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


Volume 2, School Education, pg 231-232

We Rely on Good Books

As I've said before, we know that a great storehouse of thought exists that holds all the great ideas and concepts that have ever moved and changed the world. More than anything else, we're eager to give the child the key to this wonderful storehouse. Some people claim that the education of our day isn't producing reading people. We're determined that children should love books. That's why we don't come between the book and the child. We read him books like Tanglewood Tales, and, when he's older, Plutarch's Lives, not trying to break them up or water them down, but leaving the child's mind to deal with the material in its own way as best it can.

Volume 2, School Education, pg 262-263

Children Should Learn to Care About Books

In literature, we have definite goals in mind, both for our children, and, through them, for the whole world. We want children to grow up and find joy and refreshment in the taste and flavor of a book. When we say book, we don't mean any printed text with a binding. We mean a work that possesses certain literary qualities that can bring the kind of sensible joy to a reader that comes from a literary word fitly spoken. It's a sad fact that we're losing our sense of joy in the written word. We're in such a hurry to collect facts or hear the latest theory that we don't stop to linger over the way a thought is put into words. But this is a mistake, because words have power to delight and inspire us. If we weren't so blind, we would have discovered a truth a long time ago that the Bible clearly indicates: once something is said in the most perfectly appropriate way, it can never be said again. It becomes a living power in the world forever after. But in literature, the same as art, it takes more than mere form and technique. Great ideas are brooding over the chaos in our minds, and the one who can put the vague idea we're all thinking into words, will seem like a teacher sent to us from God.

Children Must be Nurtured On the Best

What about children? They should grow up with the best. There should never be a time in their lives when they're allowed to read or listen to twaddle or reading-made-easy. There's no time when they aren't equal to worthy thoughts put into well-said words, or well-told inspiring stories. If William Blake's Songs of Innocence sets the standard for their poetry, and Daniel DeFoe and Robert Louis Stevenson set the standard in prose, then we'll train a generation of readers who will demand true literature--meaning inspiring ideas and pictures of life expressed suitably and beautifully. Maybe a form letter requesting that children not be given books as gifts in a particular family would help [in maintaining control of book selections for the children's library.]

Volume 2, School Education, pg 278-279

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

Books Must be Living

We recognize that, for the child, history is all about living in the lives of those strong personalities that distinguish themselves in almost every age and every country. But you can't get that from pleasant little history books that have been written specifically for children, whether it's Maria Callcott's Little Arthur's History of England, or someone else's 'Outlines.' [perhaps 'Outlines of English History' by Ince, Ince and Gilbert ?] Instead, we take the child to living sources of history. Even a seven year old can fully understand Plutarch in his own words (translated into English) without any diluting and with very little explanation. If you give the child this kind of living thought, then you make it possible for the Divine Teacher to cooperate in history lessons. The child will progress by leaps and bounds, and you won't be able to pinpoint why. In the same way, when teaching music, if you let him understand the beautiful laws of harmony just once, and let him see the personality of the Music from the page of strange little black notes, then his piano lesson won't be a chore to him anymore.

Volume 3, School Education, Preface

The failures we have seem to stem from the failure of schools to form the habit of reading worthwhile books in children while they're under twelve years old. With free use of books, spelling and easy, flowing composition will take care of themselves--without any direct lessons in those things.

Volume 3, School Education, pg 122

Children's Literature

There's been lots of discussion about 'children's literature,' and I only have one more thing to add: children have no natural appetite for twaddle. There's probably less need for a special genre of literature for children than book publishers would have us believe. On any general adult list of 'the hundred best books,' I think that seventy-five of them would be well within the range of a seven or eight year old. They would love Rasselas. Eöthen would be as fascinating to them as Robinson Crusoe. The Faërie Queen, with its allegory and adventures of knights and sense of traveling freely in wild wooded areas, is right up their alley. What children want is to be brought in touch with the very best living thought. If we bring it to them, their intellect will feed on it with no meddlesome intervention from us.

Volume 3, School Education, pg 123-125

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

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

'Ruby-budded lime,'

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

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

Browning also provides nature inspiration:

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

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

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

Inherited Stinginess Regarding Schoolbooks

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

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

Volume 3, School Education, pg 162

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.

Volume 3, School Education, pg 164-169

Chapter 15 - School Books and How They Bring About Education

This chapter appears in a Parents Review article.

Line Upon Line

'School books' isn't a new topic, and everything I'm going to say here is what I've already written in other volumes. But we aren't like the men of Athens who got together regularly because they wanted to hear or share something exciting and new. I'm sure you won't mind hearing the same thing again.

An Incident in the Lives of School Girls

In Frederika Bremer's 1837 novel, The Neighbors, she writes with some spirit about an incident that happened to some school girls. It may be a bit autobiographical. This segment taken from the book is long, but I think it will be appreciated. It illustrates my point better than any simple arguments I could make.

The heroine says, 'I was sixteen at the time. Fortunately, since I had a restless character, my right shoulder started to stick out. Gymnastics were the popular way to treat all kinds of physical defects, so my parents decided to let me try gymnastics. I was clothed in pantaloons with colored trim, a green Bonjour coat, and a little bonnet with a pink ribbon. When I first showed up, there was a group of thirty to forty other girls wearing the same outfit I had on. They were happily swarming all over a large public room, over ropes, ladders and poles. It was a strange, new thing for me to see. I stayed in the background the first day, and my governess taught me how to do a backbend and some arm and leg exercises. The second day, I made friends with some of the girls. The third day, I matched them on the ropes and ladders, and by the second week, I was the leader of the second class and was encouraging the others to try all kinds of new tricks.

'At that time, I was studying Greek history in my school lessons. Even during gymnastics, my imagination was filled with Greek heroes and their heroic deeds. So I suggested to my group that we should take on ancient Greek men's names and that we should refuse to answer to any other name during gymnastics. We took on such names as Agamemnon and Epaminondas. I chose the name Orestes, and I called my best friend in the class Pylades. There was a tall, thin girl with a Finnish accent that I didn't like, mostly because of her disrespect for me and my ideas, and she didn't care who knew it . . . this resulted in some quarrels.

'I loved Greek history, but I also loved Swedish history. I idolized Charles XII, and I often entertained the other girls with stories about his deeds until my own soul was glowing with enthusiasm. Like a bucket of cold water, Darius (the tall girl whose real name was Britsa) came into the midst of us one day and asserted that Czar Peter I was a much greater man than Charles XII. I reacted to her challenge with blind zeal and concealed rage. She stated her case, bringing forth various arguments with coolness and skill to support her opinion. When I refuted her arguments and thought I had won the victory and proved my hero the better man, she kept throwing Bender and Pultawa in my way. [Charles XII of Sweden and Czar Peter were enemies in the Great Northern War of the early 1700's. Charles lost a battle at Pultawa/Poltava, in the Ukraine, and fled to Bender, in the Ottoman Empire. That loss marked the end of the Swedish Empire, and the rise of Peter's Russia.] Oh, Pultawa! Pultawa! Many tears have been shed over your bloody battlefield, but none were more bitter than the ones I shed later in secret because, just like Charles XII, it proved to be my defeat, too. She kept adding fuel until I finally cried out, 'I demand satisfaction!' Darius only laughed and said, 'Bravo! Bravo!' I exclaimed, 'You have insulted me disgracefully. I request that you apologize in front of the class and acknowledge that Charles XII is a better man than Czar Peter I, or else I'll fight you, unless you're a coward who has no honor!' Britsa Kaijsa blushed, but she said with detestable coolness, 'Apologize? I think not. I wouldn't dream of it. You want to fight? Fine, I have no objection. Where shall we fight, and with what? With pins?' 'With swords, if you're not afraid, and right here. We can meet here half an hour before everyone else gets here. I'll bring the swords. Pylades will be my second, and you can choose your own second.' . . . So, the next morning, I entered the large, open room and found my enemy already there with her second. Darius and I saluted one another proudly and coolly. I let her have first choice of the swords. She took one and flourished it around with some skill, as if she was used to handling one. I began to have visions of myself in my imagination with a sword in my heart . . . Darius cried out, 'Czar Peter was a great man!' 'Down with him! Long live Charles XII!' I cried, bursting into a furious rage. I positioned myself in an attitude of defense, and so did Darius . . . our swords clashed one against the other. The next moment, I was disarmed and thrown on the ground. Darius stood over me, and I thought my last hour had arrived. But I was surprised when my enemy threw down her sword, grabbed my hand to help me up, and cheerfully said, 'Okay, now you've had satisfaction. Let's be good friends again. You're one brave person!' Just at that moment, a tremendous noise was heard at the door, and the fencing instructor and three other teachers rushed in. At that point, I passed out.'

