CM 6: Audioblog - Julie Ross - Parents as Inspirers
CM EP 6 Julie Ross
JULIE – Welcome to the Charlotte Mason show, a podcast dedicated to discussing Ms. Mason’s philosophy, principles, and methods. It is our hope that each episode will leave you inspired and offer practical wisdom on how to provide this rich living education in your modern homeschool.
So, pull up a chair, we’re glad you’re here.
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Hello, welcome back to the Charlotte Mason show. I’m your host, Julie Ross, and today I’m going to be reading a part of Parents and Children, which is Volume 2 of Charlotte Mason’s original homeschooling series.
So, these are Charlotte Mason’s words and the title of this part is Parents as Inspirers. And I found that this article is very inspiring, and I hope that it will be so for you as well.
Sow an act, reap a habit. Sow a habit, reap a character. Sow a character, reap a destiny.
My last paper closed with an imperfect summary of what we may call the educational functions of parents. We found that it rests with the parents of the child to settle for the future man his ways of thinking, behaving, feeling, acting. His disposition, his particular talent, the manner of things upon which his thoughts shall run. Who shall fix limitations to the power of parents?
This destiny of the child is ruled by his parents because they have the virgin soil all to themselves. The first sowing must be at their hands or at the hands of such as they choose to depute.
What do they sell? Ideas. We can not too soon recognize what is the sole educational instrument we have to work with. And how this one instrument is to be handled. But how radically wrong is all of our thought upon education. We cannot use the fit words because we do not think the right thing. For an example an idea’s not an instrument, but an agent. It is not to be handled, but shall we say, set in motion. We have perhaps got over the educational misconception of the tabula rasa.
No one now looks on the children’s white soul as a tablet prepared for the exercise of the educator’s supreme art. But the conception which has succeeded this time-honored heresy rests on the same false bases of the august office and the infallible wisdom of the educator. Here it is in its cruder form.
Pestalozzi aimed more at harmoniously developing the faculties than at making use of them for the acquirement of knowledge. He sought to prepare the vase rather than fill it. In the hands of Fobel, the figure gains in boldness and beauty. It is no longer a mere vase to be shaped under the potter’s fingers, but a flower, say, a perfect rose, to be delicately and cautiously and methodically molded, petal by petal, curve and curl, for the perfume and living glory of the flower.
Why, these will come. Do you your part and mold the several petals. Wait, too, upon sunshine and shower, give space and place for your blossom to expand. And so, we go to work with a touch too, of imagination here, to judgment there. Now to the perceptive faculties, now to the conceptive. In this, aiming at the moral, and in this, at the intellectual nature of the child, touching into being, petal by petal, the flower of a perfect life under the genial influences of sunny looks and happy moods.
This reading of the meaning of education and of the work of the educator is very fascinating. It calls forth singular zeal and self-devotion on the part of those whose plants are the children. Perhaps, indeed, this of the Kindergarten is the one vital conception of education that we have.
But in these days of revolutionary thought, when all along the line, in geology and anthropology, chemistry, philosophy and biology, science is changing front. It is necessary that we should reconsider our conception of education. We are taught, for example, that heredity is by no means the simple and direct transmission from parent or remote ancestor, to child of power and proclivity, virtue and defect, and we breathe freer because we had begin to suspect that this were so, it would mean to most of us an inheritance of exaggerated defects. Insanity, congenital disease, are they utterly removed from any one of us?
So, of education, we begin to ask. Is its work so purely formative as we thought? Is it directly formative at all? How much is there in this pleasing and easy doctrine, that the drawing forth and strengthening and directing of the several faculties is education?
Parents are very jealous over the individuality of their children. They mistrust the tendency to develop all on the same plan. And this instinctive jealousy is right, for supposing that education really did consist in systematic efforts to draw out every power that is in us, why, we should all develop on the same lines, be as like as two peas and die of weariness of another? Some of us have an uneasy sense that things are tending towards this deadly sameness, but indeed, the fear is groundless.
