Somewhere around the middle of volume 6 Miss Mason says that she does not think pictures helpful in learning geography, nor indeed does she consider models helpful in learning anything. Initially, I disagreed, but having given it some thought and experimented with it in my own home, I changed my mind. She says that these ‘aids’ to the understanding actually stultify and hinder the understanding- they aren’t truely ‘helps,’ they are crippling- more like foot-binding or drugs which form addictions than like crutches.
I think they may, like repetition, hinder our imagination, cripple the exceedingly important ability to picture for ourselves based on verbal descriptions. I think it might be best if when first introduced to a concept, the description and information gained all came in verbal form, and after the words are digested as thoroughly as possible and the best picture we can come up with formed in our minds, then look at photographs, diagrams, models, or movies. This will help, I think, instruct the imagination, so that wherever our picture does not line up with reality, we may learn to better understand the next verbal description we come across.
On page 340 of volume 6, she says further that, “We trust much to pictures, lantern slides, cinematograph displays; but *without labour there is no profit,* (emphasis mine) and probably the pictures which remain with us are those which we have first conceived through the medium of words; pictures may help us to *correct our notions* (emphasis mine), but the imagination does not work upon a visual presentation Again, “*children cannot tell what they have not seen with the mind’seye.*”
This is key to much of Charlotte’s method- the development of this mind’s eye. And I suspect most of this development occurs without our help, or did, before we truly began to trust everything to pictures on television and electronic screens. What the children need from us is for us to let that mind’s eye develop, not to hinder it with insipid twaddle not worth picturing, or make it overfed and lazy with too much reliance on repetition, illustrations (videos/TV), and continuous discussion and longwinded explanations on our part.
Regarding Geography, Charlotte says, since the “pictures which abide with us are those which the imagination constructs from written descriptions,” they don’t have much use in this study. (page 228 of volume 6) I read another really good book, Education’s Smoking Gun, by Richard Damerell, that talks more about how much value we place on things learned from television and movies, and how little real learning occurs, partly because we misunderstand how it works and in what situation it actually would be effective. That book was especially interesting because it was written by a film professor who teaches at the same school where Bill Cosby got his Ph.D. The focus of his book wasn’t television, it was colleges, and about how poor they’ve become. The television stuff was just a bonus, but it made a huge impact on me. You can read about that here.
It’s easy for us, jaded moderns that we are, to imagine that our movies and television are so much better than they were in Charlotte’s time, or even to mistakenly imagine she had no access to the movies- but this is a huge mistake. She had access. The movie industry was alive and well in her lifetime, and because it was so new, it actually made a bigger impression on audiences than all our fancy special FX can ever have on a modern audience. And yet, she put the cinema firmly in the category of entertainment only, not useful for education.