Friday, July 25, 2014

"For the Children's Sake" Part 3

Note: I realize this is long. I think it is all important, but if you don't care to read it all or don't have the time, the bold parts are essential.

Chapter 3: Authority and Freedom

Are children mainly good or evil? Different philosophies have different answers. CM had a friendly, reasonable, realistic approach. We are all under God's authority, with a sinful nature but the possibility for good.
"...children are born with... a curious intuitive knowledge as to which is good and which is evil. Here we have the work of education indicated. There are good and evil tendencies in body and mind, heart and soul; and the hope set before us is that we can foster the good so as to attenuate the evil; that is, on condition that we put education in her true place as the handmaid of Religion." ~Towards a Philosophy of Education, pg 46. Quoted in FTCS p42-43.
The first task of education is moral. We have objective truth because God has revealed it to us. The child should be given the source material on right and wrong - the Bible (43).
"In a sense, I do not teach [Scripture] to the child or to any other person who is ignorant of God's Word. Instead, we share together His words which teach us all. And the Holy Spirit is the Person who then takes God's words and applies them to my own personal life at that moment." (44)
Children sin and need to be improved. So do I. What is wrong, is wrong not because I say so, but because it is wrong as defined by Scripture. We need to tell the children this. Show empathy when correcting and rebuking, letting them see some struggles we have with obedience as well. Rules are not arbitrary, but based on principles in God's Word.
The first habit to be mastered is obedience (but not arbitrary obedience).
"It is wrong to choose an issue which goes across the natural grain and to make the child "obey" in a grim, unnatural way. A tired two-year-old may not go up to bed at the chosen time. Better to divert his attention, and carry him up warmly held in your arms." (45)
Some preventative rules are necessary to keep the child from harm, but positive rules instituted to encourage the child to respect others as persons are also important, such as teaching manners, gentleness, and attention when people are talking to them.
"Authority is that aspect of love which parents present to their children; parents know that it is love, because to them it means continuous self-denial, self-repression, self-sacrifice; children recognize it as love because to them it means quiet rest and gaiety of heart." Home and School Education, p 24. Quoted in FTCS pg 47. 
Authority: A Balance
Consideration: Understanding the child's needs
A "me first" mentality is unChristian. Consideration begins with understanding the child's needs. Mother is most likely to understand her children since she is usually the one with them all day, but (yay!) some dads in these modern times have also ordered their lives so that they, too, develop a deep affinity with their children. There is a great richness when both parents have this kind of relationship with their children.
Schools are pressed to fit kids into the system. Teachers, take care to serve the child, not the system. Treat kids as individuals. Relationships teach more than textbooks do. Respect, watch, learn, love.
Our fast-moving generation doesn't allow time for the gentle art of understanding, appreciating, and loving the child. Straighten priorities.
"When there is no parent who makes it his business to understand the individual child, and the people whose job it is to care for him treat him as part of their career, perhaps the only place where that child will find understanding is in the counselor's office for one hour a week.
The Christian community is confronted by countless children whose parents do not fulfill their duty and privilege. It is our duty, then, under God, to try to provide that considerate and loving authority which the child is lacking. We may not be able to provide a perfect substitute for the ideal of a caring family, but that shouldn't stop us from doing something. Remember that even one stumbling-block removed from a child's path counts." (49) 
Base authority on true righteousness - the Bible defines that. Make authority fair, right, with no extra burdens to clutter a child's life. But some "burdens" are necessary components to living together with others, i.e. sharing in chores, coming when dinner is ready, being polite.

Set an example for the child to follow - faithful to duties and people. Lead in small steps, not criticizing but giving constructive help. Expect more from the child and he will rise up to your expectations. Always criticizing and condemning often leads to a self-fulfilling prophecy. "You're lazy, Jack." Then Jack won't try because he knows you already think he is lazy, and will become so. Don't bind the child by low expectations and criticism. "When human beings, at any age, are expected to do badly, it is too easy to become discouraged, accept the judgment, and live down to it." (50).

