Educational Philosophy, Mother's Education

Recovering Geometry with Charlotte Mason

September 16, 2015 by Brandy Vencel
[dropcap]R[/dropcap]eading this section was a little surreal. Because Charlotte Mason didn’t spend much time talking about geometry, I wasn’t sure I would be able to make a whole lot connections between this section of The Liberal Arts Tradition and Miss Mason’s philosophy and practice. Wow, was I wrong about that! I found myself so excited and wishing I was at a party with Ravi Jain and Miss Mason — I’d grab both of them and say, “You know, you two really should meet.”

Recovering Geometry with Charlotte Mason: The liberal art of geometry? It IS Euclid.

Kindred spirits, those two. Too bad they were born about a hundred years apart; I think they would have enjoyed knowing each other.

So. When The Liberal Arts Tradition says “geometry,” it pretty much means Euclid.

Euclid was the first fixed point of the discipline.

And also:

[H]e is considered as the consummation of Plato’s vision of geometry.

How long did this last? I’m glad you asked!

For millennia the liberal art of geometry was Euclid’s Elements, and this persisted until the end of the nineteenth century.

So, if you want to teach geometry as a liberal art, Euclid’s your guy.

[F]or those searching for a classical liberal arts paradigm for the study and teaching of geometry, the answer is found in a return to Euclid.

In 1908, the PNEU (Charlotte Mason’s organization), published their weekly time table. This is, as far as I know, the only time they made that sort of proprietary information public. You might find the junior high schedule especially pertinent to this discussion:

Form III Time Table

Or, check out high school:

Form IV Time Table

As you can see, Miss Mason doesn’t even list geometry. She lists Euclid.

Now, was she actually using a translation of The Elements? Well, sort of. From her old programmes, I see that she often used A School Geometry by H. Hall and F. Stevens. I searched around online because I feared this meant she was using a boring geometry textbook, and then where would we be? Thankfully, this is not the case. I learned that the full title is A School Geometry: containing the substance of Euclid books II and III and part of book IV. In her third volume, she lists (for a 12-year-old) two Euclid-based booksA First Step in Euclid, by J. G. Bradshaw (which covers the first twelve propositions of Euclid) and Inductive Geometry, by H. A. Nesbitt, which she notes is for beginners.

The Liberal Arts Tradition concurs with this sort of selection:

While Euclid’s Elements has a total of thirteen books, a normal high school geometry class will usually cover only material from books I-IV and VI.

Now, as you can see, Miss Mason’s approach is what we sometimes call threaded. This means that she wasn’t focusing on one type of math at a time. Her junior high and high school students were doing mental arithmetic, geometry, and algebra all at the same time. (Of course, this was before calculus would be expected in high school.) This is where Miss Mason seems to part company a bit with Clark and Jain, for they say:

Because historically geometry provided the foundation for the very concept of proof in mathematics, and because its constructions make it a more concrete subject, it should be placed as the next subject in mathematics after elementary arithmetic.

I don’t know about you, but I took Geometry between Algebra I and Algebra II. Clark and Jain tell us this is not traditional, nor is there a good argument for doing so. Instead, The Liberal Arts Tradition brings up the history of math — the fact that algebra was an outgrowth of geometry — as compelling evidence for having geometry precede algebra in the curriculum. The question as to whether calculus and algebra even have the same standing as arithmetic and geometry when it comes to liberal arts education is also raised. I won’t be going into the discussion about where algebra and calculus might fit, but it’s very interesting, and I encourage you to read it and think about it.

For the purposes of our conversation, what is more pertinent is this thought:

The emphasis on proofs in geometry forms wisdom in students to such a degree that it has for thousands of years captured the imagination of a multitude of philosophers from Plato to Descartes.

Well, now, isn’t that interesting? Miss Mason, too, seems to see this, though she doesn’t state it as directly. In her chapter on the use of reason in her final volume, Miss Mason says:

We know how Florence Nightingale received, welcomed, reasoned out the notion of pity which obsessed her, and how through many difficulties her great project for the saving of the sick and suffering of her country’s army worked itself out; how she was able to convey to those in power the same convincing arguments which moved herself. That was a happy thought of the medieval church which represented the leading idea of each of the seven Liberal Arts by a chosen exponent able to convince others by the arguments which his own reason brought forward. So Priscian taught the world Grammar; Pythagoras, Arithmetic; and the name of Euclid still stands for the science which appealed to his reason.

