Wednesday, April 27, 2016

The Habits Pendulum

a gift of fragrant, wild plum blossoms!

Habits are important in a Charlotte Mason relational education.  They are mentioned as the second item of Ms. Mason’s educational trifecta, “education is an atmosphere, a discipline, and a life” and emphasized under principal #7 which states, “By Education is a discipline, is meant the discipline of habits formed definitely and thoughtfully, whether habits of mind or body.”  The recent discussions on this topic online and in meetings show just how concerned parents and teachers are about habits.  I have noticed the swinging of the pendulum to one side – that of external application.
While Mason does mention choosing a bad habit to work on, I don’t see her picking a character trait or habit and turning it into a unit study by defining it, reading books to point the moral and talking about it ad nauseum  I know this doesn’t work because that is exactly where I started 20 years ago. Yes, we wrote “Attentiveness” on the board, defined it, looked up verses on it, and read stories that highlighted it.  What this did was to create a polite apathy and aversion in my sons towards any mention of the term Since I was reading Mason at the same time, I was a bit confused and could see how my approach conflicted with Mason’s ideas on habits and how to cultivate them.  I changed my approach. 

A person is not built up from without but within, that is, he is living, and all external educational appliances and activities which are intended to mould his character are decorative and not vital.(Mason, Vol. 6, p. 23) 

In the following example, Mason tells of a lazy young man who changes his ways: 

The lazy boy who hears of the Great Duke's narrow camp bed, preferred by him because when he wanted to turn over it was time to get up, receives the idea of prompt rising. But his nurse or his mother knows how often and how ingeniously the tale must be brought to his mind before the habit of prompt rising is formed; she knows too how the idea of self-conquest must be made at home in the boy's mind until it become a chivalric impulse which he cannot resist.  (Mason, Vol. 6, p. 102) 

What are the elements here?  A great story, a subtle reminder, self-discipline and an irresistible chivalric impulseBut note what she says next -  

It is possible to sow a great idea lightly and casually and perhaps this sort of sowing should be rare and casual because if a child detect a definite purpose in his mentor he is apt to stiffen himself against it. 

Here she says that even this way of encouraging lightly and casually should be rare. It’s a fine art, this role of helping the child build up from within. 

A unique aspect of Mason’s philosophy is that the habits of the mind are not developed in isolation from the method, content, or philosophy.  Habits are part of the whole, the life, the education at hand.  I find it interesting that when I have a problem or something isn’t working in my homeschool, I don’t need to run out and buy a different curriculum to fix it.  If I turn to her philosophy and try to understand more, I almost always find the solution.  

Here is an example that illustrates what I mean.  It seems that a headmaster in a poor district in England had adopted Mason’s P.U.S. curriculum and wrote her a letter in appreciation. He states that previously, corporal punishment (physical punishment involving pain) had been the norm in his school where bad habits abounded. 

But now narration compels the teacher to get at the back of a child's mind.  This combined with mutual discussion on a wide range of subjects, begets understanding.  Understanding begets confidence and love, and all need of corporal punishment and restraint gradually disappears.  A teacher who had previously taught in the school called the other day.  She exclaimed immediately: “How happy everyone is!” “Do you mean the children?” I said. “Yes,”she answered, “and the teachers.” That is not intended as a compliment to the work but it was in reality one of the best I have received; for children are only happy when making headway. (Cholmondley, The Story of Charlotte Mason, p. 138) 

I love the idea that narration compels the teacher to get at the back of a child’s mind! That example highlights the fact that the methods (narration), content (wide range of subjects), and philosophy (relationships, understanding) all work together to provide a healthy, positive atmosphere that may reduce stress and bad habits.
Now, I don’t think that every child will follow the same patterns that she glowingly tells us about in her examples.  I’m also not saying that Mason is the final authority on the subject, because she isn’t.  But I do think that she is getting at something different than what I see being talked about when it comes to habits.  And maybe that's because she already assumes that the authority issue has been settled.   She calls proper authority one of the three "foundation principles", the "basis for moral training", "fundamental", and "present but not in evidence: we do not expose the foundations of our house". Just a quick glance around our culture, church included, we can see that this isn't in place.  It isn't in place for the adults (under God's authority) and it isn't in place for the children. But I suppose that is another discussion altogether. So when it comes to habits, Mason speaks of the child’s heart – their inner self.  Ideas are the impetus for good habits and should thoughtfully mobilize the student to self-discipline.  The parent or teacher should be working alongside the child and the Holy Spirit. 

