S5E17 | Virtual Book Club #4: A Philosophy of Education, Chapter 3 (with Shay Kemp)
In this episode, Julie Ross and Shay Kemp discuss the first part of Chapter 3, which covers Mason’s perspectives on the well-being of a child’s body, mind, and intellect. Let’s explore how these components are addressed within her philosophy so that students’ “divine curiosity” is not dampened.
Shay is a homeschooling mom of five who loves enjoying the learning journey with her children and encouraging others in their faith, parenting, and homeschooling. She believes that the best conversations happen when you are comfortable on the front porch.
Julie H. Ross believes that every child needs a feast of living ideas to grow intellectually, emotionally, and spiritually. As a former school teacher, curriculum coordinator, and assistant director of a homeschool academy, Julie has worked with hundreds of students and parents over the past 20 years. She has also been homeschooling her own five children for over a decade. Julie developed the Charlotte Mason curriculum, A Gentle Feast, to provide parents with the tools and resources needed to provide a rich and abundant educational feast full of books, beauty, and Biblical truth. Julie lives in South Carolina. When she’s not busy homeschooling, reading children’s books, hiking, or writing curriculum, you can find her taking a nap.
A Philosophy of Education by Charlotte Mason
Other episodes in this series:
Julie Ross | Instagram
Thank you to our sponsors!
Medi-Share: an affordable Christian alternative to traditional health insurance
A Gentle Feast: a Charlotte Mason curriculum for the entire family
Want to know more about the Charlotte Mason method? Visit www.agentlefeast.com and click on LEARN MORE to receive a FREE four-day introduction course.
Have you joined us at one of the Great Homeschool Conventions? We hope to see you there!
Get more from this episode
Julie Ross Hello everyone and welcome to the Charlotte Mason Show. I am your host, Julie Ross, and I'm here for our Charlotte Mason book club with the amazing Shay Kemp. Hello, Shay.
Shay Kemp Hello.
Julie Ross All right, so we are on chapter three, which is called The Good and Evil Nature of a Child. That sounds very weighty.
Shay Kemp It does, and I have to tell you, I was telling my 10-year-old— she said, "What are you talking about today?" And I just told her that chapter and she didn't like that. She's like, "The good and evil nature of a child? What?" I'm like, "Well, it's good and evil, not just the evil nature."
Julie Ross Yes, right. And I think we have to realize the time period that Charlotte Mason was writing was very different from our own, right? The view of children was very low. They're kind of best seen and not heard. And you have to kind of train the evil out of them to make them grow up to be somewhat respectable citizen someday.
Shay Kemp Yes. And that's one reason I love this chapter. It is so respectful of the child as a person. Of course, we know that's her principle, but it's respectful of all the parts of a child as a person instead of talking down not only to the child but about the child. Like, you're not talking about kids behind their back and saying how, "Oh we just have to make them be good." She really is respectful in the way she discusses children. It really was different for her time period and sometimes our time period, too. We tend to forget how intelligent our children actually are.
Julie Ross Also too, I think in today's society, we can even go to the other extreme, right? Like, "Well, my child is a little angel, and they would never ever do anything wrong." And it's the world that corrupts them. They're born little cherubs. And then they learn these things, and we have to protect them from ever being exposed to anything. Her view was that children have both capabilities. It's what we do through their education and through the atmosphere of our home that can lead their propensity towards either one of those. But again, they have the free will. She's not going against our religious kind of teachings— depravity or free will or any of that. But that in all of us, even as adults, we have a choice, right? To train our will, to train our habits, to make decisions right or wrong. We have the same responsibility, but also opportunity to do that with our children as well.
Shay Kemp Yes, it's so powerful the things that she says in here. I feel like I underlined so much in this chapter and marked things to go back to later on.
Julie Ross She starts out here kind of giving that contrast I was saying about. And then some of the psychology and theory behind this concept. So what stood out to you from that part?
Shay Kemp There is so much to unpack in this first section. But I think one thing that really is practical is where she talks about mother wit and how it's so powerful.
Julie Ross Do you want me to read that quote?
Shay Kemp Why don't you read that? Yes.