This might seem a bit nebulous out of context, so let’s think about it for a moment. The chapter in which this quote appears is discussing what Miss Mason called “the way of the reason” — we are to teach children the proper use of reason, and to know that reason is a good servant but a bad master. If you recall, Miss Mason’s 18th principle:

We teach children, too, not to ‘lean (too confidently) to their own understanding’; because the function of reason is to give logical demonstration (a) of mathematical truth, (b) of an initial idea, accepted by the will. In the former case, reason is, practically, an infallible guide, but in the latter, it is not always a safe one; for, whether that idea be right or wrong, reason will confirm it by irrefragable proofs.

The proper use of reason — and the way to gain an understanding of reason — is through Euclid. I think it’s possible that there was no formal study of Logic (I’ve never seen it listed as a separate subject) in Charlotte Mason’s schools because she believed that certain things — and perhaps Euclid foremost — would suffice.

This chapter really got me thinking about what I’m doing right now with my oldest. If you recall, I hosted a Math Week a few years ago, and one of my big interests was the teaching of Euclid. Willa blessed us with two wonderful posts on teaching Euclid in the home schoolroom (you can read them here and here). And from that point on, I was all gung-ho about teaching Euclid in eighth grade.

And then I got cold feet.

I started thinking about how I learned geometry after algebra, so maybe that was how it was supposed to be done. Also, I wondered how this would impact our ability to finish our year of math curriculum “on time.” And also, it sounded like more work, and with four students, I already have a lot on my plate.

But then this. Oh, how I love this book! And this sort of thing is why. I’m remembering all over again of why we do what we do, of how we’re searching for wisdom, not running a race. And also I remember that Euclid was sufficient for thousands of years.

So, I ordered The Elements, and it’ll be arriving soon. I’m going to take some time to go over it (and also to reread Willa’s posts), and then I think we’ll add in an hour or so per week, and see how that goes.

 

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28 Comments

  • Reply The Liberal Arts Tradition: Classically Charlotte Mason | Afterthoughts August 24, 2019 at 3:45 pm

    […] Recovering Geometry with Charlotte Mason […]

  • Reply Marina August 21, 2018 at 11:59 am

    Thanks for answering…I ‘ve re read your post and you implied that already!
    I’m a mess reading all these Euclid posts and AO threads ?

    • Reply Brandy Vencel August 21, 2018 at 2:21 pm

      Ha! No need to apologize — I totally get it! ♥

  • Reply Marina August 21, 2018 at 11:58 am

    Thanks for answering…I ‘ve re read your post and you implied that already!
    I’m a mess reading all this Euclid post and AO threads ?

  • Reply Marina August 21, 2018 at 8:25 am

    Euclid also count as “logic” in this case?… in those time tables I don’t see a slot for that and it makes me wonder …

  • Reply Lucy barr-hamilton June 25, 2018 at 10:45 pm

    Do you have an update on whether you ever used Euclid?! Thanks!

  • Reply Rachel Skaggs August 15, 2017 at 8:18 pm

    Which Elements book did you purchase? Can I find it on Amazon? Thanks so much!

    • Reply Brandy Vencel August 16, 2017 at 6:49 am

      This is the one I bought, Rachel. 🙂

      • Reply Dovey August 16, 2017 at 7:19 am

        Would you mind linking that again, Brandy? The link simply takes me to Amazon, not to a book. Thanks!

        Also, do you have an update on how this has gone?

      • Reply Rachel Skaggs October 18, 2017 at 12:34 pm

        Can you please post the Elements book you bought? The link you posted only took me to the Amazon home page. Thanks so much!

  • Reply 31 Days of Tackling the To-Do List: Homeschool Room, Part 2 - Little Drops of Water October 3, 2015 at 3:50 am

    […] used a few years ago and may again, and a few other math books. No one has used the Euclid yet, but Brandy’s recent post had me thinking about it again. In the middle is a dish my sister gave me which I thought would […]

  • Reply KarenG September 25, 2015 at 8:59 am

    Take a look at this: https://www.amblesideonline.org/PR/PR10p243EuclidasAmusement.shtml

    And be sure to let me know if you figure it out.

    You might try this by the same author: https://www.amblesideonline.org/PR/PR10p044EuclidforExams.shtml

    I bet there is more about Euclid in the PR’s too–these are from the volumes I actually own.