I hope none of you are like naughty children who enjoy the thrill of the story but miss the moral. What follows is actually the moral of this fascinating tale.

How Did the Girls Get Their Enthusiasm?

What was it in their school lessons that so excited these Swedish girls? There is no hint that their zeal came from anything but school reading. It could only have come from their books. Oral lessons for young children and class lectures for older students hadn't been invented in the early 1700's. We use books in our school rooms, too--but we never hear this kind of wild enthusiasm and uncontrolled passion over events recorded in history books, or dry facts in science textbooks. Those Swedish girls must have used a different kind of book, and it's in our best interest to find out what kind. It would be hard to find records of them, so we'll have to look for clues from the girls themselves. We can't go to them and ask directly, but if we can figure out what they were, we'd be able to make a pretty good guess at what fired their souls.

What Kind of Book Sustains the Life of Thought?

All we can tell from the story is that they were intelligent girls who were probably raised by intelligent parents. But that's enough for our purposes. The next question is, What kind of book will work its way into the mind of an intelligent child with enough force to change the child's thinking? We don't need to ask what the child likes--girls often like twaddly goody-goody stories, and boys tend to enjoy thrilling tales of adventure. We're all capable of being drawn to mental junk food of a poor quality because it's stimulating and exciting. This kind of mental candy is fine when our brains need the rest of an arm chair, but our spiritual minds need a more sustaining diet, whether we're boys or girls or grown-ups. When I say spiritual, I mean our souls as opposed to our physical bodies. We could just as easily use a phrase like thought-life, or the part of us that feels, or the life of the soul.

It's interesting how every question, no matter how superficial it seems, leads us to foundational principles. Even the simple question, What kind of school books should our children use? leads us right to one of the two main principles that are foundational to educational thought.

Publishers' Text-Books

I think that spiritual life, in the sense I just mentioned, is only maintained on one kind of diet--a diet of ideas. Ideas are the living fruit of living minds. If we ask any publisher for a catalog of their school books, we'll find that the general nature of school books is that they're drained dry of any living thought. It may have some thinker's name on it, but then it's usually an abridgment of an abridged edition. All that's left for the unfortunate student is the bare dusty bones of the subject with all the warm flesh, living color, breath of life and movement sanitized away. Nothing is left except what Oliver Wendell Holmes calls, 'the mere brute fact.'

It can't be said too often that information isn't the same as education. A student might answer an exam question correctly about the location of the Seychelles and the Comoto Islands without ever being nourished by the fact that they lay in a specific longitude and latitude--those are merely dry facts. But if he could follow whaler Frank Bullen in The Cruise of the Cachelot, then the mere names of the islands would excite the little mental receptors, showing that real knowledge has taken place.

Volume 3, School Education, pg 171

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 177-181

Principles on Which to Base Book Selection

The right books have the ability to inspire and stir the emotions. But that makes us ask, which are the right books? And I don't want to claim that I have the answer to that question. Someone might compile a list of 'the hundred best books for school,' but it won't be me. But I'd like to give one or two principles about selecting books, and leave the more difficult task of applying those principles to my readers. For one thing, I think it's important for children to dig for knowledge for themselves from the appropriate books in all their subjects. We owe them that. There are two reasons for this. When a child works and finds something for himself, it's his for life. But whatever comes too easily from hearing it like a casual song in the air, tends to float out of the mind as easily as it floated in. It rarely gets assimilated. I don't mean that lectures and oral lessons are totally useless, but their role should be to inspire and give direction to what's learned. They shouldn't be the medium used to dispense knowledge, and they shouldn't replace the part of education that comes from appropriate knowledge given in the appropriate way.

Like I've already said, ideas need to come from the thinker's mind directly, and it's mostly with the books they wrote that we make contact with the best minds.

Signs of a Suitable Book

A couple of things can be said about the distinguishing marks of a good school book. The right book isn't necessarily a big book. When John Quincy Adams was nine years old, he wrote to his father to ask for the fourth volume of Tobias Smollett to read in his free time, although he admitted that he was more preoccupied thinking about birds eggs. Maybe some of my readers remember reading systematically through the many volumes of Alison's History of Europe, privately priding ourselves on how much good we were doing for ourselves by getting through such a big book. But these days, even great men write short books, although these books should be used with discretion because they're sometimes nothing more than abridgments, the dry dull bones of the subject. But sometimes a short book is fresh and living. Secondly, it isn't necessary to insist on using only books written by original thinkers. In some cases, a mediocre mind is able to assimilate the knowledge about a subject and reprocess it in a form that's more suitable for students than what the original thinker wrote. There's no hard and fast rule. A thick book, a short book, a first-hand source or a second-hand one--either one might be the right book, as long as we're able to tell when a book is living, able to quicken the mind, and full of living ideas about its subject.

How to Use the Right Books

So much for how to tell which are the right books. The right way to use them is another matter. The children need to enjoy the book. Each of the ideas in the book needs to make a sudden delightful impact on the child's mind, causing an intellectual awakening that signifies that an idea has been born. The teacher's role in this is to see and feel for himself, and then to prompt his students with an appreciative look or comment. But he needs to be careful that he doesn't deaden the impression of the idea with too much talking. Intellectual sympathy is stimulating, but we've all been like the little girl who said, 'Mom, I think I'd be able to understand it if you'd stop explaining so much.' One teacher said this about a student--'I find it so hard to tell whether she's really grasped the concept, or whether she just knows the mechanics of getting the right answer.' Children are like little monkeys. All they usually get from a flood of explantions is the trick of coming up with the right answer.

Children Need to Work

This process of getting ideas fom the text isn't the only thing we need to do with books. 'In all work there's some profit.' At least, there's profit in some work. A book needs to make a child expend some effort in thinking. The child needs to make generalizations, classify, infer, make judgments, be able to visualize, discriminate, or use his capable mind to work in some kind of way until the knowledge in the book is sorted so that some is assimilated and some is rejected, according to his own decision. In the end, he's the one who decides what he'll get out of a book, not his teacher.

