29 July 2010

At School with Charlotte: Examining Underlying Assumptions (Part I)

I'm going to combine the next two chapters into a single series of posts, because they contain a common idea. Chapter 5 of School Education is Psychology in Relation to Current Thought. (Her use of the word psychology is a little different ours today--I'd be inclined to replace it with anthropology or the phrase theology/philosophy of man.) In it, she puts forth some criteria for examining these philosophies (from an educational standpoint), and then she examines the philosophy of Locke and the philosophy-plus-science of a certain Professor James from Harvard University, which she claims are (1) connected to one another (James being an extension of Locke), and (2) popular philosophical underpinnings for contemporary educational approaches. Charlotte finds that both Locke and James fail her criteria test.

In Chapter 6, Some Educational Theories Examined, we find this same criteria being applied, this time not to assumptions, but to working theories that have been put in place--Pestalozzi and Froebel (in regard especially to Kindergarten), and also Herbartian psychology, as set forth in his theory of apperception. If you think this sounds too abstract, it is interesting to note that if you read the theory of apperception (or, at least, Charlotte's summary of it), it bears a striking resemblance to...unit studies.

But we'll come back to that.

For now, we must begin at the beginning.

The Need for a Standard
David Hicks, in his fabulous books Norms and Nobility, wrote:
[E]ducation at every level reflects man's primary assumptions about himself and his world.
Because of this, before we can even begin to talk about education, we must have a definition of man established. Do you know why it is so frustrating to discuss education with those who are big fans of the industrial school system and rave about ideas like "socialization"? It's because, when all of the dusts settles, the conflicts run deeper than we ever assume at the outset--all the way to our basic catechetical studies: who is man and what are his purposes?

This is what distinguishes these sorts of debates from ancient debates. Hicks tells us that the ancient debates between the philosophers and rhetoricians, was over how virtue ought to be taught. It was assumed that is could be taught. This, then, was a healthy and helpful debate. But if you have one party approaching education with the mindset that virtue can be taught, and the other that it cannot be taught, well then, you have a completely fruitless discussion if it's centered on methods. Why would you discuss methods when you are heading toward completely different goals? Better to debate the goals in this instance.

When someone tries to badger you over whether, to use the above example, your children are socialized, take a chance and ask them to define who man is and what he is about. It'll be a far more interesting discussion, and you'll actually be tackling the root issue.


All of this was really to say: we need a set philosophical standard because the standard is foundational for everything else. Also, we need to be aware of it. Charlotte acknowledged that many of us simply follow in our family traditions. In regard to this, she wrote:
People who bring up their children by 'common sense,' according to 'the way of our family,' do so more often that they know because their great-great-grandfathers read Locke.
By refusing to question the underlying assumptions in our approach to our children, we leave them at the mercy of an ancestor's reading habits.

Charlotte's Standard
Charlotte wrote out a three-prong criteria for judging philosophies and educational theories. They were:
  1. It must be accurate. She goes on to say that it must properly identify/respect the nature of man and his relationship with everything that is not-man.
  2. It must be necessary. By this, she means that there is not an equally probable philosophy available.
  3. It much touch the living thought of the age. Not relegated to experts in ivory towers, Charlotte required that the philosophy be accessible to the average man on the street.
In regard to this latter point, she explains to us which "living thoughts" had captivated the populace in her time:
  • Sacredness of the Person. People at the time were interested in persons and individuals, and respected them as such. This may not seem remarkable to us (in the days of blogging, no less!), but we have to remember that Charlotte is less than 100 years out from the translation of Thomas Clarkson's dissertation on slavery into English. The idea that all men were persons separated only by chance of birth and circumstance, and were therefore sacred, was revolutionary in 1800s Britain.
  • The Evolution of the Individual. Charlotte insisted that education improve a person as a person (see "sacredness of the person" above). This touched on the person as an intellectual being, a physical being, and a moral being. Not every "learning experience" improves a person, therefore Charlotte says:
    [T]he acquisition of mere learning is not necessarily education at all.
  • The Solidarity of the Race. This is more than the brotherhood of mankind, she says.
    This is nothing less than ...our sense of the oneness of humanity reaches into the remotest past...
    This would be, then, the complete opposite of the chronological snobbery spawned by Darwinism.
These items, then, are the "best" of the day's thoughts, according to Charlotte.

It'd be interesting to sit down and try and summon the "best" thoughts of our own day, but that is beyond the scope of this series.

Daring to Part Ways
Charlotte existed in a very religious society, for the most part. We do not. George Barna is constantly reminding us that the church, statistically speaking, looks just like the world--same divorce rate, for instance, and a low level of biblical literacy. The underlying assumptions Charlotte offers us are, in my opinion, accurate but deficient. What I mean is, I believe there are more considerations when it comes to education and judging educational theory, and in a world where the entire catechism is up for debate, it'd be helpful to consider more of them.

Enter John Amos Comenius, of whom I am a big fan, and if you want to know just how much influence his small life had, this talk from Dr. George Grant (free resource!) amazed my socks off.

Seriously. I am now barefoot.


Comenius's legacy (or one of his legacies, anyhow) was his conception of the Pansophic Collegium. If you read about it here and here, you will notice that it is not terribly different from Charlotte's work.

In his talk, Dr. Grant tells us of the ten components of the Pansophic Collegium, three principles and seven essential proposals, which can all be teased out of one of my favorite chapters in Scripture, Deuteronomy 6. I think adding (actually, it's more like blending) these components to Charlotte's list offers us firmer ground upon which to stand in a world in which the soul has so many enemies, it seems.

First, the three principles:
  1. Covenantalism. Charlotte, incidentally, was fully steeped in the nature of the Covenant; such thinking was not abandoned until the acceptance of dispensational theology coinciding with the popularity of the Scofield Study Bible in the late 1800s and early 1900s. Anyhow, within Biblical covenantalism, education was part of the covenantal task, which was the task of raising up the next generation of faithful Christians. We can file this away in Charlotte's "evolution of the individual" category, for here we see education helping man to fulfill his created purpose.
  2. Jurisdistinctionalism. This was an early predecessor to Kuyper's work on sphere sovereignty. Grant explains that the general idea is that there are various spheres within a given culture (government, church, family), and that "real reform comes when you empower those spheres to do their work." In regard to education then, the conception of sphere sovereignty involved making distinctions (seeing where one thing ends and another begins, as well as how the two things are different) and connections (see where two things fit together). A great goal of education, then, was to improve the student's ability to make distinctions and connections. For those of you who adore Charlotte's saying that "education is the science of relations," you might appreciate this particular point.
  3. Long Term Hope. This is the conviction that God's plan for the world will succeed, that "redemption cannot be foiled." This was a source for perseverance, of conviction that our perspective cannot always be aware of the amazing work God is doing when we are discouraged, and that history is moving toward the fulfillment and triumph of the Gospel. This informed the answer to the question as to what man's purposes entailed.
Next, we have Comenius' seven essential principles of education:
  1. Theological integration. The Bible was not relegated to the side as a "subject" to be studied for a set amount of time, but was rather invited into the classroom and given the highest position, that of judge and informer for every single topic covered.
  2. Literary substance. Because God revealed Himself in words, literature is necessarily central to education methods. This means, practically, that primary sources should be read, that pictures--even moving pictures (movies)--cannot substitute for God's primary method of communication, words. Charlotte, as you know, also places great weight upon the reading of good literature.
  3. Didactic discipline. Learning takes great effort. Not everything is easy to learn. Students must gird up their loins and triumph over difficulties they face in their studies. Charlotte has us building habits in early childhood, that older children might have the character required for sound learning.
  4. Covenantal accountability. Everyone within the school is accountable to someone and for someone. The learning environment is built upon relationships between its members.
  5. Aesthetic objectivity. Beauty is not in the eye of the beholder, Dr. Grant tells us. Rather, "beauty is rooted in the character and nature of God." Beauty, then, is objective rather than subjective, and children therefore can and ought to acquire aesthetic knowledge.
  6. Unshakable ethics. This, my friends, is something with which Charlotte (as well as David Hicks) would most readily agree! The idea is that we never separate what we know from what we do. Charlotte insisted upon a knowledge of ought...and so, we learn, did Comenius.
  7. Historical foundations. Dr. Grant says that each class (subject?) should rest upon its history.
The Point?
Some try and tease Charlotte out of the stream of history, and set her upon a pedestal. On the one hand, I think she articulated a rare ideal, and married it to practicality in a way few philosophers have done. I not only applaud her, I am indebted to her! Because of Charlotte and her work, our family has been blessed beyond measure; truly our cup runneth over. But, on the other hand, Charlotte does not isolate herself from the past. Like principle 7 above, she confidently rests upon her history, quoting Aristotle and Plato, as well as Locke and Ruskin. In fact, Charlotte condemned John Locke's impact on education because its outcome resulted in the isolation of man from history:
That intellectual commerce of ideas whereby the dead yet speak their living thoughts in the work they have left us, and by which as by links of an endless chain all men are bound to each and all men influence each, has no place in a philosophy which teaches that a man can know only through his own understanding working upon the images he receives through his senses.
Charlotte was well aware that she herself existed within the flow of history, that she had reached back in order to reach forward. In reaching back to Comenius, we find living thoughts which stabilize the sandy ground upon which we find ourselves, so that we ourselves can, along with Charlotte, propel education forward in our own generation.

