Monday, July 17, 2017

School Education Chapter 5: Psychology in Relation to Current Thought

This blog post is part of an on-going daily series this month as I read (very quickly) through School Education by Charlotte Mason. Join me! Pick up your book and read a chapter, or find it free online at Ambleside Online.


In Charlotte Mason's day, as a century before (and as now!), people placed a high value on education. However, in contrast to the enthusiasm of the late 18th century, people in the late 19th century were feeling dissatisfied with the direction education had been taking. They were beginning to recognize that "results cannot be in advance of our principles." (p. 45) As a result, many people were developing psychologies of education. The problem was, many of them contradicted each other. Charlotte Mason saw the need for a way to discern between all the different psychologies, and she lays out what she sees as the requirements of a sound system of psychology in this chapter.

1. It must be adequate, "covering the whole nature of man and his relations with all that is other than himself."
2. It must be necessary, "no other equally adequate psychology should present itself."
3. It must touch at all points the living thought of the age; it must "be in step with the two or three great ideas by which the world is just now being educated." 
These ideas are:
A. The Sacredness of the person.
B. The Evolution of the individual: "making the very most of (the) person, intellectually, morally, physically." Education must be assimilated, becoming part of a person.
C. The Solidarity of the race: a sense of oneness with people of every time and place.

After setting out these criteria, Charlotte Mason evaluates two systems of psychology: Locke's "states of consciousness" and modern physiological psychology. She does this very humbly: "we do not presume to do this as critics, rather as inheritors of other men's labour, who take stock of our possessions in order that we may use them to the most advantage." (p. 49) Still, she makes it clear that neither of these psychologies takes into account the full humanity and potential of the person, especially the modern physiological view, which reduces man to the physical.

"We have reason to keep watch at the place of the letting out of waters, that is, the psychology upon which our educational thought and action rest." (p. 55) 


"One thing we begin to see clearly, that the stream can rise no higher than its source, that sound theory must underlie successful work. We begin to suspect that we took up schemes and methods of education a little hastily, without considering what philosophy or, let us say, psychology, underlies those schemes and methods; now, we see that our results cannot be in advance of our principles." (p. 45)

" all science, psychology is progressive. What worked even fifty years ago will not work to-day, and what fulfils our needs to-day will not serve fifty years hence; there is no last word to be said upon education; it evolves with the evolution of the race." (p. 46)

"Next we demand of education that it should make for the evolution of the individual; should not only put the person in the first place, but should have for its sole aim the making the very most of that person, intellectually, morally, physically. We do not desire any dead accretions of mere knowledge, or externals of mere accomplishment. We desire an education that shall be assimilated; shall become part and parcel of the person;..." (p. 47-48)

"The American poet, Walt Whitman,...tells us how he conquers with every triumphant general, bleeds with every wounded soldier, shares the spring morning and the open road and the pride of the horses with every jolly waggoner--in fact, lives in all other lives that touch him anywhere, even in imagination. This is something more than the brotherhood of man; that belongs to the present; but our sense of the oneness of humanity reaches into the remotest past, making us regard with tender reverence every relic of the antiquity of our own people or of any other; and, with a sort of jubilant hope, every prognostic of science or philanthropy which appears to us to be the promise of the centuries to come." (p. 48)

"Let us consider now some three or four of the psychologies which have the most widespread influence to-day. But we do not presume to do this as critics, rather as inheritors of other men's labour, who take stock of our possessions in order that we may use them to the most advantage. For the best thought of any age is common thought; the men who write it down do but give expression to what is working in the minds of the rest. But we must bear in mind that truth behaves like a country gate allowed to 'swing to' after a push. Now it swings a long way to this side and now a long way to that, and at last after shorter and shorter oscillations the latch settles. The reformer, the investigator, works towards one aspect of truth, which is the whole truth to him, and which he advances out of line with the rest. The next reformer works at a tangent, apparently in opposition, but he is bringing up another front of truth. Then there is work for us, the people of average mind. We consider all sides, balance what has been done, and find truth, perhaps in the mean, perhaps as a side issue which did not make itself plain to original thinkers of either school. But we do not scorn the bridge that has borne us." (p. 49)

(speaking of the "Modern Physiological-Psychology) "Where there are no persons, there is no possibility of that divine afflatus which we call enthusiasm; for that recognition of another on a higher plane which we mean when we say 'I believe in so and so,' for that recognition of the divine Being which we call Faith. We become devitalised; life is flat and grey; we throw desperate, if dull, energy into the task of the hour because we shall so, any way, get rid of that hour; we are glad to be amused, but still more glad of the stimulus of feverish work; but the work, like ourselves, is devitalised without the living idea, without consecrating aim." (p. 54)


I have written before about my concerns with her using "the spirit of the age" as something to evaluate psychologies by. I'm not sure I follow everything in this chapter. However, I do think this is a beautiful chapter to show Charlotte Mason's humility in her attitude towards other philosophies of education. She evaluates them respectfully, acknowledging any area where there is good, and firmly rejecting all that do not measure up to what she believes are the attributes of a sound psychology.

It is also interesting to see her enthusiasm for the progress of humanity. I presume this was pre-war. I seem to remember a sadder attitude in Volume 6, which was written later in her life.


Evaluating Psychologies
From Snowfall Academy: Acknowledging the Whole Person