Monday, December 7, 2015

Some Christmas Thoughts from Charlotte Mason

Excerpted from Parents and Children, abridged and edited by Karen Glass

It takes the presence of children to help us to realise the idea of the Eternal Child. The Dayspring is with the children, and we think their thoughts and are glad in their joy; and every mother knows out of her own heart's fulness what the Birth at Bethlehem means. Those of us who have not children catch echoes. We hear the wondrous story read in church, the church-bells echo it, and our hearts are meek and mild, glad and gay, loving and tender, as those of little children; but, alas, only for the little while occupied by the passing thought. Too soon the dreariness of daily living settles down upon us again, and we become a little impatient, do we not, of the Christmas demand of joyousness.

But it is not so where there are children. The old, old story has all its first freshness as we tell it to the eager listeners; as we listen to it ourselves with their vivid interest it becomes as real and fresh to us as it is to them. What a mystery it is! Does not every mother who holds a babe in her arms feel with tremulous awe that, that deep saying is true for her also, 'The same is my mother'? [Matt 12:50; Mark 3:35]

In [the little child] is the light and life of Christ; and every birth is a message of salvation, and a reminder that we, too, must humble ourselves and become as little children. This is, perhaps, the real secret of the world's progress––that every babe comes into the world with an evangel, which witnesses of necessity to his parents' hearts. That we, too, are children, the children of God, that He would have us be as children, is the message that the newborn child never fails to bear, however little we heed, or however soon we forget. The note of childhood is, before all things, humility. An old and saintly writer has a luminous thought on this subject of humility.

'There never was nor ever will be, but one humility in the whole world, and that is the humility of Christ, which never any man, since the fall of Adam has the least degree of but from Christ. Humility is one, in the same sense and truth that Christ is one, the Mediator is one, Redemption is one . . . There are not two Lambs of God that take away the sins of the world. But if there was any humility besides that of Christ, there would be something else besides him that could take away the sins of the world.' [William Law.]

Our common notion of humility is inaccurate. We regard it as a relative quality. We humble ourselves to this one and that, bow to the prince and lord it over the peasant. This is why the grace of humility does not commend itself even to ourselves in our most sincere moods, but this misconception confuses our thought on an important subject. For humility is absolute, not relative. It is by no means a taking of our place among our fellows according to a given scale, some being above us by many grades and others as far below. There is no reference to above or below in the humble soul, which is equally humble before an infant, a primrose, a worm, a beggar, a prince.

Humility does not think much or little of itself; it does not think of itself at all. It is a negative rather than a positive quality, being an absence of self-consciousness rather than the presence of any distinctive virtue. The person who is unaware of himself is capable of all lowly service, of all suffering for others, of bright cheerfulness under all the small crosses and worries of everyday life.

The Christian religion is, in its very nature, objective. It offers for our worship, reverence, service, adoration and delight, a Divine Person, the Desire of the world. Simplicity, happiness and expansion come from the outpouring of a human heart upon that which is altogether worthy. But we mistake our own needs, are occupied with our own falls and our own repentances, our manifold states of consciousness. Our religion is subjective first, and after that, so far as we are able, objective. The order should rather be objective first and after that, so far as we have any time or care to think about ourselves, subjective.

Now, the tendency of children is to be altogether objective, not at all subjective, and perhaps that is why they are said to be first in the kingdom of heaven. This philosophic distinction is not one which we can put aside as having no bearing on everyday life. It strikes the keynote for the training of children. In proportion as our training tends to develop the subjective principle, it tends to place our children on a lower level of purpose, character, and usefulness throughout their lives; while so far as we develop the objective principle, with which the children are born, we make them capable of love, service, heroism, worship.

This kind cometh forth only by prayer, but it is well to clear our thoughts and know definitely what we desire for our children, because only so can we work intelligently towards the fulfilment of our desire.

During each coming festival of the Eternal Child, may parents ponder how best to keep their own children in the blessed child-estate, recollecting that the humility which Christ commends in the children is what may be described, philosophically, as the objective principle as opposed to the subjective, and that, in proportion as a child becomes self-regardful in any function of his being, he loses the grace of humility. This is the broad principle; the practical application will need constant watchfulness and constant efforts, especially in holiday seasons, to keep friends and visitors from showing their love for the children in any way that shall tend to develop self-consciousness.

This, of humility, is not only a counsel of perfection, but is, perhaps, the highest counsel of perfection and when we put it to parents, we offer it to those for whom no endeavour is too difficult, no aim too lofty; to those who are doing the most to advance the Kingdom of Christ.

(Read the unedited chapter here.)

Saturday, November 21, 2015

What I learned from a tree ornament

by Anne White

November is my annual crafting, making, planning for holidays month. As I was putting ideas together, I saw these patchwork tree ornaments linked from Sew Mama Sew's Handmade Holidays, and thought they didn't look too difficult.


Photo below: the almost-finished disastrous first attempt. If it doesn't look that awful, that's just because the photo's a bit blurred.
I put that pattern aside for a week or so while I worked on other things. Then I made a second try.
Sewing these ornaments made me think of several Charlotte Mason principles.

