Imagination in Education

Dear Reader,

As I work my way through Charlotte Mason’s fifth volume, Formation of Character, I have come upon some passages which have to do with children’s imaginations and how they fit into their schooling.

Charlotte’s first point is that children are naturally imaginative and that they play at what interests them. I have happily seen my own children play at things they have picked up from their history. Indeed, Charlotte says that if they do not do this, we should be concerned that they are not taking it in at all:

“Children are born poets, and they dramatise all the life they see about them, after their own hearts, into an endless play. There is no reason why this natural gift should not be pressed into the service of education. Indeed, it might be safe to go further; the child who does not dramatise his lessons, who does not play at Richard and Saladin, who does not voyage with Captain Cook and excavate with Mr. Flinders Petrie, is not learning. The knowledge he gets by heart is not assimilated  and does not become part of himself.” (p. 195)

Now, Charlotte was not opposed to memorization, particularly of poetry and Bible, but I am heartened to see her discount learning by heart as a primary method. I will admit to be often intimidated by those who follow a classical approach to their homeschooling. They seem to cover so much, and their children seem to be able to spout of many facts. But, if Charlotte is correct, these things “learned by heart” are not taken to heart.

Charlotte goes on to say that this playing of their studies is a form of narration:

“Therefore it is well that children should, at any rate, have the outlet of narration, that they should tell the things they know in full detail; and, when the humour takes them,  ‘play’ the persons, act the scenes that interest them in their reading.” (p. 195)

Later in the chapter, Charlotte decries a utilitarian education which focuses on what is profitable and practical and ignores the imagination:

” . . . we have been brought up to believe in what is ‘useful’ in education; it may help us gain a living if we can read and write and cast accounts  . . . What’s the good of having an imagination furnished with pictures that open out in long perspective, and enrich and ennoble life?

It is the old story; utilitarian education is profoundly immoral, in that it defrauds the child of the associations which should give him intellectual atmosphere.” (p.199)

I love it when Charlotte uses strong language! We rob our children, she is saying, when we deprive them of that part of education which relies upon their imagination and which opens up a broad intellectual world to them.

Once again I am confronted with the fact that a Charlotte Mason education is about who our children are and will be, not about how much they know or what careers they will be fit for. Despite how I may sound in this blog, I do not agree with every word Charlotte wrote. But her respect for children as persons and her concern for who they will become rings very true to me. It reminds me of how God deals with us — that He is not interested so much in what we are or in what happens to us as in who we are becoming. He is interested in our sanctification. And if the Puritans are to be believed, then our sanctification is also accomplished through our intellect. Which makes sense to me since our intellect, like all our other faculties, was impaired by the Fall, it also must be redeemed and sanctified.


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