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The Parents' Review

A Monthly Magazine of Home-Training and Culture

Edited by Charlotte Mason.

"Education is an atmosphere, a discipline, a life."
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'It All Comes Down to Education'

by Mary Hardcastle (C.M.C.)
Volume 53, no. 7, July/August 1942, pgs. 209-218


'It all comes down to Education.' Does it? The bewildered man-in-the-street hears this cry on all sides and wonders if he must overcome his natural prejudice to highbrowism, schoolmarms, and the academic outlook. The educators jostle around him in the street. The advocates of art education seek to persuade him that the art teacher is the only person who can unlock the gates of life. Others say, 'Keep fit; make the body strong and beautiful and everything else will take care of itself.' The musicians say, 'It is we musicians know.' The scientist believes that science alone can open the door to truth. The historian claims that a knowledge of history will save the world from further catastrophe.

Someone whispers in the ear of the ordinary man and urges him to listen to the voices of a few who are trying to bring order out of the welter of admirable suggestions for the better ordering of society. Numbers of people claim that the new order of society, whatever else it is, must be basically Christian, and because they believe 'it all comes down to Education,' they agree that that must have a Christian basis too. But it so often stops at the idea of Christianity that is in their minds. The thought that a little research work might be advisable does not often occur.

It is a relief to find that the word education is not even mentioned in the New Testament. There are many very important statements about children: 'Of such is the kingdom of God.' The man who humbles himself as a little child is 'greatest in the kingdom of heaven'; indeed, he cannot enter that kingdom unless he becomes as a little child. We are told what will happen to any who offend, despise or hinder even one little one. It seems we have to learn from children and not get in their way. Is the educational cart usually put before the spiritual horse?

One positive injunction is given, 'feed my lambs,' and this follows another positive injunction twice repeated, 'feed my sheep.' The shepherd's work is to lead the sheep and lambs into a green pasture and to leave them there. It is not his business to teach the lambs how to feed. The important point of the story is that both sheep and lambs have to be fed. There is no question of beginning and ending with the lambs. This was not our Lord's way. He founded no schools, started no Youth Movements. He came to found a kingdom, but He did not concentrate on children as the hope of a new world.

He started on grown men and women for two reasons: first, because they as persons are of infinite worth to God, and, secondly, because it is through them the young are fed. Every human being, young or old - age does not come into it - is of equal value to God. All are needed in the kingdom where the secret of eternal life is found. The condition of entry to the kingdom is that men and women should become as little children; but there is no question of regarding grown-ups, unattractive as they may be, as beyond hope and concentrating on the young who are so responsive and attractive. This belief in the value of a person as person is vital. There is a sentimental view prevalent amongst educators (though seldom consciously acknowledged) that as children grow up their worth lessens with the years, until finally their only value appears to be as potential parents and educators of more little children, new hopes of still newer orders and eras. The hopes vanish into parents and educators again, and the new orders, elusive as to-morrow, remain in the future.

The second reason for starting on the grown-ups first - that it is through them the young are fed - is dependent on the first. Unless God loves all persons all through their lives there is little point in feeding the young except to fatten them up for purposes of society. Thus, according to this view, education must begin with life and only end with it. But where is the end if we believe in eternal life? So let us think of living and dismiss for the moment the word education from our minds with the reminder that it comes from educare, meaning to nourish. Life has to be nourished.

There is an attunement in living which is described in different ways: being and doing, vision and action, worship and service, faith and works. Since the Renaissance the world has been getting more and more out of tune because the value of action has been emphasised almost to the exclusion of vision. We are afraid of the word contemplation, which is the act of seeing. In order to get the harmony right again these two sides of life must each have their due place.

Charlotte Mason knew the necessity for this harmony. She grasped the implication of Wordsworth's phrase 'we are educated by our intimacies' and incorporated it into her philosophy of education, which is nothing less than the working out of a way of life. An intimacy is formed by seeing and acting, even if the acting is the act of knowing. By seeing is here meant a power of the mind which has to reach the outside world through one of the senses. It is a spiritual power which can see significance. But this swift and sword-like power so often becomes blunt and rusty for want of use. In a child this power is strong and active, and if it is kept in full use we are educated by our intimacies and the depth of significance increases with the years.

