Wednesday, August 26, 2015

You Don't Have to Be the Compendium of All Knowledge....

Principles 9, 10, and 11

We hold that the child's mind is no mere sac to hold ideas: but is rather, if the figure may be allowed, a spiritual organism, with an appetite for all knowledge.  This is its proper diet, with which it is prepared to deal; and which it can digest and assimilate as the body does foodstuffs. 

Such a doctrine as e.g. the Herbartian, that the mind is a receptacle, lays the stress of education (the preparation of knowledge in enticing morsels duly ordered) upon the teacher.  Children taught on this principle are in danger of receiving much teaching with little knowledge; and the teacher's axiom is, 'what a child learns matters less than how he learns it.'

But we, believing that the normal child has powers of mind which fit him to deal with all knowledge proper to him, give him a full and generous curriculum; taking care only that all knowledge offered him is vital, that is, that facts are not presented without their informing ideas.  

Herbartianism is an educational philosophy which advocates for introducing instruction in discrete steps, in essence, spoon feeding.   At first glance of Chapter 7 in A Philosophy of Education, one might think Charlotte Mason was in line with or praising Johann Friedrich Herbart, for whom which the philosophy is named.  However, upon further reading, we see she was laying the foundation to refute his philosophy.
Herbart's psychology is extraordinarily gratifying and attractive to teachers who are, like other people, eager to magnify their office; and there is a scheme which shows how every child is a new creation as he comes forth from the hands of his teacher. (A Philosophy of Education, p. 114)
Charlotte demonstrates with a Robinson Crusoe lesson, which put me in mind of a unit study.  Her example clearly shows how tediously monotonous a lesson can become, unfortunately, at the expense of much teacher time, effort, and preparation.
The conscientious, ingenious and laborious teachers who produce these 'concentration series' are little aware that each such lesson is an act of lèse-majesté.  The children who are capable of and eager for a wide range of knowledge and literary expression are reduced to inanities; a lifelong ennui is set up; every approach to knowledge suggest avenues for boredom, and the children's minds sicken and perish long before their school-days come to an end.   (A Philosophy of Education, p. 116)
Again Charlotte refers to pabulum, or nourishing the mind with a steady diet of ideas, then allowing the mind time to digest these ideas in order to build knowledgeable connections.
By an analogy with Body we conclude that Mind requires regular and sufficient sustenance; and that this sustenance is afforded by ideas we may gather from the insatiable eagerness with which these are appropriated, and the evident growth and development manifested under such pabulum. That children like feeble and tedious oral lessons, feeble and tedious story books, does not at all prove that these are wholesome food; they like lollipops but cannot live upon them; yet there is a serious attempt in certain schools to supply the intellectual, moral, and religious needs of children by appropriate 'sweetmeats'.  (A Philosophy of Education, p. 117)
Overall, in this chapter, I felt Charlotte was relieving teachers, parents, and educators from trying to be the fountain head of all knowledge.  She attempted to lift a burden.  As I continue to finalize our 2015-2016 school plans, I find Charlotte's words soothing and reassuring.  As long as we provide pabulum, she properly places the yoke of knowledge on the student.
Consider the saving involved in the notion that teachers are compendiums of all knowledge, that they have but, as it were, to turn on the tap and the necessary knowledge flows forth. All responsibility is shifted, and the relief is great.  (A Philosophy of Education, p. 118)
By the way, Lynn Bruce wrote a couple excellent essays on these principles in which she explains the ghost of Herbart and how it's still haunting today.  Check out An Oyster and Jewel and The Spiritual Octopus for further study.

UPDATE, November 2015 - Check out this 14 minute podcast on The Role of the Teacher.

1 comment:

  1. I love that you and I are reading through Start Here at the same time! :) We had our meet-up this past Tuesday on these chapters, and it was such a great discussion. Her Robinson Crusoe example feels amazingly relevant even these many years later, and I agree with you that moving away from that kind of mindset--where the teacher bears the weight of the child's learning--is so freeing.