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Sunday, December 8, 2019

My Christmas Tree and TMI

We were supposed to be flying to Malaysia the day after Christmas. As of Nov. 4, when a bomb dropped on my 37 year marriage and shattered it into pieces, we not going to Malaysia. There is no longer a 'we' in that sense. I am still pulling out the shrapnel.

 I am currently living in my American home with my disabled daughter. It's a huge house, four bathrooms, 8 bedrooms plus a small study or office, two stories, a massive great-room upstairs.... It used to be a lot more crowded, but the other six kids moved out, most of them married, and I spent the last year purging stuff I rather liked in preparation for the move to Malaysia (which wasn't my choice of places to go, and which I learned recently was to be the place where I and my daughter would be abandoned). So here we are.

 We mainly keep to the master bedroom and bathroom because it's cold and it saves on the electric bill to just keep two rooms cozy enough to endure without wearing enough blankets to make up two beds. She has very small capillaries and doesn't endure cold well at all.

 Although for decades Christmas was a huge event to me, as you can imagine, this year I am not feeling it. My Christmas things used to take up nearly a dozen of the very largest storage totes. I purged them down to two or three totes before we went to the Philippines. I haven't decorated for Christmas in three Christmases because I did not have access to my things, and now that I do, it's just too much to do, too heavy a weight, too hard. I thought about getting a tree and decorating it, but that was too much to do by myself. It's hard enough to get up and walk thru each day.

And then I saw a picture somebody posted online and then a friend reminded me that I did not choose this and I was ambushed, but God has always known and He is never surprised, my story will be different, but does continue, and that gave birth to an idea, and this is the result:

This is my Christmas tree this year.

Friday, November 29, 2019

Leaf by NiggleLeaf by Niggle by J.R.R. Tolkien
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

So much wisdom and insight packed into this sweet, short story.
Niggle is a painter, mostly of leaves, but other things, too. Only life is so full of interruptions he can't get down to work at his real task of painting. Before he can complete his life's work, he is called away on the long journey he has always known is coming, but he is unprepared. However unprepared, the carriage has been called for and he must go on his journey, leaving his work unfinished.

But what are the interruptions and what constitutes the real work and purpose of our lives?
Allegory, spiritual parable, masterfully, of course, done by Tolkien. I particularly loved the gentle little poke at people who consider themselves softhearted, by which they really mean other people's troubles make them feel uncomfortable, but not uncomfortable enough to do something about those troubles.

I listened via Audible, it's about forty minutes long which is about five minutes shorter than my drive to church so that's convenient.

View all my reviews

Thursday, November 28, 2019


If you are a member at Audible, their 'black Friday' sale is already running.  They have titles on sale for 5, 6, 7, and 8 dollars.  The sale runs through Dec. 3.

Looking through what they have, these are the titles that caught my eye:

Dickens' Tale of Two Cities, narrated by Simon Vance,
Great Gatsby,
Disappearing Spoon,
Being Mortal (my mom and all my daughters recommend this one),
Marie Kondo's book,
a Brandon Sanderson or two,
 Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night,
Gaiman's Norse Mythology,
Wrinkle in Time,
Howell's Moving Castle,
 an Ursula LeGuin,
Gulp by Roach,
Genghis Khan and the Making of the Modern World (I read this 3 times in the last year or two and I love it),
Slaughterhouse Five,
All Quiet on the Western Front,
Tom Sawyer,

~*~*~*~*~*~**~Stop the press: The Magician's Nephew~*~*~*~*~*~*~* The Chronicles of Narnia By: C.S. Lewis Narrated by: Kenneth Branagh!!!! We love this.

Susan Wise Bauer's History of the Ancient World.  I do not care for her titles for children. I found them dry.  But her History of the Ancient World is much more interesting.
Screwtape Letters,
Man in the High Castle,
Something Wicked This Way Comes by Ray Bradbury,
Anne of Green Gables,
The Divine Comedy, Clive James (translator),Narrated by: Edoardo Ballerini,
The Never Ending Story,
Robinson Crusoe (narrated by Simon Vance),
Brown Girl Dreaming
The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind: Young Readers Edition, I don't know how the audible version is but I love the book.  I mean, the sample sounds marvelous, so I assume the rest does.  And everybody should definitely read this book.  Or listen to it.
 Picture of Dorian Gray

