Monday, September 3, 2018

Challenge 3

Challenge 1 is here. We read about Undine and a bit about the difference between interest in lessons and ardour for knowledge.

  Challenge 2 is here. We read about some of Miss Mason's principles.

Here we are with Challenge 3!  We will continue reading from volume VI:
 Miss Mason is writing shortly after WW1 and several years before WW2. Just as she previously used the story of Undine as an illustration for one aspect of her philosophy, now she compares and contrasts German and English approaches to education and the human mind.

 She is particularly concerned that education not be made utilitarian- a word I do not think we understand as Miss Mason understood it. So forgive me if I digress a moment to give some historical background:
 "a tradition stemming from the late 18th- and 19th-century English philosophers and economists Jeremy Bentham and John Stuart Mill according to which an action is right if it tends to promote happiness and wrong if it tends to produce the reverse of happiness—not just the happiness of the performer of the action but also that of everyone affected by it. Such a theory is in opposition to egoism, the view that a person should pursue his own self-interest, even at the expense of others, and to any ethical theory that regards some acts or types of acts as right or wrong independently of their consequences"

 "Bentham and Mill both believed that human actions are motivated entirely by pleasure and pain, and Mill saw that motivation as a basis for the argument that, since happiness is the sole end of human action, the promotion of happiness is the test by which to judge all human conduct."
  taken from here. 
 Keep that definition of utilitarianism in mind as you read the next section from Mason's sixth volume:

 "We fail to recognize that as the body requires wholesome food and cannot nourish itself upon any substance so the mind too requires meat after its kind.(emphasis added)  If the War (World War 1) taught nothing else it taught us that men are spirits, that the spirit, mind, of a man is more than his flesh, that his spirit is the man, that for the thoughts of his heart he gives the breath of his body. As a consequence of this recognition of our spiritual nature, the lesson for us at the moment is that the great thoughts, great events, great considerations, which form the background of our national thought, shall be the content of the education we pass on. The educational thought we hear most about is, as I have said, based on sundry Darwinian axioms, out of which we get the notion that nothing matters but physical fitness and vocational training. However important these are, they are not the chief thing. A century ago when Prussia was shipwrecked in the Napoleonic wars it was discovered that not Napoleon but Ignorance was the formidable national enemy; a few philosophers took the matter in hand, and history, poetry, philosophy, proved the salvation of a ruined nation, because such studies make for the development of personality, public spirit, initiative, the qualities of which the State was in need, and which most advance individual happiness and success. On the other hand, the period when Germany made her school curriculum utilitarian marks the beginning of her moral downfall. History repeats itself. There are interesting rumours afloat of how the students at Bonn, for example, went in solemn procession to make a bonfire of French novels, certain prints, articles of luxury and the like; things like these had brought about the ruin of Germany and it was the part of the youth to save her now as before. Are they to have another Tugendbund?" 

 Note: The Tugendbund was a semi-secret society, loosely connected with a Masonic lodge, formed in response to the Napoleon empire for the purpose of reforming German society and freeing parts of what is now Germany from French control. According to Sparknotes,

"In June 1808, professors in Konigsberg started an anti-French, Prussian nationalist movement called the "Moral and Scientific Union", or Tugenbund (League of Virtue). Prussian national pride soared, the nation increased its resolve to fight Napoleon, and Prussia became a focal point for German nationalism." The members of the Tugendbund sought physical and military superiority in order to fight the French and win back the land they believed was rightly Prussia's. Toward that end it was utilitarian in nature, as the goal of all reforms and improvements was ultimately military strength as a nation.)
So Mason is concerned that this might be the direction Germany is heading again, and she does not want this for any country, and especially not for her own.  Rather than a 'Tugenbund,' she says,

 "We want an education which shall nourish the mind while not neglecting either physical or vocational training; in short, we want a working philosophy of education. 

