Friday, July 21, 2017

School Education Chapter 9: A Great Educationalist (A Review)

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.


This chapter is a review of the book Outlines of Pedagogics by W. Rein, which is an introduction to Herbart, a popular and prolific German educational thinker who lived several decades before Charlotte Mason. She reviews his ideas by comparing them with her own philosophy and practice in the PNEU. Having seen her critique of Herbart's ideas in other chapters, I was surprised at how positive this review was! She really does seem to agree with him on more points than she disagrees.

Like Mason, Herbart rejects the idea of 'faculties' (a way of dividing persons up so you can educate each part: perception, conception, judgment, affections, etc.). He also recognises the power of ideas. He believes in the primary importance of the family in education. Herbart believes in faith and piety, and that all education springs from and rests on our relation to Almighty God. 

Mason agrees with Herbart's belief as to the ultimate purpose of education. It is not (as Rousseau) to "educate a man of nature in the midst of civilised men." It is also not (as Locke) to prepare the student to become a useful member of society. The purpose is not independence or even that a student becomes greater than one's teacher. Herbart's primary purpose is ethical, not intellectual: he, like Charlotte Mason, is aiming for the formation of character. 

However, Charlotte Mason believes that she has a stronger basis in science than Herbart did fifty years before her. Psychology remains shaky ground, but when it is combined with physiology, particularly the science about the brain as the seat of habit, she believes she has a strong scientific foundation. Because of this, she adds to Herbart's confidence in the power of ideas a belief in the power of habit in education.

Mason mentions her disagreement with Herbart only briefly at the end of the review: that his philosophy tends to eliminate personality. Still, the main tone of the review is positive. "It is therefore the more gratifying to observe that certain fundamental ideas, long the property of the world, which we have embraced in our scheme of thought, appealed with equal force to so great and original a thinker as Herbart." (p. 100)


"We do not merely give a religious education, because that would seem to imply the possibility of some other education, a secular education, for example. But we hold that all education is divine, that every good gift of knowledge and insight comes from above, that the Lord the Holy Spirit is the supreme educator of mankind, and that the culmination of all education (which may, at the same time, be reached by a little child) is that personal knowledge of and intimacy with God in which our being finds its fullest perfection." (p. 95)

Rein on Herbart's thought, quoted with approval by Charlotte Mason: "The education of the children will always remain the holiest and highest of all family duties. The welfare, civilisation, and culture of a people depend essentially upon the degree of success that attends the education in the homes. The family principle is the point at which both the religious and educational life of a people centres, and about which it revolves. It is a force in comparison with which every sovereign's command appears powerless." (p. 96)

"We hold with him [Herbart] entirely as to the importance of great formative ideas in the education of children, but we add to our ideas, habits, and we labour to form habits upon a physical basis. Character is the result not merely of the great ideas which are given to us, but of the habits which we labour to form upon those ideas. We recognise both principles, and the result is a wide range of possibilities in education, practical methods, and a definite aim. We labour to produce a human being at his best physically, mentally, morally, and spiritually, with the enthusiasms of religion, of the good life, of nature, knowledge, art, and manual work; and we do not labour in the dark." (p. 99)

That's it for this week. I'll be back Monday with Chapter 10: "Some Unconsidered Aspects of Physical Training."