Several different Great Courses

This one has been on my wishlist, so I bought it: The Warmth of Other Suns, The Epic Story of America's Great Migration By: Isabel Wilkerson

I also had this on my wishlist and bought it: Ancient Civilizations of North America By: Edwin Barnhart, The Great Courses

Britt-Marie was here- this sounded interesting and fairly close to home for me just based on the description- "From the best-selling author of the "charming debut" (People) A Man Called Ove and My Grandmother Asked Me to Tell You She's Sorry, a heartwarming and hilarious story of a reluctant outsider who transforms a tiny village and a woman who finds love and second chances in the unlikeliest of places.
Britt-Marie can't stand mess. She eats dinner at precisely the right time and starts her day at six in the morning because only lunatics wake up later than that. And she is not passive-aggressive. Not in the least. It's just that sometimes people interpret her helpful suggestions as criticisms, which is certainly not her intention.
But at 63, Britt-Marie has had enough. She finally walks out on her loveless 40-year marriage and finds a job in the only place she can: Borg, a small, derelict town devastated by the financial crisis. For the fastidious Britt-Marie, this new world of noisy children, muddy floors, and a roommate who is a rat (literally) is a hard adjustment.
As for the citizens of Borg, with everything that they know crumbling around them, the only thing that they have left to hold on to is something Britt-Marie absolutely loathes: their love of soccer. When the village's youth team becomes desperate for a coach, they set their sights on her. She's the least likely candidate, but their need is obvious, and there is no one else to do it.
Thus begins a beautiful and unlikely partnership. In her new role as reluctant mentor to these lost young boys and girls, Britt-Marie soon finds herself becoming increasingly vital to the community. And, even more surprisingly, she is the object of romantic desire for a friendly and handsome local policeman named Sven. In this world of oddballs and misfits, can Britt-Marie finally find a place where she belongs?
Zany and full of heart, Britt-Marie Was Here is a novel about love and second chances and about the unexpected friendships we make that teach us who we really are and the things we are capable of doing."

It sounds like it could be wickedly funny and interesting.  But it could also go south very easily.  So I took a pass, but I will try to remember to look for it at the library.  

 I really don't want to spend money on modern fiction that hasn't won the right to presume on my time or money.  

My audible purchases tend to be focused on things I think can help me here and now, or things that I won't mind listening to repeatedly, which means I don't even look at mysteries, although that's my favourite escapist reading. 

Hope you find something you can use!

Friday, November 15, 2019

Imagination and Sympathy in the CM Curriculum, part IV

Here's Part III if you need to review.

Imagination is a key element in education, and Mason makes extensive use of it in her curriculum.  Usually we think of imagination as taking form and being exercised most in the creative, self-expressive domains, and that has its place (although it should never become a temple to the self).

Mason and her fellow P.N.E.U. members and teachers, however, spend more time focusing on the uses of imagination in deepening sympathy and understanding for others.  They approach this in many ways.  In this blog post series I am just sharing what I've found about how imagination is cultivated and directed towards compassion and understanding for others in different parts of the curriculum. In this post, we'll look specifically at literature and a few of its subtopics.

Literature: Mason says intellect cannot even walk in the realms of literature without imagination and imagination is required to clear our eyes to understand the literature we read. In vol. 1 Charlotte Mason encourages us to let children 'have their tales of the imagination, scenes laid in other lands and other times, heroic adventures, hairbreadth escapes, delicious fairy tales,'  and she clarifies the purpose of this level of literature.   This is not, she says, for their amusement only, but because tales of imagination that fill the mind squeeze out self-occupation, and "only then are we capable of large hearted action on behalf of another person or cause.” See that?  The right use of imagination squeezes out ignoble thoughts of self. (v1) Mason says we need living books like those tales of the imagination, rather than the typical weak diet of school textbooks, in order to get students who have the sort of moral imagination that enables them to put themselves in another’s place.

"We must read novels, history, poetry, and whatever falls under the head of literature, not for our own 'culture.' Some of us begin to dislike the word 'culture,' and the idea of a 'cultivated' person; any effort which has self as an end is poor and narrow. But there is a better reason for an intimacy with literature as extensive and profound as we can secure. Herein we shall find the reflections of wise men upon the art of living, whether put in the way of record, fable, or precept, and this is the chief art for us all to attain."