1.  In many parts of life, hit-or-miss is good enough. In this case, it didn't work well. The first time around, I thought I would save time by folding rectangles in half and then snipping across (to make squares), and eyeballing the seam allowances. The second time, I cut paper patterns for each required piece, and marked the patterns with quarter-inch seam allowances as well. No more missing tree points and crooked borders. Everything lined up the way it was supposed to. Should I have been surprised?

But it's not just about practicing attention and accuracy. It's about commitment to the method. It would have been easy to say the pattern was not right or too hard, just because my first try didn't work. I didn't become that much better a sewer in one week. What made the difference? Having faith in the image that was presented, and following all the instructions.

2.  Just because something's free doesn't mean it's the best choice. For the first ornaments, I used a scrap of red holiday-print fabric for the borders, and another green and red print for the backing fabric. (I was very limited in what I had to use, but I thought it should be red because the original was red.) The print turned out to be too scattered for the small area, and the backing fabric didn't match very well. The second time, I had been to the store and picked up a quarter-yard of brown print with tiny hearts, for both borders and backing. It looks much nicer, even though it wasn't sold as a "Christmas" fabric.
3. But it's okay to mix new and vintage materials. The white sections in both sets of ornaments are a scrap of old white percale sheet, the last remaining piece after using it for other projects over a couple of years (it was a really big sheet). I found that the percale had an interesting quirk: any holes made in the fabric, such as needle marks made in the wrong place, were very noticeable and couldn't be smoothed over. It was a strong encouragement to do it right the first time.

4. Iron, iron, iron. Kind of like narrate, narrate, narrate.

5. New challenges are how you grow, and just because a first attempt at a new book doesn't go well, it doesn't mean that you or your students are failures, or that the book is bad. In this case, I'm glad I came across that new fabric that inspired me to try again. I learned from the first failures. (But don't expect me to hang them on the Christmas tree as an object lesson.)

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Speaking as a caterpillar

And the Caterpillar talked all the rest of her life to her relations of the time when she should be a Butterfly. 
But none of them believed her. She nevertheless had learnt the Lark's lesson of faith, and when she was going into her chrysalis grave, she said–"I shall be a Butterfly some day!"
But her relations thought her head was wandering, and they said, "Poor thing!"
And when she was a Butterfly, and was going to die again, she said–
"I have known many wonders–I have faith–I can trust even now for what shall come next!"
(Margaret Gatty,  "A Lesson of Faith" in Parables from Nature
Last weekend I had the chance to speak to a group of CM people about vision...having a vision for education, for families, for the future. It was only later that I made the connection with the subtitle of Minds More Awake: The Vision of Charlotte Mason. But it all comes from the same place. Having just sat through a dramatization of "A Lesson of Faith," it was almost impossible anyway not to be thinking along those lines.

There's one point in the story that I had never considered much: that of the cabbage leaf itself.
"New, news, glorious news, friend Caterpillar!" sang the Lark; "... I will tell you what these little creatures are to eat"–and the Lark nodded his beak towards the eggs. "What do you think it is to be? Guess!"
"Dew, and the honey out of flowers, I am afraid," sighed the Caterpillar.
"No such thing, old lady! Something simpler than that. Something that you can get at quite easily."
"I can get at nothing quite easily but cabbage-leaves," murmured the Caterpillar, in distress.
"Excellent! my good friend," cried the Lark exultingly; "you have found it out. You are to feed them with cabbage-leaves."
One of the other speakers at the retreat described what happened when their church-planting ministry decided to drop fancy Bible study materials and focus on the book itself. Something that they could get at quite easily. She described the power of this approach not only on the mission field, but, shockingly, back in Canada as well. Charlotte Mason mentioned a "smoke and water feast"; Mrs. Gatty spoke of dew and nectar, but it's the same thing: we worry over what we can't provide, when the cabbage leaves are all around us.

Some day I'll be a butterfly. For the time being, I'm a caterpillar. I need to be in relationship with my cabbage-leaf universe, and to nourish others from the stuff that is right under our noses sensory receptors.

It is glorious news.

Thursday, October 22, 2015

I Dare You (Charlotte Mason is powerful, Part IV)

by Anne White

Part I is here
Part II is here
Part III is here
"'You got to be kidding,' he said...'You want both sides of the paper for homework?' His voice cracked in disbelief midway through the question...Marva said, 'When your mother gives you dinner, do you want only half a chop?'" (Marva Collins' Way)
Charlotte Mason used the word "stultifies" to describe the well-meant attempt to bring the world down to a child's level, to make everything easy, controlled, regular, and predictable. She said that by doing this, we underestimate, degrade, even steal from the children in our care.
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." (Head First?, posted here in 2013)
This statement flies in the face of all we know, all we have been told over the past century-plus about learning and teaching. Particularly all we were ever told by the Herbartians. The cloud of classical witnesses, on the other hand, may be looking on knowingly.

