Sunday, January 25, 2015

Parenting Tip I Learned from Miss Mason

Many parents may be familiar with the experience of having rather detail oriented children correcting them in public over insignificant details. It is frustrating for several reasons- it can derail a conversation. It's distracting. In some cases it makes it sound like the adult is lying or that the child thinks the adult is lying. Some adults (me, for instance), do not appreciate being contradicted over insignificant details.

 This is the sort of thing I mean:

*You tell somebody you cannot meet them at 2:00 to help decorate for a party because you have an appointment at that time, and your child will say, "No, Mommy, you have an appointment for 2:30."

   You generalized the time because also need time to get the kids to the sitter, and/or you were told to come 30 minutes early, and/or you're going to get some x-rays and labs done first for reasons you are not yet ready to divulge. Whether the appointment itself is scheduled at 2 or 30 minutes later has nothing to do with the point of your statement- it is a fact that this appointment means you cannot commit to something else shortly before hand.

 *While visiting with a friend you say something like "Yesterday at lunch, Riley told me that his favorite storybook character was Beowulf," and the pert 8 y.o. big sister will say, "No, Mommy, remember, it was the day before yesterday, and it was at breakfast?!"
  The precise time and meal in this case are accidental, not essential. It is not necessary for this to be played up as a discrepancy, because it really doesn't matter.

 *You tell a friend you are going to go out to eat after you visit the doctor and dentist, and your child corrects you because 'we are going to the dentist first and *then* the doctor.'

 *I once told somebody we had a white and grey cat, and one of the children instantly corrected me with, "No, it's a grey and white cat."

   It was perfectly true that our cat Lily was more grey than white. But I was just making general conversation, not filling out a description for a lost pet, so it really didn't matter.

Haven't  we've all been witnesses to the uncomfortable sort of conversation where one spouse is telling a story and the other is following along behind with a spritzer of contradictions:
"It was at the grocery store, not the bank. It was at 2, not 3. It was after lunch. It was jam, not jelly. It was actually still raining..."
Or worse, they both do it:
"No, Jane, it was Wednesday night." No, John, I distinctly remember it was Thursday night, because of the pork chops." "Jane, it was Wednesday, because my show was on." "John, you recorded your show and watched it the next night..."
Meanwhile, not one of these tiresome details actually matters to the story.

I wanted them to stop contradicting me over minor details.  More importantly,  I did not want my children to grow up to annoy their spouses and people who listen to them, constantly interrupting others with insignificant corrections.

  Of course, I didn't want to teach them that the truth didn't matter, but I felt like they did need to learn some discernment. It is good, of course, to be in the habit oneself of being precise in speech and recounting of details, but as in many matters, in examining oneself one uses the gimlet glass, while using the mantle of charity in assessing the communications of others.  I just wasn't sure how to go about teaching them not to contradict over insignificant details while not undermining their respect for truth, particularly when part of the problem was just that- being young, they did not yet know how to distinguish insignificant from essential details.

