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Principle 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. (The second of Charlotte Mason's 20 Principles)
A well-known educational specialist has accused us of bringing up children as 'children of wrath.' He's probably exaggerating, because the opposite view, perceiving children as perfect little angels, is just as dangerous. The truth is, children are very much like ourselves. They aren't that way because they've become so. No, they were born that way. They have tendencies and dispositions towards good and evil, just like us. And they have an interesting intuition about what's right and wrong. This indicates some influence of education. There are tendencies towards good and evil in body, mind, heart and soul. The hopeful task before us is that we might strengthen the good in us so that the evil is crippled. This can be done only if education is subservient to religion. We are no longer merely concerned about saving our own souls, but our religion is more open-hearted and responsible. Our religious thought now encompasses our whole community, nation and race. It's time for our education to reflect that.
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When we acknowledge that education is the birthright of all children simply because all humans deserve to know, rather than thinking of just our own child, or the privileged children of the upper classes, we have a sense of openness. It's as if we can breathe more freely. The prospect is exhilarating. Recognizing the potential in every child, regardless of his social status, should revolutionize education and make the weary world rejoice.
Doctors and physical specialists say that all newborns [except those born with birth defects?] begin healthy. A baby may inherit a predisposition for lung disease, but he is not born sick with the disease. It is our job to see that conditions keep him from ever realizing the disease that he has a tendency toward. [Having a predisposition for TB doesn't doom you to actually ever having TB!] In the same way, all possibilities for good are contained in the child's moral and intellectual capacity. But every potential for good may be hindered by a corresponding tendency to do bad. We begin to see what we need to do. It's up to us to know our child, to know what his passions and weaknesses are. We need to discern the pitfalls that his traits might lead him to, and the wonderful possibilities he might have if his better tendencies are allowed free reign to make his path through life smoother. No matter how disappointing or repulsive a child's failings might be, we can be encouraged with the certainty that, in every case, the opposite tendency is there. We just need the wisdom to figure out how to bring it out in him.
Mothers come by this kind of wisdom more naturally than outsiders, such as teachers. Of course everyone knows of at least one exception--there's always one parent who can't do a thing with their child and hopes that the teacher can whip him into shape. But how often we're surprised to see that Robert and Polly are more themselves at home than they are at school! Perhaps that's because parents know and love their children better than anyone else. Therefore, they believe in them more, since our faith in possibilities, both divine and human, grows as we know more. For this reason, it's good for teachers to get some understanding of the human nature that's in every child. Everyone knows that hunger,
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thirst, rest, and virtue are given by nature to help the body grow and function. But every child has tendencies to greed, restlessness, laziness, and corruption. Any one of those vices, if allowed free reign, can ruin the child, and ruin the man he'll become.
Even the five senses need some guidance and practice. Smell in particular can be developed to give subtle pleasure by being taught the habit of discriminating the wonderful smells of the field, garden, flower, fruit just for their own enjoyment, and not indulging a child's personal preferences. Pampering the sense of taste too much can rule a person and limit what he enjoys. But there isn't a lot of new information to learn about the body and its senses. Education already trains children's muscles, cultivates their senses, orders their nerves. And it does this for all children, both rich and poor, because, in our day, we understand that development is good for all children. If there's any lack in the physical side of education, it's in the area of steadying the nerves. We forget that the nutrition, rest, fresh air and exercise that benefit the whole body are good for the nervous system, too. The undue stress from a small child being pressured to carry a cup of tea without spilling, or, later, cramming for an exam, may be the cause of a nervous breakdown when the child is older. We are becoming a nervous, stressed nation. Although golf and baseball may do something for us, a careful education that stays alert to avoid every symptom of stress from too much pressure will go a long way in making sure that every child has a healthy body and good amount of endurance.
One trap that brilliant teachers can fall into is not realizing that an overwhelming personality can exhaust children. Children are such enthusiastic, affectionate little souls that a teacher who gives them approving nods, coaxings and insincere smiles may lure them like the Pied Piper.
