I just came back from my first meeting with some of the smartest ladies I have ever met. How refreshing to be in an environment of learners! It felt like I was back in college.
It was a book club discussion on Chapter 6, Volume 1, of Charlotte Mason's book, Philosophy of Education. The book was written in 1923, and yet it applies to us today. Mason essentially asks, "What is education?" My mind is blown away by the ideas expressed in the pages as well as by the women there tonight. My heart resonates so much with the premise that true education is about the love of learning, not about grades, projects, tests, and homework. The goal of education is not to "finish" something, but to learn it, to master it, and to be able to teach it back to someone else.
The measure of mastery is simple: Do you know it? Can you explain it and teach it? Then we move on. Did you have an issue with it? Are you confused? Then let's spend time working on it until you master it. It's not about whether you get an A, B, or C; if the focus is the grade, we have already lost the goal of education.
One thing that really struck me in the conversation was how little we remember of all our years of schooling. Why? What was the focus? Grades. Answering the questions. When I was a 7/8 Language Arts teacher, I remember telling my students that I wanted a classroom of thinkers. "Thinking is the hardest work there is," said Henry Ford. I wanted them to work hard and give their brains a sweat by creating new thoughts from their reading, not just regurgitate answers back and call it a day.
Mason agrees that watering down teaching if the children push back just results in a "condition of intellectual feebleness and moral softness which is not easy for a child to overcome." (p.97 Vol. 1). We talked about the comforts of life, and how when we coddle the children through adversity, they actually wither and stunt their growth. "A plant carefully protected under glass from outside shocks looks sleek and flourishing, but its higher nervous function is then found to be atrophied. Is it not the shocks of adversity and not cotton wool protection that evolve true manhood?" (p. 96 Vol 1.)
Children need challenge; they need to try the hard things in life. One lady suggested that since we don't experience a lot of difficulties in our culture, the best way for her kids to experience others' adversity is to read biographies. "The importance of biography is to keep us from arrogance," she said. They can't complain about how tough it is not to have a slushie after school when they read about the childhood of George Washington.
There is so much more we talked about, but I conclude tonight with the first part of chapter 6: "Education is an atmosphere, a discipline, a life. It is the atmosphere of the environment, the discipline of habit, and the presentation of living ideas." (p. 94) The desire to know is natural; it is God-given, innate, instinctive. Why does the rain fall? How does a bird fly? What makes the world go round? We are born with it, and as parents, we need to cultivate this in our kids for as long as we have them. How, you ask? I'm sure it's different for each individual, but for me, I have a feeling that the journey toward instilling in my kids a love of learning vs. acquisition of knowledge is going to take me in a very new direction, and I am excited to see what's in store.