Diversion is ok. Sometimes adults have to divert themselves too. If you're on a diet and can't have chocolate, you divert your cravings by giving yourself other options that won't break the diet. You may give yourself options that are "allowed" and healthy, like fruit or banana pudding (that's healthy, right? ;) In the same way that you try to teach yourself self-control, also gently lead the child in the same direction. It won't necessarily happen when he is two years old, but eventually. Children labelled "unteachable" are usually those who have lost self-confidence. Love and like the child to give him the proper self-respect.

God's law stands at all times. He never takes a vacation. But this doesn't mean I should hover anxiously over the children's play.
"... children should have room and time to play without a watchful eye judging their every move. How else can they mature? It is wonderful for children to be able to be trusted. But it should always be freedom within known limits, both physically and morally. 
...Children's freedom should be surrounded by adults who bear the final responsibility for what is happening. ...No responsible leader lets a child get into the physical and moral danger of being quite alone." (52-53)
Don't be afraid to apologize to the child when you wrongly take your frustrations out on them. It is important to be honest and humble with the children, it adds an authenticity to the relationship.
Spanking sometimes works to draw a clear line of what is not acceptable, but it is not the only way and sometimes is not the best way. Be wary of violence and anger.
"Harshness, fear, and autocracy are ruled out if we follow the New Testament teaching that leadership means a serving of the other person. ...
 In my experience, children obey best when their lives are as fully satisfying as possible in the way Charlotte Mason advocated. If minds are interested, skills are being learned, loving relationships are enjoyed, creativity is encouraged, beauty in nature, art, and music are appreciated, hours are spent in free play, and children learn to climb, swim, ride, canoe, ski, or skate - why, these children will be well on the way to having their sinful natures put in the back seat! Sinful natures expand like a malignancy at any age with loneliness, mental poverty, boredom, passivity, hunger, tiredness, and deprivation of daily contact with the rich source material of goodness - the Word of God. When you think about it, many children today have hell on earth. Are we surprised at what happens?" (54-55)
These quotes resonate with me. I don't have anything to add here:
"The mother often loses her hold over her children because they detect in the tone of her voice that she does not expect them to obey her behests; she does not think enough of her position; has not sufficient confidence in her own authority. The mother's great stronghold is in the habit of obedience." Charlotte Mason, Home Education p162. Quoted in FTCS (56). 
 "By-and-by, when he is old enough, take the child into confidence (you are on his side); let him know what a noble thing it is to be able to make himself do, in a minute, and brightly, the very thing he would rather not do. To secure this habit of obedience, the mother must exercise great self-restraint [temptation to use this for convenience]; she must never give a command which she does not intend to see carried out to the full. And she must not lay upon her children burdens, grievous to be borne, of command heaped upon command." Charlotte Mason, Home Education p163-164. Quoted in FTCS (56)
 Give the child few guidelines, with freedom within those, and the child will learn to direct their own actions, even if it is at the cost of a few minor mishaps.

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

"For the Children's Sake" Part 2

I posted on Facebook that this was a homeschooling book. In reality, though, For the Children's Sake is simply a book on education, and more specifically Charlotte Mason-inspired education. The principles in this book apply in public schools just as much as in homeschools, at Grandma's house as much as in a daycare. Chapter Two especially has a universal application, for it deals with how to treat children, respecting their individuality.

