Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Some of the Difficulties of Modern Motherhood: A New Parents' Review Article, Part 3 of 4

Part 1 is here
Part 2 is here

Without going so far as the complete separation suggested in this scheme, there is no doubt that the whole tendency of modern life is, for the poor as for the rich, towards an alienation of the children from their parents - Sunday schools, games clubs, free meals, even the "happy evenings for the little ones," what excellent schemes they all are!  Yet I confess that full of admiration as I am for each individually, as a whole, I dread their results.

Nature is a stern economist, and unused powers soon atrophy, and when all the mother work has been taken over by State and Philanthropy, home life will cease to exist, and the best incentive to heroism and self-devotion will disappear, with the last of the old-fashioned mothers.

But the question especially before us in this paper- the question that I am earnestly hoping some other parents will help me to answer, is what ought we mothers of the middle and upper classes to do in this matter? Are we to give up the management of our children altogether to experts in each phase of child life, or are we to "face the music" of professional criticism and insist on doing a certain amount ourselves?  Personally, I do not think there can be any complete or definite answer to this question.  Each mother must decide for herself, what she can and will do for her children, for it is not every woman who can nurse a sick child, or teach a wilful one.  Two things only I venture to plead for. Let us keep some definite share in our children's lives- if we cannot teach them, or nurse them, then at least let us play with them, or work with them, but at any rate, have a real personal share in the young lives, somehow, so that we may not become to our children the mere payers of bills, and adorners of childish garments.

The other definite duty that I should like to urge is that the mother, what ever else she gives up, should at least keep in her own hands the first religious instruction of her children, surely, the God who has knit together with such amazing closeness the lives of child and mother must have intended the first knowledge of Himself to come from her.  No two human beings think of God quite in the same fashion, but by teaching the little ones ourselves we can at least make sure that the first image help up to the childish mind is the noblest and most beautiful we ourselves can conceive. In this case it is really no excuse to say, "I am no good at teaching."  No one need be a professor of theology or a trained instructor to impress upon a child's mind the one great fundamental truth that underlies all true religion- that in all that He says and does and is- God is Love; so that our little ones "being rooted and grounded in love, may be able to comprehend, with all the saints what is the breadth, and length and depths and height- and to know the love of Christ which passeth knowledge."

This one lesson, so simple that the babies can understand it (sometimes they seem to understand it better than their elders) so deep and complicated in connection with the mysteries of sin and suffering and death, that even the wisest of our clever sons can never fully grasp it, this we must face boldly with our children or neglect the greatest opportunity that God has given us; for when a boy learns from his mother's lips, with all her soul's tenderness in voice and eyes, that her love is but a shadow dim and imperfect of the love of God, then he gains an impression of God's love that in beyond all words, and that no one else on earth can ever give to him.

But it may be urged this great lesson does not cover the whole ground of a child's religious education.  That is true, and although I have not the smallest doubt that it would be better for the child to have learnt this lesson, and missed all the rest, than to have learnt all the rest and never mastered this- still there is no reason why the rest should be neglected. Here comes in the difficulty....

To be continued

Background information (from the first part of the article):
Our source for this article: Previously, I shared how the Advisory obtained the Parent's Review volumes which our volunteers have typed for Leslie to put on the website.

Shortly after that blog-post, our volunteers finished typing up the last of the 9 volumes that were in the Advisory's possession.  Providentially, we believe, at that same time one of our AO users shared that another volume was available for sale in England at a charity website.  It was shockingly underpriced (I think about ten pounds), so I scurried over there and bought it.  (I really love the internet, don't you?)  It's volume 19, published in 1908.    You can see the table of contents listed here on our website.

We'll be posting more photographed pages to share for volunteers to type as soon as I can coerce, er, I mean, cajole and convince, my 17 year old to photograph it for us. Her 23 year old sister did the photographing of volume 2 for us and she does physically still live at home, however, she is currently absorbed in college work and wedding plans.  The 17 year old is lobbying for a reduced school schedule in exchange for photography work. (Updated: we had come to an amicable arrangement, and then ran into camera problems, and we are now awaiting a new charger).

In the meantime, I thought I'd share an article that I enjoyed here on the Advisory Blog. I'll be posting it in installments.  I hope you enjoy it as much as I!

