Friday, July 04, 2014

Using School Books, Part Four: Hammering the point home

Part One
Part Two
Part Three

Let's take a history book, says Charlotte Mason.  Or it could be a science book, or a story of travel, or an essay of Bacon's, but let's use a history book as our example.

Let's really use it.  Let's narrate it, yes, but as we go on we may find there are other equally valid ways to use school books. Maybe we don't have to have older students constantly narrating in the usual sense, if they're also learning to question and analyze what they see and read.

Let's "analyse a chapter." Not just observe and tell back, but, since we have bigger students now, they're allowed to look at the underpinnings, how things are put together, how writers work and how thinkers think. Mortimer J. Adler spends quite a bit of time on analysis in How to Read a Book.  Can the students pick out and line up the points of an argument?  Can they take a chapter and make up subheadings for the different sections?  Can they discuss how a character's character drove the plot (or the historical events)?  Can they see how one event caused another?  On getting to the point in Ivanhoe where the castle lies in ruins and several people are dead, does it occur to the students that the whole mess was caused by De Bracy's mischievous kidnapping plot, and more than that, by his lack of Will?  And who is the real villain of the story?--Brian de Bois Guilbert, because of his own defects of character; or the master of the Templars, who uses even Brian to further his own agenda?  But these questions are not necessarily to be asked by the teacher and responded to (in a double-spaced paragraph with a topic sentence and conclusion) by the student.  The student should be learning to ask the questions for him/herself.
"Let the pupil write for himself half a dozen questions which cover the passage studied; he need not write the answers if he be taught that the mind can know nothing but what it can produce in the form of an answer to a question put by the mind to itself."
And oh yes, a P.S. from Charlotte:  what do the teachers do?

"The teacher's part is, in the first place, to see what is to be done, to look over the work of the day in advance and see what mental discipline, as well as what vital knowledge, this and that lesson afford; and then to set such questions and such tasks as shall give full scope to his pupils' mental activity."  We are responsible for making sure that the students have lots of opportunity to engage (that favourite new word of educationalists) with the material--that they have to think.

And then when the bell rings, or our homeschool equivalent?  Do the students then run off into the sunshine and throw off what belongs to school time and the teacher?  If that's what happens, something has gone wrong.  The lessons are to inspire life and conduct, or, as Charlotte Mason says elsewhere, they are to instruct our consciences, to teach us how to live. She also points out (in Ourselves) that consciences are kittle cattle--capricious, unpredictable, and able to sniff out a lecture and stuff up their ears (so to speak) in rebellion. It is not a case even of "a spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down"--that's twaddle. We are not looking for medicine at all, or even energy drinks, but solid food.  And we need to beware of sacrificing the "soul of books" to the demands of Analysis.
"Let us not in such wise impoverish our lives and the lives of our children; for, to quote the golden words of Milton: 'Books are not absolutely dead things, but do contain a potency of life in them to be as active as that soul was, whose progeny they are; nay, they do preserve, as in a vial, the purest efficacy and extraction of that living intellect that bred them. As good almost kill a man, as kill a good book; who kills a man kills a good reasonable creature, God's image; but he who destroys a good book, kills reason itself––kills the image of God, as it were, in the eye.'" ~~ Charlotte Mason, School Education


Max Weismann said...


We are a not-for-profit educational organization founded by Mortimer Adler and we have recently made an exciting discovery—three years after writing the wonderfully expanded third edition of How to Read a Book, Mortimer Adler and Charles Van Doren made a series of thirteen 14-minute videos—lively discussing the art of reading. The videos were produced by Encyclopaedia Britannica. For reasons unknown, sometime after their original publication, these videos were lost.

Three hours with Mortimer Adler and Charles Van Doren, lively discussing the art of reading, on one DVD. A must for all readers, libraries and classroom teaching the art of reading.

I cannot exaggerate how instructive these programs are—we are so sure that you will agree, if you are not completely satisfied, we will refund your donation.

Please go here to see a clip and learn more:

ISBN: 978-1-61535-311-8

Thank you,

Max Weismann, Co-founder with Dr. Adler

Nelleke from P.E.I. said...

I love the quote on what the teacher's job is. Food for thought today! :)

Mama Squirrel said...

Thanks, Nelleke!