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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

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