Good literature is like travel, it broadens the mind, but as G.K. Chesterton said about travel, first you have to have the mind, the curiosity, the interest.  Then, as we read, we see live from the eyes of a poor barefoot orphan on the Mississippi, from the perspective of an adventurer in South America, a missionary in Africa, an orphaned serf in old Korea, a kidnapped Prince taken from Africa to America, to England, we look at life through the eyes of a young woman bereft of father and fortune in a single night, of a beggar maid, and so much more.  We read the poetry of Phyllis Wheatley and pick up additional interests, perhaps in Colonial America, perhaps in the life of Phyllis herself, perhaps in poetry, other black American poets or in the history of slavery in America, or topics that have not even occurred to me. We read the story of Marco Polo and perhaps become interested in Mongolia, China, in the silk route, in other explorers, in the Khans, or leadership, porcelains, and the middle ages.  We see ourselves in their lives and adventures and consider how we would act, how we should act, if we were to encounter the same challenges.

 It’s important not reverse our goals-  schools today treat books as delivery systems, but good books, living books, are the goal, not the delivery system. As a lit prof says:  "One does not read Dostoevsky to learn about Russian history; one becomes interested in Russian history from reading its classics." Read books because books are worth reading.

Books, living books, fictional or nonfictional, teach us many truths and it requires truth to cultivate and nourish the imagination. 

In the story Mason tells of her first discovery of children as they truly are in their own home environments, and how much that is wonderful and remarkable they have within them, she also notes one key exception.  She says that their ignorance is illimitable.  They come with much capacity and an already functioning mind.  They don't come with experience or knowledge.

Ruskin says that true imagination rests on accurate knowledge and observation. 

Mason talks about cultivating the imagination and explains imagination increases in both order and richness the more we know.  She advises that if we want to have a well stocked imagination, we need to 'read much' and picture to ourselves what we are reading.  

This section from volume IV is too good to just paraphrase:

"The Realm of Fiction––Essential and Accidental Truth.––What shall we say of fable, poetry, romance, the whole realm of fiction? There are two sorts of Truth. What we may call accidental Truth; that is, that such and such a thing came to pass in a certain place at a certain hour on a certain day; and this is the sort of Truth we have to observe in our general talk. The other, the Truth of Art, is what we may call essential Truth; that, for example, given, such and such a character, he must needs have thought and acted in such and such a way, with such and such consequences; given, a certain aspect of nature, and the poet will receive from it such and such ideas; or, certain things of common life, as a dog with a bone, for example, will present themselves to the thinker as fables, illustrating some of the happenings of life. This sort of fiction is of enormous value to us, whether we find it in poetry or romance; it teaches us morals and manners; what to do in given circumstances; what will happen if we behave in a certain way. It shows how, what seems a little venial fault is often followed by dreadful consequences, and our eyes are opened to see that it is not little or venial, but is a deep-seated fault of character; some selfishness, shallowness, or deceitfulness upon which a man or woman makes shipwreck. We cannot learn these things except through what is called fiction, or from the bitter experience of life, from the penalties of which our writers of fiction do their best to spare us."

Included in the category of literature would be Shakespeare's plays, which are ultimately a kind of study of humanity.

From volume IV: "We probably read Shakespeare in the first place for his stories, afterwards for his characters, the multitude of delightful persons with whom he makes us so intimate that afterwards, in fiction or in fact, we say, 'She is another Jessica,' and 'That dear girl is a Miranda'; 'She is a Cordelia to her father,' and, such a figure in history, 'a base lago.' To become intimate with Shakespeare in this way is a great enrichment of mind and instruction of conscience. Then, by degrees, as we go on reading this world-teacher, lines of insight and beauty take possession of us, and unconsciously mould our judgments of men and things and of the great issues of life."
 Within the pages of books and stories we can meet characters and see their motivations and thought processes and the consequences of their choices over decades in ways not available to us in real life. It’s fiction, of course, but the thing about living books is that they are written by people with a talent for observing human nature and showing us something about how it works, and filling our imagination with a pageant of humanity and people types and the human condition.  

