Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Life, the universe and everything: Philosophy of Education Chapter 10 (Curriculum)

[Each person is] the inhabitant of a world full of beauty and interest, the features of which he must recognise and know how to name, and a world too, and a universe, whose every function of every part is ordered by laws which he must begin to know. ~~Charlotte Mason, Towards a Philosophy of Education, Chapter 10
Here are some Philosophy of Education numbers for you:

"Knowledge of Man" gets 48 pages in Chapter 10.

"Knowledge of the Universe" gets barely 17.

("Knowledge of God" gets 12.)

Some people are puzzled by Charlotte Mason's seeming lack of enthusiasm for subjects outside of the humanities.

Some people are very, very frustrated by it.  Especially those who majored in math or science, or who work in math or science, or who are married to someone who worries that this CM stuff might be nice for the early grades but that nature study isn't going to cut it as they get older.  And when do they do magnets and simple machines?  And dinosaurs?

Less emphasis on science and math just doesn't fit, for instance, with current North American high school demands, and the almost more important requirements of colleges and universities.  Many post-secondary programs in Ontario require senior-level maths and sciences.  One college lists these requirements for grade 12 students applying to a nursing program:

■Six U or U/C credits including: Grade 12 U compulsory English; One of Grade 12 U Advanced Functions, Grade 12 U Calculus and Vectors or Grade 12 U Mathematics of Data Management; Grade 12 U Biology; Grade 12 U Chemistry and two other Grade 12 U or U/C courses with at least a cumulative average of 75%.
(U is University stream, U/C is University/College stream which would be slightly less advanced)

A Fitness and Health Promotion diploma program requires the following courses for admission:

■Grade 11 or 12 Biology, C or U, or equivalent (those without it can take a prep course at the college)
 ■Grade 12 Compulsory English, C or U, or equivalent (ditto)
■PLUS one of the following:
■Grade 11 or 12 Physics, C or U, or equivalent (ditto)
■Grade 11 or 12 Chemistry, C or U, or equivalent (ditto)
■Grade 12 Health and Physical Education, C or U, or equivalent
■Grade 11 or 12 Science, SNC3M or SNC4M

Take the science at high school or take it before you start the program, but somewhere along the line, you have to take it.  Of course, not all the programs require math and science, but, as my own guidance counsellor used to say, "you might be closing some doors if you don't take those courses."  I personally squeaked through school with two science credits (the last was in grade 11) and senior Functions and Relations, but then I was stubborn (I filled up my senior timetable with languages).  Our Apprentice earned about every senior math and science credit there was (in addition to her hairstyling apprenticeship), and got herself into a chosen-by-hand science degree program.  That's so you know that I would never stop anybody from taking lots of math and science and geography if that's what they want to do.

But that's Charlotte Mason's point: that, first off, it's not what everybody wants to do, or can do; but second, why should that stop the rest of us from taking an interest in our universe and all its "quirks and quarks?"  Not earning senior science credits may "close the doors" of particular college programs (that never bothered me), but why should it close the doors of general interest? Unfortunately, our education system doesn't see it that way, though teachers moan about students' lack of interest in their science and math courses. It was the same thirty years ago--Grade 11 was Physics, take it or leave it.  Grade 12 was Chemistry.  No other options.  When the voices out there complain about students' lack of math numeracy, or scientific literacy, they miss that one point:  that though the humanities types and artsies don't get calculus, can't even get through senior chemistry without tearing our hair, it doesn't mean that math and science should be of no interest or have no relevance, that we're all doomed to everlasting ignorance, it's pork rinds with Bubba time.

But nobody can be completely cut off from at least the effects of science, even if our understanding of them is sometimes a bit straggly.  We are bombarded with media stories of new medical discoveries (did you read about the ear that was created on a 3-D printer?), of meteors blowing up over Russia, of problems of the environment and agriculture.  We are shown graphs, quoted numbers.  We want to know what we should eat to stay healthy, how a new machine works, why some kinds of birds or bees are disappearing.   If we are Christians, we certainly do want to know more about the "One who set the atoms dancing." 
"Lord, You turn the wheels of the galaxies. You know what makes the planets spin. And You know what makes this watch run…” Through the years [Father] took his stopped watches to “the One who set the atoms dancing,” or “who keeps the great currents circling through the sea.” ~~Corrie ten Boom, The Hiding Place 
Please don't get me wrong:  those who want to take college or university courses in areas requiring, for instance, a lab science background, or a particularly difficult math that the student's parents haven't studied recently, should certainly have the opportunity to get what they need.  There really is no sneaking in through the back door on solid math and science preparation, and many homeschoolers do have to turn to outside courses, tutors, co-ops and so on.  If you need that preparation for something, then by all means find a way to do it. This is where Charlotte Mason says that she doesn't have a lot to say about how science and math are taught (although she might have more to say these days)--geometry proofs are what they are, senior chemistry is still senior chemistry.

And her point, again, was that many of us could have done--can do--quite nicely without it.  Her belief was that those who really needed to study higher-level math and science were a minority--an important and gifted minority, but still a minority.  For the rest of us--we were not to be left without science and math altogether, by no means!--although what the "rest of us" do might not quite please the purists.  For those of you who ever watched Seinfeld--do you remember George's invented holiday, "Festivus--for the rest of us?"  That was pretty much what Charlotte was saying here--that there should be a large crowd of humanities majors enjoying our math and science Festivus, instead of being left out of the celebration altogether.

This did not mean, especially in the higher years, that it was to be all "science lite" or science-made-entertaining; or that those subjects could be dropped entirely.  In the next post I will link to some of the books that her senior students used, to demonstrate that point.  But math and science, taught in an accessible way, were to be part of the lifetime mind-equipment of every student; and they were valued for their place in the Science of Relationships and the Knowledge of the Universe.

Monday, February 25, 2013

Dollygirl's Grade Six: School plans for Term Two, Week Eight

Week Eight (Feb. 25-Mar. 1):  this week's rough plan
God’s Smuggler pp 218-225, maybe 226-234 "I asked through the [Chinese] interpreter if mice were not a problem.  The old man laughed.  'We have mice,' he said, 'but now we do not mind because there is enough for us and them too.  It wasn't like that Before.'"

Uncle Eric, Chapter 21, “A Model Born of Desperation.” “The only reliable model for achieving substantial wealth and security is to own a healthy business.”

Augustus Caesar's World:  Herod and Mariamne; Triumph and Peace (end of part 2)
We might get to:  Augustus Caesar’s World: Augustus Caesar; The Druids; Tales of the Wild Northwest; A Wedding

Story of Greece chapters 69-78, or as far as we get, beginning with "Alcibiades the Favourite of Athens."

Archimedes and the Door of Science, chapter 9: Archimedes and Numbers

Extra reading:  The Fellowship of the Ring

A History Lesson: Alcibiades and Socrates

Part One:

Introductory questions:  Look at the map of Greece and show the Peloponnesus.  What was the Peloponnesian War?  Who were the main cities involved?  Do you remember the story we read from Plutarch, about Pericles bringing too many people within the city walls for fear of attack, and then a plague coming on them?  We have skipped some of the events of the first part of the war, but eventually the two groups did stop fighting and signed the Peace of Nicias.  This said that they would hold off their fighting for fifty years.
Nicias was an Athenian general and political leader during the Peloponnesian War period. 

But just because they signed the treaty didn't mean they actually got along with each other.  Look at the map again and find Athens, Sparta, and Argos.  Today's lesson is about Argos.

(Map found here.)

Today we also introduce Alcibiades.  Pericles was one of his guardians.  He has been described as beautiful but wild, arrogant, extravagant (but generous), and reckless.

Part Two:  Socrates
What is philosophy?  What philosophers do you know of?  Do you know anything about Socrates?  Socrates' wife was named Xanthippe, which means "Yellow horse."  (Wikipedia says that "Hers is one of many Greek personal names with a horse theme (cf. Philippos: "friend of horses"; Hippocrates: "horse tamer" etc.). The "hippos" in an ancient Greek name often suggested aristocratic heritage."  For instance, the wife of Alcibiades was Hipparete, the daughter of Hipponicus, a wealthy Athenian.) Did Socrates and his wife get along well? 
Answer:  maybe!
Read and narrate "Socrates the Philosopher."

