Thoughts from Charlotte Mason study group tonight. (Vol 6. Ch. 3, pt. 1)
I wanted to write down some quotes and thoughts after reading the first three sections of Chapter 3 from Charlotte Mason’s book Towards a Philosophy of Education. I’m reading the book with a group of other moms. It is so wonderful to meet other mothers who are interested in the same lifestyle I am! We meet every Tuesday night to discuss the book and plan our Charlotte Mason style homeschool co-op, which will start classes in January.
If you want to read the chapter it’s in full context here.
Just to clarify, Charlotte Mason lived from 1842-1923. I believe she wrote this final book a year before her death, in 1922. I’m too sleepy to fact check that right now.
“We do not consider enough that the nourishment, rest, fresh air and natural exercise, proper for the body as a whole, meet the requirements of the nervous system and that the undue nervous tension which a small child suffers in carrying a cup of tea, an older boy or girl in cramming for an examination, may be the cause later of a distressing nervous breakdown. We are becoming a nervous, overstrained nation and though golf and cricket may do something for us, a watchful education, alert to arrest every symptom of nervous over-pressure, would do much to secure for every child a fine physique and a high degree of staying power.”
Can you believe Charlotte Mason wrote these words in England nearly a hundred years ago? I would think that nervous and overstrained is a fairly accurate description of the lives of most Americans today. That’s not the life I want for my children, if I can help it.
One of the most difficult aspects of parenting, for me, is the balance of teaching my children good behavior while still realizing they are just kids. Tonight at my Charlotte Mason study group one of the mothers who has older teenagers was talking about mistakes she thinks she made when parenting her oldest child. Her daughter was very rebellious as a teenager. She was talking about why her daughter ended up that way and she said something that really stood out to me:
If we put too much emphasis on the perfect “outside” behavior we sometimes forget to look at the heart.
That makes me think of the saying, “You catch more flies with honey than vinegar.” It’s so easy to get caught up in how your children are behaving and forget to just laugh with them and love them, to forget to cater to their hearts more so than anything else. Gentle correction, whispering, and lots of snuggles goes a lot farther than yelling. (Or idiot screaming as Rosie and I have termed it.)
Why is it so hard to remember these things on a daily basis when you are in the trenches of parenting?
“In these days when reason is deified by the unlearned and plays the part of the Lord of Misrule it is necessary that every child should be trained to recognize fallacious reasoning and above all to know that a man’s reason is his servant and not his master; that there is no notion a man chooses to receive which his reason will not justify, whether it be mistrust of his neighbour, jealousy of his wife, doubts about his religion, or contempt for his country.”
“The only safeguard against fallacies which undermine the strength of the nation morally and economically is a liberal education which affords a wide field for reflection and comparison and abundant data upon which to found sound judgments.”
I loved this passage. One of my main reasons for homeschooling is so that I can allow my children to learn to think for themselves using logic and contemplation. It seems especially applicable during an election year, when everyone’s logical reasoning flies out the window.
“Every child wants to be approved, even baby in his new red shoes; to be first in what is going on; to get what is going; to be admired; to lead and manage the rest; to have the companionship of children and grown people; and last, but not least, every child wants to know. There they are, those desires, ready to act on occasion and our business is to make due use of this natural provision for the work of education. We do make use of the desires, not wisely, but too well. We run our schools uponemulation, the desire of every child to be first; and not the ablest, but the most pushing, comes to the front. We quicken emulation by the common desire to get and to have, that is, by the impulse of avarice. So we offer prizes, exhibitions, scholarships, every incentive that can be proposed. We cause him to work for our approbation, we play upon his vanity, and the boy does more than he can. What is the harm, we say, when all those springs of action are in the child already? The athlete is beginning to discover that he suffers elsewhere from the undue development of any set of muscles; and the boy whose ambition, or emulation, has been unduly stimulated becomes a flaccid person. But there is a worse evil. We all want knowledge just as much as we want bread. We know it is possible to cure the latter appetite by giving more stimulating food; and the worst of using other spurs to learning is that a natural love of knowledge which should carry us through eager school-days, and give a spice of adventure to the duller days of mature life, is effectually choked; and boys and girls ‘Cram to pass but not to know; they do pass but they don’t know.’ The divine curiosity which should have been an equipment for life hardly survives early schooldays.
Now it has been demonstrated very fully indeed that the delightfulness of knowledge is sufficient to carry a pupil joyfully and eagerly through his school life and that prizes and places, praise, blame and punishment, are unnecessary insofar as they are used to secure ardent interest and eager work. The love of knowledge is sufficient.”
Dearest Charlotte Mason,
WHERE HAVE YOU BEEN ALL MY LIFE?
Why could we have not lived at the same time?!
