Sunday, April 20, 2014

Pease porridge...not. (Charlotte Mason, Brave New World, and Hiding the Good Stuff)

" soon as a young child begins his education he does so as a student. Our business is to give him mind-stuff, and both quality and quantity are essential. Naturally, each of us possesses this mind-stuff only in limited measure, but we know where to procure it; for the best thought the world possesses is stored in books; we must open books to children, the best books; our own concern is abundant provision and orderly serving. I am jealous for the children; every modern educational movement tends to belittle them intellectually..."  Charlotte Mason, Philosophy of Education
I'm thinking about Tammy's wonderful post about children who startled a park nature guide by recognizing the holes made by a yellow-bellied sapsucker.  About Jemimah's drawing of Mendel's peas, and about a Good Friday church service we attended that included parts of Handel's Messiah and a picture talk on Ghirlandaio's The Procession to Cavalry, and that was--coincidentally?--partially planned by former homeschoolers.  This coming school week our list of topics includes learning how food becomes energy; why King John signed the Magna Charta; and how the Hobbits finally scoured the Shire.  We are planning on revisiting the nature-walk pond.  We may get Dad to demonstrate Vermeer's camera obscura (an early picture projector).  (This is not a boast about the superiority of our own homeschool; it's just our attempt at a generous curriculum.)

And with all this wealth of things to look at and read and think about and draw, why is it that much of the teaching in public schools seems more like the dish of peas that the Clerk of Copmanhurst (a.k.a. Friar Tuck) sets before the hungry Black Knight; the miserly, fraudulent little meal that he claims miraculously sustains him?  The Black Knight is quick to see through it.  He guesses that the Clerk must have more food--probably something illegally come by--in the cupboard, and he gradually convinces him to share what he has hidden.

But why do we, through our institutions, so equally mistrust young students that we attempt to deceive them with a bit of "pease" instead of the real food that is so readily available?  As my friend the DHM recently pointed out, medical doctors are not necessarily nutrition experts, and their advice on the proper feeding of infants is often outdated or faulty, but they are often unwilling to admit that or to accept advice from other sources--even, it seems, nutritionists (according to that story).  Is it possible that, similarly, those involved in the administration of schools may ignore the fact that what's served on the educational table is unpalatable or at least inadequate?

Or is it deliberate deception?
"The Controller, meanwhile, had crossed to the other side of the room and was unlocking a large safe set into the wall between the bookshelves. The heavy door swung open. Rummaging in the darkness within, "It's a subject," he said, "that has always had a great interest for me." He pulled out a thick black volume. "You've never read this, for example." The Savage took it. "The Holy Bible, containing the Old and New Testaments," he read aloud from the title-page. "Nor this." It was a small book and had lost its cover. "The Imitation of Christ." "Nor this." He handed out another volume. "The Varieties of Religious Experience. By William James." "And I've got plenty more," Mustapha Mond continued, resuming his seat. "A whole collection of pornographic old books. God in the safe and Ford on the shelves...."
"But if you know about God, why don't you tell them?" asked the Savage indignantly. "Why don't you give them these books about God?" 
"For the same reason as we don't give them Othello: they're old; they're about God hundreds of years ago. Not about God now." 
"But God doesn't change." 
"Men do, though." 
"What difference does that make?" 
"All the difference in the world," said Mustapha Mond.'  ~~ Aldous Huxley, Brave New World
Linked from the Carnival of Homeschooling at Fisher Academy International. 


Heather said...

Thanks for these thoughts and links. It is nourishing reading.

walking said...

Some are out to deceive, but others have a faulty view of who children are and what they can do and how they learn.

The Winding Ascent said...

I think it's also about "why" they learn. Many believe education is training for a future job rather than a life. They also believe that the faster a child advances and the better that child is at memorizing things and spewing them out on a test and getting a good grade, the better off they'll be. What doesn't compute is that this information they've memorized won't stay in long term memory because not only is it not touched with emotion. It's just plain dull. Meaning is so important. And we derive value and meaning from God.

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