There is one thing you might want to think about, after reading this story.  Plutarch is the writer who says that Socrates was the teacher of Alcibiades.  Another Greek writer says that that wasn't so, that Pericles was his teacher.  If Plutarch possibly was unsure or mixed up about Socrates, why might he still have thought it made sense? 
We will skip the next chapter, which describes Alcibiades' speech from Plato's Symposium.  Even in  a retelling, I just don't find it edifying for very young maidens.

Music sneaks in there with art: Philosophy of Education, Chapter 10 (Curriculum)

Chapter Ten of Volume Six reminds me somewhat of an Oriental folding box, or maybe the opening of Wives and Daughters:  "In a country there was a shire, and in that shire there was a town, and in that town there was a house, and in that house there was a room..."  In that volume, there was a (long) chapter on Curriculum; and that chapter was divided into Knowledge of God, Knowledge of Man, and Knowledge of the Universe; and Knowledge of Man was divided into six sections; and one of the sections was labelled Art, but it was really also about Music.

Some of us know how to do a lot with music.  Especially if we're homeschoolers; especially if we're Christians.  We teach our children about music, or we get them music lessons, or they're involved in choirs or drama or orchestras or garage bands, and they often rank high in the annual music festivals.

Others of us have children who don't seem to be that interested, who don't ask for lessons or fool around on the piano...sometimes to our relief.  Because that may not be our "thing" either.  And sometimes we, busy with so many other school subjects and things to do, fall back on the "background music" system of music appreciation.  At least we played the music, we think.  They heard it.

Or did they?

If you go to Google Books, you will find a "preview" version of The Term's Music, by Cedric Howard Glover.*  Not the whole book, but enough to get a different view, perhaps, of the deliberateness with which music appreciation and ear training in the Parents' Union School was approached.  Cedric Howard Glover was a "P.U.S. baby" or guinea pig, if you like.  His mother started the music program, back in the days when to play music for your baby, you pretty much had to play it on the piano or parlour organ yourself.

I think that the materials in this book may have been first printed as part of the Parents' Review magazine, then put together in book form, but I'm not totally sure about that.  The term programmes sometimes refer parents to issues of the magazine, to get the notes for the term's work, but those issues aren't online yet, so I can't prove they're the same thing.   But I think we can take it as pretty certain that Mr. Glover, having been brought up well-soaked, so to speak, in the P.U.S., would be familiar with the "work and aims" of Charlotte Mason, and it's clear that the book was written to act as the music-appreciation curriculum for twelve school terms--that is, a four-year rotation.

Here are a few things I snagged from the preview of The Term's Music.

1.  "It is the function of Musical Appreciation to right this balance and to restore the proper relation between the music and the performer....It is not enough just to play them good music, unless at the same time we can awaken that finer sense, which will enable them to determine why it is good.  There is an absolute standard of good in music as inexorable as any ethical standard....[We want to] foster the natural good taste of the subject, and gradually to build up a fund of experience, which may serve as a standard of right and wrong, incidentally bringing him into contact with some of the great creative geniuses of the world and providing him with a treasure house of beautiful things, which will be a joy to him all his life."

2.  "The study of music should rather follow on the lines of the study of literature or history, with both of which it has some affinity."

3.  "...it is manifestly absurd to deny the enjoyment, which music brings with it, to those who have neither the physical dexterity nor the artistic sensibility to play it for themselves."

4.  "At least one quarter of the time available should be devoted to Ear Training." 

5.  "Nothing is more lamentably contrary to the whole spirit of the subject than sentimental rhapsodizing, high-flown descriptions of concrete images conjured up by absolute music and the like.  The pupil who sees Gothic cathedrals in Bach fugures and dancing dervishes in Brahms waltzes has no true appreciation of the music, and is the victim of faulty instruction."

6.  "If the true object of the lesson is realized, anything unworthy or meretricious will be immediately detected and spurned--the touchstone will be applied to hymn tunes, unison songs, pianoforte pieces alike, and those which are insincere, uninspired, trivial and mawkish will be given short shrift."

7.  The teaching for each composer includes both biographical material, a list of pieces to be listened to, and the equivalent of concert program notes for each piece.  This is the stuff that a teacher...not a professional music teacher, but a classroom teacher or homeschooling parent...would need to give the kind of explanatory remarks that Charlotte Mason did approve of. 

8.  Which twelve composers did make it onto the rotation?  Handel, Bach, Mozart; Beethoven, Schubert, Schumann; Brahms, Wagner, Grieg; Moussorgsky, Dvorak, Debussy.  In the introduction to the book, Glover gives his reasoning--mostly that, for some students, time is short; better to major on the majors.

Yes, there are other kinds of music out there besides dead white guys and Europeans.  Yes, there are other instruments besides the piano and the symphony orchestra.  Yes, another century has gone by, and the music of Debussy is no longer considered startling.  We may wish to expand on the scope of Mr. Glover's curriculum.  However, it's a pretty solid base for anyone feeling a bit clueless, or frustrated with the limits of "background music." 

And if you really don't want to do it all yourself, can I make a slightly dated but still useful recommendation?  Look at your library or on You-tube for episodes of Leonard Bernstein's Young People's Concerts.  They cover lots of ground (they were filmed over many concerts and many years), and they're worth watching.  A random sample:

*The book was reprinted in 2001, but is currently unavailable.  You might find a copy used or in an academic library.

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Sunday reading

Life Under Compulsion: The Dehumanities, by Anthony Esolen at Front Porch Republic.  Part of a series mentioned at Suitable for Mixed Company.  
“Here is one,” says the father [of a new baby], “who will possess the capacity to embark upon independent research, who will present arguments that balance claim and counterclaim.”

“Here is one,” says the mother, “who will meet the Common Core Requirement anchor standards and high school grade-specific standards, which work in tandem to define college and career readiness expectations, the former providing broad standards, the latter providing additional specificity.”

I did not make that last sentence up.

Saturday, February 23, 2013

"Ask me, ask me": Teaching in the CM Classroom

"Conference Lessons, Class II," by K.M. Claxton, Parents' Review Volume 26, no. 8, August 1915, pgs. 569-573

Charlotte Mason's form of education is often seen, in fact promoted, as simple, natural, and relaxed.  At one time it was misunderstood by many homeschoolers to be just one step short of unschooling.  In some ways, the "simple and relaxed" idea is quite true.  It definitely takes the pressure off a teacher to understand that the act of learning has to happen in the child's mind; that education is not all about detailed lesson plans and clever activities.  It takes some pressure off the children to realize that they're not expected to complete pages of busywork, and that they're being asked to tell back what they understood from a reading, not answer a slew of questions.

However, there's another side to CM-style lessons that we, being mostly limited to hundred-year-old written descriptions of the curriculum and classes, can sometimes miss.  I haven't yet seen the DVDs of CM teacher Eve Anderson, and the link to the Perimeter Schools site that was offering them seems to be non-functional, so I guess I won't be seeing them anytime soon either.  But from what I've heard, her presentation, for instance, of a Picture Study lesson on Vermeer, was something of a surprise:  CM homeschoolers have commented on how much she talked before she let the children look at the picture.

This lines up quite well with K.M. Claxton's description of what she called a "Picture Talk" lesson, given in 1915 to a demonstration class of 17 (!) children ages 8 to 11 (see the link at the top of this post).  The term's painter was Raphael, and the painting was "The Miraculous Draught of Fishes."

First off, she asked what the children already knew about Raphael (they had already started their term's work so would have done at least a couple of art lessons.)
Second, she told them a story about the history of the painting.  (The story as told in this online book may be closer to the way that Miss Claxton told it.)
Third, she read them the story about the fishes, from the Gospel of St. Luke.
THEN, only then, the children studied the painting and described it.
Miss Claxton gave "a few appreciative words" about the painting.
Finally, the children drew "the chief lines of the composition."

This pattern of asking, and then presenting a bit of something to get the students interested in the lesson, seems a lot to ask of a homeschool parent who might have several children doing different lessons, who might not have read all the books ahead of time, and who and might or might not have any idea herself about the history of any particular Raphael painting; but it seems also to be, unfortunately, the way the Parents' Union School did things.  We can't cross it out just because it is more work for us or because we don't like it.  The original Programmes don't specify or explain much about this, they just give book titles and page counts; but considering that we have seen both a "live" example (Eve Anderson) and written examples (e.g. Miss Claxton), it seems that if we don't present at least some of our lessons in this way, our students will be missing out.  Note the difference here, though, between what Charlotte Mason called "getting up a lesson," meaning that the teacher was the lecturer for the whole lesson, and these outlines, which do require some preparation or a bit of research ahead of time, but which are still book-centered.

