Wednesday, August 2, 2017

School Education Chapter 16: How to Use School-Books

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.


Principles for selecting the best school-books:

-Books must be living, informed with the ideas proper to the subject.
-Books do not have to be big to be living
-Books do not necessarily have to written by the original thinker to be living, as long as the author has made its ideas his own and can communicate them in a suitable way.

How to use the right books:

-Enjoy the books
-Do the work of thinking
-Assimilate or reject the ideas for himself

-Enjoy the books themselves, and communicate that in some small way
-Do not explain too much
-Require the child to do the work of thinking by asking for narration after a single reading
-Be prepared, so they know the lessons and can choose work suitable to the book and challenging for the child.
-Do not allow teaching methods to come between the child and the ideas in the book.

Different ways to use narration:
-Narration after a single careful reading 
-Give the points of a description
-Give the sequence of a series of incidents
-Give the links in a chain of argument

Other ways to use books:
-Enumerate the statements in a paragraph or chapter
-Analyse a chapter
-Divide a chapter into paragraphs under proper headings
-Tabulate and classify series
-Trace cause to consequence and consequence to cause
-Discern character and perceive how character and circumstance interact
-Get lessons of life and conduct
-Get living knowledge that makes for science
-Write a half a dozen questions covering the passage studied


"I think we should have a great educational revolution once we [...] realised ourselves as persons whose great business it is to get in touch with other persons of all sorts and conditions, of all countries and climes, of all times, past and present. History would become entrancing, literature a magic mirror for the discovery of other minds, the study of sociology a duty and a delight. We should tend to become responsive and wise, humble and reverent, recognising the duties and the joys of the full human life.  We cannot of course overtake such a programme of work, but we can keep it in view; and I suppose every life is moulded upon its ideal." (p. 175)

"In their power of giving impulse and stirring emotion is another use of books, the right books; but that is just the question--which are the right books?--a point upon which I should not wish to play Sir Oracle. The 'hundred best books for the schoolroom' may be put down on a list, but not by me. I venture to propose one or two principles in the matter of school-books, and shall leave the far more difficult part, the application of those principles, to the reader." (p. 177)

"I think we owe it to children to let them dig their knowledge, of whatever subject, for themselves out of the fit book; and this for two reasons: What a child digs for is his own possession; what is poured into his ear, like the idle song of a pleasant singer, floats out as lightly as it came in, and is rarely assimilated." (p. 177)

"ideas must reach us directly from the mind of the thinker, and it is chiefly by means of the books they have written that we get into touch with the best minds." (p. 177)

"Again, we need not always insist that a book should be written by the original thinker. It sometimes happens that second-rate minds have assimilated the matter in hand, and are able to give out what is their own thought (only because they have made it their own) in a form more suitable for our purpose than that of the first-hand thinkers." (p. 178)

"The children must enjoy the book. The ideas it holds must each make that sudden, delightful impact upon their minds, must cause that intellectual stir, which mark the inception of an idea. The teacher's part in this regard is to see and feel for himself, and then to rouse his pupils by an appreciative look or word; but to beware how he deadens the impression by a flood of talk." (p. 178)

"the labour of thought is what his book must induce in the child. He must generalise, classify, infer, judge, visualise, discriminate, labour in one way or another, with that capable mind of his, until the substance of his book is assimilated or rejected, according as he shall determine; for the determination rests with him and not with his teacher." (p. 179)

"The simplest way of dealing with a paragraph or a chapter is to require the child to narrate its contents after a single attentive reading." (p. 179)

"The teacher's part is, in the first place, to see what is to be done, to look over the work of the day in advance and see what mental discipline, as well as what vital knowledge, this and that lesson afford; and then to set such questions and such tasks as shall give full scope to his pupils' mental activity." (p. 181)

"Let marginal notes be freely made, as neatly and beautifully as may be, for books should be handled with reverence. Let numbers, letters, underlining be used to help the eye and to save the needless fag of writing abstracts. Let the pupil write for himself half a dozen questions which cover the passage studied; he need not write the answers if he be taught that the mind can know nothing but what it can produce in the form of an answer to a question put by the mind to itself." (p. 181)

"let us be careful that our disciplinary devices, and our mechanical devices to secure and tabulate the substance of knowledge, do not come between the children and that which is the soul of the book, the living thought it contains."

"to quote the golden words of Milton: 'Books are not absolutely dead things, but do contain a potency of life in them to be as active as that soul was, whose progeny they are; nay, they do preserve, as in a vial, the purest efficacy and extraction of that living intellect that bred them. [...]'" (p. 181) (So that's where the idea of living books came from! - np)