 I was delighted when I found a description and solution to this issue in reading Charlotte Mason:
The Realm of Fiction -- Essential and Accidental Truth. -- What shall we say of fable, poetry, romance, the whole realm of fiction? There are two sorts of Truth. What we may call accidental Truth; that is, that such and such a thing came to pass in a certain place at a certain hour on a certain day; and this is the sort of Truth we have to observe in our general talk. The other, the Truth of Art, is what we may call essential Truth; that, for example, given, such and such a character, he must needs have thought and acted in such and such a way, with such and such consequences; given, a certain aspect of nature, and the poet will receive from it such and such ideas; or, certain things of common life, as a dog with a bone, for example, will present themselves to the thinker as fables, illustrating some of the happenings of life. This sort of fiction is of enormous value to us, whether we find it in poetry or romance; it teaches us morals and manners; what to do in given circumstances; what will happen if we behave in a certain way. It shows how, what seems a little venial fault is often followed by dreadful consequences, and our eyes are opened to see that it is not little or venial, but is a deep-seated fault of character; some selfishness, shallowness, or deceitfulness upon which a man or woman makes shipwreck. We cannot learn these things except through what is called fiction, or from the bitter experience of life, from the penalties of which our writers of fiction do their best to spare us. The Value of Fiction depends on the Worth of the Writer. -- But you will see at once that the value of fiction as a moral teacher depends upon the wisdom, insight, and goodness of the writer; that a shallow mind will give false and shallow teaching; and, therefore, that it is only the best fiction that is lawful reading, because in no other shall we find this sort of essential Truth. Fiction affects our Enthusiasms. -- Not only are morals and manners taught, but our enthusiasms, even our religion, are kindled by fiction, whether in prose or verse.… Vol 4 pg 160-161
Also from the Parents' Review, an article titled "Imagination in Childhood" March 1916 (v. 27, no. 3), p. 202-207 In this article Miss Mason is refuting Maria Montessori's emphasis on facts vs imagination, so should be understood in that context:
"Would we describe the aim of our Lord when He "taught daily"—we ask, was it not to teach men the reality of things unseen, the unreality of the things they laboured for? To this end He used every munition by which the case-hardened imagination of man is successfully attacked, symbol, tale, legend, such consummate poems as that beginning, "Consider the lilies of the field." Mere circumstantial or accidental truth did not come into the question; a tale of the imagination served to hold the essential truth, and we do not stop to inquire whether a certain man did or did not go down to Jericho."
Accidental Vs Essential Truth!  The problem had a name!



Now, Miss Mason was speaking of literature here and addressing a philosophy of education that taught that children should only read things that were strictly true. Yet, as she says elsewhere, education is the science of relations. Essential truths have many applications, and in sharing this truth about literature, Charlotte Mason also put her finger on both the problem and solution for a common issue in parenting. The solution is to teach them discernment and correct judgment (as well as tact and social graces) by teaching them about this difference between accidental and essential truths.

 Enlist your children in addressing their own cure- explain accidental vs essential truths, and ask them to stop and think before they contradict somebody- is this the right time and place for that correction (parents also would do well to learn this), and is this corrective detail important to the story? Does it change anything important, the essence of the story or comment?

Give them little stories to practice on.  While doing the dishes together or riding in the car somewhere or taking a walk, ask them to compare two stories. Here is a tale with no facts in it:

 The Ant and the Grasshopper
 In a field one summer's day a Grasshopper was hopping about, chirping and singing to its heart's content. An Ant passed by, bearing along with great toil an ear of corn he was taking to the nest. "Why not come and chat with me," said the Grasshopper, "instead of toiling and moiling in that way?" "I am helping to lay up food for the winter," said the Ant, "and recommend you to do the same." "Why bother about winter?" said the Grasshopper; we have got plenty of food at present."
But the Ant went on its way and continued its toil. When the winter came the Grasshopper had no food and found itself dying of hunger, while it saw the ants distributing every day corn and grain from the stores they had collected in the summer. Then the Grasshopper knew: It is best to prepare for the days of necessity.

 Here is a tale that is entirely factual:

 One morning after I got up and got dressed, I called my mother and discussed a problem regarding our farm key, the electric company, and a new lock. I gave her the key and she talked to the company and worked things out. Then we went to town and bought holiday baking supplies. We went out to eat. We got her glasses fixed. We came home. The children put away the groceries. Then they put out some more Christmas decorations, and we read a book. 

Of these two tales, the entirely fictional one has all the essential truth and the entirely factual one has only accidental truth so far as we can tell. If there is any essential truth in the second story, it would have to be fleshed out a bit more.

Be on guard against being over-earnest and over-talkative (I offer this as a warning from somebody who more often failed at it rather than as wisdom learned from success), a little of this sort of chatter from Mother goes a long, long way.  It's better to stop a little too soon than much too late.

An added benefit to these sorts of discussions is that it also helps the children develop the habit of thinking more about essential truths in the tales they read for school


Monday, January 5, 2015

Contentious Quote for the Day: Lord Haldane on Economics and Art

" I am absolutely convinced that science is vastly more stimulating to the imagination than are the classics, but the products of this stimulus do not normally see the light because scientific men as a class are devoid of any perception of literary form. When they can express themselves we get a Butler or a Norman Douglas. Not until our poets are once more drawn from the educated classes (I speak as a scientist), will they appeal to the average man by showing him the beauty in his own life as Homer and Virgil appealed to the street urchins who scrawled their verses on the walls of Pompeii.