Chapter Two: Children are Born Persons
Children are individuals, to be respected and treated as such. Trying to fit a child into the mold of another child you know, or into the idea of what children should be, would be frustrating for the adult and stifling for the child.
"The child is a person who needs to grow in knowledge. You have some of that knowledge. Not because you are an adult and adults are supposed to be wonderfully clever; the Bible is very clear in its teachings that there is a sense in which we must ourselves become like this little child on our knee if we are to inherit the kingdom of God. But we have knowledge because we have lived in God's world as persons, and that knowledge can be shared." (12)
We aren't better than the children, we just have more knowledge. And our duty is to help them, to serve them by sharing the knowledge with them.
"Look well at the child on your knee. In whatever condition you find him, look with reverence. We can only love and serve him and be his friend. We cannot own him. He is not ours. Neither would it be right to use the fact that he is dependent on us to brainwash him into thinking any arbitrary thought or perform any arbitrary act that we may deem useful. We should not plan his life for him, so that he is being prepared for some great purpose - even if the purpose we intend is a worthy one in our eyes." (13)
Education is to be distinguished from vocational training. Can't put kids to work and say, "There! He is being educated." Education comes from reading and thinking on many subjects.
[Quoting Charlotte Mason directly, from "Towards a Philosophy of Education" pg 35,36] "If we have not proved that a child is born a person with a mind as complete and beautiful as his little body, we can at least show that he always has all the mind he requires for these occasions; that is, that his mind is the instrument of his education and that his education does not produce his mind." [Italics original to Macaulay, bold emphasis mine]. 
The above really resonated with me. In the same way that his education does not produce his mind, the music does not produce the musical instrument. The mind is the instrument, the education is the music. He still has a mind if he hasn't yet been educated. He is still capable of being educated, because the instrument is still there. It may be rusty, but it will play.

Respect children's minds. Don't undervalue their intelligence or ability to understand. Don't talk down or "read down" to them. Charlotte Mason had a word for books that "read down" to children: twaddle.
An aspect of devaluing children's minds that you might not think of is the adult choosing the important parts of the story that has been read to the child. Don't ask endless questions for the child to think through; let the child come up with questions to ask about the story. Let them choose what part was important or meaningful to them.
If an adult defines the meaningfulness of the story or provides a sermonette at the end of each chapter or storybook, there are several negative consequences that could arise:

  • It deprives children of the need to think;
  • Bores the child;
  • Adult might be tempted to catch the child's attention with means other than the story itself, such as a puppet show;
  • Stifles the child's natural fountain of questions. 
Instead of summarizing the story for the child, ask the child what they thought of the story. Or wait for them to ask questions. "Children's minds work as ours do," (17). 
Charlotte Mason philosophy teaches that the adults in children's lives should give the children what resources they need to develop their unique selves. Allow free play, supervised but unorganized, unstructured, outdoor, nature, creativity. Give lots of space, hours of time, let them make noise, make a mess, and provide them with raw materials (dress up clothes or resources for building a "fort"). 
"It isn't all as hard as the experts make out. We are human beings, persons, created to live. To have life more abundantly. Wonder together; grow together." (19)
"Grown-ups need time if their life is to support this kind of play. The children have to matter more than the furniture (but children don't mind at all sticking to the boundaries). This means saying no to too many time-consuming activities both for adults and children. It means welcoming their friends, and sympathetically diverting others who will 'spoil our game. We've just got to the good part' (said with feeling as a destructive two-year-old blundered into the 'camp')." (23)
Read to the child, quality books, "chosen carefully with the criterion that a book should be 'really valuable for its own sake, accurate, and interesting, of a kind that the child may recall. . . with pleasure.'"(28).