Here are more examples from the morning that Miss Claxton spent with these 17 youngsters, none of whom she had ever seen or taught before:

In Natural History, the term's book was Life and Her Children, by Arabella Buckley. (Full text available here.) 
The asking: The children told her what insects they were studying, gave her some examples, and told her the four stages in the life cycle of these insects.  She told them that today they would be learning about different kinds of Two-Winged Insects or "Flies," and asked the children to name the kinds of flies that they knew.
The hook:  Miss Claxton had (bravely, we think) toted along two daddy-long-legs in a jar, and had the children look at some details of their anatomy.
The reading, starting on page 262 (sounds like the children read): 
These "balancers" tell us that the two-winged flies, the gnats, mosquitoes, midges, bluebottles, house-flies, and cattle-flies, are not made on a different plan from the four-winged insects, but are merely flies whose hind wings have lost their size and power, while the front ones have become stronger and larger. This has evidently been no disadvantage in their case, for they have flourished well in the world, and myriads are to be found in every town and country, while their different ways of living are almost as various as there are kinds of fly. Some, such as the daddy-long-legs, suck the juices of plants, some suck animal blood, some live on decaying matter ; while in not a few cases, as among the gadflies, the father is a peaceable sucker of honey while the mother is bloodthirsty.

Among the gnats and mosquitoes the father dies so soon that he does not feed at all, while the mother has a mouth made of sharp lancets, with which she pierces the skin of her victim and then sucks up the juices through the lips. Among the botflies, however, which are so much dreaded by horses and cattle, it is not with the mouth in feeding that the wound is made. In this case the mother has a scaly pointed instrument in the tail,"" which she thrusts into the flesh of the animal so as to lay her eggs beneath its skin, where the young grub feeds and undergoes its change into a fly.

For we must remember that every fly we see has had its young maggot life and its time of rest. Our common house-fly was hatched in a dust heap or a dung heap, or among decaying vegetables, and fed in early life on far less tasty food than it finds in our houses. The bluebottle was hatched in a piece of meat, and fed there as a grub ; and the gadfly began its life inside a horse, its careful mother having placed her eggs on some part of the horse's body which he was sure to lick and so to carry the young grub to its natural warm home. 
 At this point they narrated what had been read so far.  Miss Claxton showed them drawings of the life cycle of the gnat.  They were allowed to examine these and discuss them.

Then two children read this section out loud: 
But of all early lives that of the gnat is probably the most romantic, and certainly more pleasant than those of most flies. When the mother is ready to lay her eggs she flies to the nearest quiet water, and there, collecting the eggs together with her long hind legs, glues them into a little boat-shaped mass and leaves them to float. In a very short time the eggs are hatched and the young grubs swim briskly about, whirling round some tufts of hair which grow on their mouths, and so driving microscopic animals and plants down their throats. Curiously enough they all swim head downwards and tail upwards (g, Fig. 90), and the secret of this is that they are air-breathing animals and have a small tube at the end of their tail, which they thrust above water to take in air.

This goes on for about a fortnight, when, after they have changed their skins three times, they are ready to remodel their bodies. Then on casting their skin for the fourth time they come out shorter and bent and swathed up, but still able to swim about though not to eat. Meanwhile a most curious change has taken place. The tail tube has gone, and two little tubes (p t, Fig. 90) have grown on the top of the back, and through them the tiny pupa now draws in its breath as it wanders along. At last the time comes for the gnat to come forth, and the pupa stretches itself out near the top of the water, with its shoulders a little raised out of it. Then the skin begins to split, and the true head of the gnat appears and gradually rises, drawing up the body out of its case. This is a moment of extreme danger, for if the boat-like skin were to tip over it would carry the gnat with it, and in this way hundreds are drowned but if the gnat can draw out its legs in safety the danger is over. Leaning down to the water he rests his tiny feet upon it, unfolds and dries his beautiful scale-covered wings, and flies away in safety.
Finally Miss Claxton showed them some empty pupa cases, and asked them to narrate the life-history of the gnat, which they did.  They all promised to go out and look for gnat eggs and larvae.

The world history lesson that Miss Claxton taught was based on two chapters of The Awakening of Europe, one of the Story of the World volumes by M.B. Synge.  I won't go over all the things she asked them (you can read the article yourself), but she did have a few questions about what they already knew.  She described one of the main characters and showed them a portrait.  I think because it was a one-shot class, she decided to read to them first from Chapter 1, and had them narrate.  Then she showed them a map (drawn on the blackboard) with certain towns marked, and as well as pointing them out, she mentioned which ones had been in the news recently (this was during World War I).  Then she read them the later chapter on "The Siege of Leyden" and possibly a bit from the next chapter (it's not quite clear where she stopped.)  The lesson finished with another narration.

The pattern begins to appear, and you know, it's something that's not all that hard for us in the 21st century to copy--easier, in some ways.  I don't have to fill up boxes of clipped pictures, or spend that time hand-drawing a map. At the click of the keyboard, I can access the portrait of a king, the map of a battle site, or the photograph (if I can't find the real thing) of a gnat pupa.  Do you notice how relatively short the readings are, too?  This is not onerous study.  And we all know that a lesson should be narrated, right?  However, it does seem also to be expected that the children are going to be able to tell you the what's and who's of what they've learned previously, and I think sometimes we, the parent-teachers, might slip back in that area.  It's okay to ask them.  Miss Claxton said so.

(It's also interesting to compare Miss Claxton's notes with those of another teacher using different chapters, same books.)

Friday, February 22, 2013

Art and the ways of the spirit: Philosophy of Education, Chapter 10 (Curriculum)

Towards a Philosophy of Education, Chapter 10 (Curriculum), On Teaching Art

(Sister Mary Osithe's art class photo found here)
"There are few subjects regarded with more respect and less confidence in our schools than this of 'Art.' Of course, we say, children should have their artistic powers cultivated, especially those who have such powers, but how is the question." ~~Charlotte Mason, Philosophy of Education, Chapter 10
Almost everyone who's read or listened to anything about Charlotte Mason schooling knows something about picture study.  The process is given in detail in more than one book; it's something that we can be fairly sure that we are doing "right."*  The Simply Charlotte Mason website offers portfolios of prints and biographical information, based on the Parents' Union booklets published by the Medici Society which are still easily obtainable through used book sites.  Ambleside Online has an ongoing rotation of artists to study.  Harmony Fine Arts also offers an artist and composer plan.  And so on...the resources are there.  There are no particularly big barriers of language or irrelevancy.  It's even something we can adapt fairly easily to our own countries or special art interests.  (I'm thinking of studying Canadian sculptor Joe Fafard for our own third term this year.)

And yet we can still miss something basic along the way.  In discussing again how the children were taught to draw, Charlotte mentions a system of art education that had been popular when she was a young woman:  
Redgrave, drawing on Dyce's ideas, and propelled by Cole, set out the "South Kensington system", a highly specific syllabus for the teaching of art, which was to be dominant in the UK, and other English-speaking countries, at least until the end of the century, and not to entirely vanish until the 1930s....The full course was divided into twenty-three stages, most with several sections. Different types of students were to take different combinations of stages: "machinists, engineers and foremen of works" should take stages 1–5, and then skip to the final 23rd stage, "Technical Studies", while designers and "ornamentalists" took most stages.[13]

There were several types of students, pursuing different courses: the "general students", who paid no fees and were given a small living allowance, training to be teachers of art (though many ended up elsewhere), the "National Scholars" intended for industrial designers, and fee-paying students, pursuing a course more oriented to the fine arts. Latterly these were in fact the majority.[33] Women pupils were taught at least partly separately, and their life classes consisted of drawing a man wearing a suit of armour. The Royal Academy Schools did not accept women students until 1861, although there were other alternatives for women. The female school, under Royal patronage, became a rather fashionable place for young ladies, able to support its expansion by society fundraising.[28]  (Wikipedia Article) (Italics mine)
System, syllabus, stages, sections...it's obvious why Charlotte rebelled against something so mechanical.  And yet, she noted, even sixty years later (and later than that, according to Wikipedia), its effects were still being felt, if only in the "same-old" assignments such as arranging cones and cubes to teach perspective and shading.  You've probably done that, I've done that, everyone's done that...nothing so much wrong with sketching geometric solids, right?

