Sunday, November 18, 2018

AO: Challenge the Seventh

Previous challenges:

Challenge 1 is here.

We concluded the text portion of the previous challenge with Miss Mason's disclosure that she is labouring 'to disclose for public use' the way to give children that 'attention, interest, literary style, wide vocabulary, love of books and readiness in speaking' which unlocks an education so rich and meaningful it continues long after school days are over.  She is excited about this, and she is sure of her ground.  This is volume 6, written fifty years after her first volume and after decades of work.  These methods are not mere theories.  What she writes about has been tested in real, practical, boots on the ground, teachers in classrooms, parents and governesses and tutors in homeschool rooms experiences.  Mason required families who signed up with her PNEU schools to submit exams to the PNEU office for grading. She was strict about this, so she could see the results of these methods put into practice in homes, cottage schools, experimental schools, boarding schools, around the world.

  It is true most of the P.N.E.U. members were indeed middle to upper class with educational and financial advantages we would consider upper class in most western cultures today.  However, many of them were also deeply philanthropic and active in social reforms and either started or contributed to schools for working class children, continuation night schools for children who had to work for a living, small country schools for the children of miners or other disadvantaged workers.  There are articles in the Parents' Reviews about reaching out to help mothers in the slums.  During World War I, at least some of the teaching students from the House of Education made it part of their work to run girls' clubs in London, specifically to give at risk girls skills and interests that would keep them off the streets, and the used such P.N.E.U. methods as they felt would reach the girls where they were.  Miss Mason was serious about helping as many people as possible by sharing what she could about putting her methods to 'public use.'  It is for this audience that she wrote volume VI- the general public who may not have previously known about her work.  She explains here her audience, her experience and justification for reaching out to this new audience:

"I am anxious to bring a quite successful educational experiment before the public at a moment when we are told on authority that "Education must be . . . an appeal to the spirit if it is to be made interesting." Here is Education which is as interesting and fascinating as a fine art to parents, children and teachers.
During the last thirty years thousands of children educated on these lines have grown up in love with Knowledge and manifesting a 'right judgment in all things' so far as a pretty wide curriculum gives them data."
Now she explains some of the differences in her approach, the things that justify her bringing this old/new idea before the public, what it is she wants done differently.  Note that this 'new' thing is not necessarily 'new' in the annals of education history. It could be 'new' in the sense that the British school system wasn't doing this anymore.  
She wants the children prepared for school by having heard stories in good English. She does not want their schoolbooks limited to the restricted vocabulary limitations of what they can read for themselves.  So while teaching them the nuts and bolts of reading, she wants them to be *hearing* well written stories and literary passages beyond their ability to sound out on their own: 
I would have children taught to read before they learn the mechanical arts of reading and writing; and they learn delightfully; they give perfect attention to paragraph or page read to them and are able to relate the matter point by point, in their own words; but they demand classical English and cannot learn to read in this sense upon anything less. They begin their 'schooling' in 'letters' at six, and begin at the same time to learn mechanical reading and writing. A child does not. lose by spending a couple of years in acquiring these because he is meanwhile 'reading' the Bible, history, geography, tales, with close attention and a remarkable power of reproduction, or rather, of translation into his own language; he is acquiring a copious vocabulary and the habit of consecutive speech. In a word, he is an educated child from the first, and his power of dealing with books, with several books in the course of a morning's 'school,' increases with his age."
It is from these excellent books, in advance of their reading skill, that children will gain the expansive vocabulary that is one of the foremost tools for gaining more knowledge.  Consecutive speech is the ability to communicate clearly, in order. It is not just a pleasant and useful habit- it is the sign or an orderly mind, of clear thinking. 
She knows there are going to be objections to her method, she has heard them- and, oh, so have we, so many times, in exactly the same words as the the next sentences Mason writes:
But children are not all alike; there is as much difference between them as between men or women; two or three months ago, a small boy, not quite six, came to school (by post); and his record was that he could read anything in five languages, and was now teaching himself the Greek characters, could find his way about the Continental Bradshaw, and was a chubby, vigorous little person. All this the boy brings with him when he comes to school; he is exceptional, of course, just as a man with such accomplishments is exceptional; 

Not all children are the same, we hear, and Mason heard.  Some children are advanced in quite astonishing ways, such as this youngster who joined Mason's PNEU correspondence school.  
Of course not children do not all have a matching set of gifts, strengths, weaknesses. That has little to do with the application of Mason's methods, however, because of the areas in which all neurologically normal children (and adults) do have in common:

