Friday, July 25, 2014

A True Education is a Relational Education

Thoughts from School Education: Chapter 6 "Some Educational Theories Examined"
This chapter starts off in much the same way as the last: Charlotte continues surveying and critiquing some of the common educational theories of her day.  (Particularly in this chapter, she is discussing the ideas of Herbart.  I'm not going to get into him, but if you are curious you can read Brandy's post on Herbart and what our friend Charlotte had to say about him here.)  In the end, she draws the conclusion that none of these theories of education are adequate, and from there proceeds to lay out her own.
One thing to note about Charlotte: she is really humble when she goes about putting forth her own theories.  She doesn't claim to be an expert, but is only suggesting those principles that she has gleaned from her own experiences working with actual children.   'E.F.B.' who wrote the forward to The Story of Charlotte Mason notes this about her as well: "I should say that underlying all her work is her wonderful intuitive understanding of children, especially very young ones; and her teaching and writing are effective and durable because she has founded her private structure of the human mind, which is both the raw material and the finished product of education, on the rock of a wide reading of the great philosophers.  On this rock she has built steadily and naturally with the materials of her own experience as a teacher of children." (p. vii).  Charlotte was no armchair educational theorist, she was a down-in-the trenches practitioner.   We can trust what she is telling us to hold true because she is speaking from experience and not just proposing untried ideas.
So, what are these principles that she proposes?
  1. Children are persons – like ourselves.  They have both souls and bodies.  They are to be taken seriously.  They are able to will and think and feel.
  2. Since children possess both souls and bodies, both must be nurtured and nourished: "Pleasant and well-cooked food makes a man of cheerful countenance, and wine gladdens the heart of man, and we all know the spiritual refreshment of a needed meal.  On the other hand, we all know the lack-lustre eye and pallid countenance of the well-fed who receive none of that other nutriment which we call ideas; quick and living thought is as necessary for the full and happy development of the body as it is for that of the soul." (p.64-65)
  3. Education is the 'science of relations': "We, for our part, have two chief concerns – first to put him in the way of forming these relations by presenting the right idea at the right time, and by forming the right habit on the right idea; and secondly, but not getting in the way and so preventing the establishment of the very relations we seek to form." (p.66)   
  4. Given all of the above: Teachers must learn 'the art of standing aside" which is "the fine art of education".  There's that masterly inactivity thing again.  Note, however, that the teacher's role isn't completely passive – this isn't unschooling we're talking about here.  The teacher's role is to present the student with a broad array of ideas, to work on the formation of good habits, but then to step aside and let the student form their own relationship with those ideas.  
Charlotte goes on to give a couple of examples of what this might look like:
  • Don't let the student "believe that to know about things is the same thing as knowing them personally." (p.66)  
  • Rather, "…we do not endeavor to give children outlines of ancient history, but to put them in living touch with a thinker who lived in those ancient days…" (p.67)
Charlotte is not satisfied with students who have accumulated a storehouse of facts, but wants the child to form a relationship with the world by coming into contact with its peoples and ideas.
This is where I start to get really excited about what she is doing – she wants to give her students the world and prepare them to live in it as fully as possible.  Next time, we'll dig deeper into just how that is all supposed to work.

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