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Principle 12. "Education is the science of relations" means that children have minds capable of making their own connections with knowledge and experiences, so we make sure the child learns about nature, science and art, knows how to make things, reads many living books and that they are physically fit.
Principle 13. In devising a curriculum, we provide a vast amount of ideas to ensure that the mind has enough brain food, knowledge about a variety of things to prevent boredom, and subjects are taught with high-quality literary language since that is what a child's attention responds to best.
Principle 14. Since one doesn't really "own" knowledge until he can express it, children are required to narrate, or tell back (or write down), what they have read or heard.
Principle 15. Children must narrate after one reading or hearing. Children naturally have good focus of attention, but allowing a second reading makes them lazy and weakens their ability to pay attention the first time. Teachers summarizing and asking comprehension questions are other ways of giving children a second chance and making the need to focus the first time less urgent. By getting it the first time, less time is wasted on repeated readings, and more time is available during school hours for more knowledge. A child educated this way learns more than children using other methods, and this is true for all children regardless of their IQ or background.
(The above are all from Charlotte Mason's 20 Principles.)
A school's curriculum should be chosen according to the principles and knowledge of those in charge of the school. But it's not, and schools are sadly lacking in a good curriculum. Most junior high schools and high schools work towards passing entrance exams to the universities. The standard and curriculum is set, then, by the university exams, and the school officials are forced to submit to them.
Elementary schools don't directly 'teach the test,' but, since their best students will be tested for entrance to the best secondary schools, they're affected by those tests, too. Secondary schools have much less freedom than elementary schools in selecting which subjects are taught and how much time to spend on each. The result is startling. An eight-year-old elementary student may show more intelligence and wider knowledge than a fourteen-year-old Preparatory school student--if the elementary student has been taught using the principles I recommend, and the Prep student has been taught to pass a standardized scholarship test. The Prep student will reach the test standard in Latin, perhaps Greek, and Math [but that's it.]
If we were to establish a nationwide standard that every child had to meet in
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a wide range of subjects, then average students would have a fair shot and gifted students would naturally move ahead.
We work under a mistaken notion that there is no natural law or inborn principle for planning a student's studies. Instead, we teach him those things that are proper for a person of wealth to know (as Locke said), OR we teach him enough art, reading, writing and arithmetic to prevent him from being illiterate. In both cases, the focus is on utilitarian education. The child is being indirectly educated to a profession rather than for personal growth.
But what if, in the very nature of things, we find that a complete curriculum has been suggested? Voltaire said, 'The human race has lost its title deeds.' and has been trying to get them back ever since. This applies to education. We are still lost. We haven't found our title deeds, so we have nothing to offer children with any conviction. The highest aim we can think of is to educate youth so that they're useful to society, and anyone with a novel new theory is free to teach whatever he wants because we know of no grounds to oppose him. In one sense, education does fall under the law of supply and demand [create from students what society needs], but instead of parents and teachers determining what society needs, the children should be the ones whose needs are met. But how will they let us know what they need? We need to consider this question carefully. Our answer will depend on our perception of human nature, which is limitless and varied. It isn't just budding geniuses from distinguished families who have impressive human natures. Every child, even a street child in the slums, is a marvel.
A nine-year-old British boy living in Japan remarked, 'Mom, isn't it fun learning all these things?
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Everything I learn seems to fit with something else!' The boy had only discovered half the secret. What he still hadn't figured out is that everything fitted into something within himself.
The days of educating as befits a person of high society, or a craftsman are over. Now we must deal with a human being who has an inborn craving to know the history of his race, the story of his country, what men used to think, and what they think nowadays. The best thoughts of mankind have been archived in literature, and, at its highest level, as poetry or art, which is poetry in a solid form. Each student is a child of God, and his supreme desire and glory is to know about and have a relationship with God. Each child is a living being with many parts and passions. He needs to learn how to make use of himself, care for himself and discipline himself in body, mind and spirit. Each child has many relationships and fills many roles. He interacts with his family, his church, his community, his country, his neighboring countries, and the world at large. He inhabits a world full of beauty and fascination. He needs to learn to recognize the features of his world and name them. His universe is governed by certain rules, and he needs some understanding of those rules.
