The future of education looks rather bleak both at home [in England] and overseas. Experts say that, in order to make education more effective, we should focus on science. Foreign language and math need major reform. Nature and vocational skills should be used as ways of training the eye and hands. Literature and history should be used to teach students how to do their own writing. Experts say that education should be more technical, and should be a means of preparing students for the workplace. But there is no one unifying goal, no specific aim, no real philosophy of education. A river can't rise any higher than the source it comes from. In the same way, education can't rise any higher than the foundational thought behind it. This may be the reason why our educational system is such an utter failure.
Those of us who have spent years studying the vague, elusive vision of Education see that there is a law behind education, but that we haven't yet fully grasped that law. We sense the vague outlines of that law, but that's it. We know that it touches every part of a child's life at home and at school, and, like an illuminating light, that law has a way of showing what the value system is behind our educational systems and plans. Besides being like a light, that law is also like a yardstick, setting the standard by which our educational efforts must be measured. The law is not strict, it admits whatever things are true and good without limit, except where too much would be harmful. The law seems to lay a path out before us that goes on like a continuous and progressive road through life, with no set lines marking where childhood stops and adulthood begins except that the student begins to walk the path independently when his training makes him more mature. When we look into this law, we find that the Germans Kant, Herbart, Lotze and Froebel were right when they said that knowing God is the most important thing a child should learn. There is something else we'll recognize when we finally see this law of educational freedom clearly for what it is--it is so true and wise that it will pass every test we can think of to give it in every area of life.
Since as yet we don't have a clear print-out of this law to read, we'll have to rely on Froebel or Herbart, or, if we subscribe to another theory of education, on Locke or Spencer. But we still aren't fully satisfied. We are discontented with our system of education. It could be that our discontent is from God, but it is there and any workable solution would be hailed as a great deliverance from our confusion. But before a great solution is found, we will probably encounter many attempts that focus on part of the problem and seem like an educational philosophy, having a central idea with programs putting that idea into effect.
Such an attempt would necessarily need to go along with the worldview of the age. It would also have to relate to every facet of life, not segmented off from real life, but as much a part of the cycle as birth, marriage and career. And it must result in the student being attached to the world at many different points of contact by having interests in many things. It's true that educationalists are determined to cement students' interests in their own pet areas, but there is no one line of thought to make it applicable to all of life.
The naive sometimes rush in with their own solution, unconscious of the complexity of the problem. Many suggestions have been offered that have gotten us closer to a full understanding of the nature of education, and that gives me courage to offer my own suggestion. The central idea on which my suggestion is based is this: that children are as fully and completely persons as we are, with all the possibilities and potential for what they might become already in them. Some of the educational notions and practices that stem from this idea have been used in other educational methods, and have their roots in plain common sense. One resulting notion that might be new is that 'education is the science of relations.' This idea, that everything is connected, seems to solve the question of a curriculum since it means that children need to be in touch with as many things as possible in nature and in thought. If you add a key or two to a child's knowledge of his own human condition, the educated student will go forth in the world with an idea of how to control himself, some practical skills and many life-enriching interests. I have two reasons for offering my own educational suggestion, however humble and fleeting that suggestion may be. First of all, I have worked ceaselessly for 30-40 years to establish a working, philosophical theory of education. And, second, every practice that I have tried as a result of my educational theory has come from a step-by-step process of inductive reasoning and has had success that has been verified with various tests. I humbly offer my suggestion because I know that many others more qualified than I have worked hard and still not arrived at any solutions, so why should I feel that I have a solution of my own?
I am including a short summary of my theory, which is detailed more fully in the six volumes of the Home Education Series.
My educational method is not a system of rigid steps, but just a bit here and there. This seems more useful to parents and teachers. The essays included in my books were written over the years for the National Parents Education Union in hopes of presenting a coherent body of thought to members.
Whichcote meant that the end result of truth is so great, that we must be careful to make sure that what we live by is, indeed, the truth.
1. Children are born persons--they are not blank slates or embryonic oysters who have the potential of becoming persons. They already are persons.
2. Although children are born with a sin nature, they are neither all bad, nor all good. Children from all walks of life and backgrounds may make choices for good or evil.
3. The concepts of authority and obedience are true for all people whether they accept it or not. Submission to authority is necessary for any society or group or family to run smoothly.
4. Authority is not a license to abuse children, or to play upon their emotions or other desires, and adults are not free to limit a child's education or use fear, love, power of suggestion, or their own influence over a child to make a child learn.