We can't expect students to learn everything about everything, or even something about everything. But they can learn the things that matter about things that matter. This does not mean we allow them to overspecialize, or to go as far as Sherlock Holmes in selectivity:
His ignorance was as remarkable as his knowledge. Of contemporary literature, philosophy and politics he appeared to know next to nothing. Upon my quoting Thomas Carlyle, he inquired in the naivest way who he might be and what he had done. My surprise reached a climax, however, when I found incidentally that he was ignorant of the Copernican Theory and of the composition of the Solar System. That any civilized human being in this nineteenth century should not be aware that the earth travelled round the sun appeared to be to me such an extraordinary fact that I could hardly realize it.
"You appear to be astonished," he said, smiling at my expression of surprise. "Now that I do know it I shall do my best to forget it." (A Study in Scarlet)
And the way, it seems, to let them learn the things that matter, is to allow them to balk and struggle a bit, as (for instance) many of our children did at first when studying Plutarch's Lives, or Charles Kingsley's books, or Parables from Nature. We give them something tough--not completely unchewable or unpalatable, but more solid than they are used to--and we bring them into the ages-old circle of listeners; we make them part of the "membership." Those who are allowed only to approach by baby steps, it seems, are the ones who will find themselves locked out, powerless.* How will they "increase their power of observation" if nothing demands to be looked at? How can they learn to reason without hearing reason? How can they develop what Martha Nussbaum calls "daring imagination" if they are never given that dare?

Our desire is not to abuse children (as someone said, "suffer, little children"). Nobody wants to see their child in tears over a book (although several, reportedly, have wept over the Battle of Hastings). But as serious sports coaches know that there will be no success without tough training, we count it as abuse of adult power if we do not allow them the chance to join the conversation.
"'I am not going to give up on you. I am not going to let you give up on yourself. If you sit there leaning against this wall all day, you are going to end up leaning on something or someone all your life. And all that brilliance bottled up inside you will go to waste...' Marva's highest aim as a teacher was to endow her students with the will to learn for themselves." (Marva Collins' Way)

* (Those studying Charlotte Mason's volumes may want to look at her story of the Grenfell twins in the Supplementary section of Philosophy of Education.)

Monday, October 19, 2015

Charlotte Mason is powerful (Part III)

by Anne White

In the book Marva Collins' Way, the first chapter begins with a description of the first day of school in Mrs. Collins' class, about forty years ago. She did not begin the school year with a game; she began with the words "The first thing we are going to do in here, children, is an awful lot of believing in ourselves." Then she handed out copies of Emerson's "Self-Reliance."

Now we may not all be great fans of Emerson, or think that his essays are an essential part of the second grade curriculum; but Marva Collins had a point. She also had something in common with Charlotte Mason, who insisted that true education was self-education. Self-reliance, strengthening the will, thinking independently (while still recognizing responsibility and duty); knowing that "I can": these were essential goals of a CM education.

Look at some of the goals given in the Notes of Lessons:

To train the pupils to think independently and to cultivate their constructive powers. 
To make the children think, by setting them questions which they cannot answer merely from their book
To increase the children's power of rapid mental work
To increase their power of reasoning and attention
To increase their power of observation
To exercise their reasoning powers
To increase their powers of narration & imagination
To increase their power of reflection by encouraging them to trace the Latin origin of words in our own language
To assist the cultivation of the pupils' mental habits [powers] of attention, promptness, and accuracy
To teach the girls self-reliance (through physical exercise)
To make the children use their common sense by giving approximate answers
To draw out their originality by letting them make designs for themselves.
To give the children exercise in judging various lengths and in drawing straight lines
To give practice in the choosing and laying on of colour 
To get the pupils to arrive at the rules by the investigation of examples
To improve E's reading [so he can do more for himself]
To enlarge his vocabulary [see above]
To increase the girls' knowledge of [the literary subject, Latin grammar, etc.]
To facilitate their translation [i.e. to give them more power in this]
To stimulate interest in algebra by showing how easily many problems may be solved.[i.e. showing them that they can solve problems]
To give the pupils an interest in Latin translation, and help them to attack it in the right way [similar to the previous goal] 
To give training to the ear
To draw from the children all that they have observed for themselves about [some aspect of nature] 
To give a greater appreciation of beauty
To help to train their hands in firmness and deftness
To teach him to use his fingers more easily, and be neater in his work
To enable the children to copy a basket by looking at it 
To establish relations with the past
To connect the past with the present.
To connect the lesson with the history they are doing.
To help the children look upon the separate battles as parts of one campaign
To help them to connect all the facts they know about [a historical figure]
To show how closely literature and history are linked together and how the one influences the other
To increase the girls' love of good literature [and their power to access it]
To inspire them with a desire to study zoology on their own account, both in books and from life
To paint berries.

There is much we could discuss about these, but much of it comes down to this: we want children to be able to. And to know that they are able to.

There are two children's books by Rumer least two...that relate to these ideas: The Fairy Doll, and Miss Happiness and Miss Flower. Both books deal with children who feel that they can't do things, don't fit in. Elizabeth in The Fairy Doll and Nona in Miss Happiness come out of their "stuck places" through acts of doing: making a fairy house out of a bicycle basket, building a house for two Japanese dolls. Elizabeth, in particular, suddenly sees "I can's" everywhere: she can suddenly remember her arithmetic, she learns to ride her bicycle, she stops being the child who holds everyone else up.

Even to know that you can paint berries...or make a fairy a place to start.

This series will be completed in Part IV.

You might also enjoy: Head First, first posted here in 2013.

Friday, October 16, 2015

Charlotte Mason is powerful (Part II)

by Anne White

Part I was a long post, but I wanted to show you in detail how even examination questions were not random or afterthoughts in the PNEU schools. Whether or not we ourselves give actual examinations every term, the original questions give us clues about the Charlotte Mason "big picture." What important ideas were the students to appropriate from their schooling? What "power tools" did they now have in their belts?