Next Time
Soon, we will see just what Charlotte had to say about the likes of Locke, James, Pestalozzi, Froebel, and Herbart.

28 July 2010

At School with Charlotte: Masterly Inactivity...in Action

So now that Charlotte has told us what masterly inactivity is, she gives us plenty of application. She doesn't claim to be exhaustive, but she definitely gets us thinking. As a reminder, our inactivity is one of wisdom and prudence, not neglect. We always know what is going on. We always provide authority. This is so important, because there is a fine line she is asking us to walk, and it seems quite easy to end up simply allowing the children to indulge their foolish inclinations, which is not Charlotte's intent.

After reading all of this, I can only tell you that Charlotte seems out to correct the Supermom, the overachieving, overprotective, and/or controlling mother who believes that she has the right to dominate her children into living good lives as adults. This is the mother, Charlotte says, who can't ignore anything, and who interrupts play at critical moments in order to remind Johnny to tie his shoes.

Can I just say that I bought into some of these modern pressures when my oldest was tiny? I tried to tell him how to play, or invent all of his play for him, and so on. It was exhausting, for starters. It was also totally freeing when I finally figured out that, for all of my efforts, I wasn't doing him any favors, and I would do well to remove myself and let him figure a lot of things out on his own.

While still being there to catch him when he needed it, of course.

But enough about me and my repentance.

What does masterly inactivity look like in action?

Free in Play

The best place to start in regard to play is to discuss what play is not. Play is not when Mommy organizes a game for the children. Charlotte is not against games, and I'd say, after reading some of her other writings, she would agree that games of various sorts have their place, but she still believed that games are not play.

By play, Charlotte means what we today tend to refer to as imaginative play. This is where the children think up--on their own--the building of a fort or a castle. This is where the children build great episodes in their minds, often drawing on stories they have heard or read, and thrust themselves into said episodes, acting them out, alone or with their siblings and friends.

Do you remember pretending as a child? I do. I adored imagining things. I could fly, you know. Among other super powers, of course. Children are capable of building an entire world in their minds, and living in them for hours at a time...if let alone. You know what ruins it? "Johnny, straighten your shirt...put your jacket back on because it is cold outside..." And so on and so forth. Sayeth Charlotte:
Think what it must mean to a general in command of his forces to be told by some intruder into the play-world to tie his shoe-strings!
What if the children have built a play-world of which Mother disapproves? Perhaps it is cruel? Unvirtuous in some way? Unmannerly? I think Charlotte would have the mother hesitate to intervene at the time.

How they play, as well as how they act, reveals what they have been taught, how they have been trained, and how effective we have been. Charlotte would have us subtly examine their play for signs of what they need to be taught in the future, rather than intervening every time.

I am sure there are exceptions to this, so let's not get all crazy about it. Charlotte is talking about parents acting on principles, not rules.

Okay, so what about mother inventing these games with the children? I am sure a bit of this is harmless, but Charlotte tells the mother who is working hard to keep her children occupied to beware:
No doubt they enjoy these games which are made for them, but there is a serious danger. In this matter the child who goes too much on crutches never learns to walk; he who is most played with by his elders has little power of inventing plays for himself; and so he misses that education which comes to him when allowed to go his own way...
I have heard some mothers tell me that their children are just not capable of entertaining themselves. I had a child I thought was a little like that. I am a firm believer in playing with such children less, letting them get painfully bored, while also making sure they are filled up with great stories as fodder for their minds, and turning off all the crutches in their lives: battery-powered toys, electronic games, computers, television, and movies. None of these things are outright evil, but they impact the mind's ability, and if the mind is showing signs of weakness, we need to remove the things which are keeping it from getting its proper workout.

Initiative in Work

Yes, we give orders, do we not? We plan their school days, and tell them exactly what to do--what to read, what to copy in their copybooks, and so on. Charlotte is in favor of this; she is not an unschooler by any stretch of imagination. But Charlotte also believes in free time, and work in which the children have a choice, in which they can invent their own occupations.

Charlotte gives the example of children planning and publishing a school magazine together. The teachers gave them free-reign. The children prescribed their own work, choosing poetry or prose or essays as they wished.
The children's thought was stimulated, and they felt they had it in them to say much about a doll's ball, Peter, the school cat, or whatever other subject struck their fancy.
Again, we see that Charlotte is keeping the mother or headmistress from smothering the child, from controlling too much, directing the child to the point of making him weak.

Letting Them Fail

Have you ever met a mother who is still rushing her high-school-aged child's forgotten lunch or homework to school? Writing him excuses for being late when the cause was irresponsibility? Relieving him of responsibility for whatever it is that is troubling him? Well, if not, perhaps you have met the mother who does all of the remembering for him? She reminds him about his lunch, his papers, his jacket, his money, his keys, and so on and so forth until, Charlotte says, the child has no longer any will or strength of his own, but requires prodding for every single event of his life. Charlotte writes:
We prod them continually and do not let them stand or fall by their own efforts....What we must guard against in the training of children is the danger of their getting into the habit of being prodded to every duty and every effort.
When I worked at Biola, I remember my boss saying that many of these students were so spoiled, they needed their mommies and daddies to come along to university and hold their hand, helping them remember to turn in each assignment on time, to properly manage their meal plans, etcetera. The point was that the children had been so handicapped by their parents, they were failing at the beginning of their "adult" life.
It would be better for boys and girls to suffer the consequences of not doing their work, now and then, than to do it because they are so urged and prodded on all hands that they have no volition in the matter. The more we are prodded the lazier we get, and the less capable of the effort of will which should carry us to, and nearly carry us through, our tasks.
Much easier to fail in the safety of the home when they are young and resilient, no? Then, they will succeed when they leave home.

Choosing Their Own Friends

Here we must begin with a caveat, for it sounds crazy. Children {and the childish} are notorious for choosing poor companions. So what is Charlotte about? Charlotte is about teaching your children well at home before they enter into situations where they might choose their own friends. Children will still make mistakes of course, especially if they are of the less discerning sort, but parents, she suggests, should watch, with a wry smile, while their child struggles a bit with having chosen the wrong friend:
If Fred has made a companion of Harry Jones, and Harry is not a nice boy, Fred will find the fact out as soon as his mother if he is let alone, and will probably come for advice and help as to the best way of getting out of an intimacy which does not really please him.
If the child has been reading good books all along, and reading The Good Book all along, he is going to have a sense of what makes a good or bad friend. So here we see Charlotte is not suggesting license, but rather allowing the child to flex his friend-choosing muscles...and fail sometimes.

