Ambleside Blog

A Method for Educating Human Persons: Not a System

A Method for Educating Human Persons: Not a System

(A five part series)

1st Principle: Excellence in education requires the consistent application of a congruent method that reflects the nature of a child, the nature of knowledge, and the purpose of education.

Method versus System[1]

Traditional Methods of Education.––Never was it more necessary for parents [and teachers] to face for themselves this question of education in all its bearings. Hitherto, children have been brought up upon traditional methods mainly…

That children should be trained to endure hardness, was a principle of the old regime. "I shall never make a sailor if I can't face the wind and rain," said a little fellow of five who was taken out on a bitter night to see a torchlight procession; and, though, shaking with cold, he declined the shelter of a shed. Nowadays, the shed is everything; the children must not be permitted to suffer from fatigue or exposure.

That children should do as they are bid, mind their books, and take pleasure as it offers when nothing stands in the way, sums up the old theory; now, the pleasures of children are apt to be made more account than their duties. Formerly, they were brought up in subjection; now, the elders give place, and the world is made for the children.

English people rarely go so far as the parents of that story in French Home Life, who arrived an hour late at a dinner party, because they had been desired by their girl of three to undress and go to bed when she did, and were able to steal away only when the child was asleep. We do not go so far, but that is the direction in which we are now moving; and how far the new theories of education are wise and humane, the outcome of more widely spread physiological and psychological knowledge, and how far they just pander to child worship to which we are all succumbing, is not a question to be decided off hand.

At any rate, it is not too much to say that a parent [or teacher] who does not follow reasonably a method of education, fully thought out, fails––now, more than ever before––to fulfill the claims his children have upon him.

Next Part 2 - Method a Way to an End


[1] Mason, Charlotte, Home Education pp. 7-11 (excerpts)

 

The Spiritual Mind

While reading A Philosophy of Education by Charlotte Mason this morning, I was struck by the relevance of Charlotte Mason's words to the work of Jeffrey Schwartz.  Jeffrey Schwartz, who ASI is hosting September 27th of this year, wrote a book titled You Are Not Your Brain.  I read it over a year ago and many ideas have taken root.  One overarching idea is that the mind is distinct from the brain and capable of changing the way the brain processes input and, therefore, output.  This has been a critical understanding for me as an adult as I seek to retrain certain brain pathways formed as a result of years of fearful thoughts as a child.  It is also critical for me in my role as a teacher.

At pages 259-260 in A Philosophy of Education, Ms. Mason writes (*note that Ms. Mason uses the word materialism in this passage to mean the belief that all things originate in and are material):


"We are paying in our education of to-day for the wave of materialism that spread over the country a hundred years ago. People do not take the trouble to be definitely materialistic now, but our educational thought has received a trend which carries us whither we would not. Any apostle of a new method is welcome to us. We have ceased to believe in mind, and though we would not say in so many words that "the brain secretes thought as the liver secretes bile," yet the physical brain rather than the spiritual mind is our objective in education; therefore, "things are in the saddle and ride mankind," and we have come to believe that children are inaccessible to ideas or any knowledge.

The message for our age is, Believe in mind, and let education go straight as a bolt to the mind of the pupil. The use of books is a necessary corollary, because no one is arrogant enough to believe he can teach every subject in a full curriculum with the original thought and exact knowledge shown by the man who has written a book on perhaps his life-study. But the teacher is not moved by arrogance but by a desire to be serviceable. He believes that children cannot understand well-written books and that he must make of himself a bridge between the pupil and the real teacher, the man who has written the book."

 

In my understanding, one of the most pivotal overarching principles of Ms. Mason's philosophy is that a child is born a person in the image of God and as such is spiritual (as well as physical).  Therefore, education must provide spiritual nourishment via living ideas in rich literature.  Mr. Schwartz may agree with Ms. Mason that the brain is not the focus of education, rather the mind, because the mind directs the brain.  Spirit directs matter.  I will continue to let these thoughts direct the focus and efforts of school planning for this upcoming year.  

Oh Lord, may I truly be "serviceable" to my students (my children) in the development of their minds.

