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    Educational Philosophy, Mother's Education

    Atmosphere and Discipline with Vittorino da Feltre

    December 8, 2016 by Brandy Vencel

    In my reading of Vittorino de Feltre and Other Humanist Educators, I’m still hovering around pages 25-40 or so. I find there is so much to think about that I keep revisiting the pages; I’ve been allowing myself a slow digestion.

    Most of you know that Charlotte Mason says that we have three (and only three) tools of education: atmosphere, discipline, and life. Atmosphere isn’t contrived; it’s the real culture of the home or school room. Discipline is the collection of habits we build in order to foster both good character as well as good learning. Life is the bequeathing of the good ideas upon which the mind will grow. There’s more to it than that, but this concise description will make sure we’re all on the same page.

    Vittorino understood education is not just curricular, but extra-curricular. It doesn't just take place during school hours via lessons.

    I’m beginning to see Vittorino’s use of two of these three tools, atmosphere and discipline, in this section though he does not call them by those names. (The third tool, “life,” would be the curriculum, which I’m sure we’re encounter in future pages.)

    Vittorino’s school was a boarding school. This is interesting because some of the children were only moved blocks away from their families. It wasn’t like his school was out of town for all of them. And yet, whether their families were near or far, they moved to the school building, which was called The Pleasant House.

    Apparently, Vittorino approved of the distinction of the house, but stripped it of its luxury. The location sounds amazing and reminded me of Essex Chomondeley’s description of why Charlotte Mason eventually chose Ambleside (in England’s Lake District) as the location for her school.

    One of the reasons for the boarding school was because Vittorino needed total control. We are told that

    the special discipline of Vittorino would hardly have been possible on any other system. (p. 33)

    Vittorino believed in the “equality of genius” (p. 30), and so the princes were on equal footing with the most impoverished charity student. At the outset, Vittorino removed all “temptations to luxury, idleness or arrogance” (p. 33) — the stripping of the trappings of the building was part of this equalization project.

    This was a much more democratic atmosphere than I expected for the time and place. Essentially, we have Vittorino requiring that distinctions will be made by merit, or not at all — definitely not by class. And the parents are agreeable to this! I could not help but wonder if this was an unusual atmosphere for its time.

    I said that Vittorino had “control” — what does this mean? Is he some sort of tyrant?

    What this translated into was a strict watch over the habits of his household. I have always wondered if this is one thing that gives homeschooling a leg up over schools. I am not anti-school.  But if the best education includes the training of habits, how hard it must be to train when you only have the child for a portion of the day. Vittorino understood education is not just curricular but extra-curricular. What I mean is, it doesn’t just take place during school hours via lessons. It’s an all-encompassing thing.

    Vittorino had a deep affection for his students. The atmosphere, we might say, was first and foremost one of love. He maintained his position of authority so well that harsh punishments were not needed.

    Vittorino placed priority on outdoor life and games and activity — so much so that we are told:

    Two little boys were overheard by him talking earnestly apart; hearing that they were discussing their lessons, he exclaimed, ‘That is not a good sign in a young boy,’ and sent them off to join the games.

    He paid strict attention to good health. He closely watched their appetites  — both for signs of vice as well as signs of ill health.

    This is another thing I have been thinking of: that we today tend to underestimate the connection between mind and body. When a child is struggling so much in lessons, we think about habit training, we get frustrated, we forget it might be sugar or gluten. At times we fail to consider the physical component. When my husband speaks with clients and they complain about children who are difficult to train and do not respond to discipline, that is always his sign to start testing for food allergies or other physical problems.

    I look forward to discussing his curricular approach with you, but I thought a brief exploration of his use of the other two tools might be helpful — it is so easy for us to jump into curriculum and practices and skip other important factors that might have more bearing that we give them credit for.

    Extra Discussion Questions:

    • What do you think about Vittorino’s dismissal of some of the companions of the Gonzaga children (p. 33)? Do you think it wise; or it is a violation of the right of children to choose their own companions? How does this relate to the view of children as persons, especially when we are assured that he “respect[ed] the dignity and the freedom of his boys” (p. 34)?
    • What do you think of Vittorino’s refusal to teach an unwilling scholar (p. 34)?
    • How did Vittorino maintain his authority over his boys, and how does this relate to the maintenance of your own authority as a mother?

