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    Education, the Science of Relations

    January 8, 2010 by Brandy Vencel

    It was Charlotte Mason who said this, by the way. She believed that children didn’t have to be spoon-fed, that they could actually make connections all on their own, if they were properly nourished on ideas. This proper feeding of the mind was what she called a “generous education.”

    This term I decided to offer two connected things without comment, and see what happened. I don’t consider this to be treating my children as guinea pigs, for both of these things were worthy of contemplation all on their own.

    We just finished up our first week of Term Two, though I can’t say we finished well, for I have caught a horrid cold and skipped Circle Time altogether yesterday, other than briefly reciting our memory verse. And today I’m just not up to the tiny field trip I had hoped for.

    Good thing there are many more weeks where this one came from.

    So, as I was saying, I put out two connected things. The first was Proverbs 10:4, which was read at the beginning of Circle Time, preceding a discussion on manners.

    Poor is he who works with a negligent hand,
    But the hand of the diligent makes rich.

    And the second was a poem, which was read at the very end of Circle Time, and briefly narrated by the seven-year-old and the four-year-old {she is only asked to remember one thing from the poem}.

    The Father and his Children

    As round their dying father’s bed
    His sons attend, the peasant said:
    ‘Children, deep hid from prying eyes,
    A treasure in my vineyard lies;
    When you have laid me in the grave,
    Dig, search–and your reward you’ll have.’
    ‘Father,’ cries one, ‘but where’s the spot?’
    –He sighs! he sinks! but answers not.

    The tedious burial service o’er,
    Home hie his sons, and straight explore
    Each corner of the vineyard round,
    Dig up, beat, break, and sift the ground;
    Yet though to search so well inclined,
    Nor gold, nor treasure could they find;
    But when the autumn next drew near,
    A double vintage crowned the year.
    ‘Now,’ quoth the peasant’s wisest son,
    ‘Our father’s legacy is known,
    In yon rich purple grapes ’tis seen,
    Which, but for digging, ne’er had been.

    ‘Then let us all reflect with pleasure,
    That labour is the source of treasure.’

    Anonymous, 1757

    On the first day of discussing the poem, my son was distracted by the fact that the poem was referencing a traditional story. He has read a version in one of his faerie books, and also, I believe, Aesop wrote a fable following this basic plot line. So E. just rambled on, wondering which came first, the poem or the tale. A. claimed she didn’t remember anything other than that the grapes were purple.

    On the second day, A. declared that the sons found the treasure, and E. said that they wouldn’t have had so many grapes had they not worked so hard.

    On the third day, A. was still talking about the sons finding the treasure, and Q. was mimicking her, but E. made the connection. He was crouching on the floor, rocking back and forth, because this is how boys were meant to act while they are thinking, and finally he said, “I think the poem is really about that verse we’ve been reading.”

    And so we talked about that a little.

    Mason was right after all, not that I ever really doubted her. Little children really can put two and two together and make four, all by themselves, as long as we actually offer them two, and then two more.

    And speaking of making connections, E. also found me out yesterday, so to speak. We were discussing The Burgess Animal Book for Children and he wanted to know why the animals were always in school. I told him that the book was all about the animals going to school, and so that is where they were.

    Then, he wanted to know why we hadn’t gotten to tigers or anything more exciting than otters and martens, and I explained that this was because we were in the weasel branch of the Carnivora order {we’ve mapped it all out on paper}, and so we just haven’t gotten there yet. He recalled that we were told that next time we’d study the Dog family.

    And then he gasped, and looked at me as if I’d tricked him.

    “Why, this is a learning book!”

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  • Reply Brandy Afterthoughts January 13, 2010 at 12:04 am

    Mystie, Yes, well, you are pregnant, my dear. Did you expect to gestate and remain alert? πŸ˜‰

    Only mostly kidding, as I was pretty much brain dead for all of my pregnancies…

  • Reply Mystie January 12, 2010 at 6:25 pm

    It might be. I think there is much more of an emphasis on the teacher in the classical methods. But, mimetic mode teaching doesn’t seem to be exactly what Mason is railing against particularly. She seems to mostly be against lecturing.

    Unfortunately, *I* am usually the one with the sluggish brain. πŸ™‚ Have you found a solution for that, yet?

    There are certainly times children do need to be instructed or led toward a certain idea or conclusion; outlining the mimetic mode or reviewing the Seven Laws of Teaching is on my to-do list before second grade. πŸ™‚

    I was also thinking that in a way, the good books use the mimetic mode, while poorer books simply tell as a dry lecturer would.

