Friday, August 4, 2017

School Education Chapters 20-22: Suggestions Towards a Curriculum

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.


Charlotte Mason leaves her ideas for the selection of curriculum till last, and before she does, she reiterates all the principles that have come before in this book. "...because a curriculum is not an independent product, but is linked to much else by chains of cause and consequence."

Curriculum needs to be selected with several principles in mind:
-We do not have the right to pick and choose a limited number of subjects for children to study.
-Children are intelligent, though there is much they do not know yet.
-Our aim is knowledge, not mere information.
-We want to make children "at home in the world of books," putting them in direct communication with the minds of the authors.

Some do's and don'ts for teachers:
-Do find the right living book.
-Do let the author speak for himself, don't get in the way with too much explaining.
-Do be cautious about the use of "appliances" other than ones that allow children to observe things for themselves. (Microscopes, telescopes, and magic lanterns are good, elaborate models and diagrams not so much.)
-Do co-ordinate studies in a natural way, don't make artificial connections between subjects (as in unit studies).

Because education is all about making relationships with things, with people past and present, and with God, the curriculum we choose needs to cover a broad range of subjects: religion, philosophy, history, languages, mathematics, science, art, physical exercises, and manual crafts. Charlotte Mason gives some general guidelines as to what curriculum a child between twelve and fourteen should use, and what they should know:
Religion: curriculum is the Bible itself.
History: English history, contemporary French history, and Greek and Roman history by way of Plutarch's Lives.
Language: A fair knowledge of English grammar, some literature, more or less power in speaking and understanding French (able to read an easy French book), beginning German, ability to read at least 'Fables' in Latin.
Mathematics: "I need not touch upon the subject [...] it is rapidly becoming an instrument for living teaching in our schools."
Science: Nature study, the power to recognise and name natural things, keeping of personal nature-journals. Supplemented with occasional object lessons.
Drawing: No use of mechanical aids. Free rendering of objects observed. Illustrations of stories don't have value as art instruction, but are useful imaginative exercises.
Art Appreciation: Some study of the lines of composition, light and shade, and style with the object of appreciation, not reproduction.
Manual and Physical Training

Using living books as curriculum is efficient! Even given all the subjects to be studied, in the Parents' Review School all book work was done between 9:00 and 11:30 for the lowest class, and 9:00 and 1:00 for the highest class. One or two hours in the afternoon were devoted to handicrafts, field-work, and drawing, and the evenings were free for children's own hobbies, family reading, or other things.

Six reasons for failure in education:
-Oral lessons by a teacher, which are far inferior to treatment of the same subject by an original thinker in a living book.
-Lectures, also inferior to living books
-Textbooks, both the dry and uninteresting kind and the easy and beguiling kind.
-Motivations for learning other than desire for knowledge
-Dependence on apparatus and illustrative appliances
-Use of readers. Even if they have good selections, they can't match a whole book.
Teachers must also be careful not to follow educational fads.


Chapter 20
"--education should aim at giving knowledge 'touched with emotion.'" (Quoting Matthew Arnold) (p. 220)

"Therefore we do not feel it is lawful in the early days of a child's life to select certain subjects for his education to the exclusion of others; to say he shall not learn Latin, for example, or shall not learn Science; but we endeavour that he shall have relations of pleasure and intimacy established with as many as possible of the interests proper to him; not learning a slight or incomplete smattering about this or that subject, but plunging into vital knowledge, with a great field before him which in all his life he will not be able to explore." (p. 223)

"there is no such thing as the 'child-mind'; we believe that the ignorance of children is illimitable, but that, on the other hand, their intelligence is hardly to be reckoned with by our slower wits. In practical working we find this idea a great power; the teachers do not talk down to the children; they are careful not to explain every word that is used, or to ascertain if children understand every detail." (p. 223)

"Not what we have learned, but what we are waiting to know, is the delectable part of knowledge." (p. 224)

"The distinction between knowledge and information is, I think, fundamental. Information is the record of facts, experiences, appearances, etc., whether in books or in the verbal memory of the individual; knowledge, it seems to me, implies the result of the voluntary and delightful action of the mind upon the material presented to it." (p. 224)

