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Friday, November 16, 2018

What if I just Don't Like Folksongs?

I grew up in a family which mostly sang hymns together, but there were probably a dozen folksongs that were also part of our regular family repertoire (Cabin in the woods, Mountain Dew, Rockabye Baby,Tom Dooley and a few others).  But I really started singing folksongs when I had children of my own.  I picked up some cassettes of folksongs for a road trip I was making by myself with my 3 year old and baby, and I was hooked.  We sang probably hundreds just because I liked them.  They were easy to sing, easy to memorize, fun to play around with and make up lyrics that went along with what we were doing.  Hymns are great, but it does sometimes feel irreverent to play around with them and turn the tunes into songs about things like daddy passing gas in the car on a road-trip, er, hypothetically speaking.  And later, I discovered Charlotte Mason and realized they are a valid part of education as well.

But what if you just don't like them?  I have an answer.  

In volume 2, page 17, Miss Mason explains that when we consult our tastes rather than our children's needs, we are making unlawful use of our authority.  So that is one point to consider.  Is mere taste preference a valid reason to omit something from the curriculum?  What if the thing you don't care for is something that has been part of human culture and tradition as long as there have been humans? I do not know of a culture that has no songs, no mouth music mothers croon to children or used to help people keep time while working, or to pass down stories.  There are cultures that never developed an alphabet, a written language, but I don't know of cultures with no music of the people, and I do not mean pop songs.  Perhaps we should humbly consider whether it is appropriate to dismiss the music of our own and other cultures, the songs that have sustained, nourished, entertained, encouraged, and delighted human beings for centuries, because they don't match our personal taste preferences.  More on this later.
What if your kids don't like folksongs?  The short answer is to do them anyway.

The long answer: I come to you not from a place of resounding success where all my children love folk music.   Four of them do, and they have passed that love on to their children.  One of them loves them folk music a little less, perhaps, but she and her grandma travel afar to attend Celtic Thunder concerts and their offshoots.  I had a total fail with one of mine, and I am convinced the way  I failed most was in giving up.  I would encourage you not to give up, but rather, keep looking and find some form of folk music, some performer, some song, some approach that will hook your child's interest.

Children have always liked folk music, but they have also, children being that most frustrating of creatures, born human persons, sometimes not liked the folk music their parents like best.  I was amused by the advice I  stumbled across in a book published in 1870, titled Music and Morals and authored by one H. R. Haweis. He answers this question, saying:
“, apart from the manipulation of sweet sounds, may be educationally useful in a variety of ways. That is why I say teach all children music." "Whether they like it or not?" "Yes, whether they like or not--first, because children don't always know what they do like; and secondly, because they don't know what is good for them."
"But if the child does not like music?" "Children are differently endowed, but there are very few in whom some taste for music cannot be cultivated--even children with hardly any musical ear can improve and even acquire the rudiments of one--but eliminate the joy of the art, the discipline of the art still remains in the early stages of childhood's culture as a valuable aid and assistance to education."
Children haven't had the time or experience to know for sure what they really, truly like in many areas. I am not sure that our own adult preferences are always as informed as they should be.  The children don't even know what's available.  We sell them short when we give up too soon, or let them do so.  They are full persons, but they are full persons without experience. They are new.  If you were to be dropped off in a foreign country, would you expect to try some national dish and make up your mind about it on the spot?  Or would you maturely realize that even national dishes have multiple variations, styles, ingredients, and preparation methods, so just because you didn't like one form, it doesn't mean you won't appreciate it more if you try it a few different times, a few different ways- not great, choking mouthfuls, but small bites here and there, over time?  You have something your children do not- experience.  If not the wide experience necessary to make an informed judgment about folksongs, you at least have the adult experience to know that tastes change with time, maturity, and wider experience.  Use that knowledge for their good and encourage them not to judge too hastily.

While Miss Mason does not offer a lot of specific instruction about folksongs  in her six volumes, she does offer many principles that apply to folksongs as well as other subject areas in school and for life as well.
In volume 1, speaking of children and music, Mason says:

The Habit of Music.––As for a musical training, it would be hard to say how much that passes for inherited musical taste and ability is the result of the constant hearing and producing of musical sounds, the habit of music, that the child of musical people grows up with. Mr. Hullah maintained that the art of singing is entirely a trained habit––that every child may be, and should be, trained to sing. Of course, transmitted habit must be taken into account."

While she also speaks of the importance of training and careful teaching of the various musical skills, we begin with the habit of music. Folksongs are one of the earliest forms of music in which children can participate- and this has been true for every human culture I know of.  I know I rather harp on this point, but I really find it quite significant that I have yet to hear of a culture, a people, which has had no song at all.  The earliest songs are generally a form of folksong.  Give your children this very human art, a gift of music.  Better than that, give them the habit of music.   Habits are developed not all at once, not even on command, but gradually, incrementally, steadily, over time. Don't give up too soon.