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Difficulties of Modern Motherhood, cont.

cont. from this post.
"Has she used them to establish those deep life long bonds of love and sympathy and mutual help and understanding, which should year by year take the place of mere physical or animal affection- or has she, to use the stinging words of Mrs. Lyn-Linton "allowed motherhood to end, where it ought to begin, at the birth of the child, and trusted other women to do for money, what she would not do for love."  Those are bitter words, and like most satirical sayings they are only half-
true.  It may sometimes by laziness, or love of pleasure, that makes the modern mother hand over her children to the care of others, but it is also true that the more conscientious a woman is the more clearly she will see her own deficiencies, and dread the consequence of her possible ignorance or negligence. She may feel most strongly all that a mother ought to be, to her children, and she may most earnestly desire to do all that she can for them, but if she is perpetually being told that there are others more competent than herself to perform each individual duty in the end, she is apt to believe it.  If this is true in health, it is even more insisted upon in illness. Through most of our childish complaints, our mothers nurses us, but the habit of calling in a hospital nurse, the moment there is any serious illness in a household, grows every year.  It may be a wise practise, I am not here prepared to defend or to oppose it, but it certainly does take from mothers almost their last definite opportunity of tender intimacy and personal devotion.  The more dearly a woman loves her children the more earnestly she desires to give the best of everything, but is it not a possible contingency in the present day, that a child who has had the most excellent nurse, and perfect kindergarten and ideal school may yet, by them, be robbed of the best of all- that complete and tender union with his own mother, which only very close personal contact in his early years can assure.   The habit of turning direct to the mother for help and sympathy and counsel is one that very few will undervalue, but it is a habit that must have taken deep root in early years if it is to withstand the strong natural reticence of English nature in later life.

"Love grows by what it feeds on," But if a mother has neither fed, tended, taught, nor nursed her children she has lost much of the natural food of love, and there seems so little room for her in the children's lives that the tie between them may easily dwindle to a mere sentimental one which will be of little practical value in later years, and she may come to feel, with some bitterness, that the very unselfish tenderness, which should have been expended in personal devotion to her little ones, has been used as a motive power to persuade her to stand aside and let others take her place.

This demand "to stand aside" for the good of the child is being made not only on the mothers in our own rank [I believe the upper middle classes and above, WLC], but of late the same process is strongly urged for the children of the poor; it is not long since the Westminster Gazette published a series of very eloquent appeals called the "Cry of the Children."  These letters pressed for the wholesale removal of slum children to the country, where they might grow up amid healthy surroundings, with foster mothers in cottage homes.  Now, green fields, and fresh air, and birds, and flowers, and country food are all good and excellent things, but I venture to think they are not for one single moment to be weighted against a mother's love, and when we talk of "taking the children back to nature" the last lesson we should learn from her would be to part the little ones from those who gave them birth.  The heritage of a poor child in a great city is but a dark and pitiful one, but I think those who know it best would be the first to acknowledge, that often its one glory is the beautiful and unselfish devotion of the poor mother.

It is perhaps the one great compensation for the children of the poor, that they alone may fully know how much their mothers loved them.  The rich mother may do much for her children, but she is not called upon to go hungry that they may be fed, nor cold that they may be warm, nor to work sixteen hours out of the twenty-four, in order to keep the home together, and through the cold and hunger, and unceasing toil are evil things, the love and heroism that they give rise to may be more beautiful and more valuable to the children's hearts, than all the sweet sounds and sights of country life."

To be cont.

From volume 19 of The Parents' Review
Illustrations are taken from a woman's magazine of the same time period

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Life in the Real World After a CM Education

A post-AO perspective by Tim Laurio

A little more than a year ago I graduated from college, married my best friend, and moved to a new city. The year since then has been one of transition: from the life of a high school and college student to the life of a married, working adult. It's been a challenging year, to say the least, but rich and rewarding as well.

It's also been confusing. When I was first invited to write a blog post about life after a Charlotte Mason education, I didn't have the slightest idea what I could say. Life has moved faster than my ability to reflect on it or make sense of it. And things are still changing. For that reason, most of this blog post will be about the transition itself.

In a lot of ways, my transition into adult life has been pretty standard. I graduated from high school, went to college for four years, and got a degree. Now I'm married, I live in the city, and I have a 9-to-5 job at an office. I see friends on the weekends, I watch TV in the evenings, and I go to church most Sundays. I've been having a minor quarter-life crisis, but I also have a lot of exciting new opportunities.

