Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Ruskin and Wordsworth go under Charlotte's microscope (School Education)

Did you ever read an autobiography and wish you could have lived in that person's family? Or not, as the case may be?

In the last several chapters of School Education, Charlotte Mason gives a sort of bucket list of the things that children need, the relationships (intimacies, affinities) they need to form; she's been over this ground earlier in the book.  She then spends a number of pages setting up her list against the childhood memories of William Wordsworth and John Ruskin, from Wordsworth's Prelude and Ruskin's Praeterita.  As a little postscript, she includes Wordsworth's advice on prigs.

That's it, that's what all that poetry and quoting is about.  Ruskin wanted to ride a pony, a real pony, just ride it outdoors and imagine he was really going somewhere and doing something; he thought afterwards that that might have made him a bit less of a wuss.

His parents signed him up for indoor riding lessons, but those were a failure, maybe because his heart wasn't in it.  He also spent a lot of time by himself, and he didn't have anybody to take him on nature walks and tell him the names of things, so he settled for collecting pebbles.
Wordsworth, on the other hand, spent most of his time with his friends, skating and swimming and stealing birds' nests. (What Charlotte calls Dynamic Relations.)
They both had books that fascinated them; they both had more-or-less similar opportunities to see art and experience a few of the other things on the list. Wordsworth appears to have had a more balanced, less neurotic upbringing than Ruskin, but in the end they both achieved greatness, contributed to the world.

Charlotte's final point: Ruskin and Wordsworth were each intelligent enough to overcome childhood difficulties, to make the most of what they had.  Even Ruskin's pebbles were the beginning of a lifelong interest in geology. But what if Ruskin hadn't had so many disappointments, had had more time to just play outdoors, make friends, have a few more of those affinities in place? What more could he have become? We'll never know.

And all that sounds like a recipe for pure parental guilt, especially if we can't send our children to kindergarten in the woods.  As Charlotte says in her first volume, a quick daily march around the square won't do either.  So what can one do if one doesn't live in a nature-friendly area or one doesn't have sympathetic neighbours or one has babies and toddlers, or illness, or blizzards?

The answer is, the best one can.  After all, knowing what children need is what opens our eyes to opportunities.


Dawn said...

Perhaps if Ruskin had encountered a My Little Pony whilst participating in indoor riding lessons the end result might have been different:). Your pictures for this post made me smile, Mama Squirrel, and remember some of my own childhood memories. Though I'm not certain that my Rainbow Waterfall playset with My Little Ponies will be proper fodder for an epic poem...

On the serious side, I really loved this section of Volume 3, and I appreciated this post.

Mama Squirrel said...

Thanks, Dawn.

walking said...

I just love the juxtaposition of Ruskin, Wordsworth, and My Little Pony. You never know if you might attract some Brony traffic. LOL

Thank you for elaborating on conclusions one can draw from their childhood. Mine is rather rough and tumble for various reasons and that made me who I am today.

I agree with you on the outdoor kindergarten. Between the oppressive heat and chemicals needed to fight mosquito and sun burns, one has to think it through carefully. Of course, you have to deal with the other extreme.