But it shouldn't end there. Charlotte Mason recommended a practice called narration where the child retells back what he has heard and learned from the story, without adult intervention. It's a practice in developing fluency in thought and language, and a precursor to essay writing. She believed that the child should retell all that they learned after one reading, in order to develop "the habit of slow, careful reading[...] with an eye to the full meaning of every clause," (28-29).
Narration allows the child to determine, and thus tell you, what were the important parts of the story (to them). They "are free to react to the content themselves," (30).
Reading poetry allows the child to see the beauty of words. Poetry teaches a child that "a beautiful word deserves to be beautifully said," Charlotte Mason, Home Education, p. 225. Quoted in FTCS (30).
The child needs books with literary power. Today we are rich in books, but poor in quality of language.
 "The selection of their first lesson-books is a matter of grave importance, because it rests with these to give children the idea that knowledge is supremely attractive and that reading is delightful. Once the habit of reading his lesson-books with delight is set up in a child, his education is not completed, but ensured; he will go on for himself in spite of the obstructions which school too commonly throws in his way." CM, Home Education, p. 229. Quoted (32)
Expect a lot from "ordinary" children.
I really liked this quote from CM, Towards a Philosophy of Education, p. 26. Quoted in FTCS (34):
'Education,' said Lord Haldane, some time ago, 'is a matter of the spirit.' --no wiser word has been said on the subject, and yet we persist in applying education from without as a bodily activity or emollient. We begin to see light. No one knoweth the things of man but the spirit of a man which is in him; therefore, there is no education but self-education and as soon as a young child begins his education he does so as a student. Our business is to give him mind-stuff, and both quality and quantity are essential.  (Bold emphasis mine)
Self-education begins with listening to carefully chosen books read aloud to the child every day. Then narrate in own words.
Never harass a child for lagging behind his peers. Allow him to learn at his own pace, take his time. The Bible teaches that we are all parts of one body, we are have different gifts (36). So don't make an "ear" learn at the same rate at which a "hand" learns.
Macaulay tells a story of when her 6yo daughter was newly enrolled in a CM school. She came home so excited about a book the teacher had read to the class, and eager to hear what happened next. Macaulay asked her what book it was, and it was Pilgrim's Progress. Yes, children are capable of understanding,even Shakespeare, at age 6. But the adult, whether parent or(/and) teacher, has to be willing and able to enjoy and understand what they are reading together.
The person rises to understand, master, and enjoy whatever he is surrounded with in language, ideas, literature, and in appreciation of beauty. If you share with children the very best, carefully chosen to meet their needs, they will amaze everyone. (39)

Thursday, June 26, 2014

"For the Children's Sake" Part 1

Beginning formation of a philosophy of education is quite daunting. However, through blogs of other moms (like her and her and her) who are already homeschooling and have been for many years, I have come to be familiar with the name of Charlotte Mason. She was a nineteenth century Brit who developed her own system of education after years of being a schoolteacher herself. 

Last spring, I downloaded her six-volume series on kindle for only 99 cents. WIN! I began reading it... that's all. I just began. I haven't finished. It's crazy long, and somewhat dense, in that it requires thought, and thought requires time to think, and I just don't have much time right now. 

However, I have heard rave reviews of other books that sum up her philosophy, or reflect on it. One of those titles is For the Children's Sake by Susan Schaeffer Macaulay. Susan is the daughter of Frances and Edith Schaffer, whose names are familiar but I can't think of why - oh, he is a Christian theologian, author, and philosopher; thanks, Google! I do intend to eventually get through CM's six volumes, but for now, I have settled for checking out titles such as FTCS from the library. 
Charlotte Mason.jpgimage from Wikipedia

I am taking thorough notes, and reading through each chapter twice, but I still have a difficult time recalling what I have read (a CM education would have trained me to read through carefully and slowly and be able to retell what I have read - "narrate" the story). Because I would like to remember what is in the book, and because my notes are sloppy, and because I am likely to lose my detailed but sloppy notes, I have decided to blog my notes and occasional reflections. 

Chapter 1- "What is Education?"
Author and husband were uneasy with the thought of putting their firstborn in school ;  put their daughter in a local school but felt it wasn't a good fit; didn't have an educational philosophy in place so they couldn't explain why. Didn't like the idea of her in a school as they knew it. "...want the best, but... often have to settle..." (3)
They found a "little school run in a cottage" that "still practiced the gentle art of an education based on a certain Charlotte Mason's ideas." (4) They sent their children there, and loved it. They read up on her ideas, found that they were relevant and made sense. Practices that can be universally applied, whether at home, in a school, in an African village, inner city school, daycare etc. 