Sounds normal, right? And, in a way, normal is good. It means my education "worked." At twenty-three years old I am a gainfully employed, law-abiding, functioning member of society. I pay my rent on time, I play well with others, and I even have hobbies--all without ever setting foot in the public school system. Of course, there's more to life than jobs and hobbies and a social life. But I would call this a minor success for home education.

That's not to say that the transition has been completely smooth. It's been challenging in a lot of ways. In fact, in one area I think my Charlotte Mason upbringing has actually made the transition harder. Let me explain.

I work in the office of a large internet company, answering emails from customers. The work is easy but repetitive. Charlotte recommended short lessons and varied schedules to keep students' attention from flagging, but none of that is built into a standard work shift. And let me say it now: whatever living ideas do for the mind, repetitive work does the opposite. For the first month or two at my current job, I came home in the evenings feeling like an empty shell. My energy and attention and creativity were sapped. All I wanted to do was sit in front of the TV or go to bed.

The strangest part, at first, was that none of my co-workers seemed to notice. I didn't hear them complaining about how repetitive the work was, or how hard it was to pay attention for hours at a time, or what effect the long, dull days had on their imaginations. After a while I realized: they took all of that for granted. As a CM graduate I expect my work to be fulfilling and to demand my full attention. My public-schooled co-workers, on the other hand, are accustomed to buckling down for long stretches of dull work. They have coping strategies, whether that means zoning out or listening to music or watching YouTube videos in the background. I'm not used to sitting inside at a desk for most of the day, but most of them have probably been doing that since they were six. I'm not used to work that leaves my mind and spirit starved for real food. For them, it seems to be normal.

If that's normal, my education left me woefully unprepared for normal life. Now, maybe that's a bad thing. My lack of conditioning has made for a tough transition, one that--heaven and my wife know--I haven't always handled gracefully. Then again, maybe it's a good thing. I have a different expectation of what "normal" means. I have a full life outside my job, and I've found my own ways to cope with the work itself. I'm allowed to wear headphones while I work, so I've been listening to all sorts of material: music, audiobooks, podcasts, lessons and tutorials on YouTube, the daily news. To top it off, I come home every evening and give my wife a narration about whatever I listened to that day.

Full-time work hasn't dried up my creativity, either. The last year has been incredibly rich and productive, and my Charlotte Mason upbringing has played a huge role in that. For one thing, my wife and I have been developing an original science-fiction series for the indie screen. That means creating characters, developing a world, coming up with stories, planning episodes, refining season arcs, and writing scripts. The project has occupied most of our imaginative headspace for the last two years and it's still our favorite pastime. (If all goes well, we will start filming in a few years--stay tuned!)

I've also been doing a lot with music. Like most Ambleside Online students, I grew up reading great literature and listening to great music, and I fell in love with both. I entered college as an English major with music lessons on the side. Then, about halfway through my degree in English, my love of music turned into a passion. I finished the English major, but I added a music minor, and I decided that I wanted to pursue music seriously.

After graduating, I started teaching myself orchestration and arranging using any means I could get my hands on: online articles, YouTube lessons, orchestration manuals, and lots of careful listening to orchestral music. When we moved to Boston, I joined a couple of choirs and found a part-time position as an accompanist. Soon I had the opportunity to arrange a piece for one of my choirs. And then another piece. And another.

Since then, I've been blessed with a flood of opportunities. I've arranged pieces for choir and orchestra. I've conducted rehearsals and performances of my own arrangements. I've written original compositions, including a song commissioned for a friend's choir and the theme for another friend's web series. I've led a recording session and played in an orchestra. Currently, I'm taking voice lessons, singing in an opera, directing a choir, and scoring an indie film. I'm also researching music schools and planning college applications for a return to school.

Music is a big part of my life now. But my interest in music didn't come out of nowhere. The seed of that relationship was planted as a very young Charlotte Mason student, listening to classical music on the radio and doing composer study and taking piano lessons. The habit of attention and love of learning that I developed as a CM student allowed me to continue pursuing music in college and after I graduated. And that pursuit has opened a wealth of new relationships, experiences, and opportunities.

