Monday, August 11, 2014

The Education of the Whole Person

In chapter 6 of School Education, Charlotte Mason continues to evaluate different educational psychologies of her day against the standard:
1. Is it comprehensive?
2. Is it necessary (the only explanation that makes sense of everything involved)?
3. Does it take into account the living ideas of the age? In her day, the main ideas she identified were the sacredness of the person, the evolution of the individual, and the solidarity of the human race.

Once again, I was very struck by her optimism. 
"It is just possible that bringing unbiassed minds and a few guiding principles to the task, we have, not joined the parts of the puzzle, but perceived dimly how an outline here and an outline there indicate, not so many separate psychologies, but shadowings forth of a coherent, living, educational principle destined to assume more and more clearness and fulness until it is revealed to us at last as the educational gospel, the discovery of which may be the destined reward and triumph of our age."
She was seeking to find the truth about education, and had hope of finding it. I think there are two parts to this optimism (and reasons why it feels so foreign to us today.). First, she believed in absolute truth, and second, she believed that human reason can discover universal, objective truth through science (in this case, psychology). To Charlotte Mason, evaluating these other psychologies was all part of the process of finding the truth. What do you think of her optimism?

In this chapter, she evaluates two schools of thought and finds them wanting in the way they view children. Froebel's psychology sees children as plants in a garden (Kindergarten), to be nurtured and protected. Too protected, to Charlotte Mason. She believes the atmosphere of real life is necessary, not the carefully regulated Kindergarten. Why? Because children are born persons, individuals like ourselves. They need the little struggles and trials of real life in order to grow strong in character and in initiative. 

Herbart's psychology seems more dangerous to me, as Mason describes it. He seems to have seen the child as something to produce through the presentation of a carefully curated set of ideas. "...the self, the soul or the person, however we choose to call him, is an effect and not a cause, a result, and not an original fact."

In contrast, Charlotte Mason believed that the child, body and soul, is a whole person.
"We believe the thinking, invisible soul and acting, visible body to be one in so intimate a union that-- 'Nor soul helps flesh more now than flesh helps soul.'" (p. 63)
"The person of the child is sacred to us; we do not swamp his individuality in his intelligence, in his conscience, or even in his soul; perhaps one should add to-day, or even in his physical development. The person is all these and more."  (p. 65)
In other words, we can't take a child's mind, or his soul, or his body, and say "This now is the person."  Everything is intertwined, and you can't consider any one of these things without considering the others, and more.

Second, the fact that a child is a born person defines our job as teachers.
"...a human being comes into the world with capacity for many relations; and...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 upon the right idea; and secondly by not getting in the way and so preventing the establishment of the very relations we seek to form." (p. 66)
And I love this!
"We study in many ways the art of standing aside." (p. 66)
I know I need to work on that! I do try to put my children in touch with ideas through living experience and "living books." Too often, though, I find myself explaining too much and getting in the way, like the "kindly obtrusive teacher."
"...his kindly obtrusive teacher makes him believe that to know about things is the same thing as knowing them personally..." (p. 66)
I hope I catch myself often enough. I want my children to develop their own relationships with the world and with ideas!

You can read Jen's post about this chapter here.