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The Parents' Review

A Monthly Magazine of Home-Training and Culture

Edited by Charlotte Mason.

"Education is an atmosphere, a discipline, a life."
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27

Art and Literature in the Parents' Union School

by Marjorie F. Ransom. (Ex-student House of education)
Volume 34, 1923, pgs. 75-84


Conference of Educational Associations: the Parents' National Educational Union held their Meeting in connection with the Conference of Educational Associations on Wednesday, January 3rd.

Miss Louisa Macdonald, First Prinicipal of the Women's College, University of Sydney, took the Chair and introduced the speakers with a few words on children's instinctive love of art, which could be so much encouraged by right education.

Sir Martin Conway, M.P., then spoke on "How to Interest Children in Art," and this lecture was followed by a paper on "Art and Literature in the Parents' Union School," by Mrs. Ransom, Ex-student of the House of Education, Ambleside.

In a very interesting address Sir Martin said that children had an instinctive appreciation of what was best in art; a picture which they liked was certain to contain qualities that were admirable. They liked vivid and simple things and were able to understand some forms of great art, for instance Byzantine art and tile Primitives, better than a grown-up person. They themselves lived much of their time in a world of make-believe, or art, and were not bound down by conventions.

Art, of course, was a big thing; it was not merely pictures, sculpture, music, poetry. Deportment was art; one must not forget this aspect of art, but for the moment he would confine himself to a few suggestions as to how to interest children or anyone else in pictures, sculpture, etc. It was very important that a nation should be receptive to good art; its creative members were dependent on its receptive members or in other words on public taste and the quality of its artistic output would be influenced accordingly.

The simplest way to interest anyone in art was to find something they instinctively liked and then to let them get familiar with it. This applied to music, poetry, etc. But the liking must be spontaneous or it was no good at all. Contemptuous or ignorant criticism from grown-up people would affect children and blunt their natural instinct for what was good. They should not be told to like and dislike this or that. Parents and teachers must supply the material for a hunger for art which would certainly arise and the question was, what works should be put before children. Probably the old masters, acknowledged by several generations and by all the world to be fine, were best. A child should be surrounded with reproductions of these so that they might become as much a part of his integral memory as the nursery wall-paper. If the parent supplied the right material, the child would educate and interest himself in art.

Art and Literature in the Parents' Union School.

Professor Nunn, in his lecture the other day on Modern Methods of Education, said that school should be a place where boys or girls lived together in accordance with the best human tradition and were free to come into contact with those things which formed, as it were, the main strand of human history and progress: Art, Literature, Science.

I hope to show in this short paper how boys and girls are able in the Parents' Union School, to live in accordance with the best human traditions, and how Art and Literature, as school subjects, are presented to them. We know that the influence—or want of influence—of these all important subjects begins far earlier than the school age. In the home, we imbibe a healthy stimulative atmosphere, or the reverse. Ideas presented by the father or mother are further stimulated or checked at school, and ideas emanating from the school are discussed with interest at home, or eventually wither from lack of sympathy. It is possible that the drabbest or dullest home may be transformed gradually by the children from these homes bringing back with them from their school studies the right attitude towards knowledge. Mr. Household, Secretary for Education for Gloucestershire, who is in such full sympathy with Miss Mason's work and who has so many of his Elementary Schools working on her lines, could no doubt tell us of many homes changed in this manner. There may be many a working man, bored in his leisure time, owing to the short working day, who will begin to read with eagerness because he is bitten with his small son's or daughter's artistic or literary feeling.

What do we gain by joining the Parents' Union School? I will answer this question by taking the case of a mother who for reasons of economy or locality, is unable to procure a professional teacher for her children and decides to teach them herself. Well, if Mahomet cannot go to the Mountain, the Mountain can go to Mahomet (I misquote deliberately)! By joining the P.U.S. she at once comes into communication with the expert educationist, her programme of work is mapped out for her, the right number of hours allotted to each subject; the taste of home teaching changes from a necessary drudgery into a most absorbing and pleasureable occupation, and she finds herself working in a community where all the members are in full sympathy one with another.