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But the teacher needs to beware. Relying on the teacher's personality to win over students is likely to suppress and subdue the personality of the children. Not only that, but children can become so eager to live up to the demands of their teacher that they become stressed under the influence of the charming personality of a teacher. This kind of subjection was the subject of a recent novel about the German Schwarmerei. In this story, an unscrupulous but fascinating mistress used her charm with disastrous results. But the danger isn't with extreme cases. A girl who adores her teacher so much that she kisses her door, will forget that teacher someday. But the parasitic habit has been formed, and she will always need to have some person or some cause to give her life purpose. It isn't just female teachers who do this. Ever since the Greek days when youths would hang around their masters in the walks of the Academy, there have been teachers who have undermined the stability of the boys they were supposed to be devoting themselves to. Were Socrates' countrymen entirely wrong about him? The most noble minds who have the most to give seem to have a tendency for this kind of weakness. Therefore, it's important for those of us who teach to have a general understanding of human nature.
We tend to believe that we have an inalienable right to say whatever we want, and think whatever we want. We think that, although the body is limited by physical laws [such as gravity] and our affections, love and justice are under moral laws, our mind is ours and ours alone. Maybe this is why we tend to neglect our intellect. We don't realize that the mind, like the rest of us, has its own tendencies towards good and evil, and every inclination it has towards good can be hindered
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by a corresponding inclination towards evil. I'm not talking about moral evil. I mean the intellectual evils that we're slow to define, and careless about dealing with. Teachers need to realize that, no matter how dull and inattentive a student may seem on the outside, his intellect is alive inside him. Every child in the classroom is capable of being stirred by the wonders of science. Every child is interested in the stars of the winter sky. One teacher said, 'Child after child writes to say how much they loved reading about the stars.' An eleven-year-old girl says, 'Sometimes when we're walking at night, I tell my mother about the stars and planets and comets. She says she thinks that astronomy would be very interesting.'
But we take a fascinating topic like astronomy, and teach it by emphasizing heat and light, using devitalized text books, diagrams and experiments that seem like white magic to children. The invisible microscopic world fascinates children as much as the universe. They love learning about the behavior of atoms and ions as much as they enjoy fairy tales. History, with its collection of interesting characters, is as good as a story because children can picture the scenes in their minds. We make a big deal about the costumes, tools and other details about historic periods. But children just need a few appropriate and exact words about the subject and they can envision it in their heads. In fact, with the lively imagination that comes with their intellect, they can picture long movies about it!
Children are amazing in the way they can take examples offered to them, and make them their own. When a child hears that Charles IX was 'feeble and violent,' he'll always remember that characterization, and he'll learn a lesson about self-control. We shouldn't point out the moral of the story. That needs to be done
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by the children themselves, and they do it on their own every time. What we think may be too difficult doesn't seem to affect them. One teacher wrote about her eleven-year-old students, 'They can't get enough of Plutarch's Life of Publicola. They always groan when the lesson is over.'
I've said a lot about history and science, but math appeals directly to the mind and, although it's as challenging as scaling a mountain, it can be just as rewarding. Good math teachers know not to drown lessons in too many words. What about literature? Introducing children to literature is like planting them in a rich, glorious kingdom, or like bringing a continuous vacation to their doorstep, or laying an exquisite feast before them. But the way they need to learn about literature is to be familiar with excellent examples from the beginning. A child's relationship with literature needs to be with good books, the best available. We've always known that this is the best thing for children of the educated classes, but what about children who live in situations where books aren't commonly owned? One wise teacher in Gloucestershire said that, in dealing with this problem, we need to realize two things--
'First, defining and explaining hard words is a distraction and an annoyance to the child. Second, explaining may not even be necessary. Even though a child may not know the exact meaning of a word, he may have no problem understanding the sentence or paragraph. He may be able to get enough from context to even use the word correctly in his narration. I saw two examples of this last term. One boy in Form IIB [about grade 4] was never considered an unusually intelligent child. In fact, by his age [maybe 12?], he should have been two Forms higher. Last term, during the story of Romulus and Remus, I noticed that in his ability to narrate, and his degree of understanding by sensing a paragraph and converting it to his own words, he was ahead of his class, and even ahead of most students in the next higher Form.'