The Value of Narration

The easiest way to deal with a paragraph or chapter is to have the child narrate it after a single reading that he's paid close attention to. Only one reading, no matter how slow, should be the requirement, because we tend to make sure we'll have another opportunity to 'find out what it's all about.' If we don't get a clear grasp of the daily news, there's always a weekend edition. If we still haven't got it, there's a monthly news magazine, or a quarterly review, or an annual report. In fact, many of us are content to let present events, history in the making, pass right by us, and it doesn't bother us. We have a false sense of security in knowing that, in the end, we'll find out what happened one way or another. This is a bad habit to get into. We should make sure that our children don't get into that habit by not giving them a vague expectation that there will always be a second and third and tenth opportunity to do what should have been done the first time.

A Single Careful Reading

There's a big difference between intelligent reading that a child does in silence, and a mere cramming of information in order to repeat it back like a parrot. It's a good educational exersize for the child to be able to give the different points in a descrption, or put a series of events in proper sequence, or reconstruct the line of an argument point by point--after reading the passage just once. This is a skill that lawyers, publishers and scholars work to acquire. It's an ability that children can acquire easily. And, once they have it, they'll have crossed the bridge that divides readers from non-readers.

Other Uses For Books

But that's only one way to use books. Some other things that can be done are numbering the statements in a paragraph or chapter, analyzing a chapter, dividing a chapter into paragraphs with suitable subtitles, arranging and classifying series, tracing causes to results and tracing results back to causes, analyzing the characters of people in a book and considering how character and circumstances work together to produce a certain outcome--getting life lessons and learning how to act, which is the living knowledge that can make practical science out of any book. All of this is possible for students. In fact, they haven't truly begun their education until they start using books this way.

The Teacher's Role

First of all, the teacher's role is to see what needs to be done by looking over the day's lessons beforehand to see what mental discipline and vital knowledge can be gotten from various lessons, and then to plan questions and tasks that will give his students a full scope of mental activity. Writing notes in the margins of books is fine if it's done neatly and beautifully--books should be handled with respect. Numbers, letters and underlining can be used to help spot points and to save the needless work of writing out notes. Let the student write out a half dozen questions about the passage studied. He doesn't even need to write out the answers if he understands that the mind can only truly know whatever it can rephrase as an answer to a question that it asks itself.

Volume 3, School Education, pg 196-197

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!'

Volume 3, School Education, pg 198-199

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.'

Volume 3, School Education, pg 214

Most people acknowledge the need for tangible things in learning, as in hands-on education, but fewer people recognize that intellectual education has to come from books.

Every student six years old and up should enjoy studying their own books from each of their subjects, and their books should represent a pretty wide curriculum. Children between the ages of six to eight will need to have most of their books read aloud to them.

Volume 3, School Education, pg 215

Therefore, school-books should be a place to glean ideas, not mere collections of dry facts. '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 226

Children Must Be Educated With Books

Related to the principle that Education is the Science of Relationships, is that no education is worth its name if it doesn't make children feel at home in the world of books. Education should connect children mind to mind with thinkers who have dealt with knowledge. We reject things like abridged synopses and condensed compilations. Instead, we provide children with books that, whether they're long or short, are definitely living. The teacher's main job is to help children deal with their books. Lectures and oral lessons are just a small part of the teacher's job, and are only used to summarize, expand or illustrate the book [--never in place of it!]

Volume 3, School Education, pg 228-230

Chapter 21 - Suggestions Toward a Curriculum (For Children under Twelve)

Part II.--School Books

Books that Supply the Nourishment of Ideas

H. G. Wells hit the nail on the head when he said that selecting the right schoolbooks is a teacher's great task. I'm not sure that this would necessarily be the way to do it, though--or if even a whole team of experts with a generous budget could really provide the kind of schoolbooks that children connect with. Children are unpredictable. They might dutifully plod through the volumes of dull texts that qualify as 'schoolbooks' or 'educational,' but they don't allow those books to reach their inner spirits and have access to their minds. A book might be long, short, old, contemporary, easy, difficult, written by a great man, or written by a lesser man, and still be the kind of living book that find its way into the mind of a young reader. An educational expert isn't the best person to choose because, in this case, it's the children themselves who are the experts. Even reading a single page will be enough for the child to make up his mind. Unfortunately, once he decides, he opens or closes his mind. Many impressive and admirable textbooks that teachers dearly love are filed in the wastebasket of the schoolchild's mind, and that's why he doesn't absorb any of it, and can't produce results from it. The teacher needs to have an understanding of the difference between twaddle and simple clarity, and between excitement and vital life. Beyond that, he'll just have to test each book or see what kind of results other teachers have had with different books. But one thing he can be sure of is that a book only educates to the extent that it's vital and essential. But I've already discussed this subject in another chapter.

Books and Oral Lessons

Once the right book has been found, the teacher needs to let the book take the lead, and be content to stay in the background. The book takes precedence over any lecture. The teacher's role is to get the students in the right attitude about the book with a word or two expressing his own interest in what's in the book, or his enjoyment of the author's style. The students only get knowledge when they dig for it themselves. Work paves the way for assimilation, which is the active mental process of converting information into real knowledge. The effort of working through the author's sequence of thought is more valuable to a student than any amount of oral lectures.

Do teachers understand the paralyzing, dulling effect that a deluge of talking has on the mind? Yes, an inspired speaker can waken a response so that his hearers listen with captivated attention, but not many of us can claim to be inspired, and we're sometimes aware of how difficult it is to hold our students' attention. We blame ourselves, but the real fault is isn't with us, it's with the method we're using. It's the diluted oral lesson or lecture used in place of a living, compelling book that's to blame. Oral lessons are sometimes needed to introduce, illustrate, amplify or sum up a book. But they should be few and far between. Children will have to walk through life on their own, finding their intellectual nourishment for themselves. We shouldn't start them off getting used to crutches.

Volume 3, School Education, pg 232

Education by Books

The educational failure that we still have to deal with regards Books. We recognize that all the knowledge and thought of the world is stored in Books, but we're overwhelmed by the amount of knowledge and number of books. So we think we can take selections here and there from this or that book, using fragments and facts of knowledge and distributing them in booklets to be studied for exams, or oral lessons and lectures.

Volume 3, School Education, pg 240

Using Books Makes for a Short School Day

Since a half dozen entire groups of subjects with their own sets of subjects are included under the heading of 'Education by Books,' any practical teacher might be tempted to laugh because it seems to be some kind of educational Utopia. But, in practice, it turns out that using books does make the school day shorter.

Volume 3, School Education, pg 243

[Reasons for Failure:]

(c) Text books that are condensed and compressed from one or even many bigger books. These text books fall into two categories--the dry and boring kind that only give dull data and factual details, or the easy and attractive kind that seek to entertain. I think we can safely say that neither kind of text-book has any educational value.

(f) Also in elementary schools, using 'Readers' that, no matter how carefully they're selected, can never be as valuable as reading actual literature.

Volume 3, School Education, pg 243

Education by Books

For the last twelve years, we've tried our plan of educating children with Books and Things, and, on the whole, the results are very encouraging. Even average children are happy to do their lessons. That doesn't mean they'll remember everything they learn, but, in the words of Jane Austen, they'll have had their 'imaginations warmed' in lots of different areas of knowledge.

Volume 3, School Education, pg 246

There are hundreds of biographies that give us glimpses of children who grew up on books. And there are still probably lots of schools whose main work is studying books. It's probably this fact that keeps our great boarding schools going--to the extent that they still continue to exist, they exist on books. The best boarding school graduates are fine, decent young adults, and even the worst of them have probably benefited by having their minds touched by living ideas. Yet we all recognize that boarding schools often fail because they graduate average or slow students and place them in the world still ignorant, because the curriculum was too narrow to be of any interest to them. Remember that if a student leaves school at age 17 or 18 and hasn't become a diligent reader by then, it's pretty certain that he'll never become a reader.