I am constantly reminded of how helpful good books are. The other day, a child asked me why so many men were traitors. We had just read an account of Joseph Reed betraying General Washington's friendship during the War for Independence, and the child was wondering about other betrayals--King Harry breaking his promise to Robin Hood, for instance. Living books are teaching us all of the time, even {or perhaps most especially} when we are very young.

I am reminded of a set of letters a friend and I are using with our children this coming school year. The elder brother writes to the younger brother:
From your earliest infancy you have been taught to avoid bad companions, and I hope you see the importance of this more and more.
It seems logical that if we have neglected training these things in our children "from infancy," we are going to have trouble in this area, no matter which way we turn. Giving freedom would be equivalent to giving license, but not giving freedom would also bring troubles of its own. Better to train.

Also: Charlotte allows for Mother and Father to show signs of subtle disapproval, but she likewise fears that an outright home boycott might cement a relationship which would otherwise fade in time. In context, it becomes evident that Charlotte lived in a time where parents were holding opinions about their children's friends based not on character, but on status. All of that to say, today's struggles are somewhat different.

Spending their Pocket-money

The caveat this time is almost exactly the same as the last section: training ought to have preceded the freedom. Remember, Volume 1: Home Education covered various training of children under the age of nine. So we can assume that these freedoms are being given {for the first time} to children between, say, eight and twelve. So, now, here is the caveat:
No father who doles out the weekly pocket-money and has never given his children any large thoughts about money--as to how the smallest income is divisible into the share that we give, and the share that we keep, and the share that we save for some object worth possessing, to be had, perhaps, after weeks or months of saving...--such a father cannot expect his children to think of money in any light but as a means to self-indulgence.
So we give children the freedom, and if they fail, they come to understand these lessons better.

Charlotte also suggests a slow, making over of a budget. So, for instance, when giving money to a daughter, you first expect her to buy her own gloves, and then other accessories, and so on and so forth, until she is managing her own clothing budget.

American girls learn to pay for their own clothing by earning the money for it. {Just ask Louisa May Alcott!} My parents had their daughters working and paying for their own clothing before high school graduation, something I think was very good for us.

We do not give our children pocket-money, but we have occasionally paid them for going above and beyond their normal duties, and they have earned money working for relatives, plus they receive money for birthdays and Christmas. I think we have neglected a lot of training in this area, so this will be something we can aim for this coming year. For our son, we have often discussed his purchases. How can a child identify something worth buying? What is an investment? We have talked about investing in things that will last--buying art supplies to become a better artist, building his own library, supplies for projects he wants to do...rather than buying toys which are designed to be admired and then disposed of.

I often struggle with the child who wants to give everything in the piggy bank away. Charlotte would tell me that I am supposed to give that child freedom, while keeping up the training that will form monetary habits and inclinations.

Freedom to Form Opinions

When I read this, I was reminded of my parents, and what a wonderful balance they kept when I was growing up. On the one hand, I come from a long line of opinionated people. On the other hand, I don't recall ever feeling "forced" to agree, though I was exposed to a lot of persuasive material. My father, for instance, didn't tell me that global warming was a farce and I mustn’t pay my "science" teachers any heed {even though he likely believed just that}. Instead, he handed me Dixy Lee Ray's brilliant book, Trashing the Planet, and discussed it with me afterwards.

Cindy recently tackled this idea when she wrote this:
[D]ialectic maturity is what gives a person moral strength. My question is what happens to children who do not go through a sort of questioning. I am especially interested in exploring this idea from a Christian subculture where we tend to place high premiums on conformity.
I am reminded, again, of Socrates and his gentle questioning. We want the children to form Good opinions, but we sometimes forget that opinions are formed rather than commanded, and that too many children inadvertently leave the nest unprepared for opposition. In Volume V: Formation of Character, Mason references what I believe was an early sort of apologetic text, and she yearned for parents to give their children the sorts of books which deal with the hard questions. Mason, obviously, was writing before we had well-developed apologetics for various issues. We today are blessed by a broad variety of resources which we can offer to our children, to read through and think about on their own, or, perhaps even better, to debate as a family.

In regard to civics, Charlotte suggested that we fire the children with patriotism and the duties of citizenship rather than partisanship. What wonderful insight!

The End

We've come to the end of the chapter, though I'm sure we could think of more application. Mothers today seem to fall into one of two categories--either overbearing and controlling on the one hand, or negligent and uninvolved on the other. I, for one, have struggled with the former, and then often overcorrected to the latter, which resulted in sibling squabbles because there was no Authority behind my uninvolvement. I pray that I am moving into that sort of maturity in which my inactivity is that of a confident, serene, masterly mother, who is willing to allow her children to learn under the tutorship of Nature and Natural Law.

27 July 2010

Backyard Concerts: WOW!

So it has been almost two weeks since our backyard concert by The Wintons, and I am still impressed. I don't know what I expected. On the one hand, I knew they were real professionals, with their own CD even. On the other hand, the concert was in my backyard.

With the weeds.

And the ducks.

Did I mention the weeds?

And so on.

So I guess I expected it to be fine, and a lot of fun, and nice to meet Lisa in real life.

What we got was a real, live, amazing concert.

And all that other stuff--fun, fellowship, food...and, of course, Lisa and family.

What can I say? They are good people, those Wintons.

And, my, can they play! Si cooked up a little clip for the blog. Sorry the angle isn't better!


Those Winton men had fingers that flew so fast on the strings, you couldn't quite see them. It was a joy to hear them play (and sing)!

If you get the chance, have The Wintons play in your very own yard (or church, or wedding, or birthday party, or what have you). Check their schedule, and if you find they are going to be in your area, look them up and see if you can book them.

You'll be glad you did!

26 July 2010

At School with Charlotte: Masterly Inactivity and Classicism's Wry Smile

[Masterly inactivity] indicates the power to act,
the desire to act, and the insight and self-restraint
which forbid action.

--Charlotte Mason

The phrase "masterly inactivity" is thrown around CM {Charlotte Mason, for those of you just joining us} circles, and I have spent years not knowing what it meant! It is quite the relief to feel enlightened after wandering in the dark for some time. To begin with, I now know that masterly inactivity is something performed by, or, more accurately, a quality belonging to, the mother of the children. For some reason I had always thought it was a quality of the children. See what I mean by in the dark?

Totally clueless.

Okay, so what is masterly inactivity, exactly? Well, Charlotte tells us she caught the phrase from Thomas Carlyle, who found the phrase handy, and in 1881 utilized it in a single volume of Fraser's magazine three times, the first in an essay entitled Alone in College, and what came of it:
Meanwhile I was labouring at the door with much energy, although wholly misdirected. My rooms were on the upper floor, so that the door was our only chance; but it was of tough wood and opened inwards, opposing to all aggression a policy of masterly inactivity: I had no tools, and neither kicks nor blows made the smallest impression upon it.
Perhaps Charlotte thought it might be helpful if mothers were more like that door, immovable and unimpressed. There are two other instances of the use of this phrase, but neither so vivid as this of the oaken door, standing strong in the face of conflict.

