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Sunday, March 24, 2019

Shakespeare before form four?

From time to time we are asked why we do Shakespeare via Lamb's before form 4.  Often we will hear a firm declaration that Mason never did Shakespeare until form 4.  Sometimes we'll be told that she didn't use Lamb's, or that none of the programmes include Lamb's.

So why does AO do Lamb's in the earlier years since Miss Mason did not?

First of all, I don't really agree that we can speak authoritatively about this based only on the programmes.
I don't think we have all the programmes.
 Remember, too, that she changed up the programmes year by year or even term by term. So having a programme for form one for two full years is not showing us everything she did every year, because the programmes were not necessarily duplicated.  We'd need to see the programmes for form I, II, and III- the full programmes for each of three terms for at least 20 years. We don't have this.

The programmes we do have are also not always reliable.  The first programme she made for year 1 shows about six things, and only two books are listed by title.
 Some of the programmes we do have aren't perfect- they show errors. I forget which one, but I vaguely remember one for form four that doesn't include Plutarch and sometimes other subjects are missing that we know were included.

Programme 98, form II, 1924, has the children choosing their favourite passages from King Lear for copywork and using Lear for recitation. In other programmes we see that when specific plays are mentioned, the children are also doing that play for literature.  So we could assume that the children in form II read King Lear that term, but that programme seems to be missing the reading and literature assignments.  If we were to reason that if something is not on the programme that means Mason didn't do it and we need to duplicate her work precisely, then we'd skip literature and reading for one term of form II.  It's far more reasonable to assume that this is an accident, and these students did King Lear that term, and probably other literature as well.  

As we learned in school, 'An absence of evidence is not necessarily evidence of absence.'

 Let's consider what it means to our students if Mason disapproves of using Lamb's or any other Shakespeare before form IV (ignoring the programmes where we see it in form 2).  That would mean many of today's children (and mothers and fathers!) come to Shakespeare cold when they start reading the plays in year 4. That seems a bit extreme.  We don't think there is good evidence that children came to Shakespeare without having already heard about some of his plays before  year 4.  There is solid evidence to the contrary, in fact.

We can assume the children had some familiarity with Shakespeare through recitation, and we have seen in several examples from programmes for higher forms that the recitation suggestions come from the plays the children read that term.
 The programmes we have for year 1 recommend some specific poetry books for the families to own, and every one of them I have been able to find includes several excerpts from Shakespeare's plays.
For example, in programme 127 for form I, the children are instructed to choose poems for recitation from one of several possible poetry books, and excerpts from Shakespeare are included in each of those book.  Since the choices are up to each student, we cannot say they definitely would have done Shakespeare, but we also cannot say they wouldn't, since excerpts from his works are included in the following poetry books  PNEU recommended poetry books:

In the Golden Staircase, we find excerpts from the following Shakespeare plays:
Cymbeline, The Winter's Tale, King Henry VIII, The Tempest, TwoGentlement of VErona, As You Like It, A Midsummer Night's Dream, Love's Labour's Lost
You can find the book on Internet archive, and you can see some of the gorgeous illustration here.
Another poetry option offered was A First Book of Poetry by M.A. Woods.  I can't find such a title, but I did find A First School Poetry Book by the same author.  Mason not infrequently made such errors, if this is one. I can't say definitively.  Woods doesn't tell us which of the plays her selections are from, but she includes about 8 selections from 'Shakspeare,' mostly songs that are included in the plays.

The programmes for this term of form I also suggest Tom Tiddler's Ground, a 1931 anthology edited by Walter De La Mare as a poetry option for students to use to choose a poem to work on for recitation. He includes several Shakespeare excerpts (Ophelia's song and the one about golden lads and lasses must like chimney sweepers come to dust among others).  There is also a recommendation of Lamb's Tales and a short biography of Lamb.  It's a lovely little poetry book.

It is true that this particular programme is from a couple of years after Mason's death.  However, it is also true that the same people who authoritatively insist that it is wrong to include any Shakespeare because Miss Mason didn't, have no qualms about using later programmes to back up other 'authoritative' claims.  In some cases, for some of the upper years, we have only programmes from after Mason's death thus far. 

 There are other reasons to be sure that children were not expected to come to Shakespeare cold, beginning in year 4, with no previous familiarity with the tales.  In Shakespeare's time (and for centuries afterward) people came to Shakespeare already familiar with the backstories of the plays. They were usually based on well known histories or stories that people already knew. We want our children to have the same advantage.

 In Charlotte Mason's time, Shakespeare was part of the common culture, especially with the middle and upper classes that made up most of the members and promoters of the P.N.E.U. We see no reason to deny our families the same privilege.

 While we often quote Mason's 'For the children's sake,' we also believe that some things are important for 'the parents' sake.'  We at AO care deeply about the families homeschooling, especially the mothers and fathers struggling against great disadvantages, many of whom come to Charlotte Mason without any of the shared literary background Mason expected of the average middle to upper class parent.  So we also want our parents to have that advantage.

 In another PR article we read this: "So all are to read Scott--"every word of him"--and Shakespeare and Dante. Such reading, as Emerson says, "brings us out of our egg-shell existence into the great dome, we see the zenith over and the nadir under us. Instead of the tanks and buckets of knowledge to which we are daily confined, we come down to the shore of the sea and dip our hands in its miraculous waves.""  Education is for all, including the parents of the children.  They are encompassed in this 'all are to read... Shakespeare' to bring us together to the great sea of knowledge.  Taking this on in small bites, such as Lamb's, Nesbit's, Colville's, or Garfield (or others) is a kind and gentle introduction for both parents and their children. 

All adults and most of the children in CM's time would have been familiar with Shakespeare. Most of them would have seen a few plays performed live. They would have heard it in school. They would have heard comments in conversation, on the street, in the community.   They would have seen allusions in their newspapers and stories. But we don't have that advantage today, so it is beneficial for both parents and children to learn the stories first before jumping into the plays.  It makes Shakespeare less intimidating.

Here is some additional information on the introduction of Shakespeare and the use of Lamb's in the PNEU schools:

 1. In The Parents' Review. [1905] Vol. 16, No. 06 p. 401-480 there is one of the articles with "Notes On Lessons," and it is a sample 25 minute lesson spent in Form III which included readings from and familiarity with Henry V and King John.

2. A Parents Review article by the Hon. Mrs. E.L. Franklin, who worked closely with Miss Mason, says that Class IB had reading lessons taken from Lamb's Tales of Shakespeare, which would mean the children were reading from Lamb's and it was scheduled, at least the year that she wrote the article.  (Again, Programmes did change from time to time):

Class IB.—Children averaging from seven and a half, to nine. Here the same time-table is used, but the reading lessons are less frequent, and are taken out of such books as Old Tales from British History, Tales from Westminster Abbey & Lamb's Tales from Shakespeare, The Heroes of Asgard.

The Home Training of Children
by the Hon. Mrs. E. L. Franklin,
Hon. Organizing Secretary of the Parents' National Educational Union.
Volume 20, 1909, pgs. 20-24

[Reprinted from Vol. VI. Of "Special Reports on Educational Subjects," issued by the Board of Education. Reprints of this article can be had, price 3d., from the P.N.E.U. Office, 26, Victoria Street, S.W.]

(Continued from Vol. XIX., No. 12, page 899.) 
Can I point out that that nitpicking by saying a reading lesson somehow proves Lamb's wasn't used in form I is rather silly, as the point is, the children could not have a reading lesson from a book they were not even reading, so it would be most logical to assume they were reading from Lamb's Tales of Shakespeare during school.   Whether they called that session 'reading' or 'Shakespeare' is the sort of pettifogging, nitpicking, getting wrapped up in esoteric details rather than principles that has no place in a Charlotte Mason education. It is the opposite of generous or magnanimous.  One might as well argue about whether students read page 8 or page 21, or whether it was on Tuesday mornings or Thursday afternoons.  While these kinds of details do have their place in some scholarly discussions, they have no place at all in making firm, authoritative commands for homeschooling parents to follow or risk being told they are 'failing' to do CM correctly.

In fact, it is quite likely that rather than *waiting* to do any Shakespeare wit children until form IV, it is more likely Mason expected children to know Lamb's and the basic stories of a few Shakespeare plays before they even started school!

 Lamb's is frequently mentioned in the PR as suitable for the family library, to be read to children or for children to read, so the children would have been familiar with it before form 1 even if it was not used in school. 

 Here's just one example from a PR article called  Our Children's Play Books and Toys: "I think amongst many others not put down here, all children before they are, say, sixteen should have read the following: Robinson Crusoe, Kingsley's Heroes, Water-Babies, Westward Ho!, Hereward the Wake, Lamb's Tales from Shakespeare, Tanglewood Tales, Anderson's Fairy Tales, Stories of Greece by Morris, and some of Professor Church's historical and classical books, Charlotte Yonge's novels, and many of Sir Walter Scott's..."

 In the second volume of the Parents' Reviews a prize was offered for the submission of the best list of books for a family library. The winning prize included Lamb's Shakespeare:

 "This may be thought a digression. But my purpose is to show that in choosing literature for the young, our object should be to draw out this latent critical faculty by always presenting a high standard proportionate to their stage of development. It will be remembered that one of the aims we set out with was to form the habit of methodical, not desultory reading. If you read two books on the same subject from different stand-points, the impression left is more than double what remains after reading one only. The habit of concentration may be stimulated by encouraging the association of reading with some other pursuit, or with the child's regular lessons, though it will probably be best not to let it appear too openly that that is your object. Thus if children are learning some English History, it will not be difficult to find stories by Miss Young or Mr. Henty, and above all--if the children are not too young--by Sir Walter himself, which will excite their intensest interest in the period they are reading about; or if the children love as they should their pencils and paint brushes, and are as eagerly on the outlook for subjects as a hungry journalist for "copy," you can take down Kingsley's Heroes or Professor Church's lovely stories from Homer, or some one of the many excellent children's version of the Arthurian legends, or the Nibelungenlied, and tell them to read a story and then paint an illustration of it. Or again, perhaps you have lately been to the Lyceum (a theatre). You tell them about the play you have seen and excite their interest. This will serve as an introduction to Lamb's Tales from Shakespeare or even to the plays themselves." 

Note that the presumption is more likely that Lamb's will be the first book introduction to Shakespeare, with a parent retelling the plays from time to time beforehand, and it seems obvious to me, anyway, that reading Lamb in form one is not contrary to the spirit of CM. 


She did include tales in form 1, and while we know for certain those tales were fairy tales and myths and legends, we also feel that for current students, Lamb's tales also suit the purpose of tales. Some may disagree, and that's okay, but that doesn't make the practice anti-CM

 Some people think children cannot understand Shakespeare. I took my children to see a play of Midsummer Night's Dream after reading Lamb's. At the intermission my just 3 y.o. old turned to the couple behind us and told them her favourite part was coming, the fairy queen was going to turn Bottom's head into a donkey's head.She was giggling with delight at letting them in on this spoiler. They were enchanted. 

 Children are perfectly capable of grasping the larger outlines of Shakespeare, although of course, they grasp even more as they mature. I, too, get more out of things I read at 15, 25, or 55 than my 14, 22, 50 or child-self did. But they were still worth reading at 10 or 7. 

So we read Lamb's in year 1 because Lamb's is fun and fairly easy to understand with just a bit of handholding (read slowly, act out the story with home-made finger puppets or beanie babies or legos). We read Lamb's in year 1 because that is actually coming to Shakespeare a bit late, and children and their parents deserve to know Shakespeare sooner rather than later. We read Lamb's because we have seen it work with thousands of children, including our own. 


I realize there is a school of thought in the CM world which has pushed the notion that somehow you're doing CM wrong if you include Lamb's, or do any Shakespeare before year 4 or so (and sometimes even gets particular about exactly which plays may be done to be authentically CM) 

 I have several objections to that particular school of thought in general and my objections and disagreements are largely based on what I see as the rigidity and inflexibility that comes when confusing practices for principles  and then treats a philosophy of education as thought it were a list of laws as of the Medes and the Persians.

 I don't want to dwell on this and I don't want get into details of personalities, but I don't find that approach accurate, helpful, or encouraging. The original source for that particular claim wrenches things out of context, sometimes quoting things so as to mean the opposite of what they do mean, and overlooks material which does not support its hypotheses.

Even if it were true that Mason never let Lamb's Shakespeare Tales darken the doors of her schools or her home schools (and this is not true)- that alone is not a good enough reason not to include Lamb's in your school, because *practices* are not principles.  There are thousands and thousands of books she might have included but didn't.  That alone is not proof that she opposed the use of every single one of those books.

Please.  Don't let this rigidity spoil a beautiful thing for your children. It's based on an mistaken notion of Mason altogether. She herself said that her philosophy was to be taken and mixed with brains when applied. 

 Do Shakespeare with your kids. If the real thing works, then use that. If you can see the real thing, do that. If animated tales helps, do that. Use toys and stick figures as needed to help narrations. Regarding advice not to do Shakespeare because kids cannot handle it, ponder the reality that Lamb's has been a favourite of children ever since it was published, and that children have been taken to see Shakespeare plays for hundreds of years. 100 years ago children read and loved Lamb's. If we cannot do that today, consider that our educational institutions did this to us and decide not to be defrauded that way.

 Fight back. Be happy warriors, but fight your own battle in the culture wars for your family's sake.  And if you're fighting back by reading Lamb's or the original plays, you're in store for a treat.  

Addendum: Programme 100 for form II has the children copying their favourite passage from Shakespeare's As You Like It, and I submit they could hardly have a favourite passage without knowing something of the play.


$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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