Saturday, October 31, 2015

Imparting Knowledge, Part 1....

Principle 13: 

In devising a syllabus for a normal child, of whatever social class, three points must be considered: - 
     (a) He requires much knowledge, for the mind needs sufficient food as much as does the body. 
     (b) The knowledge should be various, for sameness in mental diet does not create appetite (i.e. curiosity).
     (c) Knowledge should be communicated in well-chosen language, because his attention responds naturally to what is conveyed in literary form.  

Our assigned reading this month was to finish Chapter 10 in A Philosophy of Education plus read Chapter 5 of For the Children's Sake.  Since this was over 130 pages of reading, our group decided to split the lesson into two months.  I personally read Section I, The Knowledge of God; Section II, The Knowledge of Man (a) History; (b) Literature; and (c) Morals and Economics: Citizenship before our October group discussion.  

In this chapter, it's easy to get wrapped up in studying the curriculum, as in which books Charlotte used in each form, but I think it's important to remember the purpose of this study is to gain an understanding of Charlotte's principles of education.  Try to focus more on the method as a means to meet the goal rather than which particular books she used. 

In principle 13, she gives three key points in her philosophy to impart the goal of knowledge.  First the syllabus must provide food for the mind.  Again we go back to this idea of pabulum, or nourishment for the mind.  Second, the syllabus should be varied creating curiosity or interest.  Third, the knowledge conveyed should be in literary form.  

Let's break it down and measure each section with the three key points...

The Knowledge of God

I love the way Charlotte starts this section!...
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. (p. 158)
 Now to the key phrases in regard to teaching the knowledge of God ...
Now our objective in this most important part of education is to give the children the knowledge of God.  We need not go into the question of intuitive knowledge, but the expressed knowledge attainable by us has its source in the Bible, and perhaps we cannot do a greater indignity to children than to substitute our own or some other benevolent person's rendering for the fine English, poetic diction and lucid statement of the Bible.
Literature at its best is always direct and simple and a normal child of six listens with delight to the tales both of Old and New Testament read to him passage by passage, and by him narrated in turn, with delightful touches of native eloquence.  Religion has two aspects, the attitude of the will towards God which we understand by Christianity, and that perception of God which comes from a gradual slow-growing comprehension of the divine dealings with men.  (p. 160)
I should like to urge the importance of what may be called a poetic presentation of the life and teaching of Our Lord.  The young reader should experience in this study a curious and delightful sense of harmonious development, of the rounding out of each incident, of the progressive unfolding which characterises Our Lord's teaching; and, let me say here, the custom of narration lends itself surprisingly to this sort of poetic insight.  (p. 165-166) 
Probably very little hortatory teaching is desirable.  The danger of boring young listeners by such teaching is great, and there is also the further danger of provoking counter-opinions, even counter-convictions, in the innocent-looking audience.  On the whole we shall perhaps do well to allow the Scripture reading itself to point the moral.  (p. 166)
It seems to me that verse offers comparatively new medium in which to present the great theme. (p. 166)
Charlotte encourages teaching knowledge of God directly from the Bible itself.  The Bible is "poetic" and of literary form.  She advocates the use of narration to solidify comprehension.  Throughout this section, she gives sample narrations from various aged students.  Let the Bible speak and it alone will impart moral wisdom.

The Knowledge of Man

Charlotte gives many clear examples in this section on imparting the knowledge of history...
It is not too much to say that a rational well-considered patriotism depends on a pretty copious reading of history, and with this rational patriotism we desire out young people shall be informed rather than with the jingoism of the emotional patriot. (p. 170)
We know that young people are enormously interested in the subject and give concentrated attention if we give them the right books.  
It is our part to see that every child knows and can tell, whether by way of oral narrative or written essay.
A single reading is a condition insisted upon because a naturally desultory habit of mind leads us all to put off the effort of attention as long as a second or third chance of coping with our subject is to be hoped for.  (p. 171)
Whatever a child or grown-up person can tell, that we may be sure he knows, and what he cannot tell, he does not know. (p. 172-173) we may not ask questions to help the child to reason, paint fancy pictures to help him to imagine, draw out moral lessons to quicken his conscience.  These things take place as involuntarily as processes of digestion. (p. 174)
It will be observed that the work throughout the Forms is always chronologically progressive. (p. 177)
Perhaps the gravest defect in school curricula is that they fail to give a comprehensive, intelligent and interesting introduction to history.  To leave off or even to begin with the history of our own country is fatal.  We cannot live sanely unless we know that other peoples are as we are with a difference, that their history is as ours, with a difference, that they too have been represented by their poets and their artists, that they too have their literature and national life.   (p. 178)
It is never too late to mend but we may not delay to offer such a liberal and generous diet of History to every child in the country as shall give weight to his decisions, consideration to his actions and stability to his conduct; that stability, the lack of which has plunged us into many a stormy sea of unrest.
...the desire for knowledge for its own sake, on the other hand, finds satisfaction in knowledge itself. (p. 179)
I apologize for all the quotes in this post, but I really feel this chapter is the meat of Charlotte's philosophy.  She had some very distinct ideas regarding teaching history as she clearly felt it was a subject of great importance.  Charlotte proposed offering a liberal and generous diet of History to every child.

