out with, and why we choose them. This is an area where students benefit greatly from guidance. If they are taught in such a way that they love learning for knowledge's sake, then they'll want to make friends who share that passion. That's how princes are trained--they have to know a little bit about everything. They have to know something about plants to be able to chat with botanists, some history to talk to historians. They can't afford to be around scientists, adventurers, poets, painters, philanthropists or economists, and be too ignorant to talk about anything more than the weather. They need to know foreign languages so they can talk freely with men from other countries, and to be familiar with classical references. These are the things to be considered when educating princes. But doesn't every boy deserve the same education, so that he can hold his own in the company of people in knowledgeable circles?

Volume 6, Philosophy of Education, pg 156-157

We work under a mistaken notion that there is no natural law or inborn principle for planning a student's studies. Instead, we teach him those things that are proper for a person of wealth to know (as Locke said), OR we teach him enough art, reading, writing and arithmetic to prevent him from being illiterate. In both cases, the focus is on utilitarian education. The child is being indirectly educated to a profession rather than for personal growth.

But what if, in the very nature of things, we find that a complete curriculum has been suggested? Voltaire said, 'The human race has lost its title deeds.' and has been trying to get them back ever since. This applies to education. We are still lost. We haven't found our title deeds, so we have nothing to offer children with any conviction. The highest aim we can think of is to educate youth so that they're useful to society, and anyone with a novel new theory is free to teach whatever he wants because we know of no grounds to oppose him. In one sense, education does fall under the law of supply and demand [create from students what society needs], but instead of parents and teachers determining what society needs, the children should be the ones whose needs are met. But how will they let us know what they need? We need to consider this question carefully. Our answer will depend on our perception of human nature, which is limitless and varied. It isn't just budding geniuses from distinguished families who have impressive human natures. Every child, even a street child in the slums, is a marvel.

A nine-year-old British boy living in Japan remarked, 'Mom, isn't it fun learning all these things?

Everything I learn seems to fit with something else!' The boy had only discovered half the secret. What he still hadn't figured out is that everything fitted into something within himself.

The days of educating as befits a person of high society, or a craftsman are over. Now we must deal with a human being who has an inborn craving to know the history of his race, the story of his country, what men used to think, and what they think nowadays. The best thoughts of mankind have been archived in literature, and, at its highest level, as poetry or art, which is poetry in a solid form. Each student is a child of God, and his supreme desire and glory is to know about and have a relationship with God. Each child is a living being with many parts and passions. He needs to learn how to make use of himself, care for himself and discipline himself in body, mind and spirit. Each child has many relationships and fills many roles. He interacts with his family, his church, his community, his country, his neighboring countries, and the world at large. He inhabits a world full of beauty and fascination. He needs to learn to recognize the features of his world and name them. His universe is governed by certain rules, and he needs some understanding of those rules.

This is a tall order, but the educational rights of humans demand a wide program. It's a lot to teach, but it's not impossible, and it's not for us to pick and choose, or to educate in one direction or another. We can't even choose between science and humanities--the child needs both. It appears that our mission is to give children a zestful grip on as much of the range of relationships as possible that are appropriate. Shelley offers us the key to education. He talks about 'understanding that gets brighter as it gazes on lots of different truths.'

Since a child's relationship to his world is so varied, the education we give him needs to be varied, too.

Volume 6, Philosophy of Education, pg 218

But we have found that children's minds are not designed to be limited to a body of knowledge that has been deemed as common knowledge. Their young minds are eager and want to know more.

Volume 6, Philosophy of Education, pg 276-277

Education needs to be in touch with real life. We need to learn the things that we want to know about. Nobody chats with his friend about stinks [?], or the subtle differences of German accents, or irrational numbers (unless they both happen to be mathematicians!) But when Jupiter is rising, that's interesting to know, and to talk about! A friend who can distinguish between bird calls is always good to have around! And we're always grateful to be with someone who's read history and can talk about parallels to events that happened in the great war [WWI]! We tend to throw all our effort into one thing in the hopes that we'll get another different thing. But that doesn't work. If we focus our efforts on SAT's, then the things we need to teach become very narrow and academic, and the result is a narrow, academic, sterile-minded graduate. We reap what we sow.

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 328-329

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

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

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


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