Poetry: Mason says both poetry and essays are instructors of conscience and teachers (volume IV) and it seems to me they can only truly be successful at this insofar as they strike at our imagination and take hold of it.  This is because "the power of poetry to instruct conscience does not depend on its direct teaching." (volume IV again) 

Modern researchers are finding this as well, thin a dandy little study I encourage you to read about. It turns out that the indirect, incomplete, open ended message is more likely to catch hold of the mind and engage the imagination than the simplified, easy, version interpreted for us by somebody else.  Researchers find that  "reading poetry, in particular, increases activity in the right hemisphere of the brain, an area concerned with “autobiographical memory”, helping the reader to reflect on and reappraise their own experiences in light of what they have read."  

During this study,  "Using scanners, they monitored the brain activity of volunteers as they read works by William Shakespeare, William Wordsworth, T.S Eliot and others.:
Most interesting to me, "They then “translated” the texts into more “straightforward”, modern language and again monitored the readers’ brains as they read the words.
Scans showed that the more “challenging” prose and poetry set off far more electrical activity in the brain than the more pedestrian versions."

When you read "she walks in beauty as the night" your mind grabs that, holds it, puzzles over it and works at it, like chewing a substantial bite of solid feed.  When you read, "there is a woman as beautiful and mysterious as a dark night,' there isn't really anything to think about. Your mind glides over it with no more effort than it takes to swallow a spoon full of baby food, and it is applied effort that makes our education our own, that makes the imagination work and helps it grow.

Poetry: Mason quotes Matthew Arnold, saying, "Matthew Arnold tells us that poetry is a criticism of life; so it is, both a criticism and an inspiration; and most of us carry in our minds tags of verse which shape our conduct more than we know."

Let's talk about those tags of verses.  First I want to share an idea about memory called ‘chunking.’ It's not a very elegant term but the general idea is that because we have a limited short term memory we help ourselves remember more things by glomming them together in different ways 'chunking.-  If I tell you to memorize 7208658500, that's a bit daunting.  You have no context, and it's just a long string of numbers.  If I tell you dial 720-865-8500 for a dial-a-story program, you have context, and you have a chunking system. Instead of ten numbers in a series, you probably think of that as three numbers, 720 and 865 rather than 7-2-0 and  8-6-5, and 8-5-0-0 becomes eighty-five hundred.

We do this with words, too- if you ask me to list the things I think of when you say the word seashell, I will come up with a list of words, places, associations. I will think of islands I have lived and gathered seashells, I will think of calcium carbonate and limestone and an easy experiment to discover whether a bit of rock is volcanic or coral reef in origin, I will think of seashells I have collected and spirals and the geometry of seashells, of things they eat and that eat them- you will also have a list and it will likely be very different. 

If I ask you to tell me what you think of when I say cherry, you might think of pies and George Washington, your grandmother's canned cherries, and dozens of other things. 

We chunk words together with related ideas, facts, stories, events, places- some personal, some from our reading.  The more we learn, the more bits and pieces adhere to our other knowledge, combining, chunking together, and so a single word in our vocabulary brings up dozens of possible images, rifles through a hundred files in a quick second, represents half a dozen events in history, has connections to ideas about science, math, and possibly more.  The more we learn, the more we expand our horizens and our reading, the more our feet are set in that wide room Mason mentions (quoting the Psalms, the more wonderful things a single good word represents in our minds.

People with good vocabularies don't just have a nice collection of words, they have a wide and generous education full of wonderful things to know.  

 Poetry does this chunking as well- or rather, our minds use poetry in the same way.  a phrase, a line, from a well known poem will bring up a host of other associations and ideas- connections, relations.

Writer and teacher J. Bottam says, " reason we read poetry to children is to hand on a deposit of words and phrases, the investment of prior generations in the language. There is a purpose in putting lines like “young Lochinvar is come out of the West” in children’s anthologies—and “’Twas the night before Christmas” and “what is so rare as a day in June?” and “I hear America singing” and “Under a spreading chestnut tree” and all the rest of the Victorian parlor classics, together with the most hackneyed, overquoted lines from Shakespeare and Dryden and Pope and Keats...  The person who is not given these references as a child will be deprived as an adult, lacking old memories around which the language can thicken."Language is the amber in which a thousand precious thoughts have been safely embedded and preserved," said Ralph Waldo Emerson, poet, writer, philosopher, ' 

Poetry expands our imagination, and it does this partially through the way it touches the emotions.  At some point (I believe in the first couple of years after Mason's death) the PNEU recommended the poetry anthology Tom Tiddler’s Ground compiled by Walter de la Mare for form I or II. In the preface to one edition de la Mare says:

 'Whatever you admire you look at with all yourself in your eyes; and your love for it adds to its beauty.'