This picture of the fully mature, immovable {yet gracious, we discover} mother or headmistress or schoolmaster or what-have-you, shares qualities with that teacher who, we learned in Volume 1, is willing to be quiet and wait for her students to think and subsequently wonder and ask questions, rather than telling them things they haven't yet wondered about. And David Hicks echoed Charlotte when he declared that
Only the careless and unskilled teacher answers questions before they are asked. The teacher's chief task is to provoke the question, not to answer it; to cultivate in his students an active curiosity, not to inundate them in factual information.
Of course both Charlotte and Socrates believed that it was appropriate to turn the situation around, with the teacher asking questions of the students. Charlotte, for instance, said:
The child must think, get at the reason why of things for himself, every day of his life, and more each day than the day before. Children and parents both are given to invert this educational process. The child asks 'Why?' and the parent answers, rather proud of this evidence of thought in his child. There is some slight show of speculation even in wondering 'Why?' but it is the slightest and most superficial effort the thinking brain produces. Let the parent ask 'Why?' and the child produce the answer, if he can. After he has turned the matter over and over in his mind, there is no harm in telling him––and he will remember it––the reason why.
Likewise, David Hicks wrote of Socrates:
He constantly reminded his students that he was not interested in proving them right or wrong or in showing himself right. Rather, he asked them simply to have patience with his "stupid questions" and to pursue their own "brilliant answers" to their logical conclusions in thought and action. His humble manner and gentle coaxing painted on the face of classical education, a wry smile that has never left it. The classical schoolmaster is still a gadfly, clothed in humor, because his task cuts across the human grain; he embraces this task knowing that only men and women who want to know the truth more than to be proven right will accept dialectical challenges and not regard reason with suspicion and fear.
I add this in because that classical schoolmaster, smiling knowingly at his students, is the exact posture to which Charlotte is referring. It is a picture we can keep in our minds as we study this strange concept of "masterly inactivity"--Socrates, unhurried and confident, completely in control of his class, remaining silent when appropriate, asking questions when appropriate, knowing not just what to do, but knowing the wisdom of waiting patiently. He was, at times, masterly inactive.

Understanding the Times

Like all of us, Charlotte was a product of the time in which she lived. She begins her chapter by explaining the way things are upon the date of her writing. First of all, she tells us that the previous generation engaged in a high level of self-responsibility. They took ownership for what they were like, how they conducted themselves, and their own moral behavior. At the time Charlotte was writing, people had begun to take themselves a little less seriously, accepting some of their own faults with good humor. But there was still a weight being carried, she tells us:
The sense of responsibility still rests upon us with a weight 'heavy as frost'; we have only shifted it to the other shoulder. The more serious of us are quite worn with the sense of what we owe to those about us, near and far off.
Charlotte even attributed a recent {at the time} updated Bible translation to this sense of responsibility which bred a generalized anxiety. The King James Version had translated Philippians 4:6 as:
Be careful for nothing; but in every thing by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God.
Careful, here, means full of care in a more general sense than we use it today. The Revised Version, though, had removed the phrase "be careful for nothing" and replaced it with "be not anxious for your life." Charlotte says this is a sign of the times. The people felt responsible for everyone and everything about them--for the sick, the poor, the suffering, and so on. Even more so, then, was the feeling of responsibility towards one's own family:
People feel that they can bring up their children to be something more than themselves, and that they ought to do so, and that they must; and it is to this keen sense of higher parental duty that the Parents' Union owes its successful activity.
The problem with this rather optimistic transition was that it expressed itself in anxiety and worry. Again, I can't help but think that Charlotte has rather a lot to say to us today, for are we not full of hand-wringing over everything from what the children are eating, to whether they are behind in their developmental progress, to whether we are giving them all we might or ought within our own domestic schools?

I don't know about you, but I need Charlotte's message. I need to take a deep breath, and not worry so very much. I need to be anxious for nothing. This is a tall order, especially considering that
[w]e ought to do so much for our children, and are able to do so much for them, that we being to think everything rests with us and that we should never intermit for a moment our conscious action on the young minds and hearts about us.
In what behaviors does this worry display itself?
Our endeavors become fussy and restless. We are too much with our children, 'late and soon.' We try to dominate them too much, even when we fail to govern, and we are unable to perceive that wise and purposeful letting alone is the best part of education.
This reminded me of a hot day on which I gave my one-year-old his first cup of ice water. My mother and I actually discussed whether or not to help him, but in the end we found that the quickest road was through failure. The day was hot, the water cold and shocking to tender skin, and one false move was all it took to train him in drinking with care.

The point, of course, is not letting alone, but that proper sort of letting alone which is wise and purposeful. Otherwise, we are simply negligent.

What Does Masterly Inactivity Look Like?

Charlotte, as usual, gives us a nice long list with which to flesh out this ideal, to identify what it is...and also what it isn't.
  • Coupled with Authority: If you recall, this volume begins with authority for a reason. Charlotte is going to keep coming back to authority as her cornerstone. Here she writes:
    The mastery is not over ourselves, only; there is also a sense of authority, which our children should be as much aware of when it is inactive as when they are doing our bidding.
    The children rest in the parent's authority {if it be proper} because, just like God's authority, it makes them free:
    They are free under authority, which is liberty; to be free without authority is license.
  • Good Humour: This masterly inactivity--this self-possession, if you will--requires a certain attitude.
    ...frank, cordial, natural, good humour. This is quite a different thing from overmuch complacency, and a general giving-in to all the children's whims.
    Good humor, according to Charlotte, requires that we know when to say "no" and when to say "yes"--when, for instance, to give the children the day off from their studies. Bedtime was holy and set apart in the 1800s, but today, those of us who maintain a strict bedtime might include knowing when to let them stay up reading {or being read to} as another example. All of the qualities of masterly inactivity, including good humor, are nuanced and subtle:
    The masterly 'yes' and the abject 'yes' are quite different notes.
  • Self-Confidence: Charlotte says we should trust ourselves more, be confident in our position as parents, in our relationship with our children, and so on. She contrasts self-confidence here with that anxiety which she mentioned at the start of the chapter. The anxious parent is revealing their insecurity.
    [T]he fussy parent, the anxious parent, the parent who explains overmuch, who commands overmuch, who excuses overmuch, who restrains overmuch, who interferes overmuch, even the parent who is with the children overmuch, does away with the dignity and simplicity of that relationship...
    If there is anything modern life drives us to be, it is fussy. We parents are supposed to protect our children from every little bump and bruise, keep them away from strangers {because they might be pedophiles, right?}, make sure they don't climb too high or jump too far, keep them away from traffic, and so on. If your child has food allergies, you also know what it is like to become the Food Police, compulsively reading labels, shying away from shared meals where someone else prepared the food. Some of the dangers are real. Some are not. Regardless, the fear and overactive sense of responsibility make us anxious {and pushes out a sense of God's sovereignty, I might add}. Charlotte urges us to turn off the Smother Mother and rest. After all, God built our houses, and He can sustain them, too.
  • Keeping it to Ourselves: When we are worrying about something {and we will!}, we are not to share it, especially during the time we are struggling with it. It is one thing to share a solution {you have a bad habit, and we are going fix it by doing x, etc.}, it is quite another to invite the children into the struggle, sayeth Charlotte, who gives the example of a child of ten worrying that she is "behind" other children her age. Such things are
    displeasing, because one feels instinctively that the child is occupied with cares which belong to the parent only. The burden of their children's training must be borne by the parents alone. But let them bear it with easy grace and an erect carriage...
  • Confidence in the Children: Expect them to obey; trust that they will do so. Worrying about the possibility of disobedience is not masterly inactivity.
  • Be Omniscient: This is an art! And what a lovely one. We must always know what they are about without using the heavy hand of force. All of this must, again, be subtle.
    [S]he must see without watching, know without telling, be on the alert always, yet never obviously, fussily, so. This open-eyed attitude must be sphinx-like in its repose.
    Because the mother knows, the child's desire to do good is reinforced. But because mother is not there, literally watching his every move, his own character flowers, its muscles strengthened by choosing to obey on his own, without compulsion. If this sounds like a fine line, after further reading, I can only conclude that it is a very fine line.
  • Allowing for Free Will: Again, we see that delicate balance. Charlotte describes children as existing in a delicate balance between free will...and fate:
    He has liberty, that is, with a sense of must behind it to relieve him of that unrest which comes with the constant effort of decision. He is free to do as he ought, but ...he is not free to do that which he ought not. {emphasis mine}
    The child, in other words, is just like us. He is free to do right in as many ways as he wishes. He is not free to do wrong, to lie, to disobey, and so on. Charlotte described this phenomenon as almost "too subtle to be grasped" but I was fascinated by it because of its similarity to man in the garden. He had liberty in regard to all the trees in the garden, save one. Charlotte says of ourselves,
    We are free to go in the ways of right living, and have the happy sense of liberty of choice, but the ways of transgressors are hard. We are aware of a restraining hand in the present, and of sure and certain retribution in the future. Just this delicate poise is to be aimed at for the children.
  • Serenity: Charlotte here talks about, essentially, protecting the mother's internal peace. Let the mother go out to play! she says. Her recommendation is that the mother, having hit upon tense times, take a bit of time off...without the children. I cringed here. I admit it: I did. I have always had angst concerning the idea of "me time," and part of the reason is that I think that, culturally, we prefer to grasp at "me time" rather than build lives that are actually livable. With that said, we also have on our hands a culture in which some moms feel guilty for using the bathroom alone. If a day alone at an art museum is going to help a mom balance her life out a bit, so be it. Charlotte's point is not what we do or do not do, but the underlying attitude of serenity, being a mother who is at peace with the world, and confident as a result.
  • Leisure: The stress of rushing through life or through important events can result from different things. Charlotte mentions deciding to do something a week in advance, something which really requires a month--how much more pleasurable to have had the whole month, rather than a stress-filled week! And how sad the result:
    Nellie has suffered physically and morally in doing what, if it had been thought of a month beforehand, would have been altogether wholesome and delightful.
    When we plan crazy busy days, we have to be careful. Charlotte says that our own stress is contagious:
    We do more than we can ourselves, our nerves are 'on end,' what with the fatigue and what with the little excitement, and everybody in the house or the school is uncomfortable. Again, the children take advantage, so we say; the real fact being that they have caught their mother's mood and are fretful and tiresome. {emphasis mine}
    Again, I see that Charlotte is not saying whether we should or should not do any particular thing, but is rather addressing our approach and scolding us for, essentially, unnerving our own children with our anxious, stressful ways. Leisure is the basis of culture, some say. A sense of repose is necessary for sound thinking and peaceful lives, so perhaps pursuing that sense of leisure is doing a thing which makes for peace.
  • Faith: Charlotte says faith is the "highest form of confidence," which makes it a great place to end, for confidence seems to be the common theme throughout. Charlotte saved the best for last. We are not, she says, everything to our children, nor should we aspire to be. We have a solemn task, to be sure, but we are not gods. The Father is still sovereign:
    When we recognise that God does not make over the bringing up of children absolutely even to their parents, but that He works Himself, in ways which is must be our care not to hinder, in the training of every child, then we shall learn passiveness, humble and wise.
And with that, we conclude the discussion of chapter three. Chapter four, Charlotte tells us, will apply the concept of masterly inactivity to particular situations, once again putting feet on her ideas, that we might all walk about in her wisdom.