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The Headmaster of A. said, 'What has surprised us most is the prompt way in which the boys absorb information and get interested in literature, and I mean the kind of literature that used to be considered inappropriate to teach to elementary-aged students. A year ago, I would never have believed that boys could read Edward Bulwer-Lytton's Harold: The Last of the Saxon Kings, Charles Kingsley's Hereward, the Last of the English, or Sir Walter Scott's The Talisman, and enthusiastically enjoy it. Or that they could understand and enjoy studying Shakespeare's Macbeth, King John and Richard II. But experience has shown us that we have underestimated the abilities and tastes of the boys. We should have known them better.'
That's the most serious accusation against most schools. The teachers under-estimate what their students will like, and what they can do. As far as intellectual things, children have extraordinary possibilities for good--even mentally challenged or learning disabled children. The possibilities are so great that, if we were smart enough to let them use their heads, the children would carry us along as easily as a gushing stream.
But what about the opposite intellectual tendencies--the possibilities for evil? One of those tendencies dominates many schools in spite of teachers' best efforts to rouse the slumbering minds of their students. But, the harder the teacher works, the more careless the students become. So the teacher prods them with grades, competition for first place, and the threat of exams is always dangled in front of them. The result is some haphazard effort, but no living, vital response. Although the students may enjoy school, and like their teacher, and look forward to lessons, they don't really have a passion to know just for the sake of knowledge--yet that's the kind of enthusiasm that schools ought to be producing. I can think of two sure-fire ways to guarantee carelessness in a class. One is a teacher who constantly lectures and won't stop talking. We all know someone in person who bores everyone by always explaining and clarifying. What makes us think that children aren't just as bored by that? They try to tell us that with their wandering eyes, listless expressions and fidgeting hands. They're using every communicative aspect of their body language to tell us, and kindly adults simply assume that it means the children just want to play or go outside. But it isn't play
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they need; they only need to play some of the time. What they really need is knowledge expressed in literary language. The chatter of their smiling, pleasant teacher leaves them cold. And there's another practice that we think makes learning easier, but that unwittingly contributes to mental lethargy. We take pride in reviewing and going over and over the material to be sure that the students get it. But that kind of monotony is deadly to children's minds. One child wrote, 'Before we had these living books, we had to keep reading about the same things again and again.' Isn't that true? In the homeschool, children are still using the same books that their grandparents learned from, and public school text books might be bought used with the names of a half dozen previous students crossed out! And what about compilations used in elementary schools that aren't living books, but aren't textbooks either? No wonder Mr. Fisher, when he opened a public library, said that he'd been surprised and distressed when visiting elementary schools, that he didn't see anything in them that he would call a book. He couldn't find any books that could charm, enlighten or expand the imagination. And yet, he said, the country was full of artists and writers. If we want them to really grow, we need to realize that they aren't like cows who chew the cud--not physically, and not mentally. They can't be continually rehashing the same tired old material without deadening and paralyzing their minds. Intellectual life and growth requires continual forward progress and new information.
