A Method for Educating Human Persons: Not Getting in the Way

A Method for Educating Human Persons: Not Getting in the Way

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.

Education the Science of Relations
The readings last considered concluded with Charlotte Mason’s statement that “education is the science of relations, or, more fully, that education considers what relations are proper to a human being, and in what ways these several relations can best be established.”[1] Given that every human being comes into the world with a tremendous capacity for relations with God, others, creation, and ideas and that forming such relations are the very natural work of the mind, the teacher is left with two chief concerns:
  1. To put the student in the natural position for forming these relations “by presenting the right idea at the right time” and “by forming the right habit upon the right idea”.
  2. “Not getting in the way” of this very natural process and so preventing the establishment of the very relations which education seeks to form.
At a future time, attention will be focused on “presenting the right idea” and “forming the right habit”; however, the texts below give attention to the challenging task of “not getting in the way.”
 
Four Means of Destroying the Desire for Knowledge:[2]
     (a) Too many oral lessons [the teacher explaining the text], which offer knowledge in a diluted form, and do not leave the child free to deal with it.
     (b) Lectures, for which the teacher collects, arranges, and illustrates matter from various sources; these often offer knowledge in too condensed and ready prepared a form.
     (c) Text-books compressed and recompressed from the big book of the big man.
     (d) The use of emulation and ambition as incentives to learning in place of the adequate desire for, and delight in, knowledge.
 
The Problem with Oral Lessons and Lectures[3]
Too much faith is commonly placed in oral lessons and lectures; "to be poured into like a bucket," as says Carlyle, "is not exhilarating to any soul"; neither is it exhilarating to have every difficulty explained to weariness, or to have the explanation teased out of one by questions. "I will not be put to the question. Don't you consider, sir, that these are not the manners of a gentleman? I will not be baited with what and why; what is this? What is that? Why is a cow's tail long? Why is a fox's tail bushy?" said Dr Johnson. This is what children think, though they say nothing. Oral lessons have their occasional use, and when they are fitly given it is the children who ask the questions. Perhaps it is not wholesome or quite honest for a teacher to pose as a source of all knowledge and to give 'lovely' lessons. Such lessons are titillating for the moment, but they give children the minimum of mental labor, and the result is much the same as that left on older persons by the reading of a magazine. We find, on the other hand, that in working through a considerable book, which may take two or three years to master, the interest of boys and girls is well sustained to the end; they develop an intelligent curiosity as to causes and consequences, and are in fact educating themselves.
 
 Books and Oral Teaching.––Having found the right book, let the master give the book the lead and be content himself with a second place. The lecture must be subordinated to the book. The business of the teacher is to put his class in the right attitude towards their book by a word or two of his own interest in the matter contained, of his own delight in the manner of the author. But boys get knowledge only as they dig for it. Labor prepares the way for assimilation, that mental process which converts information into knowledge; and the effort of taking in the sequence of thought of his author is worth to the boy a great deal of oral teaching.
Do teachers always realize the paralyzing and stupefying effect that a flood of talk has upon the mind? The inspired talk of an orator no doubt wakens a response and is listened to with tense attention; but few of us claim to be inspired, and we are sometimes aware of the difficulty of holding the attention of a class. We blame ourselves, whereas the blame lies in the instrument we employ––the more or less diluted oral lesson or lecture, in place of the living and arresting book. We cannot do without the oral lesson––to introduce, to illustrate, to amplify, to sum up. My stipulation is that oral lessons should be few and far between, and that the child who has to walk through life,––and has to find his intellectual life in books or go without,––shall not be first taught to go upon crutches.
 