"Perhaps the chief function of a teacher is to distinguish information from knowledge in the acquisitions of his pupils. Because knowledge is power, the child who has got knowledge will certainly show power in dealing with it. He will recast, condense, illustrate, or narrate with vividness and with freedom in the arrangement of his words. The child who has got only information will write and speak in the stereotyped phrases of his text-book, or will mangle in his notes the words of his teacher." (p. 225)

"It seems to me that education, which appeals to the desire for wealth (marks, prizes, scholarships, or the like), or to the desire of excelling (as in the taking of places, etc.), or to any other of the natural desires, except that for knowledge, destroys the balance of character; and, what is even more fatal, destroys by inanition that desire for and delight in knowledge which is meant for our joy and enrichment through the whole of life." (p. 226)

"no education seems to be worth the name which has not made children at home in the world of books, and so related them, mind to mind, with thinkers who have dealt with knowledge." (p. 226)

Chapter 21
"A book may be long or short, old or new, easy or hard, written by a great man or a lesser man, and yet be the living book which finds its way to the mind of a young reader. The expert is not the person to choose; the children themselves are the experts in this case." (p. 228)

"The master must have it in him to distinguish between twaddle and simplicity, and between vivacity and life. For the rest, he must experiment or test the experiments of others, being assured of one thing--that a book serves the ends of education only as it is vital." (p. 229)

"The business of the teacher is to put his class in the right attitude towards their book by a word or two of his own interest in the matter contained, of his own delight in the manner of the author. But boys get knowledge only as they dig for it. Labour prepares the way for assimilation, that mental process which converts information into knowledge; and the effort of taking in the sequence of thought of his author is worth to the boy a great deal of oral teaching." (p. 229)

"Do teachers always realise the paralysing and stupefying effect that a flood of talk has upon the mind?" (p. 229)

"For the same reason, that is, that we may not paralyse the mental vigour of children, we are very chary in the use of appliances (except such as the microscope, telescope, magic lantern, etc.)." (p. 230)

"the co-ordination of studies is carefully regulated [...] solely with reference to the natural and inevitable co-ordination of certain subjects. Thus, in readings on the period of the Armada, we should not devote the contemporary arithmetic lessons to calculations as to the amount of food necessary to sustain the Spanish fleet, because this is an arbitrary and not an inherent connection; but we should read such history, travels, and literature as would make the Spanish Armada live in the mind." (p. 231)

"Writing, of course, comes of reading, and nobody can write well who does not read much." (p. 233)

"The teachers are careful not to make these nature walks an opportunity for scientific instruction, as we wish the children's attention to be given to observation with very little direction. In this way they lay up that store of 'common information' which Huxley considered should precede science teaching; and, what is much more important, they learn to know and delight in natural objects as in the familiar faces of friends."(p. 237)

Chapter 22
"To educate children for any immediate end--towards commercial or manufacturing aptitude, for example--is to put a premium upon general ignorance with a view to such special aptitude. [...] Excellent work of whatever kind is produced by a person of character and intelligence, and we who teach cannot do better for the nation than to prepare such persons for its uses. He who has intelligent relations with life will produce good work." (p. 241)

"...[theorists] feel it to be more important that a child should think than that he should know. My contention is rather that he cannot know without having thought; and also that he cannot think without an abundant, varied, and regular supply of the material of knowledge."

"Let us, out of reverence for the children, be modest; let us not stake their interests on the hope that this or that new way would lead to great results if people had only the courage to follow it. It is exciting to become a pioneer; but, for the children's sake, it may be well to constrain ourselves to follow those roads only by which we know that persons have arrived, or those newer roads which offer evident and assured means of progress towards a desired end. Self-will is not permitted to the educationalist; and he may not take up fads." (p. 245)

"Knowledge is, no doubt, a comparative term, and the knowledge of a subject possessed by a child would be the ignorance of a student. All the same, there is such a thing as an educated child--a child who possesses a sound and fairly wide knowledge of a number of subjects, all of which serve to interest him; such a child studies with 'delight.'" (p. 245)

"My plea is, and I think I have justified it by experience, that many doors shall be opened to boys and girls until they are at least twelve or fourteen, and always the doors of good houses, ('Education,' says Taine, 'is but a card of invitation to noble and privileged salons'); that they shall be introduced to no subject whatever through compendiums, abstracts, or selections; that the young people shall learn what history is, what literature is, what life is, from the living books of those who know." (p. 247)

That's it for this week, and the book is done! I'll be back next week with the appendices.