I think that we of the P.N.E.U. have arrived at such a body of theory, tested and corrected by some thirty years of successful practice with thousands of children. This theory has already been set forth in volumes [The Home Education Series] published at intervals during the last thirty-five years; so I shall indicate here only a few salient points which seem to me to differ from general theory and practice,––
 (a) The children, not the teachers, are the responsible persons; they do the work by self-effort. 
 (b) The teachers give sympathy and occasionally elucidate, sum up or enlarge, but the actual work is done by the scholars. 
 (c) These read in a term one, or two, or three thousand pages, according to their age, school and Form, in a large number of set books. 
The quantity set for each lesson allows of only a single reading; but the reading is tested by narration, or by writing on a test passage. 
When the terminal examination is at hand so much ground has been covered that revision [review] is out of the question; what the children have read they know, and write on any part of it with ease and fluency, in vigorous English; they usually spell well.

 Much is said from time to time to show that 'mere book-learning' is rather contemptible, and that "Things are in the saddle and ride mankind." May I point out that whatever discredit is due to the use of books does not apply to this method, which so far as I can discover has not hitherto been employed.

 Has an attempt been made before on a wide scale to secure that scholars should know their books, many pages in many books, at a single reading, in such a way that months later they can write freely and accurately on any part of the term's reading?"

Another editorial comment here- it is my opinion that she is rather specific about which part of her method has not hitherto been employed- it's not the whole approach, it's not the books used, it's not the subjects- it's the single reading and the method that ensures they can call to mind the material from that single reading months later.
 She continues with the parts of her approach which she believes differ most sharply from the educational practices more common in schools in her day:

 "(d) There is no selection of studies, or of passages or of episodes, on the ground of interest. The best available book is chosen and is read through perhaps in the course of two or three years. 

 (e) The children study many books on many subjects, but exhibit no confusion of thought, and 'howlers' are almost unknown.

 (f) They find that, in Bacon's phrase, "Studies serve for delight"; this delight being not in the lessons or the personality of the teacher, but purely in their 'lovely books,' 'glorious books.'

 (g) The books used are, whenever possible, literary in style. 

 (h) Marks, prizes, places, rewards, punishments, praise, blame, or other inducements are not necessary to secure attention, which is voluntary, immediate and surprisingly perfect. 

 (i) The success of the scholars in what may be called disciplinary subjects, such as Mathematics and Grammar, depends largely on the power of the teacher, though the pupils' habit of attention is of use in these too.

 (j) No stray lessons are given on interesting subjects; the knowledge the children get is consecutive." 

You might pause a minute or two here and try to narrate.
 One easy but effective idea is to set a timer for 3-5 minutes and write down as much as you can remember as quickly as you can.
You could make a list of the points that seem to you most important to remember, that you want most to apply.
 Or you could make a list of anything that stood out to you as quite surprising.
 Make a note of questions you have or things you want to think about more.

 Don't spend too long on this.   I don't want you to get bogged down.  I just want you to practice applying Mason's methods and to think about some of the key ideas in this method.  Come back and read more when you've written down some thoughts (you can jot them in the comments below if you like!) and when you have time to read more.

  Mason continues, pointing out the advantageous results she's seen with this method:

 "The unusual interest children show in their work, their power of concentration, their wide, and as far as it goes, accurate knowledge of historical, literary and some scientific subjects, has challenged attention and the general conclusion is that these are the children of educated and cultivated parents. It was vain to urge that the home schoolroom does not usually produce remarkable educational results; but the way is opening to prove that the power these children show is common to all children; at last there is hope that the offspring of working-class parents may be led into the wide pastures of a liberal education. Are we not justified in concluding that singular effects must have commensurate causes, and that we have chanced to light on unknown tracts in the region of educational thought. At any rate that GOLDEN RULE of which Comenius was in search has discovered itself, the RULE, "WHEREBY TEACHERS SHALL TEACH LESS AND SCHOLARS SHALL LEARN MORE."