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  • Reply A Classical History of the Principle of Alternation (a Vittorino da Feltre post) | Afterthoughts August 26, 2019 at 12:24 pm

    […] the similarities are so striking. Today, we’ll look at another similarity (if you missed it, we discussed atmosphere and discipline last time): Vittorino’s use of the principle of […]

  • Reply Jill December 15, 2016 at 5:43 am

    Oh man, another book I want to read now! So many books, so little time…
    I totally agree about looking at physical/diet issues when there are learning or discipline issues going on. We did the whole30 back in October and I was amazed by how well my 9 and 6yo focused on their school work. I discovered that they operate much better when we have a high protein, low carb breakfast (big surprise, right?)

  • Reply Camille Malucci December 14, 2016 at 12:02 pm

    So much of this book is enlightening because it is giving me the history behind the principles that I thought were relatively modern. The idea that learning should be delightful was in my youth (school aged years especially) an entirely foreign concept, then one that I thought belonged to the world of unschoolers and finally I read Pieper and learned about Schole from Dr. Perrin. Now, I see it in Vittorino. While still very rigorous (especially by modern standards, cue the irony) the schooling took place in what was called the “House of Delight”. It sounds like the Italian version of Ambleside. On page 34, I love the phrase used of Vittorino, “But it was part of Vittonino’s purpose to attract rather than to drive, and to respect the dignity and freedom of his boys… It was a motive to which most youths of spirit eagerly responded.” I’m not sure what I thought the schools of the 1400s would be like, but this wasn’t really what I envisioned.

    • Reply Brandy Vencel December 14, 2016 at 4:10 pm

      Oh, I agree so much! We are so often given the impression that the Middle Ages weren’t much better than the Dark Ages (and I’m starting to suspect the Dark Ages weren’t so dark after all, but that’s another subject). But yes — that quote about seeking to attract rather that drive, it was so beautiful! ♥

  • Reply Becky December 13, 2016 at 7:37 pm

    I feel that his dismissal of their friends has to do with the fact that we are made in the image of our Maker and there in lies the truth that we imitate. If you want children to imitate the good, the true and the beautiful you may need to remove some of the ugliness for a time so that they may see it for what it truly is.

  • Reply Teri December 13, 2016 at 7:56 am

    VERY interestes in the last question on maintaining authority!

  • Reply Lauren December 9, 2016 at 6:08 am

    This section has also been a place that I have been slowly ruminating over and thinking over. It just strikes me so much of where CM must have got her inspiration for her first book. Felte’s careful attention to each detail of the atmosphere and mental diet of his students just impressed me so much. I have been thinking over and over this so much in respect to the environment in our home school.

    I feel like this book has dovetailed so very nicely with the Norms and Nobility Discussion over on the AO forums.

    I did have to laugh at the fact that he had no external heat. Italy must not get too cold. It reminded me of a talk by Andrew Pudewa years ago about how boys focus better when the room is colder.

    I wanted to write more but I have to run.

    • Reply Brandy Vencel December 9, 2016 at 2:29 pm

      Yes! It really has dovetailed nicely with N&N, which I guess shouldn’t be surprising, but I was a little struck by it, too. 🙂 I am noting to myself that I ought to chill my boys and see if that helps. 😉

  • Reply Sherrylynne Harrington December 8, 2016 at 2:55 pm

    Ok, you got me hooked today. I am reading the book on-line via Many notions are steaming to the top and co-mingling. First, sigh, to be so in love with learning and rubbing elbows with the top minds. Second, reading masterpieces in their original language. Next, if you have read, McCullough’s John Adams, you may remember that Adams would return to reading Cicero (I imagine, in Latin) over and over again as he agonized in office over the political climate of the upper offices. And lastly, to imagine being 14 years old and having the privilege of learning under such fine tutors at Vittorino & friends. I am finding this surprising fascinating. My inner geek loves you!

    • Reply Brandy Vencel December 8, 2016 at 6:49 pm

      Yay! You got sucked in! I just did a little dance in your honot. 🙂 And I had *totally* forgotten that part of John Adams, but I see the connection and I love it. 🙂

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