Once you make a habit of learning, it's hard to stop. I found this to be true with music, certainly, but in my experience it applies to everything. The attitude of attention, once acquired, becomes a constant part of who you are and how you approach the world. The discipline of education really does become a life.

(This was originally posted Nov 2, 2013 on the Childlight USA weblog.)

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Some of the Difficulties of Modern Motherhood: A New Parents' Review Article

This article is from volume 19 of the Parent's Reviews, and it is not yet online at the website.  More about that below.

Some of the Difficulties of Modern Motherhood (part 1)

by L. Nott Bower

There has never been a time when the duties and privileges of motherhood have been more constantly insisted upon than at the present day: every writer, who considers the up-bringing of children, lays a full burden of responsibility on the shoulders of the mother, and while the pastors and masters are more than willing to claim credit for all the successes, among the young folk, it is noticeable, that the failures are almost invariably credited to the mother's account.  She is held responsible for her children's health- for their manners, for their morals, and even for their intellectual achievements in after life. Well and good- like most women- I should be much averse to belittling the influence of my sex; but I confess it does seem strange to me that the very generation that is doing its best- or its worst- to take from mothers all their best opportunities of influencing their children's lives should be the age which has decided to talk most loudly of a mother's influence.  There can, I think, be little doubt that all the tendencies of modern life are towards separation rather than union between mother and child.

Let us begin at the very beginning- when first a woman looks down at the face of her new-born baby, it is with a veritable pride of possession, surely this is her own, as nothing else on earth can ever be. But from the first, she will find all the forces of civilisation leagued together to rob her of her supremacy. Probably the first question will arise concerning the feeding of the baby; it is astonishing, to any one who has glanced at the statistics of infant mortality, to note how light-heartedly doctor and nurse will advise the bringing-up of a child by hand [my note; bottle feeding]. It is sufficient for any little difficulty to arise (and there are unfortunately, few mothers, in these days, who can nurse their babies, with complete physical ease) and a "bottle for the baby" is suggested as cheerfully as though by the use of artificial food all the dangers of infant life were not seriously increased, and one of motherhood's dearest privileges at once surrendered. For the bringing up of a baby by hand not only diminishes the child's first best chance of a healthy life, but also makes it fatally easy to violate that wise law of nature, which decrees that a baby in its first year of life shall never long be absent from his mother's arms.

Next comes the question of a nurse for the child: and on all sides the counsel is practically unanimous to engage a throughly [sic] trained woman. "You would never forgive yourself, if you had not done so, and anything went wrong with your baby." This is an unanswerable argument to a young mother, but the highly trained nurse is an autocrat, who brooks little interference within her nursery, and the more competent she is the more completely will she govern every detail of the baby-life. Many mothers with a "treasure of a nurse," would, if the truth were known, have to please guilty to some secret awe of nurse's wishes, and have often been conscious of being somewhat "on sufferance" in the nursery, whereas surely they ought to be the very centre and mainspring of life in that domain. Then comes the next step. In the last generation it was not unusual for the mother to undertake the early instruction of her children, it was the pride of many busy mothers in the Victorian Era that they had taught all their numerous children to read and write, but this is an age of specialisation, and according to the specialiasts, it is little short of criminal for an unqualified person to attempt the instruction of a child, and I have heard it emphatically stated at an educational meeting, that the last person to teach a child should be its own mother.

So the little one passes from the trained nurse to the trained teacher, and soon- cruelly soon, the claims of the perfect organisation for child-life in the modern boarding-school will begin to be urged. There are so many drawbacks to the bringing-up of children at home, especially in the suburbs- the difficulty of finding a good school within reach, social complications, and perhaps above all, the impossibility of completely compassing that most important item in young life, healthy out-door freedom in play-time, in conjunction with reasonable supervision. No wonder that the mothers, who have visited the charming preparatory schools of the present day, with all their perfect arrangements for work and play, feel that it is impossible to do better for their youngsters than dispatch them to one of them as early as may be. And yet with the beginning of boarding school life, for boys at any rate, a real home life has ceased to exist. They have become rather, visitors, dear and welcome guests for their holidays, and instruction and correction are both a little shirked to avoid spoiling their good time. Many of them, we know, will never be real inmates of the home again. In any case, with the beginning of the boarding-school, the first great chapter of the mother's influence ends.

The question that the modern mother must ask herself is what has she done with those early opportunities?  (to be cont.)

