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Since we can't motivate with intimidation, misguided affection, prompting with subtle suggestions, deliberately using our influence to pressure children, playing on any one of a child's natural drives, or competition, we are limited. We aren't free to use any and all means to reach our desired goal of educating the child. There are only three means left to us. If we study them carefully, we'll see that they really are broader and fuller than they sound. Let's consider the first of these: atmosphere. For over ten years, we've put our confidence in providing the perfect environment to maximize learning. Some claim that the right environment accounts for nine tenths of a child's education, instead of one third. The theory goes, that if a child is raised in the perfect environment, its influence will be subtle, but those first impressions will be permanent. And the result will be an educated child. Schools can include Latin, math, or whatever else is in the official curriculum, but that's less important because the child's real education
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came in through osmosis. Selecting the best color scheme, the most harmonious sounds, beautiful objects, and considerate people will make a child grow up sweet, reasonable, and in harmony with his world.
'Peter's nursery was like a dream, a perfect place for his little soul to blossom. His walls were warm and cream-colored, and his father had decorated them with the most charming pictures of trotting and jumping ponies, dancing dogs and cats, leaping lambs, and carnival animals. There was a beautiful brass fireplace guard. All the tables had rounded corners so he wouldn't fall and get hurt on them while learning to walk. The floor was a soft cork carpet where Peter could play with his toys. There was a red hearth rug for him to crawl on. There were scales right in the nursery to weigh him every week, and a growth chart to check his progress. There was nothing casual about Peter's early years.'
That's what H.G. Wells wrote in his book about education, Joan and Peter . It's an accurate depiction of how parents try to prepare the perfect environment so that their children will be well-educated. Parents make great sacrifices to provide the most educational atmosphere. One couple spent more than they could afford on a statue to put at the top of their staircase so that their son's mind would be broadened by seeing beauty every time he went upstairs. This sort of thing has been going on since the 1880's or so. As usual, Germany surpassed everyone else in this, as she does everything she passes on to the rest of the world. Probably all the highly educated youths of Europe were raised like this. And the result is the kind of neo-Georgian youths we read about in Punch magazine who have an air of weariness, superiority and smug self-satisfaction. Indian scientist Sir Jagadis Chandra Bose concluded this about nervous impulse in plants:
'A plant protected from the outside elements by glass may look healthy and thriving, but its higher nervous system is stunted. When a series of
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electric shocks is delivered on this barren, overfed plant, the shocks themselves create nervous channels and deteriorate the plant even more. In life, it's the shocks of adversity that mature a person, not sheltering the person from life.'
We thought that the realities of the recent war inflicted enough blows, but current education still duly administers the 'beneficial' blows of adversity to students. Maybe overzealous teachers and parents are wrong. Maybe they've misread their list of duties, maybe they've over-rated their own roles, maybe, in their enthusiasm, they've intruded on the personalities of children. It's not a carefully controlled environment that children need, with everything artificially manipulated to relate to each other. They need a real atmosphere that hasn't been contrived and organized by specialists. The ideal atmosphere is everywhere, all around the child. It's what he lives and breathes in already, as naturally as the air around him. It gets tweaked and personalized by the people and things it includes, it gets modified by events, it's sweetened with the love of those he knows, and is regulated and kept healthy with some common sense. We all know the natural lives that children live at home. Their household routine is set by their mother. They play with their father. They're teased and shown affection by their brothers and sisters. They learn from bumps and bruises. They learn to sacrifice by having to wait until the baby's needs are met. They role play by pretending the couch is a boat, or by making tents with the table and chairs. They learn respect for the elderly by visiting grandparents. They learn how to get along with others by playing with friends in the neighborhood. They learn how to be intimate by sharing secrets and love with the family pet. They like discovering where buttercups grow, and they're ecstatic to discover where the blackberries grow! And they learn about consideration for people of all classes and races from relationships with their superiors, and with the man who comes to mow the lawn, or clerks at the store, or anyone who crosses their path. Children are expert at striking up these kinds of friendships, and it's a valuable part of their education.
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They do need some watchfulness and guidance, though, to be sure their relationships are healthy ones. No artificially created environment could possibly compare to the natural atmosphere of real life, which blows like a fresh wind over the child.
