S6 E18 | A Liberal Education for Elementary and Secondary Schools | Virtual Book Club: A Philosophy of Education (Julie Ross with Shay Kemp)
Julie and Shay Kemp discuss another chapter full of wisdom from Miss Mason as she describes how her philosophy of education has been tried and proven successful in schools, and what best practices are in elementary and secondary schools.
Shay is a homeschooling mom of five who loves enjoying the learning journey with her children and encouraging others in their paths of faith, parenting and homeschooling. She believes the best conversations happen when you are comfortable on the front porch and loves to share her own journey from there!
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.
Julie Ross | Instagram
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Julie Ross Welcome to The Charlotte Mason Show, a podcast dedicated to discussing Miss. Mason's philosophy, principles, and methods. I'm your host, Julie Ross, and it is my 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. I'm glad you're here.
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Julie Ross Hello, everyone! Welcome to the Charlotte Mason Show. I am Julie Ross with some allergies.
Shay Kemp Welcome to South Carolina in the spring.
Julie Ross I know. Thank goodness Shay is able to talk. But we wanted to go ahead with our book studies so we can wrap that up. We are on book two in a Philosophy of Education. She's gone through, laid the groundwork of her philosophy and talked about each of the subjects and how to teach them. And the second part is theory applied, is what she calls it. So today we're going to be discussing a liberal education in both elementary and then in secondary schools. And just to be clear, by liberal, she means liberty, freedom, a wide feast. Not our modern definition.
Shay Kemp Not a political stance.
Julie Ross Exactly right. So let's dive into what that looks like in elementary schools. Since you have more of a voice than me, do you mind narrating?
Shay Kemp Sure. Yeah, I really think these next two chapters are really rich, and she does repeat herself from some of the things that she said in the prior chapters. However, I think it's a little more succinct than some of the prior chapters. Just because she's talking about, like she said, the theory of plot and action. So she goes back and repeats herself about why we are choosing some of the things that we're choosing. But the end of the chapter—we'll go back to the beginning. I think really states the whole—overall the chapter and that the solution which I hear proposed, is it not worth the trial? So she's basically saying, I'm going to—I just told you in this chapter what works for us, and I think you ought to try it.
Julie Ross Yeah.
Shay Kemp Right. So I really think you ought to give it a shot. So she starts out talking about how we need to really provide, like you're saying, a liberal feast of information and what that means. And I love there's a quote here that I loved. Right as you dive in and it says, "I heard the other day of a man whose whole life had been elevated by a single inspiring poetic sentence, which he heard as a schoolboy."
And even though that's one little phrase, I think that really is the overall arching theme of this. That we are wanting to inspire our elementary school children with literary education, no matter what the topic, no matter what the subject is. And then she goes and talks about how she did that in each subject in the schools. She talks a lot about mind in this first section. And sometimes I just wish that we could hear her opinion about all the brain research that's going on now, don't you? Wouldn't you love to hear what she would think about all that? A lot of these great comments, like the requirements of the mind are very much like the body. The metaphor that she uses across all of her volumes. And then, one of the things that really gets me to, Julie, is on page 237 in my book she talks about what we don't do. And I put asterisks all the way around this because I'm starting The Charlotte Mason co-op this year. And one of the things I'm really trying to do is teach my teachers how not to do some of these things. How we don't show up just to entertain. So I want to read this quote, and you tell me what you think about this. She says, "What is the key vitalization we notice in so many of our young people? Keen about games, but dead to things that the mind is due to the processes carried on in our schools. To our plausible and pleasant ways of: picturing, eliciting, demonstrating, illustrating, summarizing. Doing all those things for children, which they are born with the potency to do for themselves. No doubt we do give intellectual food, but too little of it. Let us have courage." I love that line. "Let us have courage and we shall be surprised as we are now. In the end, at the amount of intellectual strong meat almost any child will take at a meal and digest at his leisure." It's so easy for us to think that we're learning a topic. How do we picture that for our children? How do we demonstrate it? Let's illustrate it for them. Let's summarize it for them, let's do all this for them. But we never give them the meat to chew on. And I don't know about you, but it does take courage to jump in and believe that they really are going to do that for themselves. Less we believe—we have less respect for the child than we really should, which goes right back to our principles. And we are surprised if we will just put the food in front of them.
Julie Ross Yeah, I love, she says, kind of at the bottom of that page about the weariful task of spoon feeding.
Shay Kemp Yes.
Julie Ross "...The delightful commerce of equal minds. Where he is is the part of a guide, philosopher, and friend." Yes, as teachers we all fall into that trap of spoon-feeding, and our children then become passive learners. Their curiosity is deadened. They don't want to do the hard work of having to figure things out for themselves because that is hard. Let's be honest.
Shay Kemp So why should you, if you know somebody is going to spoon-feed you that, why should you do that?
