The Century of the Child by Ellen Key (1900)

the bookshelf bannerThe Century of the Child by Ellen Key (1900)

VI: The School of the Future (part 1)

I should like to set down here briefly my dreams of a future school, in which the personality may receive a free and complete self- development. I purposely say “dreams,” because I do not want any one to believe that I am pretending in the following outline to give a reformed programme for the present time.

My first dream is that the kindergarten and the primary school will be everywhere replaced by instruction at home.

Undoubtedly a great influence has proceeded from that whole movement which has resulted, among other things, in the Pestalozzi- Froebel kindergartens, and in institutions modelled after them. Better teachers have been produced by it; but what I regard as a great misfortune, is the increasing inclination to look upon the crèche, the kindergarten, and the school as the ideal scheme of education. Every discussion dealing with the possibilities of women working in public life exalts the advantage of freeing the mother from the care of children, emancipating children from the improper care of their mothers, and giving women possibilities of work outside of the home. Mrs. Perkins Stetson proposes as a compromise, that every mother, pedagogically qualified, shall take care of a group of children along with her own. But what her own children will receive under such conditions is sufficiently shown in the case of those poor children who grow up in educational institutions presided over by their parents; and also by the experience of the poor parents who are not able under these conditions to look after their own children.

From another chapter (3):

Goethe showed long ago in his Werther a clear understanding of the significance of individualistic and psychological training, an appreciation which will mark the century of the child. In this work he shows how the future power of will lies hidden in the characteristics of the child, and how along with every fault of the child an uncorrupted germ capable of producing good is enclosed. ” Always,” he says, ” I repeat the golden words of the teacher of mankind, ‘if ye do not become as one of these,’ and now, good friend, those who are our equals, whom we should look upon as our models, we treat as subjects; they should have no will of their own; do we have none? Where is our prerogative? Does it consist in the fact that we are older and more experienced? Good God of Heaven! Thou seest old and young children, nothing else. And in whom Thou hast more joy, Thy Son announced ages ago. But people believe in Him and do not hear Him — that, too, is an old trouble, and they model their children after themselves.” The same criticism might be applied to our present educators, who constantly have on their tongues such words as evolution, individuality, and natural tendencies, but do not heed the new commandments in which they say they believe. They continue to educate as if they believed still in the natural depravity of man, in original sin, which may be bridled, tamed, suppressed, but not changed. The new belief is really equivalent to Goethe’s thoughts given above, i.e., that almost every fault is but a hard shell enclosing the germ of virtue. Even men of modern times still follow in education the old rule of medicine, that evil must be driven out by evil, instead of the new method, the system of allowing nature quietly and slowly to help itself, taking care only that the surrounding conditions help the work of nature. This is education.

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A philosophy of handicrafts

Mason, like most Educators of her day, advocated the use of handicrafts in her schools. Also like most, she used a specific model of handicraft called Sloyd. Sloyd was not merely a type of handicraft, however, it was an entire philosophy of education. Originating in Finland, popularized in Sweden by Otto Salomon (and it is still part of the curriculum there), and exported from there to all over the western world.

Some educators and imitators eventually made the work strictly utilitarian, and then it disappeared from our schools altogether, but Salomon’s vision was far from utilitarian, and sloyd is still part of the curriculum in Sweden.  He wanted students to create useful and beautiful items, from start to finish, for formative reasons, here listed:

  1. To instill a taste for, and a love of labour in general.
  2.  To inspire respect for rough, honestm, bodily labour. (obviously, for more advanced work in areas such as woodworking).
  3. To develop independence and self reliance.
  4. To train in habits of order, exactness, cleanliness, and neatness.
  5. To train the eye and sense of form. To give a general dexterity of hand and to develop touch.
  6.  To accustom to attention, industry, perseverance, and patience.
  7. To promote the development of the physical powers.

from The Theory of Educational Sloyd: The Only Authorised Ed. of the Lectures … By Otto Aron Salomon

Mason, of course, shared that vision.  A few  others in America do as well. Read More »

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I wish I’d said that

From an 1890 Journal of Education:

“Sooner or later the classicist argues, “Whatever the value of science, it is not indispensable, for I am wholly ignorant of it.”

