Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Cultural Education versus Education for Examinations and Tests

the children's tree in the upstairs bay window
Miss Mason looked on education as something between the child's soul and God.  Modern education tends to look on it as something between the child's brain and the examination board...it is part of the whole modern policy of quick returns, of the substitution of immediate and temporary values for ultimate and absolute ones.- Monk Gibbon                

Monk Gibbon, the poet and apparent admirer of Charlotte Mason, describes the difference between Mason's philosophy of education and what the rest of England was implementing as "Cultural Education versus Education for Examinations and Tests."  This letter to the Editor of The Parents' Review is packed with gems.  I found it in one of my favorite resources - Karen Andreola's Parents' Review Magazine.  You can still order back issues here.  I had mine comb bound years ago and I enjoy reading issues that correspond to the seasons. 

I've read that Monk was a rather crusty old man, which might explain some of his zingers  like this one:
The statistic compilers, and the examiners, the Boards and the Joint Boards, all those people whose mouths...are gorged with sawdust, have it all their own way, standardizing, consolidating, synchronizing and all the rest of it, until education has become that gigantic sausage machine which it is at present, the pig going in at one end and coming out educated pork at the other.

This letter is worth reading, so I have asked permission and am printing it in toto for you below.  It's a warm read for a cold night (it's -4 F right now), just like the Parents' Review Magazine.  Meanwhile, I think I'll put this line in my commonplace book - "Miss Mason looked on education as something between the child's soul and God." 

From joy to joy,
Nancy
Tiny Tim from Charming Children of Dickens' Stories By His Granddaughter



To the Editor of The Parents’ Review

            I send you now the “thoughts” on education, jotted down a few months ago when on holiday in Austria.  They observe no sequence; in more than one instance they overlap or even repeat themselves; and, like all writing that tends to aphorism, they make certain demands of the reader’s intuition.  But I believe that the main substance of them will have the sympathy of your reader, if not approval, standing in large measure for what the P.N.E.U. stands for today.  I read the reports of Educational Conferences and the discussions upon the various papers, and it seems to me that the issue at stake is wider and deeper than many of the problems raised, that it is in short Cultural Education versus Education for Examinations and Tests.  At present the latter has it all its own way.  It has become a mania.  If you can’t pass the tests you are uneducated; if you can you are educated, God help you.  Yes, God help you;      because, seriously, I think that the uneducated have the advantage in this respect; there is some chance of their loving a thing for its own sake, not merely as a tiresome means to something else.  Once again it all comes back to economics.  Every parent is so afraid for the future that they see everything from the utilitarian point of view:  “What advantage is my child getting from this?” – “For what will this qualify them?”  Useless to say to them, “The advantage of a well-balanced and enlightened mind,” seeing that minds can be enlightened and still lack jobs.  They have all bowed the knee to Mammon.  They want culture, but they want it as a mere trimming to efficiency, like a little music in the evenings to while away the time.  Even the few who are economically secure feel that they cannot risk neglecting the efficiency standard.  The statistic compilers, and the examiners, and the Boards and the Joint Boards, all those people whose mouths, as James Stephens said, are gorged with sawdust, have it all their own way, standardizing, consolidating, synchronizing and all the rest of it, until education has become that gigantic sausage machine which it is at present, the pig going in at one end and coming out educated pork at the other.
            Does it never strike them that education is essentially something solitary, a message from one soul to another and the resultant influence thereon, and that to teach literature or anything else, except the exact sciences, by a rule or method is in most cases to rob it of its whole significance, to break the butterfly of appreciation on the wheel of conscientious pedagogy?  We are all to learn the same poems, express the same opinions on them (for examiners seem to want nothing so much as opinions, and all “opinion” at seventeen or eighteen is taught opinion) and chew the not very succulent end of seventy percent for our answers.
            I would like to think that enough of Miss Mason’s teaching still lingered in the differently constructed minds of this differently circumstances age, to make some of us indifferent almost to the results of the examination hall, and that we saw education as the sowing of a seed not necessarily destined to blossom at the next Oxford of Cambridge Local.  One mustn’t say this to parents, but one can think it in the secrecy of one’s heart.
            And, if we do think it, surely the future of P.N.E.U. is this mission of cultural education as against education for the examination test, the qualifying standard, the stereotyped norm?  Let others feed the sausage machine and let P.N.E.U. remain with its few disciples outside the factory.  I don’t mean let it remain static, but where it moves forward let it move forward along the line of this ideal, rather than the line of standardization and tests, emphasizing always that the only education that matters is  this education of the soul, with all those mental and moral qualities which go to make up character.  If we have new books – and why not? – let them be chosen for literary quality, which was Miss Mason’s own criterion.  If we have new ideas – and without new ideas we shall soon stultify and become a bundle of dried grass in a beautiful vase – let them be tried by the test she herself applied: “Does this contribute to the enlightened and balanced spirit towards which we strive, or is it only another catch-penny or catch-notice device of the sensation mongers, the people to whom everything new is necessarily good, everything old necessarily outworn?”  P.N.E.U. cannot afford to be behind the age: it must be like all great movements a little – I shan’t say in front of, but – outside it;  that is, narrow enough not to be entrapped by its imbecilities, wide enough not to miss any of its advances.  It must be on the watch to absorb all that is good in the new without losing its sense of proportion by embracing what is ephemeral merely for the sake of being modern.
            And it must-or at least so I believe- feel that it exists first and always to serve the parent and the child, viewed both of them as persons, and only secondarily to create or serve schools.  For the family is the basis of education, not the school at all, and it was to the family that Miss Mason’s thoughts first turned long before the schools had begun to listen to her gospel.
            Miss Mason looked on education as something between the child’s soul and God.  Modern education tends to look on it as something between the child’s brain and the examination board.  I think that covers the issues at stake; it is part of the whole modern policy of quick returns, of the substitution of immediate and temporary values for ultimate and absolute ones.
                                                Yours faithfully,
                                                Monk Gibbon
                                                Cauldron Barn, Oldfeld, Swanage
(Used with permission, The Parents’ Review, Vol. 5, 1995, Charlotte Mason Research and Supply Company)