Julie Ross Right. Just show me the important things and tell me what's going to be on the test.
Shay Kemp Right. And then she'd said—I wrote down so many quotes from these two chapters. I mean, just one after another. But she talks in there about that's why we don't get the attention that we expect. That we want from children. And I find that so many of the moms that I talk to will say, well, I tried that Charlotte Mason thing and I read some books and my children just didn't pay attention. Or they just weren't able to narrate, so we just moved on. But you're not having the courage to really actually implement that. And she talks about that later on in the chapters. I think it's in the secondary chapter, but it all goes back to that quote. There was—and this is deep words, but she says, "we must either reverence or despise children." And of course, we don't despise our children.
Julie Ross Right.
Shay Kemp But when we don't allow them to chew on the meat themselves, we're not reverencing them and their own capabilities, and their own thoughts and connections that they're going to make for themselves.
Julie Ross Yeah, throughout this whole chapter, I think the big theme is that children are born persons. Back to that first principle. She's just reiterating it over and over.
Shay Kemp Over and over. Yes, she does. Over and over.
Julie Ross And I think the whole point of these two chapters here are the second part of this volume is this isn't just some nice philosophy that I made up. Is being used in lots of schools. So, again, home education was written that parents would use this in their home. By the time we get to volume six here, her programs have been used throughout the whole British Empire now, and they're used in schools. So she's saying you can use these principles in a class of 50 kids. Can you imagine, Shay?
Shay Kemp No. Because my first year of teaching, I had 30 kindergartners twice a day. So I had 60 students.
Julie Ross Wow.
Shay Kemp Yeah, it was. Talk about controlled chaos and somehow it's not controlled. But yeah, this chapter's really been a great challenge for me. I just feel like God dropped a right in my lap for this particular time for me, because we are planning for co-op next year and pick—choosing curriculum. And I'm really trying to help the moms consider, how do you teach? How do you craft a classroom environment that lands to these principals? Because a lot of them are used to doing this with their own children. So these are great points. How do you scale that for an actual classroom?
Julie Ross So you mentioned a few things that the teachers not to do. Can you elaborate a little bit on that?
Shay Kemp Yes, she talks about really how important it is that the children are acting on the knowledge themselves. And that is other things that we listed. Those are things that we are doing in order for the child to try to get the information. She says on page 40, "one thing, at any rate, we know with certainty that no teaching, no information becomes knowledge to any of us until the individual mind has acted upon it. Translated it, transformed it, absorbed it to reappear like our bodily food in forms of vitality." And this is, of course, you know that I've quoted this next sentence so many times, and I know that you have to, but we just can't skip it. "Therefore, teaching tog and tail, however lucid or fascinating, affect nothing until self-activity be set up. That is, self-education is the only possible education. The rest is mere the near laid on the surface of a child's nature." And I think when we're planning, whether it's for our own children in homeschooling or whether it's like I'm trying to think about this co-op sort of setting and how that would look for us, that's the kind of questions I need to ask myself. Am I chewing this food, this information before I give it to the children? Or am I allowing them to have self-activity? Am I just like pasting a piece of construction paper on top of them? That has no opportunity for them to really dig into and get their hands to themselves. And it can be—it's a big change, isn't it, from the way that we were educated. It's a big mind change.
Julie Ross Yes.
I don't think it's simple to flip your brain over to those things. And it can seem overly simplified because—we just actually got a message today. A lady said, well, where are the extension activities that you're offering? Where are they? Do I get those if I purchase A Gentle Feast? Your children are perfectly capable. It's in them. We reverence them, we honor them, and we, like you said, go back to that first philosophy that they are capable of coming up with more extension activities than you would ever be able to keep if you came up with your own.
Julie Ross Right. Yes. And that they're even in the big classroom, she's saying they can all operate.
Shay Kemp Yes, I love that section there. I've actually bookmarked all those. So I'm going to send those to all my co-op teachers. I'm going to type that out on page 241, "the children, not the teachers are the responsible persons. There must be some self-effort there. The actual work is done by the scholar," she says. And this is what it says. "They read in a term of 1000 to between two and 3000 pages." Did you notice that according to age in class. Can you imagine if you actually said how many pages has your child read? And in school. I did not read that. I mean, I read at home because I was a super nerdy reader girl, but not for a school or a school assignment.
Julie Ross No. Yeah. I feel like, again, it's this kind of overview of here's how a child learns. Here's how they don't learn. Here are things not to include a bunch of talking from you.
Julie Ross Yeah.
She mentions grammar rules, lists of names and dates, prizes.
Oh, yes. No not-taking. No homework. No evening preparation, she calls it.
Julie Ross I know. Man, can you imagine that as teachers?
