In this section, young journalist Miss Hagan returns to Miss Mason’s study, with the purpose of finding out more about the PNEU, particularly on the topic of school-books and how they “make for education.” This passage begins partway through their interview.
Miss Mason: Now, intelligent teachers today are well aware of the dry-as-dust character of school books, so they fall back upon the oral lesson, one of whose qualities must be that it is not bookish.
Miss Hagan: Ah, isn’t it interesting that bookish then becomes a derogatory term.
Miss Mason: And, to a degree, this can be successful. Living ideas can be derived only from living minds, and so it occasionally happens that a vital spark is flashed from teacher to pupil. But this occurs only when the subject is one to which the teacher has given original thought. In most cases the oral lesson, or the more advanced lecture for the older ones, consists of information got up by the teacher from various books, and imparted in language a little pedantic, or a little commonplace, or a little reading-made-easy in style. At the best, the teacher is not likely to have vital interest in, and, consequently, original thought upon, a wide range of subjects. So this approach often fails because of the natural limitations of teachers.
We wish to place before the child open doors to many avenues of instruction and delight, in each one of which he should find quickening thoughts. Our aim in education is to give a full life. But we cannot expect a school to be manned by a dozen master-minds, and even if it were, and the scholar were taught by each in turn, it would be much to his disadvantage. What he wants of his teacher is moral and mental discipline, sympathy and direction; and it is better, on the whole, that the training of the pupil should be undertaken by one wise teacher than that he should be passed from hand to hand for this subject and that.
Miss Hagan: What is it that we are responsible to give them?
Miss Mason: No, not quite give this time. We owe it to children to initiate an immense number of interests; “Thou hast set my feet in a large room” (Psalm 31:8) should be the glad cry of every intelligent soul; but we cannot give the children these interests. I know you may bring a horse to the water, but you cannot make him drink; but what I complain of is that we do not bring our horse to the water. We give him miserable little text-books, mere compendiums of facts, which he is to learn off, and say, and produce at an examination; or we give him various knowledge in the form of warm diluents, prepared by his teacher with perhaps some grains of living thought to the gallon. And all the time we have books, books teeming with ideas fresh from the minds of thinkers upon every subject to which we can wish to introduce children. It is rather like keeping a boat anchored close to the shore, and complaining that we cannot catch enough fish, when the waters are full of them.
Life should be all living, and not merely a tedious passing of time; not all doing or all feeling or all thinking–the strain would be too great–but, all living; that is to say, we should be in touch wherever we go, whatever we hear, whatever we see, with some manner of vital interest. We prefer that students should never say they have learned botany or conchology, geology or astronomy. The question is not,–how much does the youth know? when he has finished his education–but how much does he care? and about how many orders of things does he care? In fact, how large is the room in which he finds his feet set? and, therefore, how full is the life he has before him?
Miss Hagan: Is it not perhaps expecting too much of children to be interested in such things? Are these methods really suitable for the average student?
Miss Mason: Of course there are highly gifted and precocious children, the ones who are reading at two years of age and composing at five, the Morrises and Macaulays. But all children are reasonable beings. Our grandfathers and grandmothers recognized children as persons of mind and conscience like themselves, but, needing their guidance and control, as having neither knowledge nor experience. This is the note of home-life in the last generation [Study 1]. So soon as the baby recognized his surroundings, he found himself morally and intellectually responsible. And children have not altered. This is how we find them––with intelligence more acute, logic more keen, observing powers more alert, moral sensibilities more quick, love and faith and hope more abounding; in fact, in all points as adults are, only more so; but absolutely ignorant of the world and its belongings, of us and our ways, and, above all, of how to control and direct and manifest the infinite possibilities with which they are born.
In her third volume, School Education, Charlotte Mason examined most of her educational principles: authority and obedience; the respect owed to personality; and the uses of environment, habit, and living ideas. She also compared the educational ideas of her Parents’ Union with other psychological thought and worldviews; explored the building of early affinities through literary examples; and provided specific application of those principles through samples of student work. In Revitalized, by Anne E. White, this rich treasure chest of thought has now been re-imagined for a new era, using formats such as letters and conversations, while attempting to remain as faithful as possible to the original work. Revitalized is available on Amazon, in print and Kindle formats.