That's quite an impressive list of results, yes?
For those wondering, " Who was Comenius?" A Czech educator and churchman born in 1592 According to Wikipedia, "was a Czech philosopher, pedagogue and theologian from the Margraviate of Moravia and is considered the father of modern education. He served as the last bishop of Unity of the Brethren and became a religious refugee and one of the earliest champions of universal education, a concept eventually set forth in his book Didactica Magna. As an educator and theologian, he led schools and advised governments across Protestant Europe through the middle of the seventeenth century. Comenius was the innovator who first introduced pictorial textbooks, written in native language instead of Latin, applied effective teaching based on the natural gradual growth from simple to more comprehensive concepts, supported lifelong learning and development of logical thinking by moving from dull memorization, presented and supported the idea of equal opportunity for impoverished children, opened doors to education for women, and made instruction universal and practical. Besides his native Bohemian Crown, he lived and worked in other regions of the Holy Roman Empire, and other countries: Sweden, the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, Transylvania, England, the Netherlands and Hungary." Comenius was searching for an educational principle or method by which the students did more of the learning and teachers did less teaching- and Charlotte says she's found it.

 She read widely and deeply and did not develop her ideas without reference to these who went before her. She continues, further distinguishing the touches that she thinks are unique to her method:
"Let me now outline a few of the educational principles which account for unusual results.  

III PRINCIPLES HITHERTO UNRECOGNIZED OR DISREGARDED I have enumerated some of the points in which our work is exceptional in the hope of convincing the reader that unusual work carried on successfully in hundreds of schoolrooms––home and other––is based on principles hitherto unrecognized. The recognition of these principles should put our national education on an intelligent basis and should make for general stability, joy in living, and personal initiative." 

There is a somewhat silly notion passed about recently that Mason intended volume VI to be read only by those who were already familiar with her methods and who had already read all of her previous five volumes on education. There are many reasons why we can see this isn't so from her own words. The above section is one of them- she wouldn't need to explain these educational principles or convince the reader that 'unusual work is being carried out successfully' if her intended audience was only those who had already read the previous volumes.

 That last sentence is quite the high standard, isn't it?  When I am reading for personal study, that is the sort of thing I like to underline, highlight, or make a note of in the margins.

 "Education built on an intelligent basis."   Some of the goals for that education include: general (i.e. national) stability, joy in living, personal initiative. Hmmm. I find that when I compile such lists it gives me new ways of assessing what I'm doing, and new ways of thinking about how to work toward those ends, a clearer understanding of Mason's own goals and ideas.  Isn't it sad that some people consider this elitist? How far we've fallen.

 Mason continues, and here's another section rich with ideas to list, highlight, enumerate, underline, and think about:

 "May I add one or two more arguments in support of my plea,–– The appeal is not to the clever child only, but to the average and even to the 'backward' child."

['backward' child is very jarring to the modern ear, and even hurtful. It was the best term they had at the time for the child who lagged behind his age-mates for reasons they didn't fully understand. Don't let the Victorianisms and Edwardianisms get in the way of understanding the timeless principles.]

 "This scheme is carried out in less time than ordinary school work on the same subjects. There are no revisions (reviewing), no evening lessons, no cramming or 'getting up' of subjects; therefore there is much time whether for vocational work or interests or hobbies. All intellectual work is done in the hours of morning school, and the afternoons are given to field nature studies, drawing, handicrafts, etc. Notwithstanding these limitations the children produce a surprising amount of good intellectual work. No homework is required. It is not that 'we' (of the P.N.E.U.) are persons of peculiar genius; it is that, like Paley's man who found the watch, "we have chanced on a good thing."

Paley was an anti-Darwinist who presented the idea that if we stumble on a watch on the moor, we know that a designer of that watch is involved, and the natural world is complex and intricate enought that it indicates enough evidence of a designer as well.  Charlotte seems to be saying that these ideas are not original to her, they already existed, they are part of the wisdom built into the world by its Designer, and she and her fellow PNEU persons have found what God has already placed- like discovering gravity or the gulf stream.

 "'No gain that I experience must remain unshared.'
 We feel that the country and indeed the world should have the benefit of educational discoveries which act powerfully as a moral lever, for we are experiencing anew the joy of the Renaissance, but without its pagan lawlessness." 