Julie Ross "Parents have this sort of mother wit more commonly than we outsiders, teachers, and the like," and Charlotte Mason is saying that because she didn't have her own children. "Of course, we know of the mothers and fathers who can't do anything with Tom and hope the schoolmaster will lick them into shape." I mean, how many times have you heard that from people? "But how often, on the other hand, are we surprised to see how much more of persons Bob and Polly are in their own homes than at school? Perhaps this is because parents know their children better than do others. And for that reason, believe in them more. For our faith in the divine and the human keep pace with our knowledge."
Shay Kemp That is so powerful. That gut feeling, that mother wit, that understanding that we have of our children is what gives us the confidence to teach them, to recognize that we can see what they really are as a whole person rather than just that maybe—when you're just in a classroom—that persona you give off in the classroom. Or that way the child interacts in the classroom, you're going to miss out on some of that. And she doesn't discount our faith in the divine and our faith in them as little humans.
Julie Ross It's a partnership there, right? Yeah, it's a trusting of your gut and then trusting to have the faith that God's going to accomplish what he said he would if we are faithful and we're doing our part in this process of educating our children, right?
Shay Kemp Yes. And that's so different than just picking a curriculum, which is what I hope people will consider is that we get so many questions about, "I'm choosing a curriculum. What should I choose? What should I choose for this subject? That subject? This subject?" But, what we're talking about is so much farther than that to what does my mother wit and my faith in the divine and my faith in what God puts in my child as a human— what do all those things together— what do they mean that I want my child's education to look like? Which is far different than, "I'm just going to pick. Okay, give me a catalog and I'll pick this for math and this for—" you know, it's far different than that. And it does require a little more concerted thought process. Stepping back and really considering. But the result of that is that you have this gut instinct. Plus the divine that's assisting you. And so when you're moving forward in your school, you have so much more confidence, so much more I think forward motion for me. "Okay, I have a viewpoint of where we're going." It's not just, "Okay, I can we check everything off today?"
Julie Ross Yeah. And I think when you don't have confidence, right, you want a curriculum that just tells you what to do for everything or even like scripted lessons or something. Like, "I just follow this formula and my kids are going to get an education and everybody's be okay and they're going to move out of my basement someday." You know, it's like this, "We have to follow this to get this thing," rather than trusting in ourselves, right? That God gave you the children that you have because he believed in you and he gave you that responsibility of teaching them. And entrusting that what God calls us to, he's going to equip us for. That takes so much more confidence. Charlotte Mason saw this, too. People would write to her all these questions all the time. If you wanted to know what Charlotte Mason said, they could actually ask Charlotte Mason. In our day, I think we think, "Oh, well, this person wrote a curriculum, so they must be an expert. So I should ask them, and I'm going to do whatever they say," rather than taking the time to think about it, pray about it, ponder on it, ponder your child. Definitely ask thoughts from other parents who have children who are older, or people who are experts in different fields, or specialists. I'm not saying don't do that; that's super important. At the end of the day, you have to take all that information, and you have to be the one to weigh it, and then you have to be the one to surrender it, and realize that no magic formula is going to get you XY end result. That you are actually educating a person and that this is a surrendering faith kind of process.
Shay Kemp Yes, and that's just a powerful— and really that theme kind of goes throughout the entire chapter to me. She's constantly going back to this sort of mindset that she starts with that you can trust. Let's look at our child. Let's look at their mind. Let's look at their intellect. Let's look at their affection. Let's look at their soul. But at the same time, we're not just throwing something at them to get them to complete a task. We are considering all these things together as we make these choices.
Julie Ross It can seem like, "Oh, well, that's so much pressure. Then it's kind of on me, right?" But again, we're saying they are born with this propensity towards good or towards evil, right? They're going to make their own decisions. That doesn't all fall on you, but it does fall on you to be faithful in the job that you're called to do. She even talks here about the effects of a teacher with a strong personality. That, "Oh, well, they're not going to educated unless they have this amazing teacher." And we could think that too, that all of this is on me. Like, I have to come up with all these activities and I have to be like super enthusiastic. Every day, I'm like, "Oh it's time for school! I'm so excited!"
Shay Kemp Yes. Exhausting! And she says the exact opposite of that. She even says in here how the undue play of the personality of the teacher is likely to suppress and subdue that of his scholars. And how it's actually a tension that's caused on them. "And they hang on her," she says later on, "with a parasitic habit that has been formed." And I feel like we have almost flipped that on its head in our own mindset of what education is. If we have this personality that attracts children and is attractive and we offer attractive fun activities, then education is happening. But what could possibly be happening is that entertainment is possibly happening, but is education actually happening?