  • Reply Brandy Afterthoughts January 12, 2010 at 4:36 pm


    I really liked what you had to say about the Mimetic Mode. Now, I will confess that I totally ate up that lecture, but that was partly because I was looking for an antidote to the dull days–the days when everyone has sort of a fuzzy brain, sort of sluggish in the ideas department. So, I’ve tried to master the simple version of the mode that she presented, and use it to “turn on” a certain brain around here. Once it’s on, I let it go. I definitely wouldn’t use it unless we were stuck like that because, like CM said, children can and will make their own connections.

    I guess my thought was: are the two in actual conflict? Or are they just different tools for different contexts? The reason I raise the question is because you and I both talk about CM as a “classical educator,” but there are, I think, some definite points of convergence, and I wonder if this is one. What do you think?

  • Reply Mystie January 11, 2010 at 4:44 pm

    I think whether or not the teacher is making connections for the teacher lies more in the teacher using the method than in the method. It sounds to me like Mason doesn’t think the teacher should have one specific idea she’s trying to get out of a book or a student, but let the book speak for itself to the student. So, in using the mimetic mode is there “one right answer” you’re trying to get the students to, or are you open to other ideas and connections coming up, also? Students have a keen sense for when a teacher is looking for something specific, and they will usually not speak freely unless they are certain they know they are saying what you want them to say. It’s been true in my middle school classes and it’s true with Hans.

    Now, there are times you do want one certain idea to be connected and emphasized, too, so I don’t know if you can totally leave it up to the books and children.

    Yet, also, honestly, my response to the talk about the Mimetic Mode was that it was more applicable to a teacher in a classroom than a homeschool mom. I mean, honestly, that sort of lesson preparation just isn’t going to happen, and I just can’t visualize spending an hour orchestrating a conversation with one or two children so they make a connection I have lined out. Another drawback to using it in a homeschool setting is that there is less pressure with more students, because all the responsibility of answering and conversing is not on one person. It’s more productive in a classroom, because kids start bouncing ideas off of each other and are not necessarily giving answers to the teacher. So, anyway, I was already a little skeptical on the whole Mimetic thing being realistic or even ideal in a home setting. However, Mason’s model is still focused on ideas but imminently do-able by any average parent without lesson planning or class prep.

  • Reply Brandy Afterthoughts January 10, 2010 at 4:46 am


    I have been pondering the difference between Mason and the mimetic mode. Would she say that we are making the connections for them? And is that really wrong if we are truly teaching in the mode?

    Of course, I don’t use the mode very often, and it is usually for one of the more formal subjects.

    My own thought is that there is a place and time for everything, and that definitely spoon-feeding should be avoided…Hmmm…

  • Reply Brandy Afterthoughts January 10, 2010 at 4:42 am

    Sara, I think that you are right. I haven’t read Mason recently, but I’m pretty sure it is as you say–narration after a single reading, and not repeatedly. I suppose I view this more as a discussion than a narration in that I don’t actually expect him to tell me all about the poem, but what he thinks about the poem. My daughter, yes, is being asked to narrate, but she is in training and, well, she is sort of scatter-brained. I wouldn’t be surprised if the first two days she thought it was two separate poems! πŸ™‚

    Mystie recently reminded me that Mason did not believe narration should be started until age 6, and my daughter is not yet 5…

  • Reply Mystie January 9, 2010 at 4:00 am

    How funny, Brandy, this is the topic I have been mulling most over the last few days while reading vol. 6. Giving the students lots of ideas and categories and stories and letting them make connections is, as she even says, risky. But that’s a risk we should take because they are persons themselves, individuals who should have thoughts of their own. If we give them all the thoughts, all the answers, we aren’t training them to think or be free — to make another connection. πŸ™‚ And, then, another connection: perhaps we (the general, collective ‘we’) are so drawn to lifestyle systems and camps and clubs because we want to have The Answer to give to our children so they won’t have to work through what we’ve had to work through…..but in the end, it’s working through it that is exactly what they need to do.

    I’m glad to see that you have evidence that Miss Mason was right. It’s been something I’ve been thinking about a lot this week.

  • Reply sara January 9, 2010 at 1:04 am

    Brandy, I find that my oldest gets more out of poetry when we repeat it through the week too, but I was wondering if this is technically “correct” as far as asking for narration. I was under the impression that narration was to be asked for after a single reading. That seems very hard to me – especially for young ones. What do you think?

  • Reply Brandy Afterthoughts January 8, 2010 at 10:10 pm

    Rachel, Yes, we read the poem daily. It is something new I’m trying. I have done this during DecemberTerm, and this past DecemberTerm I realized that they were getting so much more out of the poem this way. The more difficult poems, even though they are for children, really take more than one reading to “get” (even for me!), but reading it twice in one day didn’t work well. So far, I like this better than what we were doing previously (reading a new poem each day)…

  • Reply Rachel R. January 8, 2010 at 9:28 pm

    I am cracking up about the “learning book”!

    Do you re-read the poem every day for the week?

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