Shay Kemp Like you actually think that you're going to get all that stuff accomplished in school? And it is so rich. It is so rich. After following this philosophy for so many years now, I think you almost forget how much they're getting in that time period because the lessons are short. She gives some best practices on page 244 about how to read, your in two and three paragraphs with the intention that they'll know when the thickness, force, and careful enunciation. But she also talks about how important is that we're just putting them in contact with the author. That's what we're doing as a parent, as a parent or a teacher, we don't have to try to re-explain all of the information that the author is putting forth.
Julie Ross Yes and she does—she talks again about the timetables. For the younger grades, how important it is to stick to those. To build the habit of attention. But, Shay, do you ever just go this just sounds too easy. But then when I talk to moms, they're like, oh, this is so complicated. I can never understand how to do this Charlotte Mason thing. Or, people told me, I can't do all this stuff and I don't understand. But you read the chapter like you're reading and you're talking about it. It's like, that's so easy.
Shay Kemp And she just keeps saying it over and over and over again. Anything that you're trying to stick in there between the reading and the talking about it. After she says, stop, don't do that. But this is how our minds work. And I love the quote. She says, "I think I could understand mommy, if you did not explain quite so much." Did you read that? Is this the inarticulate cry of the school child today? I think he really is capable of much more than he gets credit for. But she says we allow our admirable teaching to intervene between children and the knowledge their minds demand because we have this power called curiosity. And we discussed this in other chapters about the mind. But we had this incredible power to harness called curiosity. And when we start thinking, well, I need to talk about this, or I need to tell you what I think about this, or I need to—I've got to inject this activity. Make sure that you feel like you have had fun.
Julie Ross Yes.
Shay Kemp And you have been entertained. We are inserting ourselves, and we're downgrading that power of curiosity. That is exactly the thing that we moms, as homeschoolers, we want. We want them to be curious. We want them to be pushing for more knowledge. And yet we're doing all these things to sort of throw water on that flame over and over again, and then wondering why are they not fired up about learning? Why are they not? Because we keep getting in the way. That's I mean, it's hard for me. It's hard to hear when you're like me that I can plan your unit study, girl. Listen, now I can plan you one. I did it for years, but that's not what they need.
Julie Ross Yeah. What happens is, and research has shown this, I forget when the book came out about Alfie Kohn Punished by Rewards.
That what happens is when you have a reward, for something like she said, children are born with this natural curiosity. They want to learn. But what happens is now you're rewarding that. And either with prizes, stickers, you do this much work, you get to pull something from the treasure box. Or by entertaining them and having these super fun activities. And we're going to do all this stuff. And what happens over time though, is the reward has to keep getting bigger and bigger and bigger because they never learned how to motivate themselves internally. So this external motivation has to keep coming, and it will exponentially increase. Then when your kids are like ten or 12, we get the notes going. My kid hates school. Says it's boring.
Shay Kemp My kid doesn't think school is fun anymore. Because you have deadend out all of their natural curiosity and they want a bigger—it got to be more entertaining today than it was last week.
Shay Kemp Right. And the only way to blow on that flame is exactly like she says here, is to put that literary form in front of them and really trust the process. And I do think we have a lot of families that come over to Charlotte Mason philosophy from other manners of education. And sometimes I almost wish it wasn't even called Charlotte Mason philopshy. Sometimes I wish it was just the way humans learn, right? The way humans learn best because that's really what she was able to describe so succinctly and so clearly that had been going on. But she didn't just come up with this. This has been going on for years and years. Thousands of years people have been learning this way. Look at the ancient Greeks, we study them and what did they do? They read the material that they had in front of them and they discussed it. Right? Maybe used in different ways, but it is possible to bring your children back to that flying burning again of curiosity. But I do think it's exactly like she says, especially with these young children, you just really have to put the literary forms of books, the literary form of the material in front of them, and read. Read a little bit and then stop and then just sort of talk about it. And if they're not used to that, model it for them. May I show you what—tell you what I learned? If you're struggling. Sure. And I'm just going to model, or model it in other ways. Like, I went to see a movie or my friend, Julie, and I went to a play. Can I tell you about what we did? And your modeling that, your own curiosity. And it will come around, but it's not going to—it's different. It's just different than us saying, well, you're not doing enough to entertain your child, so I'm not going to learn that way.
Julie Ross Right. And I think I see a lot of unit studies that are really just entertaining. You're making these things, and you're doing these games, and you think your children are learning, and they're probably having a really great time. And so and then again, they're going to want to keep doing that and not the reading narrating part. But over time, you're deadening that curiosity. And those things are fun and they make really cute pictures. It's not like you don't ever get to do anything like that. Those can be done in the afternoon after you've done your lessons. And most of the time it should be child-led. Not you having to come up with all that games and activities and ideas. Because again, that's not the work of their own self-education. When they're inspired by these living ideas, they're naturally going to incorporate that into their play. They're naturally going to go, oh, can we make a recipe for Hardtack like they were talking about in the book. They're going to come up with their own ideas and things. Oh, Ben Franklin... Let's try that at home. Like stuff like that.