Remember: Imagination is born of love.  The more they love, the more they care, the more their imaginations are warmed and peopled by others than themselves.

Some additional reading links and resources:

If you appreciate what you read here,  I have some other goodies you'll enjoy.  Take a look below!

$5.00- Education for All, vol 2- the Imagination (and more) issue!- Basis for the imagination talk from the AO Camp meeting, with additional material not presented in the talk, and other goodies as well..  

 $5.00- Education for All, a new CM journal,   Feed Your Mind!  This issue contains several articles on handicrafts, outdoor play, nature study and science. See sidebar for purchasing options if you are in the Philippines.

Picture Study!  Miguel Cabrera's beautiful, diverse families, painted in 18th century Mexico this package includes 9 downloadable prints along with directions for picture study and background information on the artist and his work. $5.00

Common Kitchen:  What's for lunch?  Isn't that a common problem in homeschooling families?  What to fix, what is quick, what is frugal, what is nourishing?  How can I accomplish all those things at once?  We homeschooled 7 children, and I was a homeschooling mom for 29 years on a single income.  I collected these recipes and snack ideas from all over the world.  These are real foods I used to feed my family, my godsons, and sometimes my grandkids.  Includes some cooking tips and suggestions for sides, and for a variety of substitutions.  The snack ideas are whole foods, nourishing, and simple to prepare, based on what I have observed children in other cultures eating for snacks.  I think every family will find something they can use here. $5.00

 $3.00 Five Little Peppers and How They Grew Copywork (grades 2/3, carefully selected with an eye toward finely crafted sentences, lovely bits of writing pleasant to picture in the mind's eye, and practice in copying some of the mechanics of grammar and punctuation typically covered in these years.

  $3.00 Aesop's Fables Copywork for Year One!  Carefully selected with an eye toward well written sentences, memorable scenes, and some practice copying sentences that model the basics of capitalization and punctuation.   Suitable for use with children who have already mastered the strokes and letters for basic penmanship.

Thursday, October 31, 2019

Imagination and Sympathy in the Curriculum, Part III

Here's Part II in case you need to review.

Imagination as a Powerful Factor in a Well Balance Mind, by E.A. Parish, is one of the first, and still a strong favourite, source of information about the role imagination should play in the curriculum.  I strongly recommend it.

Parish was one of Mason’s teaching students and she went on to become the principal of the House of Education after Mason’s death.  The article linked above was a paper she delivered at a CM conference. 

"If you were to ask me," she says,  "which part of the Parents' Union School gives most scope for the exercise of imagination, I should tell you that I do not know. As I take up the programmes  and glance through them from the beginning to the end I can see nothing but food for the imagination, if rightly used. “Rightly taught, every subject gives fuel to the imagination, and without imagination, no subject can be rightly followed.”

We'll come back to the rightly used and rightly taught part later.  For now let's just look at just three subjects and how they work with imagination to enlarge the sympathies, to expand that compassion outward away from self and towards others- and remember,  these are just some highlights.  I'm not relying only on the Parish article, I've looked at other articles in the PR and L'Umile Pianta as well, in addition, of course, to the volumes.  But I believe there is far more to be mined in the six volumes and periodicals than I have yet discovered.

Geography: Here we have a clue to one of the keys to Mason's approach. In volume 6 (and also in her pamphlet The Basis of National Strength), she says that all of a child's instruction should come through the best books available, that geography and history books "should be written with the lucidity, concentration, personal conviction, directness, and admirable simplicity which characterizes a work of literary calibre."
And then she says this, "We trust much to pictures, lantern slides, cinematograph displays (this is movies, they had them, and good ones in her day); but without labour there is no profit, and probably the pictures which remain with us are those which we have first conceived through the medium of words; pictures may help us to correct our notions, but the imagination does not work upon a visual presentation; we lay the phrases of a description on our palette and make our own pictures."

I think this use of imagination is not just true for geography, but for other subjects as well, 'without labour there is not profit,' and the pictures that really take hold of us are those we created in our own mind's eye based on excellent descriptions.  We can then use pictures to help improve our mental images, but we need to first do the work of imagining, of picturing in the mind's eye.