Isn't that bit about the baby in its mother's arms lovely?  And don't the comments about specialization seem just as apt today as they must have been in 1908?  And aren't the comments on boarding schools too sad for words? It will be interesting to see what the author recommends for mothers to do to make the most of those 'early opportunities.'

Our source for this article: Previously, I shared how the Advisory obtained the Parent's Review volumes which our volunteers have typed for Leslie to put on the website.

Shortly after that blog-post, our volunteers finished typing up the last of the 9 volumes that were in the Advisory's possession.  Providentially, we believe, at that same time one of our AO users shared that another volume was available for sale in England at a charity website.  It was shockingly underpriced (I think about ten pounds), so I scurried over there and bought it.  (I really love the internet, don't you?)  It's volume 19, published in 1908.    You can see the table of contents listed here on our website.

We'll be posting more photographed pages to share for volunteers to type as soon as I can coerce, er, I mean, cajole and convince, my 17 year old to photograph it for us. Her 23 year old sister did the photographing of volume 2 for us and she does physically still live at home, however, she is currently absorbed in college work and wedding plans.  The 17 year old is lobbying for a reduced school schedule in exchange for photography work.

In the meantime, I thought I'd share an article that I enjoyed here on the Advisory Blog. I'll be posting it in installments.  I hope you enjoy it as much as I!

Friday, November 1, 2013

Head First?

by Anne White

The following is an unpaid, shameless advertisement for something you may be doing already.

Charlotte Mason warned that heads of schools should be discouraged from taking up her methods "lightly."  We assume that by "lightly" she meant carelessly, without real commitment, or piecemeal.  To use a term she probably would have shuddered at, she wanted educators to go at it whole hog.

Now, there are things it would be a mistake to dive into head first without being quite sure that one knows what one is doing.  Using power tools and trapping skunks come to mind.  However, in other, less high-risk pursuits, it is not only acceptable, but preferable, to jump in all at once.  Dipping your toes in too cautiously means that you may never enjoy the full experience.

Some examples? In the movie Mr. Holland's Opus, the main character describes how he was told by a record-store owner to listen to a certain piece of music.  He didn't like it, didn't get it.  When he complained, he was told to go home and listen to it again.  After several sessions of simply listening, something finally clicked, and what had been beyond his understanding started to make sense.  Mr. Holland  also has a struggling clarinet student who "practices constantly" but gets nowhere.  He helps her break through by making her put the book away and just play along with the piano.  For the first time ever, she jumps completely into the music, and then experiences new confidence in other areas of her life as well.

David V. Hicks,  in Norms and Nobility, contrasts two piano teachers he knew as a child.  His friend's teacher had young students memorize Mozart pieces.  His own teacher, more in touch with how modern children were supposed to learn, used graded exercises and fun, hands-on activities.  He says that his friend, who initially balked and struggled, was nevertheless playing Chopin and other difficult composers within a few years, while he himself never got beyond a simple arrangement of "The Lone Ranger."

In How to Read a Book, Mortimer J. Adler recommends reading even difficult books straight through the first time, not worrying about the parts you don't understand.  Because if you get bogged down with details, you may never finish.  And if you try to avoid that by reading only books you already understand completely, you'll learn nothing.  That may well apply to Charlotte Mason's volumes.  It can also apply to the Bible, to poetry, to Shakespeare, to Plutarch.  Norms and Nobility itself often makes me reach for a dictionary or an online explanation; but I learn more when I try to work out its philosophical points for myself.

But if we understand how that can help our own learning, do we allow our students the same opportunity?  Do we sometimes read poetry simply for the sound, the rhythm, the enjoyment?  Do we read books, or show paintings, to children that are a little, or a lot, beyond what they're supposed to like or appreciate?  Do we allow them sometimes not to comprehend every point, define every word?  Do we let them experience the satisfaction of what they do understand, along with a useful prickling of dissatisfaction that tells them they haven't quite arrived, that there's something still to reach for?

Norms and Nobility mentions the way certain ancient Greek teachers approached books and learning.  Like the old-style piano teachers, they didn't hesitate to plunk down something hard and say "read it, learn it, take a stand on it." How else could the young people learn how to think like adults? And besides, after mastering one super-tough book, everything afterwards would seem easy!

Deciding to take the CM plunge?

Go right in.  Head first.  And bring the children.