It's fine to take advantage of a child's atmosphere to help along his education, but there must be limits. The limits are for us, not for the children. The most important limitation is that we may not artificially adjust the child's atmosphere to prevent him from feeling life's blows, or shield him from his own circumstances. Children need to experience the real world and face life. They aren't fooled, anyway--if their parents are anxious or upset, children sense it in the air. 'Mama, Mama, you aren't going to cry again, are you?' and a child offers a hug to try to take away the trouble. These are the kinds of things that prepare children to deal with real life. We should not shield them in glass boxes. If we do, they grow soft and delicate and will never be strong enough to handle problems effectively. But parents must remember their roles. The parents are the ones in charge, and the children need to submit to them. Also, it's wrong for more capable people to dump their heavy loads on those weaker than themselves. In the same way, it wouldn't be right for us to put young children in the position of making serious decisions for us. Decision-making is one of the most stressful tasks in life, and young children should be spared from that weight.
A school setting offers less opportunities for adding the element of real life to a child's atmosphere. But atmosphere applies here, too. School lessons can be so watered down and sweetened, and teachers can be so smooth and condescending, that they encourage lazy thinking and moral dullness that's difficult for a child to ever overcome. The strong brace of truth and sincerity should be in every school. Here, the common pursuit of knowledge by both teachers and students helps. It creates a current of fresh air that even a visitor to the school can see in the intellectual growth and working morality in the faces of both teachers and students.
But not all schools are striving out of a pure love for learning. Some are working very hard, but their effort is motivated by a desire for good grades. When that's the case,
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children's faces aren't calm and happy. Instead, they're anxious, restless and worried. The children don't sleep well and they're irritable. If anything goes wrong, they fall apart in tears of frustration, or get sullen. They're more difficult to manage in general. When this is the case, there's too much stress in the environment, their atmosphere is too over-stimulating, and they can't help reacting to the strain. Teachers come to the conclusion that the work is too challenging. They remove one thing or another from the curriculum. Or doctors may prescribe that a student relax for a year by being allowed to run and play instead of doing his lessons. The poor child! At the very time in his life when he needs knowledge to sustain his mind, he's turned away from lessons and left to pick up whatever he can learn on his own. So his nervous condition gets even worse and the child is labeled as having a condition of chronic nerves. But the problem was never the work. It was the atmosphere in which the work was done. Sometimes the teacher is so worried about her students doing well that the class picks up on her stress. 'I'm afraid that X can't do his test. He loves school, but he bursts into tears when I give him a test question. Maybe I've demanded so much that I've turned him into an over-achieving perfectionist.' This was said about a seven year old! The poor child was taxed into over-exertion because moral pressure was used to motivate him. But we envision better things. We foresee happy days for children when all their teachers understand that the only exciting motivation that's necessary to get high quality work from each child, no matter how big a classroom may be, is the natural curiosity in each child that makes him instinctively love knowledge. The calmness and pleasure of schools who use this principle is a surprise to any visitor who doesn't realize that this is as normal as the contentment a baby gets from nursing and taking in the nourishment he craves.
There are two possible paths for us: (1) We can create a fragrant but stale hot-house atmosphere by modifying and controlling conditions. In this atmosphere, children grow well enough from all outward appearances, but they are weak and dependent. (2) We can
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allow children to experience real life as it comes, but with enough care not to allow too much to batter them. For instance, we don't have to abandon them to evil influences by allowing them to have bad friends.
Unfortunately, education doesn't 'just happen' by taking a casual, careless approach to school. Both students and teachers are limited, and both need to apply some deliberate effort. Yet, with my approach, we can have a totally new point of view. If we can only allow ourselves to believe it, we really don't have to manipulate children to learn their lessons. Nature has already taken care of that. If the lessons are the right kind, children will enjoy learning them. The most strenuous effort comes when instilling good habits. But, even then, there is relief. Good intellectual habits form themselves if the appropriate curriculum is followed in the right way. And the right way is this: children must do the work for themselves. They need to read the assigned pages and tell it back. In other words, they need to actively engage their minds with a concerted effort to 'own' the knowledge. We all know the tragic waste of the copious amount of reading we've done that was simply forgotten because we didn't actively work to know it while we read it. Yet this kind of effort is as natural as breathing, and, believe it or not, just as easy. The ability to focus the attention at will is the most valuable intellectual habit there is. It's also what distinguishes an educated person. With practice it can become second nature, and
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a good habit can overcome ten bad natures. Imagine how much our workload would be decreased if those who worked for us paid full attention to instructions so that they remembered the first time. Paying attention isn't the only habit that grows when one applies himself to learning. The habits of appropriate and prompt speaking, of obeying, of cheerful willingness, and an unbiased perspective all come naturally to a person educated this way. The habits of thinking right, making sound judgments, tidiness and order naturally follow when children have the self-respect that comes from the kind of education that respects who they are.