 

Method a Way to an End

Method a Way to an End

Method implies two things––a way to an end, and a step by step progress in that way. Further, the following of a method implies an idea, a mental image, of the end of object to be arrived at. What do you propose that education shall effect in and for your child [or students]? Again, method is natural; easy, yielding, unobtrusive, simple as the ways of Nature herself; yet, watchful, careful, all pervading, all compelling. Method, with the end of education in view, presses the most unlikely matters into service to bring about that end; but with no more tiresome mechanism than the sun employs when it makes the winds to blow and the waters to flow only by shining. The parent who sees his way––that is, the exact force of method––to educate his child, will make use of every circumstance of the child's life almost without intention on his own part, so easy and spontaneous is a method of education based upon Natural Law. Does the child eat or drink, does he come, or go, or play––all the time he is being educated, though he is as little aware of it as he is of the act of breathing. There is always the danger that a method, a bona fide method, should degenerate into a mere system. The Kindergarten Method, for instance, deserves the name, as having been conceived and perfected by large hearted educators to aid the many sided evolution of the living, growing, most complex human being; but what a miserable wooden system does it become in the hands of ignorant practitioners!

Next - Part 3 A System easier than a Method

Charlotte Mason on the Bondage of Self-Preoccupation

Charlotte Mason on the Bondage of Self-Preoccupation1

The liberty of the person who can make himself do what he ought is the first of the rights that children claim as persons.  The next article in the child’s Bill of Rights is that liberty which we call innocence, and which we find described in the Gospels as humility.  When we come to think of it, we do not see how a little child is humble; he is neither proud nor humble, we say; he does not think of himself at all; here we have hit unconsciously upon the solution of the problem.  Humility, that childish quality which is so infinitely attractive, consists in not thinking of oneself at all.  That is how children come, and how in some homes they grow up; but do we do nothing to make them self-conscious, do we never admire pretty curls or pretty frocks?  Do we never even look our admiration at the lovely creatures, who read us intuitively before they can speak?  Poor little souls, it is sad how soon they may be made to lose the beauty of their primal state, and learn to manifest the vulgarity of display…  The principle is, I think, that an individual fall of man takes place when a child becomes aware of himself; listens as if he were not heeding to his mother’s tales of his smartness or goodness, and watches for the next chance when he may display himself.  The children hardly deserve to be blamed at all.  The man who lights on a nugget has nothing like so exciting a surprise as has the child who becomes aware of himself.  The moment when he says to himself, “It is I,” is a great one for him, and he exhibits his discovery whenever he gets a chance; that is, he repeats the little performance which has excited his mother’s admiration, and invents new ways of showing off.  Presently, his self-consciousness takes the form of shyness, and we school him diligently, “What will Mrs. So-and-So think of a boy who does not look her in the face?” or “What do you think?  General Jones says that Bob is learning to hold himself like a man.”  And Bob struts about with great dignity.  Then we seek occasions of display for children, the dance, the children’s party, the little play in which they act, all harmless and wholesome, if it were not for the comments of the grown-ups and the admiration conveyed by loving eyes.  By-and-by comes the mauvaise honte [impoverished shame] of adolescence.  “Certainly the boys and girls are not conceited now,” we say, and indeed, poor young things, they are simply consumed with self-consciousness, are aware of their hands and feet, their shoulders and their hair, and cannot forget themselves for a moment in any society but that of everyday.  Our system of education fosters self-consciousness.  We are proud that our boy distinguishes himself, but it would be well for the young scholar if the winning of distinctions for himself were not put before him as a definite object.  But “where’s the harm after all?” we ask; “this sort of self-consciousness is a venial fault and almost universal amongst the young.”  We can only see the seriousness of this failing from two points of view – that of Him who has said, “it is not the will of the Father that one of these little ones should perish,” and that, I take it, means that it is not the divine will that children should lose their distinctive quality, innocence or humility, or what we sometimes call simplicity of character.  We know there are people who do not lose it, who remain simple and direct in thought, and young in heart, throughout life; but we let ourselves off easily and say, “Ah, yes, these are happily constituted people, who do not seem to feel the anxieties of life.”  The fact is, these take their times as they come, without undue self-occupation.  To approach the question from a second point of view, the havoc wrought on nerves is largely due to this self-consciousness, more often distressing than pleasing, and the fertile cause of depression, morbidity, melancholia, the whole wretched train which make shipwreck of many a promising life.

            Our work in securing children freedom from this tyranny must be positive as well as negative; it is not enough that we abstain from look or word likely to turn a child’s thoughts upon himself, but we must make him master of his inheritance and give him many delightful things to think of: “la terre appartient à l’enfant, toujours à l’enfant, [the earth belongs to the child, always the child]” said Maxim Gorki at an educational congress held in Brussels years ago.  So it does; the earth beneath and heaven above; and, what is more, as the bird has wings to cleave the air with, so has the child all the powers necessary wherewith to realize and appropriate all knowledge, all beauty and all goodness.  Find out ways to give him all his rights, and he (and more especially she) will not allow himself to be troubled with himself.  Whoever heard of a morbid naturalist or a historian who (save for physical causes) suffered from melancholia?  There is a great deliverance to be wrought in this direction, and sentry duty falls heavily on the soldier engaged in this war.