Shay Kemp Yes. And sometimes I think you do have to–like when we had used a unit study curriculum when we first started and it just really stressed me out. I'm going to tell you, because I had to make sure all these supplies and all this stuff I'm like, oh my gosh, I forgot the egg carton or whatever the thing was. I'm like, o, it was—it really stressed me out. And so when I read For the Children's Sake and begin to start following Charlotte Mason's philosophy, I did have to. And I was so, inspired by this idea of masterly activity in the afternoon like you're talking about, like a chapel and all, there were times like, okay, did you learn anything in this morning that you want to do something with? Like if—think from your readings, is there anything you want to do this afternoon? Like, my kids were huge—we had this huge sandbox and you can't imagine the things that were acted out in that sandbox from the readings. But sometimes it did help. In the beginning, when they weren't used to this because, like I said, I kind of deadend that curiosity. Either because I was creating all these wonderful experiences. But then—and she also makes the point here about why they can't ask questions and answer questions. And so we get frustrated about if a child—why can't they answer these questions? Why don't they understand this? But we had this great unit study. We had this great experience. It's because they did not actually interact with the information. And she talks about how sometimes we get the books right. Sometimes we get it wrong. I've read some books with my kids I really felt weren't living books. And I was like, that wasn't so great. And I can tell by their narration. And that's really a good guiding principle.
Julie Ross Right? Is there anything else in this elementary school section you wanted to touch on before we move on?
Shay Kemp I see there's lots of great quotes there, but I think those are the biggest takeaways. Is that if you can read this with the courage to examine your own self and to examine your habits. I really tried to read this with that in mind, like, okay Shay, really examine yourself. Especially this time of year when we're getting to the end now. And now we got to—let's do this, all right? I get all worked up and excited about it's time to—we want to finish this. And so I can sort of not relax into the philosophy like really I need to. So I tried to read this with the sort of light on myself. And I do want to read this one more quote because I'm putting this in my in the front of my planner and it says "the education is part and parcel of religion. And every enthusiastic teacher knows that he is obeying the precept, feed my lambs. Feed with all those things which are good and wholesome for the spirit of a man, and before all, and including all with the knowledge of God." And that was just a reminder to me that when we're reading these rich books my daughter's reading—of course, I can't remember the name. It's one of the all about electricity. And when she narrates, I can hear the principles in there about the knowledge of God. The way that I can hear that and the knowledge of the universe, but I don't have to explain that to her because the Holy Spirit inside her is going to do that for her in the way that she needs to hear that. And so I think that's just— we are feeding these little lambs is such an incredible privilege.
Julie Ross Yeah, that's a great quote. Such a great reminder to, like you're saying, this time of year towards the end of the school year. You can—we can become weary, right? And remember our calling for that.
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Julie Ross And I think important here in this first part, and then also transitioning to secondary schools, is that she's saying this type of education works for every child. And coming from her time period it was a great class distinction for one, kind of accumulated some of that, but still very much classic. She's saying, we're taking this principles and we're taking them into schools, where kids have not had much of an education, and we're seeing them transform. And so this works for all students.
Shay Kemp Right? And oh, my goodness, the questions we get about that. I mean so many questions like, will this work for my fill-in-the-blank kid? Will this work matter then? Yes, it will. You might have to adjust some different things, like time periods or the level or how long you read or something like that. But yes, it will work for them.
Julie Ross All right. So what is she saying then, about—well, first of all, secondary schools in England in this time, we're not talking about high school. So this would be more like middle school. We'll get to high school later, just to clarify, because nowadays that's the secondary term.
Shay Kemp I think it's really interesting that she goes through and she sort of says, this is the mess that we have. She gives lots of examples. I had to look up a lot of these, I don't have the annotated version, so I spend a lot of time saying, I don't know who this person is. I don't know who this person is, sort of looking at these people. But basically the—what she's trying to do is explain what does not work, and what is not going well, and how do we observe that. And she says this particular method of education that I have, does it address those issues? Does it? And then she goes through the rest of the chapter and she says, yes, it does. And she sort of proves herself how it does. She gives lots of examples of what she's done. One thing I was like, Yes, girl, I feel you. She says on page 253, "every boy resists in a mulish way, attempts to teach him." Yeah, I had some of those mulish boys. They're graduated now, but we made it. She says, "but with the average boy, a gallon of teaching produces scarce a gill of learning. And what is the master to do? It is something to know, however, that behind all this mulishness, there is an avidity for knowledge." So she's saying that it doesn't make a difference—like we think of middle school year, now the fun stops. At least when I was learning to be a teacher, they were very clear fun stuff is over sixth grade.
Julie Ross Yep.