You can read the article on imagination in history and geography here. I will advise you that some of the article is dated in description and terms, but it is my opinion that what the author is really talking about here, even in some of his most uncomfortable generalizations or stereotypes, is learning about the culture of of other people in other lands- and sometimes in our own lands as well.  Sarah Lanier's Foreign to Familiar and David Livermore's Great Courses presentation on Cultural Intelligence are invaluable for this study, and lend themselves well to an increased sympathetic imagination and understanding of other people.

Here's a paraphrase of what is said about teaching Geography.  You can’t bring the mountains, islands, seas, and countries directly to your classroom, and it’s not always practical to take the children there- so you work to help your students build pictures in their minds.  You start with what they know and using metaphor and analogy to expand what they know to what they don't know- a stool perhaps a foot tall, now imagine a stack of 3,000 of them and we have a tower, an obelisk- so make it as wide as the town and as tall as all those stools and you have a mountain.  In your descriptions, in the books you choose, be sure to include other details as well, particularly the sights, smells, the accent, customs, and skills of the people, the flowers and birds- build pictures.  Those pictures are not abstract. They are as real as you can make them, giving the children many connections- and relationships to make, because the essence of a CM education is relationships, with people near and far, with creation, with the Creator.

The study of geography is not for the purpose of making a living, being good at a job, passing tests.  That is materialism.  The study of geography is about the world and people God made and where and how His people live.  Never lose sight of this wider richer purpose of education.  As CM said, " if we let the people sink into the mire of a material education our doom is sealed."

Another helpful PR article is one by Mrs. Hart Davis on early Bible teaching. She says the mother ”should tell the children enough to make each great name a living character, and omit all the rest which their young minds cannot retain. The point to aim at is the reverent "picture making" in the little hearts, and this can be done ever so simply, always remembering that later study will correct and remodel the details.” 

In the PR article on imagination in the curriculum, E.A. Parish says, “Perhaps nothing so fills the mind of a child with dreams and beautiful imaginings as the Bible language. I have known a child of six so thrilled with the thought of "the Spirit moving upon the face of the waters" that he could think over it for days. Miss Mason always urges teachers to use the Bible, and the Bible only, in teaching, to read passages to the children and to let them narrate; difficulties may be explained first, but the words of the Bible must always be the last sound in their ears, a possession for-ever.” 

So begin with oral stories, stories that focus on the people in the Bible and make them come alive so that they touch the children's hearts and make pictures in their minds. Don't get bagged down in esoteric details.  As the children mature, add stories directly from the Bible. To help them over the difficult parts, you can present some scaffolding or background information first, but then let the words of the Bible speak for themselves and leave the impression only they can make.  Let those words fill their minds with dreams and imaginings- again, this connection between words and pictures in the mind.

Would you like a hint on how to tell if the children are picturing their stories in their minds?  When they annoy you by wondering about details that have nothing to do with the story and cannot be answered from the biblical account!

Have your kids ever responded to their Bible stories with something like: --“when Joseph’s brothers took Benjamin to Egypt, I wonder if he rode on their laps?" or . in Acts when the disciples told Paul farewell, "the little ones would have to be lifted up to kiss him and say good bye.” Or I wonder what kind of fish Jesus roasted on the seashore?   This is not dithering, not a distraction- these  are examples of their imaginations working on the story because they *have* pictured it in their minds eye!

Here’s another subject, and it's quite an  interesting one, but I am going to ask you to guess which one it is: 

Studying this subject means reading direct accounts of the history and myths of these people, and so, “ this constant practice in the difficult task of understanding the feelings, purposes, beliefs and actions of those men, so remote from us in time, and almost every external condition, yet so near to us in all essentials;--is it not an admirable method of awakening and widening our sympathies and enlarging our power of understanding our own immediate neighbours? And does not that process, so far as it is carried, tend to make us better neighbours…” 

The subject? Greek and Latin. Obviously, this applies to the study of other languages, as well as history and geography. These are subjects that are particularly good for awakening and widening the sympathies. As a sidenote, when your goal is expanding, deepening, widening your sympathy, love, relationships with others, you do not begin, or even succeed, by teaching children to first hate and be shamed by all that is their own.  This is not the way of widening sympathy. It is the way of envy, and a critical bitterness unbecoming and unhealthy for child minds.  We want to love more, and expand our sympathies, not hate and shrivel the center, the place where the child began.