How do you creepily sit in your chair in 1922 across the ocean in England and write things about education and society that completely ring true today in 2012 America?
“The pageant of history with its interplay of characters is as delightful as any tale because every child uses his own film to show the scenes and exhibit the persons. We fuss a good deal about the dress, implements and other small details of each historic period but we forget that, give the child a few fit and exact words on the subject and he has the picture in his mind’s eye, nay, a series miles long of really glorious films; for a child’s amazing, vivifying imagination is part and parcel of his intellect.”
“The way children make their own the examples offered to them is amazing. No child would forget the characterization of Charles IX as ‘feeble and violent,’ nor fail to take to himself a lesson in self-control. We may not point the moral; that is the work proper for children themselves and they do it without fail. The comparative difficulty of the subject does not affect them.”
This is the reasoning behind using “living” books rather than text books to teach subjects whenever possible. How much more do you learn when you see history and culture through the eyes of a person telling a story rather than learning facts from a book? I’ve been to industrial England through Charles Dickens. I’ve been a drummer boy in the civil war. I’ve sailed on the Titanic, and from multiple perspectives! I’ve been an immigrant, a pilgrim, a slave, and an indentured servant. I was once an Indian. I’ve even been to Imperial China. The list is endless. I’m lucky because I had an innate love for reading as a kid, I read everything in the library I possibly could. I can’t wait to educate my children using historically accurate literature. Imagine all of the places we’ll go!
One important thing Charlotte Mason talks about is avoiding what she calls twaddle. (Twaddle is such a funny word…) She says that children should only read quality books, not dumbed down versions of famous stories or silly fluff books for their education. This seems important in today’s world, when things like 50 Shades of Gray are on the best seller list. I’m sure it’s fine to read fluff books when you’re relaxing before bed, but overall the main bulk of your child’s reading should be classic books or books with challenging words and meaty subjects. Reading and being read to makes kids super smart. I think everyone can agree on that!
When thinking about the books we choose to read, the TV we watch, and the electronic games we play someone at my study group tonight said to ask yourself what we’re doing to draw our children towards beauty and truth. I wrote that down because I thought–what a high standard to hold against the things you let your kids do. I’m not against an episode of Sponge Bob or some other harmless funny idiocy in moderation, I like to have a good time and laugh with my kids. But for the majority of the stuff that goes into their little brains? Beauty and truth. Something to consider.
This is not to say I want to shelter them from everything in the world, not by a long shot. I want them to develop a taste for quality literature, music made by real musicians with talent, classical music, beautiful pieces of art, the awesomeness of nature…
It’s like living with PURPOSE. Not just bobbing through life riding the waves of whatever crap popular culture loves next.
From a Christian point of view Charlotte Mason says that “education is the handmaid of religion.” That could mean several things. One immediate thought is how I can use beauty and truth, living and learning with purpose, to help my children discover God. Every human is born with an innate desperate need for spirituality, for something greater than themselves. But at the same time every human also has an obstinate, rebellious nature that wants to deny any sort of god so that they can focus on living life on their own terms. That’s what education is, what growing up means–to wrestle with those two natures, to search for God. To find your purpose in life.
I love that I can raise my kids so this all blends in with education. It’s a life long journey, not just twelve years of 9-3 on the clock in a school building. I kind of think this may be what’s wrong with so many kids today who float through college and seem to party and have no purpose to their lives. I know so many people who are simply lost and confused.
Another thing I love about Charlotte Mason, as I learn more about this homeschooling method, is the emphasis on life long learning as well as good habits. I used to think it was kind of silly to focus so much on habits. Then Rosie got a little older. Heck yeah habits are IMPORTANT. I should re-write that about twelve times in bold. If you have toddlers now trust me, start focusing on little habits like cleanliness and order. Nothing neurotic, just talk about and encourage them to help you clean up messes, brush their own teeth nightly, do simple chores, use table manners, and so on. It will be so much easier for you when they reach ages 5 or 6 and become more mature. You’ll have already laid the groundwork and things will flow more smoothly in your house.
We did some of that with Rosie, but not enough, and we had somewhat of a huge battle at ages 4-5, heightening at age 5 to the worst of it. I still love the idea of consensual living and parenting with your child’s emotions and perspectives in mind. However, it seems that it’s easy to forget that “consensual” involves your child learning to keep others’ needs in mind as well. Consensual can easily end up being child-centered living by accident. For our family consensual living means you clean up after yourself because you value your own property as well as our communal space in the house. You go to bed when it’s time without arguing because we all need to rest and keep a rhythm to our days in order to feel happy. You listen to what your parents ask you to do because the natural order of things is that parents need to be in charge sometimes, and by this point you should be able to trust that we wouldn’t tell you to do something that isn’t beneficial or needed.
Also, just FYI, parenting is hard. But then again life is hard too, right?