Thursday, July 03, 2014

Using School Books, Part Two...this wasn't what we were expecting?

Part One is here.

I just finished re-watching Disney's Frozen with Dollygirl.  If you haven't heard and seen it multiple times by now, one of the supporting characters is a snowman named Olaf, who "hasn't had much experience with heat" but who sings a song about all the things he's looking forward to in summer.  At the end of the song, one of the watching humans mutters, "I'm going to tell him," and the other replies, "Don't you dare."  It is a cheerful song, but of course it has implications of the snowman's expected eventual end, and of the increasing perils of the human characters as well.

And on the next page of School Education, chapter 16, we have a quotation from writer Thomas de Quincey, something about his early memories of hearing Bible stories and thinking of hot weather and Palm Sunday.  Charlotte Mason, perhaps because she thought we would already know it or perhaps because it wasn't part of her point, has given it to us without much context. But the rest of the story is readily available in De Quincey's Autographic Sketches.  He is remembering the sudden death of his sister, when they were both children. He is told that she has died, and creeps into her room, wanting to see her once more, but the bed has been moved and all he can see is an open window: "through which the sun of midsummer, at midday, was showering down torrents of splendor. The weather was dry, the sky was cloudless, the blue depths seemed the express types of infinity; and it was not possible for eye to behold, or for heart to conceive, any symbols more pathetic of life and the glory of life."

He then explains why, then and afterwards, he made such personal connections between summer and sunshine, mortality and death, and this is the quotation about early Bible impressions that CM includes, that through the "younger nurse's" comments on the Bible stories, the impression he had gotten of Palestine, and Jerusalem in particular, was that it seemed to be a place of everlasting summer, but a summer particularly connected with death (because of the death of Christ). He seemed to think of death before resurrection, saying, "There [in Jerusalem] it was, indeed, that the human had risen on wings from the grave; but, for that reason, there also it was that the divine had been swallowed up by the abyss; the lesser star could not rise before the greater should submit to eclipse. Summer, therefore, had connected itself with death, not merely as a mode of antagonism, but also as a phenomenon brought into intricate relations with death by scriptural scenery and events." (italics mine)

Now obviously De Quincey was a more than usually perceptive and sensitive child.  But what is Charlotte Mason's point in including this story, which in its briefer form implies there is some value in reading the Bible to young children, but which, put in context, gives us a possibility of an even deeper sense of life (and perhaps death) given through those early impressions, and the gift of that understanding when death became real?  Clearly this is one of those places where, "if only we were wise," we would draw back from tampering or commenting on the stories as much as we often do; and at the same time, she seems to imply that we dare not deny our children the opportunity to hear them, and to know them deeply.

Olaf the snowman enjoys his dreams of summer, but he also recognizes his own fragility (he keeps breaking apart and getting put back together), and he sees the mortality of the humans around him--he tries to keep Princess Anna from freezing, and tells her that "some people are worth melting for."  Can we learn as much from a Disney supermovie as we can from Genesis?  No, although it might be worth thinking about the fact that such stories may be the only source of discussion material that some children have.  But we have the opportunity to give our children something much, much richer and more mysterious--a sense of eternity that must be given, as for little Thomas De Quincey, with reverence, and without much explanation and comment.

     But who shall parcel out

His intellect by geometric rules,
Split like a province into round and square?
Who knows the individual hour in which
His habits were first sown even as a seed?
Who that shall point as with a wand, and say
'This portion of the river of my mind
Came from yon fountain'? (William Wordsworth, Prelude II 243–249)

To be continued in Part Three.


Amanda said...

It appears part one is missing. Do you still have this post?

Mama Squirrel said...

I appear to have cleaned house too vigorously. I couldn't have had too much to say in it, since Part Two starts in on the second page of the chapter. I think it was something along these lines: . Sorry about that.

Mama Squirrel said...

I have restored the post, it is now here: .

Amanda said...

Thanks! I appreciate you going to the trouble and look forward to reading it.