This is a tall order, but the educational rights of humans demand a wide program. It's a lot to teach, but it's not impossible, and it's not for us to pick and choose, or to educate in one direction or another. We can't even choose between science and humanities--the child needs both. It appears that our mission is to give children a zestful grip on as much of the range of relationships as possible that are appropriate. Shelley offers us the key to education. He talks about 'understanding that gets brighter as it gazes on lots of different truths.'
Since a child's relationship to his world is so varied, the education we give him needs to be varied, too. A teacher in Cape Colony writes, 'The papers included in A.C. Drury's pamphlet, A Liberal Education: Practice, witness a
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high standard of proficiency. The mistakes found there are the mistakes you'd expect of children, nothing more. And there are just enough mistakes to prove that these are real children. There are none of the hilarious blunders, either fact or expression, that make a teacher wonder if her teaching had any effect at all.'
When children are taught this way, their knowledge is consecutive, intelligent, and complete in the areas they study. It isn't true that the student has to work harder when more subjects are covered. In fact, the opposite is true. The variety is refreshing. A child can write thirty or forty sheets of exam essays in a week and not be bored. It isn't the total number of different subjects that counts, but the total hours that fatigue the student. With this in mind, our curriculum has short hours with no evenings required to prepare or do homework.
Children need three kinds of knowledge: the knowledge of God, the knowledge of man, and the knowledge of the world around him. Of those, the knowledge of God is the most important, the most necessary and the one that has the potential to bring him happiness. Mothers do a better job of teaching children about God than teachers. They know their children better and don't underestimate their minds as much, so they tend not to talk down to them. But, to read educational publications, one would think that the art of education is dumbing down concepts for the 'little' minds of children! If we give up that preconception that assumes the superiority of adults, we'll be surprised at how much and how profoundly children are able to understand. We'll realize that a relationship with God is an inborn attraction and it's up to us
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to help our children attain that relationship. Mothers know how to talk about God in the same way they would talk about a beloved but absent father, drawing attention to his love and care for her and the children. She knows how to make her child feel a thrill of joy and gratefulness as he looks at a meadow full of flowers, or a huge tree, or flowing river by making him understand that God made all of it. Children aren't too simple to understand that, 'the mountains, valleys and glittering rivers belong to the one who knows their Creator and whose eyes brim with tears of holy joy.' [freely adapted from the poem The Freeman, by William Cowper] We remember how Arthur Pendennis [from Pendennis, by Thackeray] walked in the cool of the evening with his mother, reciting passages from Milton, and both of their eyes would fill 'with tears of holy joy,' and he was only eight! A teacher can never have the same kind of opportunities with an entire class, but if she makes an effort to get a true estimate of what a child's mind can comprehend, she'll be surprised with how much can be done.
The arrogant mindset of some teachers is the reason that so many students never achieve much. Students are seen as 'just kids' and not expected to understand much, and they live down to that expectation. Our PNEU begins formal lessons when children are six years old. Children are undoubtedly capable of beginning even a year or two before that, but the world of nature and home life provides so much education already. It seems best to wait until age six before requiring any direct educational efforts.
What about teaching that's told to children [such as instructions, information, stories]? They'll get that whether they go to school or stay home. But, since narration isn't required, it doesn't demand any deliberate effort from them. That's how we all learn--by telling back
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whatever it is, a sermon or lecture or conversation that we want to remember, even if we just tell it back to ourselves silently. People have done this since man had a mind. The tragedy is that it hasn't been harnessed as a learning tool in education! This is what Samuel Johnson said about it:
'Children should always be encouraged to tell a sibling or servant whenever they hear something remarkable. They need to tell it right away, before the impression is erased with newer incidents.' 'He remembered clearly the first time he heard of heaven and hell. His mother made sure to describe both places in such a way that she thought sure would seize his attention as he lay next to her in bed. Then she immediately got him up and dressed him, even though it was earlier than he usually got up, and sent him to visit his favorite servant in the house. She knew that he would tell him what he had heard while it was still fresh in his mind. That's exactly what she wanted. He credited that method for his ability to remember events and conversations that had happened long ago.' [from a book about Johnson by Mrs. Hester Lynch Salusbury Thrale Piozzi]
The most important part of education is religious training, and our mission is to give children the knowledge of God. We won't go into the area of intuitive knowledge, we'll stick to the knowledge that is attainable because it's what God expressed for us. That knowledge comes from the Bible. The worst indignity we can commit on children is giving them our own rendering of scripture or a well-intentioned re-telling of the clear, beautiful language and poetic phrasing of the Bible itself.