Shay Kemp Okay, if you're gonna teach sixth, seventh, eighth grade, you're going to get your upper elementary certification. You got to really know your subject matter because the fun is done. There's no more construction paper and glue sticks after that. But she really says in my philosophy, she says, there is no difference there. And she does a great job restating like a core—through page 254 about exactly what we just talked about in the previous chapter. What is the curriculum? Knowledge of man, knowledge of God, those sort of things. And she just restates herself, "knowledge is that which we know and the learner knows only by definite act of knowing which he performs for himself."
Julie Ross Keep going because the next part's the best.
Shay Kemp Yeah, "but appalling incuria blocks the way boys and girls do not want to know. Therefore, they do not know. And their future intellectual requirements will be satisfied by bridge at night and golf by day." I love that.
Julie Ross I know, it cracks me up.
Shay Kemp Some of the stuff she says, it's just so funny.
Julie Ross But I mean it's true. Nowadays it would be social media, netflix, right?
Shay Kemp That's right. Yeah.
Julie Ross But if they don't want to know. So they're not going to take those mental efforts, right? Because we trained them how to be passive so they don't want to. And then they'll just continue wanting to be entertained as adults.
Shay Kemp That's right. And I do think it's normal to see that push-back from your child.
Julie Ross Yeah, exactly.
Shay Kemp At age 12, 13, 14. I get it. I mean, but it's dangerous for us to take that pushback as if we need to change the philosophy, or we need to change the methods. That's just the normal pushback, in my experience as a parent, which she wasn't a parent. And so, as a parent, I think that pushback comes from the independence that they need to eventually gain, and it can really be harnessed. I think when you harness their curiosity, so that's around the age like—my daughter's going to the seventh grade next year. So I'm allowing her to pick some of her extra subjects for next year. Some of the extra things I'm going to kind of try to harness that mulishness. What else do you see there?
Julie Ross Yeah. Again, it's these principles are the same in secondary as they are in elementary in the knowledge and literary form. The reading they're narrating we're not changing everything because now we're middle school. It's the same thing.
Shay Kemp No games, no arts and crafts or play ways like she says. I'm telling you, if you took this and you went into like the typical classroom where I used to teach and you said, okay, no longer can you do these things. We'd be left with nothing but the books.
Julie Ross We'd have nothing.
Shay Kemp But the books. And then it would be, well, we can't do that. And that–I do want to point this one thing out. She talks about the sciences, and she does address field-work, and how that is important for those secondary and middle school ages. And I just love that, because you do have an opportunity in some of these great books, especially in the natural history books, there's an awesome opportunity for fieldwork. So you're going out like the Handbook of Nature study. That is not meant to be something that you're just going to sit down in their labs, you're going to walk out, you're going to look at these plants, you're going to learn about these particular trees or whatever. So there is fieldwork. That's where some of the hands-on stuff happens too, for that age. It's not like it's not there. It's just we're not pre-planning it for them.
Julie Ross Yes, but you're providing the feast. Because in order for them to do the fieldwork, you have to have a nature journal. You have to have the habit of spending time outside. You have to build that into your calendar. Get the teach them kind of some of the rudimentary things of brush drawing, observing, and those kind of things. And some of that background of nature study in science. When they can go do that fieldwork, they have the tools that they need. So that's up to us, as the parents, lay that. In a handicrafts same way, in elementary school, you're doing them with them, and you're showing them how to do it. And I try to do a variety of things because I'm not good at any handicraft. And so it was like, okay, let's try this. Okay, let's try this. But then when they're in this age, they can kind of take some ownership of that. Like you're saying, okay, what skill do you want to learn? But it's a hands-on thing that's developing so much inside of the child, especially like I think of handicrafts, the ability to pay attention to detail. You have to be very accurate. You have to be able to read and process instructions. And so they're working with their hands. I want more hands-on learning. What they're learning all morning. They're working with their hands in the afternoons. And the hands are also building all these kinds of intellectual skills. But it's not when you're doing an arrangement. People always laugh like the Salto map of Egypt or whatever.
Shay Kemp Yes.
Yes, that's the example I always use. The Salto map of Egypt, what are they learning? Are they learning those skills? Are they following directions? Are they learning accuracy? Are they learning measuring skills? Not really, right?
Yes, that's right.
It's fun, but is that really going to enhance their knowledge as much as it would be to read a travel book about traveling through Egypt, and what you would see along the Nile and their imagination goes. And then maybe in the afternoon they do want to do something creative with it in the sandbox, like you're saying. But it's not us having to prescribe it and come up with it all themselves. And again, because that kind of deprecates the child, I feel like that's the word she chooses.
