Wednesday, July 19, 2017

School Education Chapter 7: An Adequate Theory of Education

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.


Why are ideas such an important thing in education? It is because a human being is a whole person, "a spiritual being invested with a body." He is capable of relationships with many things (with God, with people of every age and place, with things...Charlotte Mason will elaborate more on this later in the book), and once these relationships are established, there is almost no limit to how much he can grow. If he makes few relationships, his ability to grow is limited, though there is no reason he cannot form new relationships at any time. These relationships are formed through idea and habit. "Every relation must be initiated by its own 'captain' idea, sustained upon fitting ideas; and wrought into the material substance of the person by its proper habits." (p. 71) This is the work of education.

But what is an idea? Nobody fully knows...we are only able to make 'guesses.' Charlotte Mason uses Plato's definition as a working hypothesis: "an idea is an entity, a live thing of the mind." (p. 69) An idea is "begotten" when mind meets mind: perhaps you read a book and a notion in it germinates and sprouts and grows in your own mind. After that, there is no telling where the idea may end up or how long it may live, whether it is expressed in a picture, or a song, or simply repeated to someone else. Different people are attracted to different ideas, just because of who they are by nature. 

What should education do for a person? An education does not need to "cultivate the senses" or produce intelligence. He is already fully a person, and these things are inborn and develop naturally. Instead, education should facilitate the formation of all the relationships "proper to him." How can we describe these relationships, and how are they formed? Charlotte Mason calls them "ties of intimacy, joy, association, and knowledge" with the world and everything in it. These ties develop first, like every relationship, with recognition, then with appreciation, then knowledge gained from personal experience. After this, "the superstructure of exact easily raised, because a natural desire is implanted." (p. 78)


"Apparently no one has power to beget an idea by himself; it appears to be the progeny of two minds. So-and-so 'put it in my head,' we say, and that is the history of all ideas--the most simple and the most profound. But, once begotten, the idea seems to survive indefinitely. It is painted in a picture, written in a book, carved into a chair, or only spoken to someone who speaks it again, who speaks it again, who speaks it again, so that it goes on being spoken, for how long? Who knows!" (p. 69-70)

" an idea comes of the contact of two minds, the idea of another is no more than a notion to us until it has undergone a process of generation within us; and for that reason different ideas appeal to different minds...because certain persons have in themselves, by inheritance, may we assume, that which is proper to attract certain ideas. To illustrate invisible things by visible, let us suppose that the relation is something like that between the pollen and the ovule it is to fertilise. The ways of carrying the pollen are various,...but there is nothing haphazard in the result. The right pollen goes to the right ovule and the plant bears seed after its kind; even so, the person brings forth ideas after his kind." (p. 70)

"Every habit we have formed has had its initial idea, and every idea we receive is able to initiate a habit of thought and action. Every human being has the power of communicating notions to other human beings; and, after he is dead, this power survives him in the work he has done and the words he has said." (p. 71)

"That the divine Spirit has like intimate power of corresponding with the human spirit, needs not to be urged, once we recognise ourselves as spiritual beings at all." (p. 71)

"Nature left to herself hands over every child to its parents and other educators in this condition of acute perceptive powers, keen intelligence, and moral teachableness and sweetness." (p. 74.) [note from me: If, like me, you don't quite buy this romantic view of human nature, don't miss the point! Education does not produce these "perceptive powers, keen intelligence, or moral teachableness and sweetness." -np]

"Plainly we have not to develop the person; he is there already, with, possibly, every power that will serve him in his passage through life." (p. 75)

"We shall have some fit new word [for education] meaning, perhaps, 'applied wisdom,' for wisdom is the science of relations, and the thing we have to do for a young human being is to put him in touch, so far as we can, with all the relations proper to him." (p. 75)

"We are no longer divided between the claims of the classical and the modern side. We no longer ask ourselves whether it is better to learn a few subjects 'thoroughly,' so we say, or to get a 'smattering' of many. These questions are beside the mark." (p. 75)

"We may believe that a person--I have a 'baby person' in view--is put into this most delightful world for the express purpose of forming ties of intimacy, joy, association, and knowledge with the living and moving things that are therein, with what St. Francis would have called his brother the mountain and his brother the ant and his brothers in the starry heavens. Fulness of living, joy in life, depend, far more than we know, upon the establishment of these relations." (p. 75)

"His little bit of knowledge is real science, because he gets it at first-hand;..." (p. 77)

"With this sort of appreciative knowledge of things to begin with, the superstructure of exact knowledge, living science, no mere affair of text-books and examinations, is easily raised, because a natural desire is implanted." (p. 78)