She also says in the same volume that it is "the part of the mother or teacher in the early years (indeed, all through life) is to sow opportunities."
You sow opportunities by presenting them, not abandoning them.  By all means, vary your approach, the style, the specific songs, linger a little longer than the children seem to prefer, but don't give up altogether.

In volume 4 she says: "The hearing ear comes, like good batting, with much practice..."
If you do not hit the ball or play the song on the first attempt, is that the time to quit?  Will you get better that way?  You improve by keeping on.  And contrary to our current way of thinking, in most cases, so long as it is handled well, continuing to try will actually improve one's enjoyment rather than make one hate the thing.

Another passage in volume 4 is very thought-provoking, and it pinches a bit, at least for me.  She is addressing a bad habit she calls depreciation.  Today I think we would be more likely to call this being critical, a kind of carping cynicism, a dislike.  You say you love the mountains, the depreciator says, "Well, yes, but...  You say you use fairy tales, the depreciator says, 'but so violent.'  You say you are reading Robinson Crusoe, the depreciator says, "a classic for sure, but so dry. "  You say folksongs, the depreciator says, 'surely hymns are more worthwhile, folksongs are not beautiful and good, they are violent, old fashioned, old boring, out of date, twangy, for hicks, etc.

Mason points out:
"It is well to remember that Depreciation is Injustice. The depreciative remark may be true in the letter, but it is false in spirit, because it takes a part for the whole, a single defect for many excellences. Depreciation may be inspired by the monster Envy, who is perpetually going about to put stumbling-blocks in the way of justice, and belittle the claims of others; or it may arise from Thoughtlessness, which is but a form of Self-occupation. Many of the crude and unworthy criticisms we hear of books, pictures, speeches, a song, a party, arise from the latter cause. We would not allow ourselves to depreciate if we recollected that Appreciation is one part of the Justice we owe to the characters and the works of others."
Wow. There's a lot to sort out and think over there, isn't there?  It applies to so many areas of our lives, too.

So you or your child reject folk-songs- why?  Is your reason true in part, but dismissive of a bigger picture?  Is a single defect being allowed to sum up an entire body of work?  And what if that single defect is merely a matter of personal taste?  Is a ten year old's personal taste really sufficient basis upon which to build an education?

I'm going to gloss over envy, because I don't really see how it would apply here.
But thoughtlessness, a form of self-occupation surely is pertinent.

If a rejection of folksongs altogether is essentially based on what you or your child dislike, is that dislike informed enough, based on solid principles more meaningful than personal taste, or is it based on a form of self-occupation?  That's hitting hard, I know.   After all, why can't we do what we like and skip what we don't like?   Note that we are speaking here of education, of the place folk singing has in a Charlotte Mason school, not of private and personal hobbies and likes and dislikes.  I do not think it is sound philosophy or practice to dismiss subjects for school because we don't like them.

After school you don't have to keep singing them, although with enough exposure you may surprise yourselves.  Of course, it isn't wrong to have preferences, likes, dislikes.  But I think that's leaning on the negative side.  Instead of settling what we already do and do not like, I think it is a bigger blessing to our kids if we help them broaden the scope of things they appreciate.

"Appreciation is one part of the Justice we owe to the characters and the works of others."
Of course we all have preferences, tastes, opinions.  But not all opinions are equally well developed, worthwhile.  In volume 4, Mason also says:
"An Opinion worth having.––We may gather three rules, then, as to an opinion that is worth the having. We must have thought about the subject and know something about it, as a gardener does about the weather; it must be our own opinion, and not caught up as a parrot catches up its phrases; and lastly, it must be disinterested, that is, it must not be influenced by our inclination.
But, 'Why need we have opinions at all,' you are inclined to ask, 'if they mean such a lot of trouble?' Just because we are persons. Every person has many opinions, either his own, honestly thought out, or picked up from his pet newspaper, or from his favourite companion. The person who thinks out his opinions modestly and carefully is doing his duty as truly as if he helped to save a life. There is no more or less about duty; and it is a great part of our work in life to do our duty in our thoughts and form just opinions."

Who knew that even in the singing of folk songs, there is such an opportunity to build and develop character and justice?
Charlotte Mason, that's who.

To be continued....


For sale, proceeds support my family's work.  When creating these things,  my constant thought was 'What might readers like to know or think about? What will help our Charlotte Mason parents and families?  What will give them something to think about, something to love, something to grow on?'  I hope you can tell. 

$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.  I think every family will find something they can use here. $5.00

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