How is this achieved? By a patient using of all the material of life. The baby starts on the persons and things to hand. He uses his eyes, ears, fingers and mouth. Everything is tested until it is known. He stares at a new face sometimes for an embarrassing length of time, until slowly a smile breaks out or else a pucker will give warning of tears. A child of two will gaze at a butterfly or an engine, become absorbed with pebbles on the shore, picking them up in handfuls and putting them into a bucket, then slowly taking them out in handfuls and dropping them pensively on to the beach. A true combination of action and contemplation, because nothing can disturb this absorption except a rude interruption from a human being who has become so used to the discordant interruptions from the world that she has ceased to be aware of this right tension of living.

Whether a child spends his life in the street or in house or garden he is always experimenting, finding out, making new contacts. Why must he go to school? The only valid reason is that he should through school enlarge his world, use his power rightly on material for knowledge which would not otherwise come his way, and form the many intimacies his nature craves for. His life must be fed.

Many recognise this principle but few have attempted to work it out methodically as Charlotte Mason has: 'Life should be all living, not merely a tedious passing of time, not all doing or all feeling or all thinkingthe strain would be too greatbut all living; that is, we should be in touch, wherever we go, whatever we hear, whatever we see, with some manner of vital interest' (School Education). In every lesson this must happen. The mind should have the time and the opportunity to gaze. This involves hard work. The powers of the mind are dependent on repeated action for proper use. No intimacy can be formed without effort. There must be vision and action, the two parts of knowing.

History is a history of persons whom it is our privilege to know as far as we are able. We cannot know them without a picture of the society in which they lived and a study of the events in which they took part, and the great movements of nations; but society, events and national movements are dead facts to people who have not first learned to get into living touch with the persons themselves. Why do such stories as Alfred and the cakes, Bruce and the spider, stick in our minds and other important facts go? Because they are human.

It is the sort of thing that might happen to any of us. The great are no longer remote heroes but human beings like ourselves. When the significance of trivial incidents is seen, a great step forward has been made along the path of vision. As the mind matures, the powers of insight and perception, according to capacity, must be used to plumb the depths of character, and by the light of reason the mind must learn to trace effect to cause. Never must the individual be isolated from society or society absorb the individual.

The horizontal lines of latitude - the spreading out in space of the races and nations of the world - and the vertical lines of longitude from the past to the present, are only apparent lines used to map the history of the human race, which is in reality a unity of different persons living at different times. Historical events are part and parcel of persons, not persons of events. History can only come alive when viewed thus.

Through literature also our circle is widened and our lives deepened. We come to know people quite outside our possible range of living. We can also converse directly with some of the greatest minds of the past and the present. And yet some still believe that the way must be prepared by books about literature with suitable extracts, or by copious explanatory notes which hide the mind of the author. The mind, when left to itself with a great work of art, will get what it is ready for.

By trying to force the pace or by giving explanations about unnecessary detail, by putting herself and her talk between the person and the work of art, be it poem or music or picture, the teacher is robbing her pupil of vision. The mind must be allowed time in which to dwell on things. Some guidance, of course, is needed. Good reading must be insisted upon, a beautiful phrase repeated, attention drawn to lines which might well be committed to memory, a word here and there to enlighten an obscure passage, an idea emphasised, but the help that is given must be to aid the power of vision rather than to cloud it.

The same principle applies to Picture Study. The first aim must always be to try to see what the painter saw. The technical devices which he used in order to achieve his aim are only important (except to the expert) in so far as they add to the significance of what is seen. The teacher's part is to help the pupil to see, and then to see more and still more as the years go by. In music the same power is used, but through the medium of another sense. Music teaching should have one first aim, that the child should hear and should hear more each time. Some having seen and having heard will go on to interpret or create for themselves. But even with expert teaching they will never do much unless they have caught some part of the vision of the great.