1Charlotte Mason, “Concerning Children as Persons”, Part II

To Know God: Parents/Teachers – Gentle Prophets Turning Hearts to God

Parents/Teachers – Gentle Prophets Turning Hearts to God

A “devout musing upon the subject of the Godhead” is very different from the indoctrination and the rote memorizing of scripture which characterize the religious education of children in some groups and from the childish song and games characteristic of religious education in other groups. Right doctrine is invaluable as is the discipline of scripture memory. But demons too know right doctrine[1], and Satan himself is quite capable of quoting scripture.[2] Likewise, playful songs and games have their place, but the Holy One, while delightful, is not to be treated as a source of amusement. What then shall a teacher do?

Of the three sorts of knowledge proper to a child, the knowledge of God, of man, and of the universe,––the knowledge of God ranks first in importance, is indispensable, and most happy-making. Mothers are on the whole more successful in communicating this knowledge than are teachers who know the children less well and have a narrower, poorer standard of measurement for their minds. Parents do not talk down to children, but we might gather from educational publications that the art of education as regards young children is to bring conceptions down to their 'little' minds. If we give up this foolish prejudice in favor of the grown-up we shall be astonished at the range and depth of children's minds; and shall perceive that their relation to God is one of those 'first-born affinities' which it is our part to help them to make good [bring to fulfillment]. A mother knows how to speak of God as she would of an absent father with all the evidences of his care and love about her and his children. She knows how to make a child's heart beat high in joy and thankfulness as she thrills him with the thought, 'my Father made them all,' while his eye delights in flowery meadow, great tree, flowing river. "His are the mountains and the valleys his and the resplendent rivers, whose eyes they fill with tears of holy joy," and this is not beyond children. We recollect how 'Arthur Pendennis' walked in the evening light with his mother and recited great passages from Milton and the eyes of the two were filled 'with tears of holy joy,' when the boy was eight. The teacher of a class has not the same tender opportunities but if he take pains to get a just measure of children's minds it is surprising how much may be done. [3]



[1] James 2:19
[2] Luke 4:1-13
[3] Charlotte Mason, Philosophy of Education, pp 158-159

 

To Know God: The Proper Study of Mankind

The Proper Study of Mankind (excerpt from a sermon by Rev. R. C. Spurgeon)6

It has been said by some one that "the proper study of mankind is man." I will not oppose the idea, but I believe it is equally true that the proper study of God's elect is God; the proper study of a Christian is the Godhead. The highest science, the loftiest speculation, the mightiest philosophy, which can ever engage the attention of a child of God, is the name, the nature, the person, the work, the doings, and the existence of the great God whom he calls his Father. There is something exceedingly improving to the mind in a contemplation of the Divinity. It is a subject so vast, that all our thoughts are lost in its immensity; so deep, that our pride is drowned in its infinity. Other subjects we can compass and grapple with; in them we feel a kind of self-content, and go our way with the thought, "Behold I am wise." But when we come to this master-science, finding that our plumb-line cannot sound its depth, and that our eagle eye cannot see its height, we turn away with the thought, that vain man would be wise, but he is like a wild ass's colt; and with the solemn exclamation, "I am but of yesterday, and know nothing." No subject of contemplation will tend more to humble the mind, than thoughts of God. We shall be obliged to feel—

"Great God, how infinite art thou,
What worthless worms are we!"

But while the subject humbles the mind it also expands it. He who often thinks of God, will have a larger mind than the man who simply plods around this narrow globe. He may be a naturalist, boasting of his ability to dissect a beetle, anatomize a fly, or arrange insects and animals in classes with well nigh unutterable names; he may be a geologist, able to discourse of the megatherium and the plesiosaurus, and all kinds of extinct animals; he may imagine that his science, whatever it is, ennobles and enlarges his mind. I dare say it does, but after all, the most excellent study for expanding the soul, is the science of Christ, and him crucified, and the knowledge of the Godhead in the glorious Trinity. Nothing will so enlarge the intellect, nothing so magnify the whole soul of man, as a devout, earnest, continued investigation of the great subject of the Deity. And, whilst humbling and expanding, this subject is eminently consolatary. Oh, there is, in contemplating Christ, a balm for every wound; in musing on the Father, there is a quietus for every grief; and in the influence of the Holy Ghost, there is a balsam for every sore. Would you lose your sorrows? Would you drown your cares? Then go, plunge yourself in the Godhead's deepest sea; be lost in his immensity; and you shall come forth as from a couch of rest, refreshed and invigorated. I know nothing which can so comfort the soul; so calm the swelling billows of grief and sorrow; so speak peace to the winds of trial, as a devout musing upon the subject of the Godhead.
 


