The Fine Art of Standing Aside

Dear Reader,

We are up to volume three! In my continuing series on “things I underlined as I read through Charlotte Mason’s books”, I have finally reached the third volume, School Education (my edition was published in 2008 by Wilder Publications).

Also just in time for the new school year, I come across these admonishments from Charlotte to not overdo the educating:

“Half the teaching one sees and hears is more or less obtrusive. The oral lesson and the lecture, with their accompanying notes, give very little scope for the establishment of relations with great minds and various  minds . . . We study in many ways the art of standing aside.” [p.54]

The formation of relations is the object of education in Charlotte Mason’s view. We cannot have  a relation with a textbook or with a dry lecture. We may have one or two subjects we are experts in or upon which we ourselves have thought much and developed ideas. On these subjects, perhaps it is good that we talk to our children. But none of us will have this relationship to all areas of study. So we cannot pass then all on to our children. But we can select books well, books that are by people with their own ideas and relations. And from these the children can form their own relations. They may not form all the relations we wish. They may not get all the points we would like them to. One cannot force such things. But we must trust the Great Educator that He will ensure that if we provide them with quality materials that they will absorb what they are ready for. Charlotte says:

“We consider education is the science of relations . . .that a human being comes into the world with capacity for many relations; and that we, for our part, have two chief concerns — first, to put him in the way of forming these relations by presenting him the right idea at the right time, and by forming the right habit upon the right idea; and, secondly, by not getting in the way and so preventing the establishment of the very relations we seek to form.” [p.54]

You see, in Charlotte’s understanding, ideas are contagious. They move from mind to mind. So in order to have ideas, we must be in contact with other minds. It is perfectly possible to do this through books and paintings and music. It is possible to do it across the centuries or even the millenia. But it is not possible to do this with textbooks (most of them, at any rate) or works written by committee. In Charlotte’s words:

“Apparently no one has power to beget an idea by himself; it appears to be the progeny of two minds. So-and-so ‘put it into my head,’ we say, and that is the history of all ideas — the most simple and the most profound. But, once begotten, the idea seems to survive indefinitely. It is painted in a picture, written in a book, carved into a chair, or only spoken to someone who speaks it again, who speak it again, who speaks it again, so that it goes on being spoken, for how long? Who knows!  . . . Perhaps we may be allowed this further hypothesis — that, as an idea comes of the contact of two minds, the idea of another is no more than a notion to us until it has undergone a process of generation within us; and for that reason different ideas appeal to different minds . . . ” [p.57]

So you see again that the coming into contact of two minds is of vital importance. Without it no new ideas will be born! Nor will our children absorb and form ideas of their own unless we can put them in contact with other minds and the ideas they contain. So we come back to where we started: the purpose of education is to put our children in contact with the best minds and then to step aside. For we don’t know which ideas will take root in them; their minds  may be very different from our own.

“The art of standing aside to let a child develop relations proper to him is the fine art of education.” [p.54]


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