Volume 3, School Education, pg 246-247

I've added appendices to demonstrate (a) how a wide, varied curriculum and the use of lots of books work in the Parents' Review School; (b) the kind of progress that a student should have made by age twelve using this method; and (c) how we use oral lessons. I hope my readers will be convinced that the students have knowledge in several fields of study, that they manifest a distinct appetite for such knowledge, and that thought and mental ability develop as we read books in a way that doesn't happen with lectures.

Volume 3, School Education, pg 247

And children should never be introduced to any subjects via concise summaries, outlines or selections. They should learn what history is, and what literature is, and what life is, from living books written by those who know. I know it's possible because it's being done right now on an impressive scale.

Volume 3, School Education, pg 247

At the very least, we should guarantee that children up to the age of twelve should be educated using a curriculum similar to what I've been talking about, instilling a habit of Books that I've discussed.

Volume 6, Philosophy of Education, pg 7

In each 12-week term, students read 1000-3000 pages, depending on their age and level, from a variety of scheduled books. Such a large amount of material allows only enough time for a single reading.

Many feel that 'mere book learning' is inferior, and that people need to focus on the practical aspect of living. But I'd like to point out that, whatever weaknesses have been found with using books don't apply to our method. As far as I know, this method has never been used before. Has there ever been a wide-spread attempt to get students to know many pages from lots of books after a single reading, and to know it so well that they can write about any part of it freely and accurately, even months later? (d) Lessons, books and passages aren't selected for school based on the child's whims. The best available book is used and read through consecutively, sometimes over two or three years. (e) Children study many books on different subjects, but that doesn't seem to cause them confusion. Bloopers on tests are almost nonexistent. (f) Students find that, as Bacon said, 'studies are delightful.' This delight doesn't rest in entertaining lessons, or a pleasant teacher. It rests purely in a love for their books. (g) Whenever possible, well-written, literary books are used.

Volume 6, Philosophy of Education, pg 12-13

Things of the mind are what appeal to the mind. Thought gives rise to more thought, and that is how we are educated. This is why we owe it to every child to put him in touch with great minds so that he can have access to great thoughts. Then he can be in communication with the minds of the people who left us great works. The only essential method of education seems to be that children should read worthy books, and lots of them. But some will say that schools have libraries, and children have access to their public libraries and that they do read. Or, some will protest that the literary language of well-written books is too challenging for children of the lower classes. But we know that, although haphazard reading is fun and can even teach a thing or two--yet it isn't education in the sense of obtaining knowledge. If a person reads casually, then he isn't really applying his mind to work at making the knowledge 'his own.' If we don't actively read to know, then we won't be much better educated, even if we read a lot. Why insist that books be written with literary style? My many years of experience have shown me too many circumstances and considerations to describe here, but I have seen that it comes naturally to us to enjoy well-written words--until our 'education' kills our taste for books.

Volume 6, Philosophy of Education, pg 15

Some might say, 'Yes, children have natural curiosity and they're capable of paying attention when they're interested, but they can only be coaxed to attend to their lessons part of the time.' But isn't that the fault of the lessons? Shouldn't lessons be planned carefully around the needs of the child's mind, just as his meals are planned around the needs of his physical body? Let's consider the way the mind works. The mind is concerned only about thoughts, imaginings, and reasoned arguments. It doesn't assimilate facts unless they're in the form of appropriate mind food. The mind is always active. It tires quickly of passive listening. A child's mind is as bored by the rambling twaddle of a prattling teacher as we adults are by twaddly small talk. The mind prefers something literary. When presented with something in literary form, the mind is curious and will attend to a great variety of topics.

I say that these are things of the mind because they seem to be true of the minds of everyone. I've observed these things, as well as a few other points about how the mind works. All I needed to do was to apply what I had discovered to a trial curriculum for schools and families. Lectures were mostly eliminated. Lots of books from many subjects were scheduled for reading during morning school hours. So much work was scheduled that there was only time for a single reading. All reading was tested by narrating either part of the selection or the entire reading, either orally or in writing. Students doing this kind of work know what they read, even months later. Their ability to focus their attention is remarkable. They don't have trouble with spelling or composition. They mature into well-informed, intelligent people.

Volume 6, Philosophy of Education, pg 18

A child needs knowledge just as much as he needs food.

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

He needs most of his knowledge to be communicated to him in literary form. When he articulates knowledge from a literary source, his version will be touched by his own unique personality, so that his reproduction becomes original.

Volume 6, Philosophy of Education, pg 19

Children have a right to the best that we have. Therefore, their school books should be the best books we can find.

Children get tired of lectures, and bored with comprehension questions. They should be allowed to use their schoolbooks for themselves. If they need help, they'll ask for it.

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

Volume 6, Philosophy of Education, pg 20

The mind, like the body, doesn't like limp, dull and unpleasant food. It wants its meals to be in literary form [such as, in stories]. The mind's diet is restricted to one thing: it can only absorb ideas and facts when they're connected to the living ideas on which they hang. Children who are educated this way respond in a surprising way. They develop ability, character, self-control, initiative, and a sense of responsibility. Even as children they are good, thoughtful citizens.

Volume 6, Philosophy of Education, pg 26

As soon as a child begins his education, he begins learning as a student. Our role is to make sure he has plenty of food for his mind. He needs intellectual nourishment of good quality, and he needs lots of it. Each of us naturally has a limited amount of ideas in our minds, but we know where to get more. The best thoughts that the world has are stored in books. We must introduce our children to books--the very best books. Our concern as educators is to have abundance and orderly serving of them.

Volume 6, Philosophy of Education, pg 30

I think children should get familiar with the practice of learning from books even before they learn the mechanical skills of reading and writing. And this is fun for them. They fix all their attention to a paragraph or page being read aloud, and then they're able to tell it back point for point in their own words. But it takes literary English to draw this skill out of children. They can't learn to get knowledge from books with anything less. Children begin learning from books at age six, the same time they begin to learn phonics and handwriting. A child loses nothing by taking his time and spending two years on the mechanics of decoding text to learn to read, or learning to write, because, during this time, he is still getting knowledge from books in history, geography, stories and the Bible because his books are read aloud to him. He pays close attention and has a wonderful ability to reproduce the information in his narrations--which amounts to him translating the material to himself in a way he can understand. Meanwhile, the books he listens to are giving him a large vocabulary and the ability to tell things in order. In other words, he is an educated child right from the beginning. His skill at dealing with books, even when there are several books on different subjects in a day's work, will increase as he gets older.

Volume 6, Philosophy of Education, pg 31

People naturally fall into two groups: those who read and reflect on what they've read . . . and those who don't. Schools should be making sure that all their students belong to the first group. It is wise to remember that, when someone is focused on the content and idea of what they're reading rather than just the words on the page, thinking and reflecting will inevitably follow.

Volume 6, Philosophy of Education, pg 41

How many teachers know that children don't need any pictures except the paintings of great artists, which serve a different purpose than illustrating? Children can see in their minds a picture more glorious, and usually more accurate than we, with our jaded experience, can envision. They're able to read between the lines and add in all the details that the author left out.

Volume 6, Philosophy of Education, pg 51

What about literature? Introducing children to literature is like planting them in a rich, glorious kingdom, or like bringing a continuous vacation to their doorstep, or laying an exquisite feast before them. But the way they need to learn about literature is to be familiar with excellent examples from the beginning. A child's relationship with literature needs to be with good books, the best available.