________________________

Spurgeon, Rev. R.C., excerpt from “The Immutability of God”, a sermon delivered on January 7, 1855 at New Park Street Chapel, Southwark, London, England

To Know God: First Concerns of a Teacher


To Know God

What does it profit a man to gain the whole world and lose his soul?1
This is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God,
and Jesus Christ whom You have sent.2

First Concerns of a Teacher

We maintain that education has a noble purpose - the cultivation of a mature woman, a mature man. For at least twenty-five hundred years, such a position has had its naysayers, those who would reduce education to the mere equipping of students with the data and skills necessary for productive employment.3 While we must not undervalue productivity, for every mature man and mature woman will be productive, sloth being a mark of immaturity; neither can we assume that alone the skills necessary to be productive in the marketplace will lead to a full and free life. There are countless stories of top graduates from the best universities, who, though blessed with every opportunity, have made train-wrecks out of their lives.
While there are many aspects to maturity, there is none as important as the nature of one’s relationship with God.  It is a truism that we are creatures who desire and worship and that we become like the things we desire and worship. We are always in the process of being conformed to the image of our gods. More than this, if the universal testimony of great saints is true, our hearts are made for God and our soul will never be at rest, until it rests in Him.4 The heart of man and woman cries for more than the humdrum of daily existence. We are made for the infinite and find no true fulfillment apart from it.

Crowned kings have thrown up dominion because they want that which is greater than kingdoms. Profound scholars fret under the limitations which keep them playing upon the margin of the unsounded ocean of knowledge. No great love can satisfy itself in loving. There is no satisfaction for the Soul of a man, save one, because the things about him are finite, measurable, incomplete; and his reach is beyond his grasp; he has an urgent, incessant, irrepressible need of the infinite.

Even we lesser people, who are not kings or poets or scholars, are eager and content enough in pursuit; but we know well that when we have attained, be it place or power, love or wealth, the old insatiable hunger will be upon us: we shall still want––we know not what!

St Augustine knew, when he said that the Soul of man was made for God, and could never be satisfied until it found Him. But our religious thought has become so poor and commonplace, so self-concerned, that we interpret this saying of the sainted man to mean, we shall not be satisfied till we find all the good we include in the name, ‘salvation’. We belie and belittle ourselves by this thought, ‘it is not anything for ourselves we want’; and the sops that we throw to our souls, in the way of one success after another, fail to keep us quiet.

'I want, am made for, and must have a God.' We have within us an infinite capacity for love, loyalty, and service; but we are deterred, checked on every hand, by limitations in the objects of our love and service. It is only to our God that we can give the whole, and only from Him can we get the love we exact; a love which is like the air, an element to live in, out of which we gasp and perish. Where, but in our God, the Maker of heaven and earth, shall we find the key to all knowledge? Where, but in Him, whose is the power, the secret of dominion? And, our search and demand for goodness and beauty baffled here, disappointed there––it is only in our God we find the whole. The Soul is for God, and God is for the Soul, as light is for the eye, and the eye is for light. And, seeing that the Soul of the poorest and most ignorant has capacity for God, and can find no way of content without Him, is it wholly true to say that man is a finite being? But words are baffling; we cannot tell what we mean by finite and infinite.

We say there is no royal road to learning; but this highest attainment of man is for the simple and needy; it is reached by the road in which the wayfaring man, though a fool, shall not err. In this fact, also, we get a glimpse of the infinite for which we hunger. How strange it is to our finite notions that ALL should be offered to the grasp of the simplest and the least!5


________________________

1 Gospel of Mark 8:36
Gospel of John, 17:3
Consider the debate between Socrates and the sophists in Plato’s Republic
Augustine, Confessions, Book 1, Chapter 1
5 Charlotte Mason, Ourselves, pp. 175-176

Three Gifts My Father Gave Me

My father is not generally the gift giver of the family, at least not in the sense of things that can be wrapped in a box. Usually Christmas and birthday presents arrive bearing Mom’s fingerprints. There are, however, the special exceptions. On such occasions, I open a box and find some special tool or bit of technology. Then, I know that Dad was at Home Depot or Radio Shack, and he thought to himself, “Bill would appreciate this (small flashlight built upon a flexible tripod).”

As much as I do appreciate the flashlight built upon a flexible tripod, three of dad’s gifts are much dearer. My Dad and I keeping bees

First and foremost, for fifty-five years now, I’ve watched him love my mother. Dad has always been faithful, always a hard worker, and always a strong provider. Yet, through the years, I’ve watched him become tenderer, more sensitive especially to Mom. He always emptied the dishwasher, knowing this is mom’s least favorite chore. But, the years have brought something more, awareness and delight in my mother. She is the twinkle in his eye. More than anything else, it is this love of my mother that has made his love of God a creditable witness.