"I believe that all children bring with them much capacity which is not recognized by their teachers, chiefly intellectual capacity, (always in advance of motor power), which we are apt to drown in deluges of explanation or dissipate in futile labours in which there is no advance."
All children may not be duplicates of each other in precise abilities. But all children have great potential, often un-known by their elders.  The current (to Miss Mason) method of doing school tends to suffocate those natural intellectual gifts, or waste them- by wasting their time with lectures and useless busy work.  That busy work, by the way,  may amuse and entertain the children, but that doesn't mean it informs and educates them. "There is no advance."  Have you thought about what this might mean?  I'm wondering. How much advance is there is filling out worksheets? Making pretty designs and collections of scripted information on file folders using scissors, glue, and some tape is fun for children with certain artistic bents.  There is nothing wrong with fun.  But what direction does it go, and how far? Is this something you do as an adult to learn, to process information, to communicate information to friends or employers? With narration, there is not level at which it is a bit babyish or immature to narrate. You can take narration up to the next level, and it becomes composition, and then essays, and more. Whatever work projects you assign to your children, what is the advanced version? How will they advance in this area? What will it look like?  Maybe, if there is no advance which takes them into their adult lives, it is not work worth assigning for school, no matter who they are.   And while all children may not be alike, we are all more alike than we think:

 "People are naturally divided into those who read and think and those who do not read or think; and the business of schools is to see that all their scholars shall belong to the former class; it is worth while to remember that thinking is inseparable from reading which is concerned with the content of a passage and not merely with the printed matter."

Regardless of individual strengths and weaknesses, the business of education is to help the learners read and think.
If this is not happening, neither is education.  Of course, other things are happening, too:

"The children I am speaking of are much occupied with things as well as with books, because 'Education is the Science of Relations,' is the principle which regulates their curriculum; that is, a child goes to school with many aptitudes which he should put into effect. So, he learns a good deal of science, because children have no difficulty in understanding principles, though technical details baffle them. He practises various handicrafts that he may know the feel of wood, clay, leather, and the joy of handling tools, that is, that he may establish a due relation with materials. But, always, it is the book, the knowledge, the clay, the bird or blossom, he thinks of, not his own place or his own progress.
[His focus is on the work, not on himself.]"
His focus is on the work, not himself, not his grades, not his scores, not how much he is beating the other students nor how far behind. These things are irrelevant to the actual work he is doing because the work itself is valuable and meaningful for its own sake.

"I am afraid that some knowledge of the theory we advance is necessary to the open-minded teacher who would give our practices a trial, because every detail of schoolroom work is the outcome of certain principles. For instance, it would be quite easy, without much
vol 6 pg 32thought to experiment with our use of books; but in education, as in religion, it is the motive that counts, and the boy who reads his lesson for a 'good mark' becomes word-perfect, but does not know. But these principles are obvious and simple enough, and, when we consider that at present education is chaotic for want of a unifying theory, and that there happens to be no other comprehensive theory in the field which is in line with modern thought and fits every occasion, might it not be well to try one which is immediately practicable and always pleasant and has proved itself by producing many capable, serviceable, dutiful men and women of sound judgment and willing mind?"

It's not enough to just use the same books- if you are mucking them up with vocabulary tests and multiple choice questions, rote memory and grades which are compared to those of the other children, that is missing the point of this form of education, and removing its value.  You need the principles, and the student needs to be the one doing the learning. 

"In urging a method of self-education for children in lieu of the vicarious education which prevails, I should like to dwell on the enormous relief to teachers, a self-sacrificing and greatly overburdened class; the difference is just that between driving a horse that is light and a horse that is heavy in hand; the former covers the ground of his own gay will and the driver goes merrily. The teacher who allows his scholars the freedom of the city of books is at liberty to be their guide, philosopher and friend; and is no longer the mere instrument of forcible intellectual feeding."
"Vicarious education."
What does an vicarious education look like?  It looks like somebody who knows hwo to read and to think, and who does it.
  Who should be working the hardest at the children's education?  The person doing the reading and the thinking, and that should be the student.
The teachers or the students themselves?  How do we see to it that they do the work? By giving them the books, the real books containing real knowledge and ideas, not just lists of facts that other people put together in textbooks, and then by giving them the work of thinking- which happens with narration.