Volume 6, Philosophy of Education, pg 53

We take pride in reviewing and going over and over the material to be sure that the students get it. But that kind of monotony is deadly to children's minds. One child wrote, 'Before we had these living books, we had to keep reading about the same things again and again.' Isn't that true? In the homeschool, children are still using the same books that their grandparents learned from, and public school text books might be bought used with the names of a half dozen previous students crossed out! And what about compilations used in elementary schools that aren't living books, but aren't textbooks either? No wonder Mr. Fisher, when he opened a public library, said that he'd been surprised and distressed when visiting elementary schools, that he didn't see anything in them that he would call a book. He couldn't find any books that could charm, enlighten or expand the imagination. And yet, he said, the country was full of artists and writers. If we want them to really grow, we need to realize that they aren't like cows who chew the cud--not physically, and not mentally. They can't be continually rehashing the same tired old material without deadening and paralyzing their minds. Intellectual life and growth requires continual forward progress and new information.

Volume 6, Philosophy of Education, pg 59

Children can't be fed morals with predigested food as if they were pigeons. They need to pick and eat for themselves, and they do this by observing or hearing how others act. They need a lot of mental food dealing with conduct, and that's why so much poetry, history, fiction, geography, travel, biography, science and math are made available. No one knows which particular bit will ignite a spark in a child. A small boy of eight years old may come downstairs late for breakfast because 'I was thinking about Plato and couldn't button my shirt.' Another child may find his sustenance in Peter Pan! We don't know what will feed any particular child, but all children have complex, multi-faceted natures, so all children must read widely, and they must 'own' what they read in order to nourish their moral being.

Volume 6, Philosophy of Education, pg 62

We believe that the PNEU has benefited education by discovering that all children, including the mentally challenged, know what they need and are desperately eager to get the nourishment they need. They don't need to do any exercises to prepare themselves to take in this nourishment. A limited vocabulary, underprivileged home life, or lack of familiarity with books isn't a hindrance.

Volume 6, Philosophy of Education, pg 75-76

What we need to do is to recognize attention as one of the appetites. Then we'll feed it with the best we have in books and knowledge. But paying attention is something that children have to do on their own. We can't do it for them. It's not for us to be the fountain of all knowledge--we don't know enough, we don't speak well enough, we're too vague and random to cope with the capability of creatures who are thirsty for knowledge. Instead of pretending to be the source of their education, we must realize that books, the very best books, are the source, and we must put that resource into their hands, and read them for ourselves, too.

Volume 6, Philosophy of Education, pg 78

We must not masquerade in front of our children, or pride ourselves on collecting knowledge so that we can deliver it as if it emanated from ourselves. There are people who have earned the right to lecture because they've devoted their lives to some specific subject, or maybe written a book about it. Lectures from experts like that are full of insight, power and imagination, just like their books.

Volume 6, Philosophy of Education, pg 111

Ideas need to be clothed with both fact and story. That way, the mind can do its own work of selecting what it needs and initiating a new birth of ideas from a collection of colorful details. Dickens' David Copperfield says, 'I was a very observant child,' and, 'All children are observant,' but he doesn't just state the fact as a dull fact, he lets us come to that conclusion ourselves by telling us many charming incidents.

Volume 6, Philosophy of Education, pg 90-91

Children have a natural aptitude for literature. Their inclination for it can overcome the challenge of the vocabulary without effort. Knowing that should direct the kind of teaching we give. It should rule out our constant chattering and lectures. It should also rule out compilations and textbooks. Instead, it should lead us to put real books in the hands of students, only literary books that are crisp and spirited, as literary work should be. Children's natural desire to know will do the rest, and their minds will feed and grow.

Volume 6, Philosophy of Education, pg 109-110

One note: it seems like we need ideas to be presented with lots of padding, such as the way we get them from novels, or poems, or history texts written with literary style. Neither a child's body, nor his mind, can survive on pills, no matter how much research goes into formulating them. From a big, thick book full of living ideas, he may only latch onto a half dozen that speak to his heart and nourish his spirit. And there's no predicting which ideas will ignite a spark in him; they tend to come from unexpected places and in forms we never would have guessed. No person can force a portion of Scott or Dickens or Milton to inspire him and feed his soul. It's as the Bible says, 'Stay busy and plant a variety of crops, for you never know which will grow.' [Eccl. 11:6, NLT]

Volume 6, Philosophy of Education, pg 111

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

Volume 6, Philosophy of Education, pg 117

The fact that children like lame, uninspired talk and insubstantial, insipid storybooks doesn't prove that it's good for them. They like lollipops, too, but they can't live on them. Yet some schools are making a concerted effort to meet the intellectual, moral and spiritual needs of children with mental candy.

Volume 6, Philosophy of Education, pg 117

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

Volume 6, Philosophy of Education, pg 130

Right-thinking doesn't come from self-expression. It flows when an idea stimulates the thoughts. And the best place to get these noble, right ideas to fill a child's mind is from books and pictures and histories of individuals and nations. That's what trains a child's conscious and stimulates his will, and it's his will that makes the choice. One successful politician, Count Witte, wrote in his memiors recently how

Volume 6, Philosophy of Education, pg 160

The best literature is always direct and simple. A normal six-year-old will enjoy hearing stories from both the Old and New Testaments, passage by passage.

Volume 6, Philosophy of Education, pg 171

We know that students are very interested in history and will put their whole attention into it if they have the right books.

Volume 6, Philosophy of Education, pg 171-172

Our business is to give students material written with good literary style, and make them certain that they won't have a second chance to go over a lesson.

Volume 6, Philosophy of Education, pg 172

She'll keep in mind that the child as young as six has begun the serious business of getting an education. It doesn't matter whether he understands every word, the important thing is that he's learning that knowledge comes from books.

Volume 6, Philosophy of Education, pg 172

A six year old child in Form IB doesn't have stories from English history. [He has real history, not stories; PNEU students at this level were using An Island Story by H.E. Marshall.] He has a certain number of pages of consecutive reading, perhaps forty pages per term. His book is chosen carefully. It's a well-written, large volume [i.e., not a typical first grade book?] with nice pictures. Children won't be able to read it themselves since it isn't written down to a six-year-old's level. So the teacher reads it aloud, and the student tell it back, paragraph by paragraph, passage by passage.

Volume 6, Philosophy of Education, pg 181

Form IIB (fourth grade) has a challenging reading schedule. It isn't that they have so many more books, it's the quality of their books that's important.

Volume 6, Philosophy of Education, pg 182-183

Here, I'll add a comment about the steadfast progress children make in their ability to deal with books. All we do is present the scheduled books as if we're laying out an abundant, delicious feast, and each young guest digests what's right for him. The bright, advanced child gets a lot more than a slower peer, but they all sit down to the same meal and each one gets just what he needs and can handle.

Volume 6, Philosophy of Education, pg 184

Even in making selections among modern books, we have found that students who have been brought up with this kind of curriculum can be trusted to continue selecting the best books that are being written as time goes on.

Volume 6, Philosophy of Education, pg 187-188

We have a challenge in choosing books, the same challenge that has concerned all great thinkers from Plato to Erasmus to concerned school officials in our own day. I'm referring to the vulgar and raunchy things that come up in so many books that would be otherwise useful for teaching sound judgment. Milton assures us that to the pure, all things are pure. But we're still uneasy. When older students read the Areopagitica, they learn that seeing impurity makes you impure. Younger children learn from reading Ourselves. Properly taught children will learn to keep watch even over their thoughts because they know that God's angels are watching them. When possible, we use expurgated editions of books (books that have had objectionable content removed). When that's not possible, the teacher reads the book aloud and leaves out unsuitable content. We try to be careful when teaching about the natural processes of plants and animals [presumably referring specifically to reproduction] not to awaken impure thoughts in students.