Along with the exam questions, we can also learn from the Notes of Lessons that appear in Parents' Review articles and in Mason's books. The printed lesson plans begin with a note that such lessons are meant to introduce a new topic, to expand on or bring together something that has been studied in daily work. But for our purposes here, that doesn't matter; the aims of daily lessons would be the same.

I've pulled the goals from about thirty lessons, on subjects varying from needlework to Brazil to algebra. What I've found is that, in many cases, the goals were similar, almost interchangeable between the subjects; they might have been designing a book cover or talking about Latin roots, but the philosophy behind what they were doing reached across the curriculum.  One of the most unique was a lesson on design, where some general principles were demonstrated and the students were to draw a design on paper, but where the actual project (a linen book cover decorated with embroidered flowers) was optional. Here are the goals: 
To give the children an idea of how to fill a space decoratively, basing the design on a given plant.
To show them that good ornament is taken from nature, but a mere copy of nature to decorate an object is not necessarily ornamental.
To give them an appreciation for good ornament and help them to see what is bad.
To draw out their originality by letting them make designs for themselves.
If possible, to give them a taste for designing by giving them some ideas as to its use.
There are several interesting points we could look at there. One is that, in this case, it was not "anything goes"; there was "good" and there was "bad." Also, that just sticking a flower on the table and copying it mechanically isn't art (already we have some big ideas being raised here!). What sort of "originality" is needed in addition? What does it mean, though, that "good ornament is taken from  nature?" How might that relate to larger issues of home decoration or personal adornment? If particular artists (or decorators, or dress designers) chose to flout that tradition, what effects might that have?
 "With intricate welding, Tom delicately veined his leaves, and next stemmed them onto the vines. He felt it good that no two looked exactly the same, as he had observed in nature. Finally, in his seventh intensive week, Tom spot-welded his leafy vines onto their waiting window-grill frames.
"'Tom, I 'clare it look like dey jes' growin' somewheres!' Matilda exclaimed, staring in awe at her son's craftsmanship." ~~ Alex Haley, Roots

More in Part III.

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Charlotte Mason is powerful (Part I)

by Anne White

Karen Glass, along with other CM and classical educators, has pointed out that our aim in studying the classical tradition is asking "why" rather than "how." What was the ultimate goal of a Charlotte Mason education?

We might list things like "not filling a bucket but lighting a fire"; educating the conscience to make well-reasoned choices (but not to depend wholly on reason); exercising magnanimity and other values such as honour and justice; understanding "I am, I can, I ought, I will"; using the "mind's eye" to recall what has been observed. If education is a science of relations, then to be educated means having proper relationships with the universe, the earth, people, and God. Education allows a generous space and time for minds to meet (also known as the "large room," or leisure). 

Andrew Kern of the Circe Institute wrote, "There is no education without leisure for the simple reason that education is a leisure activity. It requires all of the other values: controls, freedom, money, and honor. But its only true end is virtue for the simple reason that only virtue is big enough to rightly order the other goods. The wise not driven by [his desires] as by an unruly mob. Instead he governs them." ("Leisure, Plato’s Republic, and American Education"). Lynn Bruce defined leisure as “ceasing from anxiety and merely utilitarian preoccupations so that one can contemplate higher things, those pursuits without which we cannot be fully human.”

One of the worst things C.S. Lewis had to say about the character Eustace Clarence Scrubb is that he "hadn't read the right books." It implied that Eustace, although stuffed full of utilitarian facts, was completely lacking in imagination and understanding. When Eustace was drawn into a Narnian adventure, he could only squawk about personal discomforts; when he was kidnapped by slave traders, they misheard his name as "Useless" and couldn't wait to be rid of him.

So we have our "why." We are looking for something "big enough" (Kern), "higher" (Bruce), wide, large, generous, and "beyond ourselves." To put it very shortly, we want children to be educated for virtue. And we don't want them to grow up useless.

We have our "what": "we train him upon physical exercises, nature lore, handicrafts, science and art, and upon many living books."

How did Charlotte Mason's lessons integrate those two to make a "how?" The desire to teach with Mason's principles is admirable, but its application can be frustratingly vague. Some people using Mason's methods see quick and almost magical success, even (or particularly) with "difficult" students. Others of us have continued, years along, to wonder if we're doing it right, or if we're missing some crucial point, particularly after taking a student through a round of examinations and getting one-sentence responses, or, worse, "I don't remember that at all." 

The early teachers coming from the House of Education, and even the parents following PNEU programmes, expected better results (I use that word carefully), and, if we can judge by the printed examples, they got them. Although Charlotte Mason insisted that there was no education but self-education, and that each student had to perform his or her own act of learning, she also emphasized the need for working with, not against, human nature and the makeup of the mind. She believed that most children could "love to learn" if they were given the right mind-food in the right way. But what is the right way? Or at least, what is the way that Mason meant? 

To know what PNEU students were expected to learn...really learn and retain's valuable to look at their examination questions, especially those in the subject areas most concerned with character. If students were expected to have certain stories in their memories, why those ones? How would the questions raised about them, and their responses, change their lives? How would this knowledge give them courage, honour, and a sense of something beyond themselves? This could very well be the highest power of living books.

I have taken a selection of Plutarch exam questions from Forms II through IV, leaving out the lowest and the highest grades (partly because they did not include the study of Plutarch's Lives).