Julie Ross I like think quote that you were talking about with this parasitic habit. It says, "The girl who kisses the chamber door of her class mistress will forget this lady by and by. But the parasitic habit has been formed, and she must always have some person or some cause on which to hang her body and soul." They become dependent on the teacher and this entertainment and this personality, and consider that learning. When they have a teacher or professor who isn't interesting or exciting, right, "Oh, well, I can't learn anything in this class." Or "What if I want to just go— Can I just go learn something on my own? Do I have to have this person teaching me? Am I dependent on another person to be the fountain of knowledge? Or can I find this information? Am I empowered to go find this information in a book?"—or, you know, today's world, the internet—"and learn things because I'm a curious, creative human being?"
Shay Kemp It's so powerful. I just think the last quote, the last line of this, where it says, "A tendency to this manner of betrayal is the infirmity of noble minds of those who have the most to give. And for this reason, again, it is important that we should have before us a bird's eye view, let us call it, of human nature." Which is sort of what I was trying to say that she gives in this chapter is like, let's have a bird's eye view. Let's look down on all what these children are made up of, what we are made up of, because I learn exactly the way that she's talking about here, too. I mean, I see myself in this chapter. And let's not betray that. Let's not cause an infirmity of their mind before we— we're causing a sickness before they ever sit down to learn something because we're providing them all this unnecessary stuff?
Julie Ross Yes. And it really is. I mean, I don't know about when you taught. I remember I taught kindergarten, and I used to come home and be so tired because it was like the Julie show. I was just on the whole day. And, "Hey, guys!" You have puppets and you have songs and you have lights. And it's like, "Please listen to what I'm saying!"
Shay Kemp The puppets and the things you cut out every single night and they have been laminated.
Julie Ross Oh yes. We are going to glue things on this piece of paper, and you're going to learn so much.
Shay Kemp Yes. And then the next day you're like, "Okay, what was this?" And it is the blank stare, like, "Uh, I don't know."
Julie Ross I'm like, "That took 30 seconds, but that took me seven hours last night to cut all this out."
Shay Kemp My husband still talks about that because when we first got married, that's what I did was teach kindergarten. And of course, I never came home until 5:30 at night because I had to have my classroom set up exactly right for the next day.
Julie Ross Oh yeah, all the different stations and centers and stuff. And that's great. I mean, kids need to play and they need these different things, right? I'm not discounting them and the hands-on activities and those kind of things. Like those are our incorporated, especially at the younger ages, right? Those are important for them to explore and have— but in a home, they're going to have a kitchen and and dress-up clothes called mom's closet. You don't have to create a child environment like you do in a classroom for them to play and explore.
Shay Kemp And it's just backing up to find out what is really going on there. I do those activities with my kids sometimes. It snowed here yesterday and we made these big, fluffy, twisty snowflakes. It was super fun. It didn't tie to a thing. We just did it. It was so fun. I love that stuff. Then we ended up reading the Snowflake Bentley because we happened to have that book. Like I said, there's snow here. That stuff is great. But my point here that I think is what she's trying to say to some is to say, "Let's recognize what that is." If it's the personality of the teacher, that's attracting the child. Is that true learning that's going on?
Julie Ross Right. I'm sure your kids had a great time, and someday they might have a wedding decorating business and they make fun snowflakes for it, right? But in terms of like— overall what they are learning from that activity— the hand-eye coordination, the dexterity, and the fine motor skills, all that stuff is so important. That's why Charlotte Mason included handicrafts, but she said there was a purpose to these, right? It's fun to do those kind of things here and there, but if you're if you're considering that their education, because we could take a cute picture and put it on Instagram, you're missing a whole other world. Which is the world of ideas, which she said is what children's minds actually need to be fed upon.
Shay Kemp Yeah. They're putting too much pressure on themselves.
Julie Ross So let's go into the next section there where she talks about the well-being of mind.