One more thing.  Dr. Carroll Smith shares this note that he came across in the Armitt Museum archives on Charlotte Mason. It was written to Henrietta Franklin in 1922, the year before she died. She writes, “Science has done nothing to confirm the “rut” theory in all these years, and Brother Body seems to me much the inferior partner.  I think all that I have written is still true but I would emphasize habit and so on less. Child mind – no, because a child has as much mind as the rest of us 

Thus, don’t begin with teaching the habit of (insert habit here)   - begin with the relationships, appropriate books, ideas, outdoor life, and all those things that fill the child’s mind with ideas that make up this living education.  Watch that pendulum, please.


(This blog post was originally published  at the Charlotte Mason Institute blog.)

Monday, April 18, 2016

Grilling and Reading

In 2005, the Kellys invited the Jahnkes over for pork chops on the grill. But there was one stipulation - each person was to bring a list of their 5 favorite books to share. It was fun!  I remember helping the littles prepare their choices.  With great foresight, Mr. Jahnke actually saved the list and recently shared it with me.  Here are my children’s selections:

Son (16)
-Les Miserables by Hugo
-A Tale of Two Cities by Dickens
-That Hideous Strength by Lewis
-Til We Have Faces by Lewis
-The Three Musketeers by Dumas

Son (14)
-The Story of WWII by Leckie
-The Fortunes of Captain Blood by Sabatini
-Big Red by Kjellgard
-Black Hearts in Battersea by Aiken
-Periscope Up by White

Daughter (8)
-Bobbsey Twins series by Hope
-Laura Ingall’s Wilder Books
-Owls in the Family by Mowat
- Melendy Quartet by Enright
- Betsy books by Haywood

Son (6)
-Cowboy Sam by Lenski
-Chronicles of Narnia by Lewis
-Aesop’s Fables
-Maze books

Daughter (4)
-If you Give a Mouse a Cookie by Numeroff
-Maze books
-Beatrix Potter books
-Unc’ Billy Possum by Burgess

Daughter (2)
-It Must Be Magic – (mommy’s poetry book from her childhood – Hallmark)
-Nursery Rhyme Books
-Ricka, Flicka, Dicka Bake a Cake by Lindman
-Snipp, Snapp, Snurr Go Swimming by Lindman

I don’t know what my husband’s choices were.  Here are mine:
-A Severe Mercy by VanAuken
-Girl Meets God by Winner
-Expecting Adam by Beck
-Sir Gibbie by MacDonald
-Homeschooling for Excellence by Colfax

This list gives such a fascinating snapshot into our lives and personalities at that time.  Hmmmmm.  Maybe we will do this again soon and I’ll share an updated list!

Admiration, Hope and Love!


Monday, April 4, 2016

Composition, Letter Writing, and Narration

Esbjorn Doing His Homework by Carl Larsson   1912

"I do not think I should ask a child to imitate a particular style, but I should like him to be so far steeped in the works of as many good writers as possible, that he would be able to recognize the author in an extract he had never heard before, just as he should know an unnamed picture of Raphael, Titian, or Botticelli from his knowledge of the painters’ characteristics." - H.H. Dyke

Did you hear that the Charlotte Mason Digital Collection is now super user-friendly?  It is part of the WorldCat database and is so easy to use! Just start your search with "cmdc" to get the results from the Charlotte Mason collection first.

Speaking of searching the archives, I want to share this pretty amazing article about composition with you.  It was presented by H.H. Dyke at the Ambleside Conference in 1911 and later published in the L'Umile Pianta, the alumni magazine.  I love reading about composition and digging around to see what Mason prescribed for her students.  This lengthy article does not disappoint.  In fact, it would be interesting to have a discussion about it, just as the attendees at this conference did. And just as I already have had with a few fellow teachers and parents.