Charlotte Mason responds:
But we begin now to understand that art is not to be approached by such a macadamised road. It is of the spirit, and in ways of the spirit must we make our attempt. We recognise that the power of appreciating art and of producing to some extent an interpretation of what one sees is as universal as intelligence, imagination, nay, speech, the power of producing words. But there must be knowledge and, in the first place, not the technical knowledge of how to produce, but some reverent knowledge of what has been produced; that is, children should learn pictures, line by line, group by group, by reading, not books, but pictures themselves.
In other words...she says, and you may disagree...who really wants to draw cubes and cones and cylinders?  Who wants to look at them?  It's the same issue as the potato-printing and blob-making I mentioned in the last post; her argument is that such art says nothing to our human spirit, says nothing about beauty.  If it's only a technical exercise in shading, it's not making art, any more than fingering exercises are making music.  Children are better off fumbling a little over a first watercolour of a buttercup, as long as it's a real buttercup that they've just met outside:  "The first buttercup in a child's nature note book is shockingly crude, the sort of thing to scandalise a teacher of brush-drawing, but by and by another buttercup will appear with the delicate poise, uplift and radiance of the growing flower." 
"For it is true as Browning told us**,––For, don't you mark, we're made so that we love / First when we see them painted, things we have passed / Perhaps a hundred times nor cared to see." ~~Charlotte Mason
When we draw or paint beautiful things ourselves, we will see them in a new way.

And when we look at beautiful paintings, or sculptures, we will also see the world in a new way.
Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot, Evening
*Although I've read that some people, after viewing the DVDs of veteran CM educator Eve Anderson teaching a picture study lesson, find it surprising that the teacher talks so much up front.  I think we originally got the idea that basically you gave the children the pictures and told them to look, without a lot of prior information.  I am thinking through another whole post about that issue, and not just about picture study, so stay tuned.
** "Fra Lippo Lippi" by Robert Browning

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

On the teaching of languages, especially French (Philosophy of Education)

Philosophy of Education, Chapter 10, "The Curriculum: The Knowledge of Man: Languages" 
Dear Mr. Public, 
At the sight of this little work dyspeptic people will exclaim, as they always do: "What! another of those books...!" Don't listen to them. Run your eye through the French Primer, and if you think it amusing and instructive buy it for your numerous little boys and girls, thereby delighting

Yours sincerely,
(Hachette's illustrated French primer, or, The child's first French lessons: containing the alphabet, words, phrases, and French nursery rhymes, 1890 edition (downloadable Google eBook)

What on earth were Charlotte Mason's secrets that allowed "nine pages of the story read straight through by the mistress, without pause or interruption of any kind...As soon as the reading ended, on the instant, without hesitation of any kind, narration began in French, different members of the class taking up the story in turn till it was finished.  All were good; some astonishingly good...Yet the time given to French is two hours and three-quarters a week only.  Such results compel attention."*

Such results just make some of us want to throw in la serviette. [Although, to be fair, these were her student teachers--not young children.]

Well, thanks to the wonders of modern technology, you too can "run your eye through the French Primer."**  You can also download Siepmann's Primary French Course Part One, and French Fables in ActionIf you can speak enough French to manage the stories and exercises in these books, you can teach French just like Charlotte Mason, and for free.  Can't lose with that.  (Also the German Primer, which you can read online although I'm not getting anywhere downloading the PDF.)

I'm not sure exactly how they managed to stretch out just a few lessons over one term (did they read a whole passage once, narrate it, and then never go back again?), and neither the prefaces to the textbooks nor the short description in Volume Six are going to shed any light on that.  I am impressed with the amount of material that these books cover, even the Primer.  If you went through the Primer and the first part of Siepmann's with the kind of attention Charlotte Mason describes--meaning that you actually remembered the lessons afterwards--you would have a solid vocabulary for reading the French literature assigned in later years.  True, you might be more comfortable talking about wagons, beehives and swords than you would computers and soccer; but that isn't necessarily a bad thing.  If you're going to read older books, you need that vocabulary and those phrases.  And since modern languages in the P.U.S. weren't a drill-and-kill or strictly utilitarian subject, everyday conversation, though important, wasn't the only or the ultimate goal.

If you don't speak any French, or want to study Spanish or some other language that you do or don't already speak yourself, obviously your needs will be different.  But it still might help to get a look at the books and see what sorts of things were covered at the various levels.

(I want to publish this post now, but I may come back later and add some points on learning languages.  I'd be happy to hear your thoughts in the meantime.)

*Written by H.W. Household.  Originally published in Journal of Education and School World, Volume 52, Oxford University Press, 1920.  Reprinted in Towards a Philosophy of Education, Chapter 10.

**If you're comparing the 1890 French Primer with the page counts given in the PUS programmes, especially the programmes from around 1920, they don't match; there aren't enough pages.  I don't know if later editions just made the book longer, or if they completely renumbered the pages.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Creative Narration?

Over the years I have seen a lot of Squirreling narrations done with toys: Barbies, Fisher-Price Little People, 18-inch dolls.  But I was especially impressed with Dollygirl's casting choices for "Themistocles is Ostracized": two felt dolls, plus a vinyl velociraptor for King Artaxerxes.

Not a bad metaphor, really!

Linked from the Carnival of Homeschooling.

Quote for the day: why writers write

This is kind of a quote within a quote within a quote.  It's from a review of Katherine Paterson's book Gates of Excellence, in which she quotes from both Edith Hamilton (who is quoting from Hesiod) and Charles Schultz.  Gates of Excellence is where I first heard (years ago) of Children of the Fox, which I tracked down and read, and which I then had to "sweat" to get through ILL so that we could use it in school this year.
At the beginning of the book, when Paterson is asked when she wanted to be a writer, she explains that it was her love of reading that made her want to “get inside the process (Paterson, p. 2)” not that she ever wanted to be a writer at all. In this opening essay, she shares two items in her office that apparently protect her from her “terror of mediocrity.” One is a Greek quote borrowed from Edith Hamilton which also provides the title for this collection:

Before the gates of excellence
The high gods have placed sweat (Ibid, p. 3).

The other is a mounted Charles Schultz cartoon of Snoopy typing, “It was a dark and stormy night.” Snoopy then remarks, “Good writing is hard work.” I’m not sure the Greeks actually said “sweat” but the point is both remind her that she is a worker, not a part of some gifted group bestowing their words on “less fortunate mortals (Ibid p.3).”

Monday, February 18, 2013

I almost forgot! Today is...

Our eighth blog birthday.


Come on up and celebrate with us.  You are all welcome!

Quote for the day: Stuck in a pepper-box?

"None of you girls, I hope, will ever think yourselves too fine, or too cultivated, to attend to your domestic duties, or even, if need be, to turn up your sleeves and pin on an apron, and toss off some dainty little dish which may stimulate the appetite of the weary or the sick:  for even in such humble services as these you may be pleasing and serving the Lord as truly and devoutly as in any act of public worship.  But I also hope that you will not forget that there are still higher duties than these; that in ministering to the spirit you do more and better than in ministering to the body.  For if there is one creature more pitiable than the fine lady who cannot condescend to the cares of the table or the house, it is the woman who degrades herself into a mere kitchen drudge, and whose soul seems never to get out of the pepper-box and the salt-cellar." ~~"The Best Dish," in The bird's nest, and other sermons for children of all ages, by Samuel Cox, 1886

Dollygirl's Grade Six: Plans for this week

Week Seven (Feb. 18-22, we have Monday off in Ontario for Family Day; also The Apprentice will be around for part of the week, so we will be spending time with her.  Also, Dolllygirl and Mr. Fixit have been spending a lot of time in the workshop, so sometimes we don't get done all the readings we had planned.  But learning to solder is a good life skill.)

