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)