Tuesday, 22 May 2018

Formation of Character by Charlotte Mason: Parts 1 & 2

The Formation of Character by Charlotte Mason has been one of my slow cooker reads over the past couple of years and I’ve finally finished it! The book contains studies related to character formation in children and consists of four parts plus an appendix. The first two parts took me probably twice as long to read as the rest of the book but I was also reading a couple of other educational books that required a bit of brain. Since it’s been so long since I first started the book, I’m going to concentrate more on the second half, although I do have another reason for that which I’ll get to later.

So what do we mean when we talk about character formation?

The word 'character' comes from a Greek verb meaning 'to scrape, cut, or engrave.' Noah Webster's 1828 dictionary expresses it as:

'The peculiar qualities, impressed by nature or habit on a person, which distinguishes him from others; these constitute real character, and the qualities which he is supposed to possess, constitute his estimated character, or reputation. Hence we say, a character is not formed, when the person has not aquired stable and distinctive qualities.'

Charlotte Mason described it this way:

'...character is original disposition, modified, directed, expanded by education, by circumstances; later, by self-control and self-culture; above all, by the supreme agency of the Holy Spirit, even when that agency is little suspected and as little solicited...
...character is not the outcome of a formative educational process; but inherent tendencies are played upon, more or less incidentally, and the outcome is character.'

This reminds me of the verse in Ecclesiastes 11 about sowing seeds - the sower doesn't know whether the seeds he sows will all grow well or whether one lot will do better than the other.

Sow a habit, reap a character...
 The Sower by Jean-Francois Millet, 1850

Part 1 - this section contains short studies that show ways to help a child get rid of annoying faults: a boy with a quick temper; Kitty, the girl who was flighty and couldn’t keep her attention on anything for very long; the sullen child, the moody older girl who found the key to gaining victory over her inherent disposition.

'...youth does not last; and the poor girl who began as a butterfly ends up as a grub, tied to the earth by the duties she never learnt how to fulfil.'

Charlotte Mason speaks a word of wisdom to parents, especially to those who are not naturally demonstrative, pointing out that older children are usually taught to give place to the younger ones resulting in a lack of affection being extended to those children who are past the cute stage. Toddlers are in your face affectionate and just the right size for a cuddle. Older kids and teenagers less so!

'Actions do not speak louder than words to a young heart; he must feel it in your touch, see it in your eye, hear it in your tones, or you will never convince child or boy that you love him, though you labour day and night for his good and his pleasure...'

She observed that young people are love hungry. They will sell their souls for love and we see the results of that all around us. I think this is definitely something to consider but since she wrote these words there have been a couple of generations where the doctrine of self-esteem has been pushed and I think this has skewed our ability to address this issue properly.
In his book, ‘Psychological Seduction,’ published in 1983, William Kirk Kilpatrick writes:

The philosophy of self-esteem is everywhere. One would think that by now it would have had time to take effect. Yet depression is rampant. So is suicide. Adolescent suicide is up almost 300 percent over the last twenty-five years. Suicide among children- at one time a rare phenomenon - is on the rise. The philosophy of self-esteem doesn’t cause these problems, but it doesn’t seem to prevent them either. “I arm you with the sword of self-esteem,” says the psychological society to its children. “It will serve you well in battle.” But it is not a good weapon, and our enemies are not so easily slain.”

I’ve noticed with my own children that adults often say things like, “You're awesome,” or “You’re amazing!” to them when all they’ve done is something they should have done, or something that didn’t really inconvenience them much. I don't imagine that this type of treatment is what Charlotte Mason had in mind. A simple “thank you” or “That was kind/generous/helpful...of you,” would have been a more appropriate response. Gushing praise won't satisfy this hunger because it is devoid of substance.

'The boy who knows that his father and his mother love him with measureless patience in his faults, and love him out of them, is not slow to perceive, receive, and understand the dealings of the higher Love.'

Part II - this section is titled ‘Parents in Council’ and relates a conversation between a group of parents about what education should look like. This Fathers' & Mothers' Club takes a serious look at what education is and the responsibilities required of parents.
These discussions in Part II were the spark that led to the formation of the Parent’s National Education Review (PNEU). I think there were only about five couples present at that meeting but what a chain of action they set in motion!
There is also a short piece on choosing holiday destinations, some thoughts on the nature of the child - physiology, or ‘the science of life;’ and the musings of a schoolmaster.
Most of the chapters may be read independently although the parental discussion in Chapter I is later picked up again in Chapter V imagining the situation‘a hundred years after.’

Few things could be more disastrous (as, alas, few are more imminent) than a sudden break with the traditions of the past; wherefore, let us gently knit the bonds that bind us to the generation all too rapidly...
It is well that we gather up, with tender reverence, such fragments of their insight and experience as come in our way; for we would fain, each, be as an householder, bringing forth out of his treasures things new and old.

To be continued... 

Monday, 14 May 2018

The War of the Worlds by H.G. Wells

‘No one would have believed in the last years of the nineteenth century that this world was being watched keenly and closely by intelligences greater than man’s and yet as mortal as his own; that as men busied themselves about their various concerns they were scrutinised and studied, perhaps almost as narrowly as a man with a microscope might scrutinise the transient creatures that swarm and multiply in a drop of water.’

So H.G. Wells began in what was to be the first modern science fiction novel. The planet Mars had been cooling; its oceans had shrunk and the planet was in the last stages of exhaustion. 
‘The immediate pressure of necessity has brightened their intellects, enlarged their powers, and hardened heir hearts.’

As the Martians looked upon the earth with their advanced instruments, they saw what they regarded as inferior creatures, as we would look upon ants. They saw a planet that could offer them an escape from their own doomed orb and they prepared for war.
The anonymous narrator of The War of the Worlds witnesses the first arrival of the Martians in Britain and documents their actions and his experiences of their invasion.

