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    Educational Philosophy

    Lessons from Charlotte: Guidelines for Lessons

    June 22, 2010 by Brandy Vencel

    [dropcap]B[/dropcap]efore we look at the details of what Charlotte suggested for teaching various subjects, we must look at the guidelines she herself set forth in Home Education: Training and Educating Children Under Nine. Do you remember that Charlotte said that we mothers owe our children a thinking love? That assertion is going to come into play here.


    Lessons from Charlotte: Guidelines for Lessons


    Charlotte believed that mothers were not fit to direct their child’s education themselves, or via their child’s governess, without first asking some important questions:

    Why must the children learn at all? What should they learn? And, How should they learn it?

    These are the questions the thinking mother ought to tackle regardless of the chosen method or location of the child’s schooling. In other words, the mother cannot be assured that her children are receiving a sound education if she hasn’t asked, and answered, these questions.


    Why Must the Child Learn?

    Charlotte gives us three answers: to grow, to get ideas, and to get knowledge. Any lesson which does not offer an idea, Charlotte says, is a complete waste of a morning. Let’s look at these more closely:

    • To grow
      This is the simplest of Charlotte’s list. The lessons are one of the ways that the child reaches forward into adulthood. There are many, many things a child needs to learn in order to reach their full potential, and take their place within the Church, the home, and the citizenry. Lessons are part of what is required for this growth to occur. Also, the lessons exercise the many powers of the brain, and like all muscles, those powers grow with use.
    • To get ideas

      What is an idea? Charlotte wrote:

      An idea is more than an image or picture; it is, so to speak, a spiritual germ endowed with vital force — with power, that is, to grow, and to produce after its kind. It is the very nature of an idea to grow: as the vegetable germ secretes that it lives by, so, fairly implant an idea in the child’s mind, and it will secrete its own food, grow, and bear fruit in the form of a succession of kindred ideas.

      You see, without ideas, the children will be unable to have their own thoughts. Having one’s own thoughts is foundational to the concept of a liberal education. Moreover, it is the ideas that we all latch onto, which in turn stimulate us to learn more. Charlotte hastens to remind us that with the power of an idea also comes our responsibility not to allow them to get their ideas “by chance.” When we plan lessons, we should view ourselves as planning a menu of ideas, and we should take care to choose the best and most fitting ideas possible.

    • To get knowledge

      This is perhaps the most common reason for a person to give in answer to the question as to why a child ought to learn anything, go to school, and so on. Children need knowledge of certain things, and lessons are an obvious means of making sure they know what they need to know. Charlotte does not dispute this. What she does dispute is the constant offering of “diluted knowledge” to children:

      Grown-up people who are not mothers talk and think far more childishly than the child does in their efforts to approach his mind. … Mothers seldom talk down to their children; they are too intimate with the little people, and have, therefore, too much respect for them: but professional teachers, whether the writers of books or the givers of lessons, are too apt to present a single grain of pure knowledge in a whole gallon of talk, imposing upon the child the labour of discerning the grain and of extracting it from the worthless flood … On the whole, the children who grow up amongst their elders and are not provided with what are called children’s books at all, fare the better on what they are able to glean for themselves from the literature of grown-up people.

      While we must offer them knowledge, we must make sure the knowledge is offered in such a way that it is not demeaning or disrespectful of the child as a person. Charlotte later expounds upon the nature of the knowledge we should offer children:

      [Lessons] should afford them knowledge, really valuable for its own sake, accurate, and interesting, of the kind that the child may recall as a man with profit and pleasure.


    What and How Should They Learn It?

    Charlotte briefly answers this, though obviously as she goes subject by subject {reading, math, geography, etc.}, the answers become clearer. But it is primarily through two lists that we find the general answer.

    The first list is “four tests for lessons.” In other words, all lessons must meet at least one {and preferably more} of these criteria in order to be worth the child’s time. A lesson must:

    1. Provide material for the child’s mental growth
    2. Exercise the several powers of the child’s mind
    3. Furnish the child with fruitful ideas
    4. Afford them knowledge

    The other list is a reminder of the six most important issues in education at these young ages. Here, Charlotte begs us not to abandon the more important aspects of child life simply because we have commenced with formal lessons:

    1. The most valuable knowledge at this age is that which the child obtains out-of-doors “with his own eyes and ears and fingers {under direction}.”
    2. “[T]he claims of the schoolroom should not be allowed to encroach on the child’s right to long hours daily for exercise and investigation.”
    3. The child should be taken daily out in nature to observe and “add to his store of real knowledge” {here, “real” means “concrete”}.
    4. We mustn’t forget that “play, vigorous healthful play, is, in its turn, fully as important as lessons, as regards both bodily health and brain-power.”
    5. The supervised child should be left much to himself and the influences of nature.
    6. The atmosphere of happiness — of joy — is of the utmost importance and “his lessons should be joyous, and that occasions of friction in the schoolroom are greatly to be deprecated.”


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