Tuesday, April 13, 2010

A Month with Charlotte Mason, #13 (Updated)

As far as textbooks go, there are textbooks and then there are textbooks. Some of the books that Charlotte Mason called living books, especially ones she used for high school, look a lot like textbooks. And there are certainly subjects that are most efficiently taught with some kind of a textbook, like geometry or Latin or grammar. Just watch out for the ones that are obviously produced by textbook committees, the dumbed-down books or the ones that try to cover way too many topics without any real sequence. Some textbooks are toaster pastries, some are gruel; look for something that’s nourishing but still appetizing.

Look for science, history and geography materials that are fairly consecutive, that build on knowledge rather than presenting choppy bits and pieces, and that give you a chance to get really into a time, place or topic. Anything that can get you all excited about the walls of an old fort, a statue in a museum, or what’s going to come out of a chrysalis, is probably good material. Anything that leads to children asking more good questions on their own, like “what’s fire?” is probably good material.

You want children to be able to make connections, see how things fit into each other, see how familiar things can be compared with less familiar ones—to find reasons to care about what they’re learning, and make it their own. At the beginning of Home Education, Charlotte Mason talks about actual meals, and offers the advice that you shouldn’t always serve exactly the same thing for every breakfast or every lunch—that every meal should have at least some little surprise. A good lesson is like that—if the children always know exactly what to expect, they may not mind it too much, but if there’s the possibility of some new, unexpected thing, that’s even better. But the cool thing (the leisurely thing) for parents it that we do not have to set these discoveries up, or hammer the morals home; the children will make their own connections, and sometimes draw out points that we never even thought of. More leisure for us. More for them, because they’re not being hammered.

CM-RELATED UPDATE: Hard thoughts on the issue of education without understanding (or, as C.S. Lewis and Cindy have it, creating "men without chests"): today's post at The Common Room). And check out this quote from the same article the DHM is referencing:
"The secret was breathtakingly simple. The way to teach literacy for the twenty-first century turns out to be the same way it has been done in the last thirty centuries of civilization: to hire the brightest and best-educated teachers (usually not those coming out of a school of education considered “certified”), to put in their hands the best works of literature and history and philosophy, to invite young people to have a conversation about what it means to be a human being [emphasis mine], and to require those students to work hard and demonstrate good character while doing so. When all the Mickey-Mouse language of plot graphs and “standards” is abandoned, it’s just you and some students talking about love, hate, war, peace, liberty, slavery, happiness, life, and death. And the students know when you’re faking it.

"Oh, and it helps to throw in a little Latin."

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