8 comments:

  1. He hit the nail on the head! What year did he write this? He exhorts the P.N.E. U to be like the great movements , so I wondered what year it was. Plus he caught " the whole modern poiicy of quick returns" and " ultimate and absolute values." Would that more heeded this banner!

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    1. I don't know, Bonnie. There is no date on the letter in Karen's Parents' Review Magazine and I couldn't find the letter at the Redeemer archives, either. Monk Gibbon died in 1987 (!!!) and he writes this letter and refers to Mason in the past tense...so it was written sometime between 1923 and 1987. Funny how timeless it is, though.

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  2. Wow! Lovely and timely for me! Printing it out and sending it to my teacher sister! :) Thanks for this, Nancy!!!

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    1. Amy,
      Well, after your nudge I felt I had to post it! Have a Merry Christmas, Amy.
      -Nancy

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  3. I find myself in agreement with this crusty old man's assessment. Underneath the crust is a passionate defense of cultural education. Our education system, and our culture at large is gripped by the fear he describes.
    'Every parent is so afraid for the future that they see everything from the utilitarian point of view: “What advantage is my child getting from this?” – “For what will this qualify them?”'

    So glad that you took the time to share this with your readers. Have a Merry Christmas!

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    1. Tracy,
      I always appreciate your thoughtful comments. Thank you and have a Merry Christmas!
      -Nancy

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  4. Monk would be appalled at the kinds of examinations happening today! His comment here rings especially true today!

    "It has become a mania. If you can’t pass the tests you are uneducated; if you can you are educated, God help you. Yes, God help you; because, seriously, I think that the uneducated have the advantage in this respect; there is some chance of their loving a thing for its own sake, not merely as a tiresome means to something else."

    Another gem here:

    " Miss Mason looked on education as something between the child’s soul and God. Modern education tends to look on it as something between the child’s brain and the examination board. I think that covers the issues at stake; it is part of the whole modern policy of quick returns, of the substitution of immediate and temporary values for ultimate and absolute ones."

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  5. Love, love, love the sausage quote!

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