23 July 2010

At School with Charlotte: How Authority Behaves

Chapter one of School Education revealed that one of Charlotte's goals is to "restore Authority to its ancient place as an ultimate fact," and that capital-A is not an accident. God created hierarchy and delegated a certain amount of authority to those of us upon the earth (some of us more than others), and, at the end of the day, our submission to authority reflects our submission to Authority, if you know what I mean.
Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right.

Ephesians 6:1
Wives, be subject to your own husbands, as to the Lord.

Ephesians 5:22
Wives, be subject to your husbands, as is fitting in the Lord.

Colossians 3:18
Slaves, in all things obey those who are your masters on earth, not with external service, as those who merely please men, but with sincerity of heart, fearing the Lord. Whatever you do, do your work heartily, as for the Lord rather than for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the reward of the inheritance It is the Lord Christ whom you serve.

Colossians 3:22-24
And so on and so forth.

In respecting the hierarchy, we respect the One who {1} made it and {2} is the ultimate Authority over all.

Naturally, if Charlotte is on a mission to do something huge like restoring Authority, she's going to have to tell her readers exactly what that looks like, and that, my friends, is what she does in chapter two.

But first she tells us what misguided authority--what she calls autocracy--looks like so that we have something to compare it to:
Authority is no uneasy; captious, harsh and indulgent by turns. This is the action of autocracy, which is self-sustained as it is self-derived, and is impatient and resentful, on the watch for transgressions, and swift to take offence. Autocracy has a drastic penal code...It has, too, many commandments....
Hm. My mothering has looked like that more than once.

But I digress.

Authority, on the other hand, has a whole list of details, which we'll divide into neat little bullet points, just for fun:
  • Authority is "neither harsh nor indulgent. She is gentle and easy to be entreated in all matters immaterial, just because she is immovable in matters of real importance; for these, there is always a fixed principle."
  • God-given authority is a stewardship for which we are accountable. Therefore, we do not have the ability to negotiate where we please:
    They have no authority to allow children in indulgences--in too many sweetmeats, for example--or in habits which are prejudicial to health; nor to let them off from any plain duty of obedience, courtesy, reverence, or work.
  • Wise authority manages to balance the necessary diligence with "showing mercy with cheerfulness:"
    [T]imely clemency, timely yielding, is a great secret of strong government.
  • Wise authority has trained the child in habits of "mechanical obedience." The merits of this were loudly proclaimed in Volume 1: Home Education. Suffice it to say here that we are creatures of habit, and building good habits will make for smooth and peaceful days in the home. This obedience is prompt and involuntary because it is a habit, which saves the child from the effort of decision.
  • Wise authority spares the child from having to make many decisions.
  • When new rules and situations arise, proper authority, on the one hand, makes sure the child obeys "for this is right," rather than "because I said so," and on the other hand manages to explain the reason why whenever appropriate, but in a way which does not jeopardize the child's respect for said authority.
  • Wise authority is alert and has a good amount of foresight.
    It is well to prepare for trying efforts: 'We shall have time to finish this chapter before the clock strikes seven'; or, 'we shall be able to get in one more round before bedtime.' Nobody knows better than the wise mother the importance of giving a child time to collect himself for a decisive moment...A little forethought is necessary to arrange that occupations do come to an end at the right moment; that bedtime does not arrive in the middle of a chapter, or at the most exciting moment of a game.
    In our house, my husband is known for saying "come to a stopping point soon" or something like that, so that the game or the book or whatever has fair warning before it must be terminated or closed or what have you. {We learned this the hard way.}

    I might add here that wise authority also recognizes signs. I made a major mistake this week while visiting with family. I chose to ignore that my two littles were getting tired. The result was that, rather than ending on a pleasant note, I escorted a screaming three-year-old to my car. I knew better, but I was enjoying myself and I didn't practice the necessary self-denial.

    Lesson learned!
  • True authority knows from whence {or from Whom, rather} it derives its power. Because of this, she perseveres in habit training:
    Let us not despise the day of small things nor grow weary in well-doing; if we have trained our children from their earliest years to prompt mechanical obedience, well and good; we reap our reward.
    And authority is, ultimately, rooted and established in love:
    Authority is that aspect of love which parents present to their children; parents know it is love, because to them it means continual self-denial, self-repression, self-sacrifice: children recognize it as love, because to them it means quiet rest and gaiety of heart. Perhaps the best aid to the maintenance of authority in the home is for those in authority to ask themselves daily that question which was presumptuously put to our Lord--"Who gave Thee this authority?"
I like that. I think that next time I am worn down from training an almost-two-year-old and a three-year-old at the same time {when we had babies a year-and-a-half apart, I am glad I didn't realize some of the implications!} I will do two things: remind myself of the teaching of Scripture, that I musn't grow weary in doing good, and also remind myself from Whom my authority is derived, that I might not squander my stewardship.