We may believe that the personality, the individuality of each of us is too dear to God, and too necessary to a complete humanity to be left at the mercy of empires. We are absolutely safe and the tenderest child is fortified against a battering-ram of educational forces.
The problem of education is more complex than it seems at first sight and well for us and the world that it is so. Education is a life you may stunt and starve and kill, or you may cherish and sustain. But the beating of the heart, the movement of the lungs, and the develop of the faculties, are only indirectly our care.
The poverty of our thought on the subject of education is shown by the fact that we have no word which at all implies the sustaining of a life. Education is very inadequate. It covers no more than those occasional gymnastics of the mind which correspond with those by which the limbs are trained. Training is almost synonymous and upon these two words rests the misconception that the development and the exercise of the faculties is the object of education. We must needs use the word for want of a better. Our homely Saxon bringing up is nearer the truth, perhaps because of its very vagueness. Anyway, up implies an aim, and bringing up, an effort.
The happy phrase of Mr. Matthew Arnold – which we have appropriated as the model of the parent’s review – is perhaps the most complete and adequate definition of education we possess. It is a great thing to have said education is an atmosphere of discipline and a life. Our wiser posterity may see in that profound and exquisite remark, the fruition of a lifetime of critical effort.
Observe how it covers the question from the three conceivable points of view. Subjectively, in the child, education is a life. Objectively, as affecting the child, education is a discipline. Relatively, if we may introduce a third term, as regard to the environment of the child, education is an atmosphere.
We shall examine each of these postulates later. At present, we shall attempt no more than to clear the ground a little with a view to the subject of this chapter, Parents as Inspirers, not modelers, but inspirers.
It is only as we recognize our limitations that our work becomes effective. When we see definitely what we are to do, what we can do, and what we cannot do, we set to work with confidence and courage. With an end in view and we make our way intelligently towards that end, and a way to an end is method. It rests with parents not only to give their children birth into the life of intelligence and moral power, but to sustain the higher life which they have been borne.
Now that life which we might call education receives only one kind of sustenance. It grows on ideas. You may go through years of so-called education without getting a single vital idea. And this is why many a well-fed body carries about a feeble, starved intelligence, and no society for the prevention of cruelty for children cries shame on the parents.
Some years ago, I heard of a girl of fifteen who had spent two years at a school without taking part in a single lesson. And this by express desire of her mother, who wished all her time and all her pains to be given to fancy needlework. This, no doubt, is a survival, but it is possible to pass even the universities local examinations with credit without ever having experienced the vital stir which marks the inception of an idea. And if we have succeeded in escaping this disturbing influence, why we have finished our education when we leave school. We shut up our books and our minds and remain pigmies in the dark forest of our own dim world of thought and feeling. Every study, every line of thought has its guiding idea.
Therefore, the study of a child makes for living education as it is quickened by the guiding idea which stands at the head. In a word, our much-boasted infallible reason, is it not the involuntary thought which follows the initial idea upon necessary logical lines? Given the starting idea, and the conclusion may be predicated almost to a certainty. We get into the way of thinking such and such manner of thoughts and of coming to such and such conclusions, ever further and further removed from the starting point, but on the same lines.
There are structural adaptation in the brain tissue to the manner of the thoughts we think. A place and a way for them to run in. Thus, we see how the destiny of a life is shaped in the nursery by the reverent naming of the divine name. By the light scoff at holy things. By the light thought of duty the little child gets who is made to finish conscientiously his little task by the hardness of heart that comes to the child who hears the faults or sorrows of others spoken lightly.
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What is an idea? A live thing of the mind, according to the older philosophers from Plato to Bacon, from Bacon to Coleridge. We say of an idea that it strikes us, impresses us, seizes us, takes possession of us, rules us, and our common speech is, as usual, truer to the fact than the conscious though which it expresses.
We do not in the least exaggerate in ascribing this sort of action and power to an idea. We form an ideal, a so to speak embodied idea, and our ideal exercises the very strongest formative influence upon us. Why do you devote yourself to this pursuit, to that cause? Because twenty years ago such and such an idea struck me, is the sort of history which might be given of every purposeful life, every life devoted to the working out of an idea.
