Friday, June 17, 2011

When Children Love to Learn: Chapter 1

This chapter was written by Susan Schaeffer Macaulay. It is called, "The Value of Charlotte Mason's Work for Today". I can already tell this book is going to be so insightful.

“Most of the progressive schools wanted really good things for children. But it is impossible to achieve such aims without the realism of the truth, at least to a certain extent, as the framework.”

Eustace Scrubb and Jill Pole attended a school similar to Summerhill:

“These people had the idea that boys and girls should be allowed to do what they liked. And unfortunately, what ten or fifteen of the biggest boys and girls liked best was bullying others.” --C.S. Lewis, The Silver Chair

“…knowledge fits into a hierarchy according to what is most worthwhile to know.”

Romanticism assumes that “the fruits of a ‘decent society’ [will] continue to grow on a tree whose roots [have] been cut away.” This idea results in lawlessness, which creates a backlash of government intervention, “slapping on an exoskeleton” of rule from without, since kids aren’t being taught to govern themselves.

It seems that people are now trying to impose a framework, but it isn’t quite the same. The focus is more on getting ahead, or just trying to keep the kids out of trouble.

Teaching children to govern themselves is different than conditioning children to stay out of trouble. One is respectful; the other, no matter how kindly put, is not.

“[Charlotte Mason’s] ideas, being true ones, have an unchangeable underlying pattern (form) and yet give freedom for individual life and practice.”

CM’s ideas transcend culture. Although a CM education can be specifically American or British (or Canadian or German or Indian or Kenyan…), it is unified by the Christian principles undergirding it. Thus, we can have that common framework, while preserving diversity. (It also transcends time, because human beings are essentially the same in every era.)

“These truths were not a cage, and that is a huge difference from those that would legalistically impose truths on others. Many educational theories and prescriptions confine education and childcare practice to a closed box. ‘It has to be like this or that,’ depending on the theory espoused.” (p. 28)

I thought of an episode from the book, Lovey, by Mary MacCracken. She was a teacher at a school for emotionally disturbed children in the U.S. I read her book when I was in high school. She loved and respected her students, and treated them as individuals. She talks about one student that came into her class with many problems, one of which was a refusal to eat. She worked with him for some days, trying many things. She had no success. Finally, she forced the first bite, and he began to eat. The experience taught her that solutions normally eschewed may be acceptable if enough love is involved.

We should adapt our plans to fit individual children. “A combination of the benefit of individual work and the stimulation and enthusiasm of a group works well.”

“Teaching is an art—and we learn from our mistakes. If students aren’t ‘latching on’, sooner or later we cast about for a different choice or arrangement.” (p. 32)

“One ‘sin’ today is a failure to lead children into full-length living books. There is something about reading one chapter, the next, and then the next, that grounds a person’s thinking and builds a pattern that holds together.” (p. 36)

Errors abound in both directions—both in not giving enough whole books, and in stuffing in too much ‘education’. She says, “Beware. There is far too much information around.” This book was published in 2004.

Concerned parents and educators today try so hard to regain the framework, but often we err because we don’t understand the foundations. We think that if we could just go back to the ‘good old days’ or if we could just get ‘back to basics’ everything would be fine. But the solution is not reverting to a bygone era. Instead of arbitrarily applying practices that were used in times when the common framework existed, we need to first understand underlying principles-- the nature of human beings, how they are created in the image of God, how they have just obligations to follow Him, to glorify and enjoy Him forever. This is true no matter the era. As CM said, “we are the same, with a difference.” When we understand this, we become able to gather the best from all eras and from our own time. We discover postmodern, yet truly Christian, education-- education that suits the needs of our time, while embracing principles true in every time and place.

(I would love to discover that. So often I feel like I am casting about for something I don’t really understand. I go back and forth between form and freedom. Maybe someday I’ll find the balance.)

“No one can do everything that would be worthwhile. The best of curriculums must be guides, not absolute directives.” (p. 37)

“We must not quench the joy of living.”

“The rule is to give interesting material, but slowly enough that it is absorbed, possessed, not forgotten in the overflow of ‘too much’.”

(I think I have been giving my kids too much. I want to look at the page counts for my kids’ ages/grades in the PNEU programmes and try to stick with those in the coming year.)

“[Charlotte Mason] called the refusal to get between the child and the source ‘masterly inactivity’, allowing the child direct contact with and individual response to original works.”

“[Wise passiveness] indicates the power to act, the desire to act, and the insight and self-restraint which forbid action.” --Charlotte Mason, Vol. 3

(I really have to work at masterly inactivity. When I have the power and desire to act, I find it difficult to keep from acting.)

“If we get too intense and long-winded, we’ll see their eyes glaze over.”

(Note to self: work on answering questions in a few thoughtful words!!)

On the Lord: “It is terrible to turn this amazing person into a lesson. Children must catch the scent, the scene, the wonder of who He is.”


Willa said...

Good reminders -- I especially like the one in regard to Mary McCracken about how love can show you the way to do things that might seem emotionally risky without that love. I really liked her courage that seemed to come out of humility and caring and respect for the child and the relationship.

I also like the last one, about the Lord, though I have a hard time actually imparting those things. It's quite challenging -- say, if my children had never met their father for some reason, how could I explain to them what he was like and how I loved him? It is even harder to talk about my Creator and Redeemer in such a way that my children will understand, yet I know it should be done! (fortunately they seem OK with my inadequate efforts, maybe because as CM says they already have a sense of what I am talking about).

Katie said...

Great observation about Mary MacCracken, Willa.

I struggle with how to "speak of God as I would an absent father" too. I struggle with the doing of so many things. If all we had to do was talk about them, I'd be well on my way. It's the practice of them that is difficult for me!