Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Illegal moves: Philosophy of Education, Chapters Four and Five

Towards a Philosophy of Education, Chapter Four
Towards a Philosophy of Education, Chapter Five

In one of The Apprentice's last homeschooling years (so maybe grade 8), she read Algebra Unplugged by Kenn Amdahl and Jim Loats.  (The Barnes & Noble site says 'This is one of only four algebra books recommended by Encyclopedia Britannica Online.")  This book pictures algebra as a  game with a series of moves, like chess.  You have to choose the right moves that will move you towards winning, and avoid illegal moves.  There are certain things you're just not allowed to do in the game, such as dividing by zero.

In Chapter Five of Philosophy of Education, Charlotte Mason outlines a set of "illegal moves" that are perpetrated against children's minds, that trespass on their rights of personality.  Some of them are effective, but not morally right.  Some of them just waste time.  All of them, like too much junk food in the diet, crowd out the right motivation to learn--which, according to Charlotte, and it's the point of these chapters--is "knowledge for its own sake."

If all action comes out of the ideas we hold--in other words, our worldview, our philosophy, the principles that we say ground our lives and our approach to education--then what ideas do we have about personality, personhood, and the value and abilities of children?  And then how do we respond to those ideas?  As John Holt said, what do we do Monday?

For Charlotte Mason, it all seems to be about relationships.  Everybody has rights; everybody has duties.  Our duty includes submission to those over us, because we do need a certain amount of authority to make things run.

If we are in a position of authority and expect obedience from those under us, while still recognizing that this position is not ours because of our personal superiority, then we'll treat those under us, even children, especially children, with the respect due to them as persons.  And, though this may be somewhat optimistic thinking on Charlotte's part, that understanding solves certain issues of discipline right there.  In general, children or students or employees who are treated with respect, who aren't put into a position where they have to get away with stuff, where it isn't them against the boss, will spend less time misbehaving and more time on task.

What are some of the illegal moves against students?  The "incidental list" includes management by fear or, the opposite, by encouraging parasitic love for the one in charge; using "suggestion," meaning that the child learns to depend on promptings from outside but is eventually unable to stand alone; using "influence," meaning that of one strong personality who dominates the child's thinking. 

"More pervasive" ways take good and natural desires, those we discussed earlier such as the desire to excel, the desire for approval, even the desire of knowledge, and corrupt and pervert them by putting them in top position.  And again, what's wrong with the desire for knowledge--isn't that exactly what we're aiming at?  Here's what Charlotte says:  "The desire of knowledge is commonly deprived of its proper function in our schools by the predominance of other springs of action, especially of emulation, the desire of place, and avarice, the desire of wealth, tangible profit.  This divine curiosity is recognised in ordinary life chiefly as a desire to know trivial things...incoherent, scrappy information which serves no purpose, assuredly not the purpose of knowledge whose function is to nourish the mind as food nourishes the body."  So her answer seems to be...knowledge, misused, is junk food.

Do we believe that children really want to know?  Then, says Charlotte, we will teach from and with that conviction, and the rest will fall into place.


Lanaya said...

I love the Dilbert cartoons! They make your point well. :-)

amy in peru said...

yay! i so appreciate your real life illustrations, mama squirrel! :) thanks for sharing!

it's amazing life truths she's talking about, that though shooting for the ideal, even if practiced imperfectly still work out so much better.