This blog post is part of an on-going daily series this month as I read (very quickly) through School Education by Charlotte Mason. Join me! Pick up your book and read a chapter, or find it free online at Ambleside Online.
While people are usually quite willing to acknowledge that they are under the rule of law in physical matters (the laws of nature) or in moral matters, they often don't acknowledge any authority in intellectual matters. But our intellect is not separate from our bodies and souls. We are whole persons, and what we think works itself out physically and morally.
1. There are ultimate realities that are unprovable by reason. God is, Self is, the World is. When we accept these as presuppositions, we place ourselves under God's authority, we see ourselves as persons, and we have a home.
2. Reason is limited. Its function is to logically prove the ideas that we entertain, whether those ideas are right or wrong.
3. History is under God's control, including the progress of ideas. We never have any grounds for pride, as though the thought of our time is the pinnacle of human thought. All truth comes from God and is given by the Holy Spirit as he pleases.
Intellectual habits are formed by training, they are not natural gifts. They are not a byproduct of teaching certain subjects (Mathematics do not make people more exact, Humanities do not make them more humane.). Parents and teachers must intentionally set out to form habits of attention, concentration, thoroughness, intellectual volition, accuracy, reflection, and meditation. These habits begin with the stimulus of living ideas, found in living books.
"Our thinking is not a separate thing from our conduct and our prayers, or even from our bodily well-being. Man is not several entities. He is one spirit (visibly expressed in bodily form), with many powers. He can work and love and pray and live righteously, but all these are the outcome of the manner of thoughts he thinks." (p. 114)
"But when we learn to realise that--God is, Self is, the World is, with all that these existences imply, quite untouched by any thinking of ours, unprovable, and self-proven,--why, we are at once put into a more humble attitude of mind. We recognise that above us, about us, within us, are 'more things...than are dreamt of in our philosophy.' We realise ourselves as persons, we have a local habitation, and we live and move and have our being in and under a supreme authority." (p. 115)
"How necessary then that a child should be instructed to understand the limitations of his own reason, so that he will not confound logical demonstration with eternal truth, and will know that the important thing to him is the ideas he permits himself to entertain, and not by any means the conclusions he draws from these ideas, because these latter are self-evolved." (p. 116)
"What a revolution should we have in our methods of education if we could once conceive that dry-as-dust subjects like grammar and arithmetic should come to children, living with the life of the Holy Spirit, who, we are told, 'shall teach you all things.'" (p. 118)
"Believe me, nothing is so practical as a great idea, because nothing produces such an abundant outcome of practical effort. We must not turn the cold shoulder to philosophy. Education is no more than applied philosophy--our effort to train children according to the wisdom that is in us; and not according to the last novelty in educational ideas." (p. 118)
"We know, too, that [intellectual habits] are acquired through training and are not bestowed as a gift. Genius itself, we have been told, is an infinite capacity for taking pains; we would rather say, is the habit of taking infinite pains, for every child is born with the capacity." (p. 119)
"There is no reprieve for parents. It rests with them, even more than with the schoolmaster and his curriculum, to form those mental habits which shall give intellectual distinction to their children throughout their lives." (p. 119)
"It has long been known that progress in the Christian life depends much upon meditation; intellectual progress, too, depends, not on mere reading or the laborious getting up of a subject which we call study, but on that active surrender of all the powers of the mind to the occupation of the subject in hand, which is intended by the word meditation." (p. 121)
"Ideas of nature, of life, love, duty, heroism,--these children find and choose for themselves from the authors they read, who do more for their education than any deliberate teaching; just for this reason, that these vital ideas are self-selected and self-appropriated." (p. 124)
I have a really hard time understanding Charlotte Mason when she says that reason's only function is to logically prove the ideas that we choose to entertain. In one sense, I've seen this in other people and myself: someone wants to believe something, and they persuade themselves logically that it is so. On the other hand, if someone really believes something, no logical argument will dissuade them of it...there is always something to counter-argue. And yet... isn't God's truth ultimately more reasonable than any falsehood? But maybe the point is that we are all fallen and can't be depended upon to see it that way? (Sorry if this isn't making sense...just thinking out loud here.)