When it comes to the mind, habit is useful as a tool, but shouldn't be the rule that drives curriculum. It has been trendy to focus teaching on specialized skills [such as magnet schools that focus on specific subjects like science or math?], but that's a bad idea. It's not good for people to focus too long on one topic. For example, we shouldn't be too preoccupied with our daily affairs and routines to broaden our minds with outside interests and pursuits. And it's possible for a person to become interested in some great subject
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and to throw himself into it until he's so focused on that subject that he can't function outside of it. Darwin, for instance, lost himself in science to such an extent that he couldn't enjoy anything else. He couldn't read poetry, or appreciate art, or meditate on the things of God. After a lifetime of focusing on science, his mind was unable to think about anything else. In the great and free age of the Renaissance, great things were done, great pictures were painted, great buildings were designed, and great discoveries were made. One single man might be a painter, an architect, a goldsmith, and a scholar at the same time. And all that he did was done well, everything he learned was assimilated into his daily thinking and enhanced his enjoyment of life. Giorgio Vasari wrote about Leonardo Da Vinci:
'He had a divine and wonderful mind. Since he was excellent at geometry, he was able to sculpt and prepare many architectural plans. He designed mills and other engines powered by water. Painting was his life, and he studied drawing by observing real objects from life.'
Leonardo knew nothing about our recent popular phrase, 'art for the sake of art.' Neither did Britain's Christopher Wren, who was also a great mathematician and knowledgeable about many things. Architecture was just one of his many interests, yet he built St. Paul's Cathedral in London. How sad that his idea to plan London so that it would be beautiful and spacious was rejected because it would cost too much to carry out! And we also reject the minds of our country's children because we're too stingy. Their minds could make their lives more fulfilling, more useful, more filled with beauty, with very little cost to us. It's good for us to realize that education is something that continues throughout life. We must always be learning more and increasing our knowledge.
Of all the ways we hinder mind growth, perhaps the most subtle way is with comprehension questions. It's no different than expecting a child to show us
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how his food is being digested at all different stages after dinner! Requiring that of a child wouldn't help his digestion. In fact, he would starve! The mind is the same. It needs its food, and it needs to be left alone to assimilate and digest knowledge on its own. If a child seems capable, we assume he has more depth than he really possesses, and we ask him ridiculous questions that bewilder him: 'If John's father is Tom's son, how are Tom and John related?' A shallow child can guess the answer and impress everyone. Yet we use tests like this to produce youth who are quick at trivia, but have no ability to reflect and no intellectual pursuits. All they know is how to look cool.
The imagination can become like the filthy cave that Ezekiel mentioned. There were all kinds of ugly, evil things in there. It might be like a temple where the Self is glorified, or a chamber of horrors. But it doesn't have to be, it might also be like a beautiful house. The imagination stores all kinds of images. Do we want its walls to be adorned with images from the movies, cheap novels, shocking pictures? Or great art, and visions inspired by the works of Homer and Shakespeare? One man's imagination became obsessed with the Sphinx!
These days, uneducated people admire Reason above everything else, and their reason leads them to make mistakes. Students need to be able to spot faulty logic. Even more important, they need to know that Reason is man's servant, not his master. A person can take any idea and, once he decides to believe it, his reason will find logic to justify his choice--even a bad choice, like mistrusting a neighbor, being jealous of his wife, doubting his faith, or even having contempt for his country.
When we understand this, we can see how men found plausible logic to justify going on strike after two workers were denied access to a
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meeting. We can see the unfairness of denying the men access, but people tend to confuse reason with what's right, and the workers thought that one unfair incident gave them the right to protest by striking. The only way to keep a nation morally and economically strong against fallacies that threaten to undermine it, is to provide education for everyone, the kind of education that encourages them to reflect and compare while providing enough information on which to base sound judgments.
What about what Coleridge called the aesthetic appetite? Much of the appreciation for culture depends on it. But it is vulnerable. Without beauty to feed on, it becomes empty and dies. It needs to feed on beauty--beauty in words, art, music and nature. The purpose of our beauty sense is to open a paradise of beauty for our enjoyment. But what if we grow up admiring the wrong things? Or, even worse, what if we grow up believing in our arrogance that only we and those just like us know how to discern and appreciate beauty? An important part of education is being exposed to lots of beauty, and learning to recognize it and being humble in its presence.