Educational discoveries which bring joy as well as act as a moral lever.   Wow!!  Think about that for a moment or two, at least.

 * Regarding my bad habit of interrupting your reading with my commentary, it's probably okay. “Van den Broek, Tzeng, Risden, Trabasso, and Basche (2001) studied the effects of influential reading comprehension questioning on students in the fourth, seventh, and tenth grades, as well as on college undergraduates. They found that questions posed during the reading of the text aided in shifting attention to specific information for older and more proficient readers. However, it interfered with the comprehension of the fourth- and seventh-grade students, who performed better when the questions came after, not during, the reading." (Fisher, Frey & Hattie, 2016, p. 38) Isn't that amazing? This is why we don't interrupt our students to have them answer questions in the middle of a reading- we read an episode, ask for a narration at the end, then,if we have any questions or comments we can add them. But for 'older, more proficient readers,' and I presume that includes all y'all, we can handle the little interruptions and can even benefit from them!

Well, that was a lot of reading.  What shall we do with it?

Here are a few questions- you can come up with your own questions (and answers), these are just suggestions for those who prefer to get a bit of a jump-start:

Mason talks about educating the poor Miners' children with these ideas.  who would be the equivilant of the Miners' children today? Are there any?

What are some of her claims for this method that you'd like to see in your families?

What does she mean by no selection on the basis of interest, and lessons in consecutive order?

Mason talks about each of these pieces of education (narrating, single readings, living books, etc) as part of the unified whole where teachers do less and learners do more of their own work of learning.  Homeschoolers are fiercely independent and we like to take things apart and put them back together in our own way- but sometimes, I think we take apart things before we fully understand their purpose and how they work together and what the parts are even supposed to do- so when we put things back together we end up with a different sort of whatcha-ma-callit that doesn't do everything we expected it to do.  If you are able to, consider putting back in something you've been leaving out and see how that works.  Ask some CM veterans if they know the purpose of this gear or that whats-it, and what might happen if you discard it.

Mason says the content of her education must be "great thoughts, great events, great considerations."  If this is true, what does it say for the notion that it doesn't matter what children read so long as they are reading?  Could we substitute Wisdom and the Millers for Pilgrim's Progress and expect the same results?  It's okay if something your child reads is obscure to him, if there are things he does not understand.  Elsewhere, she points out that we usually get far more out of a story we have to think about, ponder, and dig a bit in order to understand it. 

Keep in mind that Mason is talking about end results while many of you may be in your first year of homeschooling using her methods.  That could be discouraging if you expect to find these same pleasant results at the end of the first week rather than playing the long game and working toward them at the end of the year, or maybe even next year.

What do you think is meant by the following:  "The teachers give sympathy and occasionally elucidate, sum up or enlarge, but the actual work is done by the scholars?"  How might that look in one of your lessons?

If you have not joined the forum yet, give it a shot.  Once you've joined, you might dip your feet in at entry level by just looking at the most recent posts of the day- click on the button toward the top right of center that says 'View Today's Posts', then scroll down and see what people are talking about.

Have you read Leslie's Patio Chats?  These are short vitamin bursts of CM information that will take less than 20 minutes to read.  You could subscribe to them at the forum:

Continue singing at least twice this week- do you notice any change in the atmosphere of your school after singing?  Add singing to a third day of your week.  You could sing after a math lesson, while getting out the history or science books, or while transitioning from Bible to Literature.  It's a good way to clear the mind for the next subject.  Here's my folksong playlist for this year.

Go outside.  Pick any two plants you see and compare their: stems, leaves, and flowers if they have them.  Notice the shape of the leaves, as well as their placement on the stem- are they in opposite pairs, or do they alternate? Or do they sort of form a whorled pattern around the stem?  Are the leaves serrated at the edge, jagged like a saw or a steakknife?  Deep edges or small notches?  How many petals do the flowers have? What is their shape? What do the centers look like.?Only after you have noticed the different characteristics and the distinct characteristics of each plant should you attempt to identify it.  You can take a photograph of it and post it to our FB group, or there is a plant ID group on FB you could join.  Try and sketch them- remember the *process* is what is important here, not your artistic skill.  When you try to sketch them, see if you don't notice additional details you might have missed the first time.