Shay Kemp Yes. And I think it's important, like when you—that's why philosophy is so important. Because when I have a tendency to think, okay, philosophy is my filter. So when I wonder, do I need to include this, is this important? Well, does it fit the philosophy? Then I use that philosophy as a filter. So if it's something I'm going to work really hard getting all these materials together and just sort of say, oh, hey, we're going to come up with this product right here, watch this. Well, that doesn't fit the philosophy, so I don't need to waste my time doing that. So a lot of it is defining what hands-on actually means, there is hand-on learning. But if you're looking for a prepackaged option, no, we're not going to find that in Charlotte Mason. But it's because it doesn't light up the curiosity of the brain. We want things that do that. Let's make best practices for the time and effort that we're trying to do with these children and not waste our time.
Julie Ross Yeah. And again, she just iterates the importance of having living books. The importance of narrating, it's the same thing.
Shay Kemp Says it over and over. Yep, here's what you do. Here's what you don't do. She goes and talks about—I love it. She says, "of course they will not be able to answer questions because questions are an impertinence, which we all resent." Because I don't maybe that's not what I learned there. And she talks about the bind again here and that list that she puts on to 262 of the—did you see that? Of the—come on how many? She says 200 names that one term's word by child of 11 in form two was able to know. Yeah. It's impressive, right?
Julie Ross It's impressive, yes.
Shay Kemp And I think it would be interesting if we actually sat our children—I've never done that. But if you went through and said, hey, let's write a list of names that you know. Is so much more than I could have ever given them because I've learned stuff for the test. And then two weeks later I would be like, so what was that an emporer of? I'm like, uh, didn't I make an A on that test?
Julie Ross Yes. And I think a big, important detail in the older grades she says, "several forms get through a great deal of reading because we have discovered that a single reading suffices to secure knowledge, given the right book." So many books are necessary. So people look at this like booklets, this is a lot of books. I love it where they take pictures at the end of the term with the books stacked up next to the kid. But because they're able to read so much more in a short amount of time, because you're not adding all this busy work.
Shay Kemp Knowing you just read, and like she says, the consecutive readings. And she also talks about how reading these books like this levels the playing field. You talked about, even in the secondary education because it says "the people wait only for the right books to be put into their hands and the right method to be employed." That's what these children are waiting on. Whether they are grades two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, nine, whatever. She talks about how important that is. And yet we often think, well, my kid is in seventh grade and just doesn't like to read. Well, my kids in eighth grade and just don't like to read. Well, I mean, if you went and asked my sixth grader, as many books as we read, do you like to read? She's going to say, no, I don't like to read.
Julie Ross My son would say the same thing. He's like, I'd rather be out in the woods. Thanks.
Shay Kemp Same. She's like, I'd rather be playing softball. I'd rather be—I would really rather not read. But because she doesn't know any different than this, this is the only thing she's ever done, when she does read, she's not going to admit it because she's 12 years old. You can see the lights. Okay, yes, I learned about this. Oh wait, isn't that the same thing as this person did? Wait, what about this? You can see the lights come on.
Julie Ross Yeah, and I love how she puts, "children so taught are delightful companions. They have large interests and worthy thoughts. They have much to talk about and such casual talk benefits society." And I love talking to children who have gone through this, right? They're delightful to talk to. They have so many ideas in their head and so many connections that they've made and such a wealth of knowledge that they can carry on these conversations.
Shay Kemp And I don't think most of them even realize it.
Julie Ross I think everybody's like that
Shay Kemp I think everybody is like that. I wish I had been—I'm trying to reeducate myself in that way. And I think also what I love is, and this is super important, I feel, in the work that I do, is that how important it is to really understand the principles? She says, "I feel strongly that to attempt to work this method without a firm adherence to the few principles laid down would be not only idle, but disastrous." And she's trying to explain there, if you just look at this, like you said, this is just a book list and all we're going to do is just look at these books and read. But you're not carrying out these—considering the narration and considering the types of books that there are. I don't know about you, but I can tell pretty much right away if a book that I'm just given a shot to like, well I think this book if it's not a tried and true book. I found this book let's just give it a shot. If the narration—if It's not a literary book. I can tell the difference. So when we tell people stick with it, stick with it, stick with it. "And really this is why we insist upon the use of books," she says. Stick with it. Follow the philosophy. Then you get less frustrated because you're trusting the philosophy.
Julie Ross Right? Yeah, It's so important. She goes on towards the end of this and goes more subject by subject again.
Shay Kemp She does, yep.
Julie Ross Like, just in case you missed it the last time.
Shay Kemp Yeah, she breaks it down again for you. Why we need to include these things. She makes the point that you and I have made before about composition, about how it requires no special attention until the pupil is old enough to naturally take a critical interest in the use of words. So all you mamas who are freaking out because you're a fifth grader cannot write an essay, take a deep breath, and it's all gonna be okay.
Julie Ross Yeah. And she talks in here about spelling, too, which we haven't really gone into.