Physiologists say whatever thoughts become habit will make a mark on our brain tissue, although the mark may not be something we can visibly measure. Whether the mark is tangible or not, we do know for certain that one of the most fundamental jobs of education is to teach children the right ways of thinking so that their lives will result in good living, usefulness, clear thinking, enjoyment of beauty, and especially, a life lived for God. We can't understand how spirit, which is intangible and invisible, can influence a real, physical brain. But we know that it does happen every time we see a dark mood manifested in a scowling face. And we see it in--
We all know how forcing ourselves to smile can lift us out of a dark mood.
Both the soul and body are tools to help lay down the tracks of good habits that make life run more smoothly.
In the past, children have been abused and tormented by conscientious parents and over-zealous teachers who attempted to force good habits
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into children with severe punishment. And some adults exploited children for their own selfish gain. Now the pendulum is swinging the opposite way and parents are often too permissive. We've forgotten that people need good habits to live well, in the same way that trains need tracks to run on. It takes careful planning to lay railroad tracks, and it takes planning to develop good habits. Whether we plan or not, habits will be established one way or another. But if we don't resolve to make life easier by establishing good habits of thinking right and acting appropriately, then bad habits of faulty thinking and wrong behavior will establish themselves on their own. And, as a result, we'll avoid making decisions, which will cause us to procrastinate even more until we end up 'wasting our days crying over all the days we've wasted.' Most children are raised to have a minimum of decent, orderly habits that keep him from being a total misfit. Consider the amount of work it would take if every act of taking a bath, brushing teeth, sitting at the table, lifting fork and spoon to the mouth, had to be carefully planned and thought through just to decide what to do next to accomplish the task! Thankfully, that's not the case! But habit is like fire--it's a bad master, but an indispensable servant. A likely reason for our second guessing, hesitation and indecision is that we never learned good habits to begin with. Our lives weren't smoothed by those who should have laid down tracks of good habits when we were little so that our actions could run along them effortlessly.
I don't think we need to list the specific habits that we should try to form. Everyone already knows what they are, even if most of us don't actually do them. We admire the tall, straight posture of a soldier, but we don't have the discipline to produce it in ourselves. We admire a lady who can sit elegantly through dinner and who prefers a straight chair because her muscles are so accustomed to sitting straight from years of discipline. Discipline is the only way to form a good habit, although it's usually internal self-discipline
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that a person has over himself. A certain amount of deliberate work in establishing good habits is necessary because of the conflict between good and bad habits. An easy, bad habit is always pleasant and more tempting, and it's uncomfortable and difficult to resist it. But we can be sure of overcoming our bad habits because, built into us, we have everything we need to learn whatever good habits of body and mind that we deliberately attempt to. We entertain the general idea, and that gives birth to the act of actually doing it. If we do the action again and again, it will become a habit. We've all heard, 'sow an act, reap a habit. Sow a habit, reap a character.' But we need to go even one step further back--we need to first sow the idea or notion that motivates us to act in the first place. A lazy boy might hear the story of the Great Duke who wanted to sleep in a narrow bed while on the battle field so that, when he rolled over in bed, he'd have to get up. The story plants the idea of getting out of bed promptly. But his teacher or mother will instinctively know when, how often, and in what creative way to repeat the story before the habit of promptly getting out of bed is formed. She knows that the motivation has to come from the child himself, a desire to conquer his own self that becomes an impulse of chivalry that he can't resist. It's possible to sow great ideas casually, and this may be the kind of idea that needs to be sown informally because, as soon as a child picks up on his mother's deliberate attempts to influence him, he may resist the whole idea. When the parent or teacher has an air of expectancy that makes good habit seem like a matter of obeying authority, the child won't be so resistant. But if a child has been trying to start his lessons on time, and is late one morning, a good-natured teacher who doesn't rebuke or require a penalty is teaching the child that it doesn't really matter. And the child begins forming the habit of being late to class. The teacher's mistake is in thinking that being on time is difficult for the child, so he overlooks it. But, really, having orderly habits allows a person to be free and spontaneous. [Think how much free time one has when they stick to a schedule, but how tasks can overwhelm a person who doesn't plan time to do them.] The only hard work of having a habit is during the first few
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times that the habit is done.
