My Charlotte Mason Current Studies


Principles # 9 (a spiritual organism) and #10 (such a doctrine)

The 18 Principles (actually 20) are posted for convenience in my notes on: "Penny Gardner's Study Guide", in the first section.

It works out well that I approach these two together, because they are opposite sides of a single concept. Charlotte Mason dealt with them in a single chapter of Volume 6 - see chapter VII beginning on page 112. The two are :

9. We hold that the child's mind is no mere sac to hold ideas; but is rather, if the figure may be allowed, a spiritual organism, with an appetite for all knowledge. This is its proper diet, with which it is prepared to deal; and which it can digest and assimilate as the body does foodstuffs.

10. Such a doctrine as e.g. the Herbartian, that the mind is a receptacle, lays the stress of education (the preparation of knowledge in enticing morsels duly ordered) upon the teacher. Children taught on this principle are in danger of receiving much teaching with little knowledge; and the teacher's axiom is ,' what a child learns matters less than how he learns it."

In her common way of setting up thoughts in order to find the faults within them, CM begins with a detailed consideration of Herbartian theory. Volume 6 is not the only place she deals with him - you will find more in Volume 3. Herbart was a major German Education Philosopher - I had to read much of him in my own college training. Herbart is VERY popular in modern circles - the idea that the "How" is more important than the "What" extends not only through the children's education but also through the teachers! It is considered that a teacher can teach anything by simply knowing the method. Imagine that - a math teacher no longer needs to know math, but only how to pass out the worksheets and guide the children through them....

It amazes me that the same people who seriously believe this stuff, can turn around and with a straight face say that parents are not qualified to teach their own children.

Does the Herbartian school have ANY validity? Is it possible to pour facts into a mind, to form that mind out of the information?

Or, let us look at the flip side - the spiritual organism whose proper food is ideas. IF this mind is a spirit, and ideas are things of the spirit yet related to solid facts, then can we possibly teach facts without reaching, without utilizing the spirit?

I would much prefer that my mind 'grow fat' upon ideas! Sergeant Friday's "Just the facts", is not for me. I deal in facts with Science, yet the facts are only the anchor for the idea.

I recently tried to read a novel that was given to me. The author may write excellent English, probably better than my own, yet I was bored, exhausted reading it. I gave up, tossed it aside and took up the books I had in my bag : "The Deerslayer", "The Iliad", and "In Search of Schrodinger's Cat". These books are not easy reading! Yet, I found them relaxing! The early adventures of Natty Bumpo eased my tired mind and took me out of my sickbed (don't get excited, it's just a miserable cold). To me, the highest point of the book was when Hetty answered the Indian with "Let God be true and every man a liar!".

The Iliad touched me with the pathos of tragedy, with the details of the lives ruined. The science essays in Schrodinger's Cat stretch my mind. I don't agree with many things in these books, but they are FULL of ideas. When I read these my mind churns for hours with interesting conjecture. I read in several books at once, keeping one in my bag and others where I may be. I don't seem to have any trouble, any confusion as I go from one to another.

Tell me, is it important to know the names and origins of the ships and men at Troy? If not, why did Homer spend pages and stanzas of his epic listing them with descriptions? Remember - this was an ORAL work. To recite this poem was the work of days, of an incredible memory. I remember many of the details even now, yet I was not reading with the sort of concentration expected of a CM student. The details remain in my mind because they were the anchor points of the poem. I am reading a prose version, yet the idea excites.

Schrodinger's Cat is a collection of popularized articles (meaning magazine-style rather than research reports or textbooks) about quantum physics. Even as magazine level, this is heavy stuff. Does it really matter, it asks, whether the cat in the box is alive or not? Can there exist a state where the cat is actually in limbo until someone looks? Does the tree falling in the forest make noise? These are real questions, and quantum physics is the Science where the answers matter. Now tell me, are these facts we are dealing with - or Ideas?

Herbart would hand me a list of the men and ships; a mathematical treatment of the equations of quarks; Bible catechism to memorize to answer the questions of unbelievers. Somehow, I doubt the facts, just the facts, would stick in my mind any better than they did in Hetty's ; yet the truth of the Idea certainly reaches the minds!

Topics for discussion

Tell us some ideas that have reached your children's minds (or your own).

Tell us some facts that have done the same. It is possible to find ideas in facts - where have you found them?

What are you reading now, or have just finished reading, that has reached your mind with a new idea?

IF this mind is a spirit, and ideas are things of the spirit yet related to solid facts, then can we possibly teach facts without reaching, without utilizing the spirit?

Lynn H



Lynn H.'s notes on the Principles may be found HERE.

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