The Danger of Playing Upon Student Ambition and Affections
[4] He is a poor thing who is content to be beaten on all hands. We do not quarrel with the principle of emulation [desire to equal or surpass another] any more than we do with that of respiration. The one is as natural and as necessary as the other, and as little to be brought before a moral tribunal. But it is the part of the educator to recognize that a child does not come into the world a harp with one string; and that the perpetual play upon this one chord through all the years of adolescence is an evil, not because emulation is a vicious principle, but because the balance of character is destroyed by the constant stimulation of this one desire at the expense of the rest.
[5] Emulation becomes suicidal when it is used as the incentive to intellectual effort, because the desire for knowledge subsides in proportion as the desire to excel becomes active. As a matter of fact, marks of any sort, even for conduct, distract the attention of children from their proper work, which is in itself interesting enough to secure good behavior as well as attention.
 
Affection as a Motive.––That he ought to work hard to please his parents [or teacher] who do so much for him, is a proper motive to bring before the child from time to time, but not too often: if the mother trade on her child's feelings, if, 'Do this or that to please mother,' 'Do not grieve poor mother,' etc., be brought too frequently before the child as the reason for right doing, a sentimental relation is set up which both parent and child will find embarrassing, the true motives of action will be obscured, and the child unwilling to appear unloving, will end in being untrue.
 
Attractiveness of Knowledge.––Of course, the most obvious means of quickening and holding the attention of children lies in the attractiveness of knowledge itself, and in the real appetite for knowledge with which they are endowed.
 
Additional Dangers[6]
 
Danger of undervaluing Children's Intelligence… I am inclined to question whether, in the interest of carrying out a system, the charming Kindergarten teacher is not in danger sometimes of greatly undervaluing the intelligence of her children. I know a person of three who happened to be found by a caller alone in the drawing room. It was spring, and the caller thought to make himself entertaining with talk about the pretty 'baa-lambs.' But a pair of big blue eyes were fixed upon him and a solemn person made this solemn remark, "Isn't it a dwefful howid thing to see a pig killed!" We hope she had never seen or even heard of the killing of a pig, but she made as effective a protest against twaddle as would any woman of Society… And, if the little people were in the habit of telling how they feel, we should learn perhaps that they are a good deal bored by the nice little games in which they frisk like lambs, flap their fins, and twiddle their fingers like butterflies…
 
Danger of Personal Magnetism.––Most of us are misled by our virtues, and the entire zeal and enthusiasm of the Kindergarten teacher is perhaps her stone of stumbling. 'But the children are so happy and good!' Precisely; the home-nursery is by no means such a scene of peace, but I venture to think it a better growing place. I am delighted to see that an eminent Froebelian protests against the element of personal magnetism in the teacher; but there is, or has been, a good deal of this element in the successful Kindergartner, and we all know how we lose vigor and individuality under this sort of influence.
 
The Dead Wall of Systematized Education[7]
 
Miss Sullivan [teacher of Helen Keller] on Systems of Education.––Like all great discoveries, this, of a soul, was, in all its steps, marked by simplicity. Miss Sullivan had little love for psychologists and all their ways; would have no experiments; would not have her pupil treated as a phenomenon, but as a person. "No," she says, "…I am beginning to suspect all elaborate and special systems of education. They seem to me to be built up on the supposition that every child is a kind of idiot who must be taught to think, whereas if the child is left to himself he will think more and better, if less showily. Let him go and come freely, let him touch real things, and combine his impressions for himself, instead of sitting indoors at a little round table, while a sweet-voiced teacher suggests that he build a stone wall with his wooden blocks, or make a rainbow out of strips of colored paper, plant straw trees in bead flower-pots. Such teaching fills the mind with artificial associations that must be got rid of before the child can develop independent ideas out of actual experiences." It is a great thing to have a study of education as it were de novo, in which we see the triumph of mind, not only over apparently insuperable natural obstacles, but over the dead wall of systematized education––a more complete hindrance to any poor child than her grievous defects proved to Helen Keller.
 

[1] Mason, Charlotte, School Education, 66.
[2] Ibid., 214.
[3] Ibid., 227-231 (excerpts).
[4] Charlotte Mason, Parents and Children, 220.
[5] Charlotte Mason, Home Education,143-145 (excerpts).
[6] Charlotte Mason, Home Education, 187-190 (excerpts).
[7] Ibid.,195-196.