Note that the author grounds the topic squarely in the Great Recognition, a fact of no small importance and perhaps the most distinguishing attribute of a Charlotte Mason education.  It's also interesting to read about the problems the teachers ran across in the reality of the classroom. (See this article which discusses when dictation isn't working well as a tool for spelling for some students.)

You will find all sorts of valuable exercises in this article.  I like this one -

"Take an essay by some good author – for instance, one of Macaulay’s essays. Let the child read a paragraph and then express the essence of its contents in one sentence. This is specially valuable as a training in that quickness in seizing a point, which we value highly in other people, and by which, perhaps more than by any other way, intelligence may be tested."
I hope you enjoy it.

Admiration, Hope and Love!


L’umile Pianta
Ambleside Conference, 1911

Composition, Letterwriting, and Narration
By H. H. Dyke

There is a picture which we all know well, we call it our “Creed,” and when we were students, at Scale How, its details were impressed on our memory. I mean, of course, “The Descent of the Holy Spirit, “in the Church of Santa Maria Novella at Florence. Has it ever occurred to you that of the seven Liberal Arts, which are represented in this picture and which we learnt at Scale How to acknowledge as inspired by God – of these seven, no less than three go to form the subject of our discussion this morning? Had I realized, when I agreed to write a paper on Composition, that I was presuming to offer my opinion upon so great a subject as the famous “Trivium” itself, I should have undertaken it less lightly.
Not long ago I asked an English mistress at one of our chief public schools for girls if she could give me any suggestions with regard to the teaching of Composition. Her answer might have come from any Scale How student: “I should put first,” she said, “the importance of oral composition with young children. Half the trouble we have with older girls would be spared, if they had learnt as children to narrate connectedly, and without help by questioning, stories which had first been read to them.”
                It is hardly necessary to insist at such a meeting as this upon the importance of narration, because this is one of our first educational principles, and all of us who have taught little children must have experienced astonishment and delight at the power such a method of teaching has in training the mind and in giving command of language.
                To pass on to the consideration of written Composition. The authority whom I quoted before continued: “The next point is, ‘No bricks without straw.’ Subjects only should be set in which the children are really interested. The use of a subject to stimulate interest is quite wrong.” And Professor Percy Gardner writes with reference, not to the school essay, but to the Oxford essay, “that to set men to write on subjects about which they know but little, and about which, under the circumstances, they can learn but little, is not merely inexpedient, but radically immoral.”
                This, too, we knew in our student days, and secure in this knowledge we set out, perhaps, to teach Composition in the happy belief that no great art or skill was needed, but that,  given interesting subjects and with good literature as their model, the children would acquire a good style without our help. I wonder whether any of you became conscious of being mistaken. Was it your experience, as I candidly confess it was mine, that though the children’s vocabulary was enlarged by the use of books, yet they did not learn by nature the elementary rules of Composition?
                Here my remarks will principally apply to children in Class II., where written Composition begins to take the place of oral work. The chief fault seems to be a lack of the sense of proportion. I remember once that a child in the Practising School was asked to write an account of Charles V. of Spain. The answer contained a full detailed history of the way in which the Emperor spent his days in a monastery after he had abdicated, and how his chief occupation was the supervision of a number of clocks, which he never succeeded in keeping entirely together; and this was absolutely all. Now, such a fact may be an interesting and authentic one, but it can hardly be considered so important as to exclude all mentions of imperial matters.
                Of course, the fault lies often with the teacher.  The child is told to write “All he knows” about an historical character in whom he is interested. Why, he is simply full of the subject, and without a moment’s consideration he begins to pour out information, helter-skelter, regardless of method and order, and often, as in the case of Charles V., minute details of trivial events are given, and perhaps the essential facts are never mentioned at all, or the life is only half finished.
                A topic then should be set which can be dealt with in the time allowed. And, before the child begins to write, insist on a few minutes’ thought. Let him settle what are the most important facts. Anecdotes and details may only be included if they bear upon the chief points in the theme. Before all things, the Composition must be clear and must be a complete whole. I shall enter into this subject more fully in dealing with work in Class III. and Class IV.
                But, before leaving  Class II, I should like to suggest giving the child, as an exercise, a very bare outline of a story, and asking him to expand it by supplying imaginary details. This will help him to keep the essentials in due proportion, and it will give plenty of scope for originality and imagination.
                I spoke just now of the difficulties which the subject of Composition presented to me, and in teaching in the Parents’ Union School, the chief difficulty is lack of time. When I was in Germany I was struck by the contrast. A considerable amount of time is given weekly to the German essay, which is one of the chief subjects in the curriculum, and is most carefully taught. A German teacher would be scandalized at our carelessness in the matter. Half an hour once a week is surely very inadequate. There is no opportunity for the definite instruction which I strongly feel is desirable, not for the criticism of essays, already written; and the essay is of course necessarily written straight into the exercise book, instead of being read through and re-copied as I should like. The girls no doubt pick up expressions from their text books, and peculiarities of style, but they do not make the progress they might, and their work nearly always bears the sign of haste. As this is one of the accusations commonly brought against the Parents’ Union scheme, I very much hope that this point may afterwards be discussed.
