Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Laura's First Composition

Funky ornament found in one of Charlotte Mason's boxes at the Armitt in Ambleside

It is always interesting to come across descriptions of schools and learning in the past.  Here is the story of Laura Ingalls Wilder's first composition!  It's from These Happy Golden Years (p. 96-98.)  I can imagine  how her unhurried upbringing, love and attention to the natural world,  limited but quality reading, and numerous recitations probably helped her in this area. Oh, please note that she is 15 and has never had a composition lesson. (And doesn't her composition sound like something straight out of Ourselves by Charlotte Mason?)


Then the girls began to talk about their compositions, and Laura discovered that Mr. Owen had told the grammar class to write, for that day's lesson, a composition on "Ambition."...Laura was in a panic. She had never written a composition, and now she must do in a few minutes what the others had been working at since yesterday...She found herself staring at the yellow leather cover of the dictionary on its stand by Mr. Owen's desk. Perhaps, she thought, she might get an idea from reading the definition of ambition. Her fingers were chilly as she hurriedly turned the A pages, but the definition was interesting..At last Mr. Owen said, "Laura Ingalls," and all the class rustled as everyone looked at her expectantly. Laura stood up, and made herself read aloud what she had written.  It was the best that she had been able to do.

Ambition is necessary to accomplishment.  Without an ambition to gain an end, nothing would be done.  Without an ambition to excel others and to surpass one's self there would be no superior merit.  To win anything, we must have the ambition to do so.

Ambition is a good servant but a bad master.  So long as we control our ambition, it is good, but if there is danger or our being ruled by it, then I should say in the words of Shakespeare, "Cromwell, I charge thee, fling away ambition.  By that sin fell the angels."  Act III, scene 2, King Henry VIII

That was all. Laura stood miserably waiting for Mr. Owen's comment. He looked at her sharply and said, "You have written compositions before?"

"No, sir," Laura said. "This is my first."

"Well, you should write more of them, I would not have believed that anyone could do so well the first time," Mr. Owen told her.


That story goes along with Mason's famous quote about composition lessons:
 "Lessons on 'composition' should follow the model of that famous essay on 'Snakes in Ireland'-'There are none.' "(Vol. 1, p. 247)

I look forward to Sandy Rusby Bell's thoughts on this that she will be sharing at the Living Education Retreat.  Meanwhile, there are some informative posts at The Common Room about how Mason went about her very comprehensive plan for teaching composition. 


-HT to Alison for bringing that passage to my attention long ago!

Monday, March 9, 2015

Like a Comet Going By - William Blake

lambs in Ambleside last spring
Let Blake's 'Songs of Innocence' represent their standard in poetry. - Charlotte Mason

Blake's colored engraving of The Lamb

One of the first pieces of poetry my oldest son memorized was The Lamb by William Blake from Songs of Innocence.  Few things are sweeter than listening to a six-year-old recite this. (Why didn't I record that?)  Consequently, I memorized it also.  That was 20 years ago.  I believe it was Carole Joy Seid who gave me the idea.  Do you know it?

The Lamb
William Blake 

Little Lamb, who made thee
Does thou know who made thee
Gave thee life & bid thee feed.
By the stream & o'er the mead;
Gave thee clothing of delight,
Softest clothing woolly bright;
Gave thee such a tender voice.
Making all the vales rejoice:
Little Lamb who made thee
Does thou know who made thee

Little Lamb I'll tell thee,
Little Lamb I'll tell thee;
He is called by thy name,
For he calls himself a Lamb:
He is meek & he is mild,
He became a little child
I a child & thou a lamb,
We are called by His name,
Little Lamb God bless thee,
Little Lamb God bless thee. 

In our TBG community, William Blake is our poet this term,thus exposing my youngest 4 to this eccentric genius. A fabulous living book to read about Blake is James Daugherty's William Blake. I enjoyed how he portrayed Blake's solid marriage to Catherine, detailed descriptions of his ground-breaking engraving techniques, and quirky as well as terrifying visions.   Karla, our poetry teacher, has done an amazing job of letting us know about his engraving and life while keeping the poetry the main focus. The thing is the thing. 

