Saturday, April 24, 2010

Charlotte and the Progressives vs. the Classicists

I had some thoughts about the first paragraph of part 1, Chapter 1, Section 1 of David Hicks' book, Norms and Nobility. In that paragraph, he talks about education in 19th Century England. By the 1800s, ‘classical education’ had come to be thought of as a way of perpetuating upper class privilege. The state began to be involved in education, and eventually the progressive movement sprang up, dedicated to utilitarian education for the masses, pragmatic and practical.

The progressives did not worry about an Ideal Type; they did not believe in the existence of a priori knowledge; and they did not accept truth unless it could be quantified.

How does Charlotte fit into this history? Was she a progressive? A pseudo-classicist-turned-classism-promoter? Or was she something different? (A voice crying in the wilderness, perhaps?)

Charlotte Mason was born in 1842 and died in 1923. If by 1867 English education was in flux, Charlotte came into teaching during a time of transition.

What did she have to say about pragmatic, utilitarian aims?

I should be inclined to say of education, as Mr. Lecky says of morals, that "the Utilitarian theory is profoundly immoral." 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. The greater includes the less, but the less does not include the greater. 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...

...In giving 'education' without abundant knowledge, we are as persons who should aim at physical development by giving the maximum of exercise with the minimum of food. The getting of knowledge and the getting of delight in knowledge are the ends of a child's education; and well has said one of our prophets, "that there should one man die ignorant who had capacity for knowledge, this I call a tragedy."

Vol. 3 p. 241-242

What did she say about an Ideal Type?

'But it is not only the idea of a hero which we have in Beowulf, it is also the idea of a king, the just governor, the wise politician, the builder of peace, the defender of his own folk at the price of his life, "the good king, the folk king, the beloved king, the war ward of his land, the winner of treasure for the need of his people, the hero who thinks in death of those who sail the sea, the gentle and terrible warrior, who is buried amid the tears of his people."'

We owe Mr. Stopford Brooke much gratitude for bringing this heroic ideal of the youth of our nation within reach of the unlearned. But what have we been about to let a thousand years and more go by without ever drawing on the inspiration of this noble ideal in giving impulse to our children's lives? We have many English heroes, it may be objected: we have no need of this resuscitated great one from a long-buried past. We have indeed heroes galore to be proud of, but somehow they have not often been put into song in such wise as to reach the hearts of the children and the unlearned.

Vol. 2 p. 145

Did she speak about reason?

We should teach children, also, not to lean (too confidently) unto their own understanding because the function of reason is to give logical demonstration of (a) mathematical truth and (b) of initial ideas accepted by the will. In the former case reason is, perhaps, an infallible guide but in the latter is not always a safe one, for whether the initial idea be right or wrong reason will confirm it by irrefragible proofs.

Therefore children should be taught as they become mature enough to understand such teaching that the chief responsibility which rests upon them as persons is the acceptance or rejection of ideas presented to them. To help them in this choice we should afford them principles of conduct and a wide range of fitting knowledge.

CM Principle 18

About a priori knowledge?

"Education is the Science of Relations"; that is, that a child has natural relations with a vast number of things and thoughts: so we train him upon physical exercises, nature lore, handicrafts, science and art, and upon many living books, for we know that our business is not to teach him all about anything, but to help him to make valid as many as may be of––

"Those first-born affinities
"That fit our new existence to existing things."

Principle 12

And what about quantifying educational results?

Probably the world has never seen a finer body of educationalists than those who at the present moment man our schools, both Boys' and Girls'. But the originality, the fine initiative, of these most able men and women is practically lost. The schools are examination-ridden, and the heads can strike out no important new lines. Let us begin our efforts by believing in one another, parents in teachers and teachers in parents. Both parents and teachers have the one desire, the advance of the child along the lines of character. Both groan equally under the limitations of the present system. Let us have courage, and united and concerted action will overthrow this Juggernaut that we have made.

Vol. 2 p. 224

Miss Mason discusses educational theorists frequently in her writings, including Froebel, Pestalozzi, Rousseau, Herbart, Comenius, Locke, Spencer, and even Maria Montessori (though not by name). She has a courteous way of discussing another person's ideas that sometimes appears as if she is agreeing with him or her, but if we read the dense writing through to the end of the section, she will often present a counter-argument. This can be confusing, so we have to be careful to consult context as we read.

I am a little more able to place Charlotte in the context of her time, too, because of Mr. Hicks' summary of 19th Century English educational thought (or the popular idea of it). I don't know that she was progressive, but she was certainly doing something different.

She was very hopeful, perhaps moreso than she ought to have been, and she asked questions, too:

The truth is, we are in the throes of an educational revolution; we are emerging from chaos rather than about to plunge into it; we are beginning to recognise that education is the applied science of life, and that we really have existing material in the philosophy of the ages and the science of the day to formulate an educational code whereby we may order the lives of our children and regulate our own. We need not aspire to a complete and exhaustive code of educational laws. This will come us duly when humanity has, so to speak, fulfilled itself. Meantime, we have enough to go on with if we would believe it. What we have to do is to gather together and order our resources; to put the first thing foremost and all things in sequence, and see that education is neither more nor less than the practical application of our philosophy. Hence, if our educational thought is to be sound and effectual we must look to the philosophy which underlies it, and must be in a condition to trace every counsel of perfection for the bringing-up of children to one or other of the two schools of philosophy of which it must needs be the outcome.

Is our system of education to be the issue of naturalism or of idealism, or is there indeed a media via?

Vol. 2 p. 120

I wonder.

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