                More time, then, seems to me to be not only desirable, but absolutely necessary, and then I think a great deal of help could be given. First in importance I should put the point upon which I touched just now – the necessity of making a definite scheme before setting out upon the Composition itself. Let the children write down in the form of headings all that occurs to them on the subject, and then arrange these headings in their logical sequence. The drawing up of the scheme should not occupy more than one-sixth of the allotted time – say five minutes, if half an hour is allowed. In writing the Composition some kind of introduction should be made leading up to the theme itself; then the different facts are marshalled in order , a clear sequence of thought and a suitable proportion between the different parts of the essay being observed; and lastly a conclusion is drawn – e.g., the leading thought of the essay is given. The essay should if possible begin and end with an effective sentence. Here Bacon’s essays afford examples – “On Truth,” “What is Truth? said jesting Pilate,” “On Gardens,” “God Almighty planted a garden.”
                Another valuable exercise is to read a speech from the newspaper, or to take any other suitable extract from literature – e.g., a complete and short episode from any classic, or one of Bacon’s or Lamb’s essays – and ask the children to extract the plan, writing down the chief points in the form of headings. They will very quickly learn to discriminate between a good and a bad speech, distinguishing one that is logical and forcible from another, which, though calculated to appeal to the uneducated, will not prove to be sound logic if analysed.
                The method of making schemes leads me to speak of the question of paragraphs, which should present no difficulty, in the child had grasped the idea of arranging his thoughts in the form of headings. Each heading would then suggest the contents of one paragraph. With beginners, insist upon short sentences, and let these open in as many different ways as possible. An extract from almost any good author would show in what varied ways it is possible to start a sentence, and the children will quickly notice how pleasing variety is to the ear. Following close on the theory of paragraphs and sentences comes the art of punctuation, which, although it is simple, and perhaps because a certain amount of license is allowed, so many people do not understand. How many people never make use, for instance, of the colon or semi-colon; yet their right use adds immensely to effectiveness of style. Perhaps the only effectual way of learning to punctuate is by careful observation when reading; but the Dictation lesson can give practice also.
                These points – the use of a definite scheme, involving the right use of the paragraph and some grasp of the rules of punctuation – seem to me to be the basis of the teaching of Composition. Let me repeat again that clearness is to be sought after before all things. And there are many exercises which will help to develop this power. Take an essay by some good author – for instance, one of Macaulay’s essays. Let the child read a paragraph and then express the essence of its contents in one sentence. This is specially valuable as a training in that quickness in seizing a point, which we value highly in other people, and by which, perhaps more than by any other way, intelligence may be tested.
                Another very necessary exercise is to discriminate between words, making a list of synonyms, or showing the difference between words which are nearly akin in meaning. For instance: find all the synonyms for “useful” – beneficial, profitable, serviceable, advantageous. Then show by sentences that synonymous words cannot always be interchanged; we can say, “He is a useful person, “but not, “He is a beneficial person.” It is a good thing also to set a child to define clearly the meaning of words in common use. This is a great test of clearness of thought, and prevents the slipshod use of words. Children are often fond of using words which they do not understand, but which they think sound well.
                Do not let children suppose there is any merit in using long words. An extract from a newspaper will show how absurd pompous writing may become. Here is an example from a little book called, “A Chapter on Essay-writing,” which I should like to recommend to you: - “We regret to announce a disastrous fatality which transpired yesterday afternoon. The Mayor was proceeding to his residence on his bicycle, when he was precipitated from his machine, and sustained a fractured leg.” We might with advantage re-write this: - “We are sorry to say that the Mayor met with a bad accident yesterday afternoon. As he was riding home, he fell from his bicycle and broke his leg.” Nothing is lost and everything is gained here by simplicity.
                The subject also of Blank Verse is one which I hope may be discussed at the end of this paper. It is, or used to be, included in the Programme as an occasional exercise for Class III and Class IV. Perhaps I have been unfortunate in my experience, but I have found that in nearly every case the result is most unsatisfactory to both the teacher and children if they have any literary feeling at all. I should like to see blank verse removed from the programme, because I think a child with any poetic talent will versify without encouragement, and for the rest – perhaps the amount of bad poetry (if it can be dignified by that name) produced nowadays should be a sufficient deterrent from encouraging everyone to think he is a poet. At any rate, I do not think the time spent on this exercise is justified by the results, and I should reserve the writing of poetry until the power to write prose was greater.