Shay Kemp Oh, yes. Lots of questions about spelling.
Julie Ross And she says—can you read it? It's on page 271, about spelling.
Shay Kemp Yeah, I marked several of those.
Julie Ross Well more impossible to teach.
Shay Kemp "To teach children, moreover, it is impossible to teach children to spell when they do not read for themselves. We hear complaints of the difficulties of spelling of the necessity to do violence to the language which is dear to us all in order to "make spelling made easy." But in thousands of cases that come before us, we find that children who use their books for themselves spell well because they visualize the words they read." I have found that to be true. I tried every spelling thing there was, when my kids were younger and I thought I needed it. And the only thing that ever had any carryover whatsoever was just reading and then studied copy work and dictation. That was the only thing.
Julie Ross I want to talk to parents who say my kids struggling with spelling, are they reading their own books for themselves yet? Even if they're just—they might be listening to you like an audiobook, have them follow along with the actual book so they can see how the words are actually spelled is so important. And then I'm like, are you consistently doing copy-working dictation? Oh, well, no, not really. Well, there's the answer. You have to do it every day.
Shay Kemp You do, yes. And it really does, my kids they don't love dictation. And then when we pull it out on Friday, they don't love it. But really by then, which I think this is one that is so powerful, by the end, they're like, you're just asking me to do something I already know so well. Which is the point. That's the point that you want them to feel like they know it so well. And how to spell those words so well that it's just you're going to read it, I'm going to write it, and then we're going to move on. And it's already cemented in their minds.
Julie Ross I just wanted to touch on that because that's something that comes up.
Shay Kemp Yeah. She covered everything here, literature, history. She goes back and talks about the music, great pictures, the teaching of languages she addresses. And then she says, there's one more thing I need to discuss. And she says it in a quote, "education must be in touch with life. We must learn what we desire to know." And that's really the underlying theme, isn't it? Is that we we cannot force children to desire to know something.
Julie Ross As much as we try, don't we?
Shay Kemp Oh, yes. I was reading that saying, oh.
Julie Ross Yeah, connect and pull and try to motivate and do all this work myself.
Shay Kemp And we wonder why we're frustrated, and yet we're literally going against the way that our children's brains were created. We are fighting against the creation itself and our children. We're fighting against them, and I love it goes back to that quote you read earlier there, we want to have that pleasant relationship with our children where we're coming alongside them.
Julie Ross The philosophy and friends.
Shay Kemp Yes.
Julie Ross That's awesome. Thanks a lot.
Shay Kemp And what a better way to help a child see that in themselves? Like you need to see yourself as the philosopher. You need to see yourself as the learner. You need to see yourself as the one that's motivated, and that's where the work comes in. The work is not in the, oh I've got to plan go to plan for 30 minutes on this list, and I going to plan for an hour on this list. I've to lay all this stuff out there. There are ways to not have to do that kind of planning. Where the effort comes in is stepping back and letting the—and that can feel like a lot of work to step back and let your child pull that information out. To watch them grapple with that difficult book. And what does this idea mean? Or what does that phrase mean? Or even a piece of poetry as you read it, what is that? What do you think that image is like? I'm not going to regurgitate that for you. What do you think? What do you think that image means? And that's where the work comes in. And it's quite different than what a typical box curriculum's going to give you if you're just reading a textbook with facts and information in it.
Julie Ross Yeah. And one thing I'd love to address is this notion of, my child needs to think school is fun.
Shay Kemp Oh, yes.
Julie Ross And they don't think it's fun then I'm doing something wrong. I had a parent message me about that a couple weeks ago. And "what do you think I should do?" I'm like, nothing. Just keep on doing what you've been doing. Make sure you're not doing these things you're not supposed to be doing.
Shay Kemp Yes.
Julie Ross But just keep on reading and narrating. And I said, I started going back to the gym a couple of months ago and I have a trainer. Do I think it's fun ever? No, I don't. Now, every morning when my alarm goes off, I'm like, "oh. okay, I'm going." Do I feel good afterward? Yes. Do I know it's helping me have more energy and helping my body? Yes. I feel great afterward. Do I want to do it at the beginning? No. So when our children resist it's that natural human tendency to go, well I'd much rather be entertained.
Shay Kemp One hundred percent.
Julie Ross I'd much rather watch Netflix than go to the gym.
Shay Kemp Yes. Especially when there's so many options now for us to be entertained, even educationally. It's much easier to read an educationally entertaining book about a topic than it is to read a book that has literary value. And there's all this controversy all over the word twaddle and what that is. And it's a term that she uses in some of her—but I think it's easy to find because if you're reading something that—or you're putting it in front of your children, they're so dumbed down. That all it is is fun then their brain does not have to do that effort. And like you said, it is effort and we are humans. We would all like to get out of the effort. Even when I reread these chapters there is, like the beginning of this one, I thought, okay, I don't know who these people are. I'm going to have to look all these people up. I don't recognize them. I don't have the annotated versions. I am like, I have no idea who this is. I have no idea what she's talking about. But after I do it, I can understand what she's saying. And you can feel that curiosity in yourself. Be perked that flying. Be picking up a little bit. And we just don't get a lot of encouragement for that. I'm so glad that she made that point. We get a lot of Facebook questions about it.