Then, again, take the case of the teacher who follows her profession purely for utilitarian reasons. She thinks she can compound quite a good programme of work for herself, but she is young and has not the experience—this experience is only gained by ceaseless observation of the child's mind and nature; there is no method in her plans though there may be much systematising. Starting off without the right enthusiasm, her work is doomed to failure. I am confident in saying that this same type of person, once she has grasped the aims of the Parent's Union, might soon become imbued with the right spirit, her work fascinating her instead or boring her, discovering how little she knows in spite of her diplomas (a most healthy state for a teacher to be in). She will begin to take an interest in Art, a subject she had not before considered within her province. She will go to good concerts when possible, visit picture galleries, read for pleasure and not for gaining some distinction; in fact, she may become the ideal teacher: an enthusiast, who feels there is always something interesting to study as long as she lives.

I believe the unique difference in this method of learning over all others is that Literature weaves a Golden Thread through all the subjects taught. Enthusiasm for Good Books is the Main Theme.

Whatever fault there may be in the Parents' Union it is certainly not lack of enthusiasm. This enthusiasm springs from contact with the great mind of our founder Miss Mason, who has discovered again for us the great truth which Christ taught in his Gospel, that we must not offend, despise or hinder little children. Parents and teachers are constantly doing this when they give children the wrong mental food.

We show our respect for the child's mind when we give him the best in Literature and Art and assist his mental growth by putting him into communication with the Great Masters. We have only to read the lives of great men to learn that their knowledge and insight was derived by coming into contact, while young, with living and dead masters through their books and works.

Bunyan chiefly learnt his style and insight into character from studying the Bible. Michael Angelo spent his most impressionable years in the Medici household, meeting the great scholars and painters of his day and studying the antique marbles in the Medici Gardens.

And we read in the Life of G. F. Watts: "It was with the help, not of schoolmasters, but of his father that he climbed the first rounds of the ladder of learning. In addition to the Bible we hear of Homer and Sir Walter Scott. In his student days the Elgin Marbles in the British Museum were his chief teachers, they were to him silent instructors from whom he grasped a sense of style, a sure grasp of what was essential and an unerring rejection of all that what was not material to the portrait subject-picture or landscape lie had to paint, or the figure he had to model."

In Miss Mason's scheme of Education,
(1) she chooses the Best Books, thus the History, Geography, and Science Lessons may become at the same time Literature Lessons.
(2) Whenever possible, the pupil reads from the book; this is considered a more normal method of absorbing knowledge than through the oral lesson (where the child is inclined to think that if the teacher is removed, the source of all knowledge is removed too!)
(3) Special books are chosen purely for their literary value (these books are often read at home), the characters are discussed at school, the style of writing is examined (this, however, must not be done before Form IV, as early lessons in style should be sub-conscious rather than conscious). Narration is an important item in the lesson; it stimulates memory and encourages eloquence. There is no doubt we remember what is well put. I have noticed that my husband, always a reader, can repeat verbatim pages of "What Katy Did," "Huckleberry Finn," "Pickwick Papers, "Sheridan's Plays," etc., books which he read as a small boy and yet he cannot commit to memory a few lines of a badly written play or book, because he says: "it might just as well be written in any other way."

Miss Mason chooses a book, in whatever subject, for its literary value as well as for what it contains. All lessons in which the child uses good, well-written books are teaching him form, style and polish in composition and also such books teach him to think—what we ponder over, we remember.

A great deal of time is given to Literary Subjects in the Parents' Union School, and as it is not always possible to read the books in school hours, the father or mother may help much by reading to the children at home in encouraging them to read. While we are young we should be educated to use our leisure rightly, by reading good books, hearing good music and generally taking an interest in Art. When one is at an impressionable age, one forms mental habits that are a resource in themselves when we are grown up. Half the disappointment experienced by Founders of Free Libraries might be saved them had people been previously taught as children what to read.

Art in the Parents' Union School is taught through the Picture Study and Musical Appreciation Lessons. I am not considering the technical side of Art, which has of course its place in this School as in all others.

Picture Study.

Each term, six pictures by one of the Great Masters are studied through reproductions, and when possible the children are taken to the Galleries to see the originals, but only after the pictures have been studied in the school room. The Composition of the picture is carefully studied, the child being taught something about balance, spacing, perspective values, and so on. An historical or romantic interest is also shown about the picture if it is a subject that lends itself to this. The child is trained to notice character and statement in the faces of portraits, gesture, pose, etc.

