In CM’s Words: How *Not* to Teach

Here is the full quote that inspired my thoughts today:

Another misapprehension which makes for disorder is our way of regarding attention. We believe that it is to be cultivated, nursed, coddled, wooed by persuasion, by dramatic presentation, by pictures and illustrative objects: in fact, the teacher, the success of whose work depends upon his ‘personality’, is an actor of no mean power whose performance would adorn any stage. Attention, we know, is not a ‘faculty’ nor a definable power of mind but is the ability to turn on every such power, to concentrate, as we say.We throw away labor in attempting to produce or to train this necessary function. There it is in every child in full measure, a very Niagara of force, ready to be turned on in obedience to the child’s own authority and capable of infinite resistance to authority imposed from without. Our part is to regard attention, feed it with the best we have in books and in all knowledge. But children do it ‘on their own’; we may not play Sir Oracle any more; our knowledge is too circumscribed, our diction too poor, vague, desultory, to cope with the ability of young creatures who thirst for knowledge. We must put into their hands the sources which we must needs use for ourselves, the best books of the best writers.

Charlotte Mason has really struck on my weakness as a teacher in this passage. I have developed the bad habit of “entertaining” my students as a direct result of my graduate school education coursework. I teach adult English-as-a-Second-Language classes part-time in the evenings. I feel less freedom to “experiment” with Charlotte Mason’s methods with my international students because so many of them are from countries with a formal, lecture-based approach to education. So, for the time being, I work on developing my Charlotte Mason-style skills during the day with my children, and I sometimes struggle not to let the entertainment mindset carryover into our homeschool lessons. To be honest, I occasionally start the day by thinking, “Maybe we’ll change things up today…” and that is rarely the right decision. We have a very specific schedule each day, and it is a lovely schedule, and when I stick to it, we all end the day feeling very good.

As I consider how to apply Charlotte Mason’s philosophy to media use, I am having an inkling that we’re going to hit up against a major challenge. This entertainment mindset is shared by most television programs, movies, apps and other technology-based educational mediums that are so widely available today. I suspect that even our beloved Mr. Rogers would have belonged to Miss Mason’s category of the “teacher with personality” who gets in the way of the students’ thirst for knowledge by  making them dependent on him to provide information in so-called “child-sized morsels.” fred_rogers_late_1960sThis criticism of Mr. Rogers shouldn’t be taken as a wholesale rejection of his program. It has many good qualities, which I will highlight in other blog posts, but as I was reading this section of Volume 6, it was his show that I pictured as an example.

Just today, I started hunting for an app or e-book. I had hoped to find an animal encyclopedia organized by classes that I could explore and share with my kids while we read through The Burgess Animal Book for Children. It would be nice to conserve space on our bookshelf by having an electronic encyclopedia. Well, as you may imagine, I had no luck at all. I found a game called Classify It! that could be fun to add to my kids’ tablets, and I found apps with information about endangered species or very specific creatures (sharks). I found collections of National Geographic videos. I found an e-book with animals grouped by habitat. I did not find an encyclopedia that was arranged according to classes so that my kids and I could easily see how all of the animals are related.

There are many good media resources out there, but I feel like few of them put original information into my kids’ hands. I found a Solar Walk app that was lovely as a resource for describing how the earth and other planets relate to the sun, and how the moons relate to the planets. Our geography lesson was read and narrated first, though, and the images were a treat because they had already processed the concept Charlotte Mason’s way, much like she describes how a student of hers delighted in visiting a museum because it contained so many “old friends” from her readings.

As a general rule, resources that are touted as “educational” tend to do all of the work for the children and don’t seem to result in a thirst for more knowledge. I will keep dreaming of what I would like to see, and maybe I will even learn how to code just so that I can make experimental CM-friendly apps. We shall see!

Please share if you have found great resources that you consider CM-friendly. I am always happy to receive recommendations!


2 responses to “In CM’s Words: How *Not* to Teach

  1. Hi Laura! I am so sorry! Usually I insert the source right under the quote, but I must have forgotten about it! This quote comes from Mason’s Volume 6: Towards a Philosophy of Education on page 76. This is by far my favorite volume because it shows how she has matured as an educator over her lifetime. Very inspirational!


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