Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Evaluating Psychologies

I really had to push myself to write on this chapter (Chapter 5 of Volume 3), mostly because I disagreed with Charlotte Mason on some of it, and I am reluctant to air my thoughts publicly. After all, I'm probably wrong. But here goes, anyway... I'd love to hear your feedback, as long as it's kind. :)

In this chapter, Charlotte Mason begins to examine and evaluate several educational psychologies current in her day. She does this because:
"...the stream can rise no higher than its source, ...sound theory must underlie successful work." 
"our results cannot be in advance of our principles." (Vol. 3, p. 45)
This recognition is something I love more than anything about Charlotte Mason. What we believe about children, and about education, has results in our methods and our practical, everyday choices. The extent to which what we believe is true will have a huge impact on our results.

In the presence of so many different, often opposed, psychologies, Charlotte Mason sets out three principles to help us evaluate the soundness of each one:
"It must be adequate, covering the whole nature of man and his relations with all that is other than himself.
"It must be necessary, that is, no other equally adequate psychology should present itself; and
 "It must touch at all points the living thought of the age; ...the intelligent man in the street should feel its movement to be in step with the two or three great ideas by which the world is just now being educated." (p. 46)
I was in complete agreement with the first two, but the last made me pause. The points she goes on to clarify as the great ideas of her own time are unobjectionable, but I had to ask myself what the two or three great ideas are of today? And would they be a reliable measure of the value of an educational psychology?

What would these ideas be today? There is no such thing as absolute truth? All "truths" are equal? The greatest human virtue is tolerance?

I think the ideas of any given time can be false, or based on half-truth. The implications of these ideas may not be fully realized or understood until later, when their results are felt.

In Charlotte Mason's day, the main ideas she identifies as the great ideas of her time are:
-The sacredness of the person
-The evolution of the individual
-The solidarity of the race

Charlotte means by "evolution of the individual" that education "should have for its sole aim the making the very most of that person, intellectually, morally, physically," and also that education should be assimilated...become "part and parcel of the person." The "solidarity of the race" refers to the way in which we identify with other human beings from other times and places, and even in our imagination.

To me, these ideas are timeless. I believe in the "sacredness of the person," and think it is a good principle for evaluating an educational psychology. That's because it is a timeless truth, based on the fact that we are all created in the image of God. I think that when we anchor it there, in God's truth, rather than in the current thought of a particular time, we guard against extremes. (After all, the sacredness of the person is a main idea of our own time, but stripped of its foundation. Without a Creator or a purpose in life, we are left to create our own self-worth out of nothing but what we find inside ourselves.)

I believe in the "evolution of the individual" in the sense that God has given us all gifts and talents, and we are all called to develop them to the fullest, for Him.

I see the "solidarity of the race" in the very way in which God gave us His Word...so much of it in story. People like us, going through things that we can identify with. And then He sent Jesus, "God with us" ...now there's "solidarity of the race!"

So you see, I actually agree with Charlotte...I just think that the reason these ideas have stood the test of time and resonate today is because they are based on a greater foundation than the current thought of her time. To be fair, Charlotte Mason probably did not envision a day when "current thought" would be so far from God's truth. It was certainly happening in her time, but it may not have been as easy to discern as it is now.

Charlotte Mason goes on to evaluate a few educational psychologies, and I love the humility with which she does so.
"...we do not presume to do this as critics, rather as inheritors of other men's labour...
"But we must bear in mind that truth behaves like a country gate allowed to 'swing to' after a push. Now it swings a long way to this side and now a long way to that, and at last after shorter and shorter oscillations the latch settles. The reformer, the investigator, works towards one aspect of truth, which is the whole truth to him, and which he advances out of line with the rest. The next reformer works at a tangent, apparently in opposition, but he is bringing up another front of truth. Then there is work for us, the people of average mind. We consider all sides, balance what has been done, and find truth, perhaps in the mean, perhaps as a side issue which did not make itself plain to original thinkers of either school. But we do not scorn the bridge that has borne us." (p. 49)

Isn't that a wonderful picture? All disagreement aside, I still must respect the clear-headed way Charlotte Mason looks at the big picture and considers the implications of ideas.

(Sorry this is posted late...I know it's not Monday anymore!) You can read Jen's post on this chapter here.