Monday, September 24, 2018

Challenge 5

Previous challenges:

Challenge 4 is here.
This week's challenge: Read this post!  Scroll down to the end for a few more.=)

 If you have been following along these challenge posts, congratulations!  If all you have managed to do is to read the four previous blog posts in the challenge series, you have now read through the introduction and preface of volume six, which contain the principles as well as other gems.  

This week we'll start with about the first half of chapter 1, which is titled "Self-Education."  Mason begins by stating what she does *not* mean by self-education.  She does not mean self-expression.  She says there's no objection to training the body, hands, eyes, ears, and voice in various means of self-expression, and she agrees that "all these possibilities of joy in living should be open to every child."  However, she says, even though even the PNEU schools may themselves use many of the then-popular forms of training body, eye, and voice, etc. to creative forms of self-expression (dance, projects which give dexterity and precision to the hands, train the voice to interpret beautifully, and so on), she has a caveat:

"...yet is our point of view different; we are profoundly skeptical as to the effect of all or any of these activities upon character and conduct."


That's a pretty broad field, isn't it?  Basically she's saying what we're looking for is that education which effects who we are, and what we do.  It carries with it the connotation of a standard against which we measure- "Anything goes" is not compatible with the development of character and conduct, and neither is 'you do you,' or  'just be yourself.'  Neither are we seeking little clones of ourselves.  It is also important to remember that Miss Mason advocated respecting the children's personalities and personhood. We are educating our children (and by the way, ourselves) to 'Be a better version of ourselves.' No wonder this is the title of one of her six volumes on education.

This course of self-improvement does not focus on externals because "A person is not built up from without but within."

It does not seek a better self through shopping and external improvements because:
"...all the educational appliances and activities which are intended to mould his character are decorative and not vital."

Vital here should be understood as being used the same way we use it when we speak of the vital organs, necessary for, pertaining to life- we wish for living, inner change of the heart and life.

Next Miss Mason explains some logical propositions to us, 'corollaries' or related truths,  some if, then statements.  If  a child is a person, then that means...

"consider a few corollaries of the notion that 'a child is a person,'and that a person is, primarily, living...."

In other words, if it's true that a child is born a full person, then it follows that, as with other living creatures,  growth happens naturally given normal conditions. We don't have to do anything extraordinary for normal growth.  When we look at the physical body we understand that the most important material for growth is the stuff the physical body takes in and assimilates (digests), not the stuff that is applied from the outside.  There's nothing special you have to do for physical bodies to grow normally, although there are things you can do from the outside that will *hinder* proper physical growth.   All the attention in the world devoted to external development is irrelevant if nothing is *taken internally.*  The body must have food. Well, this is all so obvious that we wonder why she even bothers to explain it.  Her point is that the mind, too, is living.  Therefore, the mind must also have its food, and as the mind is a living organism that grows, "the life of the mind is sustained by what is taken in," what the mind digests, assimilates.

She says she believes this is the only analogy that helps us properly understand mind- comparing it to a living organism that must take in and absorb its own proper food in order to grow.  Now she's going to tell us about a different, but very popular analogy, and she has, for Charlotte, a quite scathing criticism of what she considers utterly wrong-headed about it:

"the well-worn plant and garden analogy is misleading, especially as regards that tiresome busybody, the gardener, who will direct the inclination of every twig, the position of every leaf; but, even then apart from the gardener, the child-garden is an intolerable idea as failing to recognize the essential property of a child, his personality, a property all but absent in a plant."

I confess, 'that tiresome busybody' always makes me laugh, every time I read it.  What is the well-worn plant and garden analogy she is talking about?  What is 'the child-garden?'  Everybody knew the 'child-garden' was simply the English translation of a popular movement which had swept across England and America and was promoted with zealous enthusiasm, the kindergarten (kinder is, of course, German for child, and garten is German for garden). CM is not being at all subtle here.  Children, says Charlotte firmly, are not to be compared to plants, not even pretty little flowers in a charming little garden.  They are persons, with their own personalities. We have no authority to direct the inclination of every twig of their being, and because they are persons and not topiaries, we won't be very successful at it even if we try (although we could do great harm).

 Charlotte points out that both bodies and minds need fresh air, must have food or there is no growth, require a balance of activity and rest, and both grow their best when their diet of food is 'wisely various,' that is, not all the same old thing. 
If you're in doubt as to what she means by mind, she isn't limiting this to the brain and knowledge- she says by mind she means 'the entire spiritual nature, all that is not body.'  "We go round the house and round the house," she says- I take this to mean the body, the case for the mind, but we never actually consider the needs of the mind, we don't even go in.   "we offer mental gymnastics, but these do not take the place of food, and of that we serve the most meagre rations, no more than that bean a day!"

