Monday, May 27, 2013

If children are people, how then should we educate them?

Or, Some Random Thoughts on Charlotte Mason’s Second Principle. J
As I read the assignments for Principle #2, it seemed to me that the ideas that are being emphasized are in direct answer to Principle #1.  If children are ‘born persons’ – human beings with souls, created in the Divine Image, how then should we educate them?
In her Philosophy of Education, Charlotte contends that the point of education is moral at its base – to cultivate virtue.   This can only be done when education is kept in its ‘rightful place’ as the ‘handmaiden of religion’.  The two go hand in hand – with Biblical teaching and the work of the Holy Spirit in each individual person being of first importance with a broad, idea-filled education coming alongside.   I like how the folks over at the CiRCE Institute define education:
EDUCATION is the cultivation of wisdom and virtue by nourishing the soul on truth, goodness, and beauty. It should be distinguished from training (for a career), which is of eternal value but is not the same thing as education. CHRISTIAN EDUCATION is the cultivation of wisdom and virtue by nourishing the soul on truth, goodness, and beauty …so that, in Christ, the student is enabled to better know, glorify, and enjoy God.
I think this is what Charlotte Mason was trying to do as well.   So how does she recommend we do this?   A few ideas gleaned from my reading on this Principle:
  • Charlotte insists on a broad, idea-filled education – a feast richly spread:

This education of the feelings, moral education, is too delicate and personal a matter for a teacher to undertake trusting to his own resources. Children are not to be fed morally like young pigeons with predigested food. They must pick and eat for themselves and they do so from the conduct of others which they hear of or perceive. But they want a great quantity of the sort of food whose issue is conduct, and that is why poetry, history, romance, geography, travel, biography, science and sums must all be pressed into service. No one can tell what particular morsel a child will select for his sustenance. One small boy of eight may come down late because "I was meditating upon Plato and couldn't fasten my buttons," and another may find his meat in 'Peter Pan'! But all children must read widely, and know what they have read, for the nourishment of their complex nature. As for moral lessons, they are worse than useless; children want a great deal of fine and various moral feeding, from which they draw the 'lessons' they require…and, alas, we are aware of certain vulgar commonplace tendencies in ourselves which make us walk delicately and trust, not to our own teaching, but to the best that we have in art and literature and above all to that storehouse of example and precept, the Bible, to enable us to touch these delicate spirits to fine issues.”  (A Philosophy of Education, p.59)

  • She also speaks at length about the possibilities of ‘good and evil’ in intellectual life.  We feed the ‘good’ through feeding the mind and imagination with living, literary ideas, presented in such a way that knowledge is valued for its own sake.  We feed the ‘bad’ by the mind-numbing techniques so often seen in typical schools (in her day as well as ours): too much “talky-talky” by the teacher, questionnaires, books devoid of ideas, etc.  This leads to children who are capable and may even like school, but who are bored and lacking in original thoughts. 
  • Following on from that, another defense of a broad literary education is that it promotes the development of the ‘moral imagination’ which gives the basis for sound thinking and judgement as well as the ability to form one’s own opinion rather than being swayed by popular opinion.  (I’m still just beginning to explore this idea of the moral imagination – this is a great introduction if you are intrigued as well.  Listen to the Andrew Pudewa talk linked there if you can too!)  
  • Charlotte also talks about how education touches our souls, which she contends “long for God” – the proverbial God-shaped vacuum.  She says that our children will gain knowledge of God ‘by degrees’ and that “the great thoughts of great thinkers illuminate children and they grow in knowledge, chiefly the knowledge of God.”  (A Philosophy of Education, p.65).   In many other places, she also acknowledges the involvement of the Holy Spirit  in this process as well. 

Bottom line: Character is formed by a combination of factors: life experiences, education, the work of the Holy Spirit, etc.  As parents, we are in a special and unique position to help our children (working with, not against their natural personalities and dispositions) to go in the ‘way they should go’. We can do this by recognizing we are ALL under God’s authority, and that the Holy Spirit can and will speak to each person (adult and child alike) individually.  We should make a point to understand our children and sympathetically and wisely point them in the right direction.  The atmosphere of the home and the presentation of life-giving ideas are also part of the parent’s task in raising children.  With all of these things, we are sowing seeds and pointing our children toward the Savior.   
And ultimately, we must entrust the harvest to Him.

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