Charlotte Mason and the Cinema

Q. Don’t you think Miss Mason would have used movies had they been available to her?

No, I don’t.  One reason is because movies were very much available to her. They weren’t talkies, it’s true, but nobody much cared at the time, the general public was very much enamored with this new form of entertainment.  The Motion picture industry was so large that ten years before Miss Mason’s death there were multiple fan magazines, and ‘picture palaces’ or motion picture theatres/theaters, and cinemas all over the world.  The Gish sisters,Tom Mix, Charlie Chaplin, Buster Keaton, Mary Pickford, and Fatty Arbuckle were famous a decade before Miss Mason died.  Stories from the pens of  Shakespeare, Dante, Dickens, and even a Bible story or two had already been immortalized on screen.

And this is what she had to say about them:

See volume six,somewhere around page 56 or so (this passage also speaks to what we have been discussing about the uses of imagination):

Imagination may become like that cave Ezekiel tells of wherein were all manner of unseemly and evil things; it may be a temple wherein self is glorified; it may be a chamber of horrors and dangers; but it may also be a House Beautiful. It is enough for us to remember that imagination is stored with those images supplied day by day whether by the cinema, the penny dreadful, by Homer or Shakespeare, by the great picture or the flaming ‘shocker.’ We have heard of the imaginative man who conceived a passion for the Sphinx!

Page 79 of volume 6:

What we have reason to deplore is that after some eight or twelve years’ brilliant teaching in school, the cinema show and the football field, polo or golf, satisfy the needs of our former pupils to whatever class they belong. We are filled with compassion when we detect the lifeless hand or leg, the artificial nose or jaw, that many a man has brought home as a consequence of the War. But many of our young men and women go about more seriously maimed than these. They are devoid of intellectual interests, history and poetry are without charm for them, the scientific work of the day is only slightly interesting, their ‘job’ and the social amenities they can secure are all that their life has for them.

The maimed existence in which a man goes on from day to day without either nourishing or using his intellect, is causing anxiety to those interested in education, who know that after religion it is our chief concern, is, indeed, the necessary handmaid of religion.

Page 116 of volume 6, where she is speaking of the folly of unit studies:

. . . The whole thing must be highly amusing to the teacher, as ingenious amplifications self-produced always are: that the children too were entertained, one does not doubt. The teacher was probably at her best in getting by sheer force much out of little: she was, in fact, acting a part and the children were entertained as at a show, cinema or other… (emphasis added)

So she was familiar with movies, and yet, never recommends them or mentions them in any context but that of passive entertainment (which she generally deplores).

Somewhere around the middle of volume 6 (page 157-160 or so?) Charlotte says that she does not think pictures helpful in learning geography or models helpful in learning anything. She says that these ‘aids’ to the understanding actually stultify and hinder the understanding. I think she means they hinder our imagination, the ability to picture for ourselves based on verbal descriptions because we rely too much on them rather than on our own application to the topic, just like repeating a reading more than once makes it easier and easier not to pay attention to it.

Furthermore, her objections to pictures for learning are based on the lack of application the student has to make to obtain the information- how much more true this is of a movie! On page 340 of volume 6, she says that:

“We trust much to pictures, lantern slides, cinematography displays; but without labour there is no profit, 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, but the imagination does not work upon a visual presentation.” (emphasis added)

I  have more on Charlotte Mason and the use of movies and television as educational tools here.  (and also here) It’s not that we don’t watch them ourselves, however, it’s just that I don’t think they are ideal, and specifically, they aren’t really ‘Charlotte Mason.’  You don’t have to be a purist- I am not, at least not in that way.  But I do like accuracy. It’s okay to do things differently from CM, just don’t call them ‘CM’ or say CM would have done them this way if she could (especially when, as in this case, she actually could have if she had wanted to).

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