Now is it not marvelous that recognizing as we do the potency of an idea, both the word and the conception it covers ever so little into our thought of education? Coleridge brings the conception of an idea within the sphere of the scientific thought of today; not as that thought is expressed in psychology, a term which he himself launched upon the world with an apology, but it is one of our language stands in great need. But in that science of the correlation and interaction of mind and brain which is, at present, rather clumsily expressed in such terms as mental physiology and psychophysiology.
In his method, Coleridge gives us the following illustration of the rise and progress of an idea. We can recall no incident of human history that impresses the imagination more deeply than the moment when Columbus, or an unknown ocean, first perceived that startling fact, the change of the magnetic needle. How many such instances occur in history when the ideas of nature – presented to chosen minds by a higher power than nature herself - suddenly unfold, it were, in prophetic succession, systematic views destined to produce the most important revolutions in the state of man.
The clear spirit of Columbus was doubtless eminently methodical. He saw distinctly that great leading idea which authorized the poor pilot to become a promiser of kingdoms. Notice the genesis of such ideas presented to chosen minds by a higher power than nature. Notice how accurately this history of an idea fits in with what we know of the history of great inventions and discoveries, with that of the idea which rule our own lives, and how well does it correspond with that key to the origin of practical ideas which we find elsewhere.
Doth the plowman plow continually to open and break the clods of his ground? When he hath made plain the face thereof, doth he not cast abroad the fitches and scatter the cumin and put in the wheat in rows, and the barley in the appointed place, and the spelt in the border thereof? For his God doth instruct him aright and doth teach him. Bread corn is ground, for he will not ever be threshing it. This also cometh forth from the Lord of hosts which is a wonderful counsellor and excellent in wisdom.
Ideas may invest as an atmosphere rather than striking as a weapon. The idea may exist in a clear, distinct, definite form, as that of a circle in the mind of a geometrician. Or it may be a mere instinct, a vague appetency towards something, like the impulse which fills the young poet’s eyes with tears, he knows not why. To excite this appetency towards something. Towards things lovely, honest, and of good report, is the earliest and most important ministry of the educator.
How shall these indefinite ideas which manifest themselves in appetency be imparted? They are not to be given of set purpose, nor taken at set times. They are held in that thought environment which surrounds the child as an atmosphere, which he breathes as his breath of life and this atmosphere in which the child inspires his unconscious ideas of right living emanates from his parents.
Every look of gentleness and tone of reverence, every word of kindness and act of help, passes into the thought-environment, the very atmosphere which the child breathes. He does not think of these things, may never think of them, but all his life long they excite the vague appetency towards something out of which most of his actions spring.
Oh, wonderful and dreadful presence of the little child in the midst. That he should take direction and inspiration from all the casual life about him, should make our poor words and ways the starting point from which and in the direction of which he develops. This is a thought which makes the best of us hold our breath. There is no way of escape for parents. They must needs be as inspirers to their children, because about them hangs, as its atmosphere about a planet the thought-environment of the child, from which he derives those enduring ideas which express themselves as a lifelong appetency towards things sordid or things lovely, things earthly or divine.
Let us now hear Coleridge on the subject of those definite ideas which are not inhaled as air but conveyed as meat to the mind. From the first or initiative idea, as from a seed, successive ideas germinate. Events and images, the lively and spirit-stirring machinery of the external world, are like light and air and moisture to the seed of the mind, which would else rot and perish.
The paths in which we may pursue a methodical course are manifold, and at the head of each stands its peculiar and guiding idea. Those ideas are as regularly subordinate in dignity as the paths to which they point are various and eccentric in direction. The world has suffered much, in modern times, from a subversion of the natural and necessary order of science. From summoning reason and faith to the bar of that limited physical experience to which, by the true laws or method they owe no obedience.
Progress follows the path of the idea from which it sets out, requiring, however, a constant wakefulness of mind to keep it within the due limits of its course. Hence, the orbits of thought, so to speak, must differ among themselves as the initiative ideas differ.
