CM Education for All, Part III of III

Part 2 is here
15. A single reading is insisted on, because children have naturally great power of attention; but this force is dissipated by the re-reading of passages, and also, by questioning, summarising. and the like.

Acting upon these and some other points in the behaviour of mind, we find that the educability of children is enormously greater than has hitherto been supposed, and is but little dependent on such circumstances as heredity and environment.

Nor is the accuracy of this statement limited to clever children or to children of the educated classes: thousands of children in Elementary Schools respond freely to this method, which is based on the behaviour of mind.

This follows point 14, where she talks about telling back after a single reading- so the single reading must precede the telling back, and the above is why.  The thing is, research really does support this.  I’m not saying it isn’t hard, especially if children are new to it, have had their attention dulled by far too much screen time, and parents aren’t comfortable with the method and patient.  Notice what she says here- the *force* is dissipated by re-reading the passage and questioning and summarising- when? Before the retelling.    You harness the full force and power of the single reading by getting that retelling while the reading is freshest and the power of attention strongest- it may need practice and strengthening, but you don’t get that by letting time and your words and questions step in between the reading and the child’s retelling.

This is the principle- 14 and 15 go together, hand in hand.  But Mason also says in other parts of her book that moral questioning for the purpose of Socratic teaching is allowed, and that there are other ways to use books-  

 

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.”  (from volume 3, see more here and also here)

All children do benefit from building the habit of attention, from learning to get a strong basis of understanding from a single, attentive, focused reading, and from retelling.  There are other things that can follow afterward- questions, outlines, analysing, finding out more from other readings, asking their own questions and finding out the answers- none of these are forbidden in a CM education.  

16. There are two guides to moral and intellectual self-management to offer to children, which we may call ‘the way of the will’ and ‘the way of the reason.’

17. The way of the will: Children should be taught, (a) to distinguish between ‘I want’ and ‘I will.’ (b) That the way to will effectively is to turn our thoughts from that which we desire but do not will. (c) That the best way to turn our thoughts is to think of or do some quite different thing, entertaining or interesting. (d) That after a little rest in this way, the will returns to its work with new vigour. (This adjunct of the will is familiar to us as diversion, whose office it is to ease us for a time from will effort, that we may ‘will’ again with added power. The use of suggestion as an aid to the will is to be deprecated, as tending to stultify and stereotype character, It would seem that spontaneity is a condition of development, and that human nature needs the discipline of failure as well as of success.)

18. The way of reason: We teach children, too, not to ‘lean (too confidently) to their own understanding’; because the function of reason is to give logical demonstration (a) of mathematical truth, (b) of an initial idea, accepted by the will. In the former case, reason is, practically, an infallible guide, but in the latter, it is not always a safe one; for, whether that idea be right or wrong, reason will confirm it by irrefragable proofs.

19. Therefore, children should be taught, as they become mature enough to understand such teaching, that the chief responsibility which rests on them as persons is the acceptance or rejection of ideas. To help them in this choice we give them principles of conduct, and a wide range of the knowledge fitted to them. These principles should save children from some of the loose thinking and heedless action which cause most of us to live at a lower level than we need.

I’m not going to spend any time on this for two reasons.  I think all mature people eventually do understand- there is a difference between what we want and what we need, that human reason is fallible and it is why people can, in good faith, come to totally different conclusions (although I also see that in today’s political climate this is less and less accepted).  The other is because when it comes to our chief responsibility being the acceptance or rejection of ideas and the notion of giving them principles of conduct, disagreement seems to me to be more likely predicated on fundamental differences outside of education.  I could very well be wrong, it’s just that when people say a Charlotte Mason education isn’t for every child, I have never heard it to be based in a disagreement on this point- it’s usually about the books, the single reading, the narration or things like poetry, folk songs, and picture study.  It seems to me that if somebody disagrees with this principle, that would be because they disagree that it’s appropriate for anybody, not just some children who learn differently.  The same seems to me to be true of the 20th principle, only even more so:

20. We allow no separation to grow up between the intellectual and ‘spiritual’ life of children, but teach them that the Divine Spirit has constant access to their spirits, and is their Continual Helper in all the interests, duties and joys of life.

Obviously, an atheist would disagree with this.  It wouldn’t prove anything about whether or not this point is suitable for every child, but I agree that atheists would not be interested in implementing this principle.  I think it’s applicable to every human being on earth, and my belief no more proves its validity by my believing it than an atheist’s disbelief proves its validity by itself.  But there isn’t much to be said for the purposes of this series of posts, since any disagreement on whether this principle applies to all is not stemming from the framework that this is a good way for some kids to learn but not others. It’s grounded in a fundamental worldview difference between a spiritually based worldview and materialism.

A Charlotte Mason education is a framework.  A particular booklist used within that framework may not be for everybody, but it’s my belief that the framework itself definitely is.  I do believe there are some circumstances where it’s not possible, but that doesn’t mean I don’t believe it is still ideal.

I believe breastmilk and breastfeeding is absolutely the best thing for every baby.  However, I know mothers who cannot breastfeed, and I have had a grandson who had to be fed from a stomach tube his entire first year.  So it wasn’t possible in those situations (they are examples, there are others)- it would have been better if circumstances had been such that my grandson could have breastfed. He couldn’t, so his mother made the best of the circumstances she was in, and did what she could.  Because she couldn’t, that didn’t mean she needed (or wanted) to tell others they needn’t bother, that it didn’t matter, or that it really made no difference. 

It is my strong belief that these principles hold good and true for everybody, although not everybody is in a place where they can implement them.

Toward the end of her sixth volume on education, Mason speaks on England’s track record with her first attempt at universal education, and how it perhaps seemed like a failure to ‘John Bull’ (the average member of the British public).  She acknowledges that there may be reasons for that, but it wasn’t that education for all was a failure, it was a mistaken notion as to what that education entailed:

“In so far as we have failed it is that we have offered the pedantry, the mere verbiage, of knowledge in lieu of knowledge itself; and it is time for all who do not hold knowledge in contempt to be up and doing; there is time yet to save England and to make of her a greater nation, more worthy of her opportunities. But the country of our love will not stand still; if we let the people sink into the mire of a material education our doom is sealed; eyes now living will see us take even a third-rate place among the nations, for it is knowledge that exalteth a nation, because out of duly-ordered knowledge proceedeth righteousness and prosperity ensueth.”

She herself acknowledges that there is a sharp difference between an education grounded in materialism, naturalism, a wholly physical and utilitarian view of education, and hers, which is grounded in a spiritual, Christ centered view of the world and how it works.  She concludes:

“Think clear, feel deep, bear fruit well,” says our once familiar mentor, Matthew Arnold, and his monition exactly meets our needs. (from his poem Progress)

Thinking clearly, feeling deep, bearing good fruit well- this aspiration seems to me to be applicable, desirable, for every one of us and our children.

 

You might also enjoy: Knowledge and education.

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