Shay Kemp She starts out this one saying probably this notion has much to do with our neglect of intellect, and even in that, I'm like, "Okay, this is going to be a good chapter." Because she starts talking about, "What does it mean? What are their minds actually capable of?" And I love that she talks in this next section—I don't want to read this entire thing—but she's talking about teaching astronomy. And she says, "We teach astronomy, no. We teach light and heat by means of desiccated textbooks, diagrams, and experiments which last are no more to children than the tricks of white magic." So there is a place for all that stuff. Tell us what you really think, Charlotte.
Julie Ross I know. Her command of the English language is hilarious.
Shay Kemp It is. But what she's talking about is that that is not what is necessary for them to begin to get a hold of it. I loved that I read this just as we were having snow outside because she talks about the winter firmament. Then she goes down and says, "We give the child a few fit and exact words on the subject, and he has the picture in his mind's eye. Nay, a series miles long of really glorious films. For a child's amazing vivifying imagination is part and parcel of his intellect." When we are reading them these living books and we're giving them something that they— we don't have to tell them the diagrams. Not at this early stage, anyway. Now of course, there's time for diagrams. I have high schoolers, and there's time for all that. But if their imagination has already projected a film of that in their mind, then by the time you get to the diagrams, they actually mean something. It's not just a draw diagram.
Julie Ross Correct. So this is possibly one of my favorite Charlotte Mason quotes of all time.
Shay Kemp I know what you're about to read.
Julie Ross "As for literature, to introduce children to literature is to install them in a very rich and glorious kingdom, to bring a continual holiday to the doors, to lay before them a feast exquisitely served." So that's where I got the Gentle Feast name from, was from this quote. But I just love the picture that she places before here that we're putting children in this rich and glorious kingdom. It's a continual holiday. So it's not the personality of the teacher, or the puppets, or the lights, or the songs that are bringing a continual joy and interest to the child. But it's this wonderful literature that they get to have. Now, does that mean your child is going to be at your bedside every morning saying, "Mother, please wake up, I am just dying to do school today. I am so excited for this continual holiday. I can't wait to go downstairs and see what feast you have planned for me today." That's never happened in the 15 plus years or whatever I've been homeschooling. Shay, has that ever happened to you?
Shay Kemp Not once, ever. This is my eighteenth year, and no, that has never happened to me.
Julie Ross So we think that that must mean I'm doing something wrong. If Jimmy goes, "I don't want to read that book." This book must be horrible, and we should replace it with another one. I'm being slightly facetious here, just because someone doesn't want to do something, doesn't mean— the purpose of education is not entertainment or enjoyment, but we're training their affections. And as more as their affections are trained towards this beautiful literature, the more interesting and exciting in it they become.
Shay Kemp I think that's one of the things that we get a lot of questions about. What if they don't love everything we're doing? Maybe I should be teacher, that I should be involved more, doing more. But she says—just above that quote that I knew you were going to read because I know that's one of your favorites—she says, "Good teachers know that they may not drown their teaching in verbiage." There's just not a reason to add and add and add our own talk because it's the books that we want to offer. And the other things will flow from that as we begin to trust what is inside our own children. As we begin to trust that, then they will come up with those things that you're talking about—the activities, they'll come up with those. It will come out because of that film that's in their imagination that she mentions there. It will come out.
Julie Ross She gives an example. A teacher of age 11 children wrote to her, "They can't get enough of Plubica, and there are always groans when the lesson comes to an end." So Plubica is part of Plutarch's Lives. Plutarch was a historian. He wrote about ancient Romans and ancient Greeks and their lives. They're very difficult to read especially today, right? But even in Charlotte Mason's time, they were very difficult to read, very heavy material. But they are exciting and they give you a glimpse into a different time and a different person. You get to see why people made the choices that they did for good, for evil. Again, we're talking about this kind of character development here. But I don't know about you, Shay, but I have had where we are reading Shakespeare and my kids groan when the lesson is over. Does it happen often? No, but it does happen where I'm reading something that I think— or Pilgrim's Progress. I'm like, "They're going to hate this." This is so hard. I don't even understand this book. And then they're like, "Oh, don't stop. Keep reading." I'm like, "Really? Okay!"
Shay Kemp It's amazing. Some of the very things that I thought would be too difficult. Maybe not even difficult is the word, but too I guess deep maybe? Like maybe the understanding is not only just on the surface have been some of the very things my children— different level
Julie Ross Yes, very adult level understanding to read some of these materials.