If you are interested in or intimidated by Shakespeare and you have already joined the forum, you might want to read (and maybe join in!) the discussion of Twelfth Night!  You have to be signed in for this link to work

Mapwork help!  This thread is gold- how to create your own maps for your students using Google!

Digging Deeper, for those who want and have time for more:
Read Mortimer Adler on why we read great books.

Read more about the Prussian school model and how it compares to the American public school system today.

Parents' Review articles:

on Children and Books

Home-Training and Right Habits of Mind- starting from babyhood.

Parents as Inspirers

PNEU Principles as illustrated by teaching: ""We believe in an "open-door policy" for our children; the larger and nobler an idea, the more fit are the children to receive it, for their hearts and minds are like a great open porch, not yet bricked up by prejudices.
We therefore adopt a time-table calculated to give ideas and experiences in as many branches of our relationships as possible.
We don't want, for example, to teach children "all about Africa" in their geography lessons, we want to give them such ideas of the dawning continent as will send them to books of travel, and later to the place itself, to view its panoramas or take their share in its future destinies.... But the children are not to sit still and merely passively receive ideas.
No lesson is valuable which does not promote self-activity by making the child think, exercising its powers of narration or reproduction, or laying the ground-work for some future mental habit, making the idea given a well-spring of activity.
We can judge then of the value of a lesson by the amount of work which it gives the children to do.
There is therefore in a really good lesson only one place for the teacher, and that is the background.""

The Educational Value of Great Books: Homer


  1. I love the entire "article," but this nugget is gold:
    "Homeschoolers are fiercely independent and we like to take things apart and put them back together in our own way- but sometimes, I think we take apart things before we fully understand their purpose and how they work together and what the parts are even supposed to do- so when we put things back together we end up with a different sort of whatcha-ma-callit that doesn't do everything we expected it to do. If you are able to, consider putting back in something you've been leaving out and see how that works. Ask some CM veterans if they know the purpose of this gear or that whats-it, and what might happen if you discard it."

  2. Thank you for doing this series. I am about a week behind your posting, but really enjoying it. I haven't really forced myself to write a narration regularly--I only do it when I feel like it. Wow, it's hard to narrate on command! (lol) My dear children have known this for years!!

    I also liked what Dawn quoted above. There's a trend right now, too, to add a lot of "riches" that are great, but not really part of the original whatcha-ma-callit. I've tried a lot of it and found I lost time for depth and wondering and following our own questions. It was hectic and frenzied and it wasn't worth it. This year I have come back to the basics, just doing what's planned in the AO Term and leaving a lot of time for conversation and ideas to work quietly in our minds. I've found we all like less more. :)
    I came across this verse this summer while I was agonizing over how this year was going to look:
    2 Corinthians 10:12:
    For we are not bold to class or compare ourselves with some of those who commend themselves; but when they measure themselves by themselves and compare themselves with themselves, they are without understanding.

    I was definitely behaving without understanding in measuring and comparing myself with what I thought others were doing. It's wonderful to walk in the freedom of Christ this year.

    In what we read last week and this week CM refuted the ideas of a educating for a material goal (utilitarian & vocational education). How often we hear, "I have never used algebra! It was such a waste of time!" First of all, either those people don't know what algebra is, or there is an easier way to adapt the servings of a recipe that I'm missing out on, because I use algebra in the kitchen regularly. :) But, seriously, it's not the point if you use algebra or not (or Latin or Poetry, or whatever your disliked subject is), we educate the whole person and train the student to be able to interact with a broad range of subjects. If they become a business owner or a train engineer is not within our realm of consideration. Our consideration is that our students are human souls, learning to care about God and man. So all subjects are valuable. And all people are invited into the "wide pastures of a liberal education."
    I love that! What beautiful, inspirational pictures Charlotte paints for us to aspire to!
    Thanks again, I'm getting a lot of of this. :)