The physical body has natural appetites. Undue indulgence on any one appetite can ruin a person, but keeping them in balance brings health and strength. In the same way, our souls have natural appetites whose purpose is to make sure that we get the nourishment we need for spiritual or intellectual growth. Current educational practices make a serious mistake by latching onto these natural desires in inappropriate ways. Every child wants approval. Even a baby wants praise when she wears her new red shoes. Every child likewise wants to be first, to get some of whatever is offered, to be admired, to lead and manage others, to have companionship with peers and adults,
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and, finally, to satisfy his curiosity to know. Those normal desires are there, ready to act when needed. It's our job to work with them to educate the children. And we do make use of them--a little too well, and in all the wrong ways! We use children's desire to be first in a competitive way, so that the most assertive student, rather than the most capable student, takes first place. We use children's desire to get what is offered by offering public acclaim, rewards, prizes, and scholarships as incentives--which encourages children to be greedy. We play upon a child's vanity and desire to be liked by the teacher, and we create stress because the child tries too hard for approval. One might wonder what harm there can be in using the tools that are already there in the child's make-up. Even an athlete can damage the muscles he was born to use if he over-does it too soon. A boy whose ambition or tendency to admire is unduly stimulated will become a careless and weak person. But that's not the worst of it. We all crave knowledge as much as we crave bread. We all know how giving more exciting food can kill a child's desire for wholesome bread. The worst thing about tapping into other desires to motivate children to learn is that it kills the natural desire to learn for the love of knowledge. The excitement of finding out which should carry children eagerly through their school careers, and which should enhance them all their lives, is choked out. Instead of enjoying the pure act of learning, children cram to pass tests without really internalizing the knowledge. They do pass their tests, but they still don't really know. The God-given curiosity that should have sustained their learning for their entire lives doesn't even survive elementary school.
It has been proved that the joy of knowledge itself is enough to carry a child successfully and happily through all twelve years of school. Prizes, first place standings, praise, blame and punishment aren't needed to guarantee enthusiasm and an eagerness to work. The love of knowledge is enough. All of those other desires should play a
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part, but it seems like one or two desires are manipulated in excess of the others. The area of conduct gives all students an opportunity to excel, especially in team sports, where most of the natural desires are at work. But even in play, we need to be careful that a competive spirit doesn't overshadow the more important feelings of love and fairness. In class, the pure stimulation of knowledge itself should be enough to motivate students to pay attention and persist in completing their work. A student who is constantly winning prizes for being at the top of his class may be displaying greed, not a love of learning.
Those of us who deal with children sense that they have more than intellectual minds and physical bodies. Whether we call it 'soul' or 'emotions,' we find ourselves appealing to that spiritual part that makes us who we are. We've probably never even taken the time to analyze and name the different emotions, and we might never have figured out that they all fit within the headings of love and justice. It is a glorious gift to be able to show love and justice in any situation. When such a situation arises, we have all the love and sense of justice we need to deal with it, we never run out.
This divine gift is something that teachers should consider. And they do, but in the wrong way. They point out the moral of stories with numerous clichés. They lead, teach, illustrate--and thus bore the delicate, sharp minds of their students. The area of feelings is where teachers should be more careful--they should be hesitant to praise or blame children in the area of feelings because students will either disregard their praise and blame, or else they will focus on it to the extent that it becomes their only motive for doing things--they
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won't choose to do something because it's the right thing to do, they'll do it to gain someone's approval.
Moral education, the education of the feelings, is too delicate and too personal for teachers to take on by trusting their own resources. Children can't be fed morals with predigested food as if they were pigeons. They need to pick and eat for themselves, and they do this by observing or hearing how others act. They need a lot of mental food dealing with conduct, and that's why so much poetry, history, fiction, geography, travel, biography, science and math are made available. No one knows which particular bit will ignite a spark in a child. A small boy of eight years old may come downstairs late for breakfast because 'I was thinking about Plato and couldn't button my shirt.' Another child may find his sustenance in Peter Pan! We don't know what will feed any particular child, but all children have complex, multi-faceted natures, so all children must read widely, and they must 'own' what they read in order to nourish their moral being.