                Then, it is necessary to say something upon the subject of letter writing, which, people say, is a lost art nowadays. Here, again, I think we may learn a great deal from Germany, where the subject is carefully taught. Attention is given to details of arrangement, the right way to begin and end a letter is dealt with, and the children are not only required to write the letter accurately and in irreproachable handwriting, but must also fold it exactly, and are shown how to put it in the envelope the right way, in order to give the recipient the least possible trouble.
                Children, and also grown-up people, often think letter writing tiresome. Perhaps we could overcome this dislike with children by choosing more interesting subjects for their letters than we commonly do. What we need is a theme which gives scope for imagination and originality.
                If a child is asked, as he so often is, to write description from one of the books he is reading, or to give an account of a life-history, he feels that the teacher already knows all about it,  and there is never great pleasure in telling another what he already knows. I should, therefore, nearly always give a definite object in writing, and not merely ask for a reproduction of an incident which has been read. Here are some themes for composition quoted from a book called “The Writing of English,” by Professor Hartog,  a book which is wonderfully suggestive, and from which I have taken many ideas and examples. Write a story for which the following words of Benjamin Franklin would serve as a fit motto: “A little neglect may breed mischief; for want of a nail the shoe was lost; for want of a horse the rider was lost.” And: “A French boy asks why you are proud of being English. You reply in a letter.” I quote these examples to show how very varied in form a composition may be, and how much scope there is for ingenuity on the part of the teacher in order that interest may not flag.
                So far I have dealt chiefly with the outward form of the composition, the observance of certain rules and care in the accurate use of words; but I do not forget that accuracy and clearness are not all that we require in a writer, though it may be more necessary than anything else. Instruction and practice in writing will not develop literary power, unless the study of good literature is carried on at the same time. To read widely and observe closely is necessary in order to acquire a good style.
                I have left this point till last, not because I thought it of secondary importance, but because I felt it would be obvious to everyone present. At the same time, I do not think it enough, in most cases, to put good literature into the children’s hands, and then leave them to choose their own style, but I think they should be helped to observe and to discriminate. For this purpose I should make a wide use of extracts as illustrating different points of style, not of course in the literature lesson, but in teaching composition. The books set for the term do not always afford enough variety. I do not think I should ask a child to imitate a particular style, but I should like him to be so far steeped in the works of as many good writers as possible, that he would be able to recognize the author in an extract he had never heard before, just as he should know an unnamed picture of Raphael, Titian, or Botticelli from his knowledge of the painters’ characteristics.
                Perhaps I cannot do better than quote a passage from Kinglake’s “Invasion of the Crimea” and give Professor Hartog’s criticism. This will show the kind of extract which might be read in class and the way in which it could be studied. The passage is taken from the description of the capture of the great redoubt in the Battle of Alma:- “Then a small childlike youth ran forward before the throng, carrying a colour. This was young Anstruther. He carried the Queen’s colour of the ‘Royal Welsh.’  Fresh from the games of English school life, he ran fast; for, heading all who strove to keep up with him, he gained the Redoubt, and dug the butt end of the flagstaff into the parapet, and there for a moment he stood, holding it tight and taking breath. Then he was shot dead; but his small hands, still clasping the flagstaff, drew it down along with him, and the crimson silk lay covering the boy with its folds; but only for a moment, because William Evans, a swift-footed soldier, ran forward, gathered up the flag, and raising it proudly made claim to the Great Redoubt on behalf of the Royal Welsh. The colours, floating high in the air, and seen by our people far and near, kindled in them a raging love for the ground where it stood. . . . Our soldiery were up, and in a minute they flooded in over the parapet, hurrahing, jumping over, hurrahing, a joyful English crowd.”
                “If we analyse the piece we find the following to be the main facts which Kinglake wished to describe: - A youth called Anstruther ran forward and planted the colour of the Royal Welsh on the parapet of the Redoubt, but was killed at once. The colour fell to the ground, and was promptly lifted by William Evans, a private of the same regiment. The English, seeing the flag in the Redoubt, were seized with the desire to come up to it. The troops swarmed over the parapet, hurrahing.”
                Now, such a narration of the facts is dull; it misses half the aim of a story, for it leaves little impression upon the mind of the reader, who would pass on and forget. Kinglake keeps the main facts in order, but, never for a moment losing grip of that order, gives just the details which make the reader feel as if he were present. He appeals to our sense of sight and sound in almost every line.
                You will remember how Robert Louis Stevenson describes the way in which he taught himself to write by studying and imitating various masters of style. Stevenson’s essay, which we might do well to read and ponder, leaves us with the thought in which, I think, we all agree – that it is almost entirely the study of literature which makes a good writer. I have tried to suggest what they teacher’s share may be, but I do so knowing that here there will be diversity of opinion, and wishing, not to lay down rules, but to open up lines for discussion that we may all profit by the experience of others.