Details from the pictures are drawn from memory in charcoal, pencil and water-colour—this may be done rather badly if the children are not gifted in draughtsmanship, but it all helps to fix the picture on the memory. The small child of five who first joins the school will take the keenest interest and so will her sister of seventeen (I here speak from long experience). We show them only the best pictures. We may admire the careful laborious drawings of battle scenes, fairy tales, and nature subjects drawn by pupil teachers, which adorn the walls of so many of the schoolrooms; however we cannot but feel that a few reproductions by the great masters would be more exhilarating.

To give an example of the kind of picture a child appreciates, I asked some small children of 8 and 9 which of the Durer pictures they had been studying that term they liked best. All, with one accord said: "The Praying Hands" (do you know this careful study of Hands, I have it up here on this sheet?) Would the casual person consider that such a drawing would interest a child? Here Miss Mason again shows her wonderful insight into the child's mind.

Consider what it must mean for the child from the mean home to have these six masterpieces shown him each term as part of the school curriculum. This must be a far better way to teach children about pictures than the yearly excursion to the Picture Galleries—a whole troop of children, already tired, dragged round the rooms and shown everything without discrimination. Take them to the Galleries by all means, but take a few children at a time. Let them go from the known to the unknown, that is to say, have some previous knowledge of the master whose works they are going to see. Keep to one or two masters so that the children may leave the Galleries keen instead of bored. During this month, Jan. 11th, Jan. 12th, Jan. 15th, House of Education trained teachers are going to take children round the National Portrait Gallery, National Gallery, and Dulwich Gallery respectively, to see certain pictures; particulars of these visits can be obtained from the Secretary of the Union. Raphael is the painter we are going to study in the School next term, so that Raphael's pictures will be especially talked about in their visit to the National Gallery.

I have up here the reproductions of four Masters: Corot, Durer, Jan Steen and Gerard Dou, which will give you some idea of the kind of reproductions we use (or which the child has quite a collection by the time he has been several years in the school). Also these 18 pictures show you the course of study which covers a year in the school.

Musical Appreciation Lesson.

This Lesson is somewhat more difficult to give in the country home, if there are no musicians in the family. But what a sad home it is for the child when there is no music! A pianola, a gramophone must be bought if possible, or still better, find some neighbour who can play.

About six works by some great composer are chosen for study each term. These compositions are played or sung to the children constantly and studied carefully. The children are taught something about the form, harmonic structure, thematic development of the composition and some information is given about the life of the composer. An article appears every term in the Parents' Review on the composer and his works, which is a great help to the teacher or parent who is giving the musical appreciation lessons.

Boys and girls living in London have great opportunities. Concerts are often arranged especially for them, and sometimes professional musicians are engaged to perform the works at some private house where there is a branch of the Parents' Union School. Children can be taken to the Sunday Concerts at the Queen's Hall or Albert Hall. It is not necessary for them to stay all through the performance—take them out after the finest composition has been played. But, as I said before about pictures, it is not much use taking them to concerts unless they have some previous idea of what they are going to hear. Familiarity with the work means enjoyment of the finished performance. A musical home is a happy place. Encourage your children to learn instruments so that there may be Chamber Music in the home in after years. Teach them to listen and discriminate between good music and what is inferior: form, in fact, such a love of it that it will be a necessary part of their leisure in after life.

I will now read out a course of study in Literature and Art in the Parents' Union School which covers three years of a child's school life.



Art and Literature—Three Years' Course.


First Year: Age 8 to 9.

Class I. A. Jan. 1920.
Stuart Period.
Art:
   Van Dyck.
   Mendelssohn.
   Folk Songs.
   Dancing.
Literature:
   Bible (certain chapters from Old and New Testament.)
   Tales of Troy and Greece. Andrew Lang
   Pilgrim's Progress (certain pages.)
   Child's Garden of Verse.
Read at home.
   Children of the New Forest. Marryat
   Parables from Nature Mrs. Gatty
   Child's Book of Saints.

