Should Education be Interesting and How Do We Make it So?

Dear Reader,

As I work my way through Charlotte Mason’s fifth volume, Formation of Character, I am up to a section which deals with whether a child’s education should be interesting to them and if so, how we get them interested in it.

Charlotte begins by lamenting that the National Education of her day offers children “the knowledge they are ‘opposed to,’ and not that which they take to” (p.249). There is nothing new under the sun, is there? Charlotte quotes those who say, and I am sure we can find them easily  as well, that children must learn to plow through their studies, whether they are interesting or not. “‘They must learn to grind, to work against the grain,'” these people say (p.249). And this doesn’t strike us as completely wrong, does it? Surely it is perseverance to continue with one’s studies and make it through and learn what one must even when it seems tedious or not to one’s tastes. I have written in a previous post that there does seem to be a stage of education when Charlotte herself commends the grind, as she calls it.

But in this context, Charlotte says that we cannot force learning in this way. She uses the horse to water analogy; we cannot force children to really learn when they are uninterested any more than we can force a horse to drink. Now the “really” in this sentence is important, because there may be some kind of learning going on. Charlotte says that they will commit facts to what she calls “verbal memory” and be able to recite or reproduce them. This is, of course, what we would call short-term memory, and I am sure we all remember cramming in facts in just such a way for examinations. But these things do not stick with us nor do they change us in any way. They are “untouched by ideas, unwarmed by imagination, mere dead matter, an excretion of the mind” (p.249).  Mind poop, that is what she is calling such facts crammed in. This is not real learning.

And because it is not, the more we force such things upon our children, the more they come to hate their educations. Let’s face it, how many school kids love learning? Not many. And it is the kind of educations we force upon them which are so counter-productive and actually kill any love of learning in them.

Instead of this course, Charlotte recommends that we feed their minds on the ideas which are found in living books. The books part is important to Charlotte. She sees learning as happening much more readily from books than from lectures because “the book is more terse, graphic, satisfying to the mind than the talk of any but very rare people” (p.249).

The second part of this is that we must feed them ideas and not facts:

“We give children a diet of facts, either condensed or diluted, unaware that the mind has really no use for facts uninformed by intelligence. It takes ideas to evoke ideas, intelligence to awaken intelligence . . .” (p.249)

But too often we do not choose the right books. Charlotte blames our choices for a lot of the struggle we face in educating our children:

“The boy really has an immense appetite for knowledge, and when he does not want to learn, it is because he does not get the right books.” (p.249)

I have said many times that in a Charlotte Mason education, we parents and teachers must learn to let go and accept that we cannot force learning. We must trust to the Holy Spirit who is the ultimate source of all wisdom and knowledge. But it is also not true that there is nothing for us to do. Our biggest job is simply to provide the right materials, and Charlotte shows in this chapter how important such choices are.


One response to this post.

  1. I enjoyed your post. I was just considering this topic in light of the recent forum discussions regarding science. “Where science does not teach a child to wonder and admire it has perhaps no educative value,” Charlotte states in ‘A Philosophy of Education.’ A hundred pages later she laments the “sit[ting] down to the dry bones of science” rather than experiencing the admiration and wonder that makes the study of science so important. I hope to keep your words and Charlotte’s in my heart as I plan out our next school year.


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