Julie Ross And recently, too, I saw one today about a book, The Chestry Oak by, who wrote that?
Shay Kemp Oh, I can't remember. I'm terrible. I have to look at this.
Julie Ross We've been plodding along. Please tell me this gets better. My kids don't like it. We stopped after page 27 because we didn't like it. And I was like, no you're missing. And so many other people were like, keep going. Like, it's worth it is so worth it. And but we get we've gotten that many books.
Shay Kemp Kate Seredy.
Julie Ross Yes, I knew it started with a K. So what would you have to say about kind of that approach?
Shay Kemp My suggestion is that if it's a book that's tried and true, especially. There are books out there that we have read that were not a good fit. They were not a living book. But if it's a living book like The Chestry Oak, which is amazing. And another one that we got some questions about was Red Sails to Capri. I love those books. But the reason it's worth continuing on is because somebody has got to teach your children the perseverance of mind.
Julie Ross Yes, I know you were going to say.
Shay Kemp Nobody else is going to do it. The world we live in is not going to do it. And not just because we live in this society or culture. I think, traditionally is just humanity finds the easiest route. But perseverance of mind is only going to come if you teach the perseverance of mind. And that's really what she's talking about in these two chapters. She breaks it down in many different forms.
Julie Ross Yes.
Shay Kemp But we must teach the perseverance of mind to the habit. We must focus on the habit of attention. And we must believe that our children are capable of that. So when we say this book is not fun, or you don't like this book. Okay, well, maybe will pick another one. We are saying to our children, you are not capable of that habit of attention and the perseverance of mind, but I do believe that you are. So I can choose another way. I can say, maybe we're grappling with this book a little bit. Maybe there's some tough ideas, but we're going to keep reading this book. We're going to stick with it. And we're going to see what happens to these characters. And we're going to see what connections we can make. And we're going to continue on. And every book I have ever done that with, every single one, I have been so grateful that I stuck with it. Alice in Wonderland is one, I know people read this book and they're like, well we didn't understand it. It's okay. But the cultural significance of that book is enough of a reason to continue to read that book, even if it's not your favorite. And there's a lot of ones that are like that out there. So that's my take on stopping a book or giving up. I'm not saying you never switch out. Of course, there's time you may switch a book. But there have been rare times that we have chosen to stop a book because somebody, "doesn't like the book."
Julie Ross Right. And I think that this is a great way to summarize these whole couple chapters.
Shay Kemp It really is, yes.
Julie Ross That you're building this mental muscle. It takes effort. It's simple. It's not involving a bunch of stuff. It does take courage, and it does take faith. But over time, that muscle is getting built through that, and same with you. All the books that I wanted to stop, or my kids didn't like, or they complain through, by the time we got to the end, we are all so grateful that we did it. The amount of connections and ideas that they had. And that ideas grow. Next book adds to that. And my kids will still say some book they read when they were five or six would be like, that was my favorite book, and they see it when I bring it up or whatever. And I'm like, you fought me on that book. I know you don't remember. Now you have these, like sweet little memories of like this is the best. I'm like, while we we're doing it.
Shay Kemp Yes, we've been through that exact same thing. And then later on, they are able to really see the value that they were not able to see in their maturity level at that particular time. So we trust in the brain and their capabilities, but we don't give in to that particular maturity level that might say, well I'll just stop. And we just keep going forward.
Can you read the quote at the top of page 278?
Shay Kemp Sure. "This is the way to make great men and not by petty efforts to form character in this direction or in that. Let us take it to ourselves. That great character comes out of great thoughts, and that great thought must be initiated by great thinkers. Then we shall have a definite aim in education. Thinking and not doing is the source of character." What more can you say to that?
Julie Ross Well, thank you so much, Shay for talking through most of this. I appreciate it.
Shay Kemp It was always fun. And I hope you get your voice back really soon.
Julie Ross Thank you.
Julie Ross Hey, thanks for listening to today's episode. If you'd like to know more about the Charlotte Mason style of education, check out A Gentle Feast.com and click on the Learn More button for a free four-day introduction course. If you'd like the show notes for today's episode, you can find those at Homeschooling.mom and click on The Charlotte Mason Show. If you haven't already, please subscribe to the podcast. And while you're there, could you leave us a quick review? This will help other homeschooling parents, like you, get connected to our community. And finally tag us on Instagram @HomeschoolingDotMom and let us know what you thought of today's episode.
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