From the youngest, pre-Plutarch group of Form II's (reading Mrs. Beesly's Stories of Rome):

"We will pardon Horatius  because he has done such great things." What great things had he done, and why was he pardoned?

Why did Fabius refuse to wear a laurel wreath and come home in triumph? Tell the whole story.

Write an account of the dictatorship of Cincinnatus.

The older Form II's who were beginning Plutarch:

How did Aemilius conduct the war against the Ligurians at the time of an eclipse of the moon?

Why did Cæsar honour and esteem Brutus ?

Give an account of the meeting of Brutus and Cassius at Sardis, or at Smyrna.

How did Caius Marcius win another term?

Why did Marcius go disguised to the house of Tullus?

How did Caesar inspire his soldiers with valour? Give two instances.

Describe the crossing of the Rhine by Caesar.

Why did Timoleon first save his brother's life and then consent to his death? Tell the whole story.

Give a short account of Timoleon's expedition against the Carthagenians.

From the Form III Plutarch examinations:

Describe the triumph of Æmilius after his victory over Perseus.

Give an account of the way in which Brutus and Cassius prepared for the battle of the Philippian Fields. How did Lucilius save the life of Brutus?

(a), "Veni, vidi, vici," (b), "To cross the Rubicon." What events in Julius Caesar's life gave rise to these popular sayings? Describe Caesar's great victory at Alesia.

Describe the conquest of Syracuse. How did Timoleon treat the city?

From the Form IV Plutarch exams:

How and why did Agis set about the reformation of the City of Sparta?

Compare and contrast the characters of Cassius and Brutus, giving illustrations.

How did Cassius comfort Brutus after the latter had seen a spirit?

 "He did excel all the young men of his time." Who was he? Show how he excelled, and describe the meeting with the Numantines.

Describe the progress of Æmilius through Greece.

Give the substance of the speech of Æmilius on the death of his two sons.

Describe the battle of the river of Crimesus, and show that "in the wars of Timoleon, besides equity and justice, there is also great ease and quietness."

What do we draw from the questions as a group? Many of them, like Bible or history questions, ask simply for a narrative. How did someone comfort another person, how did he reform something, how did he prepare for a battle or conduct a war, what happened when he crossed the river? But a narrative account often gives the students something to think about as well. Why might someone refuse special honour? Why did Timoleon not allow family ties to come before his civic duty? How did Caesar "inspire others with valour?" Should people who do great things be excused from minor offenses? 

Finally, there are questions that move beyond knowledge and comprehension into analysis (comparing and contrasting), synthesis, and evaluation (showing how someone excelled). The last question given in Form IV quotes from North's translation of the Life of Timoleon, and the passage goes on to say that one who studies Timoleon's victories "shall find...that they have not been fortune's doings simply, but that they came of a most noble and fortunate courage."

On a practical ("don't be useless") end, each Form had other Citizenship questions, drawing from other books such as Ourselves ("Everyday Morals") and civics materials.

Form II (both levels) answered questions such as these:
Why ought everyone to save (money)? How can it always be done?
Give a short account of the government of a town.
What is the work of the Home Office, the Colonial Office, the Foreign Office, a County Council?
Mention four of the great rules observed in English Courts of Justice. What is the work of the lawyers, of the jury and of the judge?
Draw the Union Jack and explain its meaning.
What do you understand by rates and taxes?
What is meant by being a good citizen?

Form III Citizenship questions:
"Truth is not violent." How does Botticelli portray this? What may we learn from this picture?
What do you know about the Government of Mansoul? How do Hunger and Thirst behave? Show that they may change in character.
What is our duty towards foreign countries?
"India is a continent and not a country." Explain this, and say what you know about the peoples and religions of India.
Show that we are all paid labourers. What do you understand by Integrity? In what various ways should integrity be shown?
Show that increase in price means decrease in demand. What are the dangers of Trade Unionists?

Form IV had more difficult questions:
Show fully by what courts and what judges Law is administered.
"He is a boy of good principles." What do you understand by principles?
Explain fully what is meant by the electorate. Show that the parliamentary vote is a right and a duty.
What have you to say about drifters and dawdlers, small thefts, bargains, borrowed property? Discuss "we are all born equal."
What are the powers and what the limitations of the House of Commons? What qualities should we look for in a Member?
"To think fairly requires knowledge and consideration." Illustrate by an example, and mention three subjects upon which the nation has to think fairly today.
What is to be said for and against military services as the duty of a citizen?
Write an essay on loyalty.

Looking at the body of questions, it's fairly obvious that "useful" citizens were to be not only aware of how the government worked, including the court system, basic economics, and the tax system, but they were to consider what would make up a good representative, what a citizen's responsibility was to the military, and  the difference between "drifters and dawdlers" and those who would get things done.

They were to be aware of current national issues, and to realize that solving these problems would require "knowledge and consideration." They were also to think globally, asking what their country's responsibility was to others. (An interesting question, considering it was being asked during the last years of the British Empire.)

Did history and Bible questions follow the same general pattern? Here is a selection of questions given for each Form.