"And if we must educate our poets and artists in science, we must educate our masters, labour and capital, in art. Personally I believe that we may have good hopes of both. The capitalist's idea of art in industry at present tends to limit itself to painting green and white stripes on the front of his factories in certain cases. This is a primitive type of decoration, but it has, I think, the root of the matter in it. Before long someone may discover that frescoes inside a factory increase the average efficiency of the worker 1.03% and art will become a commercial proposition once more. Even now it is being discovered that artistic advertising often pays. Similarly I do not doubt that labour will come to find that it cannot live by bread (or shall we say bread and beer) alone. But it can hardly be expected to make this discovery until it is assured of its supply of bread and beer."

Daedalus, or, Science and the Future, by Lord Haldane.

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Do we teach thinking? (Harvard study meets Charlotte Mason)

by Anne White

Have you seen this Yahoo news article citing research by Shari Tishman at Harvard?  Tishman describes seven "thinking dispositions" that good thinkers not only have but actively use.
"1. The disposition to be broad and adventurous: The tendency to be open-minded, to explore alternative views; an alertness to narrow thinking; the ability to generate multiple options."
11. But we, believing that the normal child has powers of mind which fit him to deal with all knowledge proper to him, give him a full and generous curriculum; taking care only that all knowledge offered him is vital, that is, that facts are not presented without their informing ideas. Out of this conception comes our principle that, [Education is the Science of Relations.] ~~ Charlotte Mason, Philosophy of Education
"2. The disposition toward sustained intellectual curiosity: The tendency to wonder, probe, find problems, a zest for inquiry; an alertness for anomalies; the ability to observe closely and formulate questions."
12. "Education is the Science of Relations"; that is, that a child has natural relations with a vast number of things and thoughts: so we train him upon physical exercises, nature lore, handicrafts, science and art, and upon many living books, for we know that our business is not to teach him all about anything, but to help him to make valid as many as may be of––
          "Those first-born affinities
      "That fit our new existence to existing things." ~~ Charlotte Mason, Philosophy of Education

"3. The disposition to clarify and seek understanding: A desire to understand clearly, to seek connections and explanations; an alertness to unclarity and need for focus; an ability to build conceptualizations."

13. In devising a SYLLABUS for a normal child, of whatever social class, three points must be considered:
     (a) He requires much knowledge, for the mind needs sufficient food as much as does the body.
     (b) The knowledge should be various, for sameness in mental diet does not create appetite (i.e., curiosity)
     (c) Knowledge should be communicated in well-chosen language, because his attention responds naturally to what is conveyed in literary form.  ~~ Charlotte Mason, Philosophy of Education
"4. The disposition to be planful and strategic: The drive to set goals, to make and execute plans, to envision outcomes; alertness to lack of direction; the ability to formulate goals and plans."
17. The way of the will: Children should be taught, (a) to distinguish between 'I want' and 'I will.' (b) That the way to will effectively is to turn our thoughts from that which we desire but do not will. (c) That the best way to turn our thoughts is to think of or do some quite different thing, entertaining or interesting. (d) That after a little rest in this way, the will returns to its work with new vigour. (This adjunct of the will is familiar to us as diversion, whose office it is to ease us for a time from will effort, that we may 'will' again with added power. The use ofsuggestion as an aid to the will is to be deprecated, as tending to stultify and stereotype character, It would seem that spontaneity is a condition of development, and that human nature needs the discipline of failure as well as of success.) ~~ Charlotte Mason, Philosophy of Education
"5. The disposition to be intellectually careful: The urge for precision, organization, thoroughness; an alertness to possible error or inaccuracy; the ability to process information precisely."
18. The way of reason: We teach children, too, not to 'lean (too confidently) to their own understanding'; because the function of reason is to give logical demonstration (a) of mathematical truth, (b) of an initial idea, accepted by the will. In the former case, reason is, practically, an infallible guide, but in the latter, it is not always a safe one; for, whether that idea be right or wrong, reason will confirm it by irrefragable proofs.  ~~ Charlotte Mason, Philosophy of Education
"6. The disposition to seek and evaluate reasons: The tendency to question the given, to demand justification; an alertness to the need for evidence; the ability to weigh and assess reasons."
19. Therefore, children should be taught, as they become mature enough to understand such teaching, that the chief responsibility which rests on them as persons is the acceptance or rejection of ideas. To help them in this choice we give them principles of conduct, and a wide range of the knowledge fitted to them. These principles should save children from some of the loose thinking and heedless action which cause most of us to live at a lower level than we need.  ~~ Charlotte Mason, Philosophy of Education
"7. The disposition to be metacognitive: The tendency to be aware of and monitor the flow of one's own thinking; alertness to complex thinking situations; the ability to exercise control of mental processes and to be reflective."
5. Therefore, we are limited to three educational instruments––the atmosphere of environment, the discipline of habit, and the presentation of living ideas. The P.N.E.U. Motto is: "Education is an atmosphere, a discipline, and a life."
 ~~ Charlotte Mason, Philosophy of Education

