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Monday, May 6, 2019

Deep and Wide: A Charlotte Mason Education

I stumbled across an interesting train of thought while online looking up something else, as one does.
There's this interesting quote from Henry Fielding’s  History of Tom Jones, a Foundling. Before I share that, I should tell you that I loved this passage, but I have to say that none of my children that I recall were ever willing to read more than a few pages of Tom Jones. They thought it was bawdy, unedifying book. Bawdy and ribald it certainly is, but I cannot agree that it is wholy unedifying.    However, children being born persons, I did not mortify them by forcing the issue and making them continue reading.  
I mortified them enough in plenty of other ways.
That said, let me share some food for thought from Fielding's Tom Jones
“To prevent therefore, for the future, such intemperate abuses of leisure, of letters, and of the liberty of the press, especially as the world seems at present to be more than usually threatened with them, I shall here venture to mention some qualifications, every one of which are in a pretty high degree necessary to this order of historians.”
“this order of historians” is writers of plausible fiction, like Tom Jones.  And can I say that the line about how the "world at present" is more than usually threatened with intemperate abuse of the liberty of the press made me giggle.  That was published in 1749. So here are some requirements one should be able to check before writing plausible fiction:
“The first is, genius, without a full vein of which no study, says Horace, can avail us. By genius I would understand that power or rather those powers of the mind, which are capable of penetrating into all things within our reach and knowledge, and of distinguishing their essential differences.These are no other than invention and judgment; and they are both called by the collective name of genius, as they are of those gifts of nature which we bring with us into the world. Concerning each of which many seem to have fallen into very great errors; for by invention, I believe, is generally understood a creative faculty, which would indeed prove most romance writers to have the highest pretensions to it; whereas by invention is really meant no more (and so the word signifies) than discovery, or finding out; or to explain it at large, a quick and sagacious penetration into the true essence of all the objects of our contemplation. This, I think, can rarely exist without the concomitancy of judgment; for how we can be said to have discovered the true essence of two things, without discerning their difference, seems to me hard to conceive. Now this last is the undisputed province of judgment, and yet some few men of wit have agreed with all the dull fellows in the world in representing these two to have been seldom or never the property of one and the same person.”
Emphasis added.  Really, it seems to me, one could live a long, fulfilling, and useful life on the talent of “sagacious penetration into the true essence of all the objects of our contemplation.”
“But though they should be so, they are not sufficient for our purpose, without a good share of learning; for which I could again cite the authority of Horace, and of many others, if any was necessary to prove that tools are of no service to a workman, when they are not sharpened by art, or when he wants rules to direct him in his work, or hath no matter to work upon. All these uses are supplied by learning; for nature can only furnish us with capacity; or, as I have chose to illustrate it, with the tools of our profession; learning must fit them for use, must direct them in it, and, lastly, must contribute part at least of the materials. A competent knowledge of history and of the belles-lettres is here absolutely necessary; and without this share of knowledge at least, to affect the character of an historian, is as vain as to endeavour at building a house without timber or mortar, or brick or stone. Homer and Milton, who, though they added the ornament of numbers to their works, were both historians of our order, were masters of all the learning of their times.”
Emphasis added again.  This is the answer to those who say it doesn’t matter what the children learn so long as they learn how to learn.  It’s nonsense.  Of course it matters what they learn- what they learn will also inform how they learn.  They cannot be separated.  knowing how to learn is something most of us already come equipped with- babies are voracious learners.  Really, what most people mean when they talk about learning how to learn is learning how to use reference materials, how to find things out, and how to remember those things.  But if you aren't learning anything that matters, you just have some pretty tools hanging unused on the clean and shiny walls of your mind.  and the are useless if they are not being used with the real material of solid mind-stuff- history, says Fielding, and the wide field of literature (belles-lettres). 
“Again, there is another sort of knowledge, beyond the power of learning to bestow, and this is to be had by conversation. So necessary is this to the understanding the characters of men, that none are more ignorant of them than those learned pedants whose lives have been entirely consumed in colleges, and among books; for however exquisitely human nature may have been described by writers, the true practical system can be learnt only in the world. Indeed the like happens in every other kind of knowledge. Neither physic nor law are to be practically known from books. Nay, the farmer, the planter, the gardener, must perfect by experience what he hath acquired the rudiments of by reading. How accurately soever the ingenious Mr Miller may have described the plant, he himself would advise his disciple to see it in the garden. As we must perceive, that after the nicest strokes of a Shakespear or a Jonson, of a Wycherly or an Otway, some touches of nature will escape the reader, which the judicious action of a Garrick, of a Cibber, or a Clive, can convey to him; so, on the real stage, the character shows himself in a stronger and bolder light than he can be described. And if this be the case in those fine and nervous descriptions which great authors themselves have taken from life, how much more strongly will it hold when the writer himself takes his lines not from nature, but from books? Such characters are only the faint copy of a copy, and can have neither the justness nor spirit of an original.”
David Garrick, Kitty Clive and Susannah Clibber were all actors.  Shakespeare, Jonson, ycherly and Otway were playrights. Merely reading the lines of a play doesn't give you the insight and depth of character that seeing the play fleshed out by actors, no matter however gifted the dramatist who created those characters may be.