Questions for Form II:

What question did St. John (in prison) send messengers to ask our Lord, and what answer did he get? Tell the whole story.
 (a), "What lack I yet?" (b), "Lo, we have left all." What answers did our Lord give to (a), the young ruler, (b), St. Peter, and what lessons may we learn?
Tell the story of the Battle of Beth-horon. Explain, as far as you can, "Sun, stand thou still."
What was the parable of the Marriage of the King's Son? What was its lesson (a), for the Jews, (b), for us?

What do you know of Sir Robert Peel, Lord Shaftesbury, John Bright, Wilberforce?
What great discoveries have been made in the 19th Century? Describe one of them.
"Therefore I am making you love literature as your mother," said a Scribe. Give some account of these Egyptian Scribes.
How did St. Swithin educate King Alfred? What did Alfred do for England besides fight her battles?
Describe the signing of Magna Charta, and mention some of the great things it secures for Englishmen.
What do you know of the education of St. Louis? Describe his character.

Observations: Again for Form II, the students are asked for description and narratives: great discoveries, the text of a parable, the story of a battle.  There are civics questions (what was the significance of the Magna Charta?), and questions of personal contribution: what King Alfred did for England, the achievements of people like St. Louis, William Wilberforce (evangelical reformer and abolitionist) and John Bright (founder of the Anti-Corn Law League), even the potential impact of ancient Egyptian literature-lovers (with a quote from Albert Malet's The Ancient World). There are considerations of faith: what does it mean to leave all? What would it mean to answer God's call to the marriage feast? What did Jesus' answer to John mean? Do we want to be like those who responded to a need, or like the young ruler and those who missed out on the banquet?

Questions for Form III:

What do you know of the prophet Malachi and the shortcomings of the priests?
What remarks have you to make about "certain of the synagogue"? What do you know of the synagogue of Cyrene, of Alexandria and of Silicia?
"As long as he liveth he shall be lent to the Lord." Describe the occasion when these words were used, and quote from Hannah's thanksgiving.
"He loved him as he loved his own soul." Give an account of this friendship.
"Suffer me to speak unto the people." Write what you can of St. Paul's address on this occasion.

 What do you know of (a), the foreign policy of King Edward VII (b), the Union of South Africa?
Write a short account of Polar exploration. What do you know of the most recent expedition?
What do you know of the Fourth Crusade to Jerusalem?
Give an account of the war with Flanders in 1298. What was the end of it? What do "Flanders Poppies" stand for?
 What reminders have we in the British Museum of Nabopolassar and of Darius?
What do you know about the Vedas and their writers?

Observations: The questions for Form III are a little more open-ended, a little more "What do you know of...," implying that they could be answered in greater depth. There is personal inspiration to honour, bravery, and friendship: the love of Jonathan for David; Paul's speech in Jerusalem (Acts 22); the exploration of far corners of the earth; the faith of Hannah and of the prophet Malachi (compared to the priests, who were "lighting useless fires"), not to mention Stephen (from the question "certain of the synagogue"). There are questions stretching to more global awareness: the Vedas, Chaldean history, British foreign policy, South African issues.
One point I notice (relating to the Stephen question) is that often there is a key phrase that the students are expected to recognize. I am familiar with the chapter of Acts concerning Stephen, but I did not immediately connect those four words with that story. I agree that in some cases, students should be able to connect a phrase or line with a character or story; I'm not sure how important it is in a case like this.

Questions for Form IV:

Write a short account of the period between the Old and New Testaments.
What Messianic prophecies have we in Malachi and Daniel? What do you know of the prophets Obadiah and Joel?
Write an essay on, --"If any thirst, come unto Me and drink."
Why did Jeroboam set up two calves of gold? Describe the denunciation that followed at Bethel.
Comment on (a), "Before Abraham was I am," (b), "Did this man sin?" (c), "What is truth?"

What was the Royal Proclamation of 1858? In what ways has England made this proclamation good? What do you know of recent events in this connection?
Give some account of German world policy.
Describe the condition of Germany when Charles V. became Emperor.
Give a sketch of Luther's career and of the Diet at Worms.
Show that "the Nile is a vast historical volume."
Name a dozen famous men of the days of "Great Elizabeth." Give an account of three of them.

Observations: In Form IV, again we have the accounts of "famous men," but there is even more choice allowed: name a dozen, give details of three. Again there is more focus on the larger world: German history and politics, the Government of India Act (a.k.a the Royal Proclamation), Egyptian history, the "intertestamental period" of Jewish history. There are deeper reflections on the sayings of Christ, and the story of "the king who made Israel to sin." 

In all this long list of questions (and these are just samples), have you seen opportunities to light fires? To educate the conscience? To show magnanimity? To say "I ought...I will?" 

Is there space here for minds to meet? 

Is there preparation for adventure?

I think there is.

(Part II will examine the "why" of PNEU lesson plans.)

Thursday, October 1, 2015

Education for All Never Goes Out of Style

Below are the goals and principles of the PNEU as stated in volume 1 of the Parents' Review, published in 1890/91:

Isn't that an inspiring sort of vision statement?  This is really very much where AmblesideOnline is coming from- all classes, religious basis of work, education for all, to help parents, to include all parts of the person- physical, mental, moral, and spiritual.  Our email list and now our forum and our facebook page are there to stimulate enthusiasm, to give parents opportunities for cooperation and to make known the best information and experiences on the subject.

Pay no mind to the Victorian style imagery- I use that primarily because it's in the public domain and easy for me to find (and I do think it's cute).

But make no mistake- this kind of education never goes out of style.

It's not old-fashioned just because it relies heavily on the great books that have been part of the great conversation since books were written.  In volume six, Mason is giving a sort of general overview of the literature she uses.  She explains that the reading for high school "is more comprehensive and more difficult. Like that in the earlier Forms, it follows the lines of the history they are reading, touching current literature in the occasional use of modern books; but young people who have been brought up on this sort of work may, we find, be trusted to keep themselves au fait (editor's note: that is, current) with the best that is being produced in their own days. 

It is a modern education and a classical and old fashioned education in the very best sense of each of those terms.  There's nothing out of date about it.

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Charlotte Mason is inclusive

by Anne White

A brief exchange on the AO Forum left me wondering if there was something about CM philosophy I'd never grasped. Or maybe I knew it and never realized that I knew it. In any case, putting it out there in words seemed to shine one of those Renaissance-art halos around a half-acknowledged truth:

When we say "Children are born persons," we are acknowledging not only their individuality and their own value as individuals, but also their personhood, their inclusion as human beings.  As Mortimer J. Adler said in his book on philosophy, human beings have several features that make us undeniably more than just a concatenation of atoms or members of some other species.

Those of us who have ever been mildly or wildly startled by a noticeable family resemblance on a prenatal ultrasound, or right after a baby's birth, understand that. Even when ultrasounds weren't quite as distinct, about fifteen years ago, we were surprised to see how much the face of our soon-to-be youngest already looked like her sisters. She was already, recognizably, one of us, part of a family. And each new person (like a Cabbage Patch Kid) also comes with a status certificate marking him or her as a genuine member of the family.

In Wendell Berry's books, the character Burley Coulter calls his circle of close family and friends "the Port William membership." The membership did not apply for inclusion or have to swear a loyalty oath; they just made themselves responsible for the well-being of each other.

It's like the other side of the coin. As a human being, you are valuable and loved because you are you, but you are also valuable and loved because you are us. It's not only what makes each one distinct, it's what draws us together.

Monday, September 7, 2015

Charlotte Mason is permissive

by Anne White

I recently finished reading Susan Cain's book Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking.

One of the ideas that struck me the most was Cain's assessment of cultural extroverted expectations. Raise your hand if you (or your children) were ever told by a teacher that you (or your children) needed to "speak up more in class." Raise both hands if you were told this by almost (to punctuate it currently) Every. Single. Teacher. Even if you thought you were "speaking up in class." Raise both hands and a foot if, on top of that, you were frequently told to "stop reading, go and play with the other children."

When this goes on for years and years, it's no wonder that introverts feel like they're not good enough, don't belong. Even good grades don't quite make up for not fitting into the General Agenda for Normal.

According to Cain, a great deal of this started about a hundred years ago, with Dale Carnegie, personal confidence, and the belief that success in the new century was as much about public face as it was about hard work or intelligence or personal honour. Those who could present well, be sufficiently aggressive or persuasive, got the job, got the client. Think advertising agencies.

With the new demands for common standards, education for many children is, more than ever, the demand that they measure up, academically and socially. Private schools and homeschools can reduce that pressure, to some extent, but we can still find ourselves pushing children to meet our own agenda or someone else's. It might be a required standardized test. It might be one of Charlotte Mason's lists of "attainments," which I personally think have taken on more weight than they should have; they were not intended to be timetables, just potentials if everything else was in place.

Charlotte Mason's philosophy of education is radical. Like Christ's "yoke that is easy," it removes burdens of expectations. It is about training in character, but without demanding a perfect result. It is about drawing in notebooks rather than colouring in the lines. It gives us permission to grow and learn freely, without standing against a measurement chart. Introverts, extroverts, slow learners, fast learners, those who excel in one thing or another, can all belong. Each of us has value because we are made in God's image.

We have permission to be us.

(Did you think I was referring only to the students?)

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Hymn Singing and playlist for the 2015/2016 School Year

We know that not all our members are Christian, but we are, and Charlotte Mason was a member in good standing with the Church of England and a woman of strong and deep faith and love for the Lord, and she included hymns in her programmes, and so do we.

On our FB group today, somebody asked for help finding hymn links that have both words and music together, because she doesn't know the hymns and does not read music, so it's hard to learn them from just a midi file with lyrics.
When you click on the title on our website, that usually takes you to the hymn lyrics and a midi file online. But when you click on the asterisk after the song title at our website, that should take you to a youtube version. We *usually* try to avoid instrumental only versions. Sometimes, of course, you all are ready for the hymns before we're all caught up on fixing broken links and finding current youtube versions (sometimes they don't stay put!)

Another suggestion- search acapella versions- that will help you match the words to notes. You can also find acapella versions by looking including in your search terms Primitive Baptist, church of Christ (all three words in quotations), Mennonite, Sacred Harp, OR Shaped Note Singing. The first two groups sing without instruments, so all their hymn selections will be acapella, or voice only, which makes it easier to learn a new melody. Mennonites often do (depends on the group), and Sacred Harp or Shaped Note singing is the fa sol la tradition, and also acapella.  

Something you should know when I pick youtube videos:

I grew up in an acapella singing church, so that's my first preference. I can't even figure out where to sing along with songs that have really strong instrumentals.

I also tend to prefer somewhat unpolished, average joe and jane versions because I want the children not to be intimidated out of singing the songs- and singing the hymns, not just listening to them, is our goal.  

When we added hymns to the line up nearly 15 years ago, we discussed our varied backgrounds in hymn singing. I'm not the only one who grew up acapella, singing hymns with the family on long car trips, while doing the dishes, to comfort ourselves in time of need. But you needn't grow up acapella to have that rich treasure. One of us told the others lovely stories of her mother and aunt singing through the hymns they knew while they did the dishes in a tiny apartment that I always picture looking exactly like the kitchen in The Honeymooners).

We want that for you, too. We want our members and their children to feel like these are songs they can sing by themselves in their rooms, in the morning while getting dressed, while driving somewhere- in their living rooms with their family, anywhere, any time, without being afraid they don't sing well enough, and whether or not they have somebody who can play an instrument. After all, pianos are not portable, but you nearly always have your voice with you.=) 

But you don't have to use my playlist. I won't know if you pick your own unless you tell me and if you do, I will only rejoice over you caring enough about the hymns to pick a line-up that speaks to you.  

In the book of Acts in the New Testament, Paul and Silas were in prison (chapter 16, verse 25). Do you know what they were doing? They were singing. Their hands and feet were bound, so they weren't playing any instruments. The Word does not say, but I it's pretty safe to believe the Jailor was not accompanying them with a psalter (he was not yet converted). They were singing- and I must surmise they were able to do this because singing was already their practice and they already knew the words. That's also something we hope for with AO's students- that hymns will be there to sustain them in joyful and heartbreaking times, that their souls will be nourished by learning- and singing- these songs of the Christian faith.

On this specific playlist, you should also know:

A Charge to Keep I Have will be confusing, I think, because I included more Black American versions than anything else. They have a gorgeous 'lining out' hymn tradition that gives me delicious goose bumps, it's so pretty. But it's not what most people who have never been in black congregations in the south will be used to.

There are two tunes I am used to singing with Take My Life, and I used both of them.

Several of the hymns have variations in their lyrics, or have multiple verses, and one group might sing three of them, and another four, or one may choose a different grouping of verses.

If you sing the hymns, you can't fail.
If you falter, miss a beat, go up when you should have gone down, create a new verse by combining the first half of one verse with the last half of another, go down when you should have gone up, hear your voice catch and crack- none of that is not failing. 

If you cannot carry a tune in a bucket or you get your pitch by scraping your shoe on a rickety wooden floor, or even by scratching chalk on chalkboard- that's not failing.  

There is not doing it wrong or doing it right. There is only singing and not singing.  

Not singing? Now, that's doing it wrong. There's really only one thing you have to do:

St. Patrick's Breastplate Hymn Lyrics for a Hymn from AO School Year 2015/16


I BIND unto myself today
The strong Name of the Trinity,
 By invocation of the same,
 The Three in One and One in Three.
 I bind this day to me forever,
By pow'r of faith, Christ's Incarnation;
His baptism in  the Jordan river;
 His crucifixion for my salvation;
His bursting from the spicèd tomb;
His riding up the Heav'nly way;
His coming at the day of doom;
 I bind unto myself today.

I bind unto myself the power
Of the great love of Cherubim;
The sweet "Well done" in judgment hour;
 The service of the Seraphim,
 Confessors faith, Apostles' word,
 The Patriarchs' prayers, the Prophets scrolls,
 All good deeds done unto the Lord,
 And purity of virgin souls.

    I bind unto myself to day
 The virtues of the star-lit heaven,
 The glorious sun's life giving ray,
 The whiteness of the moon at even,
 The flashing of the lightning free,
 The whirling wind's tempestuous shocks,
 The stable earth, the deep salt sea,
 Around the old eternal rocks.

 I bind unto myself to-day,
 The pow'r of God to hold, and lead,
 His eye to watch, His might to stay,
 His ear to hearken to my need
The wisdom of my God to teach,
His hand to guide, His shield to ward;
 The word of God to give me speech,
 His heavenly host to be my guard.

 Against the demon snares of sin,
The vice that gives temptation force,
The natural lusts that war within,
 The hostile men that mar my course;
Or few or many, far or nigh,
 In every place, and in all hours,
 Against their fierce hostility,
I bind to me these holy powers.

 Against all Satan's spells and wiles,
 Against false words of heresy,
 Against the knowledge that defiles,
 Against the heart's idolatry,
 Against the wizard's evil craft,
 Against the death wound and the burning,
 The choking wave,  the poison'd shaft,
 Protect me, Christ, till Thy returning.

 Christ be with me, Christ within me,
 Christ behind me, Christ before me,
 Christ beside me, Christ to win me,
 Christ to comfort and restore me,
 Christ beneath me, Christ above me,
 Christ in quiet, Christ in danger,
 Christ in hearts of all that love me,
 Christ in mouth of friend and stranger.

    I bind unto myself the Name,
 The strong Name of the Trinity;
 By invocation of the same,
 The Three in One and One in Three.
 Of Whom all nature hath creation;
 Eternal Father, Spirit, Word:
Praise to the Lord of my salvation,
Salvation is of Christ the Lord.

From Poems, by Cecil Frances Alexander Macmillan and Company, New York, 1897

My playlist for this year's hymns (not yet complete)