Monday, September 15, 2014

Mysticism Unveiled: The Gentle Heart of Hildegard of Bingen

By Megan Hoyt

Our guest poster today is Megan Hoyt, a longtime Ambleside Online user and the author of Hildegard's Gift (see details below).  Hildegard of Bingen is the AO composer for this term.

When I first began reading about the early life of Hildegard of Bingen, twelfth century composer, artist, herbalist, visionary, and lover of God, I really began to identify with this mysterious, solitary child. Like other good Catholics of the Middle Ages, her parents sent her away to live as an anchoress in total isolation at an early age. As their tenth child, they considered her a “tithe to the church,” which seems like a beautiful and godly idea unless you are the frightened little girl being sent away.

I was a frightened little girl, too – I was almost scared of my own shadow for most of my childhood and constantly worried about the social norms of school life, which seemed so elusive to me. I was mystical, too, in the sense that I genuinely “felt” connected to God when I worshipped at church. Unlike my peers, I cried while singing anthems in children’s choir. Christmas and Easter services? I sobbed through them. My parents called me sensitive. My Aunt Gretchen said I was one of God’s special ones. Looking back, I now wonder if I had a form of clinical depression.

Perhaps that’s why I so strongly identified with young Hildegard’s first teetering steps into the cell where she would spend years of her life, praying alone. I could definitely see myself being happy in isolation like Hildegard. And that is the duty of an anchoress, in case you didn’t know – they must live a secluded life as cloistered nuns. I wonder. Did Hildegard WANT to join the convent at Disibodenberg? She was only eight years old, after all. Did she agree with her parents’ decision? She certainly embraced her new life. And the world is better for it. But where does our genuine responsibility for accepting the advice of our parents end? Where does it begin? I really don’t have any idea. It’s a new thought for me – do we have choices when we’re very young? Do we get to decide to love God or are we simply expected to? See, I told you I was mystical. I could sit and ponder these things all day and never accomplish anything else.

Hildegard was already experiencing brilliant visions by the time she was sequestered with only one fellow nun, Jutta, nearby. She was unable to write her visions down without the assistance of a scribe, but it was clear early that she was a gifted young woman with big ideas that she insisted came directly from God. Here are a few things God was saying to her:

The fire has its flame and praises God.
The wind blows the flame and praises God.
In the voice we hear the word which praises God.
And the word, when heard, praises God.
So all of creation is a song of praise to God.

God hugs you.
You are encircled by the arms
of the mystery of God.

Good People,
most royal greening verdancy,
rooted in the sun,
you shine with radiant light.

I have read two or three of Hildegard’s books now and even written one of my own about her, Hildegard’s Gift, available through Paraclete Press. The more I read, the more I love this little girl with a giant heart. She seems so intimately acquainted with God and so firm in her convictions about how we should live. Reading even a few excerpted quotes from her chant music refreshes my soul and gives me fresh hope for the future. Taking time to contemplate, to brood, to rest in the presence of our Lord is so important and also richly rewarding in this fragmented, hurry along culture of ours.

The child Hildegard grew up, of course, as we all must. Her adult years were spent as an Abbess, leading others, writing letters of conviction and encouragement to popes, bishops, and princes. She was a strong woman with the courage to confront those living in sin. She also wrote plays, operettas, and listened for God’s whispered design for herbal remedies. Here are a few of her thoughts. They may seem a little silly now, but when she wrote them, there was no medical care, no medicine at all really.

