Sunday, November 26, 2017

Home Education, Vol. 1 by Charlotte Mason

This post is a duplicate from my homeschool blog and it is the only book post I have done in months. Proof that I am reading books, but dragging my feet about posting; nonetheless, here is something: 

Home Education, Volume 1
Charlotte Mason
Published 1906

My husband bought me the Simply Charlotte Mason reprint of Charlotte Mason's Original Home Schooling Series for my birthday last summer. There are six volumes, and I have already finished the first three books. This is a review of volume one. By the way, there is so much in these books that I cannot speak to everything; therefore, I will only paraphrase what my favorite parts are. Also, this first book is mostly directed toward children less than ten years of age.

Charlotte Mason was an advocate of children, parents, and learning. There is no confusion over where her heart was. She believed bringing up and instructing children as most essential to society, certainly in school, but more so at home because home influences the character and calling of the future adult. She expected more from the mother in the early years because "mothers . . . have the sole direction of the children's early, most impressible years." 
Maternal love is the first agent in education.
At least for the first six years of life, mothers, " . . . are waking up to [their] duties, and . . . will doubtless feel the more strongly that the education of their children . . .  is an undertaking hardly to be entrusted to any hands but their own.  

Mason noticed that (even during the time of her writing) there was a kind of "child-worship," in which children were protected from physical exertion and discomfort. She believed "children should be trained to endure hardness." 

Charlotte Mason was a proponent of nature and being outdoors. She strongly encouraged parents to permit their children to live and learn and play outside in nature as much as possible. 
Never be within doors when you can rightly be without.
She said, ". . . a mother's first duty to her children is to secure for them a quiet growing time, a full six years of passive receptive life, . . . spent for the most part out in the fresh air." This allows for sightseeing, observation or perception, and expression. Being able to observe or perceive also leads to discernment with very little instruction or talk from Mother. In fact, least said the better. Children will make the connections on their own.

Mason made the case that education is based on natural law. She said, ". . . the chief function of the child - his business in the world during the first six or seven years of his life - is to find out all he can, . . . by means of his five senses; that he has an insatiable appetite for knowledge . . . ; the endeavor of his parents should be to put him in the way of making acquaintance . . . with Nature . . . ; the intellectual education of the young child should lie in the free exercise of perceptive power because the first stages of mental effort are marked by the extreme activity of this power; and the wisdom of the educator is to follow the lead of Nature . . ." (Where I said in the margin, "Wow! Public education has this completely opposite.")

There is a long section on habits and habit formation:
The formation of habits is education, and Education is the formation of habits.
She explained why it is important for the educator (Mom) to teach the child moral strength and purpose and self-control over his own nature. Habits that help a child are habits that work against nature because Mason knows that unruly human nature is contrary to God's law, which is written on a man's heart. Educators must teach them habits which "lead them in ways of order, propriety, and virtue."
The mother who takes pains to endow her children with good habits secures for herself smooth and easy days; while she who lets their habits take care of themselves has a weary life of endless friction with the children.
Mason discussed the necessity of mental habits, like attention and obedience, and behaviors that affect other people, like gentleness, courtesy, kindness, candour and respect. Lessons should be short and worthwhile for young children, and their minds should rest after study and observation. A child can be taught to focus attention, and made aware that if he does not get control of his thoughts, they will wander and control him. A child should put his whole heart into all his work.

To ensure the habits of obedience, a mother must teach her child that it is "a noble thing to be able to make himself do, immediately and rightly, the very thing he would rather not do."
The children who are trained to perfect obedience may be trusted with a good deal of liberty. 
If you wonder why someone else's child seems a spoiled brat:
The root of the evil is, not that these people were born sullen, or peevish, or envious - that might have been mended; but that they were permitted to grow up in these dispositions.
Mason next addressed lessons in general. She explained that children learn in order for mental growth, to get fruitful ideas, for valuable, interesting knowledge, and to exercise power for their minds. Since knowledge should come by way of a child's own investigation (under direction) in Nature, the schoolroom should not encroach on his right to long hours for physical exercise and investigation; his play should be vigorous, and he should be left to himself (with supervision), and the happiness of the child should be based on his progress.

This volume includes an in-depth section on spelling, reading, recitation, narration, writing/composition, dictation, Bible, arithmetic, nature science, history, geography and art/music lessons. Lessons and subjects should be linked, interlaced, and recall the last. (That's why I love teaching history in chronological order. It just makes sense.) It is better for a child to focus on real experience, like a primary source or a chronicle or biography from history by someone who was there and learned first hand, than to memorize names and dates and boring facts. And he should read really good books. (I like that very much.)

The last section, probably the most important, speaks to the will of the child. The three functions of the will are: controller of passions and emotions, direction of desires, and ruler of appetites. Mason explains willfulness, and that a disciplined will is necessary to heroic Christian character. To discipline the will one must change his thinking - have a change of heart attitude. Parents must teach their child that:
. . . there is a power within you, your own will, which will enable you to turn your attention from thoughts that make you unhappy and wrong, to thoughts that make you have and right.
Hence, a child must learn early on a habit of self-management to control himself. Mason believed the shaping of the will is far more important to the well-being of the individual than the education of the mind. She quotes:
. . . Theory and doctrine, and inculcation of laws and propositions, will never of themselves lead to the uniform habit of right action. 
If a bee can produce an apple tree, imagine what a child can do...

The section on conscience is beautiful. ". . . every soul is a 'living soul,' a fully developed, full-grown soul." Mason makes you think: if a bee can produce an apple tree, imagine what a child, made in the image of God can do. She pleads:
The parent must not make blundering, witless effort: as this is the most highest duty imposed upon him, it is also the most delicate; and he will have infinite need of faith and prayer, tact and discretion, humility, gentleness, love, and sound judgment, if he would present his child to God, and the thought of God to the soul of his child.
And finally she makes encouraging applications how to do this.

Charlotte Mason
Let me end here by saying, I wish before I became a new mom I read Charlotte Mason's books. She was more than a homeschool or learning advocate; her words are practical and commonsensical and encouraging for parents of young children to love them purposefully, raise them up rightly, and train them in the way they should go that would most benefit their souls and society in general. She is highly intellectual, articulate, practical, feminine, and lovely, that I think of her as the Jane Austen of child rearing and early childhood education.

Coming soon: Parents and Children, Volume 2


Michelle Ann said...

What an interesting book. I assumed at first it was a recent publication, the ideas seem so modern.

Ruth said...

You could say that Charlotte Mason was ahead of her time.