Throughout, she mentioned doing this by using biographies of persons connected with the time period studied and literature of the period.  She further states, "plays, novels, essays, 'lives', poems are all pressed into service and where it is possible, the architecture, painting, etc., which the period produced."

Charlotte was insistent on things like a single reading and narration.  She also suggested studying history chronologically and not beginning and ending with the history of our own country.

I loved the final paragraph in this section, which reads...
We live in times critical for everybody but eminently critical for teachers because it rests with them to decide whether personal or general good should be aimed at, or a means of general progress towards high thinking and plain living and therefore an instrument of the greatest national good. (p. 180)
We should all be striving for higher thinking and plain living!


Regarding literature, Charlotte says, "...the study of Literature goes pari passu with that of History."  I couldn't agree more!   Choose books with literary quality either written about or within the time period being studied.  You are killing two birds with one stone as they say.

Other wisdom from Charlotte regarding literature....
...I would remark on the evenness with which that power of children in dealing with books is developed.  We spread an abundant and delicate feast in the programmes and each small guest assimilates what he can.  The child of genius and imagination gets greatly more than his duller comrade but all sit down to the same feast and each one gets according to his needs and powers.   (p. 182-183)
I think this quote deserves special attention.  If you have multiple children, you know they learn at different paces and have varied interests.  Charlotte understood that not all children were of the same mold.  Each has strengths and weaknesses.  Again, going back to that first principle, Children are born persons.   Each child is uniquely created in the likeness of God.

Charlotte didn't comment often on teaching children with learning disabilities or differences.  In her time, children with special needs were institutionalized and not in PNEU schools.  However, times have changed.  Today, more often than not, we keep our special needs kids in the home and there's no reason not to homeschool them and provide them with a liberal education, providing a broad and generous curriculum.

I liken the curriculum to food.  Whether your child is learning disabled or not, you will provide them with a variety of fruits and vegetables.  They will eventually acquire a taste and preference for certain fruits and vegetables.  However, once this happens, you will not stop serving a variety because each of your children will desire a different taste.  Sally may grow to love peas, Thomas asparagus, and little Johnny carrots.  In creating a syllabus for our children, it's the same.  We should provide a feast and allow each child to take what they are ready and able to digest.
There has been discussion in Elementary Schools as to whether an abridged edition would not give a better chance of getting through the novel set for a term, but strong arguments were brought forward at a conference of teachers in Gloucester in favour of a complete edition.  Children take pleasure in the 'dry' parts, descriptions, and the like, rendering these quite beautifully in their narrations. (p. 183)
The object of children's literary studies is not to give them precise information as to who wrote what in his reign of whom? - but to give them a sense of the spaciousness of the days, not only of great Elizabeth, but of all those times of which poets, historians and the makers of tales, have left us living pictures.  In such ways the children secure, not the sort of information which is of little cultural value, but wide spaces wherein imagination may take those holiday excursions deprived of which life is dreary; judgemnt, too, will turn over these folios of the mind and arrive at fairly just decisions about a given strike, the question of Poland, Indian Unrest.  Every man is called upon to be a statesman seeing that every man and woman, too, has a share in the government of the country; but statesmanship requires imaginative conceptions, formed upon pretty wide reading and some familiarity with historical precedents. (p. 184)
...but while we grown-up persons read and forget because we do not take the pains to know as we read, these young students have the powers of perfect recollection and just application because they have read with attention and concentration and have in every case reproduced what they have read in narration, or, the gist of some portion of it, in writing. (p. 185)
Again, with literature, we are choosing the best books and requiring narration.

Morals and Economics: Citizenship

Like Literature this subject, too, is ancillary to History.  In Form I, children begin to gather conclusions as to the general life of the community from tales, fables and the story of one or another great citizen.  In Form II, Citizenship becomes a definite subject rather from the point of view of what may be called the inspiration of citizenship than from that of the knowledge proper to a citizen, though the latter is by no means neglected. We find Plutarch's Lives exceedingly inspiring.  (p. 185)
In giving children the knowledge of men and affairs which we class under 'Citizenship' we have to face the problem of good and evil.  
Now Plutarch is like the Bible in this, that he does not label the actions of his people as good or bad but leaves the conscience and judgment of his readers to make that classification....Children recognise with incipient weariness the doctored tale as soon as it is begun to be told, but the human story with its evil and its good never flags in interest....Children like ourselves must see life whole if they are to profit.  At the same time, they must be protected from grossness and rudeness by means of the literary medium through which they are taught.  A daily newspaper is not on a level with Plutarch's Lives, nor with Andrew Lang's Tales of Troy and Greece, though possibly the same class of incidents may appear in both.  (p. 186-187)
Supply a boy with abundant mental pabulum, not in the way of desultory reading, (that is a sort of idleness which leads to mischief), but in the way of matter to be definitely known, give him much and sound food for his imagination, speculation, aspiration, and you have a wholesome-minded youth to whom work is a joy and games not a strain but a healthy relaxation and pleasure. (p. 189)
Using the three key points of Principle 13, we see that Charlotte remained true to teaching History, Literature, and Citizenship by providing pabulum and using varied books of literary form.  She followed through with narration, plain and simple.

In November, our group will continue reading through Chapter 10 and I will attempt a follow-up post detailing other subjects.   Here is Part 2 and Part 3

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