The head of a catfish should never be eaten—it lacks viriditas (greening power) and will cause headaches and fevers.

Spelt rectifies the flesh, produces proper blood, and creates a happy mind and a joyful human disposition.

The wood and leaves of the nutmeg tree are harmful, but nutmeg itself gives a person a positive disposition and calms bitterness of the heart and mind. (Physica, p. 21)

Hildegard was a remarkable and complex woman with many talents, but she considered herself merely “a feather on the breath of God.” May we all trust God so much that we float on the wind of the Spirit, on the very breath of our sustaining God.

Megan Hoyt is a veteran writer with credits in television and print. Her children’s book, Hildegard’s Gift, illustrated by David Hill, was released by Paraclete Press in 2014. Recipes, a secret alphabet, and coloring sheets are all available at her website. For the Orthodox and Catholic among us, Hildegard’s Feast Day is September 17.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

From The Parents' Review: Only these days we do it on a phone?

"We see it in the smaller details of life. A man reads a paper while crossing a crowded thoroughfare. His forebrain is in full attention on the newspaper. He takes no heed of the traffic. But his sub-consciousness guides him. That is, his sight centre and ear centre announce the approach of a vehicle, and without telegraphing to the forebrain for directions, wire on to the walking centre on which side to move. This shows that a large amount of information and knowledge is acquired by the brain, and stored up there to be used in a quiet fashion, without always rousing the full intellectual activities. One can see what a saving of brain work there must be if the brain can act automatically, or sub-consciously, without calling on the forebrain for its aid."  --  "The Brain in Relation to Education Part 2," by A. Wilson, Esq., M.D., in The Parents' Review, Volume 14, 1903, pgs. 435-450

From The Parents' Review: Icky Bugs

 "Now, I labour under one great disadvantage in my present subject, namely, the prejudice which exists in the minds of some against beetles, nay, the very mention of the name produces in them a feeling of creepiness and horror. "What! collect beetles, cockroaches, and earwigs! ugh!" and, perhaps, some fair reader wrings her hands with dismay. She considers those ugly black beetles only fit to be trodden upon. Now, if I had time, I would set up a brief on behalf of these greatly maligned insects, which, I am sure, would lead you to respect them very much. However, at present, you must be content to learn that the cockroach and the earwig are not beetles. I admit, candidly, that both of our old friends just mentioned are very like beetles, and therefore, I must try to give you a good reason--only one out of many--why they are not put into the same class with the beetles. Suppose we had opportunities of watching the development of the eggs of the common earwig, and also those of some common beetle, say the cockchafer. Please don't confuse this with the cockroach. One morning we find that our earwig eggs have hatched; and what do we see? A number of little creatures very like the parent earwig from which they were derived. Just a few slight differences, and that is all. It is a very pretty, and not at all an uncommon sight, to see these little broods of baby-earwigs following their mother about, as chickens do a mother-hen. In a short time, also, our cockchafer eggs hatch, and we see resulting, a few little fat grubs, totally unlike their parent, and, indeed, possessing no resemblance to a beetle at all."  -- "Natural Science Recreations: Beetles," by Rev. A. Thornley, M.A., F.E.S., in The Parents' Review, Volume 3, 1892/93, pgs. 834-840

From The Parents' Review: When the children ask the questions

"Water Babies" is another favourite. As I wish to be veracious I must confess that our little ones like best the classics of the nursery - they have made few new discoveries in the literary heavens. Kingsley's satire is less natural and cheery than Thackeray's, and I don't think the small folk make much of it. But then they are, like all children, wonderfully patient of longueurs, and they wade through disguised sermons on over pressure, and on insanitary cottages, for the sake of the inimitable charm and grace of the story proper, with an impartiality which they will be happy if they maintain to maturer years. Our young philosopher's logical faculty is developing; and I well remember the chuckling glee with which he detailed to me the plausible but fallacious arguments by which Kingsley establishes the existence of the Water-baby. "What do you think about it yourself?" he added, with judicial gravity. -- "Our Children's Book Friends," by Their Sister, in The Parents' Review, Volume 3, 1892/93, pgs. 331-334