Her views were shaped by her teaching experiences. She passionately believed that children are born persons and should be treated with respect for their individuality. Rooted in biblical Christianity. 
Her parents died when she was 16, but she carried on with her ambition and enrolled in a teachers' college. Because of financial stress, she accepted a job as a teacher of a small school after only a year, but continued her studies in her spare time. Fifteen (?) years later, she was appointed vice principal of the Bishop Otter College in 1874. There, she gave lectures on education. Four years after that, she was forced to give up the position due to ill health, but this allowed her more time for further study and observation. Began giving lectures to parents --> National Society of Parents: journals, curriculum guides --> Home schools, PNEU schools of CM-following parents. House of Education @ Ambleside was a teachers' training school. 

What happened? Why has no one heard of her today? Society moved away from strong Christian beliefs she used as her foundation. 
"Christians can't develop a Christian view of education by accepting the usual aims and views of our society and then adding a 'Christian message' or interpretation." (7). 
Education is lifelong, active state of learning, responding, understanding. CM believed parents have "the most interesting and valuable vocation that exists among mankind." (8). Home as basic educational environment. Different applications of these ideas for diff families, even diff children within same family. Take care not to judge others' schooling choices.
 "It can often be that a strong, rich home life with Christian teaching and understanding more than offsets the 'center of gravity' at a secular school." (8-9).
 Adults should be involved in the secular systems as Christian salt. 
"Any choice and/or arrangement should be done for the children's sake... Galatians 6:9 "Let us not grow weary of doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up. Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people [children are people], especially to those who belong to the family of believers."  "(9).
Matthew 7:7-11. Good gifts to children. We give our kids good food, which nourishes them. Don't want to give them junk food that might make them full but not nourished. Then don't feed their minds with junk food either. 
"Do we brush off the eager questions, and then expect the children to listen to some 'spiritual lecture' another time?" (10). 
Parents - evaluate priorities. Consider why you respond that you don't have time to do what the kid wants i.e. hike/camp/paint/talk with them. 
"What is really important? The sacred career? Educational institutions make poor substitute mothers, fathers, and homes. There has never been a generation when children have so desperately needed their parents' time, thoughtful creativity, and friendship....
One of the greatest powers for good is a family whose members respect each other and who have learned to function, however poorly, with the rich concepts the Word of God gives us as human beings. It is almost incredible to think of the stabilizing effect an ordinary family can have: not only for themselves, but as a light in a troubled generation." (10)
Other applications of CM principles would be a public school teacher as "a stable adult friend in a personally insecure world.... Even a glimmer of light can transform a dark world." Other ideas for application: in a church or Christian community; as a babysitter; daycare; after-school care; "friendly neighbor who gives the gift of helping that child who has nobody with time for him"; nieces, nephews, grandchildren; single adults have the advantage of extra flexibility:
"Children in need are in every church, school, and community. They are often emotionally adrift, without that sweet and natural security of their parents' marriage to give a base to their family life. Parents become tense and stressed, trying to fit fast-moving careers into ordinary human life. Schools become mechanical, where the child all too often doesn't really count. TV becomes a sedative, stilling active play, reading, talking, sharing. Planned activities crowd out personal growth and creativity. And the god of money, status, and personal ease and pleasure seeps in everywhere, like a noxious gas." (11).
Every child matters; bright or dull, privileged or troubled, each is valuable.

Monday, May 12, 2014


We have spent most of the morning outside. Now we are in the living room, I on the computer (holding a sleeping [!] Aletheia) and Asher playing with his toys. I glanced over at him and watched as he made one of his Little People "boy"s ride a horse. "Ee-yup! Ee-yup!" 

Then he sneezed, and immediately looked over at me with a smile on his face - expecting, knowing what I would say. 

"Bless you!" I exclaimed. He smiled and turned right back around to continue playing.