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Saturday, December 1, 2018

Charlotte Mason and Ideas, part II


The House and Home, A Practical Book, Volume 1. Published 1894-1896, and edited by Lyman Abbot. I borrowed this picture from the Smithsonian. My copy is faded, water stained, and in very poor condition, which simply means I can read it without worrying about messing it up.=)
One section is by Kate Douglas Wiggin (author of several books, including  Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm, the Birds Christmas Carol, and my favourite, Mother Carey's Chickens and others) .  Her section in this book is titled "on The Training of Children." She’s really writing about the education of children. In many ways her ideas dovetail Miss Masons’- they were roughly from the same time period, after all, and the ideas and assumptions of the time permeated their thinking no less than the ideas and assumptions of our era permeates ours. The two women also read and esteemed many of the same authors.
Wiggin was a proponent of Froebel’s ideas- she, perhaps more than any other single person, introduced and promoted the kindgergarten in America. Miss Mason did admire Froebel and she was grateful for his work. But while she agreed with some of his ideas, she did not agree with some of his over-riding principles and several of his specific ideas and practices (you may remember she called the Kindergarten songs 'inane' for one example).
Wiggin explains in this volume (House and Home) that her ideas on the general training of children come from her study of and experience with Froebel’s educational philosophy. She recommends him as a source of “insight into child nature, for a vision of the ideal *relationships* your child should sustain toward all created things…” (emphasis mine) She says that Froebel’s great distinction was that he was the first to apply the theory of evolution to education and practice it, and that the “details of actual practice are the outcome of sound psychological principles.” That emphasis on relationships is certainly something that resonates with those who have read Charlotte Mason.  The idea that practice arises from principles (which come from philosophy) is also quite compatible with Mason's approach.  I'm not so sure about the application of evolutionary theory to education.  Mason seems more nebulous on this point to me.  My sense is that she is inclined to accept evolution generally, but when it came to evolution or recapitulation theory as a key to childhood development, she is faced with the contradictions of the children themselves:

"Even Professor Sully, in his most delightful book, [Studies of Children]... is torn in two. The children have conquered him, have convinced him beyond doubt that they are as ourselves, only more so. But then he is an evolutionist, and feels himself pledged to accommodate the child to the principles of evolution. Therefore the little person is supposed to go through a thousand stages of moral and intellectual development, leading him from the condition of the savage or ape to that of the intelligent and cultivated human being. If children will not accommodate themselves pleasantly to this theory, why, that is their fault, and Professor
Sully is too true a child-lover not to give us the children as they are, with little interludes of the theory upon which they ought to evolve. Now I have absolutely no theory to advance, and am, on scientific grounds, disposed to accept the theories of the evolutionary psychologists. But facts are too strong for me." (volume 2)