After all, Education is the science of what? Relations. Understanding a people remote from us in time and ‘every external condition’ makes us better neighbours here and now.  Note the assumption that becoming better neighbours is a natural desire for education, not to mention widening our sympathies and enlarging our understanding of others.  If the way you study languages offers no such ground, it’s not rightly taught.

Education is building a house of the mind, and imagination is the door through which we communicate with the world.


If you appreciate what you read here,  I have some other goodies you'll enjoy.  Take a look below!

$5.00- Education for All, vol 2- the Imagination (and more) issue!- transcript of the imagination talk from the AO Camp meeting, with additional material I had to cut to save time.  

 $5.00- Education for All, a new CM journal,   Feed Your Mind!  This issue contains several articles on handicrafts, outdoor play, nature study and science. See sidebar for purchasing options if you are in the Philippines.

 $3.00 Five Little Peppers and How They Grew Copywork (grades 2/3, carefully selected with an eye toward finely crafted sentences, lovely bits of writing pleasant to picture in the mind's eye, and practice in copying some of the mechanics of grammar and punctuation typically covered in these years.

  $3.00 Aesop's Fables Copywork for Year One!  Carefully selected with an eye toward well written sentences, memorable scenes, and some practice copying sentences that model the basics of capitalization and punctuation.   Suitable for use with children who have already mastered the strokes and letters for basic penmanship.
Picture Study!  Miguel Cabrera's beautiful, diverse families, painted in 18th century Mexico this package includes 9 downloadable prints along with directions for picture study and background information on the artist and his work. $5.00

Common Kitchen:  What's for lunch?  Isn't that a common problem in homeschooling families?  What to fix, what is quick, what is frugal, what is nourishing?  How can I accomplish all those things at once?  We homeschooled 7 children, and I was a homeschooling mom for 29 years on a single income.  I collected these recipes and snack ideas from all over the world.  These are real foods I used to feed my family, my godsons, and sometimes my grandkids.  Includes some cooking tips and suggestions for sides, and for a variety of substitutions.  The snack ideas are whole foods, nourishing, and simple to prepare, based on what I have observed children in other cultures eating for snacks.  I think every family will find something they can use here. $5.00

Wednesday, October 30, 2019

Imagination and Empathy in the Curriculum, part II

Part I is here.

In volume VI of Mason's six volume collection on education, she shares the following story about a child of five.  You may remember it, but let's review.

This is really where it all began for Mason. Although she'd been studying education and teaching in various capacities for years, this was her first real experience with children in the bosom of their families in their own homes.  The nieces and nephews of a good friend of hers were sent home from England to be educated, and Charlotte's friend taught them at home.  Charlotte went to visit the family and she was amazed. Children do behave rather differently in those two places, don't they? So when Mason finally had an opportunity to observe this, it surprised her.  There was more to children than she had expected- in many ways.  She does not seem to have previously realized just how fully developed children were on their own, how much they were already their own persons. 

 She says she found them astonishing, "persons of generous impulses and sound judgment, of great intellectual aptitude, of imagination and moral insight."   She tells this story as an example of two of those concepts- that’s the account of the 5 y.o. girl who came home from a walk utterly inconsolable.  After some time and a combination of coaxing and letting alone, she gasped out what was so heartbreaking to her, and shared that she was upset because  there was a was “a poor man––no home––nothing to eat––no bed to lie upon,"––and she burst into tears.“

There's a comment here with more pathos than she may have intended. “Such incidents may be common in families, says Mason, but they were new to me.” How many people working with children have no idea how different they are in the bosom of their families, how much there is to them than they reveal in a classroom?  And perhaps a number among us are parents who have this opportunity every day, but we are not ourselves as observant as we should be. However, I digress.  Recall that Mason told this incident specifically as an illustration of how advanced children are in two specific traits- here's the list again- generous impulses, sound judgment, intellectual aptitude, imagination and moral insight.  (One thing she notes where they fell far short of adults was in their "illimitable ignorance." We'll come back to that later.)  Which two traits do you think we see unveiled in this little story?

The traits Mason thought this story illustrated were the children's natural capacity for imagination and moral insight.
Moral insight I understand.  But I had to think a bit to see this as an example of imagination.  Do you see it?  Is this the sort of example you would choose to illustrate the trait of an active imagination? 