Readalouds this week:  Children of the Fox (last third of the book, about the exile of Themistocles); The Fellowship of the Ring



Story of Greece, chapter 55, "Themistocles is Ostracized."  "'O king,' answered the exile, 'I am Themistocles the Athenian, drven into banishment by the Greeks.  I come with a mind suited to my present calamities; prepared alike for favours and for anger.  if you save me you will save your suppliant; if otherwise, you will destroy an enemy of the Greeks.'"


Bird guide

Uncle Eric, Chapter 18: "What is Success?"  "What is the best model for earning money and for keeping it?  In my next several letters I will write about earning it, then in my final letters about keeping it."  Uncle Eric feels that having "a big income" (his phrase) can be a positive thing if it's earned honestly and used well.  What are the drawbacks he points out?  How does this agree or disagree with what the Bible teaches about money and wealth?



Reading homework:  Greek Culture: Temple on a Hill, by Anne Rockwell, pages 45-66



Story of Greece:  Chapters 56 & 57, about Pericles.


Uncle Eric:  Chapter 19, "A Short History of Models for Success."  "Originally there were two models.  One was to work for the king...the government...The other model for success was to own a business....in most cases, a farm....but suddenly, in the 20th century, after all the thousands of years of human history, it was possible to be financially successful and comfortable by working for someone else--by being an employee."  Make a list of ten adult characters from books you have read, especially those who lived in times past.  What did they do for a living?



(Volunteer afternoon)


God’s Smuggler, chapter 20:  Brother Andrew visits China.


Augustus Caesar's World:  A Turning Point; The Love Story Ends.  


Bird guide  

Archimedes:  work on chapters 7 & 8  


Reading homework:  Greek Culture: Temple on a Hill, by Anne Rockwell, pages 66-84



Augustus Caesar's World: Herod and Mariamne; Triumph and Peace (end of Part II).


Story of Greece, chapter 58, "The City of Athens."  "In 479 B.C. the Persians had reduced Athens to ruins.  Fifty years later she had been built anew and adorned with temples and statues that made her the wonder of the world."  Writing assignment:  you are visiting Athens in about 430 B.C., when all this building had been completed.  Write home and describe what you have seen.  (Illustrate your letter if you want.)


Archimedes: work on chapters 7 & 8


Timeline work

Sunday, February 17, 2013

On story-starters and small twigs: Philosophy of Education, Chapter 10 (Curriculum)

Chapter 10; The Knowledge of Man; Composition


"In few things do certain teachers labour in vain more than in the careful and methodical way in which they teach composition to young children. The drill that these undergo in forming sentences is unnecessary and stultifying, as much so perhaps as such drill would be in the acts of mastication and deglutination [sic]." --Towards a Philosophy of Education, Chapter 10
AMANDA: Honey, don’t push with your fingers. If you have to push with something, the thing to push with is a crust of bread. And chew—chew! Animals have sections in their stomachs which enable them to digest food without mastication, but human beings are supposed to chew their food before they swallow it down. Eat food leisurely, son, and really enjoy it. A well-cooked meal has lots of delicate flavors that have to be held in the mouth for appreciation. So chew your food and give your salivary glands a chance to function! ~~Tennessee Williams, The Glass Menagerie
Tom Wingfield doesn't need a lecture on how to chew his food.  He's an adult.  He knows how.  His mother means well, but she drives him up the wall, and, eventually, out of the house.


Children in Charlotte Mason's primary grades narrate a little at a time, to fully develop their powers of attention and their skill in telling back.  Same literature lists as before, for the younger ones:  stories from mythology, fairy tales, Pilgrim's Progress, Bible stories, "how we know the world is round and a great deal besides; for all their work lends itself to oral composition and the power of such composition is innate in children and is not the result of instruction."

The junior grades "write their little essays themselves." I don't think "little" is meant in a pejorative way here, it's simply referring to length.  And oh my, the reading list..."We could do anything with books like those," says one headmaster quoted in a later chapter.  Charlotte scolds him for thinking that he just needs a good book list (and for missing the point that he needs to follow her other principles of education), but I think he's at least half right; the ability to narrate well, and to turn that skill into written composition, does begin with the choice of books.  I remember, and it was not so long ago, that homeschoolers using a certain series of Christian textbooks tried to have their children narrate from the textbooks, and they argued that that was just as correct a way to apply Charlotte Mason's principles as, say, narrating from a book of Greek myths...and probably safer!  And then we have the other situation, more common in schools now, where children, being "naturally creative," are expected to create lots of output without much input.  Some writers can start from a point inside their heads, without any outside reference, but for most of us, that's as hard as being handed a brush and told to paint, without having anything to look at.  "Compose something," my piano teacher once commanded, when I was about ten.  But since I knew very little about listening to music, much less creating it, all I came back with was something stupid, a waste of time.  I had never seen anyone create music. I had no musical ideas; nothing to write music about, or sing music about, or paint music about.  And she never asked me to do that again. 


According to Charlotte's theory of education, children arrive in the classroom with a dazzling array of powers of mind.  Agreed! say contemporary educators, and so children are given the paintbrush, or more often these days the keyboard, mouse, animation software, computer music program, and told to create.  But a few clicks of a "paint" program produce no more genuine art than did the "blobs" Charlotte criticized in the school art of her own time.  "Blobs" meant using the flat of the paintbrush to make a shape on the paper, which you could arrange, say, into the petals of a flower.  Charlotte said that was not true painting, but "the power of effective creation by a sort of clever trick."  In other words, on the level of rubber-stamping or potato printing, or drawing around your hand to make reindeer antlers.  Now real (adult) artists do use such techniques--blobs, stamping, layering bits of paper on the ground, whatever--to make "real" art, so we might argue her point. 

However, big however:  there are a couple of reasons why blobby artmaking does not belong in the CM educational environment.  (I thought we were talking about composition?  Bear with me.)  In Home Education, Charlotte said, "This is what we wish to do for children in teaching them to draw––to cause the eye to rest, not unconsciously, but consciously, on some object of beauty which will leave in their minds an image of delight for all their lives to come. Children of six and seven draw budding twigs of oak and ash, beech and larch, with such tender fidelity to colour, tone, and gesture, that the crude little drawings are in themselves things of beauty."  If the drawing is not created from the ground up, so to speak, and if it is not based on some real object, then the child does not learn to care about what he is seeing or the art he is making, will not remember it, will not learn anything.  Small twigs painted well, and kept in a nature notebook, are better than entire "lollipop" trees, stuck up on the fridge for a few days and then thrown away.

The other reason to be cautious of such programmed art is that the students become overpraised, too confident in their own abilities ("look, I wrote music!"), but at the same time they are demeaned by being told that they're such good artists, such good writers, when they know that all they did was just blobs, happy-faces, lollipop trees.  But if that's all the teacher thinks they're capable of...


"Knowledge is not sensation, nor is it to be derived through sensation; we feed upon the thoughts of other minds; and thought applied to thought generates thought and we become more thoughtful. No one need invite us to reason, compare, imagine; the mind, like the body, digests its proper food, and it must have the labour of digestion or it ceases to function....But let information hang upon a principle, be inspired by an idea, and it is taken with avidity and used in making whatsoever in the spiritual nature stands for tissue in the physical."--Charlotte Mason, Towards a Philosophy of Education (page 26)

No paint-by-numbers, at least within the "classroom."  (What you do for fun on a rainy afternoon is your own business.)

No write-by-numbers.  No story-starter cubes.

No gimmicks.

If you look at the student responses printed in this section of the book, you will see Charlotte's version of story-starters.  There are three, more or less:  Literature.  Nature.  Current Events.  Those three are repeated over and over...that is "suggestive," as she would say.  The youngest students may just "tell back," but the oldest ones are required to turn their thoughts on spring, or Home Rule in Ireland, or the poems of Tennyson, into blank verse, or ballads, or scenes involving literary characters.  Which also, not incidentally, gives us a clear picture of the "Knowledge of Man" end of the curriculum.  The older classes obviously spent a fair amount of time reading or talking or writing about literature (especially classical mythology, if we go by the exam responses), about nature,  and about current events.  They obviously spent a lot of time reading poetry, and had some training in metre.  And without being told to use "higher levels of thinking," they were practicing synthesis and evaluation.  No blobs, no gimmicks. They were acting like real writers...at least, real writers of 1920. 