The best literature is always direct and simple. A normal six-year-old will enjoy hearing stories from both the Old and New Testaments, passage by passage. He can narrate it, too, adding his own personal charm. There are two aspects to religion. There's the attitude of our will towards God, which is how we think of as Christianity. And there's the perception of God that comes over time as we see the way God deals with mankind. In the first regard, Goethe couldn't have been considered religious. Yet, the second aspect, the perception of God, became like a peaceful backdrop in his otherwise restless, uneasy life. It's
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worth our time to explore how he came to such a beneficial understanding of God. He tells his full story in Aus Meinem Leben (From My Life?) and what he shares about education is well worth our study. He says,
'People might go where they please and do what they want, but in the end, they have to return to that road that Dante wrote about. That's what happened to me. My efforts at learning Hebrew when I was ten by reading the scriptures made me imagine vividly the things I was reading about - the beautiful land that inspired songs, and the countries around it, and the people and events that have happened there for thousands of years. You may wonder why I'm talking about this in so much detail when everyone already knows about Israel's history. But it's the best way to show how, even with the stress of my life and my unorthodox education, I focused my mind and feelings on that part of my life. It's the only way I can account for the peace that surrounded me even when my life was disturbed and I was going through troubles. My over-active imagination may have led me here and there, and I've been obsessed with fables, histories, and myths, but I could always think about those holy lands and be at peace. I would lose myself in the first five books of the Bible and, there among those Hebrew shepherds, I would find peace and comfort.'
How did Goethe come to possess this kind of peaceful rest for his soul and fresh background for his thoughts? It seems that this inner place of sanctuary was with him his whole life, in spite of all the mistakes he made in his rebellious life. It has been said that his eyes had a peaceful tranquility, and this is the secret of that peace. In Goethe's words, we also see a principle for education that we should consider: teaching the New Testament without the grounding and accompaniment of the Old Testament won't result in that kind of thinking about God.
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The wide, all-encompassing, completely permeating presence of God is found in David's Psalms, which are in the Old Testament. We need to have the faith and courage to give children such a complete and gradual picture of Old Testament history, that they unconsciously think of the history of mankind as being like the panorama of the history of the Jewish nation as told in the Bible. If our children are little skeptics, like Goethe, who delighted in stumping his teachers with Bible inconsistencies, then we should follow the example of wise old Dr. Albrecht. We shouldn't rush to explain away the difficulties. We shouldn't belittle or avoid their questions, or give final answers as if we were the authority. Instead, do what Albrecht did. Introduce them to a thoughtful commentator who takes care in researching and explaining difficult questions. By doing this, we won't allow difficult questions to detract from the gradual unfolding of God's design to teach the world His plan. For children aged six to twelve, the best commentator I know of is Canon Paterson Smyth, who wrote The Bible for the Young. He is one of the few writers who knows how children think and can help them with difficulties. He knows how to inspire their thoughts and guide their actions.
Between the ages of six and twelve, children [using Paterson's book] cover the narrative stories of Old Testament Biblical history, and the Prophets as they correspond to the lives of the kings. The teacher begins the lesson by reading the passage from Paterson's book that illustrates the scripture reading. For example,
'This story takes place on the battle field in the Elah Valley. The camp of the Israelites is on one side of the slope, the big tents of the Philistines are on the other slope. The Israelites aren't huge men, but they're agile and clever. The Philistines are huge brutes, stupid thick-headed giants. Samson used to play tricks on them and make fun of them long ago. Both sides are agitated,' etc.
There might be some discussion after
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reading this passage. Then the teacher will read the Scripture text and the children will narrate. The commentary merely serves as a background for their thoughts. Their narrations are usually very interesting. They don't miss even one point, and they add colorful touches of their own. Before the end of the lesson, the teacher brings out any new concepts about God or points of behavior that may have been included in the reading. She emphasizes the moral or religious lesson in a reverent, sympathetic way, and doesn't attempt to tell them how to apply it personally.
