Charlotte Mason Volume I Part IV:VIII — Part V:I

IV:VIII. Truthfulness

Lying can involve either carelessness in determining and stating the truth, or else deliberate deception.

The two kinds of carelessness can dull the sense of truth, so even such little things as saying “lots” instead of “seven” must be dealt with. Children should be trained to strict and simple veracity in all things — no embellishing stories, no spin, no exaggerating.

I hope she makes allowance for context! There are times when exaggeration and embellishment are perfectly appropriate. It seems to me more important to know when it is best to be strict and simple, and when to let loose a little, then to always be so strict.

She throws in a bit about cultivating respect and consideration, vs. aggressive self-seeking.

Next, a bit about temper — one must not excuse and then ignore bad temper as if it were a fixed characteristic; children can be trained in the habit of a good temper that assumes positive intent, isn’t self-aggrandizing, and seeks to be content in all things.

How? By catching a sour look before any complaint is made, and never allowing the least expression of sourness — not by calling attention to it or lecturing, but by distracting with some useful and natural activity or task.

Well, I agree that merely opposing sourness is an ineffective way to deal with it. And that freely allowing all sour faces, tone, and talk is not helpful either. And, yes, there are times when inviting the child to an interesting activity can refresh a mood. I hope Mason recognizes that cheerfulness is not the only acceptable emotion, and that a combination of playful connection, and limits with empathic listening, helps kids feel good and safe, and offload yucky feelings without carving inescapable ruts for them.

Part V — Lessons as instruments of education
I. The matter and method of lessons

Parents should think about what subjects their children should study, and how, even if they send their kids to school or have them privately tutored. It helps a teacher when the parents are on board — and parental input can help correct teachers from putting too much energy into pet projects without consideration of the particular students, or from caring too much about academic progress and not enough about the whole child.

Parents should consider why, what, and how children should learn.

Why?

First, in order to grow — just like bodies need food and exercise, so do minds. Growing is more than knowing — what is learned must be assimilated, digested, not crammed in unexamined.

Mason compares to phrenology any talk of separate mental faculties that require special treatment. Instead, she argues that children’s brains are ready and able to work on any material, and that with sufficient material well-presented, all mental powers will be sufficiently developed.

Second, in order to get ideas — vivid images (but more than images) worth remembering — again, no cramming or dull rote. Ideas beget ideas, and grow, and seek their own food. One strong idea is worth much more than tons of information. (And so, Mason warns us to not let children select their own ideas; we must choose and provide them.)

Third, in order to get knowledge. Information is still needed. Teachers and parents should be careful to limit how much knowledge they provide, though — to provide the best knowledge, and undiluted with twaddle — fluff and nonsense.

This idea of the uselessness of twaddle is one of the things I most appreciate about Charlotte Mason. Soooo many children’s books are so very insipid — even disrespectful of a child’s mind and heart — more about cute and clever and not so much about interesting and beautiful.

In summary, “the children’s lessons should provide material for their mental growth, should exercise the several powers of their minds, should furnish them with fruitful ideas, and should afford them knowledge, really valuable for its own sake, accurate, and interesting, of the kind that the child may recall as a man with profit and pleasure” (177).

Mason ends this section with a nice reiteration of points made in earlier parts of the book:

Resume of Six Points already considered.

(a) That the knowledge most valuable to the child is that which he gets with his own eyes and ears and fingers (under direction) in the open air.

(b) That the claims of the schoolroom should not be allowed to encroach on the child’s right to long hours daily for exercise and investigation.

(c) That the child should be taken daily, if possible, to scenes –– moor or meadow, park, common, or shore –– where he may find new things to examine, and so add to his store of real knowledge. That the child’s observation should be directed to flower or boulder, bird or tree; that, in fact, he should be employed in gathering the common information which is the basis of scientific knowledge.

(d) That play, vigorous healthful play, is, in its turn, fully as important as lessons, as regards both bodily health and brain-power.

(e) That the child, though under supervision, should be left much to himself –– both that he may go to work in his own way on the ideas that he receives, and also that he may be the more open to natural influences.

(f) That the happiness of the child is the condition of his progress; that his lessons should be joyous, and that occasions of friction in the schoolroom are greatly to be deprecated.

(177-178)

Those items are again a good part of what appeals to me about Charlotte Mason’s approach to education. She and I may (or may not) disagree about what kind and how much supervision and direction is needed, but we agree on the larger points in this list.

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