Now, while the students are enjoying the poetry, we moms share all sorts of findings amongst ourselves. I recently read and loved Fierce Convictions: The Extraordinary Life of Hannah More - Poet, Reformer, Abolitionist by Karen Swallow Prior. So you can see how thrilled I was when we came across this quote regarding Blake and his visits to a Mrs. Mathews:

Mrs. Mathews, with Mrs. Sarah Siddons, the tragic actress; Angelica Kauffmann, the portrait painter, and Hannah More, the poet and writer, were only a few of the brilliant women of the new Age of Reason, of Invention, of the Machine, and of Liberty that was rising out of a changing world as the eighteenth century drew to a tumultuous close.  Men in Britain were beginning reluctantly to admit that women had minds.                -from William Blake by Daugherty, p.39
I love it when that happens! Hannah More knew William Blake!   But I must tell you why he stopped attending these evenings:

Blake began to come less often to Mrs. Mathews' intellectual evenings. He felt humiliated by Mrs. Mathews' patronage, and the artificial atmosphere and silly chatter of her stuffy evenings was becoming unbearable.  Gossipy ladies found it disconcerting to listen to an intense young man seriously report that he had recently attended a fairies' funeral and who told of having just had a pleasant evening's conversation with Socrates and the prophet Isaiah. Beneath his mild, soft-spoken manner there was something that blazed and shone like a comet going by. -from William Blake by Daugherty, p. 41

He was such an interesting, weird, well-read man.

So when we learned we would be reading Blake this term, the words of The Lamb came back to me almost instantly.  I suppose that's part of why Mason only wants us to give our children the best - it becomes part of who you are.  And my youngest has chosen The Lamb for her recitation piece!


Here's the full quote from Mason - 

Children must be Nurtured on the Best––For the children? They must grow up upon the best. There must never be a period in their lives when they are allowed to read or listen to twaddle or reading-made-easy. There is never a time when they are unequal to worthy thoughts, well put; inspiring tales, well told. Let Blake's 'Songs of Innocence' represent their standard in poetry; De Foe and Stevenson, in prose; and we shall train a race of readers who will demand literature––that is, the fit and beautiful expression of inspiring ideas and pictures of life. Perhaps a printed form to the effect that gifts of books to the children will not be welcome in such and such a family, would greatly assist in this endeavour.  Volume 2.263

A few favorite lines from Blake's Augeries of Innocence
To see a world in a grain of sand
And a heaven in a wild flower,
Hold infinity in the palm of your hand
And eternity in an hour.

Friday, February 20, 2015

Chief Knowledge

There are several ways by which the knowledge of God first comes to us; we may be struck by the words, acts, and looks of those who know––a very convincing lesson. A little plant of moss, the bareness of a tree in winter, may, as we have seen, awake us to the knowledge; or, dealings of strange intimacy with our own hearts, visitings of repentance and love, sweet answers to poor and selfish prayers, tokens of friendship that we can never tell, but most surely perceive, are all steps in this chief knowledge. (Vol. 4.184)

So much in this quote.


(Photo credit to Katie)

Saturday, February 7, 2015

Time, Peace, and Creativity

I have been thinking about this little phrase, shared a few years ago as a quick answer to a question by Christy.  In this guest  post over at Afterthoughts, she writes about it as it relates to scheduling in the homeschool, which is what I was referring to.  But I wanted to address it as it relates to another part of homeschooling – outside activities.  I think it applies here as well.

Three words that I read over and over again in Charlotte Mason’s writings are “long,” “slow,”  and “time.”  If you are running around from one activity to the next, you are cheating your students out of so much of the natural benefits of homeschooling and in particular, the CM method.  There was a phrase that used to be popular in homeschool circles:

"If this is homeschooling, why am I always in the minivan?"

A friend recently said that she eliminated 40 hours – 40 hours! - from her outside activities.  All good activities, mind you, and spread over a few children, but cutting those out has made all the difference in  the peace in her home.

In my own home I have seen the benefits of this cutting back, too.  As a family, we are careful about things we say “yes” to, thinking and praying before agreeing to join this or that club, playing a sport, or even volunteering the for myriad of activities church offers.

It’s important that the 15-year-old son has 1-4 hours  every day to think and tinker with robots.  He needs this time to cultivate ideas and creativity that might bring about solutions.  His team recently won at the state robotics championship, bringing home a passel of awards.
I like what Ken Robinson says in Out of Our Minds:

“Creativity is Imagination Applied.”

It’s important for the 17-year-old daughter to spend a few hours every day messing with her photography and editing skills.  It’s one of the things she loves to do and giving her that time respects her as a person. I have gained a huge respect for those who choose this art form as I had no idea the time it takes to produce amazing pictures.

For some reason, we tend to think that as our students get older, they should spend less time alone, thinking, tinkering, experimenting, and daydreaming and more time doing “important” things. But in a way,  I think more of it is needed.

My farmer friend once told me that one day she looked out her kitchen window and saw a sight that she will never forget and brought tears to her eyes.  Out in her yard was her young daughter on her horse, lying on her back and just staring at the sky. She knew that she was giving her daughter a precious gift. 

It's important that the 11-year-old gets lots of time to paint and draw. Or the ...you get the picture.

Sometimes we need to resist the urge to nag our children to “get up and do something.” Sometimes giving them the time and space to just “be” is the best way to respect their personhood. (Masterly inactivity, anyone?)And  sometimes it takes the adult in their life to rearrange things so this can happen.