Twelve to fifteen year olds read Rev. H. Costley-White's Old Testament History to themselves. He has made some wise omissions that make students more able to deal with Jewish history in King James English than they would if they just used the actual Bible. Each period, such as Psalms or the various prophets, uses references from contemporary literature to illustrate. Brief historical explanations and notes of general commentary are included in the proper places. For example, as an introduction to the Gen 3 story of Cain and Abel, it says,
'The original purpose of this story was to show how sin spread throughout mankind, and where homicide started. In this case, it was actual cold-blooded murder. There are some difficult questions that we don't have enough information to answer. For instance, 'Why didn't God accept Cain's offering?' 'How did God show that He didn't accept it?' 'What was the sign put on Cain?' 'Where did Cain find a wife?' The best way to answer such questions is - to admit that we don't know! But we should add that these early stories are just selected fragments about what happened, not the whole story. The story of Cain and Abel is an obvious example of a story that's been cut down and edited.
'The lessons taught in the story of Cain and Abel include: 1. God judges motives, not actions. 2. It isn't the sin of
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murder itself that's condemned so much, but the reasons behind it, such as jealousy and hatred. Jesus talked about this in the Sermon on the Mount in Matt 6:22. 3. The doctrine that all men are brothers. Each person is responsible to those around him, and he is obligated to be concerned about the conditions they live in. 4. Sin always brings its own consequences. 5. God always tries to reason with man before sin reaches a climax.'
Commentary is done with concise, to-the-point footnotes.
This gives students detailed, extensive knowledge of the Old Testament from scripture text itself. It trains them to accept Bible difficulties comfortably, rather than feeling like such difficulties invalidate the Bible as God's oracle and our only original source of knowledge about God and how He deals with people. This will prepare them to study religion further from the Bible.
We like Dummelow's One Volume Bible Commentary for high school students. It's designed to provide in one convenient book:
'A brief explanation of the meaning of the Scriptures. There are introductions for the books of the Bible, and notes to explain major textual, moral or doctrinal difficulties. The beginning of the book has a prefix of articles about the larger questions that the Bible as a whole may suggest. We hope that this commentary will inspire students to read some of the books of the Bible that have literary charm and help with spiritual growth, but are often overlooked and unread. In recent years, more information has become available to answer questions about authorship of the Bible and interpretations. We have tried to incorporate the most recent scholarly information while avoiding extreme bias or speculative opinions. Sometimes this means that this commentary will offer views that aren't traditional. In those cases, we hope and believe that the authority and spiritual worth of the Scriptures is enhanced and not diminished by the change.'
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The editor of the commentary has done such a good job explaining its aims that I'll only add that we find it to be of great practical value. The students read the general articles, and the introductions to the books of the Bible. They read the Prophets and poetic books along with the notes. So they leave school with a pretty sophisticated knowledge of the Old Testament books, and of the information that modern scholarship has added to their interpretation. We hope they also leave with more reverence for God and delight in the ways God deals with people.
The New Testament has its own category. The same commentaries are used, and we use the same methods, reverent reading of the text followed by narration, which is often curiously word perfect even after a single reading. This is even more surprising because we all know how hard it is to repeat a passage we've heard a thousand times. A single reading with concentrated focus takes care of this difficulty, and we're able to take assurance in knowing that children's minds are stocked with perfect word pictures of every fond, beautiful scene from the Gospels. Students are also able to reproduce the straightforward, sweet teaching from the object lessons of each of the miracles. Little by little, the personality of Our Lord as revealed in His words and works become real and dear to them, not through emotional appeals but through impressions left by accurate, detailed knowledge of the Savior who went around doing good. Doctrine is inferred as a side effect of Biblical text. Loyalty to their Divine Master is more likely to become a guiding principle in their lives.
I can't emphasize enough how important it is to give a poetic presentation of the life and teachings of Jesus. In their Bible lessons, students should experience a wonderfully fascinating sense of the coordinated development and how each incident progressively
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reveals more of Jesus' teachings. Narration actually encourages students to pick up on this. Each incident they narrate becomes a complete event in their minds, the teachings will unfold as they talk about it, arguments will be more convincing when they articulate them, and the characters in the Bible will seem as real as people they know in real life. It won't be helpful to pressure students with practical application. It will probably just bore them, and it may cause students to form their own counter-opinions or even opposite convictions, even while they look innocently complacent. For the most part, we should let Scripture speak for itself and point to the moral.