Julie Ross Yes. And they are like, "Oh, wow, yeah, I'm connecting to this. I'm connecting to this." Or their narrations were better for those things. I really think it's because— it reminds me pancakes. Hang in here with me. Do you know how if you make pancakes, and you feed your kids a million pancakes in the morning, mine are going to be starving by 10:00. They love them. They ate a lot of them. They're just going to be starving because pancakes— they're just gone. They go in. They're gone. But if I make the bacon, and we scrambled eggs with the cheese, and I put some veggies in there, and sneak a little bit of spinach, and I have this well-rounded thing, it may not even look like they're eating as much. But by the time lunchtime comes around, they're like, "Oh, is it already lunchtime?" Because you're giving them something that's real, that's rich, that's meaty, that sticks to their intellectual minds. Then what you get from them is that great energy that you get from a really good protein-filled breakfast, instead of pancakes wherever you eat them and everybody's laying around half an hour later saying, "We can't do school because we're tired." Because they had the sugar rush and it hit and left. But until you do that, you don't know that this actually works if you keep feeding your kids— you don't know that what she's saying really—
Julie Ross Yeah. Oh my gosh, they're hungry again. We need some more pancakes.
Shay Kemp And we just keep feeding them these pancakes, and she says right after that explanation, "The teachers underrate the tastes and abilities of their pupils."
Julie Ross I think that's what shows here. In the books that she chose, the high view that she has of children, that they are capable of chewing this intellectual meat like the bacon example that you gave, rather than just be kind of filled with fluff because, "Oh, this is all you guys can understand at this age. You can't handle this stuff." It shows her very high view of children here. She gives some more examples from different headmasters from different schools, and kind of talks about how schools are viewing children at her time. What spoke to you from that part?
Shay Kemp I think one of the things that she says is that the schools were offering— let's see, she says, "Surprised and pained when visiting elementary schools to find there was nothing in them which could be called a book. Nothing that would charm and enlighten and expand the imagination." What's interesting is I do some tutoring sometimes on the side. I often see when I'm tutoring, I'm looking at— and this is to public school children, and so I'm looking at some books that they have that are textbooks, and I'm thinking, "No wonder you're struggling because there's nothing in here to charm your imagination, to enlighten it, to expand it." And so that's a great kind of filter. People are always saying, "What's a living book?" That's a great little filter to give yourself. Well, does it charm? Does it enlighten? Does it expand the information? Even if it's about chemistry? There's a way to do that. So that's a great kind of little tidbit there to think about when you're choosing books or looking for what books to choose for your children.
Julie Ross It says here, "The boys and girls love their school. They like their teachers and even their lessons. They care not at all for knowledge." We're cringing because we've seen that, right?
Shay Kemp Yes. I did it. I mean, I was guilty. I mean, I did it. I'm like, "Oh, my kids love me and they love to come here and we're having fun." But I did nothing to really further their love of knowledge. I just wanted them to love "school."
Julie Ross Correct. Yes. So she's saying the talk of the teacher kind of produces this mental laziness, in a way, because you're not having to do the thinking for yourself. You're not having to chew on those ideas for yourself. You're just waiting for the teacher to tell you kind of what is important and what you need to know, rather than weeding through this heavy material, and coming up with the ideas, and then narrating, telling them back and making them part of your own knowledge.
Shay Kemp She's got a great quote here that I would love to just hit right quick before we leave this. It's on page 54, and I don't know if we have the same copy or not, but it says, "It is well we should recognize that the business of education is with us all our lives, that we must always go on increasing our knowledge." We had a question not too long ago, a mom was really asking that, "My kids don't enjoy school. I feel like they're saying, 'This is not fun. I don't like it.' What do I do?" I feel like she says over and over again—and this is just one example—is that we model that by always increasing our own knowledge. We're in cycle two right now learning about the Revolutionary period, and the things that I'm learning about and beginning to understand now— and this is the fourth time, right? Fourth time I've been through this time period. Fifth time. Fifth time I've been through the Revolution war period, and I'm still learning so much.
Julie Ross You're going to write Hamilton next. You're going to write some kind of amazing American Revolution musical.
