Is it ironic that I am attempting here to do what Charlotte Mason says gives no profit to the reader?--that is, making an extract of a chapter in which she warns against extracts?
Well, so be it. I hope somebody will get something out of it.
CM's Volume Six, Chapter Six is about the Three Instruments that we are left with after we've sifted out various immoral or ineffective options of teaching and training. I've written about it before (see "Only Three Tools"). Others have written about it. It's all nicely summarized in the words, "Education is an atmosphere, a discipline, a life." What's left to say?
First, an image from the 1947 film Miracle on 34th Street, which I quoted from briefly in the post on Chapter One. Mr. Kringle, a.k.a. Santa Claus, explains to too-sensible Susan that there is a British nation, a French nation, and the Imagine-nation, a place where you can go and have marvelous adventures and still be home for supper. Her reaction? Startled, wide-eyed, and hungry for more. Obviously her "progressive school" has provided much information, but few ideas.
Are ideas a luxury in education?
Are they moral?
Are they safe? What if they make us uncomfortable? Shake things up? What if we let the children read books, and they get ideas but they're the wrong ones?
Charlotte Mason's response in this chapter is that it is not only moral to teach with the Three Tools--but absolutely imperative. It is imperative to provide a safe but still "muscle-building" environment for living, playing, learning; safe from the truly harmful, but otherwise open to testing limits, making choices, letting children find out what they can do. It is imperative to teach habits of mind as well as those of body and morality. And it is imperative to present a generous curriculum of living ideas.
Good books (and art, music, etc.) are not a luxury, says Charlotte: they are our "bread of life." If one big book, such a Dickens novel, connects you to only half a dozen new and worthwhile ideas--then that's still half a dozen new and worthwhile ideas. "What books changed your life in 2012?" asks the online questionnaire; what jumped out at you in your reading, what caught hold of you, what ideas are you still thinking about? You and I can read the same book, but I can't predict exactly what you'll take from it, and the same for me. "Ideas have a distinguishable power," says Charlotte, quoting Plato, who knew something about ideas.
Like getting dirty outside? (something that has been a stretch for our family). Not doing math today, or even this week, so you can "fit in" some music or a good read-aloud? Getting the energy together to get everyone on the bus, or in the car, to go somewhere memorable? Unplugging everything and making time to talk? Giving the kids more choices in some area of family life, or more responsibility? I remember reading somewhere about one family that gave each child a regular chance to choose the dinner menu, and the little ones always chose hot dogs and popcorn--but that was okay.
This form of education--call it Charlotte Mason, the PNEU methods, holistic, literature-based, whatever--is not a fad. It is not "my way or the highway," just because that's what appeals to us; but it is not just another option on the curriculum table, if it is based on truths about human nature and about our value as individuals, made by God in His image. It is a conviction, and a necessary response, a set of actions, based on that conviction. If we agree that "ideas clothed upon with fact, history, and story" are the ones most likely to awaken minds and stir spirits, how can we settle for anything less?