5. The only three means a teacher may use to educate children are the child's natural environment, the training of good habits and exposure to living ideas and concepts. This is what CM's motto 'Education is an atmosphere, a discipline, a life' means.
6. 'Education is an atmosphere' doesn't mean that we should create an artificial environment for children, but that we use the opportunities in the environment he already lives in to educate him. Children learn from real things in the real world.
7. 'Education is a discipline' means that we train a child to have good habits and self-control, both in actions and in thought.
8. 'Education is a life' means that education should apply to body, soul and spirit. The mind needs ideas of all kinds, so the child's curriculum should be varied and generous with many subjects included.
9. The child's mind is not a bucket to be filled with facts that bunch up into thought-groups, as Herbart said.
10. The child's mind is also not a bag for holding knowledge. It is a living thing and needs knowledge to grow. As the stomach was designed to digest food, the mind is designed to digest knowledge and needs no special training or exercises to make it ready to learn.
11. This is not just splitting hairs; Herbart's philosophy that the mind is like an empty stage waiting for bits of information to be inserted puts too much responsibility on the teacher to prepare detailed lessons. Students taught this way have lots of knowledge taught at them, without getting much out of it.
12. Instead, we believe that children's minds are capable of digesting real knowledge, so we provide a rich, generous curriculum that exposes children to many interesting, living ideas and concepts. From this principle, we can deduce that--
13. 'Education is the science of relations,' which 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. Our job isn't to teach everything about everything, but to inspire interests that will help children make connections with the world around them.
14. Children have two guides to help them in their moral and intellectual growth--'the way of the will,' and 'the way of reason.'
15. Children must learn the difference between 'I want' and 'I will.' They must learn to distract their thoughts when tempted to do what they may want but know is not right, and think of something else, or do something else, interesting enough to occupy their mind. After a short diversion, their mind will be refreshed and able to will with renewed strength.
16. Children must learn not to lean too heavily on their own reasoning. Reasoning is good for logically demonstrating mathematical truth, but unreliable when judging ideas because our reasoning will justify all kinds of erroneous ideas if we really want to believe them.
17. Knowing that reason is not to be trusted as the final authority in forming opinions, children must learn that their greatest responsibility is choosing which ideas to accept or reject. Good habits of behavior and lots of knowledge will provide the discipline and experience to help them do this.
Principles 15, 16 and 17 should save children from the sort of careless thinking that causes people to exist at a lower level of life than they need to.
18. We teach children that all truths are God's truths, and that secular subjects are just as divine as religious ones. Children don't go back and forth between two worlds when they focus on God and then their school subjects; there is unity among both because both are of God and, whatever children study or do, God is always with them.
End of Preface
In this volume, I hope to suggest a method of education whose foundation is Natural Law, and, with this in mind, to discuss a mother's duties in regard to her children. In speaking to mothers, I defer to their own final judgment, since God Himself has given mothers insight into their own children's characters, their strengths and weaknesses. It is her insight that mysteriously works to make education more effective than all the rules and regulations ever devised. But even with her God-given insight, I think all mothers will agree that there is a need to know certain general principles that apply to children as a whole. This scientific side of education does not come naturally, since God does not usually bestow as a gift that which we can get by ourselves.
I hope that teachers of young children will also find this book useful. Between the ages of 6 and 9 are the best time to lay the foundation for a generous, varied education and to develop the habit of reading. In these early years, children should enter the world of learning by being exposed to many subjects, but in a relaxed, orderly way rather than with the stress of lectures. I hope that teachers will find this new approach interesting and stimulating. I hope this fresh perspective will be helpful and give teachers inspiration to find their own ways of implementing it.
This particular volume will focus on the effects of developing good habits upon education--why certain physical, moral and intellectual habits are valuable and how to develop them. I am indebted to Dr. Carpenter's book Mental Physiology for the information I used in the two or three chapters about habits. And I would like to thank again my medical friends who helped revise the parts of this book that deal with physiological matters.
Much of this book was given as 'Lectures to Ladies' in 1885, and published in a book of that name in 1886.
Lectures VII and VIII and the original appendix have been transferred to other volumes in this series. The whole series has been carefully revised and new material has been added, especially in Part V, 'Lessons as Instruments of Education.' That section is now a nearly complete introduction to methods of teaching children ages 6-9.
The remaining sections of this volume deal with education from birth to 9 years.
Scale How, Ambleside, 1905
End of Preface