What we need in a science text

Science: “‘Scientific truths,’ said Descartes, ‘are battles won.’ Describe to the young the principal and most heroic of these battles; you will thus interest them in the results of science and you will develop in them a scientific spirit by means of the enthusiasm for the conquest of truth . . . How interesting Arithmetic and Geometry might be if we gave a short history of their principal theorems, if the child were meant to be present at the labours of a Pythagoras, a Plato, a Euclid, or in modern times, of a Descartes, a Pascal, or a Leibnitz. Great theories instead of being lifeless and anonymous abstractions would become living human truths each with its own history like a statue by Michael Angelo or like a painting by Raphael.” (Charlotte Mason, volume 6)

Our goals for education are not utilitarian- we don’t educate merely for a job or for passing a test, but because God has created a wide and wonderful world full of amazing, interesting, astonishing, and even useful things and ideas and it is the glory of God to conceal these things, but the glory of kings to discover them, and our children are all royalty, sons and daughters of the King of Kings.  We don’t want to dismiss scientific knowledge of any sort on the grounds that it’s not useful (some things don’t get covered because of time, but use alone is not our criteria)

 

We want books that appeal to children’s natural inborn love of knowledge, not books with gimmicks and dated jokes and silly attempts to use current slang and talk down to kids in a mistaken attempt to be relevant that makes a book dated and irrelevant in about six weeks.

Even when children may have had their natural love of knowledge squelched by bad teaching, bad practices, hard lives or whatever cause, we feel that most of us really do like to know about the world around us and how it works even if that interest has been weakened by years of dry, boring text books and assumptions that we *aren’t* interested in those things and that they are not interesting at all. We will appeal to interest, to that still living, tiny spark of thirst for knowledge. We don’t want to rely on appeals of bribery, shallow trivia, and tests that treat the material like dictionary entries.

We want science books that are alive, well written, and that are lso humble- recognizing the fact that what is understood today can change tomorrow, books that do not substitute opinion for fact.

We want accompanying experiments, activities, and demonstrations. We want them clearly explained and as much as possible using inexpensive materials that families can easily find at home.

Facts are important, but we don’t want books that are basically lists of facts- we want facts only when clothed in their inspiring ideas, a big picture, a breathless since of wonder, discovery, and awe.

A child’s mind is alive, a living organism that, like other organisms, requires nourishing food and regular servings of it- and the food the mind takes in best is the living idea, ideas communicated in literary language and illustrated with demonstrations and experiments with real things.  The mind responds to ideas, and that is what we want to see in science books.  We also want for children to leave their schooling years with the understanding that learning never ends, that it is a natural and desirable thing to continue to be interested in and to stay abreast of the scientific work of the day.

Mason tells this story:  “The mistress of an Elementary School writes,––”The father of one of my girls said to me yesterday, ‘You have given me some work to do. E. has let me have no rest until I promised to set up my microscope and get pond water to look for monads and other wonders.'” Here we have the right order. That which was born of the spirit, the idea, came first and demanded to confirm and illustrate.”

This is part of the reason why a Charlotte Mason education spends so much of the early years out of doors, looking, observing, wondering, pondering, noticing, thinking, with helpful hints, direction, and elucidations from adults who know what to look for or how to find out how to answer questions. We don’t pretend to know everything- or anything at all that we don’t know. We find out. We are interested in these things ourselves or we learn how to be.

Mason also writes of a class that:

“is open to the wonders that science reveals, is interested in the wheeling worlds of the winter firmament. “Child after child,” said a schoolmistress, “writes to say how much they have enjoyed reading about the stars.” “As we are walking sometimes and the stars are shining,” says a girl of eleven in an Elementary School, “I tell mother about the stars and planets and comets. She said she should think astronomy very interesting.”

But we teach astronomy, no, we teach ‘light and heat’ by means of dessicated text-books, diagrams and experiments, which last are no more to children than the tricks of white magic. The infinitely little is as attractive to them as the infinitely great and the behavior of an atom, an ion, is a fairy tale they delight in, that is, if no semblance to a fairy tale be suggested. ”

Finally, but most importantly- “Where science does not teach a child to wonder and admire it has perhaps no educative value.”

That is what we want. I use the royal we.

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