Imagine how painstakingly wearisome life would be if it weren't eased with habits of hygiene, tidiness, order and courtesy. If we had to make a decision about every detail of getting dressed, eating, going anywhere, life wouldn't be worth living. Even the most lowly mother knows that her child has to learn habits of decency. Entire routines of etiquette are learned because a slip in the area of protocol is embarrassing and no child has the courage to face that kind of humiliation. Physical fitness, morality and manners are mostly a matter of habit. Even some parts of a devout life can become habit, and can become a pleasure that brings comfort and support as we try to be godly, sober and righteous. We don't need to be afraid that teaching children religious habits will doom their relationship with God to an empty, mechanical routine as long as they understand the concepts that make the routines worthwhile. Listen to what De Quincey thought about going to church when he was a boy:
'On Sunday mornings I went to church with my family. It was a building in the ancient British style. It had aisles, galleries, an organ. Everything was old and distinguished, and the proportions were majestic. Every time we entered, and the people were kneeling during the service, or praying for all sick people and prisoners, I would secretly weep and raise my eyes to the upper stained glass windows. There I saw the sun shining through, illuminating a spectacle that not even the prophets ever experienced. I saw pictures of the Apostles who suffered trials on earth, and the beauties of nature on the earth, and martyrs who had endured persecution. And behind it all, in the clear center pane, I watched white billowy clouds against a deep blue sky.' [from Thomas de Quincey's 'Autobiographical Sketches]
And the young De Quincey had visions of sick children that God wanted to help:
'These visions needed no outside support. Just a hint from the church service, a fragment of the fleecy clouds and the pictures on the stained glass windows
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were enough. God also speaks to children in dreams and unseen messages. But in solitude, especially as a still small voice heard in a meditative heart while hearing truth at a congregational church service, God communicates with children undisturbed.'
With this kind of testimony, confirmed by our own memories, we can confidently believe that Divine service is appropriate for children. It will be more appropriate as they develop the habit of reading beautifully written books that sharpen their sense of style and their unconscious appreciation of the beautiful articulated words in the church liturgy.
We have discussed how important it is to have good habits of mind, morality, religion and physical development. We've seen the disaster of children or adults who learn to think in such a rut that the mere thought of a novel idea makes them shiver like a hesitant swimmer on the steps of a pool. This danger might be avoided by exposing children every day to the wise thoughts of great minds, and lots of them. That way they can gradually gain confidence in their own opinions, without even being aware of it. If we fail in this duty, then, as soon as our children gain some freedom, they'll follow the first fad that comes along, then discard that for the next one. The end result is that they'll be ill-guided and wavering in uncertainty for the rest of their lives.
We've left the instrument implied in the last part of the phrase, 'education is a life,' for last. I say implied because life can't exist by itself or support itself. It needs nourishment--regular, planned rations that are suitable for it, otherwise it will die. Everyone knows this about life. Perhaps the greatest discovery of the twentieth century will be the realization that the mind needs the same thing or else it will die. Food is to the body
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what gasoline is to a car. It's its only source of energy. When we understand that the mind, in the same way, only functions when it receives its fuel, then we'll see education in a new light. If the body is fed with pills and artificial food, it starts to deteriorate. One glance at a bunch of couch potatoes at a football game makes us wonder what kind of mental food those guys have been living on. In spite of big, burly bodies, they seem to be empty and depleted of life. The mind is only capable of handling one kind of food: ideas. It lives, grows and flourishes on ideas and nothing else. Mere dry facts of information are as unpalatable to the mind as sawdust is to the body. The mind has no more faculties to deal with improper food than the body does.
'What is an idea?' we ask, and we find ourselves plunged in a question too incomprehensible to answer. Our greatest thinkers, including Plato, Bacon, and Coleridge, concluded that ideas are living things of the mind. We talk about how an idea 'struck us,' or 'seized us,' or 'took hold of us,' or 'impressed us.' If it's a big enough idea, it might even 'possess us.' In other words, ideas seem to have a life of their own.
If we ask a person why he has certain life habits, or intellectual preoccupations, or dedication to a particular cause, or obsession with a hobby, he'll usually say that some idea or another struck him. The power of an idea is something everyone recognizes. What phrase is more common, or holds more promise than, 'I have an idea!' We all perk up and listen in eager anticipation, like trout attracted to an alluring fly. There's only one place where the attraction of ideas seems to have no place--our schools! Just look at any publisher's list of textbooks and you'll see that they're all barren, carefully drained of the least hint of any idea, reduced to mere dry, dusty bits of fact. Private boarding schools do a little better. The diet that their curriculums offer may be meager enough to
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starve the average child, but at least they offer a few ideas. Though sparse, they do offer a few of the best thoughts from the best minds to nourish the minds of their students.