There's a useful thought to hold onto at the next curriculum fair- is this shiny new thing going to feed the mind, or is it mental gymnastics?   

We are all about nutrition and diet these days, (and her day, too, human nature is a wonder in its unchanging sameness).  But we never stop, says Charlotte, to give the same attention to mind that we do to nourishing the body.  We need to be asking ourselves, "I wonder does the mind need food, too, and regular meals, and what is its proper diet?""

Can we look again at her definition of mind- 'the spiritual nature' basically, everything that is not the physical part of our lives.  

She addresses this in at least two of her principles as well- the 20th principle (as found in volume VI), which begins "We allow no separation to grow up between the intellectual and 'spiritual' life of children" and the 9th principle, which says, "9. We hold that the child's mind is no mere sac to hold ideas; but is rather, if the figure may be allowed, a spiritual organism, with an appetite for all knowledge. This is its proper diet, with which it is prepared to deal; and which it can digest and assimilate as the body does foodstuffs."  Knowledge, real knowledge, the stuff in living books, works on mind and spirit because there is truly a separation there.

If mental gymastics, dance, gymnastics, games, external applications and devices, and so on are not food for the mind, then What is food for the mind?  We'll look more at what Charlotte says about that next time. 

This is more than enough to think about this week.  So lets go to our challenges for the week!

1. Read this post and think about it.  Go to and read to page 25 (if you've been keeping up, this is only a couple of pages)- what strikes you?  Read ahead a little.  The best advice I ever got on reading CM or any other good book is to assign myself a set number of pages a day and just make sure I read them.  Make it one page if that's all you can do.  Start somewhere.  This week, read a little bit more than you did last week, and set yourself an attainable goal for how much to read- you can average it out over the week if need be.

2. Singing: have you been keeping up with the previous week's challenges? Sing a folk song or a hymn.   (or better yet, both!) at least 3 times this week.     Keep it up!

~Subscribe to Heather Bunting's Children of the Open Air youtube channel.  Listen to this one: or pick another one.  Do just one lesson this week.

3. Nature study: Did you pick a tree to look at?  There's a Kopok tree we pass on our way to church her in the Philippines, and I look at it every week.  Every week I notice something different.  Tie a ribbon around the branch of your tree and check that branch a couple times a month.  
What do the leaves on one of the trees near your house look like?  What do the leaves and petals on any other plants near your house look like?  Shape, size, how do they grow, edges of the leaf smooth or lobed or serrated?  Is it darker on top than underneath? Vein pattern? Just notice.
Draw one thing in a nature journal this week.  You can do it!
Do you have access to a pine tree to observe?  Read this thread in the forum and join in!

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

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

Once in, you might enjoy this thoughtful discussion about the role of the teacher in the high school years:
Or perhaps building fortitude to deal with hard topics:
There is a terrific discussion here on writing skills for the kids in years 1-3 and how that should or shouldn't happen:
Btw, did you know the forum has a special chat area for AO teens?  And we have special groups for families with special needs, for gifted, and for families in the adoption/foster care world.  

5. Feed your mind.

1 comment:

  1. Thank you, Wendi, for your thoughts. I still am tagging along. :)
    This week I've thought a lot about education as addressing Character and Conduct and what that might mean for those of us who need to count school days. In some past years I have been very strict that a school day is only when we complete math and all our planned readings. However, if my focus is Character and Conduct that changes the whole outlook, doesn't it? If a Y2 day falls apart over careful work in Copywork and we end up with a comforting read aloud on the couch to recover then that's probably OK because there is a lot of training in Character and Conduct that can happen there. Whenever I come to Charlotte's words my burden is lightened and the Spirit is given more room to work.

    And we have chosen a tree! I'm very excited about it. I found an Elm tree in our small area of woods and learned from a YouTube video that the bark is spongy, especially when young. I had no idea how to identify an Elm a week ago and even though it is late Fall here and the leaves are quickly disappearing we were able to find a couple that were still in tact and note some identifying characteristics (they have serrated edges, feel like sandpaper, and are almost-but never quite perfectly-symmetrical). I've been able to learn quite a bit through reading Handbook of Nature Study and a local tree guide put out by our county Parks Department.

    At your encouragement a few weeks ago, we jumped back into Children of the Open Air and have been enjoying that. I have no background in music, so I learn a lot.

    And I follow the forum, but don't often comment because I always regret or want to re-phrase what I say (which condition I will also be afflicted with as soon as I push the "Publish" button here). But it is good to try to get my thoughts out clearly for others to understand and to have them corrected and straightened out by the input and variety of other thinkers.