Tuesday, February 05, 2013

Believe in Mind: Philosophy of Education, Book Two, Chapters One and Two

This post will be split into two parts.  Part Two will be posted tomorrow.

If you've been following this series of posts:  no, you didn't miss my posts for Book One, Chapters 8, 9 and 10.  I'm skipping ahead.  Chapters 8 and 9 are about self-management, and they need to be read later, or separately, or something.  Chapter 10 is the big, long, detailed look at Curriculum, and it's where a lot of CM homeschoolers, stumbling around fifteen or twenty years ago, extracted our first ideas of what, practically speaking, a PUS term would look like.  Because that chapter is so long and so detailed, I'm jumping ahead to a pair of essays that step back a bit, give a bigger picture.  Then I'll get into Chapter 10. 

So...the two chapters, the first two in Book Two, are "A Liberal Education in Elementary Schools" and "A Liberal Education in Secondary Schools."  I don't know the publishing history of the first chapter/article, whether it existed before it was included in the book...maybe it was one of the articles Charlotte Mason wrote for the London Times. [UPDATE: I forgot that there's a note about that in the front of Volume 6--it gives the dates that the different articles were published in the Times.] It was republished as a two-part pamphlet in 1930, after her death, naming A.C. Drury as co-author...BUT (are you still following this?), the pamphlet is also mentioned in Chapter 10 of Volume Six, giving Miss Drury the credit as author.  So at least one of these chapters was already available in pamphlet form during Charlotte's lifetime, and before the publication of Philosophy of Education.  But who actually wrote it?  It's one of those unsolved mysteries up there with Shakespeare's plays and the book of Hebrews.

The essay on "Secondary Schools" was apparently written in the summer of 1919, and there is a kind of panel discussion (or peer review!) of them in the Parents' Review, Vol. 31, of 1920.  Both essays are written to those in educational authority, giving reasons why the "P.U.S. methods" were effective and suggesting that they be implemented on a wider basis.  This was probably in reaction to the changing culture in post-war England (think Downton Abbey?), and the 1918 Education Act which pushed to make some kind of higher education available to more students.  What kind of education, was the question.

THOUGHT ONE

I like the way Charlotte begins the first of the two articles...by not picking on teachers.  Especially with the previous discussion of Herbartian mistakes and teacher-centered classrooms, classroom teachers at this point might reasonably feel she had a bit of a downer on them.

Not at all, she says.  In fact, you teachers depreciate, undervalue, yourselves.

How?

By thinking your job is just spoon-feeding children.  Much like the way many young parents feel that all they're good for some days is...literally...spoon-feeding strained peas.  But that's not all parents are for, and, in fact, it's not what teaching should be in the first place.  If you want a model from literature and/or the movies, think of "Miss Stacey" in Anne of Green Gables, and the way that Marilyn Lightstone played her in the 1985 movie.  Miss Stacey understands her own value as a teacher, without making the kind of mistakes (teacher is clever, students are ignoramuses) that Charlotte Mason has discussed in previous chapters. 

But, Charlotte says, you can't depreciate the children, either.  Don't see them as products of our systems, only what we (teachers) have produced them to be, the results of what we (teachers, schools) have given them.  They are people, individuals, before they come to school, and they remain people first.  They arrive in the classroom with a whole list of powers (which Charlotte lists, here and throughout the article):  the power to deal with many subjects, the power to show discrimination in books (even at a very young age), the power of attention, of clearness of thought, of attention, retention, and reproduction.  And more, of course.  Children are not the simple Wordsworthian creatures of the Romantic age, nor a "concatenation of atoms" (Anne of Ingleside) as the "evolutionists" (Charlotte's term) described them.  See them as a mystery, Charlotte advised--but accept them as persons.

Charlotte asks one other pointed question of teachers:  how do you learn, as adults?  Do you always need a teacher to pre-read your books and tell you what's in them, or give you a quiz on everything you read?  Of course not.  Well, then...

THOUGHT TWO

The chapter on "Secondary Schools" is summed up in a phrase from near the end of the chapter:  "The common theory and practice of education are on trial."  (page 276) 

That's what all this stuff about "educated men complaining that they were not educated" and "less private schools threatened with extinction" was about.  She was speaking to educators, who felt that public opinion was against them.  There was a new national concern for the state of education.  The government was cracking down on bad (or at least unaccredited) private schools.  Respected gentlemen were suddenly complaining about the limitations of their own fancy educations.  The Education Act was demanding new kinds of schools for working-class young people.  It's understandable that the administrators and decision-makers felt a bit overwhelmed.

Charlotte commended their commitment to the national's children.  She sympathized with their frustration that the teachers were putting their hearts and souls into trying to teach, but that so little was learnt.  Much like those newspaper stories today that wail over students who can't find the U.S.A. on a map of the world.  "It seems such a waste of time," as Billy Joel says.

BUT, said Charlotte.

BUT, "not every way is the right way."  Maybe they were wasting time.  She had some suggestions.
"The message for the age was "Believe in mind and let education go straight as a bolt to the mind of the pupil." Teachers were not free from the trammels of the days of manuscript and oral teaching; they had not forgotten the times when books were scarce. For the teacher to occupy the center of the stage was wrong; the child should be left to itself and to its books, and the teacher should come in only when required by the pupil. Mr. Household said he thought they all started from common ground: that was, first of all, that there was a failure much more widespread than teachers would like to admit to the outside public-a failure on their part to get the interest of the bulk of their classes. They were teaching always to a comparatively small minority. The second point on which they were all agreed was that there was need for experiment. Miss Mason was conducting a great experiment which it behoved everybody to watch."--Mr. Household's summary of "Secondary Schools," Parents' Review, 1920

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