Authority and Democracy

I am realizing more and more that the principles of democracy tend to taint our minds in other areas. Don't get me wrong--I am a big fan {as long as it is a democratic republic of which we speak}. The problem is in trying to run other institutions {the family, the Church, the school, and so on} as a democracy. The form is quite inappropriate, to be sure. Ideally, we would have the proper form for each sphere of life.

Last night, we were reading a bit more from David McCullough's 1776, where I learned that this thought it nothing new. During the War for Independence, a driving force and passion was that the colonists had outgrown the whole idea of a monarchy. They were a democratic society and expected the attending respect from their King. They were democratic to the core, and this jeopardized the war! McCullough quotes Joseph Reed, General Washington's personal aide, on whom he greatly relied:
To attempt to introduce discipline and subordination into a new army must always be a work of much difficulty...but where the principles of democracy so universally prevail, where so great an equality and so thorough a leveling spirit predominates, either no discipline can be established, or he who attempts it must become odious and detestable, a position which no one will choose.
David Hicks talks about a similar situation when he discusses a "democratic classroom model" in Norms and Nobility. The point of Hicks' reasoning is that the hierarchical structure where it is fitting--in the home and school, for example--will actually reinforce healthy democracy in the public square. Since we live in a democracy {Charlotte didn't--at least, not quite}, we need to keep in mind that retaining a sort of benevolent, respectful dictatorship {for lack of a better word} at home actually reinforces freedom. Hicks explained that it served as a dialectic--in this case, a sort of contrast of opposites which, ideally, rather than tearing each other down, actually reinforced each other.

22 July 2010

At School with Charlotte: Beginning with Authority

It is always interesting to discover Charlotte's beginnings. If you recall from Volume 1: Home Education: Educating and Training Children Under Nine, we find that the subject of her first chapter was not randomly selected, but rather the most important thing, the collection of ideas which formed the very foundation upon which everything else might rest--she commenced with what she called preliminary considerations. These were the nature of children, of God's commands in regard to them, and so on.

In Volume 3: School Education: Developing a Curriculum, we find that Charlotte begins with two concepts: authority and docility. She equates them to a ball-and-socket joint, two complementary parts that require one another to work. She didn't offer a clear and concise definition of either word, so I decided to use my handy dandy Webster's 1828 Dictionary to get me started. Webster sayeth:
AUTHOR'ITY, n. [L. auctoritas.]

Legal power, or a right to command or to act; as the authority of a prince over subjects, and of parents over children. Power; rule; sway.
This fits with Charlotte's discussion, especially when she notes that true authority is derived not from the individual wielding it, but from the office the individual holds. Likewise, I found Webster helpful here:

Teachableness; readiness to learn; aptness to be taught.
Authority can be wielded over unruly subjects, but it's a hard life for the one in power. Likewise, docility means that the heart is so ready and willing to learn that the authority should be wielded properly, rather than arbitrarily.

The wielding of authority is given lengthy discussion in Charlotte's first chapter. She explains that her generation was almost entirely reared by parents exercising an arbitrary authority, and that this is not entirely a failure upon the part of the previous generation, for they managed to mold many impressive, truly great men. However, she also explains that this childrearing approach also resulted in a giant chasm between adults and children.

Charlotte, it seems, would wish there to have been more intimacy between parents and children, even while the parents exercise their proper authority.

Eliminating Authority Entirely

Charlotte goes on to explain the spirit of the day, where many are being tempted to dispense with authority altogether. {Miss Mason, by the way, has an amazing power--she looks deep into her subject and identifies cause and effect with facility.} So our friend Charlotte points the finger directly at John Locke--thanks to the TV series LOST, I will always envision him as a middle-aged bald man who carries knives--who popularized the doctrine of "infallible reason." Miss Mason explains that Locke actually believed that only the reason of a man with a fully-trained reason and a mind "instructed as to the merits of the particular case" could be deemed infallible, but that the masses took the doctrine and dispensed with the proviso, and the rest is history.

She then traces history, {rightly} blaming Locke for his share of fault in that disaster we refer to as the French Revolution, and so on and so forth.

So why is this important, and what does it have to do with authority, arbitrary or otherwise? Well, let's take a look at what was happening in Britain in her day. Herbert Spencer had imported Locke's philosophy and applied it to education, and Charlotte was trembling in her boots. The Doctrine of Infallible Reason "leads to the dethronement of authority," says Charlotte.


Well, because of the nature of authority that the British at the time {and I think ourselves today as well} had adopted. It was an arbitrary authority, depending upon the person rather than the office. In regard to parenthood, Charlotte has a few examples of this sort of authority sprinkled throughout her chapter {and more in the second chapter, which further develops this subject}.
Parents and teachers, because their subjects are so docile and so feeble, are tempted more than others to the arbitrary temper, to say--Do thus and thus because I bid you.
If you recall from Home Education, she compared this "because I say so," to a different approach: "because you ought" and "because this is right." The situation may result in the same action on the part of the child {obedience}, but rather than being trained to obey what is perceived to be the arbitrary will of the parent, the child is instead introduced to the idea of his obligations and duties. In other words, he is submitting himself to the laws of God and nature.

But "because this is right" was not the reigning rationale in Charlotte's youth. Once authority was deemed to have an arbitrary nature {and only and arbitrary nature}, it was easily dispensed with...especially when my own reason is deemed infallible. Charlotte calls this "doing right in our own eyes" {quoting the book of Judges, among others}. To some extent, this was an early form of what we think of as postmodernism--there is no authority, and even if I don't know, who's to say that you know any better than I do? You have no right {no authority!} to tell me what to do!


So we see that our time and Charlotte's time suffered from a similar disease.

Why does any of this matter?

Well, let's return to David Hicks for a moment:
Love is the principle of truth in philosophy and of beauty in art that draws the spirit of man off center to participate imaginatively in the object of beauty or truth...Unlike self-denial or self-negation, love is a positive force, but it requires an object above the self for which the self is transcended. Once the knowledge of this transcendent object is established, whether by reason, by example, or by faith, love binds a person to this object. This binding is the supreme aim of classical education, the union of knowledge and responsibility tantamount to the formation of the virtuous man.
A proper Christian education binds students to the Father in love. Charlotte knew that this was exactly what was at stake in building an educational philosophy on the faulty foundation of Infallible Reason:
[Parents] accept the philosopher's teaching when he bids them bring up children without authority in order to give them free room for self-development; without perceiving, or perhaps knowing, that it is the labour of the author's life to eliminate the idea of authority from the universe, that he repudiates the authority of parents because it is a link in the chain which binds the universe to God...When we take up [Spencer's] volume on education,...we must bear in mind that we have put ourselves under the lead of a philosopher who overlooks nothing, who regards the least important things from the standpoint of their final issue, and who would not have the little child do as he is bid lest he should learn, as a man, to obey that authority, other than himself, which we believe to be Divine. {emphasis mine}
Today, Spencer's legacy is alive and well. I remember when my oldest was a toddler, the popular parenting magazines were reminding all of us not to tell our children no, but rather redirect them to something else. Charlotte was big on redirection also, and there is nothing wrong with it per se, but my hunch is that those attempting to eliminate "no" from the family vocabulary had aims other than developing the child's aptitude for future virtue.

Because Education Begins Here

Why would Charlotte begin her volume with this debate? For now, I must speculate, having read only a handful of pages past this point. But I can guess. First, she was trying to connect her book to the issues of the day. Second, and perhaps more importantly, she understood that the concept of learning rests on authority. Once we eliminate authority, no one may teach or correct or instruct and, ultimately, there is no knowledge at all, for even knowledge is authoritative. All certainty disappears, and despair sets in {for those who realize all of this, anyhow}.