  In addition to book learning, we need the jostling and bumping that comes from real conversations and interactions with real people, with real things, with real work, and exposure ‘in the round’ to the things we study in books.  Life and learning are not confined to school books and school hours. Real life adds depth to our reading, as well, and feeds and nourishes the mind so the imagination (which grows by what it gets and thus expands) can flourish and .  No description of a place can convey the feel of the air, the smell of the place, the knowledge of what it feels like to walk on cobblestones or smell the sea or feel the strength of a tropical sun.  I have never been to the Amazon jungle, but not too long ago when I was reading a description of trying to take notes on paper in a hot, muggy, 100% humidity climate, I was able to picture it clearly because of my time spent living on tropical islands.   Every experience we have also informs other experiences, and reading as well. 
I have read about the division between North and South Korea many times and places.  I’ve seen it on screen.  The deepest impression, however, came from a conversation with a complete  stranger- a South Korean man we met on a bus in Seoul the week that the wall came down in Germany.  His mother had been pregnant with him when North and South Korea were cut off forever- and his father was on the North side.  Father, grandparents, aunts, uncles- and not just paternal relatives, but some of his mother’s people also- all contact suddenly stopped, and at the time I met this man kind enough to stop and explain to a foreigner and her little daughter just what it meant to Koreans to see the fall of the wall dividing two Germanies.
It is truly a thing to marvel and wonder over, when one considers how interconnected it all is- while that conversation made the deepest impression on me, it wouldn’t have been the same without already having some context in which to put the story, and that context at the time came mostly from what I had read.   Mr. Lee’s personal story brought what I knew to life, gave it a face and a real human story- but in order to do that, I had to first have the bones, the form, the structure of the story.
In a different vein, I could read about staining the skin with black walnut in Kipling’s story of Kim, but until I played with black walnuts in my grandfather’s woods as a child and then tried to wash off the stains myself, I did not have a complete understanding.  The story informed my understanding of why my hands were so stained and how many days it took to wash that off, and my experience first hand deepened my understanding of the story as well.  It's reciprocol, it's webbed, it's fractal- it's stunningly beautiful to discover these connections and feed your mind through them.
“Now this conversation in our historian must be universal, that is, with all ranks and degrees of men; for the knowledge of what is called high life will not instruct him in low; nor, e converso, (on the other side- Wendi) will his being acquainted with the inferior part of mankind teach him the manners of the superior. And though it may be thought that the knowledge of either may sufficiently enable him to describe at least that in which he hath been conversant, yet he will even here fall greatly short of perfection; for the follies of either rank do in reality illustrate each other. For instance, the affectation of high life appears more glaring and ridiculous from the simplicity of the low; and again, the rudeness and barbarity of this latter, strikes with much stronger ideas of absurdity, when contrasted with, and opposed to, the politeness which controuls the former. Besides, to say the truth, the manners of our historian will be improved by both these conversations; for in the one he will easily find examples of plainness, honesty, and sincerity; in the other of refinement, elegance, and a liberality of spirit; which last quality I myself have scarce ever seen in men of low birth and education.”
Be willing to learn from and converse with people from all walks of life. Don't look down on people who live in trailer parks or do menial labour - there are things you can learn from them.  Don't look down on millionaires, either.  Treat people as people and be humble enough to be willing to learn something from everybody you know, regardless of race, colour, creed, political spectrum.
Nor will all the qualities I have hitherto given my historian avail him, unless he have what is generally meant by a good heart, and be capable of feeling. The author who will make me weep, says Horace, must first weep himself. In reality, no man can paint a distress well which he doth not feel while he is painting it; nor do I doubt, but that the most pathetic and affecting scenes have been writ with tears. In the same manner it is with the ridiculous. I am convinced I never make my reader laugh heartily but where I have laughed before him; unless it should happen at any time, that instead of laughing with me he should be inclined to laugh at me. Perhaps this may have been the case at some passages in this chapter, from which apprehension I will here put an end to it.
I think what Fielding is saying here is that if you want to write well, you must feel what you want your audience to feel, you must be able to imagine yourself in other's shoes.

. . . Arguments about the relative merits of quite different disciplines seem, for the most part, a waste of time. We need and wish all kinds, for the more complex the discipline, the more likelihood is there that the result will be a many-sided personality--a true citizen of the world. But where the conditions forbid any one of the many doors being opened--for education is largely giving keys into children's hands--then there is apt to be a blasting of some bud, a numbing of some initiative; and a morbid growth."
All truth is God's truth.  All is grist for the intellectual mills of those who are humble enough to be teachable, interested, and willing to learn.  And we do not omit subjects for utilitarian reasons or because we haven't found a need to know this.    Education is wide and generous.
Footnotes: Horace: Quintus Horatius Flaccus, December 8, 65 BC-8 BC, born to a freed slave, he became the foremost lyric poet in the time of Emperor Augustus, the same timeframe which saw Rome transfer from a Roman Republic to the Roman Empire.
You can find his works to read at Gutenberg,, free at Amazon, in several different editions and publications for sale, including the gorgeous Loebe Library volume.
The poet Eugene Field translated Horaces Sabine Farm. You can get it free or Gutenberg or for about 3 dollars at Amazon.

$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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