'Right now, Christians (and those who claim to be) are at a place in thought where a contrived, unnatural study of the life and teaching of Jesus is useless. We've analyzed and broken down scripture until our minds are weary from the fragments. We've heard so many criticisms that there's no material left for the critics. But if we could just get a fresh concept of Christ's life among people, and the philosophic method of His teaching, then His own words would be fulfilled. The Son of Man would be lifted up and would draw all men to Himself. Poetic verse provides a fresh way to present the themes of scripture. Poetry is less personal, more concise and can be treated more reverently than prose. What Wordsworth called 'authentic comment' can be included more subtly. The Gospels vividly show us scenes of many people in their moment of coming face to face with Christ, and poetry allows a more dramatic yet restrained portrayal of those moments than prose.
'Shakespeare gave us a couple of lines from Scripture's great epic, a taste of what poetic presentation might be like:
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If only Shakespeare had written poetry about the whole Bible! Every line he wrote dealing with Christ from the unique perspective and personality of his pen is a treasure. Trench wrote the beautiful lines,
And Keble wrote,
Every line of this kind of poetry is precious, but there aren't very many, probably because the subject is so overwhelmingly immense. So we'll have to wait for a great poet to wrote an epic work. In the meantime, I tried to write something to use in the interim.' [from the preface to Charlotte Mason's six-volume poetic work, 'The Saviour of the World'.]
A 13-year-old girl in Form IV answered this question in her Easter exam: 'The people sat in darkness . . . I am the Light of the World. Show as far as you can the meaning of these statements.' She wasn't asked to wrote her answer in verse, yet her own instinct recognized that the quotes she was writing about were essentially poetry, and could best be expressed in poetry:
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A 17 year old girl in Form V responded to the request to Write an essay or poem about the Bread of Life with the following lines:
"'How Came He here,' ev'n so the people cried,
Who found Him in the Temple: He had wrought
A miracle, and fed the multitude,
On five small loaves and fish: so now they'd have
Him king; should not they then have ev'ry good,
Food that they toiled not for and clothes and care,
And all the comfort that they could require?--
So thinking sought the king.
Our Savior cried:
'Labor ye not for meat that perished,
But rather for the everlasting bread,
Which I will give'--Where is this bread, they cry,
They know not 'tis a heavenly bread He gives
But seek for earthly food 'I am the Bread of Life
And all who come to Me I feed with Bread.
Receive ye then the Bread. Your fathers eat
Of manna in the wilderness--and died--
But whoso eats this Bread shall have his part
In everlasting life: I am the Bread,
That cometh down from Heaven; unless ye eat
Of me ye die, but otherwise ye live.'
So Jesus taught, in Galilee, long since.
"The people murmured when they heard His Word,
How can it be? How can He be our Bread?
They hardened then their hearts against His Word,
They would not hear. and could not understand,
And so they turned back to easier ways,
And many of them walked with Him no more.
May He grant now that we may hear the Word
And harden not our hearts against the Truth
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That Jesus came to teach: so that in vain
He may not cry to hearts that will not hear,
'I am the Bread of Life, for all that come,
I have this gift, an everlasting life,
And room within my Heavenly Father's House."
The higher forms [high school] in the PUS [Parents Union School] read The Saviour of the World volume by volume, along with the Scripture text arranged in chronological order. The lower forms [grades 1-6?] read the first three Gospels one at a time, which provide a synopsis of Christ's life. Form IV [8th and 9th grade] reads the Gospel of John and Acts, supplemented with Bishop Walsham How's wonderful commentaries, available from the S.P.C.K. [Anglican Church's Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge] The Epistles and Revelation are saved until Forms V and VI [grades 10-12] The Catechism, Prayer-book, and Church History are taught in a similar manner, using appropriate texts. They provide an opportunity to sum up the church's doctrine, which is covered by preparing for Confirmation and Sunday services at the student's church.
How Forms corresponded to Grades:
Form I (roughly grades 1-3)
Form II (roughly grades 4-6)
Form III and IV (roughly grades 7-9)
Form V and VI (roughly grades 10-12)
(Actual book/subject lists from 1921 can be seen here.)