Class I. B. May. 1920.
Late Stuart Period.
Art:
   Fra. Angelico.
   Purcell.
   French and English Songs
   Dancing.
Literature:
   Bible (certain chapters from Old and New Testament.)
   Tales of Troy and Greece. Andrew Lang
   Pilgrim's Progress (certain pages).
   Child's Garden of Verse.
Read at home.
   Children of the New Forest. Marryat
   Parables from Nature Mrs. Gatty
   Child's Book of Saints.
   Southey's "Blenheim."

Class I. B. Sept. 1920.
Georgian Period.
Art:
   Matthew Maris.
   Handel.
   Songs {French and English
   Dancing.
Literature:
   Bible (certain chapters from Old and New Testament.)
   Tales of Troy and Greece. Andrew Lang
   Pilgrim's Progress (certain pages).
   Child's Garden of Verse.
Read at home.
   Children of the New Forest. Marryat
   Parables from Nature Mrs. Gatty
   Child's Book of Saints.
   Two Hymns by Wesley.
   Master of Musicians. Marshall.

Second Year: Age 9 or 10.

Class II.B. Jan. 1921.
Late Georgian Period.
Art:
   Constable.
   Bach.
   French Songs.
   English Songs
   Dancing.
Literature:
   Bible.
   Mungo Park's Travels in Africa. (Geog.)
   Madam How and Lady Why. (Nat. Hist.)
   Two Hymns. Cowper.
   Shakespeare's "Cymbeline."
   Campbell's Songs and Ballads.

Class II. B. May. 1921.
Victorian Period.
Art:
   Millet.
   Mozart.
   Songs.
   Dancing.
Literature:
   Bible.
   Hymns by Keble.
   Shakespeare's "Tempest."
   Southey's Ballads.
Read at home.
   Kingsley's "Water Babies."
   Heroes of Asgard.
   Lays of Ancient Rome.

Class II. A. Sept. 1921.
Victorian Period.
Art:
   Watts.
   Beethoven.
   Songs {English and French.
   Dancing.
Literature:
   Bible.
   Lord Kitchener by Mackenzie.
   Plutarch's "Paulus Æmilius."
   Shakespeare's "Macbeth. " Read at home.
   Tom Brown's School Days.
   Tennyson's "May Queen."
   Tennyson's "Duke of Wellington."
   Some of Kipling's Poems.
   Two Hymns by Wesley.
   Master of Musicians. Marshall.

Third Year: Age 11 or 12.

Class III. A. Jan. 1922.
Early Saxon Period.
Art:
   Jan Steen.
   Gerard Dow
   Schumann.
   Songs {French and English.
   Dancing.
Literature:
   Bible.
   English Literature for Boys and Girls. Marshall.
   Shakespeare's "Julius Caesar.
   Plutarch's "Julius Caesar. "'
   Sigmund the Volsung. Morris.
   "Knights of the Round Table," Malory (edited for schools.)
   Poems of To-Day.
Read at home.
   Attila and his Conquerors. Mrs. Charles.
   Ruskin's Ethics of the Dust.

Late Saxon and Norman Period.
May. 1922.
Art:
   Corot.
   Greig.
   Songs French and English.
   Dancing.
Literature:
   Bible.
   Coriolanus. Shakespeare.
   Coriolanus. Plutarch.
   Tennyson's Harold.
   Lytton's Harold.
   Poems of To-day.
Read at home.
   Travels with a Donkey in the Cevennes. (Child Studying France).
   Historical Ballads.
   Bulfinch. Age of Fable (certain pages.)
   Literature Book as before.

Angevin Period.
Sep. to Dec. 1922.
Art:
   Durer.
   Brahms.
   Songs {French and English.
   Dancing.
Literature:
   Bible.
   Literature Book as before.*
   Shackleton. A Memoir, by Begbie.
   King John. Shakespeare.
   Scott's Ivanhoe.
   Scott's Tales of a Grandfather (certain pages).
   Poems of To-day.
Read at home.
   Some of Washington Irving's Alhambra.
   Plutarch's Brutus.

I have only taken 3 years' work. Studies on these lines, will be continued into forms IV, V., and VI.

*reproduced as in original


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