There is an artistic and scientific approach to Nature, but both must lead to seeing. The first step is recognition. The squirrel and the caterpillar, dandelion, holly tree or pine cone are recognised as such, and the joy of discovery can be converted skilfully by the parent or teacher into wonder and admiration. This means a second and longer look, and the relationship is strengthened. A new seeing comes with the finding of unity in difference, that, for example, mice and rabbits are alike and yet different in their habits and appearance, that the rhododendron and heather are nearly related, that the power of the waterfall is the power which can give us light at night. Much second-hand scientific knowledge has to be gained through books or the teacher, but all this will mean little or nothing without the continuous patient recording of what the child has actually observed, wondered at and discovered for himself. Action and seeing is the rhythm of knowing.

But what has this to do with ordinary living? The need for action is evident. Some give themselves to making a success of their jobs and to making their pleasure; others throw themselves wholly into good works, whether the good work is looking after a family or some form of social work. 'There is so much to do and so little time in which to do it' is the universal cry. The zealous often regard it as selfish to allow the mind time to see, consider and reflect. Some service might be done in that time. The worldly regard it as pure waste of time. But time is not a valid excuse. It is not so much that special time is needed as that all opportunities should be used. That is where habit is our ally.

The person whose eyes are opened and who is aware of what is around him will not lightly allow himself to lose that power of penetrative vision. The worker bicycling to work and the shopper immersed in family cares can turn their eyes on a spring morning, mentally if not actually, to the glory of a maple coming into leaf transfigured by the sun shining through the young leaves, or to beech buds glistening like needles against the blue sky. In sordid surroundings seemingly remote from beauty and truth a window-box of daffodils, a bird sweeping across a patch of sky, will have the power to convey the mind instantly to some field of tranquillity that is ever open. At the right time and at the right place these things are brought to our remembrance through the common things of daily life which have been seen with the eye of the spirit. Wordsworth teaches us this truth in Tintern Abbey.

The eye that is trained to see the good and beautiful will find it wherever it is to be found in the most unpromising surroundings and circumstances. The reader, who has come through novels (those which depict persons and not subjective unrealities) to know people in very different walks of life, is able to enjoy people not only in spite of their faults and because of their virtues, but, far more important, because of everything which makes them themselves. The leopard's spots, the zebra's stripes and the camel's hump are precious just because they cannot be changed. Here we can catch a glimpse of God's love for us. He cannot love us for our righteousnesses (they are as filthy rags in His sight), nor yet for our faults. He loves us for what we are and for what we can become - more fully ourselves. Through reading with understanding, as well as through our daily intercourse with people, our power of insight grows until it is undeceived by any subtleties of camouflage in ourselves or others.

Our families, friends and neighbours, the bit of garden, the window-boxes, the public library, the Penguin series, the B.B.C., the local picture gallery, and the whole field of Nature, for those who are fortunate enough to live within its reach, are there ready to serve the power of vision. This is the stuff of common life, the infinite riches of those who are ready to be poor not only in spirit but in fact.

But in stressing the importance of vision we must not lose the right balance between vision and action, being and doing. Habit is again an ally. By the discipline of habit the body is kept in order and the will strengthened to put into effect that which vision compels. The will to serve follows inevitably.

Dr. Kirk in his book, The Vision of God, distinguishes between two ideas of service, the service of humility and the service of patronage, and points out in the following passage that only the former has real worth:

The danger of 'service' as an ideal is that it fosters the spirit of patronage: the glory of worship is to elicit the grace of humility. Without humility there can be no service worth the name; patronizing service is self-destructive - it may be the greatest of all disservices. Hence to serve his fellows at all - to avoid doing them harm greater even then the good he proposed to confer on them - a man must find a place for worship in his life. The truth is not that worship will help him to serve better. The alternative lies not between service of a better and a worse kind; it lies between service and no service at all. If we would attempt to do good with any sure hope that it will prove good and not evil, we must act in the spirit of humility; and worship alone can make us humble. There is no other course.

