Saturday, June 28, 2008

The Teaching of Chronology

I am narrating this Parent's Review article in the hopes that I will finally understand how to use a century chart. Perhaps it will help someone else if I post my narration here.

The article was written in 1910 by Miss Dorothea Beale, principal of Cheltenham Ladies College. In it she describes a method used in her college to teach chronology. Her method is mentioned as part of the work of students in Form IV, in CM's Volume 6, page 177.

We can all agree that young children learn history best when they are told the great stories of antiquity-- these stories provide a good foundation for further history studies and prevent children from growing into "Casaubons". (Casaubon was a scholarly older man in the novel Middlemarch by George Eliot. He was really very boring for a scholar of mythology and I don't know how his wife put up with him.)

On the other hand, it is also a good idea to start the child out with his or her own time and work backwards, helping the child to learn that what he or she does now is a part of history. This aids in the realization as the 'reflective powers' develop-- that the world is different for every person who lives, that noble lives make a difference. (She talks a little about the educational philosophy of Froebel, and not stimulating religious and moral feeling prematurely, but I am leaving that part out for now.)

An Educational Union is for helping parents and schools work together for the better education of the child. Therefore, she offers a way of teaching chronology that has been of benefit at the college level, but she expects will be even more beneficial in the home.

She introduces the Methode Mnemonique Polonaise. I didn't know what that was so I looked it up. According to this article, it is a memory method that uses symbolic pictures to remember things.

She recommends the method as a charming way to teach children chronological history, saying that kids will enjoy it because it is like hieroglyphics, and that it will help them to understand their own little sphere of life in proportion to the history that has gone on before.

Using diagrams to communicate is effective, often making things comprehensible at a glance. We can use diagrams to communicate about history, too, using 100 squares to a page, each square representing a year, thus.

The hundred years can represent the life of a man, or a century. It is better in the case of a child to use the hundred years to show the life of a man. This makes me think of the Genevieve Foster books. Ah, but this is not exactly what she means. She says it should stand for the hundred years of the child's life! The first square represents the first year of the child's life, the second square is for the year in which the child is one year old, the third square for the year the child is two, etc. The first line of squares gives the first decade of life, the second line gives the second dacade, etc.

She recommends making one of these charts for the life of the child as soon as he or she is able to understand it. (We have never done anything like this. I know the girls would love it.) She says to put it in a frame with a removable back so it can be updated, leaving a margin in which to write in anniversaries (the list of anniversaries appears to be something like a key for the symbols).

She describes one such chart, for a girl of fourteen. In the first square is a star to represent the new little life. The first fourteen squares are shaded in yellow to show how many years have passed so far. ("So teach me to number my days, that I may apply my heart unto wisdom." Now I get the quote at the beginning of the article. I wonder how a child would feel, seeing their years numbered in this way.) In the fourth square is another star, for the birth of her brother. The fifth square contains a black dot, indicating her grandfather's death. The next square has a symbol for her entering kindergarten-- a little plant just peeking out of the ground. A ship shows the year mother and father sailed for India, and another, sailing the opposite direction, shows their return a year later. At the age of ten, she enters school, and a symbol for that is drawn in the appropriate square, with a corresponding entry made in the margin. A little ceremony is made of entering the symbol on the chart, and a prayer made that she will learn things that will make her wise. The yellow line is extended on her birthday every year, and new events are added.

I want to quote the next sentence. I am not sure what she means by 'horoscope,' however, unless she just means a chart of a person's life. I cannot find that definition for 'horoscope', though. Perhaps someone can shed some light on it for me:

"I am sure parents will devise some very beautiful horoscopes which may take the place the those wonderful framed samplers of old times, which it will be a joy for their children to look at in later life, as they remember the birthday addition each year, the sorrows and the joys there noted down, the prayers of the family for each new-comer, and the marriage days."

What a sweet custom!

After using one of these charts for him or herself for awhile, the child will be ready to understand a century. She suggests representing a century as a man who dies as the last moment of the ninety-ninth year passes. The life of the queen can be entered into the century and related to the child's own life. The child can count backward to the year of the queen's birth, and then enter each of the queen's life happenings. (We could do this with U.S. Presidents, perhaps using their terms in office rather than their lifetimes.)