Samuel Coleridge, in his book Method, has done more than other thinkers to give us our current scientific perception of what an idea is. Psychologists define ideas as insolens verbum ["haughty, arrogant word"??], a term that Coleridge came up with, but Coleridge preferred to show the mind's reaction to an idea. Here is what he wrote about the progress of an idea in Method:
'The event in human history that most impresses the imagination is the moment when Columbus was adrift on the endless, unknown ocean and first noticed the change of the magnetic needle. Many other instances have happened in history when ideas that were always there in nature were suddenly noticed by men hand-picked by God, as if unfolded in a divinely-scheduled sequence of discoveries, and those ideas resulted in changes that improved man's lot in life. Columbus had a methodical mind and his logic led him from the magnetic needle on a compass to its foundational idea, entitling him to the title, promiser of kingdoms.'
This shows how the origin of an idea fits interestingly with what we know of great discoveries and inventions. It does seem that God specially selected men to give those ideas to. It not only matches our understanding of the ideas in our own lives, but the origin of practical ideas as mentioned in Isaiah 28:24-29:
'Does a farmer always plow and never sow? Is he forever cultivating the soil and never planting it? Doesn't he finally plant his seeds for dill, cumin, wheat, barley, and spelt, each in its own section of his land? The farmer knows just what to do, for God has given him understanding. He doesn't thresh all his crops the same way. A heavy sledge is never used on dill; rather, it is beaten with a light stick. ... The LORD Almighty
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is a wonderful teacher, and he gives the farmer great wisdom.' [NLT]
Here is what Coleridge says about the kind of ideas that infiltrate the atmosphere of our lives, rather than suddenly illuminating the mind in a lightbulb moment:
'An idea can exist in an obvious, tangible form, like the idea of a circle in a mathematician's mind. Or an idea can be merely an internal instinct, a vague longing towards something, like an impulse that fills a poet's eyes with tears.'
These indefinite kinds of ideas should draw a child towards things that are honorable, lovely and admirable. [Phil 4:8, NLT] They should not be offered on a rigid schedule, but, instead, they should be a part of the mental atmosphere that surrounds him, breathed in like the air around him.
It's scary to think that our flawed words and ways should be grasped as inspiration by children. But recognizing that fact will make us even more careful to avoid any corrupt, unworthy thoughts and motives in our interactions with them.
Coleridge goes into more detail about the kinds of obvious, definite ideas that are ingested as food by the mind:
'From the originating idea, successive ideas grow, just like a seed that germinates.' 'The lively soul-stirring events and images in the outside world around us are like light, air and water to the seed of the mind. Without the presence of them, the mind would rot and die.' 'The path of any methodical course can take many varying twists and turns, but each path has its own particular guiding idea at the head where it begins. Ideas are as varied in importance as the paths that come from them are varied and different. The world has suffered a lot recently because the natural order of science, which is necessary, has overshadowed everything else. Science is limited to physical experience, and has no business requiring that reason and faith meet its standards. But reason and faith are not physical. According to the laws of scientific method, they owe no obedience to the physical arena of science. Progress follows a path that starts at the head with the originating idea. As it sets out down the path, the mind needs to be alert to keep it from going off on rabbit trails. That's why
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different orbits of thought need to be as different from each other as the originating idea themselves.' (Method, by Coleridge)
Biological science is making discoveries that shed new light on the laws of how the mind works. We are returning to Plato's doctrine that 'An idea is a distinct presence that exists without our approval or consent. It is in unity with the Eternal Essence.'
I've repeated these Coleridge quotes I used in Volume 2 [Parents and Children] because his opinion confirms our own experience. This should be enough to make us reconsider the way we teach. The whole subject is profound, but it is also extremely practical. We need to get rid of the wrong theory in our minds that says that education's function is mostly a gymnastic procedure of drawing knowledge from students, without also putting some in. Our current emphasis on 'self-expression' has given new life to this notion. Yet we know that there isn't much inside us that we haven't received from somewhere else. The most we can do is to give our own individual twist to an original idea that's passed on to us, or apply it in a new way. We are humble enough to realize that all we are is torch-bearers, passing on our light to the next generation in the same way we received it ourselves. Yet even we invite children to 'express themselves' about a tank or a Norman castle or the man in the moon. We fail to recognize that the charming things children say about things they don't know are not profound manifestations of self-expression. They're just a hodge-podge collection of notions they picked up here and there. It's doubtful whether original compositions should be required of children--their consciences are so sharp, and they're very aware that their material is borrowed and not really original. It might be preferable for them to read whatever they want about the subject before they write about it, and then give them liberty to write what they like about it.