Charlotte was trying to stop the world from heading down this road. She was protecting the very nature of education.

Have you ever tried to teach a child who is captivated by his own self, his own reason? Who think he is infallible and there is nothing he can learn from you? I have. I doubt I am alone. We all know that homeschooling such a child is "impossible."

So before we can plan the curriculum, we have to correct the authority problem in the child's life first.

And that, friends, is why Charlotte begins here...because education begins here, too.

21 July 2010

Norms and Nobility: The End

Okay, so I just read the Epilogue of Norms and Nobility, making me officially done with book 2 of 3 for the summer study! I'm totally excited. If I was done painting the bunk beds, the world would be almost perfect. (Unfortunately, bunk beds take time...more than I ever, ever anticipated.)

Book three is...drum roll, please...School Education by Charlotte Mason! Hooray! (Of course, I already told you that a month ago, but I'm jazzed again, so please bear with me.)

I don't have a ton to say about the Epilogue because it was very epilogue-y.

You know. It summarized itself.

And so on.

So I will leave off with a handful of final quotes, and then we'll dig into the next book.

In education, this preoccupation with false or trivial questions makes the student adept at "faking it," that is, at finding the right answers to the wrong questions, questions he has never really asked himself, questions without normative consequence or implication.
Aristotle...wanted education to teach the young how to use their leisure for reaching the full stature of their humanity and how to realize their greatest happiness in the life of virtue.
Doesn't this sound like Charlotte Mason?
The average student has been given no mythology on which to build his or her life other than a glut of movies and television dramas and no ideal models other than a cult of rock and sports idols. He has failed to develop the habits of mind necessary for further learning: concentration, inquisitiveness, intuition, memory, logical process, and industry...
"Education," wrote John Ruskin, "does not mean teaching people to know what they do not know; it means teaching them to behave as they do not behave."
And finally:
True learning is normative: it measures what is against what ought to be. It asks why, as well as why not.

20 July 2010

Norms and Nobility: Thoughts on Art

Out of all the various aspects of a classical education mentioned by both Miss Mason in Home Education and Mr. Hicks in Norms and Nobility, art is the one I struggle with the most. I don't mean looking at art, mind you. I mean making art -- drawing, painting, and so on and so forth. If there is one area in which I still retain a smidgen of a modern mindset, it is art.

I am trying to remedy this, of course.

Hicks hits hard on the idea of universal art education. In order to understand Hicks' argument on art, we have to understand his assertions regarding paideia {which, if you recall, is a blanket term for full immersion education--culture and school stitched together into a rich gown which clothes the children of a noble society}:
The paideutic man's attitude toward such activities as painting, drawing, violin playing, dancing, and acting is amateurish, not professional. He knows that one cannot learn the culture defined by these activities passively. Since culture is the unique property of the participant, not of the spectator, the classical academy resists the modern tendency to select only the most talented for participating. {emphasis mine}

The antithesis between classical culture and modern culture is helpful here for me. In classical culture, there were high rates of participation. Everyone built culture together. In modern culture, we are passive. A few put on a show for the many, and the many's approach to "culture" is entertainment-based, which is to say, almost slothful at heart. We do nothing. We are merely spectators.

I am reminded of Howard Pyle's Robin Hood. Are there minstrels wandering around? Yes. But when dinner is cleared away and it is time for singing, every man is there participating. Many of the main characters in the book sing solos. There is a sense of participation in every sense of the word in the culture that the Merry Men have built amongst themselves, and also in the culture at large in England at the time. What a contrast to today’s world!

Hicks suggests that moderns do not study art because all art is viewed as merely entertainment for the spectators, on the one hand, and a source of income for the performers, on the other.
What is the value of art as a simple act of self-expression or of worship if the school ignores man's individual and religious domains? Why should a student, lacking the intention or ability to become Segovia, wish to master the classical guitar? Why should he squander hours on painstaking practice without the expectation of social acclaim or monetary reward, especially when the pleasure of listening to a Vivaldi concerto can be had simply by putting a record on the stereo? Ultimately, what is the utility of expending state monies and teachers' energies on students with limited artistic abilities and amateurish ambitions?

This modern mindset has spread to many churches where worship has become a production by the few for the sake of the many. Choirs have been all but eliminated, and that is particularly interesting because they were, to some extent, symbolic of participation. Choir music, with the exception of highly elaborate production pieces, is written with participation in mind. Its rhythm is easy for an amateur to follow. The point is for everyone to sing together. Compare this with today's generic worship band, putting on a concert, displaying their abilities to sing complicated pieces, and in consequence sacrificing the ability of the average parishioner to keep up and sing along. We once attended a church in Los Angeles with an amazingly talented worship ministry. I was so impressed that it took me a long time to realize that it was all really a concert.

Of course, the general lack of music education doesn't help, because it puts the parishioner at a disadvantage at the outset.

Hicks wants every single student to study art regardless of talent or ability. And here is why:
[T]he classical academy, intent on educating each individual for an abundant, responsible life in all his domains, grants to the arts individual and religious value in addition to the social and political. Paideia defines civilization not as a collection of art objects or political institutions or cultural happenings, but as the average man's level of participation in the affairs of art, literature, worship, invention, and polity. ...

The proposal for a classical education makes obligatory each student's constant participation in both the fine and performing arts....The classical academy's performing arts program guarantees a place for every student, regardless of his ability or previous experience....

Neither are the fine arts offered on a take-it-or-leave-it basis in the school of arts and languages. "I don't like art," or "My child is not creative," or "Art is not practical"--how often have we heard these attacks on art education! Yet the inability to find pleasure in great art is all the more reason to study it, not to be excused from the art class; whereas an apparent lack of creativity--whatever that means--will certainly not be corrected by forfeiting the opportunity to gain some artistic knowledge and discipline...

I do think Hicks ignores a big reason why art is not studied in high school: college. Getting into college--the right college -- and getting financial aid {academic scholarships, anyone?} are at the forefront of the modern mind. Any parent who is being deliberate with their child within the modern school is thinking about it and planning for it. Who is going to put their child into tenth grade drawing class -- even if they could use it to "round out their education" -- when their lack of natural talent guarantees a lowering of their GPA {barring miracles}, which in turn jeopardizes their future academic scholarship? We have built a culture that is always worried about the future hoops we have to jump through, and so we specialize in the things we are good at because it protects us and guarantees things for our future.

The beauty of homeschooling, then, is that in removing the children from the dreaded rat race, we become free to round out their education without regard for college

I was actually praying about this off and on over the summer. Ideally, I want to offer such a broad education. Practically, I am not much of an artist, and if there is any area in which I doubt my ability to teach my children, it is in regard to art. I have priced private art education in our area, and I cannot imagine sacrificing so much from our budget for this purpose.

So imagine my delight when Timberdoodle contacted me yesterday and asked if I would take a look at and write a review of this loveliness {for free!}:

After dancing a jig and calling my husband, father, mother, and others to declare our good fortune, I calmly emailed Timberdoodle to let them know we agreed to their proposition.

I'll be reviewing it shortly, and if we fall in love with it, my eight-year-old and I will be learning to draw this coming school year, taking one more step toward building civilization in our own home.

How about you? What do you struggle with? Music? Language? Science?

19 July 2010

Norms and Nobility: On Curriculum and Schools

I always love it when a book on theory turns practical at the end, giving long lists of examples and ideas for putting feet to its grand thoughts. This is precisely what occurs in Part II of Norms and Nobility. Hicks, now that he's convinced us how right he is, shows us what could be, what might be, what ought to be, if we planned curriculum with care and excellence.

I'm not going to run through and summarize all of it, but it is beautiful. It is the education the me now wishes the me back then had had, and it's the education I hope to have, right along side my children. I pulled up Ambleside Online's website, and found the similarity striking, which wasn't surprising since Lynn said that Hicks was an inspiration for the upper years.

