Some Initial Considerations

So, how do we begin to integrate modern media and technology into our Charlotte Mason homeschool?  It is clear to me that we will need an understanding of current research about technology and the brain, especially the child’s developing brain. We also need to have a strong foundation in Charlotte Mason’s philosophy of education in order to extend it to a new body of material.

digital-kidsIn order to accomplish the former requirement, I have ordered the book Digital Kids: How to Balance Screen Time and Why It Matters by Marin L. Kutscher, Ph.D., who is a pediatric neurologist and researcher. This book appealed to me because it was published very recently (October 21, 2016). The Table of Contents is very thorough. I can see that the author addresses both the use and content of digital technology as well as sections that address special groups of kids (very young children, children with ADHD and children on the spectrum). It appears that he will share both pros and cons of using digital technology, which promises that the author will not be too slanted in either direction, for or against its use. I can’t wait for the book to arrive tomorrow so that I can start reading it and share what I learn!

I have also begun to re-read Charlotte Mason’s final volume, Towards a Philosophy of Education. Reading this volume is as close as I can come to drinking tea with her while picking her brain for everything that she learned in her forty-plus years of teaching. Hopefully, I can glean some insights into what content she qualified as “living” and how it should be presented for the students’ benefit.

On that note, I do already have some thoughts to share. Miss Mason names two qualities that she considered of primary importance for learning: curiosity and attention. I was especially struck by this passage:

“…the Desire of Knowledge (Curiosity) was the chief instrument of education; that this desire might be paralyzed or made powerless like an unused limb by encouraging other desires to intervene between a child and the knowledge proper for him; the desire for place,–emulation; for prizes,–avarice; for power,–ambition; for praise,–vanity, might each be a stumbling block to him. It seemed to me that we teachers had unconsciously elaborated a system which should secure the discipline of the schools and the eagerness of the scholars,–by means of marks, prizes, and the like,–and yet eliminate that knowledge-hunger, itself the quite sufficient incentive to education.” Charlotte Mason, Towards a Philosophy of Education, p. 11.

A number of years ago, I read the book Punished by Rewards by Alfie Kohn, and, in combination with my undergraduate readings about the behaviorists’ animal trials, it had such an influence on me that I have a negative gut reaction every time I see a sticker chart. I feel like “punishment-and-reward-thinking” dominates in our culture, especially as a parent of children with special needs. Reading the above quote by Miss Mason convicted me again of this principle. While behaviorist training might work, it is not the approach that I would choose for educating my children as “born persons.”

How can we immediately apply this information to our use of technology? My first thought was about apps and gaming, specifically Minecraft. As I write this blog, my children are seated side-by-side on the couch, an iPad in each lap, and they are talking with each other in made-up voices, completely absorbed in the imaginative universe of Minecraft. What is minecraft-castleunique about the game is that there are no levels, rewards or any other gimmicks. When I gave them Minecraft, it was as if I had handed them an infinite box of Legos and building space with changing weather conditions, serendipitous events (such as the appearance of enemies) and hidden treasures. Time passes more quickly than in real life. A “Solar day” lasts twenty minutes, with ten minutes of daylight. They “live” in this world as characters and act out whatever they like. They are completely absorbed. Most importantly for the purposes of this blog post, they are curious. They experiment. They play. They make up their own contests. They share their imaginative universe. It is brilliant.

How many apps and games develop our children’s curiosity? So many of them are based on a system of rewards. I would like to experiment with replacing my children’s “level-based” apps with “curiosity-based” apps. As I find good ones, I will add them to my recommendations page. I have not found many yet, but I look forward to experimenting with this idea more!

I leave you with this quote by an inspiring scientist:

“Our technology, our machines, is part of our humanity. We created them to extend ourselves, and that is what is unique about human beings.” -Ray Kurzweil, Google, Inc.

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