                The discussion following Miss Dyke’s paper consisted chiefly in answering three questions suggested by the author.
1.       Is Blank Verse helpful in teaching Composition?
2.       Is it advisable, in order to produce a good style, to analyse extracts culled from masters of clear, good English?
3.       Should letter writing be taught?
1.       Some students said they found Blank Verse hindered clear expression, and the proper accenting of the syllables often failed; whilst others felt that the limited and definite number of syllables helped the children to find fitting and simple words. Most declared Blank Verse to be a favourite lesson, and were of one mind that it should not be taken out of the Programme.
2.       The second question discussed called forth the unanimous opinion that there was too little time on the Programme to use extracts and analyse them; and also that the right use of the books set for each Class, as well as wider reading of the best literature, must in itself help greatly to the formation of a good style in Composition. Instances were cited of children’s use of simple clear English when narrating a passage read either from the Bible or elsewhere.
3.       The students generally agreed that letter writing should not be taught, as it would spoil the naturalness of the style and make it too stereotyped.
All felt most grateful to Miss Dyke for raising this discussion, and thanked her for her splendid paper.

Link to article in the archives:  https://redeemer.on.worldcat.org/oclc/927168740?databaseList=638

L'Umile Pianta : For the Children's Sake. (1911). http://charlottemason.redeemer.ca/LUmile-Pianta/L_UP_PDF_PACKAGES/1911/06/p01-07UPje1911.pdf

(Thank you, Sara D. and Jack K. for bringing it to my attention!)