    • Reply Brandy Vencel September 29, 2015 at 7:58 am

      Ahem. I think that I will have to get my Euclid on for a while before I will be able to figure that out!! What a fascinating challenge… 🙂

  • Reply Dovey September 19, 2015 at 12:05 pm

    Thank you, Brandy! Your posts inspire me. I look forward to hearing/seeing how it works out for you. Best wishes in Seattle! 🙂

  • Reply Jen September 17, 2015 at 8:55 am

    This is an inspiring post! I used to teach geometry (I was thrown into teaching class in a startup Christian school) but I’ve never read the Elements. You’ve inspired me to read and maybe I’ll use them soon with my kids! Thanks.

  • Reply Amy September 17, 2015 at 5:22 am

    I was pretty ambivalent towards geometry in high school – but then I took it at university level and loved it. Of course, at university, our textbook was Euclid!

    • Reply Brandy Vencel September 21, 2015 at 12:02 pm

      You took Euclid in college? You lucky girl!!

  • Reply Nelleke from P.E.I. September 16, 2015 at 5:59 pm

    I’m so glad you’re doing all these things years before I jump in!

  • Reply Mystie September 16, 2015 at 4:32 pm

    Can I just say once again that I am so glad your oldest is a year older than my oldest? Thank you for being the trailblazer!

    My tentative plan after reading this chapter is to continue with MUS (my 7th grader is already more than half done with pre-algebra – after being “behind” until he was 10!) through 8th grade, then work Euclid into our high school math somehow.

  • Reply Kelly September 16, 2015 at 2:28 pm

    I read The Liberal Arts Tradition earlier this year and the part that left me with the most questions was the part about putting geometry before algebra. I posed the question to a fairly large Catholic homeschooling facebook group and the “mathy” people said “No way!” I don’t recall a single person, mathy or not, who stated they would do geometry before algebra. So I had somewhat nixed the idea, but now you have me excited about it again. We will finish up our pre-algebra book (Lial’s Basic College Math) before the year’s end. So I am thinking about easing into Euclid’s Elements by doing it a couple of times a week and then BCM the rest of the week. I’m still working it all out in my mind, but thank you so much for this post!

    • Reply Brandy Vencel September 21, 2015 at 12:05 pm

      I wonder — and I don’t know enough to know if I should even be wondering this — if we stopped teaching geometry first *when* we stopped teaching Euclid? Perhaps it is Euclid that is more appropriate to do first than the geometry textbooks most of us were taught by? I wonder…

      • Reply Kelly September 21, 2015 at 12:42 pm

        That may very well be the case! As of right now, I still plan to do Algebra 1 next year (either Jacobs’ Elementary Algebra or Lial’s Introductory Algebra) but continue to work through Euclid’s Elements once or twice a week. That should be more than enough prep for Jacobs’ Geometry which is Euclidean but not Euclid.

  • Reply Melissa September 16, 2015 at 8:18 am

    Thank you for this article! I learned geometry as you did. I hated it. It seemed to have nothing to do with math and all about memorizing stupid sentences about shapes that I didn’t care about. (I did like copying the pictures out of the text though!) This gives me hope about teaching geometry when the time comes. (My boys are only 7 and 8.)

    I’m glad there is a way to teach it with a purpose behind it.

  • Reply Heather September 16, 2015 at 4:17 am

    When I read “Liberal Arts Tradition” I did the same thing- got excited about teaching geometry this way… And then got cold feet. I’d love to hear an update & know your thoughts about the books. I’m having hubby read through all this & see if he will tackle Euclid instead of alegebra first. 🙂

    • Reply Julie Z September 16, 2015 at 6:14 am

      I ordered Elements this year, and it is still sitting on my shelf, because I got cold feet! I think it is like anything though that I have felt timid about–Shakespeare, Plutarch, etc. , my children have taken to it with no problem, because they don’t have the preconceived ideas that I have to hold them back. I imagine this will most likely be the same. All that being said, I was hoping you would go before me as usual and help pave the way a little! 🙂 I look forward to hearing more about what you do with Euclid!

      • Reply Sharyn September 17, 2015 at 5:07 am

        Thank you for your post. I am using the recommendation for elementary students in your guest post and will work my way up. I did not receive this kind of education so I feel I need to teach myself the basics using the most basic book. Each day I have had the drawings on paper or my board and we move through it in 5-10 minutes. Easy peasy but laying the groundwork for the actual Euclid.
        Without encouragement from others I would be lost in this endeavor. Thank you!!!

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