Monday, March 29, 2010

A Month with Charlotte Mason, #2

Post #1 is here.

So let’s go back to the opposite of utilitarian, what we’ve called leisurely. We have the usual definition of leisure as spare time, fun and games, something easy, what you do to relax; there’s Lynn’s definition which included ceasing from anxiety and contemplating higher things; we have the Roman idea of space set aside for thought or conversation; we have Northrop Frye’s idea that irrelevance is not necessarily a bad thing; we have the key phrase “without which we cannot be fully human.”

So if we put them together, we might define leisure in this way:

Having the freedom (time, space, opportunity) to discover what makes you fully human.

But then we also have that very odd connection with our word for school, a place where you’re made to go, listen to what does not interest you, do what you wouldn’t choose to do for as many years as the government says you have to. Why does that just not seem to fit?

And you may wonder what all this has to do with homeschooling. Many of us have kept or taken our children out of school precisely so they wouldn’t forced to be just another brick in the wall. But since utilitarianism is a big part of our culture, and the schools most of us were taught in reflected a utilitarian educational philosophy, it can sneak into our homeschooling. It might show up in worrying too much about provincial/state standards, or basing our criteria for learning on how many booklets children have filled in, or on how well they construct bar graphs and learn their spelling lists. Or we can react to this and go with something that has much less rigidity, a much less parent-directed kind of learning-without-school, where the children are making the decisions about what they will learn and how they will spend their time. John Holt (in Freedom and Beyond) described a cartoon showing a kid in a child-centered school who asks his teacher “Do I have to do whatever I want again today?” But that’s not exactly what Charlotte Mason envisioned either.

In Home Education, she said that parents needed to begin thinking about education by asking themselves “Why must the children learn at all? What should they learn? And how should they learn it?” And that after they had considered these questions, they would be in a position to direct their children’s studies…as long as they started in the right place, following a few truths about human beings and natural laws that you can’t disobey without causing damage, and starting and ending with the One who made those laws.

(Disclaimer here: I have unschooling and "very relaxed homeschooling" friends, and I am not denying that for some people, some of the time, a de-toxing approach works very well. But we're talking here about why CM isn't the same as unschooling.)

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