Friday, June 21, 2019

Meeting Charlotte Mason Part 2: Books and Stories

Earlier in June, the Charlotte Mason Study Group I am part of hosted an evening to introduce and discuss the education and parenting ideas of Charlotte Mason to interested parents and teachers. This is the second talk I gave on book selection and usage. You can read Part 1: Why Charlotte Mason? here.

Books and Stories

The Reading Mother
By Strickland Gillilan

I had a mother who read to me
Sagas of pirates who scoured the sea,
Cutlasses clenched in their yellow teeth,
"Blackbirds" stowed in the hold beneath.
I had a Mother who read me lays
Of ancient and gallant and golden days;
Stories of Marmion and Ivanhoe,
Which every boy has a right to know.
I had a Mother who read me tales
Of Gelert the hound of the hills of Wales,
True to his trust till his tragic death,
Faithfulness blent with his final breath.
I had a Mother who read me the things
That wholesome life to the boy heart brings--
Stories that stir with an upward touch,
Oh, that each mother of boys were such!
You may have tangible wealth untold;
Caskets of jewels and coffers of gold.
Richer than I you can never be--
I had a Mother who read to me.

I have two thoughts for you to consider as you turn your attention to the books and stories you will be looking for your children to feast on. Then we will discuss practical ways to build a home library for your family.

The first is Do read good books, but not in great doses.

Young children need good stories, but they also need much time to play outdoors and watch things for as long and as often as you can give them. And for that outside time, Charlotte Mason recommends “no story-books, no telling of tales, as little talk as possible, and that to some purpose” which she elaborates on in great detail in her volume Home Education in the section called Out-of-door Life for Children. (Home Ed. p.45)
“We older people, partly because of our defective education, get most of our knowledge through the medium of words. We set the child to learn in the same way, and find him dull and slow. ...But set him face to face with a thing, and he is twenty times as quick as you are in knowing all about it; knowledge of things flies to the mind of a child as steel filings to a magnet. And...with his knowledge of things, his vocabulary grows; for it is a law of the mind that what we know, we struggle to express. This fact accounts for many of the apparently aimless questions of children; they are in quest, not of knowledge, but of words to express the knowledge they have.” (Home Ed. p.67)
So look for good books and enjoy them together remembering that their imagination will take these stories a long way and become part of them.

The second is Do not moralize stories, but allow the child’s mind to see their own connections.
Author and Catholic Professor Anthony Esolen writes that the ‘book is a friend with an arm round the shoulder’ leaning in slightly, talking and pointing as you walk along.
Mason referred to a mother’s habit of engaging in talky-talk and spoiling the child’s opportunity to consider for themselves the author’s mind.
Imagine you are on a walk-about meeting people and in your ear is the voice of your assistant murmuring the names and information of the people you are speaking with. It’s distracting, it creates an artificial experience and it interferes with the work of the meeting of minds.
We want our children to do the thinking. We do not want to dull the sharpness of their youthful ideas and understanding with too much of our own ideas. Of course we may speak with them and share our appreciation for the ideas given to us, but our oral lessons and lectures should only be as Mason says ‘to help order their knowledge, to introduce, to illustrate, to amplify, to sum up.’
Speaking from experience, that is difficult advice to follow. Everything in me wants to explain and enumerate the material to my own satisfaction. Resist this urge and respect your child’s ability to think and relate to the ideas in their own way. Mason again, “oral lessons should be few and far between, and that the child who has to walk through life and has to find his intellectual life in books or go without, shall not be first taught to go upon crutches” (School Ed. p.229-230)
“For of the evils of modern education few are worse than this --that the perpetual cackle of his elders (and I would add peers) leaves the poor child not a moment of time, nor an inch of space wherein to wonder -- and grow.” (Home Ed. p.44)
As a side note, I want to mention books that contain facts and information.John Burroughs, an American naturalist and writer said this:“The child who’s only taught a lot of bare facts comes away from school without any love of books or knowledge. You see, unless we are quiet and simple, whether we teach or write, ideas are lost sight of, and you have only the rattle of words.”
Charlotte Mason makes a distinction between Knowledge and Information which goes like this:
“Information is the record of facts, experiences, appearances, etc. whether in books or in the verbal memory of the individual; knowledge it seems to me, implies the result of the voluntary and delightful action of the mind upon the material presented to it.”
Lesson books need to contain ideas for the mind to grapple with. Information fed in what Mason calls pre-digested morsels are not what she envisions students feasting on. So take care especially in the non-fiction areas that you look for well written materials and do not rely on reference books that overwhelm the reader with facts.
“Because knowledge is power, the child who has got knowledge will certainly show power in dealing with it. He/she will recast, condense, illustrate, or narrate with vividness and with freedom in the arrangement of his words.” (School Ed. p. 225)
So in summary, we want to be reading good books in small amounts without adding our own morals at every turn, but instead allowing the child’s mind to inquire of himself what he can do with the story given to him.
With all that in mind, let’s look at what makes a good book for a child to be free in relating to:
Here are a few things to consider from my experience:
1)Well written sentences and good use of vocabulary
2)Avoid formulaic plots and series
3)Provides ideas of family and virtue, neighborliness, care for the earth and creatures, evidence of humility and maturity in characters

And here are some of Charlotte Mason’s suggestions for Cultivating the Habit of Imagining:
Alice in Wonderland vs. The Swiss Family Robinson ('absurd vs realising of the unknown' (“They must have ‘funny books’, but do not give the children too much nonsense reading.”) (Home Ed. p.152)
Tales of imagination, scenes laid in other lands and other times, heroic adventures, hairbreadth escapes, delicious fairy tales in which they are never roughly pulled up by the impossible -- even where all is impossible, and they know it, and yet believe it.
If you’re prone to reading ingredient lists on your grocery purchases, consider the same scrutiny for the books that enter your home. Just as you would no more steer your grocery cart to the candy aisle with your menu plans, so too be more intentional about the quality of the books your children encounter.
Charlotte Mason gives us a task that may seem unnecessarily difficult: Not just any book is to be presented to children for their studies or enjoyment. And until your children can be trained to be content with a “no” to their book choices, it is best to remove them from the selection process. And by that I mean, they may not be able to go with you to the library or the local bookstore. I’m sure that sounds a bit crazy, but once you start looking at good quality literature and books, you will find many offerings in these spaces for children do not measure up.
I do not mean to turn you into a book snob, but remember the candy analogy I just mentioned? There are books that at their best are sugary trifles and at their worst, corrupting and rude bites.

Now onto the fun stuff, practical suggestions of how to find good books.
- use books about books
- use booklists
- go to used book sales and library discard sales
- look for other books by known authors and illustrators
- look for award winners (Newberry/Caldecott) and publisher’s imprints like ‘Reading Rainbow’ and ‘Picture Puffins’
- look at ‘customers also bought’ on Amazon
- use a social book reading site like LibraryThing or GoodReads to find booklists, just use discernment (recent list included Diary of a Wimpy Kid)
- join a Facebook group and follow Instagram hashtags

1 comment:

  1. I so appreciate what you have passed on about not chattering at children or moralizing stories. I was late learning about Charlotte Mason at all and haven't read much of her wisdom, but everything affirms what I have picked up elsewhere or felt intuitively. Also, I well remember as a child not being able to think about and understand what I was trying to learn as long as someone was talking to me about it.

    Thank you very much!


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