PART FIVE, in which we try not to be too cynical about the state of the world, but we do need to ask some big questions...


What do we do now?

If there is no reason for an adult today to write in the metre of Tennyson, can we expect students to find meaning in such an exercise? Or find an audience or a place for their work?

Is it harder to translate the writing of 1920 into our own time and space than it is the reading?  Because you still want an audience for your serious (or seriously hilarious) writing...but I'm guessing there is little to no market for a Shakespearian sonnet about the ups and downs of computer companies.  Or a ballad about the doings at the Vatican, about light rail transit, or the "new food."  Should we have Mr. Woodhouse chat about the latest celebrity divorce? 

There are still good poets out there, in fact, quite young ones.  Do we encourage our young writers to carry on older forms of writing, simply in tribute to literary tradition? 

Or is it not so much going backwards as simply giving them opportunity to perform the act of knowing?

Is there any contemporary way to  respectfully, insightfully, and beautifully respond to a classic book, a piano concerto, the buds on a tree, without turning it into a rap song or a LEGO animation?

In other words, we can read, receive, participate, enjoy literature spanning centuries...but how do we reproduce?

Your thoughts?

Thursday, February 14, 2013

There ain't no such thing as a free five-pound chocolate bar: Philosophy of Education, Chapter 10 (Curriculum)

(Charlotte Mason on teaching Citizenship)

The Common Room recently posted a citizenship conundrum.  Do citizens have the right to drain money from other taxpaying citizens, through the foodstamp program, and then buy giant chocolate bars with that money?  And what do you do when somebody gifts you with said chocolate bar?  Who really owns that candy?

Also in the past week on The Common Room:  why it is the duty of homeschooling citizens not to go beyond the required (government) reporting limits; why it's ridiculous for podiatrists to be punished (by the government) for not taking the blood pressure and temperature of their patients; and a post about why government is force.

And people still wonder why it matters for kids to learn about boring, hard stuff like how government is supposed to work? 
What is Citizenship? ...It is the legacy or heritage we each enjoy from the past— the fruits of the big political victories won by our forefathers. Whether deserved or not, it is the rich possession of all who are fortunate enough to be born and grow to adult age as members of the British race and Empire....And so valuable a possession is it that it ought to be prized. Indeed, it must for its own sake be prized. Any time now spent upon learning about it and understanding the rights and privileges it gives and the duties it brings to its possessors is, therefore, most usefully spent....A study of Citizenship is clearly a part of such a training. Intelligently pursued it will yield a liberal reward. It will teach you what are your many famous privileges as a British citizen, and what are the duties expected of you in return. It will enable you to take a real, live interest in your country's welfare,  and in your own also as a subject-member of it. Without the knowledge it will give you, you will not be able to play your part as well as you ought in our splendid system of self-government : nor will you understand (as well as a citizen worthy of his citizenship ought to understand) the big and urgent tasks and problems in securing the well-being and prosperity of our State and Nation. 
No nation can ever be great and hold a proud place among the nations of the world unless the men and women who are its citizens understand what their citizenship is, what it means to themselves and to their State, and try to live it out worthily. Its citizens are a nation's real strength : their personal quality is what counts in the struggle of life. ~~F.R. Worts, Citizenship, 1919

I found a book on Google Books that I was able to partially preview, which explains a lot about the emphasis on citizenship in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, specifically referring to books used in the Parents' Union School such as H.O. Arnold-Forster's Citizen Reader.  

The book is The Language of Empire: Myths and Metaphors of Popular Imperialism, 1880-1918, by Robert H. MacDonald, published in 1994 by Manchester University Press. If I can find a copy of the whole book (which seems difficult, although it's not very old), it's definitely going on my to-read list.  Short version:  if there's anything in Charlotte Mason's selection of citizenship materials that makes you nervous, you haven't imagined it; yes, a lot of these books were written specifically to boost the British Empire. The educational thinking of the time often connected (or confused) Christian faith, high ideals, and good citizenship with national heroes (like Nelson) and belief in the Empire.  Which doesn't make the books necessarily any worse, as far as propaganda goes, than the current patriotic materials of our own countries; and in a literary sense, they're undoubtedly better written.  Even Robert H. MacDonald isn't completely blasting all the books written for the schools of the Empire; he admits that at least some of them weren't "jingoistic."  They just had a particular bias, and we need to be clear about that.

Which is why we will probably not be able to use the same books that the P.U.S. did. (Although, in a way, it's good to have those examples as a warning of the fallibility of any human government.)

How might Charlotte's approach to Citizenship be applied in our time?

However, the classical end of Citizenship, the leadership studies in Plutarch, still holds up as well as it did a hundred years ago, since it is not biased towards any empire or administration of our own time.  (As Charlotte mentions in this chapter, though, the stories Plutarch tells are not all suitable for young ears.  Some editing is strongly recommended.)  And Charlotte Mason's book Ourselves still works, though, like any book of its age, some of its references (especially the this-just-happened ones) will need to be explained.

Current events--that's self-explanatory, although I think the hardest part of that these days is finding suitable, family-friendly, and non-axe-grinding sources for news.  The Ambleside Online curriculum has a list of some sources they have used, so you might want to start there if you're searching.  Basic civics-type instruction about how voting works, things like the Senate or the House of Commons or House of Representatives, who gets to be a judge, how laws get passed, that sort of stuff, is usually readily available through online sources, school textbooks, or government educational materials.  I taught my oldest daughter a half-credit course in Canadian civics (required in Ontario), and we used a kit of materials that the government had produced for schools--it included a video about the branches of government, a copy of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, that sort of thing.

As for the rest, beyond the basic stuff you'd need to know to pass a citizenship test...unfortunately, that's the really important stuff, and that's the part that we're going to have to figure out for ourselves.  What do young people today...particularly Christians...need to know to be citizens of their countries, to protect the freedoms and rights they are promised, to carry out their own responsibilities, while still thinking for themselves?  Where do you draw the line between being a loyal citizen of a state or nation on earth, and being part of God's kingdom?  Should Christians get into politics?  Should they serve in a military force?  Should they stay out of all involvement with the government?  Is that even possible?  Does power corrupt?  Does God approve of capitalism?  How do you deal with problems like food stamps and giant chocolate bars?

In the first book of the Uncle Eric series, Richard J. Maybury recommends that we all study at least four models of how the world works:  the business model, the economic model, the legal or justice model, and the foreign-affairs model.  The other books in the series consider each of these models in turn, and I will say personally that the books have given our family a lot to think and talk about.  But you may find some more specifically Christian-based material that also considers those questions...although I don't think there's anything ever written that supplies perfect answers. 
To Study Citizenship is a Duty. — As in most other branches of life, it is necessary to learn what to do and what to avoid in the practice of your citizenship, if you are to be successful. Unfortunately so many people to-day are listless and ignorant and therefore unsuccessful in this important matter. Although citizens by right of birth they do not value their citizenship even enough to understand it. They accept all the benefits it brings them as a matter of course, but never trouble to ask the "why" and the "how" about them....It, therefore, behoves all young and ambitious people to think about their future status as fully-fledged members of the State and the duties it will involve....Another powerful reason why all should study this subject is this:  it may be necessary one day to defend the privileges of our full citizenship from those who would take them from us and destroy them. ~~F.R. Worts, Citizenship, 1919

What books did Charlotte Mason use to teach citizenship?  Youngest (fourth or fifth grade) to oldest:

Stories from the History of Rome, by Mrs. Beesly (online at The Baldwin Project)
The Complete Citizen: An Introduction to the Study of Civics, by Dr. Richard Wilson
The Citizen Reader, by H. O. Arnold-Forster
North's translation of Plutarch's Lives, edited by P. Giles (Cambridge Press)
Smith's Smaller Classical Dictionary
Classical Atlas (Dent)  (my note: if it was published by Dent, it was likely part of the Everyman's series)
Pronouncing Dictionary of Mythology and Antiquities; "very important"
"Social and Industrial Life", by John St. Loe Strachey.  The full title is actually The citizen and the state; industrial and social life and the empire.
Ourselves, by Charlotte Mason, Book I.  "The point of view taken in this volume is, that all beautiful and noble possibilities are present in every one; but that each person is subject to assaults and hindrances in various ways of which he should be aware in order that he may watch and pray."
Citizenship, by F.R. (Frederick Robert) Worts
Ourselves by Charlotte Mason, book II
Areopagitica by John Milton
"Thoughts on the cause of the present discontents" by Edmund Burke
"Essay on Burns" by Thomas Carlyle
Utopia by Thomas More
New Atlantis by Francis Bacon
Socratic dialogues: Euthyphro or Crito or Phaedo, by Plato
The education of Cyrus, by Xenophon, translated by Henry Graham Dakyns