What about morality lessons? They are useless. What children need is a lot of excellent moral food of many different kinds, and they'll extract moral lessons from it themselves. Every child is gifted with Love and is able to express it in all its possible manifestations: kindness, goodwill, generosity, gratitude, mercy, empathy, loyalty, humility, gladness. We adults are amazed when the most common child showers one of those manifestations of love on us. But all children have been provided with enough love to last their whole lives. Yet we adults are aware of how we've been tainted and tend to be ordinary and common. So, when it comes to teaching children morals, we don't trust ourselves. Instead, we draw on the rich resources of the best we can find in art and literature, especially the Bible, to teach children's delicate spirits about these most important issues.
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St. Francis of Assisi, Collingwood [William Gershom? or Admiral Lord Cuthbert?], Hawaii's Father Damien or one of our soldiers who was awarded for bravery, will inspire children more than any lectures and clichés of ours.
And there is another gift to help us live right which even the most neglected person or the remotest savage is born with: a sense of fairness. Everyone has justice in his heart. Even an unruly mob demands fair play, and everyone knows how children pester us with their accusation of, 'it's not fair!' It's important to realize that every person has, not only enough love to live a good life, but enough justice. Discontent and unrest in the masses, which grows as the result of wrong thinking and making judgments incorrectly, is not so much the fault of bad conditions as a misguided sense of justice with which every person is born.
Justice is another area that needs to be educated. But, all too often, schools fail to educate properly. The sense of justice is so strong that no amount of neglect or bad teaching can kill it, but if it's choked from its natural course, it spreads devastation instead of helping the child live a good life.
One of the most important tasks of education is teaching students to distinguish between their rights and their duties. We each have our rights, and others have duties towards us, just like we have duties towards them. But it's not easy to make someone understand that we have the same rights as everyone else and no more, and that others owe us only as much as we owe them. That principle is born within each of us, so it's within us to understand it and adjust our perception. But it doesn't come naturally--our eyes must be taught to see. And that's where education comes in. But if education isn't teaching students to understand justice as it relates to others, then it's useless. To think in a way that's fair and just takes knowledge as well as reflection.
Students must also learn that their thoughts are not their own. More about this is in Volume 4, Ourselves. What we think about
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other people can be just and fair, or unjust. We owe everyone we deal with a certain manner in the way we speak to them, and not saying the things we should amounts to being unjust to our neighbors. Truth, or justice in our words, is due from all people. It's a wonderful tool to be capable of discerning truth, but that tool is only available to those who are careful about what they think. Francis Bacon wrote, 'Truth, which only judges itself, teaches that questioning truth (which is the wooing of truth), or knowing truth (which is the presence of truth), and believing truth (which is the enjoyment of truth)--this is the highest good of human nature.'
If it's important for all students to learn justice in word, it's even more important to learn justice in action (integrity). Integrity on the job won't allow a worker to turn out shoddy work. A skilled worker without integrity will try to do as little as possible in his work time. A student may not be receiving a salary, but he does receive a reward in the form of support, the cost of his education and trust from his teachers and parents. He must not be careless and hasty with his work, or dawdle, or postpone, or cheat or otherwise shirk from his work. He must learn that his duty towards others is to resist stealing. Whether a man is a servant, a workman, or a wealthy white-collar worker, he should understand that justice requires that he have integrity in his honesty, and not have the kind of common honesty that 's dishonest when no one's looking. A good example of honesty and values is illustrated by George Eliot's character 'Caleb Garth' from Middlemarch.