Here's how I think it demonstrates imagination.  This is a middle class, upper middle class, probably, child of five.  I'm not sure how many of those details the child would have seen first-hand.  Perhaps simply learning he had no home helped her go on to imagine he also had no bed and no food.  Her grief as well shows us that she has not just imagined his condition, but a child who can hardly ever have been without a bed and food herself has managed to put herself in somebody else's shoes and imagine life from their perspective, and that exercise of imagination is what reduced her to tears.

 Have you ever complimented your kids for having a great imagination when they were sad for a stranger or performed a kind act for another person?  I usually think of imagination as having to do with self-expression, and while that has its place as well, that is not very often the purpose Mason envisions for it in her philosophy of education.  I've been hunting up and collecting references to imagination in Mason's philosophy, and repeatedly I find Mason and her fellow P.N.E.U. members promoting the development of sympathy through imagination, emphasizing the use of imagination in compassion, in warmth and understanding for others.  Only rarely do I find that they focus, or even mention, its value or use in self-expression.

Imagination lets us see more than the naked eye, and it allows us to see with the heart as well as the reason. Reason without imagination makes materialists of us all, unable to recognize faith.   E.A. Parish also quotes Dr. Greville MacDonald (son of George MacDonald), who says it 'recognises the shining light in all things living,' and imagination illuminates what it sees.'  (Note: this is the philosophy of materialism, where all that is in the universe, is matter, a physical world only, with no such thing as spirit or soul. Taken at extreme, even the mind and ideas are mere emanations of the physical)

IN Parish's PR article about imagination and the curriculum I found one of my favourite quotes about imagination: 
“For imagination is born of love, and it is only through love that the child comes out of himself and looks at things as they are, apart from his ego. It is only through love that he will forget himself till his visualization is peopled by others than himself.” 
 That child of five forgot herself, and her imagination was filled with concern for the homeless man.  She had an imagination born of love.  

Imagination is essential for sympathy,* for putting ourselves in somebody else's shoes.  It is necessary to right development of character.  And it is even necessary for habit training.

In an article published in volume 13 of the PR, Mason explains, " To think fairly about the personal rights of others requires a good deal of knowledge as well as judgment. But we can all arrive at some right conclusions by calling in the help of Imagination. That boy is none the less a good fellow who realises his mother's love for the beauty of neatness; who recollects that the maids have enough to do with their regular work; that enough work makes people happy, while too much spoils their lives; and, thinking upon these things, is careful about such little matters as to wipe his feet when he comes in, to confining his messes to his own den, to avoid leaving tracks of soil, tear and damage to show where he has been, because he knows that this sort of recklessness spoils the comfort and increases the labour of other people. "

This, too, is an example of imagination born of love.

In case I haven't made my direction clear, it is my understanding that in Mason’s philosophy, the purpose of imagination isn’t primarily self-expression, but love, a love which creates an active sympathy for others- it’s a flowing outward from a heart and mind filled with thoughts of other people rather than thoughts of self. 

Now, there are many ways to help inform & point imagination that direction, and not all of them have to do with books. I've shared a lot of ideas and information about that in this e-zine.  In this series of blog posts I'm going to share what I've learned about the use and purpose of imagination and development of sympathy through the school curriculum, the how, the why, the who, and more.

I hope you'll join me and share your ideas as well.


Choose a way to narrate what you've read- make a list of ideas, write down as much as you can remember as fast as you can in a minute or two.  Find a friend to discuss it with. 

Look for examples of imagination and empathy at work in your children, in your stories, in people around you.

Part III is here

*The word empathy was first used in the 1900s, and then it had something to do with art.  It wasn't really commonly used to refer to feelings towards others until the mid 1950s.  In Mason's day, all that we mean by empathy was included in the word sympathy.

Sources and References:

Part I

Volume VI, Toward a Philosophy of Education, volume VI

"The need of imagination in daily life" by Mrs. Edwin Gray, June, 1914 Parents' Review, copy in my personal files

Imagination article by E. A. Parish, volume 25, no. 5:

 PR Vol 13 p. 046-054 Ourselves, Our Souls and Bodies,  The House of Heart, Part II, by Charlotte Mason, being prepared for sharing on our website by wonderful AO volunteers, visit our forum if you'd like to help us out with this project where we have provided free access to all the PR articles we can gather, and we've been making them freely available to the general public for nearly 20 years now.

Education for All E-zine, vol. 2, the imagination issue