Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Atmosphere and Books

If you’ve hung around here for any length of time at all, you know I have a thing for books.   The use of good literature was one of the things that drew me towards Charlotte Mason in the first place, and is one of the things I love the most about her methods.
However, until discussing the idea of “Education is an Atmosphere” as part of the 20 Principles study, I’d never considered the role that books play as part of our “atmosphere”.   I’d always sort of delegated them in my mind as part of the formal “academic” side of a CM education.   Two of our reading assignments for this principle were on the topic of books, however, which surprised me.  But as I read, I began to see the connection.
As I mentioned in my previous post on this topic, atmosphere has less to do with the physical environment, and more to do with the tone, attitude, ideas, and relationships that the child encounters informally as they go through their daily life.  This starts in the home, of course, but extends beyond that to other places they may go and experiences they may have.  Which is where books come in.
From the article titled “Children and Books”:
The ideals which children gain from books are their constant associates, and mould their characters even more than human companions.  They live with them not only while they read, but also while they are otherwise engaged; and suggestions so subtle as to pass almost unnoticed linger in the mind, to influence emotions and express themselves in action.”
Just as the attitude, tone, ideas and relationships a child forms in his “real life” environment make up a large part of his formation and education,  so do the attitude, tone, ideas, and relationships the child forms through the books that they read.  The books (and in this modern age, I’d say other media as well) that we choose to share with our children can have a profound effect on them.  It is subtle and not necessarily consciously noticed by the child.    In Romans 12, we are told to be “transformed by the renewal of our minds”.   While true transformation and heart change are the work of the Holy Spirit, Sproul tells us (yes, another quote from his Romans commentary) that “the avenue to the heart is through our mind.”   The mind-food we feed our children is vitally important.  This is why we want to exercise care in ensuring that the books and media we share with our children point them to what is good, true, and beautiful.
This doesn’t necessarily mean that we only read sweet, happy things either, as is pointed out in the article “The Atmosphere of Books”.   In her comments about atmosphere, Charlotte Mason herself warns us not to “sprinkle things with rose-water” or “soften them with cushions” or “to keep the children in glass cases”.  While there is certainly a time and a place for everything (we do need to be sensitive to our children's age and level of maturity), we do want our children to be adequately prepared to live life in the real world.  Books can provide a good vehicle for this as well – I’d rather have my children exposed to uncomfortable ideas and differing opinions through the books they read under my guidance before encountering them in the real world.   The way we handle those differing ideas can send a subtle message to our children as well – how should they respond when encountering an idea that differs from their own?   Do we hide from it?  Ignore it?  Dismiss it as stupidity?  Engage with it and discuss it in light of our own beliefs?   How we handle controversial books and ideas can play a role in the ‘formative atmosphere’ that our children breathe as well.
“Stories make the child’s life intelligible to himself and are therefore a means of gaining self-knowledge without self-consciousness…Why, stories are the very source of education among all races.  The hunger of the child for stories is the hunger of the race for knowledge.  All great teachers have been great storytellers, and our Lord was the greatest of all.  A mere statement of divine truth would never have impressed the simple uninformed minds of His hearers as the parables did.  Truth is absorbed and becomes part of the child’s self when enshrined in the form of a story.  Stories, too, enlarge a child’s knowledge of the world, develop his imagination and educate his sympathies.  Much reading may be a weariness of the flesh, but the well-read person who also takes his share in the work of the world is not likely to be narrow in mind or lacking in sympathy.”

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