There is one more area where broad-minded citizens of the future need to be taught justice: the area of opinions. Our opinions reveal how much integrity we have in our thinking. Everyone has many opinions, but whether our opinions are our own through the sincere process of working them out in our own minds, or popular notions we picked up from the media or our colleagues, shows how much integrity we have. A person who thinks out
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his opinions conscientiously with a realistic assessment of his own abilities, is doing what he ought. He is doing his duty as much as if he saved a life, because no duty is any more or less important than another.
If children need guidance to get them to think justly so that their opinions will be trustworthy, how much more do they need guidance so that they'll have just and fair motives--or, what we call sound principles? After all, principles are simply the motives that we give priority and allow to lead our actions and thoughts. It seems like we absorb our principles casually--we rarely even have any definite consciousness of them. Yet our very lives are ordered by them, for better or worse. This is one more reason why wide, carefully planned reading is useful. There are always buzzwords in the air: 'What's the use?' or, 'Nothing matters in the end,' and others. A vacant mind will latch onto these and make them the basis of thought and behavior. They will become the worthless principles that guide the person's life.
And this is one more reason why nothing in the world of literature is too good to educate children. Every wonderful story, enlightening poem, informational history, every glimpse into travel books and every discovery in the world of nature, is there to teach children. Maxim Gorky said, 'The earth belongs to the child, always with the child,' and there is truth in that.
We believe that the PNEU has benefited education by discovering that all children, including the mentally challenged, know what they need and are desperately eager to get the nourishment they need. They don't need to do any exercises to prepare themselves to take in this nourishment. A limited vocabulary, underprivileged home life, or lack of familiarity with books isn't a hindrance. In fact, those challenges can be strong motivators in the same way that the hungrier the child, the more readily he eats his dinner. This statement is not some idealistic
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opinion. It has been well proved in thousands of children. Students in a poor school in the inner city are eager to tell the whole story of Waverly, and their tellings capture the beautiful language and style of the author. They talk about the Rosetta Stone and other artifacts in their local museum. They discuss Plutarch's Coriolanus and conclude that his mother must have spoiled him! They know every detail of a de Hootch painting by heart, or a picture by Rembrandt or Botticelli. They're capable of grasping the march of history, the flow of drama, the subtle sweet inspiration of a poet. But they won't learn anything that isn't presented to them in literary form.
Whatever they receive in literary form, they absorb immediately. And they prove that they know it by being able to tell about it confidently, clearly, and with charm and spirit. And these are the children who have been expected to learn from nothing but the three R's for generations! It's no wonder that juvenile crime is increasing. An intellectually starved child has to find some kind of food for his imagination, and outlet for his intellect. And, like an exciting movie, crime offers brave adventures.
Now we leave the outer courts of the mind and body, the holy places of the affections and the will (we'll return to the will later). Now we'll enter the holy of holies inside the person, where he serves God. We may wonder what education can do for the spirit of a child. 'What can outwit a man's understanding? What is out of the range of a man's thoughts, or out of the reach of his aspirations? It's true that his own ignorance baffles him. Even the wisest man is full of ignorance. But ignorance doesn't mean he can't learn. The wings of a man's soul beat impatiently against the bars of his ignorance. He wants
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out, he wants to be free to go out into the universe of infinite thought and infinite possibilities. How can a man's soul be satisfied? Kings have sacrificed their crowns because they want something greater than kingdoms. Profound scholars are frustrated by the limits that confine them to only dip their toe into the deep ocean of knowledge. No great love is satisfied with only loving. There is only one thing that can satisfy the soul of man. The things around him are finite, measurable and incomplete and his soul can reach farther than it can grasp. He has a desperate, relentless, unquenchable thirst for something infinite.' [from Volume 4, Ourselves] 'I want, I am made for, and I must have a God.' We need God, not the mere outer form of religion. Inside all of us we have an infinite capacity for love, loyalty and service, and we can't expend these on anything but God.
How do we plan education to prepare children to seek the God they need, the Savior who is all the help they'll ever need, the King who gives them all the joy they can hold, and who is worthy of their complete adoration and loyalty? Any words or thoughts we might have will be poor and insufficient. But we have a resource--a treasury of divine words that children can read and know with satisfying pleasure, and that they can tell about with beauty and relevance: The Bible.