Volume 6, Philosophy of Education, pg 191-192

While children don't need to be forbidden from reading well-intentioned second-rate books, such books should never be used for school lessons. Right from the start, children should get into the habit of reading good literature, and they should absorb what they will from it themselves, in their own way, whether it's a lot or a little. Since every writer's goal is to explain himself in his own book, the child and the author need to be trusted alone together, without a middle-man telling the child what the book said or what to think about it.

Volume 6, Philosophy of Education, pg 218

In science, just like history, books should be literary (i.e., told in story form). We'd probably all benefit and be more scientific people if we got rid of all science text-books and used less chalk outlining and summarizing. French people already know that science needs to be taught with literary books, the same as with all other subjects.

Volume 6, Philosophy of Education, pg 227

Children can't tell about what they haven't seen in their own minds with their imaginations. And they can't imagine what's in their books unless their books are written with some vividness and some grasp of the subject.

Volume 6, Philosophy of Education, pg 240

I'd like to classify all knowledge under the heading of humanities when it makes a direct appeal to the mind through a literary means [books].

Volume 6, Philosophy of Education, pg 244

The teacher reads, expecting that the children will listen and know. Therefore, she reads with distinctness, force and careful enunciation. It is merely a way of giving the children help and support in understanding. She is being careful to convey the meaning of the author and not her own interpretation. This procedure of the teacher reading aloud and the class narrating is continued throughout elementary school by necessity because some of the books are rather expensive, so only one copy is purchased for the class. I wonder if the habit of listening carefully with full attention might equalize children from uneducated homes, and children from privileged homes? At any rate, the work they turn in seems surprisingly equal. By the way, no subjects, passages or episodes are selected because the children have a special interest in them. The best available book is chosen and read through during the course of possibly two or three years.

Volume 6, Philosophy of Education, pg 247-248

Let me make two more points about the choice of books and what term exams are like. The best way I can think of to describe the sort of books that children will agree to deal with, is to say that they have to be literary. A seven or eight year old will narrate a difficult passage of a book like Pilgrim's Progress with unusual interest and insight. Yet I doubt many adults would retain anything from Dr. Smile's excellent book called Self-Help. The fact that children across the board will reject a wrong book makes one wonder, and should teach us something. And it's equally fascinating how children given the right book will drain it to the dregs. The thing they need from books seems to be quantity, quality and variety: the best books about a variety of subjects--and lots of them! But the question of which books to choose is a delicate, difficult issue. After twenty five years experience (the Parents Union School was started in 1891), selecting lesson books for children of all ages, even we still make mistakes. The next term exam reveals the error! Children can't answer questions based on the wrong book. The difficulty in selecting books is further complicated by the fact that we can't rely on children's tastes any more than we can let their preferences dictate their meals.

Volume 6, Philosophy of Education, pg 256

We've made another discovery--the mind refuses to learn anything that isn't presented in a literary [usually story] form. It's no surprise that this should be the case with privileged children who are used to a literary atmosphere. But it's surprising that it's just as true of uneducated inner-city children. People can expend the effort to commit facts from the driest compilation of data in a textbook to short-term memory for a public exam, but that information doesn't seem to reach the real mind.

Volume 6, Philosophy of Education, pg 260-262

The message for our generation is, Believe in the ability of the mind. Let education go directly to the student's mind. Of course, you'll need books, since nobody is arrogant enough to think that they can teach every subject of a broad curriculum thoroughly on their own, using the same original thoughts and identical facts of the expert who's made the subject his life's work and wrote a book about it. Yet we realize that teachers aren't trying to teach everything because they're arrogant. They're just trying to be helpful. They honestly believe that students can't understand well-written books, and they want to be a bridge between the student and the real instructor, which is the man who wrote the book.

But now we've proved that students, even inner-city students, are fully capable of understanding any book suited for their age. Children of age eight or nine are able to grasp a chapter of Pilgrim's Progress after a single reading. Students of age fourteen can read one of Lamb's essays, or a chapter of Eothen. Seventeen-year-olds can narrate after reading Lycidas. If you give children a well-written literary book suitable for their age, they'll have no problem dealing with it --they don't need us to spell it out for them. Of course, they won't be able to answer leading questions about it, because questions are an annoyance that all of us resent. But they will be able to tell back the whole thing with their own little individual touches. This might be the key to overcoming the huge difficulty of teaching humanities in English. We don't have to be overwhelmed with the thought of trying to cover such a large body of material at a snail's pace to try to make sure the student gets something out of the author he's reading. The slow process is our own invention. Instead, just let the student read it and tell it back, and he'll know it.

This practice of telling back sounds simplistic, but it's really a magical creative process where the person narrating 'sees' what he's talking about in his mind, clear and vivid--after reading the material just once. I keep repeating the stipulation about only one reading because--let me say it again--it's impossible to give our full attention to something we've heard before, and know we'll hear again.

Students should be treated in this reasonable way--mind to mind. I don't mean their young minds with the teacher's mind, that would exert too much of the teacher's influence. I'm talking about the minds of various thinkers meeting students, mind to mind, by way of books. The teacher performs the gracious task of introducing one enthusiastic mind to the other. With this method, students can cover an incredible amount of material in the limited time they have.

One of the best indicators of how well-educated a person is, is how many substantives [specific people, places, events they can name] they know well enough to use with confidence. We remember Sir Walter Scott telling how he tried various subjects to start a conversation with a stranger on his coach. Nothing worked until he brought up 'bent leather.' Then they chatted on and on, because the man happened to be a saddle-maker! We've all had such experiences, and we have to admit that we ourselves have proven to be difficult for someone else to find something in common with until the person trying to strike up a conversation with us found our own topic of expertise. And this is something that teachers should consider. There are a thousand different things we could know about thoroughly enough to be able to speak intelligently. Yet we focus on vague 'general knowledge' so that students exert their efforts trying to get scrappy information, and then make bloopers on their essay papers because they can't keep them straight. The only solution is a lot of consecutive reading from various literary books. We have no trouble making time for all these books because one single reading is enough, and there shouldn't be any reviewing for an upcoming exam.

Volume 6, Philosophy of Education, pg 265-266

Education for those living in a democracy needs to have certain features. We all need to be able to speak well, representing the concerns of groups of people and relating their sentiments and joys. Then we'll stop being motivated by self-interest and personal advantage in our political activism. We'll be able to touch sentiments of poetry and heroism, which most hearts will rise to. And, as a result, we'll be able to build 'a new Jerusalem right here in England's green, pleasant land.' To accomplish this, we all need to read the same books--in English, not in Latin or Greek. Most people, including the average student at a classical school, will never have the time to become fluent in Latin or Greek. Perhaps we'll still want an exclusive class of ivy-league students, and this seems like a good idea to me, since the one thing we've always done well at is instilling character and proper behavior in the top-notch schools. But we should broaden its base at the bottom, and narrow it as it gets to the top. In the earlier years, there should be a whole lot of books that everybody has to read. In the high school years, we need to cover less dead language classics and less higher math, to make room for more history and literature in our own language. I know I'm not an authority, but it seems to me that there's a lot of overlap from prep school to public boarding school, and from one Form (grade) to another, and from high school to the university [eliminating redundant overlaps and review could free up some time for more learning.] We could probably find a way to instill the same high-quality, character-building education, but we could make it inclusive rather than exclusive.