And some books used after Charlotte Mason's death:

Everybody's business by Hartley Withers, published 1932 (economics)

The English-speaking nations: a study in the development of the commonwealth ideal by Guy Wilfrid Morris and Leonard Southerden Wood.  Review:  "The task as concerned with British imperial history has never been better done than in this book, on the whole not so well done. The book lacks the contagious enthusiasm of Seeley's "Expansion of England"; it is less keenly sympathetic than Lavelle and Payne's "Imperial England" ; it is not so full an account as Hall's "The British Commonwealth of Nations"; and it does not attempt the personal appeal of Beer's "English Speaking Peoples." But rather more concisely than any, it really does the work of them all. For American readers especially useful and informing chapters are those on the Australasian Dominions and India, on the Government of the Commonwealth, and on the Imperial Conscience.  By going over the same ground more than once and strictly limiting each account to the particular topic in hand, confusion of detail is avoided and an unusually clear view of the gradual progress towards the present Commonwealth is given." ~~Saturday Review of Literature, June 2, 1925

Monday, February 11, 2013

Pomegranates, pears and literature: Philosophy of Education, Chapter Ten

What do you choose?
Coral beads on a string,
Purple velvet and lace
And an emerald ring.

What will you have?
Pomegranates and pears.
Jellies, truffles and trifles
And chocolate eclairs.  ~~from a poem by Olive Dove, in Under the Cherry Tree by Cynthia Mitchell

Charlotte Mason's literature course is unlike almost any other current educational approach, at least those I'm familiar with.  It's bigger, but smaller; tighter in scope, but more generous in content. The words "wide and generous curriculum" can mislead homeschooling parents into thinking "more is better." However, when arranging the term's work in her schools, Charlotte placed firm limits on both the quality and the quantity of the literature books that were assigned.

(By the way, if you're looking at the original term programmes that have been posted on the Ambleside Online site, you may have to dig a bit to even find the literature selections.  They come up under Tales, Reading, Literature, and sometimes, in the earliest ones, just under "English history.")

Even in the work for the youngest ones, she refused to swerve from the classics...actually from just about anything written after 1900 (Just So Stories and The Fairy Ring were exceptions), even though about a quarter of the twentieth century had gone by when Philosophy of Education was published, and even though some good children's books had been published during that quarter-century

The clue to her reasoning on this may be in this section, in the paragraph where she almost apologetically points out that the literature for the two highest forms (senior high) is also made up of older books--but that she assumes that the students in those forms have no trouble choosing their own reading from current literature.  In other words, she was expecting that they would read outside of class, and hoping that what they had read in school would give them the background to make those choices and to read critically and thoughtfully.  The assumption is that we're still talking about quality literature, not throwaway novels; but the point is that Charlotte Mason wasn't "dissing" anything new.  She was limiting the curriculum, perhaps, to the books that the post-World-War-I students might not have picked up on their own, and those that they needed to make sense of the larger, longer-memoried Knowledge of Man.  I know I've said before that the books Charlotte recommended were "common currency" in her lifetime, and that's true, but a lifetime is a long time. 

And if the youngest students didn't have that door opened to them early...they would soon be playing out the sad high school scenario of getting the Shakespeare play, or the poetry anthology, dumped on them, and moaning about having to read that junk.  No recognition, no connections.  That's why American high schools are talking now about dropping the senior English requirement.

So start small, Charlotte Mason said; but move in the right direction.  Young "serious students" find what they need in Aesop's Fables, in fairy tales, in tales of heroism.  Perhaps that was her other thought in planning curriculum, that the school books should be exciting, should be a cut above the normal, everyday books that the children might have had.  It's just a thought, and of course that would depend on the home reading backgrounds of the children.  Remember how, in the Little House books and others of that era, children used to dread Sundays, because they couldn't run and play or go sledding or do anything fun?  Mrs. Forster asked, what if we turned that on its head and made Sunday the day that everyone looked forward to the most?...not a day of restrictions, but a day of special "bests" that belonged only to that day? In the same sense, "school books" might have an image of being dull; Charlotte wanted children to be almost licking their lips for more. She wanted to offer pomegranates and pears at least, if not chocolate eclairs.

What did make it to her list? You can see samples in the Programmes, but here's a short(ish) list from the programmes for Forms I through IV, moving from lower to higher classes (and please remember that only a couple of these would appear in any one term): The Pilgrim's Progress, Heroes of Asgard, Tanglewood Tales, fairy tales, Lang's Tales of Troy and Greece, Lamb's Adventures of Ulysses, Aesop, The Just So Stories, Quentin Durward, Kidnapped, The Age of Fable, The Water Babies, Marmion, The Lays of Ancient Rome, Children of the New Forest, Puck of Pook's Hill, The Jungle Book, The Little Duke, David Copperfield, The Lay of the Last Minstrel; poems by Tennyson, Shelley, and Longfellow; essays by Charles Lamb, Scenes of Clerical Life, Lorna Doone, more books by Scott, Palgrave's Golden Treasury, Book One of The Faerie Queene, Malory's Knights of the Round Table.  (Shakespeare's plays were included as well.) The two highest classes were reading works by Aeschylus, Euripedes, Boethius, Milton, Pope; essays from The Spectator; novels by Thackeray, Jane Austen, and George Meredith; Boswell's Life of Johnson; lots of poems, critical essays, and letters; The Dynasts by Thomas Hardy; Life of Charlotte Bronte by Mrs. Gaskell; A shepherd's life by W.H. Hudson; Tolstoy's stories; The man born to be king by William Morris; Barchester Towers by Anthony Trollope.  In the years following Charlotte Mason's death, the curriculum added plays by Shaw, J.M. Synge and T.S. Eliot, poems by Robert Bridges, and books by Chesterton and Conrad.  And, lest the P.U.S. ever be accused of not being multicultural, Lady Precious Stream.

Are those books of delight for our children?  I like to think of some of them as a kind of surprise gift: not what the children might have chosen themselves, but new friends waiting to be discovered.  Have you gotten to many of the books near the end of the list, in your own reading?  Honestly, I haven't; I think I'm still working more at Charlotte's junior high level.  There are a lot of friends I have yet to discover.

Related posts:
Notes from a Book Talk
A Month with Charlotte Mason #14

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Dollygirl's Grade Six: School plans for this week

Week Six (Feb. 11-15)

Bible reading

God’s Smuggler, chapter 19 (pp 205-212)

Uncle Eric Talks About Personal, Career, and Financial Security, chapter 17, "How to Get Started Learning Models" (end of part 1). Something to think about: how many models have you already adopted without realizing it? (Some people call them “habits.”)

Minds on Math 8, pages 184-193 Percent (Wiarton Willie) Practice problems; groundhog predictions; Thousand Islands; practice problems; discounts combined with sales tax   I printed out some extra decimal practice pages from Math Mammoth Grade 5.

Natural History: read from local bird guide or from the book about owls

Augustus Caesar’s World:  Herod King of the Jews; To Athens and Return; The Future Empress; The Siege of Jerusalem; A Turning Point

Archimedes and the Door of Science, chapter 7: Archimedes and Mathematics

Exploring Creation with Astronomy, pages 147-148. Send someone an email telling what you remember from these readings (bottom of page 148).
Exploring Creation with Astronomy, pages 149- most of 151. Explain what you know about galaxies in your own words (page 151).
Exploring Creation with Astronomy, pages 151-155. Draw a picture of something amazing in space.

Story of Greece, chapters 53-55 (about Pausanias and Themistocles)
Children of the Fox, by Jill Paton Walsh (stories of three children who, separately, become involved in the life of Themistocles)

Readaloud:  If we have time, we may start The Fellowship of the Ring.

Saturday, February 09, 2013

Tell me another story: CM and History (Philosophy of Education, Chapter 10)

Are you sitting comfortably?