We are apt to associate worship solely with churchgoing and forget that it is a power within us which is exercised whenever we see God in the every-day things of life which are lovely, true and of good report. The response to this vision is the service of humility. This is the harmony of worship and service which can keep us in tune with reality. Only by trying to see persons, however dimly, as God sees them, can we ever serve them. All our talk about 'reconstruction' is dangerously near that spirit of patronage. The reconstructor is active, the reconstructed is passive. No one wants to be passively reconstructed. Much of the talk about 'humanity,' 'the masses,' 'society' gives the impression of service outside those lumps, whereas God's leaven works secretly, we know not how, right inside the lump.

This conception of service applies to teaching as much as to anything else, perhaps more so. The aversion to the highbrow, the schoolmarm, the organising educationalist is a right instinct. It is a natural revolt against the service of patronage. The teacher must beware. It is so easy to slip into the teacher-and-taught relationship; the knowledgeable person 'imparting' her small store of knowledge to needy small minds. It is a temptation to spend time in thinking out 'creative lessons' where the teacher has the fun of creating, or in sorting out knowledge into packets of lectures to be doled out one by one. The opportunity of finding an audience for our ideas is very attractive, especially if we really believe we have something to say. But even our anxiety 'to give of our best' is a snare which will capture us for the service of patronage unless we are very much aware. We may be full of good works, but have we sufficient faith in the powers of children, in their love of knowledge and desire to find it for themselves?

Charlotte Mason spent her life trying to convince people of this fact. She recognised the value of lectures given by authorities or by persons who have given some original thought to their subject; she saw the worth of an occasional oral lesson or oral work in a lesson to introduce, illustrate, amplify or sum up, but she deeply distrusted the lecture and oral lesson as the accepted method of teaching. Knowledge comes from the vital action of the mind on the material presented. The enthusiastic lecturer no doubt gives some ideas, but the pupil's part of taking notes and learning them is passive and not active.

A better way is to use books and things. Through good books the child can communicate directly with the minds of the great; he can nourish his life on ideas. He should also come into direct contact with things as well as persons; it is his due; therefore, as we have said, he must be given opportunities to recognise, look with the mind, and to know. This is no dilettante way of education. Strenuous effort is needed both to form and maintain relationships. The part of parent or teacher 'is to remove obstructions and to give stimulus and guidance to the child who is trying to get into touch with the universe of things and thoughts which belong to him' (School Education). This is no less hard. Self-effacement is difficult. Much skill and constant watchfulness are needed to see where guidance and stimulus are necessary and where they would be a hindrance.

But the service of humility requires more than the discipline of self; it requires the forgetting of self, and this can only be done by the acknowledgment that we are all needy persons. So we come back to the idea that both sheep and lambs must be fed. We cannot serve unless our life is being sustained by vision. That is the joy. Life is not lost for ever by self-effacement. It is found in the very vision which inspires the losing of life.

The parent or teacher who spends every moment of the day in doing and being busy is living on capital. Sooner or later that capital will be expended and there will be nothing left. This is spending life, not losing it. 'It is all very well, but in war-time ...'; or 'if you can afford to have a maid or can get one ...'; 'things must be done.' Of course they must. All important things get done when they are recognised as important. Living is important. We must not lose the power of vision. 'Life is all living'; every task, every contact can be used, but something more is necessary. We cannot do without the daily direct contact with God in prayer; we need ideas that come from reading, art, music, or whatever our special interest may be.

Charlotte Mason lived that out in her life. In spite of being an invalid and having endless calls on her time, certain hours in the day were given to reading and nothing was allowed to get in the way. Many hours of reading are not possible or necessary for everyone. Life comes in different ways to different people, but somehow that harmony of living - vision and action, worship and service - must be kept. Otherwise all our busy-ness and good works will be the service of patronage and not of humility.

If we are to enter the Kingdom we have to become as little children. Their eyes are open; they are aware of what is around them and everything is charged with significance. If we, too, keep our eyes open and look around we shall become aware of the Kingdom. The more we become aware the more we shall be able to see, because the scales of pride, prejudice, jealousy and preoccupation will fall from our eyes. Perhaps everything will become crystal clear and significant as in childhood with so much more to see. It is not a case of going back to childhood, which is what puzzled Nicodemus. It is the birth of the spirit into Eternal Life.

So it all comes down to — Living.