There’s More to a CM Education Than Narration

Other ways of using books....

Other ways of using books….

As somebody else somewhere said, a little knowledge is a dangerous thing. I don’t know about that, but I do know that sometimes a little knowledge can be a misleading thing.

Charlotte Mason wrote six books outlining her theories on education. She wrote the first book for children under the age of nine, and many of the ideas in that books are specific to that age. She wrote volume 3 for school aged children over from about 9 to 12 or so (perhaps a little older). In volume 6 (my favorite), she recapitulates her general theory of education, and then addresses the specifics for children of roughly high school age.

So people read book one and think that a CM education is all about free play, narration, and short lessons. And it is, for children under nine. As they grow older, CM increased the length of lessons and expanded the sort of work they were doing. They continued narration through-out all their school years, but they began to do other things as well. In Volume 3, Miss Mason says:

“Value of Narration.––The simplest way of dealing with a paragraph or a chapter is to require the child to narrate its contents after a single attentive reading,––one reading, however slow, should be made a condition”

But just a few sentences later, she also says,

“it is not a bad test of education to be able to give the points of a description, the sequence of a series of incidents, the links in a chain of argument, correctly, after a single careful reading.”

This sounds an awful lot like that fancy ‘targeted reading strategy’ stuff we mentioned in an earlier post, doesn’t it? Sometimes we are reading for our own personal use, and we may highlight, underline, and focus on those points that are most significant to us at that time.

I once went through the Bible to find everything I could find on foods and eating in order to discover whether a friend was correct in her opinion that raw foods was a biblical diet (and my findings are why we do eat cooked foods, pork, shellfish, and so on). This was appropriate at the time.

But sometimes I need to read for different reasons than my own personal interest. If I were taking a course on the Attributes of God, I would have needed to direct my attention on topics other than food. If I am skimming through Charlotte Mason’s works for material for an article on narration, I will focus my attention on that topic and less on what she has to say about nature study or character training. If I am reading a transcript of a Senate debate, I might be reading it to fix in my mind who said what to whom, or I might be reading it to find a list of arguments used to support a particular position.

Narration is basic, simple, and personal- this is just the child reading his book for the information that strikes him as interesting and important, and then he retells. But none of us get to spend the rest of our lives only reading material for the information that tickles our fancy. At different times we are called on to extract different types of information from our reading.

Once a child has narration under his belt, it’s time to expand a bit. In addition to the ideas suggested above, Miss Mason also explains that there are:

Other Ways of using Books.––But this is only one way to use books: others are to enumerate the statements in a given paragraph or chapter; to analyse a chapter, to divide it into paragraphs under proper headings, to tabulate and classify series; to trace cause to consequence and consequence to cause; to discern character and perceive how character and circumstance interact; to get lessons of life and conduct, or the living knowledge which makes for science, out of books; all this is possible for school boys and girls, and until they have begun to use books for themselves in such ways, they can hardly be said to have begun their education.

That’s quite a bit different from the narration so many of us assume is all CM required from a reading, isn’t it? And there’s more:

Let marginal notes be freely made, as neatly and beautifully as may be, for books should be handled with reverence. Let numbers, letters, underlining be used to help the eye and to save the needless fag of writing abstracts. Let the pupil write for himself half a dozen questions which cover the passage studied; he need not write the answers if he be taught that the mind can know nothing but what it can produce in the form of an answer to a question put by the mind to itself.

That’s from volume 3, page 180 (thanks to Karen for pointing me in the right direction). I think the homeschooled student who has done all these things with his readings will certainly be able to handle college work without remedial courses teaching ‘targeted reading strategies.’

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