Here's a story.

My elementary-school history education, in the 1970's, was rather dreadful...or, actually, pretty much non-existent.  Textbook-type history had taken its last gasps and was being replaced, along with geography and science, by Environmental Studies.  It was taught partly through unit studies and activity centers, and partly through copy-and-memorize notes on the blackboard.  Up through Grade Six, about the only history I remember doing was a unit on world explorers, and a unit on Ancient Greece.   Maybe some stuff about pioneers and local history.  Maybe a bit about Egypt. There may have been more, but I certainly don't remember it. 
In grades 7, 8, 9 (that one was an optional thing about our multicultural heritage), and 10 (not optional), we studied Canadian history, from pre-history through Cabot and Cartier to whatever.  In grade 11, we finally got to World History (optional), and after that you could take U.S. history or a couple of other senior courses.

Sorry, that's a pretty dull story.  Here's a better one.

When I was eight or nine, someone gave us two paperbacks by Jean Plaidy (who didn't exist--see Eleanor Hibbert):  The Young Elizabeth, and The Young Mary Queen of Scots.  I read the book about Mary several times, and I've never forgotten some of the details.  Because of that book, I never forgot what a dauphin was, and what it was like for a young girl to be sent away to a strange country to marry someone she didn't know,  even with several of her best girlfriends along; and how scary her mother-in-law Catherine de' Medici was.  "'And don't forget.  Take the potion as soon as you are able.' With that she went quietly away; and as soon as she had gone [Mary's maid] Seton picked up the goblet and stared into it."   Plain and simple, it was a great story.

History is supposed to be a great story.  Some people like to call it "His-story."  Charlotte Mason classified it with the "knowledge of Man."  At any rate, it's the story of who we were, and who we are; what we have done, and what we should or shouldn't do again.  For groups of oppressed or displaced people, remembering and passing on their own history meant both an identity and a belief in liberty, affirming the possibility of life outside of temporary bad circumstances.  The Book of Hebrews says we should carry on and not give up because we are surrounded by a "cloud of witnesses": those who came before us and walked in faith.

Today's public schools may not be teaching world or national history particularly well, if at all, if the complaints in the media are anything to go by.  But I don't want to focus on the question of why or whether to teach history.  Most homeschool parents already think it's important, if only for the reason that they feel they missed out themselves and want something better for their children.  And the publishers and vendors know that--boy, do they know that.  We are inundated with printable lap books, timelines, flashcards, colouring pages, copywork books, DVDs, websites, field trips, old and new textbooks, old and new historical fiction. We can access almost anything online, from Herodotus through Horrible Histories.  If the amount of history stuff sold is an indicator, homeschoolers must be doing a great job.

So the only question left to raise from this section of Chapter 10 is, does Charlotte Mason teach history any better than anyone else?

Do CM homeschoolers--or CM private-schoolers, or whatever situation--love history more, or understand it better?  If the answer for your children is definitely yes or absolutely not, are they the exception or the rule?  If they hate history lessons, are we missing something, doing "our CM" wrong?  If we've followed it to the letter, even using the same books, then is it the fact that most of us don't live in England?  Or that we should be using different books?  Or that it's 2013 and our children are just different now, they don't need to have all that history in their heads because they can access it all through their phones?  If we fail to teach them to anticipate history more even than dinner (to quote Charlotte's student), why is that?

For a subject so dear to Charlotte's heart and so central to her curriculum, her approach is surprisingly minimalist.  There's more than one Form One (primary) term programme where the history work is simply a section of Our Island Story.  Not even a biography on the side.  Kind of like a plain roast turkey, it had better be good all by itself.  Without any extra sauces or spices, the interest and value of the class seem to depend heavily on the quality of the book itself, and on the way it's presented.  (We hope not like the Griswolds' Christmas turkey.)

Was there some trick to this?  Charlotte said her only tricks were her usual formula:  the well-written book, the single (short) reading, the narration, a later examination, a few helpful pictures or comments from the teacher, having a sympathetic but not over-dominant teacher, and, after about age 10, creating a Book of the Centuries and hand-written time charts.

But there are one or two other things we might pick up from a careful reading of this chapter, and the other places in the six books where history is discussed.

One is that, while we may be teaching young children, we are trying to create a learning atmosphere that anticipates the one they will work in as older teenagers, as almost-adults.  For a younger student as much as an older one, "history shall give weight to his decisions, consideration to his actions, and stability to his conduct."  Charlotte had a lifetime program in mind; she envisioned a nation of adults who would read, think and talk about history just because they wanted to; who would buy history books; who would ask, "how shall we then live?"  She believed that a knowledge of history would promote individual responsibility and national stability; that knowing who we are would inspire us to become more of what we could be.  So, again--what sort of junior history books, what sort of teaching, would head us towards those Form V and VI (senior high) levels, the ability to make sense of Green's Short History and Macaulay's essays?

Well, cuteness is obviously out.  Something that gradually builds up history muscles would seem to be in order, so we move along from Marshall to Arnold-Forster to Gardiner's Student's History to Green's.  A chronological approach is also key, although Charlotte doesn't quite use the Creation (or dinosaurs)-Egypt-Greece-Rome-castle times-Renaissance-whatever else chronology that has become kind of the norm.  Literature gets correlated with history and adds to the unfolding picture, though, in Charlotte Mason's thinking, it had better be good literature in itself.  (Was Jean Plaidy good literature?  It's been a long time since I read The Young Mary, but the fact that that book has stuck in my head for close to forty years has to be worth something.)

There's a hint about teaching history in the way that Charlotte describes outdoor lessons in physical geography for little ones, back in her first book.  Remember how she wanted little children to climb trees and hills, splash in brooks, and notice things like shadows?  Then the parent can compare what the children have seen to the things that they haven't--the sea is kind of like our pond, but much bigger.  You start with something they do know, and build on that.  Maybe something they've noticed.  Or something they should have noticed but haven't paid particular attention to before.  One of her better-known examples drawn from Our Island Story asks the student to explain the meaning of some initials on the English penny, which leads into a whole story about Henry VIII.  After that, you'd never look at a penny in the same way.

Similarly, even the youngest students were taught about some of the honoured ones and heroes by reading the three books by Mrs. Frewen-Lord, about the monuments and tombs in England's cathedrals.  Those who don't know the stories would walk right past, or, as Charlotte says rather scathingly about the "Dominion cousins", i.e. Canadians mainly, they/we wouldn't care if Westminster Abbey itself fell into the Thames.  But to those who know "the rest of the story," the monuments aren't just slabs of stone with names on them--they represent real people who did great things.  Charlotte's older students were taught some of their ancient history through artifacts, the ones in the British Museum that would probably be in the same place for their whole lifetime.  She knew that not everyone would ever get to walk through the galleries, but she wanted all the students to feel that they knew and, in a way, "owned" those helmets and carvings, just the same as those who lived in London and could visit them anytime. 

So the big history questions of what books, what stories, what methods, remain, especially for those of us who claim a different nationality or who need to add another country's history onto Charlotte Mason's studies of Britain.  (Don't forget, though, that the history she taught wasn't only British.  Along with the ancient history mentioned above, the junior grades were introduced to French history, taught in the same chronology as their own; in junior high, they added a book about India; the high schoolers got a broader look at European history; and they all got an extra dose of history through geography classes that included short histories of other places.)  What are our monuments, our artifacts, our national treasures, our everyday things-with-a-story?  Knowledge can't be scrappy or trivial, warns Charlotte; celebrating "national pelican day" one day and "history of the hot dog" another isn't what she is after.  It's the big ideas that will let people fully use their powers of mind.

One or two history books, without any lapbooks or gizmos? 

One reading, one narration?

It sounds almost too simple to work, or to interest our kids.  Try an experiment, Charlotte once said:  you, the adult.  Read a chapter of a novel, or an essay or something, to yourself.  Tell it back to yourself as you're sitting around or lying in bed.  See if you can go over it again, visualizing it, scene by scene or point by point.  Can you do it?  Are you still thinking about it the next day?  Can you still remember it later on?

Would you remember it better if it had been taught more like a "school lesson" or a lecture?

Give the kids--and the books--a chance.

Linked from the Charlotte Mason Blog Carnival: Knowledge of Man, at Piney Woods Homeschool (July 2013)