Have we not here the corollary to, and the explanation of, that law of unconscious cerebration which results in our ways of thinking, which shapes our character, rules, our destiny? Thoughtful minds consider that the new light which biology is throwing upon the laws of mind is bringing to the front once more the Platonic doctrine, that an idea is a distinguishable power, self-affirmed, and seen in its unity with the eternal essence.
The whole subject is profound but as practical as it is profound. We must disabuse our minds of the theory that the functions of education are, in the main, gymnastic. In the early years of the child’s life it makes, perhaps, little apparent difference whether his parents start with the notion that to educate is to fill a receptacle, inscribe a tablet, mold plastic matter, or nourish a life. But in the end, we shall find that only those ideas which have fed his life are taken into the being of the child. All the rest is thrown away or worse, is like sawdust in the system, an impediment and an injury to the vital processes.
All right, so let me take a minute and just kind of break apart some of the key ideas in the portion that I just read to you from Parents and Children that Charlotte Mason wrote. So first she quotes two different educational philosophers that were contemporaries of her. They’re names that you’re probably not familiar with unless you’ve read Charlotte Mason’s volumes, or you like to study educational philosophy cause they’re not well-used in today’s American homeschool community.
But the first on was Pestalozzi. And she says that his idea of education was like a potter making a vase. And that vase would be filled. So that’s one thing you know, you hear that people filling a bucket, like… so that’s one way to view education.
The other was from Froebel, he was German. He started the Kindergarten concept. And she said he views education as like, a molding of the flower. Like the potter was delicately shaping each petal and each one of those are the different faculties of a child’s mind.
So, she asks is this directing of faculties truly education? And her point being, with Froebel’s idea of education, that if that were true, we would all be the same. That education would take us, and it would mold each petal and if we’re using the same material that we’d end up with the same results. And basically, she doesn’t say it, this is my word, right, that children aren’t robots. So, you can’t put them in a machine called education and expect to get everything coming out looking exactly the same.
Her first principals, children were born person…so she’s talking against these two other educational philosophies, and then she goes on in the article to expand what she thinks education is. And there’s the quote that’s the famous motto for the Charlotte Mason education is an atmosphere, a disciple, and a life.
And she says that all of those are fed upon ideas. And then she goes to break that concept down a little bit farther. So, she says that education is a life, so we can either starve or kill, she even says the mind, or we can cherish and sustain it. She doesn’t say it in this portion that I read to you, but she says it elsewhere, that the mind feeds upon one food and that food is ideas.
She also says education is a discipline, and she’s talking here about our habits of thought. That, she said in the article, the destiny is a life is shaped in the nursery by the thoughts that they’re thinking. So, the ruts that our brain kind of runs upon, those thoughts that are… can be changed from getting new ideas. And then she talks about education is an atmosphere. And she says these ideas are in the air. It’s what your children are breathing in.
And she does ask a question, where do ideas come from. And she quotes Isaiah, talking about does the farmer know when to grow this crop or how to plant this, right? God doth instruct him, it says. She says ideas are from our heavenly Father. They’re above nature, so the ideas are coming from God. And that as parents, our job is to be inspirers. We’re to feed our children this living feast of ideas. That we are responsible for giving them that mind food that they need, the education is the life, are we starving their minds of ideas, or are we cherishing, sustaining what their mind’s need? Are we giving them good habits that are gonna shape the thoughts that these ideas take inside of their minds? And is the atmosphere of our home one that is full of ideas. She talks in there about the tone of voice and the gentleness. All of that shapes a person and that is what education is.
Thankyou for joining us on the Charlotte Mason show. I’m your host, Julie Ross, and I would love to mee you in 2020. I will be at all seven Great Homeschool Conventions, speaking as part of their Charlotte Mason track. Go to greathomeschoolconventions.com to find one near you.
If you want more information on what was shared in today’s podcast, go to homeschooling.mom for the show notes. Also, don’t forget to subscribe to this podcast in iTunes or Google Play so you never miss an episode.
Until next time.
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