We could use more of the kinds of books that everyone should know. We could include enough history and geography to make everyone feel at home wherever they travel. And everyone could become familiar with the natural phenomena that affects us in the world around us.

Volume 6, Philosophy of Education, pg 267

The different Forms (grades) cover a lot of reading because we've learned that a single reading is all that's needed to get a pretty clear knowledge of a subject, if the right book is used. That means that many books are needed, and every book is read through from beginning to end so that the student's knowledge isn't just vague bits here and there.

Volume 6, Philosophy of Education, pg 268

Students taught along these lines are familiar with a large number of books, many historical and literary persons, and quite a range of natural phenomena.

Volume 6, Philosophy of Education, pg 268

I'm sure that some of you are interested in the work we're doing in elementary schools. The work is even more impressive because it begins with children who have a narrow vocabulary and no experience with literature. Yet these children show themselves capable of hearing or reading a well-written book, and, after just one single reading, narrating passages with enthusiasm and accuracy. They don't balk at even the longest names, and they don't muddle complicated statements. This was a revelation to us. It proves that a literary education isn't out of reach for anyone, and it doesn't have to take tedious and difficult preparation, but it can work immediately. All children need is the right books, and the right methods.

Volume 6, Philosophy of Education, pg 270-272

Some people smile politely and say that all things have something good in them, and one educational method is as good as another. In fact, they say, taking a little from each of them should work just fine. But this kind of casual attitude doesn't provide enough conviction in any one method to try very hard--so the resulting progress is disappointing. I feel strongly that trying to use my method without following its few principles will be worse than useless--it will be disastrous. One teacher said, "If we had your booklist, we could accomplish anything!' So he used the booklist--but utterly failed because he ignored the principles [CM's 20 Principles]. We teachers don't like to brag by coming right out and saying that we're better at handling a subject than a carefully selected author who specializes in writing books about that subject. One bright young teacher said, 'Yes, but we know more about reaching the minds of children than any writer, no matter how eloquent, who speaks through the pages of some dull book.' But this is the misconception that we're finally getting rid of. We've shown that the bulk of knowledge, taught in a way that leaves a vivid impression and encourages sound judgment, gotten from the right books, is far superior and visualized much more sharply by students than hearing lectures from even the most enthusiastic and effective teacher. That's why we insist on the use of books. It isn't because teachers are incompetent. It's because a student can't really know something unless his mind actively processes and assimilates it by itself, without someone else's influence.

School officials and teachers can be very generous and they might be justified in thinking that parents can be stingy about providing the necessary books for their children. It's our job to make sure that books have an important place in the hearts of our students. It's the parent's job to be sure that a variety of books is available. We need to make parents understand that it's impossible for children to have a broad education without lots of books. It's also impossible to teach students to spell well if they don't read for themselves. We hear how difficult spelling is, and how we should butcher our beloved language to make words phonetic so everyone can spell them. But we've seen with thousands of our students that children who spend more time reading books on their own can spell well because they tend to visualize words as they read. Those who always listen to read-alouds don't receive an English guide to help them visualize the words they're hearing. That's why oral lessons and lectures should only be used occasionally, as an introduction or review. But for actual education, students need to do their own work by reading their own books with the moral support and guidance of an intelligent teacher. I think we'll find that, once parents realize how important it is to have a good supply of books, they'll be only too willing to provide the books scheduled every term. Mr. Fisher says, 'There are real books, and there are textbooks.' The day is soon coming when everyone will realize that textbooks have no educational value. We hardly ever use textbooks in our Parents Union Schools. Whenever possible, we use books that spark the imagination and have a touch of originality. These are the differences between a real book and a text book. Maybe we should apologize for not providing books, just booklists. Any school official can come up with a booklist. But, since there are changes made to their lists every term, trying to keep up with 170 different titles can become a job in itself! We think we can provide some help to over-burdened teachers. Some people say that teachers should have the complete freedom to select their own texts, but that makes about as much sense as advocating the freedom for everyone to make their own shoes! Instead, it should be a question of how we'll divide up the tasks that need doing. If it's a question of freedom, why not take it a step further and say that students ought to have the freedom to choose their own books? But we know that 'freedom' is an elusive gold ring, and it's not always convenient or best to do all the things that we have the freedom to do.

Volume 6, Philosophy of Education, pg 275

We already discussed (in chapter ten) what we do for students as dwellers of a universe bound by natural laws. And here we have to disagree with some science teachers who think that students can only learn what they discover themselves by first-hand experience. The concept sounds good in theory, but in practice, it's disappointingly narrow and limited. The teacher got much of what he knows from books, so why shouldn't the student use books? Maybe because science textbooks are so dehydrated and empty that that the teacher hopes to make up for their lack of vitality with casual talks, such as Hydra being a creature able to make close friends, or a sea-anemone as a grandmotherly figure who lives a long time. In other words, side issues are used to create an interest in the subject. French scientists know better. They understand that, just as history has a beautiful essence that's like poetry, science also has a beauty that can be expressed in exquisite prose. There are a few of these kinds of books in English, and we use them along with field study and drawing. Drawing is great for promoting an enthusiasm for nature.

Volume 6, Philosophy of Education, pg 291-292

Grundtvig came to the conclusion that books weren't meant for the masses. So instead, the youth of his country listened to lectures delivered by enthusiastic men who had their country's literature and history at their fingertips and could articulate it with their own personal flair. A lot of good resulted, but minds spoon-fed from a teacher's lecture will never be as stable as those who cut and chew their own mind food.

But what if it were for everyone? What if Comenius's great hope of 'all knowledge for all people' was in the process of coming true? This is exactly what we've seen happen in thousands of cases. Even in cases where the children were mentally handicapped, we've seen that any person can understand the appropriate book (one that's suited for his age) but the book has to be in literary (story) form. Students don't need anyone to explain what the story means to them and their attention doesn't wander when they're occupied this way. They can master a number of pages so well after just one reading that they can tell it back immediately, or even months later, whether it's Pilgrim's Progress, one of Bacon's essays, or a Shakespeare play.

Volume 6, Philosophy of Education, pg 293

Right now, one of our national concerns is that we have no unifying shared bond of thought, nothing in common to reflect on. Undoubtedly, with a lot of reading, some links of common interest could be created.

Volume 6, Philosophy of Education, pg 298-299

The value of a cohesive thought bonding the people can't be calculated. What we want is to give the whole nation a common background of thought, similar to what students at exclusive Public Schools get. Those students have read the same books, so they're all familiar with Pitt, Fox, 'Dick Swiviller,' 'Mrs. Quickly,' the daffodils, clouds and nightingales that poets have seen, and a thousand other various and trivial-seeming scenes and sayings that somehow combine to create a backdrop that puts today's current opinions and events into perspective. Therefore, like the Public Schools, we have our students reading the same books. They read them just once, but so intensively, that they never forget them. For the rest of their lives, phrases and inferences they come across will dawn on them with the kind of 'light that never touched sea or land.' We hope that the Public Schools will soon begin teaching some classics in English. Then during elections, candidates will have a better reason for getting elected than their own self-interests. During government assemblies, there's a lack of any literary or historical quotes in English. Is that due to the fact that the public can't be counted on to recognize any reference outside of their old schoolbooks? If that's the case, we can change it once and for all. Whatever the masses read, the upper educated classes will have to read, too. Then there will be national peace and unity created by a common bond of intellectual life.