 Martian Emerges, Henrique Alvim Corrêa, 1906

Reading The War of the Worlds in 2018, it does come across as sensational and dated at times, but to readers living in the 19th Century before the invention of flight, let alone space travel, it would have been an entirely different experience; one which would have been quite confronting and perhaps terrifying to some.

It’s been said that The War of the Worlds is a critique of imperialism; a political allegory of the climate prior to World War I, more than a work of science fiction. Wells made comments throughout the book that seemed to reflect this idea. It took some time after the Martians came for humans to move from complacency to action which suggests a sense of superiority or hubris, and even then the action wasn’t a collective response but every man to himself, more or less.

'For that moment I touched an emotion beyond the common range of men, yet one that the poor brutes we dominate know only too well...I felt the first inkling of a thing that grew quite presently clear in my mind, that oppressed me for many days, a sense of dethronement, a persuasion that I was no longer a master, but an animal among the animals, under the Martian heel. With us it would be as with them, to lurk and watch, to run and hide; the fear and empire of man had passed away.'

Abandoned London, Henrique Alvim Corrêa

'And before we judge of them too harshly we must remember what ruthless and utter destruction our own species has wrought, not only upon animals, such as the vanished bison and the dodo, but upon its inferior races. The Tasmanians, in spite of their human likeness, were entirely swept out of existence in a war of extermination waged by European immigrants, in the space of fifty years.'

Wells described a Martian as possessing a tentacled brain. They were genderless, with no digestive system, and received nourishment by drinking the blood of humans while they were still alive...
Their behaviour towards the people on the earth was compared to that between humans and ants.

 Martian Viewing Drunken Crowd, Henrique Alvim Corrêa

"This isn't a war," said the artilleryman. "It never was a war, any more than there's war between man and ants."

'By ten o’clock the police organisation, and by midday even the railway organisations, were losing coherency, losing shape and efficiency, guttering, softening, running at last in that swift liquefaction of the social body.'

The War of the Worlds is a work of literature, beautifully written by a skilled wordsmith, so I found much to enjoy in my reading of it. However, I wasn’t so enamoured by the whole Martian thing and a few times I felt like skipping some parts of the book...I didn't, and preferred the latter part of the book much more than the earlier parts.

The book is scheduled as a free read in Ambleside Online Year 10. I think it’s a good fit there and would appeal to anyone who likes the science fiction genre. I much prefer dystopian fiction but I possibly would have enjoyed this book more if I’d read it when I was going through a science fiction stage in my late teens.

This book is part of my 2018 TBR reading challenge

Monday, 7 May 2018

What does a Charlotte Mason homeschool day look like?

We have a fairly similar schedule each day up until about lunch time. Afternoons are fairly busy these days starting with a cello lesson on Monday and ballet in the evening; swimming three times a week (Tuesday, Thursday afternoons & Saturday morning) & orchestra rehearsal on a Wednesday. Last Thursday I decided I needed to carve out some time to get Moozle started on a project. I’ve been encouraging her to do some patchwork & although she has done some in the past it’s been English Paper Piecing, which I enjoy, but it’s too slow for her. I think when you want children to develop a love for something you need to provide a bit of incentive and when it comes to instilling some enthusiasm in attempting a patchwork project, a hexie quilt that takes you a decade to complete just doesn’t do it.

So this is how the modified day went...a bit like a production line:

•Devotional reading - Bible & A.W. Tozer

•Moozle selected her scraps for a quilt the day before & now we cut the pieces to size. I mostly did this because she hasn’t used the rotary cutter much. We tried different arrangements - I left the choice of fabric up to her & just shut my mouth because our tastes are very different.

•Break from quilt to do Maths

•Ironed fabric & set up sewing machine. It’s been a while since she’s used it so I gave a quick overview & she had a practice sewing 1/4 “ seams.

•Break to do a poetry lesson on ‘anapest’

•Back to the sewing machine to start sewing strips of fabric together for her quilt. I ironed the seams after she’d joined the strips while she continued sewing.

•Lunch - folk song, hymn, & composer


•Back to the stitching

•Short break to get changed & gather swimming gear

•Sewing until the last minute before she has to leave for the pool. This was how much she got done up till then:

I realised later that she hadn’t done her cello practice, which she generally does every day, plus we didn’t get anything else done besides the list above, but she obviously enjoyed her disrupted day of sewing and when we got home after over two hours of swimming, she continued sewing her pieces together.

I’ve been wanting to do this with her for awhile but kept putting it off because I knew other work wouldn’t get done. It’s always slow work when you first start teaching a skill but it’s great to see a child become confident in an area & feel like they’ve put an effort in & have tangible results.

The next day we took some time in the afternoon to sew the rows together & cut out a border and sew it to each side of the quilt. Here is the completed quilt top ready to be sandwiched together with batting and backing & then I'll be showing her how to quilt:

She's been thrilled to have got this far. I think all the years of seeing me working on hand sewn projects and taking forever to get them finished had put her off attempting a quilt but now that she sees how quickly you can make something if you use a machine, she is very enthusiastic. In fact she's already talking about making a quilt for one of her brothers who requested she sew one for him.

In The Hidden Art of Homemaking, Edith Schaeffer defines 'Hidden Art' as the art found in the 'minor' areas of life, that of the everyday, as opposed to that found in a career or a profession. She makes the point that all art requires constant discipline, time and energy. The use of our time in developing 'Hidden Art' requires balance, and we are always having to neglect one thing in order to give preference to something else.
These fine arts are often the first things to be neglected or omitted in the homeschooling life when the schedule gets busy, but carving out some time every now & again to concentrate on teaching a skill is important. It's also less frustrating in the long run because you can concentrate on teaching something well.