Shay Kemp Yeah, can't you see me rapping? Yeah. But I'm still learning so much. I want my kids to see me increasing in knowledge and enjoying it. That's a great way for you to have your children really attached to that mindset that mom is learning. She is enjoying what I'm learning and what she's learning, so I can I can be that way too. Probably not going to use those words. And it does come through consistency and over time. I've never had a kid come up to me and say, "Oh, it looks like you're really enjoying learning, mom."
Julie Ross "I am now inspired to go read a book. Thank you."
Shay Kemp Yes. "Wow. You mean you're not watching TV, and you're reading a book? I'm going to do that." But they do notice that sort of thing. They do pick it up over time.
Julie Ross Yeah. Then she goes on to talk about one of her most popular quotes here, I think, is, "Habit is a good servant, but a bad master." She's talking about the habits of our mind here. We want our habits to serve us, not be dictating us. So we're building habits every day. Our children are building habits every day, whether we're being intentional with them or not. We're either developing bad habits or intentionally fostering good habits. We want them to be our servants. Did you find anything interesting here talking about that concept?
Shay Kemp I think when we talk about habits, a lot of times people think that we are talking about, like I have a habit of doing ten push-ups when I get up in the morning, or I have a habit of making the bed. But she also almost refers to them as character traits. So the habit of attention, the habit of feeding your mind with ideas, and not just—like she says in other places—twaddle. It's so important for us to really stop and consider what habits are going on in my house. It's like a stone rolling down a hill, right? Once it gets going, it can be hard to stop it unless you deliberately do that. I don't know about you, but I always love to back up and think about the habits that my children have. Do you? I like to think about the good, but I always love to stop and think, I'm not really sure that I want to consider what we need to address habit-wise, but I'm always glad that I do.
Julie Ross Well, I also think too, it's important. It's not just like, does Johnny put his shoes away when he comes in the house? In particular, in this section, she's talking about the habits of training our mind. Which has more of a greater impact on our lives than probably anything else. The habits of what we think and can we control our own thoughts and behavior is huge here. She goes on, she gives examples of several artists and architecture people here. Then she says, "Of the means we employ to hinder the growth of the mind, perhaps none is more subtle than the questionnaire. It is as though one required a child to produce for inspection at various stages of his stimulation the food he consumed for dinner," which is disgusting, right? I love this picture, right? We're going to try to get our kids to throw up their dinner to make sure they actually ate it, right? This is what a questionnaire does with a child's intellectual mind that we're feeding. "We see at once how the digestive processes would be hindered. How, in a word, the child would cease to be fed. But the mind also requires food," and we talked about these are the living ideas, "and leave to carry on those quiet processes of digestion and assimilation, which it must accomplish for itself. The child with capacity, which implies depths, is stupefied." I just think of Harry Potter there. That's really what we're doing to them with these questions.
Shay Kemp Yes, it really is. That's exactly what we're doing.
Julie Ross "If John's father is Tom's son, what relation to Tom is John?" I want to poke my eye with this pencil, right? That's horrible. "The shallow child guesses the riddle and scores, and it is by the use of tests of this kind that we turn out young people sharp as needles, but with no power of reflection, no intelligent interest.
Shay Kemp She says what it is now.
Julie Ross Oh, yeah, she's saying like it is.
Shay Kemp She does. I've seen my children who left home and went to college come back and say, "There are kids in our classroom in college who can make an A, but they can't think a genuine thought for themselves." We've had these conversations. Especially frustrating to them— one particular class my son was in later on in his college years, and it required this group project thing. It was a business class he was taking. He was so frustrated, and the reason he was frustrated is because everybody wanted to do something that had already been done. They wanted to re-chew.
Julie Ross They couldn't think outside the box?
Shay Kemp They wanted to re-chew all this stuff. He's like, "No, we're supposed to come up with—" they had to come up with this particular certain thing that had to be creative but follow this set of rules. There was no power of reflection. They were sharp. They were top of their class. It was an honors class he was in. They were sharp. But power of reflection was low, and that's that higher level thinking skill. When we keep giving our kids questionnaires— keep giving them, keep giving them questionnaires— and we get asked so much, "Where are the worksheets?"
Julie Ross "Where the questions? How do I know they're actually learning it?"