Volume 6, Philosophy of Education, pg 303-304

To educate a child, you need the direct, first-hand impact of great minds to interact with his own mind. We may not know lots of great minds in our circle of friends, but most of us can get in touch with great minds by reading books. If we want to know whether a school is truly providing an intellectual diet that really feeds its students, all we have to do is look at their booklist for the current term. If the booklist is short, we know that students aren't getting enough mind food. If the books aren't varied enough, we know they won't be well-rounded. If the books are second-hand compilations [which textbooks are] rather than original works, then they won't have any real food in them to nourish the mind [much like vitamins that may have some chemical value, but no real food.] If the books are too easy [not just reading level, but if they don't make him question], if they're too direct and tell him what to think [rather than challenging him to form his own opinion], then students will read them, but they won't chew on them and assimilate them so that the books become a part of them. A person needs a good meal to stimulate his body to secrete digestive juices. In the same way, the mental energy need to be stimulated so that the mind will digest and extract what it needs. And it needs a large variety and generous amount from which to select the nourishment it needs. And it needs it to be disguised as something appetizing and appealing. As our example, we have the highest authority [Scripture] demonstrating that the indirect method is the best way to dispense literature, and especially the indirect form of poetry. It's true that the Parables of Jesus are mysterious--but is there any knowledge in the world more precious than what they contain?

So our tendency to undervalue children is damaging. We water down their books and drain them of their literary flavor because, in our ignorance, we think that they can't understand what we understand ourselves.

Volume 6, Philosophy of Education, pg 304-305

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

Volume 6, Philosophy of Education, pg 305-306

Maybe some enlightened teacher will perceive the difference between scholarly book-learning and real knowledge. That's a distinction that practical men like Napoleon have always understood. Maybe there's never been any one life that was more influenced by 'humanities' than Napoleon's. Has there ever been a better example of the power of an informed mind to conquer the world? Napoleon is proof against the criticism that knowledge of books has no practical value. There wasn't any single episode in his career that wasn't suggested or inspired by some historical precedent or literary illustration that he had read about. We all know he was no great scholar, but he did read diligently, even while other absorbing affairs were going on. He read books like Homer, the Bible, the Koran, poetry, history and Plutarch's Lives.

Nations become great when inspired by books, just like people do. We've all heard how heroic young Queen Louisa of Prussia came to see that her country's downfall wasn't just due to Napoleon, but also to her people's ignorance. She knew that if her country was going to rise, it would have to be through the study of history.

Volume 6, Philosophy of Education, pg 308-310

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

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

Volume 6, Philosophy of Education, pg 321

I've tried to point out how, even though knowledge can be divided into categories, the vehicle that carries it is one and can't be divided: It's generally impossible for the mind to receive knowledge in any way other than letters [books].

Volume 6, Philosophy of Education, pg 331-334

Our newfangled method of education that emphasizes 'things not words' is inherently demoralizing. The human mind needs 'letters,' or literature, and desires them more urgently than the body craves bread. It was recent enough that some people still remember how newly-freed slaves in America devoured books with the appetite of the famished Israelites who fell upon food in Sennacherib's deserted camp.

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

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

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

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

VI - Knowledge in Literary Form

So far, I've been trying to impress on readers the idea that knowledge is a necessity for people, and that, in the beginning, at least, it has to come from a literary [interesting story] source. It doesn't matter whether the knowledge is physics or literature. There seems to be some inborn quality in the mind that will only respond to a literary form and nothing else. I said 'in the beginning' because I think it's possible that once the mind is familiar with a certain type of knowledge, it unconsciously converts even the driest formula into living dialog. Maybe that has something to do with the reason why math seems to be the exception to the rule about knowledge being in literary form. Math, like music, is a language in itself. Its speech is logical without fail, and always clear. It meets the mind's requirements.

Viewing literature as the essence of education is nothing new. Neither is the belief that education means turning a youth into a library of facts. But now we know that the mind needs information presented in a methodical, orderly way.

Volume 6, Philosophy of Education, pg 338-339

Literature and history always have important things to say or suggest, because they deal with phases of moral government and moral anarchy. They indicate what the only key is to this confusing world. Literature doesn't just reveal the deepest things of the human spirit, it also profits us by giving us 'examples of life and lessons about how to act.'

We're at a fork in the road. Our most recent educational expert, someone who knows and loves children [Montessori?], is recommending that we discard stories and history tales that appeal to the imagination. She charges us to let children learn through use of things, and her charm and tenderness in telling us may blind us to the desolation of her message. We recognize traces of Rousseau and his book Emile in her teaching. Emile was a self-sufficient person who wasn't supposed to know anything about the past. He would see no visions, and be constrained under no authority. But the human nature of real children is stronger than some eighteenth century philosopher's theories that continue to be spread. Anyone who has ever told a child a fairy tale has seen the natural appetite for literature, and it's our job to provide that literature for them. Is it so hard to believe that words are more than food? And if we believe that, shouldn't we rise up and insist that children not be deprived of the abundant spiritual diet of words that they need?

Volume 6, Philosophy of Education, pg 339

I don't hesitate to say that all of a child's education should be provided through the best literary book available. His history books should be written clearly, focused, with personal conviction, direct, and appealingly simple. That's what characterizes works of literary value.

Volume 6, Philosophy of Education, pg 340-342

Readings in literature, whether prose or poetry, should generally illustrate the historical period being studied. But books containing selected portions of works should be avoided. Children should read the whole work they're introduced to. And here we have a serious difficulty. Plato wanted poets in his republic to be watched over lest they write poems that would corrupt the morals of the youth. When the floodgates of knowledge were thrown open in Europe, Erasmus was worried for the same reason. Even Rossetti had the same thought. I hope that publishers will help us in this regard. Ever since German bookseller Friedrich Perthes discovered the mission of publishers to further education, publishers have done a lot for the world. Might they help us now? They could remove the smallest bit of offensive material, under the guidance of an exacting expert. What peace of mind it would be for teachers to be able to throw open the world of books to their students with no fear of moral smudges left on students' minds from an offensive passage! And many people who don't feel comfortable in the world of literature would be happy to keep complete libraries of these editions on their shelves to be used daily with no worries.

Even the Old Testament itself, with a little guarded editing, would be more available for children to read. And not many people would object to removing a few obscenities here and there from Shakespeare. In this regard, we have a bit too much superstitious piety. In another matter, let's listen to the advice of that great 'remedial thinker,' Dr. Arnold: 'Let your reading time be adjusted to your personal schedule and inclination. But, whether you decide to spend a lot of time or just a little, let your reading be varied in the kind of books you read--widely varied. If there's one thing I'm confident of regarding the improvement of the human mind, it's this.' This gives us support for a varied, broad-minded curriculum. In fact, we find that the student who studies lots of different subjects knows them as well as the student who studies just a few subjects.

Children should read books--not about books and authors. Reading books about books can be done in the child's spare time. School reading should be carefully planned so that most of it is in historical sequence. Children should read with the goal of knowing, whether the book is Robinson Crusoe or Huxley's Physiography. Their comprehension should be tested with oral (or occasional written) reproduction of the passage, not with comprehension questions. And they should do this after only one single reading. Everything else that the mind does to process the information, the mind does on its own, in spite of our concerns about how to teach it. And, last of all, this kind of reading should be the main business of the class room [i.e., reading and narrating should be done during school time, not as after-school homework.]


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