Wiggin also says that many others recognized the value of play in early childhood- "Plato, Quintillian, Luther, Fenelon, Locke, Richter-” but Froebel alone recognized its true evolutionary meaning. It was Froebel, according to Wiggin, who was a proponent of the idea that  child development is best approached through the training of the faculties because of evolutionary development.  This is exactly what Mason is talking about in the passage above- that evolutionists were claiming this, but the children themselves did not support the notion.
In this recent post I pointed out that in volume 3 Miss Mason came right out and said that the whole idea about developing these separate ‘faculties of the mind’ was a “pestilent fallacy which has, perhaps, been more injurious than any other to the cause of education.”  So while Froebel and Mason have many theories and ideas in common, she sharply rejects portions of his philosophy in other key points.
Froebel wanted the children to exercise their minds-or rather, he wanted for the teacher to do this for the children.  While Mason did envision an important role for the teacher and parent in the children's lives she didn’t want the teacher coming between the children and the books.  Froebel also believed that this exercise of the mind must be the right exercise at the right time, and the mind exercises must grow continuously higher and more varied in character, growing naturally out of preceding stages- almost like Haekel's recapitulation theory of human fetal development(long debunked because it was fraud to begin with). Froebel’s method was to train the faculties through organized play, a unique use of stories, a unique system of object lessons to arouse the senses. This, again, is the antithesis of Mason’s approach. Or rather, her approach is the anthesis of his, since she was largely rejecting certain of his ideas and replacing them with her own or ideas she had found through her research which preceded Froebel's.
Froebel felt it was important for the teacher to make the connections and point them out for the children, to teach them things in the properly correct order that would draw out those faculties - it mattered *how* they learned because they needed to learn these things in the correct evolutionary order.  Miss Masons did not believe in those faculties  as separate targets for education, and she felt that even if she was wrong about their existence, it was not necessary to train them- giving the children knowledge, ideas, and the faculties would take care of themselves.  Nor was it necessary, apart from the first six years being spent in play, to develop those faculties in a perfect order devised by scientific theories. Miss Mason believed strongly that the children should make their own connections.  She observed, and it has been my experience as well that the person making the connections is the person doing the learning, or at least the majority of it. I know I love doing the learning myself, but my goal in homeschooling was for my children to be the primary beneficiaries of this home education.
According to Wiggin, Froebel also wanted children to learn self-expression through creative activity. This is another area where you have to know something of what Froebel taught in order to understand what Miss Mason is saying, to see a very specific, details point of clearly stated disagreement with Froebel and the Kindergarten. Mason plainly stated that we do not encourage self-expression in these small children, as they most of them come by it naturally anyway, and more importantly, it makes them a bit false in their judgments of themselves. It makes them think of themselves more highly than they ought- after all, Miss Mason pointed out, the child has little to express and few skills to express it. Rather than fostering self-expression as a goal in and of itself, Miss Mason suggested that we give them lots of ideas so that they will have ideas to express and the literary tools to express them.  We don't squelch self-expression, but we don't have to pull it out with false praise and cheesy projects.  We give them real things to think about and worthwhile things to do instead.
Froebel, according to Wiggin, believed “the mind moves on from its perceptions and love of nature’s
symbols to a realization of the truth symbolized.” He emphasized the importance of symbols- there were certain shapes that were to be the child’s first toys because they were important ‘symbols,’ and he wrote things like “
plants, especially trees, are a mirror, or rather a symbol, of human life in its highest spiritual relations;
” He wrote also of the ‘higher symbolic meaning’ of the games children played, and which he later developed for use in his kindgergartens. He even saw vowels and consonants has being symbols for some deeper, metaphysical meaning-
the vowels _a_, _o_, _u_, _e_, _i_, _รค_,
_au_, _ei_, resembled, so to speak, force, spirit, the (inner) subject,
whilst the consonants symbolised matter, body, the (outer) object.
He saw a world where a lily was not a lily, but a symbol of longing for peace and tranquility, and a ball was not a ball, for a symbol of something else, and toys and games were chosen for his kindergarten based on their symbolic associations.
Once I knew this, when I read Miss Mason’s plea for children to “let them play with real things, not with symbols,” I understood her to be rejecting at least this portion of Froebek;s work.
Wiggin wrote that “Kindergarten games are a systematized sequence of human experiences, in which the child interprets more and more clearly to himself his own life and the life of mankind,” and the kindergarten child did this through ‘child culture’ and games called ‘mother play.’ Miss Mason did not speak approvingly of these practices.
In volume 1, on page 82, MIss Mason does speak with approval of old-fashioned, traditional singing games, but of the kindergarten version she says, “The promoters of the kindergarten system have done much to introduce games of this, or rather of a more educational kind; but is it not a fact that the singing games of the kindergarten are apt to be somewhat inane? Also, it is doubtful how far the prettiest plays, learnt at school and from a teacher, will take hold of the children as do the games which have been passed on from hand to hand through an endless chain of children, and are not be found in the print-books at all.”
I know this kind of historical digging and philosophical pondering isn't everybody's cup of tea. But for myself, I find it interesting to read through both Charlotte Mason and other writers roughly her contemporaries and pull out the tangled threads of connections, agreements, and disagreements in order to come to a deeper understanding of what Miss Mason’s ideas were.

As for where Froebel and Mason were more in agreement or not, In one Parents and Children article Mason briefly explained some educational philosophies, including Froebel’s, and then said, ‘Perhaps, indeed, this [idea] of the Kindergarten is the one vital conception of education that we have,” and her very next word was ‘but.’ In that section following her ‘but,’ she asks (rhetorically) “How much is there in this pleasing and easy doctrine that the drawing forth and strengthening and directing of the several “faculties” is education?”
She answers that by saying that it is a ‘misconception that the development and the exercise of the “faculties” is the object of education,’ and that ‘the development of the faculties (are there any “faculties”?) are only indirectly our care.’

If you’d like to read more (and for a better explanation) about how Miss Mason disagreed with Froebel’s kindergarten theory and other educational theories in vogue in her day, you might read her own words. I should start in volume 3, page 56,and volume 1, page 198 (give or take a couple of pages), where Miss Mason quotes with approval:
Dr Stanley Hall on the Kindergarten.–“The most decadent intellectual new departure of the American Froebelists is the emphasis now laid upon the mother-plays as the acme of Kindergarten wisdom. These are represented by very crude poems, indifferent music and pictures, illustrating certain incidents of child life believed to be of fundamental and typical significance. I have read these in German and in English, have strummed the music, and have given a brief course of lectures from the sympathetic standpoint, trying to put all the new wine of meaning I could think of into them. But I am driven to the conclusion that, if they are not positively unwholesome and harmful for the child, and productive of anti-scientific and unphilosphical intellectual habits in the teacher, they should nevertheless be superseded by the far better things now available.”

    I hope this has been helpful rather than obfuscationary. =)

    Postscript- I heard recently, much to my surprise, the claim that Mason was a Progressive Educator.  If you look up progressive education on Wikipedia you will find some names you recognize, if you have read Mason.  Names like Froebel, Pestalozzi, Herbart, Rousseau.  Those who have read Mason will recognize them as names of educationalists whose work Mason specifically singled out as philosophers of education whose work she appreciated, had merit, but who had failed, or had ideas that had turned out to be false, and Mason was correcting them.     Mason shared a couple of ideas or practices with the Progressive Educators, but largely, she was refuting them.  Note:
    Most Progressive Educators share these traits:
    • Emphasis on learning by doing – hands-on projects, expeditionary learning, experiential learningMason believed this was the way children learn for the first six years, but after that, most of their education is through reading.
    • Integrated curriculum focused on thematic units- otherwise known as 'correlation of lessons,' which Mason directly rejected except for direct, unstrained historical connections.
    • Integration of entrepreneurship into education- not really a feature of Mason's approach.
    • Strong emphasis on problem solving and critical thinking- Mason's approach is more natural and integral to reading and thinking about real, living books. 
    • Group work and development of social skills- 
    • Understanding and action as the goals of learning as opposed to rote knowledge- here they have more in common.
    • Collaborative and cooperative learning projects - not much.
    • Education for social responsibility and democracy - More in agreement here.
    • Highly personalized learning accounting for each individual's personal goals- Mason actually believed in a core curriculum shared by all classes of children.
    • Integration of community service and service learning projects into the daily curriculum- 
    • Selection of subject content by looking forward to ask what skills will be needed in future society- Mason opposed this utilitarian approach. She was interested primarily in the development of conduct and character.
    • De-emphasis on textbooks in favor of varied learning resources- de-emphasis on textbooks, but Mason believed we were educated most by living books.
    • Emphasis on lifelong learning and social skills- definitely share an emphasis on lifelong learning
    • Assessment by evaluation of child's projects and productions. Assessment by evaluation of the term's exam work submitted to Mason and her committee of evaluates. Some evaluation of projects such as nature notebooks, singing, and foreign language skills.

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