Second, Dad was always willing to invest time in me. From last Easter’s trip, when he and Mom spent a week with Maryellen and I, to forty years ago working on a physics problem.

Finally, Dad is a man of few words, but when he speaks, particularly after a momentary pause, what he says is wisdom.

At twenty-two, I was home transitioning into my first adult job. Early one morning, walking into the master bedroom, I saw Dad shaving beside the bath vanity, and I posed this question. “Dad, what is your vocation? What is your mission in life?” He put down his razor, paused for a moment, turned and looking into my eyes, said, “To facilitate the ministry of my wife and children.”

What a remarkable thing for a man to say – my chief purpose is to serve my wife and children, supporting them in a more fruitful walk with God. Even more remarkable, for fifty-six years he’s done it. Very far from perfect, as he would be the first to admit, but fundamentally, he’s done it.

May we all live to serve so well.
 

Moms and the Power of Presence

 

The Power of Presence

And perhaps it is not too beautiful a thing to believe in this redeemed world, that, as the babe turns to his mother though he has no power to say her name, as the flowers turn to the sun, so the hearts of the children turn to their Savior and God with unconscious delight and trust.
Charlotte Mason

Because human persons are profoundly social and not merely self-directed, babes turn to their mothers not only for nourishment but also for comfort, security and love. This relationship is established in the early years of life, the child being shaped primarily by his or her mother. So it was with me, when yet a little child, my mother turned my heart towards God.

I cannot remember a time I did not believe in God. God was in the atmosphere of our home - it was all about me and ventilated through my mother. We did not read the Bible or say prayers at meals or before bedtime. Yet, as a young child lying awake in bed, I thought about God, his love towards me and his sacrifice for me. My mother spoke of God and about God - it seemed as though she knew Him.

The older I grew, the more significant this early thought atmosphere became. In my teens, the cultural clamored for my attention. Internally, I was entangled, but externally I remained aloof.  In my isolation, I responded to God. As I gained more knowledge, I began to acquire the sense that I was made for God. The initial shaping in childhood began to take form and continues. 

This Mother's Day, I reflect upon the power of presence in my mom.

Family Shakespeare

During my time with Ambleside Homeschool, we have had the opportunity to read several Shakespeare plays in story form.  These readings come from well-written story versions for children.  Now, my Ambleside mentor tells me, we are ready to engage in reading Shakespeare in the original.  How exciting! As our school day is full of many other engaging subjects, that I did not want to eliminate, I decided to add Shakespeare into our family time after dinner.  This new ritual has become a fount of delight.  Let me explain.

First, I purchased five full Hamlet texts, one for each of us.  Next, we set aside time in the evening, about 3-4 times per week, to read one scene per night.  Our first night, we reviewed the story of Hamlet and I printed out a Hamlet ‘family tree’ to help us keep the characters straight.  Before we began the first act, I asked, “Who wants to be Claudius?  Who wants to be Gertrude, the ghost, Horatio?”  Great enthusiasm was evoked as there was a chorus of “I do, I do”.   After we all settled on our characters for the night, I told them that they had 3 minutes to go and get any prop they wanted for their character.  My youngest daughter quickly found the ballet tiara for Gertrude, my husband seemed to form a crown for Claudius by turning my sunhat inside-out, Horatio donned a scarf from the coat closet, I was given a ski hat, apparently to endure the weather in Denmark, and the ghost, was covered in the family room throw blanket.  Even our Spaniel played the part of the Guard, a non-speaking role.  Yes, we were now ready to begin.  It was then pure delight to see this thespian experience unfold as each of us, comfortable in familial safety, fully became our character.  Lines were read with great enthusiasm and the beautiful language was accessed with ease. What joy!  After our reading and amateur acting of Act 1 Scene 1 we sat down together as a family and discussed the ideas, characters, set-up, etc.  Each family member lit up with something to say about our reading, something they noticed that touched upon their soul.  Well, it is Shakespeare after all. 

Every family Shakespeare evening since has produced more of the same delight, enthusiasm and intellectual challenge.  It continues to surprise me as to how personal this play has become to our family, the resulting dinnertime conversations and the continued enthusiasm to read and act out the next scene.  Children thrive on great literature and great ideas, just as adults, and this has been a wonderful way to bring the two together.  I attribute this to another one of the blessings that flow from a living education.

Pages

Subscribe to Ambleside Blog