Thursday, November 17, 2016

From the archives: Charlotte Mason and the great wide road

First posted October 2011 (links updated)

This week's Charlotte Mason blog carnival combines a Parent's Review article with Chapter IV of Towards a Philosophy of Education, "The Basis of National Strength." The theme common to them both seems to be delight--delight in knowledge, and delight in life, as opposed to indifference and a constant need for others to entertain us.
"....I write as an old woman who remembers how in the [eighteen-] sixties and seventies "countenance" was much talked of; "an intelligent countenance," "a fine countenance," "a noble countenance," were matters of daily comment. The word has dropped out of use; is it because the thing signified has dropped out of existence? Countenance is a manifestation of thought, feeling, intelligence; and it is none of these, but stolid indifference combined with physical well-being, that we read in many faces to-day."--Charlotte Mason, Towards a Philosophy of Education
"In order that the flavour and scent of existence may not be lost, we must have within ourselves some consciousness of this impelling power that may lead us to travel deliberately through our ages, realizing that the most wonderful adventures are not those which we go forth to seek. We shall then, perhaps, have some glimmering idea of what [Robert Louis] Stevenson himself meant when he said, "whether the past day was wise or foolish, to-morrow's travel will carry me body and mind into some different parish of the infinite." The conception of ourselves and our children as citizens of the "parish of the infinite" is undoubtedly one that must give us pause."  -- "The Open Road," by Frances Blogg (also known as Mrs. G.K. Chesterton), in The Parent's Review, Volume 11, 1900, pgs. 772-774
In this chapter, which was originally published in the London Times, Charlotte Mason talks about the countenance showing our interest in or indifference to the world, and how that affects the spirit of the nation.  She points out, though, that genuinely educated people are "not brought up for the uses of society only."  We are not cogs or dogs, as Mary Pride has termed it; not bricks in the wall.  Frances Blogg talks about life that retains its flavour and scent, that is more than mere existence.  We are given thoughts from Mr. Burns (the cabinet minister, not the cartoon character) and Socrates:
"Now personal delight, joy in living, is a chief object of education; Socrates conceived that knowledge is for pleasure, in the sense, not that knowledge is one source, but is the source of pleasure.  It is for their own sakes that children should get knowledge."--Philosophy, p. 302
In other words, education is for us.  For our own selves, for the children, and any interested others.  This is why Charlotte Mason emphasizes many books, important books, living books--because studying those books gives us power to think clearly, to make good judgments (meaning, for the good of society), and finally, to give us a life that is more than just passing time.  "But to do justice, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God."  She mentions, as she always does, that we don't respect or really love children by keeping their educational prospects arid, confined, shallow; we need to allow them to swim out deeper, to climb higher, and to go around more unknown corners than they have been generally allowed.
"Education, then, to [Stevenson] was a journey, full of the delights of wide landscape, fresh invigorating air, or alternate sunshine and shadow, the great wide road stretching infinitely before--leading to that heart of its own, the beat of which he so longed to hear. There can be no liberal education when the eyes are closed or the ears sealed. In this, as in everything else, the wayfarer must live to the full extent of his being. Pitfalls he must find on that journey, blind paths perhaps, but through it all the philosophy of belief in the essential goodness, the actual significance of things created, the state of being 'in love with life.'"--Frances Blogg
P.S. for Charlotte Mason trivia seekers:  who is this Mr. Burns she quotes on page 300?  My guess.

No comments: