Tuesday, August 28, 2018

Challenge 2

Last week's challenge is here.

You have probably heard that Charlotte Mason’s method of education is a philosophy, a collection of ideas and principles.  You will find those principles in the front of each volume.  I suggest you read them in volume VI, because in this volume, her last one before she died, she expands the principles to 20.  
Rather than go line by line through those principles, I'd like to use them to demonstrate that a Charlotte Mason education really is for everybody, because those principles apply to the vast majority of the human race. For the sake of time, we'll just look at a few.
Her first principle, for instance, is that children are *born* persons. They are not born oysters, or empty sacs and we make human beings out of them. They don’t become people, they are people, individuals with their own strengths and weaknesses, bents and inclinations.  We definitely can help them along to be better informed people, and we can instill in them some helpful habits and knowledge about the world. but they come to us as fully human as you or I.  This is true for all children (and all adults- we, too, are born persons).  Of course, this is for everybody.  All human children are born persons.
Although they are born persons, or perhaps it would be more accurate to say because they are born persons, children are in need of assistance in the development of what used to be called character.  Mason says in her first edition of the Parents’ Review that “the formation of character” is “the essential function of education.” (here).  That goes along with the second principle:
“2. They are not born either good or bad, but with possibilities for good and for evil.”
As with all the other principles her meaning is fleshed out further in her books, particularly in the first part of volume VI, but in summary, here Mason is speaking to the idea of hereditary determination, that children inherited, infallibly, the failures, weaknesses, sins, or successes, of their parents.  Children of thieves would be born with a nearly inescapable propensity to theft and children born illegitimate were tainted forever by that stain as it came with the same weak character and lack of moral standards which had resulted in a pregnancy outside of wedlock in the first place.  Mason is pronouncing that theory bankrupt and stresses that children have equal possibilities for good or evil regardless of their birth circumstances.  This is true of all children.
” 3. The principles of authority on the one hand, and of obedience on the other, are natural, necessary and fundamental; but––”
Authority and obedience are surely appropriate concepts for for all of us.
 “4. These principles are limited by the respect due to the personality of children, which must not be encroached upon whether by the direct use of fear or love, suggestion or influence, or by undue play upon any one natural desire.”
Balanced application, don’t resort to manipulation based on fear or feelings (If you love me, you’ll….”)-  again, concepts appropriate for all.
 “5. Therefore, we are limited to three educational instruments––the atmosphere of environment, the discipline of habit, and the presentation of living ideas. The P.N.E.U. Motto is: “Education is an atmosphere, a discipline, and a life.”
Note the specific sphere of the application for this principle- “educational instruments.”
  In the course of their education, are there any children who do not benefit from an educational environment, good habits, or living ideas? Are there children who are harmed by a healthy home atmosphere conducive to learning. harmed by learning good habits, harmed by being presented with living ideas? No.  This education is for everybody.
 “6. When we say that “education is an atmosphere,” we do not mean that a child should be isolated in what may be called a ‘child-environment’ especially adapted and prepared, but that we should take into account the educational value of his natural home atmosphere, both as regards persons and things, and should let him live freely among his proper conditions. It stultifies a child to bring down his world to the child’s’ level.”
Are there children who would *not* benefit from their parents taking into account the educational value of the natural home atmosphere?  
We can do this with most of the principles (you can read them all in full here)- look at the principle, and consider turning it into a negative.  Are there children or families or human beings who do not benefit from this idea, properly applied?
I'll share more on the specific principles later, but I want to say something else about them.
They are vitally important, however, you can get started on a CM education without making sure you are clear on each and every one first. You don't need to write a thesis on them. You do not even need to read a thesis on them, or understand them all thoroughly before you can begin.  You can pick them up as you go along.  It may even be a more helpful way  to learn them if you stop and consider one or more of them when you run across an area where your assumptions are contrary to CM practices- learning on the job, so to speak. 
There's something else to keep in mind about principles- while they may seem overwhelming and also over your head at first, Mason did not intend for mothers to be overwhelmed and burdened and made to feel inferior by those principles.  
Her organization, the PNEU, worked on reaching out to mothers without the benefits of the same education and reading that Mason and the middle to upper class teachers, parents, and societal leaders who were the first members of the PNEU.  She really believed that a liberal education is for *all*.  
Toward that end, in 1894 PNEU member Isabella Copeland penned an article for the Parents' Review on the topic of spreading the principles to 'those we call the poor.'  You can read it in full here.  I want to point to one particular sentence.  She urges those who would do this work to have a real, genuine love for the people they are trying to help, and to make sure they get to know their audience in meaningful ways so they truly understand how the people they want to help are living.  It is this combination of love and personal knowledge, she says, that
"--makes all the difference between giving advice well nigh impossible to carry out, and applying principles in such a way as to suit the circumstance of those who hear. "
So the principles have some flexibility- they can, they must be, applied in such a way as to suit your circumstances!   In some cases, perhaps some of also need to work to change our circumstances a bit, but you know yourself and your environment best.

wWe want to understand those circumstances even better so we can be better in our our efforts to encourage you to do what you can, to help you apply principles in such a way to suit your circumstances.  We know very well sometimes it's hard, and sometimes we are discouraged and beaten down.  Lift your hearts.  You can do this- but do it in such a way that it suits the circumstances you are in, and not the ones you wish you had, dear hearts.
This week's challenges:
Click on the above links and read more on the principles (see also here)
Read up to page 5 of volume 6 and pay extra attention to what she has to say about mind, knowledge, education, and character.
Try narrating yourself if you haven't already- or even if you have.  Read something worth reading (the first pages of volume VI, for instance, or the PR article linked above). Set a timer for 5 minutes and write down as much as you can remember as quickly as you can before the timer beeps.
Sing this term's folk song, or one you prefer, at least twice this week.

Join the forum.  You don't have to do anything else yet if you don't want, just join.  Here.
Go outside. If it's too hot, go earlier in the morning or later in the evening.  Take out an electric fan and plug it in, sit in front of it with your feet in a bucket of cold water if that is what needs to happen for you to endure time outside.  Spread out a sheet and lay down on grass in the shade.   Have iced coffee or lemonade ready to sit outside and sip at breakfast- along with some fruit and bagels and cream cheese, or boiled eggs, or a steamed sweet potato, or onigiri/rice triangles or whatever is the simplest thing to do in your culture and area.

 Remember that what Miss Mason actually says is that these long hours out of doors should happen on 'suitable days between April and October- in the fairly mild English climate (mild compared to many other places. Here's the reference:

"Possibilities of a Day in the Open.––I make a point, says a judicious mother, of sending my children out, weather permitting, for an hour in the winter, and two hours a day in the summer months. That is well; but it is not enough. In the first place, do not send them; if it is anyway possible, take them; for, although the children should be left much to themselves, there is a great deal to be done and a great deal to be prevented during these long hours in the open air. And long hours they should be;  not two, but four, five, or six hours they should have on every tolerably fine day, from April till October. Impossible! Says an overwrought mother who sees her way to no more for her children than a daily hour or so on the pavements of the neighbouring London squares. Let me repeat, that I venture to suggest, not what is practicable in any household, but what seems to me absolutely best for the children; and that, in the faith that mothers work wonders once they are convinced that wonders are demanded of them. A journey of twenty minutes by rail or omnibus, and a luncheon basket, will make a day in the country possible to most town dwellers; and if one day, why not many, even every suitable day?"

Cling to that 'suitable day,'Aspire to improve, but don't beat yourself up, either. There's a nice space between burdened with guilt and defeatism, and attempting the impossible and risking health.

Digging Deeper for those who can:

About five years ago several of the parents in the forum went through a study of volume VI. You can read those discussions here:

Parts 1 and 2 of the intro: https://amblesideonline.org/forum/showthread.php?tid=2472
 (you must first be signed into the forum for the link to work).  Alternative method of finding it- go the forums, scroll down to CM study hall, then Charlotte Mason Series, then Volume 6 PHilosophy of Education, and under that last title, go to page 2 and look for:

 Vol. 6 Discussion: Introduction, Parts I and II

Here's an excerpt  of the introductory study there: "So how do we avoid getting to the point of such debased morality? The context of our education, she says, must be 'great thoughts, great events, great considerations.' She notes that when the Prussians were defeated by Napoleon, they returned and changed their education philosophy and approach. They filled it with history, poetry, philosophy to develop character, etc. But when Germany returned to a utilitarian type education, their morality fell. [If you're into reading John Taylor Gatto at all, he discusses in much detail the Prussian influence on the development of the US public school system.]

Miss Mason then presents some ideas that the PNEU had developed over the years to make sure that the mind was nourished well, while not neglecting physical and vocational training. She also notes that these particular points differ from general educational theory and practice of that day. Some general themes that I see in these 10 points are that the onus is on the student to learn --- it does not rely on entertaining lessons and teachers, or prizes, or threats of punishment. The students are quite capable of handling the large amount of material that they cover each term. They can tell back in a single reading, and can still tell back, without review, at a final exam. All this is not all student/delight-led; they do not select their own studies, nor are "diverting rabbit trails" (as Leslie puts it) followed. "(Kay Pelham)
Be sure to read the rest, and add to the discussion if you wish to- we revise old discussions all the time in the forum.

Preface Study: https://amblesideonline.org/forum/showthread.php?tid=2470

Another study went through the six volumes in 2 years.  Here's a comment from the study discussion on the preface and introduction (https://amblesideonline.org/forum/showthread.php?tid=12616&pid=183436#pid183436)

"The whole idea of the miner's DC being richly educated and able to learn as well as DC of educated persons reminded me of Dangerous Minds as well as the various articles in which teachers or schools find how well DC, even those in inner-city environments, respond and understand poetry and Shakespeare. How sad that we're still re-learning lessons of the past - that we still haven't gleaned the best ideas and kept them at the forefront of our minds! Of course, I know there's a lot more to this issue than just not remembering or knowing or truly believing that DC are capable persons, but much of the problem still seems to be that those who don't learn history are doomed to repeat it.

Also, we seem to often forgetting this, as evidenced IMO by the colleges that are partnering w/businesses & industries to produce skilled people, rather than keeping to the more traditional liberal education"

Have you read any of the Parents' Review articles? They can be nice, shorter readers for busy mums while still giving you something meaty to think about:

Frances Blogg, who later married G. K. Chesterton, invites readers to consider that education is part of the journey of life for our children, and what that could mean for a liberal education. 
"To travel deliberately through one's ages, is to get the heart out of a liberal education."
R.L. Stevenson (Dedication of the Vol. Virginibus Puerisque)

A headmistress, a headmaster, and some others speak on Miss Mason's Liberal Education for All, both the pamphlet and how Mason's philosophy works in their schools.  Very informative, whether you are a beginner or an experienced hand:

"I think I must detain you for a moment with a few words on how Miss Mason's methods differ from others in use at the moment. Firstly, she does not assume that the boys dislike work, and it is therefore necessary to disguise work as play—or to give them coloured bricks in place of units. If a boy dislikes work it is often because it is made so dull and uninteresting that it would bore an angel. I can only speak from my own experience, but I find a very small percentage want any driving; far more want restraining from overdoing things.

Secondly—and this is the whole mainspring of the system—Miss Mason insists that children are really human beings: and must be treated as such. Failure in the past, complaints or inattention and laziness, all can be traced to7 the inability to recognise this fact on the part of reformers and teachers. Formerly, the children did not do the work—we did it for them. We separated what they should learn from what they should not learn, and then made them do it—by notes, by explanations, by special preparation, by any means the brain of man could devise, but always working on the principle that the child could not be expected to do anything but accept what we cared to throw him. Quite unconsciously, I honestly believe, the master so dominated the boys that the latter could not develop his own mind—he merely tried to produce what he thought his master appreciated, not what he wished to produce, or what he could have produced, had his mind not been really in subjection to another and stronger."

A few further studies of the principles: Children are born persons
    Charlotte Mason's 20 Principles side-by-side original/paraphrase version of the 20 Principles that boiled down CM's education-  how would you paraphrase those principles yourself?
    A Magical Expansion - A Study of CM's Principle 12 by Lynn Bruce
     An Imaginary Conversation with a Great Mind - A Study of CM's Principle 8 by Tammy Glaser
     An Oyster and a Jewel - A Study of CM's Principle 10 by Lynn Bruce
The Spiritual Octopus - A Study of CM's Principle 11 by Lynn Bruce
Some principles are practices, by Karen Glass
Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5
Children are born persons

Children are born persons, and this is a great relief.

Several links related to principle 3 (authority, obedience):
  • For the Children's Sake, Chapter 3, beginning at "Authority: A Balance" (pp. 48-ff in my copy--)

Monday, August 20, 2018

A Challenge for This Week

The story of Undine was an extremely popular children's story in the 19th century, although it is not one which recommends itself to today's parents.* Louisa May Alcott mentioned it in Little Women, and Charlotte Yonge references it in one of her collections of stories.  Yonge also wrote the introduction to it in one edition.
Briefly, Undine is a water sprite, unwittingly fostered by a sweet Christian pair of elderly parents. As a water-sprite, Undine is not evil, but she has no soul, which means she has no experience of the pain which causes humans to empathize with one other. Her bewildered human parents are unaware that she is not a human. They love her but are much troubled by her thoughtless, careless ways. She is affectionate but willful and self centered, unable to empathize with others, unconcerned with how her selfish antics grieve her family. She falls in love with a passing knight and he with her, and their union, consecrated in marriage, grants her a soul, instantly giving her a gravitas and depth of patience and human kindness that opens her eyes to the suffering she has caused and the good that is open to her in the world.

It reminds me very much of the George MacDonald story The Light Princess, which I won't summarize because it simply must be read.
At any rate, Undine's light and careless (and so often thoughtlessly wounding) affection is awakened, made deeper, stretched, and given real meaning when love imbibes her with a soul.

Mason uses this highly popular and very familiar story as a sort of a hook with which to open her sixth volume on education.  

This week, I'd like to challenge you to read this with me, and when you have finished reading take a minute or two to write down or review orally as much as you can of the following preface from volume VI (you can retell it to the baby while changing a diaper, or talk to your soup as you stir if you have no time or inclination to write):

"It would seem a far cry from Undine [by La Motte Fouque] to a 'liberal education' but there is a point of contact between the two; a soul awoke within a water-sprite at the touch of love; so, I have to tell of the awakening of a 'general soul' at the touch of knowledge. Eight years ago the 'soul' of a class of children in a mining village school awoke simultaneously at this magic touch and has remained awake. We know that religion can awaken souls, that love makes a new man, that the call of a vocation may do it, and in the age of the Renaissance, men's souls, the general soul, awoke to knowledge: but this appeal rarely reaches the modern soul; and, notwithstanding the pleasantness attending lessons and marks (grades and one's gpa) in all our schools, I believe the ardour for knowledge in the children of this mining village is a phenomenon that indicates new possibilities. Already many thousands of the children of the Empire had experienced this intellectual conversion, but they were the children of educated persons. To find that the children of a mining population were equally responsive seemed to open a new hope for the world. It may be that the souls of all children are waiting for the call of knowledge to awaken them to delightful living.

This is how the late Mrs. Francis Steinthal, who was the happy instigator of the movement in Council Schools, wrote,––"Think of the meaning of this in the lives of the children,––disciplined lives, and no lawless strikes, justice, an end to class warfare, developed intellects, and no market for trashy and corrupt literature! We shall, or rather they will, live in a redeemed world." This was written in a moment of enthusiasm on hearing that a certain County Council had accepted a scheme of work for this pioneer school; enthusiasm sees in advance the fields white to the harvest, but indeed the event is likely to justify high expectations. Though less than nine years have passed since that pioneer school made the bold attempt, already many thousands of children working under numerous County Councils are finding that "Studies serve for delight."

No doubt children are well taught and happy in their lessons as things are, and this was specially true of the school in question; yet both teachers and children find an immeasurable difference between the casual interest roused by marks, pleasing oral lessons and other school devices, and the sort of steady avidity for knowledge that comes with the awakened soul. The children have converted the school inspectors: "And the English!" said one of these in astonishment as he listened to their long, graphic, dramatic narrations of what they had heard. During the last thirty years we (including many fellow workers) have had thousands of children, in our schoolrooms, home and other, working on the lines of Dean Colet's prayer for St Paul's School,––"Pray for the children to prosper in good life and good literature;" probably all children so taught grow up with such principles and pursuits as make for happy and useful citizenship.

I should like to add that we have no axe to grind. The public good is our aim; and the methods proposed are applicable in any school. My object in offering this volume to the public is to urge upon all who are concerned with education a few salient principles which are generally either unknown or disregarded; and a few methods which, like that bathing in Jordan, are too
simple to commend themselves to the 'general.' Yet these principles and methods make education entirely effectual.

Challenges for this week (over the course of the week, not all in one day):  

Read the above, look up any words that aren't clear,  and spend a couple minutes either writing or telling as much of it as you can recall.

Write down or simply think about 3 points that strike you (for any reason at all)

Here are a couple of mine:  1. 'Pleasantness' over lessons vs Ardour for knowledge; casual interest vs steady avidity for knowledge.  

Undine's awakened soul allowed her to really understand, for the first time, how other people felt, to care about them in a meaningful way, to see things from their point of view, and no longer to put her own way of thinking first and foremost. 

Feel free to share yours!

Related challenges: 
1. Go outside with the kids at least once this week- take a walk in your neighbourhood, or visit a park, a farm, a garden (does a neighbour have one?) or a plant nursery.  Just enjoy it- walk along and look for something pretty or interesting to admire or be curious about.

2.  Sing aloud at least twice this week (more is better, but this is the minimum).

3.  Consider this poem:
 A centipede was happy, quite,
 Until a frog in fun
 Said, 'Pray, which leg goes after which?
This worked his mind to such a pitch,
 He lay distracted in a ditch,
 Considering how to run.

Are you overthinking your week? Read something good to your children. Sing with them. Take them outside. Ask them to narrate the good books and stories you read.  Nourish their bodies and their minds, starting with with what you have and where you are.


*footnote and spoiler alert:  to be honest, the story of Undine doesn't end well, as not every human with a soul is as awakened to our duties and responsibilities to one another and the way of love as Undine.  Think Little Mermaid except the betrayal by the beloved is deliberate and the Mermaid is the cause of death to the unworthy human husband. 

Tuesday, August 7, 2018

Planning AmblesideOnline from Table to Table

By guest blogger Dawn Garrett

I've had a lot of people ask how I plan an AmblesideOnline term and how I'm helping my children to learn how to manage their work. Since the two go hand in hand, you get one long post :)

For the quick version, you can go to my profile on Instagram and click on the Highlight circle named "Assigning AO" (I think this is an in-app feature only)

We're doing Year 7 right now, so the first thing I do is go to that page and print the booklists (with the footnotes) and read through everything. I use this to determine what books we own and what we need and order all the books. That can be fun. I try to do this a little ahead of when I'm going to be planning - so a week or two before I'm planning to plan. Then I have these beautiful stacks of books.  For Year 7, I knew I'd be doing some adjustments for R-girl, so I printed both the Detailed and Basic/Lite version.

Once I have the books, I download the modifiable ODT schedule and open it in Open Office and copy/paste the table into your favorite spreadsheet application. It should look something like this:

This year, I pulled out some things that were going to be done with Jason and some things that were going to be done during our Morning Time, Whatchamacallit, and left the rest in the main block. You can see where there are blank rows as separators.

Once I've determined how we're going to approach the work, I create a separate spreadsheet for each week (you can see them across the bottom of the page) and put the week number and the dates for that week number).  Then I copy the subject column to each of those tabs and the assignments for that particular week to the tab. So the column headed Week 2 went on the tab named "2 April 23-27." I made a separate spreadsheet for all twelve weeks (plus break weeks).

Each week's tab looks something like the above. I then split out the reading that is assigned to, at maximum, 5 readings per week. Because I have them, I use the books as I'm doing this and some of them I'll put a small (in pencil) star where I want them to stop for the day.  I put the total number of pages assigned in a column and I have a column at the end for the count of readings for each book. That count is summed. In this case, there are 25 independent readings for the week. I don't count those that will be done in Morning Time or with Daddy.

I can then print that week's tab for them - I do hide the column that has the whole weekly reading assignment, and just give them the split up readings.

25 readings is easy to deal with - they can do 5 per day. They don't have to do any on Wednesday (except we generally do Ivanhoe and Beowulf as audiobooks on Wednesday), but they generally choose to in order to cut down the assignments on the other days.  On Monday, they write the assignments in the daily boxes at the bottom of the sheet. This helps them learn to evaluate a week's worth of work and divide it reasonably. We've worked hard to see how doing a little bit every day is better than cramming too much into any given day. We've looked at how that page number column comes into play.

Some day, I hope to hand them the week's assignments and they'll split out the readings, but that day is not yet.

This is the newest step and one we've done for a little more than a term, so it may not stay the same. So far it has worked beautifully. Because we have one set of books for three students, a standard timetable schedule is a nightmare. Also a nightmare: lessons that take all day because there's no sense of urgency or accountability. This system was borne of sheer desperation.

We do Whatchamacallit from 8:30-10:15. After a 15 minute break, the independent work portion of our day begins.

I have a duplexing printer, so I print the above form on the back of their weekly assignment page.  Each day, the children take the book list they have made for the day, Math, Latin, a written narration, and penmanship and assign the work to half-hours. Some things take a full half hour, some don't. They have to be careful with the different books and assign them in appropriate blocks. They have to plan if they're going to read with someone else, or that they don't plan the same books at the same time. It takes some juggling and thought. I love it. So far, it has worked well, with just a few growing pains. It fits with my general philosophy of helping them learn to manage their own workload so they can be independent.

Now, I can start the pre-reading. It's plenty of work, but it's good work.

So, there you go - from AO and their weekly table to the individual day's table how we're planning AmblesideOnline at this time.

It's sure to change.

Dawn Garrett blogs at ladydusk.blogspot.com and is a 
collaborator of the CharlotteMasonIRL account on Instagram. 
She homeschools her three children in Central Ohio.