Charlotte Mason has an interesting and insightful idea about the purpose of education regarding the development of the will. Will, she says, is that part of us that separates man from beast. It is the thing in us that gives us freedom, makes us true moral agents, able and obliged to discern right from wrong and act accordingly. Will is also that part of us that allows us to choose something that we do not desire. It allows us to rise above our base instincts and passions and choose what we will over what we want.
As you have probably picked up if you are a regular reader of this blog, RiverTree School will make regular and prolific use of books in the classroom. We do this because children's minds are fed on ideas and good books are the best source of those ideas. Books also do another wonderful thing. They force a child to actively use his imagination. Anytime a child is read a story, especially a good story, his mind is actively creating his own personal mental image of the scene . It is wonderful mental exercise.
I like this quote:
Education is a life. That life is sustained on ideas. Ideas are of spiritual origin, and God has made us so that we get them chiefly as we convey them to one another, whether by word of mouth, written page, Scripture word, musical symphony; but we must sustain a child's inner life with ideas as we sustain his body with food. (CM, A Philosophy of Education p. 109)
Here are two excerpts to help illustrate the difference between typical school fare and the kind of books children will be reading at RiverTree School.
First, an excerpt from a forth grade social studies text used in many Christian schools:
The Lost Colony
I have observed over the years the tremendous effort that teachers put into motivating students by crafting creative lessons and class activities. In fact, a teacher's ability to charm, coax, bribe or otherwise convince children to do their work is considered by some to be the mark of professionalism and talent. The problem, of course, is that all of these motivations toward effort are external to learning. Students do their work not so that they may learn, but so that they receive a good mark, or an approving look from a teacher, or so that they might avoid being held in at recess.
Twaddle is a word I enjoy. Of course when Charlotte Mason used this word she didn't intend it as a complement or as a fun word to say, but as a criticism for something akin to mind junk food. Back in the days of teaching in a class room I was impressed by the eagerness with which younger students approached school. Then something happened somewhere, in my experience, around third grade where school became a drudgery. They didn't seem excited by the ideas, but rather many students complained about an assignment being "stupid" or "boring".
Many parents have asked me where to find good books for their children. There are many sources, but my two favorites have the great advantage of being free.
The Baldwin Project is an online collection of children's and juvenile literature. All of the works were published before 1923 and, therefore, are in the public domain. If you are looking for a new family read-a-loud, this is a great place. Many of the volumes can also be purchased on the site.
Charlotte Mason begins her philosophy of education with this simple and profound statement: "Children are born persons." For some such a statement might border on the obvious. After all, it is a basic Christian belief that humans are created in God's image and by virtue of that image are invested, from the beginning, with person-hood. While this is part of what Charlotte Mason meant, the full impact of her statement is much greater.
A reader pointed out to me today (HT: Mrs. Curtis) that some people might think Charlotte Mason's method is a homeschooling method and that using her method in a school might be a counter productive application. This misconception arises, I think, because the renaissance in Miss Mason's thinking has grown fastest among the networks of home schooling parents who have found the method to be just what they were looking for. Check out AmblsideOnline for a taste of how the method can be used in the home.