What makes it so very beautiful? I suppose the most obvious detail is the simplicity...coupled with an almost complete lack of textbooks. The breadth and depth of an education based upon primary sources thrills my very toes.

If you know what I mean.


So, that's basically it for Chapter 9. It's mostly a beautiful list of Hicks' ideas for a curriculum covering the 7th through 12th grades. Which, naturally, begs the question as to how Hicks would go about preparing a student for those years. I know of very few programs that mold a student capable of this high standard of work--or even the high standard of literacy it requires! {Goodness, we even have a shortage of adults who could take this course of study.} I think Ambleside Online is an obvious choice for getting a child ready for such an undertaking. I am sure there are others that, in the spirit of Charlotte Mason and the classicists of the past, have striven for such things.

Questions for our Schools

Chapter 10 asks a lot of questions to provoke the sort of thoughtful pondering about school that our culture needs. A number of the questions are not really pertinent to home educators. We have the luxury of very little bureaucracy, and lots of flexibility for growing as we go along. But other questions are very much pertinent, no matter who we are and how we are educating. I'll list a sample of the questions I underlined during my reading:
  • What are your school's priorities?...Is your school organized to reflect its priorities? For example, if you believe that ongoing scholarship is important to good teaching, does your school's curriculum and budget reflect this commitment? This got me thinking that we hadn't thought about our priorities in much specificity. Have you? I think it'd be interesting to come up with a list of our top ten priorities, listed in order of importance, so that I have something to work with when making decisions--especially in situations where our budget is limited and I have to choose one thing over another.
  • How do you challenge your faculty to maintain spiritual and intellectual growth, to burn always with a gemlike flame, to infect their students and colleagues with a curiosity in ideas and an enthusiasm for the life of the mind? This is one of the reasons that we have committed {barring all financial disasters, of course} to purchase the CiRCE Conference CDs every year. I know this year's conference was this past week, and I cannot wait for the CDs to make their debut! This conference seriously inspired my husband and I for a full year. I also try and find free sermons, speeches, and presentations that keep up the inspiration.
  • How do you teach better writing? This is an interesting question. For now, I don't spend much time on anything other than exposing them to the best writing I can find. Eventually, when my son is a bit older, I plan to purchase The Lost Tools of Writing. What about you? Some say "write every single day," and I'm wondering about implementing something simple that accomplishes this for Year Three.
  • How do you provoke from your students the important questions?
  • What is your opinion of yourself as a teacher? What do you believe to be your true competence?...[A]re your methods dialectical? How much reading and reflection precedes your entrance into the classroom? That last question is huge. One of the unfortunate consequences from the "no me-time" argument has been to belittle time homeschooling mothers spend reading and thinking. And then we wonder why we have burnout! Yes, there are times {like after the birth of a third or fourth baby and all the other children are under four or six--I'm just saying} when we will have only a few minutes a day to read a tiny snatch of Scripture or a bit of poetry, but I am just not sure how we plan to be inspired to cultivate a spirit of learning in our homes if we ourselves do not spend time learning. Besides, spending time learning is part of the definition of living the good life, and I definitely believe homeschooling should lend itself to such things.
  • Do your students have time...to read beyond the syllabus, and to pursue ideas in informal conversations with you?
  • Do you keep a written record of your teaching methods' successes and failures? This might not be as important when you only have a student or two, but at the same time I have found a written record to be invaluable for teaching reading, and it really does enable me to look back and see what I did right...and wrong. Do any of you keep written records for all that you are doing? What does that look like? I keep my plans from the beginning of the year, and write dates next to each item as it is accomplished. Is this sufficient? I think he is looking for more depth than what is essentially a to-do list.
  • What is your school's ideal image of itself?
  • How do you define the person that you wish your graduate to be? What are his or her peculiar virtues? What is valuable and enduring about your school's stamp upon the student? This is the question I want to put to my husband to answer me in writing. It'll help me hone my priorities throughout the day. I often let Latin slide when I'm short on time, and then I feel guilty. But then I think about it, and I wonder if languages would be anywhere in my husband's description of an ideal graduate. I'm not saying I'll drop languages, but it makes me think that perhaps I drop Latin because I instinctively know it is not one of our top priorities.

Assumptions on Education

Hicks tells us some of his assumptions from which he worked up his curriculum and educational approach, and here are my favorites:
  • Cardinal Newman's description of liberal education remains, to this day, unimpeachable: that which teaches the student "to see things as they are, to go right to the point, to disentangle a skein of thought, to detect what is sophistical, and to discard what is irrelevant. It prepares him to fill any post with credit, and to master any subject with facility."
  • Before he is 18, no one has time to do more than a few things well. If you look in person at Norms and Nobility, you will see that, though the curriculum is most generous, it is also quite simple. Hicks creates "three schools within the school" {all of which must share common goals for a whole education}: maths and sciences, arts and languages, and humane letters. That's all, though he does include some PE in there. But it's a good thing to think about when we start to see all those notebooking people getting all notebook-y* and making us feel like we're not doing enough. There are only a few things we can do well in our youth, and so we focus on the majors, and that's okay. {And the majors will differ from house to house--so if your kids read Rousseau's Social Contract and mine don't, that's okay, too.**}
  • Any subject, no matter how potentially complex, can be taught to any student at any level. The secret is not in what is taught, but in how it is taught. The compromise to the student's level of psychological development should be made by altering the teaching method rather than by substituting facile subject matter. In other words, you don't dumb it down, you figure out how to reach the student in spite of all difficulty. This truth {that anything can be taught at most any age, within reason} is why large homeschooling families with children of a wide age range can all read a single book together and benefit from it. One of our world's most unfortunate characteristics is how polluted it is by the mythology of grade levels.
  • "Nothing--not all the knowledge in the world--" wrote Sir Richard Livingston, "educates like the vision of greatness, and nothing can take its place." Here we have...the Ideal Type.
  • Only the careless and unskilled teacher answers questions before they are asked. The teacher's chief task is to provoke the question, not to answer it; to cultivate in his students an active curiosity, not to inundate them in factual information. Charlotte said something similar, that practically every answer the teacher gives should be in reply to a student's question was the general idea. Goodness, I am constantly struck by the fact that I talk too much. The habit of narration is as good for me as it is for my children--it disciplines me to remember to listen and wait for the questions which inevitably strike them as they are narrating..
  • The teacher has to have a zest for learning, and zeal for learning new things. Expertise and specialization are not required for this--the teacher who is excited about learning all sorts of new things will be very inspiring.
  • The school should not nurture and ape the attitudes and beliefs of popular culture--what Erasmus calls "the false opinions and vicious predilections of the masses"--but it must call these into question with the inherited wisdom of its lofty paideia, its vision of greatness, its ideals of conscience and style. This, my friends, is why we don't have a television in our living room {it is hidden in our room for the occasional movie for the parents and the eight-year-old} and we don't expose our children to lots of electronic media. At the end of the day, our family really cannot do both. If we had TV and video games in our home, they would become the spirit of our home--which means our home would become conformed to the spirit of the age. Wendell Berry once called the television a tube pumping life and meaning out of the home. It would definitely do this to our family. Building a new culture takes extreme steps. {And it's fun!}
  • [E]veryone involved in a classical education is a student, whether teacher or pupil, for only the example of a teacher's learning evokes the creative tension necessary for an effective dialectic within the school. We have to live it out. Good thing we have access to a great God!

*No offense to notebookers who find that notebooking is accomplishing their school's goals.
** I am still trying to decide if we could pull off combining Ambleside with King's Meadow Humanities Curriculum, or if that would be insanely ambitious. I have never taught the upper levels before. Can you tell?? I obviously don't know what I'm talking about...