When a child is very young, it doesn't seem to make any difference what philosophical idea we had when we educated them, whether we had the notion of filling
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a bucket, writing on a blank slate, molding a lump of clay, or nourishing a life. But as the child grows, we'll come to find that the only things that are assimilated into who he becomes are the ideas that fed and nourished his mind. Everything else is tossed aside, or, even worse, becomes an obstacle that can even harm him.
Education is a life. That life needs ideas to keep it alive. Ideas come from a spiritual place, and God has created us so that we get ideas in the same way we pass them on to others: by expressing them in talk, or printed words, or the text of Scripture, or music. A child's inner life needs ideas in the same way that his physical body needs food. He probably won't use nine-tenths of the ideas we expose him to, just like his body only assimilates a small part of the meals he eats. He's very eclectic--he might choose this or that. We don't need to be concerned about what he chooses, we just need to make sure that he has a variety of things offered to him, and in abundance. If we pressure him, he will be annoyed. He resists force feedings, and he hates predigested food. What works best is a mental diet presented in an indirect literary form. That's the way Jesus taught when He used parables. What makes parables so wonderful is that they are unforgettable, every detail is remembered, yet the way they're applied might pass and leave no trace in an unworthy person, no influence at all in the person. Jesus took that risk, and we must. too. We just might offer children a meal of Plutarch's Life of Lysander, thinking that the object lesson will show what a good leader or citizen should avoid--but the child may love Lysander and think his 'charming' ways are admirable! But we have to take that chance, just like Jesus did when he told the parable of the Unjust Steward [Luke 16]. One note: it seems like we need ideas to be presented with lots of padding, such as the way we get them from novels, or poems, or history texts written with literary style. Neither a child's body, nor his mind, can survive on pills, no matter how much research goes into formulating them. From a big, thick book full of living ideas, he may only latch onto a half dozen that speak to his heart and nourish his spirit. And there's
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no predicting which ideas will ignite a spark in him; they tend to come from unexpected places and in forms we never would have guessed. No person can force a portion of Scott or Dickens or Milton to inspire him and feed his soul. It's as the Bible says, 'Stay busy and plant a variety of crops, for you never know which will grow.' [Eccl. 11:6, NLT]
One of the rash things we do wrong is in offering our own opinions to students (and even to other adults) instead of ideas. We believe that an opinion expresses thought, and that, therefore, it carries an idea. Even if it once did, the very act of crystallizing it into an opinion kills any life it might have had. John Ruskin said that a crystal is not alive. It can't feed anyone. We think we're feeding children when we give them our church's convictions, Euclid's theories, or history summaries. And then we wonder why they never seem to retain what they learn. M. Fouillee, who wrote Education From a National Standpoint, thought that the idea was everything in philosophy, and in education. But Fouillee barely touched on education's role in forming physical, intellectual and moral habits. Here's what he wrote:
'Descartes said that scientific truths are victories. If you tell students the key point in the victory, the most heroic battles in scientific discoveries, you'll get them interested in the end results of science. By getting them excited about the conquest of truth, you develop a scientific spirit in them. Imagine how fascinating math might be if we gave a short history of the major theorems of math. Imagine if the student felt like he'd witnessed the work of Pythagoras, or Plato or Euclid. Or imagine if he felt like he'd been there with modern intellects like Descartes, Pascal or Leibnitz. Great theories would no longer be lifeless, anonymous and abstract. They would become living truths, each with a thrilling history of its own, like a statue by Michelangelo, or a painting by Raphael.'
This is a way of applying Coleridge's 'captain idea' at the head of every train of thought. An idea shouldn't be some stark generalization that no child or adult could
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feed on. Ideas need to be clothed with both fact and story. That way, the mind can do its own work of selecting what it needs and initiating a new birth of ideas from a collection of colorful details. Dickens' David Copperfield says, 'I was a very observant child,' and, 'All children are observant,' but he doesn't just state the fact as a dull fact, he lets us come to that conclusion ourselves by telling us many charming incidents.
There is more than one way to get from point A to point B. Everything I've said should reiterate my point: that varied reading, and lots of it, as well as people's ideas expressed in the various forms of art, are not an optional luxury to be offered to children when we happen to think about it. It is their very bread of life. They need it regularly, and they need a lot of it. This, and more, is what I mean when I say, 'The mind feeds on ideas and therefore, children should have a generous curriculum.'