One ten year old who read many books said, 'The Bible is the most interesting book I know of.' Little by little, children get what they need to know about God in order to fulfill St. Chrysostom's prayer, which is a part of the Episcopalian liturgy: 'Let us know Your truth while we're in this world.' Everything else that children learn gathers around the truth of the Bible and illuminates it.
Here's an example of how this kind of knowledge grows. I listened to a class of thirteen year old girls read an essay about George Herbert. The essay included three or four of his poems. None of the girls had ever read the essay or any of the poems before. They narrated what they
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had read, and, while narrating, gave a complete paraphrase of The Pulley, The Elixir and one or two of his other poems. They remembered every point that the poet had made, and they used his original words pretty freely. The teacher commented about one or two unusual words, but that was all. If she had tried to explain or enforce (in a way that wasn't reverently sympathetic and showed that she cared) then it would have been meddling. Interestingly, hundreds of students the same age in classrooms and home correspondence schools read and narrated the same essay and paraphrased the poems easily. I felt humbled by these children. I knew I could never immediately and quickly understand so many pages of a new book, especially if it included poems that were obscure and vague. This is how the minds of great thinkers enlighten children and help them grow in knowledge, especially the knowledge of God.
And yet this most important part of education is often drowned in a flood of words, or tedious repetitions, or chiding and reprimanding--all kinds of ways that result in the mind becoming bored, and the affections deadened.
I have tried to outline some of the possibilities for good in children, but, at the same time, corresponding possibilities for evil that are in every child. Children desperately need guidance and control, but, even more than that, they need the influence of knowledge to help them develop internally. I've avoided using technical terms and have used the more common words--body, soul, mind, spirit--because these words represent concepts that, although we can't define, we all can grasp. These ideas need to be the foundation of how we think about education.
We also need to be familiar with the raw material we have to work with if our education is going to be effective. So we need to know about children, and what
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they need--but not their needs based on how we can make them useful cogs in society's wheel, or based on the standards of the current culture. We need to know their requirements based on their personal potential and unique needs. We don't want to educate them towards 'self-expression.' After all, a young child doesn't have much to express yet, except what he's already learned from lessons or experience. Even if he's not yet accomplished at expressing originality, what he can do is take in and digest knowledge, and give it back in his own individual way because his unique mind has modified it and re-created it and made it 'his own.' This unique originality can be produced from the same mind food that everyone else is getting. It becomes original as it reacts on the unique mind of each particular child.
Education implies that the mind is taking in knowledge from the outside world. But if something causes the mind to draw inward for introspection or in self-consciousness, intellectual progress stops. You may have been disappointed that I haven't delved into current psychology. Undoubtedly the subconscious mind does exist somewhere between mind and body, where the mind submits to the physical body. The mind, by definition, is always and forever conscious, so talking about a subconscious or unconscious mind sounds contradictory. But psychologists mean that the mind is able to think in ways that we aren't conscious of, and they say that we need to look deep within ourselves and make ourselves aware of the nature of our subconscious and how it works. But that much introspection and self-occupation isn't healthy. So far, the results of this kind of study are not encouraging. They seem to be trying to tell us that the best that's within us originates in 'complexes.' We have a sensory complex, erotic complex, greed complex, etc. Even if these possibilities are safely hidden away within us, it seems dubious to nourish the mind so that the seed of base desires will bear beautiful fruit. This kind of research is undoubtedly fascinating, and may eventually contribute to education
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by adding a few interesting facts about the mind to our store of knowledge. But so far, such research hasn't improved the field of education. It's possible that the mind, like the body, has certain regions that were never meant to be touched. If we simply stick to those areas of the mind that we do know about, we may have enough information to come up with something we don't have yet: a Science, or, even more accurate, a Philosophy of Education.