Shay Kemp Yes. And it's because they need to chew their food by themselves. Leave them alone and let them chew their food. Then it will come out. But yes, that is some powerful stuff. She's got some zingers in this chapter.
Julie Ross Oh yeah, she ain't mincing no words. It's that power of reflection that they get through that process of narration. They're taking in the material, they're having to put it in their own words. They're having to think about, "Okay, what was actually important? What was interesting? What happened first? What happened next?" Those are huge, higher level thinking skills compared to just, "Is Tom John's father?" or something. Like a recall.
Shay Kemp I never know those. I'm like, "I don't care who John's father is. I'm sorry."
Julie Ross Ask Tom.
Shay Kemp Exactly.
Julie Ross Then she talks about two mental habits: imagination and reason. I love these because I think we can go to one extreme or the other. What place does imagination have in a child's education? Well, that's just silly nonsense stuff; we don't need to go there, right? We just need the reason. Here's what's right. Here's what's wrong. Here's how science works. What happens with that is you can learn a lot of information, but in order to comprehend the beauty and the creativity in the world—like you're saying, these projects and think outside the box—you have to have imagination. I think even to have faith, you have to have imagination because you're seeing what's not there. So we want to foster that in our children. She kind of gives this example of that. You want to talk about some of those—the imagination and the reason and how she developed them?
Shay Kemp Sure. One of those imaginations, she talks about how it's supplied by all the different things that each person is going to get. So what comes in my imagination is different than what comes in your imagination, even if we read the exact same thing. Then when she talks about reason, she talks about how, once again, a man's reason is his servant and not his master. I love the quote on the next page. I marked this with "Yes," and some big underlines. It says, "The only safeguard against fallacies which undermine the strength of the nation morally and economically is a liberal education which affords a wide field for reflection and comparison and abundant data upon which to form sound judgments." And that's when those things go hand in hand. When you do have to learn what happened in the world. You do have to learn the principles of science. And we're not saying, "Throw that out, and read storybooks all day." But when we can present those facts and information to them in a way that catches their imagination, then we have a wide field for reflection and comparison. And the result of that is sound judgment. Which is what we want from our grown children, right? We want our grown children to not have to call mom and say, "Oh, what do I do about every single thing?" when there are grown and on their own. We want to trust the sound judgment that is in them. That's why we do all these things through their education. We don't stop providing the imagination even until 12th grade year. We're still providing that imagination. But at the same time, we also provide those opportunities for reason. So it's a powerful concept.
Julie Ross She says, "Imagination could be a chamber of horror and dangers, or it could also be a house beautiful." It's those pictures in the mind, and that comes through what they're reading. Like they're picturing here, she's talking about Homer and Shakespeare. Through their art, through their music. By putting them in touch with beautiful things, right? Hopefully, they're going to have this house beautiful in their imagination and not this house of horrors and dangers, right? Because our imaginations can go either way. We're training. Again, we have the propensity for either one. We're training their affections. We want to train them towards things of beauty and have those pictures and those ideas in their mind. And then with reason, she says, "We see reason in this, but the men themselves confound reason with right." I think that's a really good point, especially in today's world. It's like, "I'm just going to wait for the teacher to tell me what the right point of view is, and then we all have to agree with that point of view. We can't have reason to think differently." It's by being in touch with these great ideas, and narrating, and having their own thoughts be expressed, and being able to develop opinions—which is really what they're doing—that they can have reason, right? They can articulate what they're thinking. They don't have to wait for, "Okay, well, what's the right answer? What's the right point of view here? I'm just going to go with what everybody else is doing in this kind of groupthink mentality."
Shay Kemp Yes. I don't know if you've ever been in a group setting where you read and narrate to children who are not used narrating, but I do find—
Julie Ross It's hard.
Shay Kemp Yeah. And what I see is the ones that are not used to narrating, they're looking to the other ones. They're looking around to see who's going to say what the right answer here is. Instead of, "Oh, okay, I remember this. I see this. This is my takeaway." Because you can see that muscle has been really strengthened. I don't know if it's okay; I want to read this last sentence of that section. It says, "It is no small part of education to have seen much beauty, to recognize it when we see it, and to keep ourselves humble in its presence." That's why we keep putting beauty in front of our children so that they will recognize the humility that comes when we recognize something beautiful. We have that sense of awe. That's incredible. Look at this. We looked at snowflakes yesterday online that Snowflake Bentley had captured, and awe in that little snowflake. And then to understand the science behind it, that's how beauty and reason come together. The beautiful of that just captures our mind, and we start thinking, "Okay, what are the principles behind it?"