” My dear Sir, one longs to say, “you are the very man in whose interests I am arguing. It is you who would he so much wiser, so much less conceited, so much more conscious of the limits of your knowledge, if you had been scientifically educated. You are far from stupid, and not uncultivated, but you lack what I consider of great value, you imperfectly understand me and your depreciation of these studies results from your want of proper education. You would have more power in your own subjects and an infinitely wider range of ideas and interests if your classical education had been less unmitigated than it seems to have been.”

Now tables are turned and what we hear are varieties of utilitarians, many who don’t even know that is what they are, saying the same thing but about the arts, or literature, or history, or all manner of liberal arts topics, “I never learned that/read that/studied that, and I turned out just fine.”

I am almost never in agreement with that comfortably arrogant assumption, but one can hardly say so.

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Early Morning Meander: Boys & Reading


child-316510_1280“When we hear the words: ‘It’s a boy!’ we should immediately thrill to the expectation that our son(s) will adore being read to and will fall in love with books just as quickly as the other half of the human race.”

When I read this sentence in Mem Fox’s fun and encouraging Reading Magic: Why Reading Aloud to Our Children Will Change Their Lives Forever, I wanted to shout out a loud and hearty AMEN!

The way modern American culture seems to often so casually accept as truth the notion that boys just won’t be into the language arts floors me. How can we ignore thousands of years of world history like this? The Greek philosophers? Erasmus? John Milton? Shakespeare? Jonathan Swift? Sir Walter Scott? Charles Dickens? C. S. Lewis? The entire collection of men who built the American government?

And this is only a smattering of authors from Western civilizations; it ignores Asian writers and dozens upon dozens of others.

Of course, it’s true that women did not receive the same educational or professional opportunities that are afforded them today. There’s a forced, strong imbalance in favor of male authors over the course of most world history. But male DNA did not suddenly change when we started teaching women more.

We owe both genders the expectation that reading will grant them pleasure, expand their minds, and make their world a better place. This might mean rethinking how we’re teaching reading to boys. It might mean rethinking standardized testing. It might mean reconsidering academics and our school system in general. Maybe it means all of these things. Maybe it doesn’t.

What it means most, though, I think is this: that we must make it a priority in our family to snuggle up and read a lot when they are young. Ask daddy to read books aloud when he gets home from work (this is an interesting study on fathers and reading). Experience the joy of reading together and serve books generously. Let them look at books in bed. Pull out special books on rainy days, rather than extra episodes of a TV show. And know without a shadow of a doubt that they can grow to love reading ~ there’s a long line of male readers going on ahead of them, their own cloud of witnesses, cheering them on. :)

(p.s. has anyone read Raising Boy Readers by Michael Sullivan? It just came up while I was looking this topic up and looks interesting. I know I can highly recommend Dr. Sax’s Why Gender Matters for understanding how boys & girls might need to be approached differently, from an educational perspective).


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Ideas for building narration skills

Narration is a journey- growth will come.

Narration is a journey- growth will come.

“What do you see?” is a good question to ask while playing outside, going to a park, looking at a butterfly or a flower. Asking “I wonder…..” why it looks like this? does that? what it’s doing. how it does that. what will happen next. how it got here?
Bite your tongue and count to 10 before talking

Let them draw some narrations, act some out, and recreate others in 3-D with blocks, clay, toys (I learned to give a time limit on how much time could be spent on this). Keep a scrapbook and take photographs of those projects. Use the narration jar idea.
Write down his narrations and keep them in the folder, scrapbook.
Keep lessons really short.
Do some ‘scaffolding’- introduce a reading by asking a review question, which could be as simple as, “Where were we?” and then say something to salt the oats, like, ” I wonder what he’ll do next? I wonder if we’ll learn why that happens? What do you think will happen next?” and sometimes read a bit ahead and give a hint, “remember when you cut your hand last week? Well, today in our reading we will meet somebody with a hurt hand. let’s see what happened.” Or “do you ever feel frightened and worried and you don’t know what to do? We’re going to read about a time Betsy felt like that. Let’s see what she does…”
Limit screens. Go experience parks, zoos, museums, and include much singing and snuggling.
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