Thursday, February 07, 2013

Getting Our Feet Wet: Philosophy of Education, Chapter 10 (Curriculum)

Chapter 10, "Curriculum," takes up almost a quarter of Volume Six.  It's eighty pages long, in the paperback version.  It describes the entire Parents' Union School curriculum for a typical year, subject by subject, for every age group, from primary grades through very advanced senior-high work.  It's not hard reading, and I'm not sure that anyone needs much hand-holding to work through it. 

I think discussion of this chapter, on the CMSeries list or in other discussion groups, usually becomes not so much what Charlotte Mason's students were doing around 1920, but how we translate the details to our own time and space.  What principles were being applied in the choice of some specific book?  Is there a current equivalent, or do we need to search out the original?  Are our children doing anything like the level of work that her students were doing at the same age? 

And sometimes the discussion turns into something more like "What am I doing wrong?  Why do my kids hate narrating?  Why am I still reading the school books to my twelve-year-old?  Why is it taking us all day when I thought Charlotte Mason said we should all be done by lunch?"  The icing on the cake is when your homeschooled-CM-all-the-way ten-year-old looks at you blankly and asks, "who's Charlotte Mason?"  Preferably in front of a few other homeschooling moms.

Okay.  Well.  Just figure that if Charlotte Mason's methods worked with "children of the slums" plus all the council schools in Gloucestershire, you and your family can't be too far gone, educationally speaking, to make them work.

 As she says in Principle 11, which opens the chapter, "We, believing that the normal child has powers of mind which fit him to deal with all knowledge proper to him..."  Do you have more-or-less normal children?  Do you believe that they have powers of mind?  Don't assume that everyone believes that; the Herbartians didn't.  If you need a review on the powers of mind, you might want to go back over the earlier chapters such as "Self-Education."  In several places in this book, Charlotte mentions the "act of knowing."  A student has to perform the "act of knowing" for him or herself, before he or she knows what it is he or she knows.  It's about owning your knowledge, absorbing it, making it your own.  Charlotte says that adults can learn to do this too, but that children do it much better--one reason why she reminds adults not to undervalue children's capabilities.  And "knowledge is not assimilated until it is reproduced," she insists--a sticking point for those of us who homeschool just one or two students (or just one in each grade), if we don't want to make the same child narrate every single reading.  But that's what she says has to happen, in some form or other, for the act of knowing to take place.

If you're reading the chapter, jump over to page 157, because that's where the "scope and sequence" starts.  "It is a wide programme founded on the educational rights of man."  We have a right to know who we are, the "history of [our] race and [our] nation, what men thought in the past and are thinking now."  We have a right to know that we are children of God, and to know our Heavenly Father.  We have a right to learn about our "world full of beauty and interest" and a "universe, whose every function of every part is ordered by laws which [we] must begin to know."

He ate and drank the precious words,
His spirit grew robust;
He knew no more that he was poor,
Nor that his frame was dust.
He danced along the dingy days,
And this bequest of wings
Was but a book — what liberty
A loosened spirit brings! ~~Emily Dickinson

"Our part it seems to me is to give a child a vital hold upon as many as possible of those wide relationships proper to him....[but] because the relationships a child is born to are very various, the knowledge we offer him must be various too."  (page 157)

So, Part One covers the first of the three parts of knowledge, the Knowledge of God.  "Let us have faith and courage to give children such a full and gradual picture of Old Testament history...[but if they] take a laughing joy in puzzling their teachers with a hundred difficulties...[add a book by] some thoughtful commentator who weighs difficult questions with modesty and scrupulous care."  Her choice of commentator for the younger grades was Canon Paterson Smyth, using his books such as Church of Ireland Sunday School Lessons and The Bible for the Young, which appears in the term Programmes sometimes simply as "Sunday School Lessons."  According to this chapter, the teacher sets up the story scene by reading some background from the commentary, allowing questions or discussion of that, THEN reading from the Bible, having narration, and finally making a few thoughtful comments (but avoiding pointing fingers at personal misbehaviour). 

I have read variations on this, such as in the 1920 Parent's Review article on "A Liberal Education":  "The reading is followed by narration, and then by such teaching as Paterson Smythe [sic] gives in his Bible for the Young."  And that seems to agree more with the instructions given in the term programme:  "In all cases the Bible text must be read and narrated first...Teacher to prepare beforehand; in teaching, read the Bible passages ONCE and get the children to narrate; add such comments (see Paterson Smyth) as will bring the passages home to the children." (Term Programme 92, Form I)   So either Charlotte had forgotten her own curriculum (she was old!); or someone else wrote this section and misfired; or there was just more than one possible and approved way of approaching a lesson.  I tend to go with the last one.  The reason I'm going into this much detail about one subject for one level is that, even with the amount of detail we're given in this chapter, and in Charlotte Mason's other books (such as School Education), a lot of "CM archaeologists" still wish they could be flies on the wall, just for a few hours, in one of the early classes, and see how things were done right.  There's been a lot of guessing, a lot of arguing, a lot of trying to fit together slightly contradictory statements (like these).  Maybe it's closer to the truth to think that there was some variation, over time or between teachers.  I know Charlotte kept notes on her student teachers and reprimanded them for not doing such-and-such correctly; but maybe there were places where a personal approach was allowed, as long as the principles were followed.

While we're still on the subject of primary-level Bible lessons, how much was covered in a term's programme?  The programmes are usually divided up by the lessons in the commentary, rather than by the actual Bible chapters, so it's a bit confusing.  We do have the Joshua and Judges commentary online, and Programme 42 has them study "Joshua, Lessons ix., x.; Judges, Lessons i., ii., iii., iv., v., vi."   From the Table of Contents of the commentary, that included, from Joshua, IX THE STORY OF A MISUNDERSTANDING (Joshua 22), and X AN OLD MAN'S ADVICE (Joshua 24).

From Judges, the six chapters (I will not give the titles) covered Judges 2; Judges 3:7-15 plus verse 31, and 4:1-15; Judges 5; Judges 6; Judges 7; Judges 11.  (That last one is about Jephthah, so it's a good one to look at to see how sensitive material was handled.)  They were to do Old Testament readings about three times a week, so the commentary lessons may have been broken up into shorter readings.

It may not appear that they covered a lot in a term, but they were also doing Gospel or Acts readings, and memory work.  They also had "Sunday readings" suggested; not as far back as Programme 42, but by the time they got to around 1920; see Programme 91 for a sample book list.


And that's enough for one post.

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