Shay Kemp Yeah, that's really good. Because right before that—what you just said—it says, "The function of the sense of beauty is to open a paradise of pleasure for us. But what if we grow up admiring the wrong things? Or what is morally worse, arrogant in the belief that is only we and our kind who are able to appreciate and distinguish beauty?" So now we're going to kind of talk about— well, I guess that's the next section, the misdirected affections. Before she gets to the misdirected affections, she talks about intellectual appetite. Just like our bodies need food, our minds are fed upon ideas. What stuck out to you in that section, Shay?
Shay Kemp I think the quote that I love—a couple of them—but the first is, it says, "We make due use of this natural provision for the work of education." The things you and I were discussing before that we are putting so much pressure on the teacher, or our teachers put on themselves as parents. She discusses in this whole next section about emulation every child has. "I want to be first. I want to be first. I want to be the best." We use that as a motivating factor. Then we give them prizes and scholarships and all these incentives that we give them. "We tell them to work for our approbation," she says, "and play on their vanity." And then we say, "Well, what's the problem with that? I mean, why not?" But the issue is that it's not necessary. It's taking away from their natural provision for the work of education, which is the desire to know. That inner curiosity that each child has. She says in this other passage—I mean, I've got to admit this is me, especially in college— it says, "Boys and girls cram to pass, but not to know. They do pass, but they don't know. The divine curiosity, which should have been in equipment for life, hardly survives early school days."
Julie Ross Yeah, and studies have shown that. What's the book? Alfie Kohn, Punished by Rewards. How rewards actually incentivize us to do less and less. I remember my daughter had speech, and the speech office was off the library in elementary school, and I was sitting in there waiting for her to come out. The teachers were having a meeting, and they were trying to come up with the prizes that they were going to give for this reading program that they had. If they read so many books, and took these tests online, and got so many certain points, what would they get, kind of thing? They were all debating, "Well is it going to be enough if they have popsicles? Or should we have pizza?" This whole complicated system of all these rewards to try to get the kids to want to read. I just wanted to stand up and scream, like, "No, you're teaching them to not want to read!" The motivation goes away when someone's taking that agency away from you. Rather than, "I am an intellectually curious human being." We are born that way. We are born with this appetite. And then feeding that appetite through nursery rhymes, and rich literature, and wonderful picture books. Then I want more of it. Our appetites are more stimulating.
Shay Kemp Right, and she says here, "Prizes and places, praise, blame, and punishment are unnecessary insofar as they are used to secure ardent interest and eager work. The love of knowledge is sufficient." Of course, we understand that she talks about we do need to provide the stimuli. It's important. We're not saying just throw books at your kids and let that be enough. But it's the whole picture that you're talking about that if we start treating our children like they are capable of learning and they have this innate curiosity, then that is enough for them. It says, "In the school room, without doubt, the titillation of knowledge itself affords sufficient stimulus to close attention and steady labor." So when we offer them knowledge, opportunities, true knowledge, opportunities in these books— and I think sometimes when we talk about beautiful picture books and great stories and all that— I had a friend who has all boys and she said, "I can't do Charlotte Mason because that's all just like fairy tales and all these girly books and all this." I'm like, "No." I have children that are very engineering-minded, and there's so much there. You just give them what their mind needs, and their mind will take away from it. You just give them the rich literature, the rich books. You don't have to give them stickers.
Julie Ross I am thinking we still have half this chapter left, and it's been 45 minutes.
Shay Kemp Want to do the rest of it in— Let's split it.
Julie Ross Yeah, I think we should split this because I think this other part—.
Shay Kemp That sounds good to me.
Julie Ross That sounds good to you? Okay, so we're going to wrap up the first part of chapter three. If you haven't read the second part, you can go to that before listening to the next episode here. Because again, she packs a lot into these chapters, doesn't she? She has a lot to say. This is such a foundational concept here that I don't want to to rush through some of this. So we will stop for now, and we will catch you all later with the next part of chapter three. So thank you, Shay.
Shay Kemp Thanks, it was fun.