This concludes this first set of AmblesideOnline Challenges.  By now you should have read from the opening page of Volume VI to the end of the first chapter, which is more material than it seems like. Most books today have a whole idea perhaps in an entire chapter. Mason's books are densely packed with multiple ideas worth thinking about on every single page. 

By now, you should know some of the plants in your own backyard or neighbourhood, something about the different categories of leaves, and you should be comfortably singing folksongs.  You have been reading for your own education and personal growth several times a week.  I hope you have attempted the forum.

There will be other challenges- I am preparing to move from the Philippines back to the U.S. and the holiday season is upon us, so I won't be working on another set of challenge posts until sometime in January.  However, you should continue to challenge yourself. I hope you have grown through this series.  I hope where you are now is a little further in understanding and practice than you were two months ago.  I hope you've been encouraged.

Here are some challenges to work on for the next couple of months.

1. This is an open-ended challenge to consider.  Let me review a handful of Mason's statements:
a. "One discovers a thing because it is there, and no sane person takes credit to himself for such discovery. On the contrary, he recognizes with King Arthur,––"These jewels, whereupon I chanced Divinely, are for public use." 

b. For many years we have had access to a sort of Aladdin's cave which I long to throw open 'for public use.'

c. The public good is our aim; and the methods proposed are applicable in any school. 

This has been a cherished goal of the AO Advisory for all many years. We also want to help you put these ideas to use, first in your own lives, homes, and families, and then, if at all possible, in some other public use.  Use these methods and ideas to reach out to children in your neighbourhood, churches, and community, the people God brings into your life.   Will you pray with us for all our eyes and hearts to be open for these additional opportunities? I can't tell you where or what they may be. Here are some I know of:
Start a story hour at your library or volunteer to help at one. Or do this with your church. Or ask if you could try this at a local homeless shelter or battered wive's shelter.
Foster care- officially, or unofficially.
Foster care respite care
Mentor family for drug rehap program (look into what is available locally and see if this is something you can do)
For that unofficial foster care-  Maybe there is a single parent or a struggling family that would benefit from you offering to do something fun with their kids once a month.  Take them to a park. Tell them a story, a fable from Aesop's, or the story of the three little pigs or Goldilocks. 
Visit a nursing home as a family and sing for some of the residents. Or bake cookies for the staff.
Plan a meaningful craft activity and invite another family over to do it together.
Volunteer to hold babies in the NICU. 
Serve a meal 
I'd love to hear of any other ideas, suggestions, or examples!  Not all of these will work for every family in every season, of course. You may be the family in need!  This is not a guilt trip, it's a list of hopeful possibilities for some time in your life.

Challenge 2:  Try something in the century-book, century chart, timeline department.  There are multiple ways to approach this. Start simple. In my family what we did most frequently was a family timeline essentially composed of duct tape on a large set of pocket doors. We used half of an index card and sketched figures or events on them and taped them to the appropriate lines on the wall.  My goal was to do this once a week. The children chose from their own readings, although sometimes I would ask them to choose from a specific book.
 If you want some help and ideas on timelines and time charts- see this thread in the forum- Forum: Timelines and History Charts

Challenge 3: for nature study look at Moon cycles.  One thing to do is to pick one night a week to look at the moon and then sketch it on a calendar- look at the moon November 21, for instance, and then sketch it on the Nov. 21 square of your calendar.  Do this for at least one month, preferably 2, and see hat you notice.  You can also make a chart: Moon cycle chart

Challenge 4: Read something for you.  One of the sweetest, most practical and helpful of the PR articles I have ever read is a paper delivered to a PNEU group by an older mother whose children are apparently grown.  The title is "The Limitations of Theory," which is delightful in itself, but even better is the title she says she considered- "Experiences of a Muddler".  The goal expressed in this paper is perfectly in keeping with the goals of these challenges, 
" to encourage parents to confer together, and that the papers read need not always be didactic treatises, but might sometimes be homely chats on what is interesting us all so much—the training of our children."

Challenge 5:  Start working on some Crafts for Christmas gifts.  We have quite a collection here in the forum: Forum: Christmas gifts to make

Challenge 6. Consider working together on memorizing a poem to present to grandparents, or adopted grandparents, or residents of a nursing home, or for a little family party for Christmas or New Year's. Or start a poetry night.  Here's how the author of Please Don't Eat the Daisies conducted their poetry night (get a tissue). 

Challenge 7: Read Karen Glass's recent series called The White Post.   You don't want to miss these!
And don't forget to narrate!

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