After these things are entered, it will be natural to continue by entering historical events into the chart, and going further and further back in history. Each life is intertwined with another, and biographical knowledge connects eras of history.

She says that beginning with the child's own 'nativity' helps the child better understand what history is, and his or her own place in it.

Once one century has been entered into the chart, she recommends presenting a diagram that contains the eighteen previous centuries (now we would present the twenty previous centuries) each characterized by some mark of individuality, thus.

After this, I think she begins detailing what they do at the college for learning chronology:

Later on, make a larger chart with room for writing in events. She says they color code each era of English history. The first line is Roman occupation, the second line the barbarian tribes settling into nations, the third line is the Middle Ages, and the fourth is the Modern period. (I am having a hard time picturing this, but I think the squares are each representing a century in this chart, and the lines would be ten squares each, or one thousand years? But that does not make sense. The modern period is approximately 1500-2000, which is only five hundred years. The High Middle Ages are around 1000-1500, roughly. Perhaps the lines representing eras are only five squares long. I am going to have to draw a picture for myself.)

At first, most importance should be given to English history (we would perhaps say the history of the English speaking peoples). Later on, we would gradually introduce history that is contemporary with the different events of English history. This method is especially beneficial to the children being educated at home, because the mother, who may not have the systematic knowledge of chronology that a teacher would be expected to have, can explain the events of history she is most familiar with at first, and the framework of the chart keeps everything in place even though events may not be presented in chronological order. (Excellent point!) It is important, but difficult, for kids to develop a proper sense of the chronology of history, as evidenced by their silly-seeming questions that simply reveal a lack of understanding: "Did you know that Pharaoh?" for instance. The mother or sister can tell stories from books of history they are reading, and fit the stories into the charts, and the children will have a better sense of the length of time in each chart because of their own personal century charts.

Then she gets into the actual paper-and-pencil work involved in this device. I was a little confused by this part, but will explain it the best I can. She wrote a book or something that goes into more detail, and I would like to read it. Or maybe it is a book that older kids can use to make the diagrams. She says that for small children, she gives them blank sheets of paper to paint and color in.

She describes a game that can be played on a chessboard, it looks like, with the kids using game pieces to mark the events for the squares. You can even use chess pieces to represent different people in history-- "small chessmen may stand for kings, chess castles for sieges, chess bishops for churchmen, knights for war, pawns for famous men."

For older students, they use books with large squares, in which the student simply writes in anything he/she wants to remember.

She gives a list of what she feels are the advantages of the system:

1. That it forms a framework, which from the first saves events from getting shaken into disorder in the memory: and the frame can be made large or small, filled but scantily at first, and gradually expanded.

2. It can be adapted to any purpose--political history, church history, literary history the progress of scientific discovery.

3. It shows at a glance the contemporary history of different countries, yet

4. It is compact in form, so that it can be easily remembered.

5. Even if the precise date of any event is not retained yet the general position becomes as familiar to the mind as the relative positions of places in a map of Europe.

Another quote:

'We have learned to feel that the chief work of the educator is not to give facts, but to order them so that they can fit into the "forms of thought."'

She ends with a reference to the story of Psyche, in which she is set the task of sorting innumerable seeds into some kind of order. She says that perhaps with patient discipline we will be able to place the 'seeds' of historic events into order-- patterns that make some kind of sense. (This idea of our study of history being akin to Psyche's task of sorting seeds will appeal to the kids.)

I have been drawing century charts myself since a thunderstorm disrupted my posting of this narration. I used events very familiar to me to make a chart of 1900-1999. When I look at it, with simple symbols in place of words, it does not help me a bit! It looks just like hieroglyphics to me, and I cannot read hieroglyphics. Even though I know the events on the chart, the symbols are still confusing. I know Miss Beale said sometimes students wrote words instead of symbols into their charts. That is what I would have to do. The idea of having a secret code that deciphers the charts might appeal to the children, though. I'm going to show them this way next week and perhaps we will play around with it a bit. The free time that summer brings leads to all kinds of play opportunities!

No comments: