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Tuesday, July 11, 2017

The Delightfully Casual Element of Nature Study - In Memoriam


Did you know that after Charlotte Mason's death in 1923 there was a tribute written by her students and colleagues? In MemoriamBrandy at Afterthoughts has just made it available to us all in book form with a beautiful cover by local CM mom/artist/graphic designer, Alissa Clark. She also designed the beautiful new AmblesideOnline logo some of you saw at the Heart of AO conference last year.

One of my favorite pictures of Charlotte Mason's practice of nature study is in In Memoriam in a section titled The Nature Walk at the House of Education by A. C. Drury. You can read it online on page 105 at:  http://www.amblesideonline.org/CM/InMemoriamIV.html The House of Education was a teacher training school. If you ever visit the Lake District, you'll want to read her inspiring nature-filled description of the area.


A.C. Drury describes the Nature Notebook used by the students at the House of Education in two ways: it is "the symbol of their knowledge," and "the peculiar privilege of the student."

Isn't that interesting to think of it as a privilege?


Here are some other quotes from her section that made me think about the way we approach nature study.
Miss Mason loved to see what "finds" the students brought back from their expeditions and to hear what birds they had seen or to tell what she had seen.
Out of doors the students learn to look and to watch that they may know creatures and plants by sight as they know friends
The Nature Note Book becomes increasingly valuable when the records of one year and one locality can be compared with another; and a student generally feels that she is making more progress in her second year though she was unconsciously storing up first impressions in the early days of her training.
There is a delightfully casual element in Nature Walks. We simply choose which way to go and then "Nature" does the rest because Ambleside is an unrivalled spot to learn in. We like to be teased when the Nature Walk lingers to watch a dipper or a grey wagtail...
...the fact is that we take whatever comes, and the unexpected almost always happens.

The Rev. Alfred Thornley, who examines the "Seniors"' Nature Note Books, testifies to the freshness and pleasure which this mode of Nature Study secures, and this spontaneous enjoyment was provided by Miss Mason when she taught us to gather the materials for science by studying Nature out of doors for ourselves and adding to our knowledge year after year.
What's interesting to me is how different this sounds from the nature study lesson I watched on the Eve Andersen DVD on nature study. That lesson was much more structured and teacher led. Everyone was told to get a leaf and they all returned together to draw it. Had it changed over the years and become more structured? Is it a difference between teacher training and elementary education?

Here's another quote that struck me:
We get a tremendous stimulus and answers to many of our queries when Mr. Thornley comes for his annual visit. A day spent out of doors with him acquaints us with many kinds of insects, their haunts, their food. We see an astonishing "number of things" in a few hundred yards of wood or of lakeside, and time passes like magic. To arouse wonder and admiration must be one of the teacher's principal aims.
I love this because it shows there were many unanswered questions in the students' minds. "Many of our queries..." They were wondering and had many questions. This confirms an important point made in the PR article "Elementary-Science Teaching" by Mary Everest Boole. Unanswered questions are a necessary part of the process in scientific education. To have a question in mind based on an observation, is more desireable than to be provided with facts that were never asked for.










The child who discovers a paper-thin, outer casing of an insect stuck to a leaf will wonder what it is and care more about the fact that it is a molt when he finds out *after* he spends some time wondering about it. He has time to think about it and roll it around in his mind. He'll likely come up with his own guesses as he tries to figure it out. He may even have a conversation about it with someone else. Contrast to the child who is told what it is before he ever wondered at all. Something in the wanting to know, I believe, causes it to become more personal and memorable. Just like the thing you had to save up for and wait before buying - it somehow became more valuable to us in the waiting and thinking about it.

In Parents and Children Charlotte Mason said it is important that we "offer real seed to the mind of a child, and do not make him a priggish little person able to tell all about it." I love her way with words.

Time in nature naturally (with freshness and pleasure) leads an inquisitive mind to observations. Observations naturally (with spontaneous enjoyment) lead to questions. Questions naturally lead to a desire to know. And this desire, in my opinion, is what Charlotte Mason invested her life trying to convey to us; that it *matters* in educating a child. Remember our favorite quote?
“The question is not, -- how much does the youth know? when he has finished his education -- but how much does he care? and about how many orders of things does he care? In fact, how large is the room in which he finds his feet set? and, therefore, how full is the life he has before him?” 
Do read the full article for yourself and get the book too, she discusses lectures and books and much more. It will give you an idea what a comprehensive understanding of the area nature study provided - how synthetic her knowledge was - and what we might consider incorporating through nature study.

Did you wonder about the images in this post? Here's what they are in order:
- Crystalline Ice Plant - a jeweled plant that grows by the sea.
- Empty aphid caracasses that were inhabited by a parasitic wasp implanted into the healthy aphid.
- A skeleton shrimp, the tiniest, most interesting creature sometimes found on holdfasts that wash up on the shore.
- A praying mantis molt. Look close you can see even its antennae and eyes molt!







Saturday, December 31, 2016

Bandits in our Backyard


A couple years ago we were hiking up by Tucker Wildlife Sanctuary and learned about Flores Peak (pictured above) where the bandit, Juan Flores, wanted for the murder of LA Sheriff James Barton made his daring escape by leaping over its precipice in 1857.

After some digging around I found a book by Hubert H. Bancroft titled, Popular Tribunals Vol. 1, that gave some account of the murder of Sheriff Barton, Juan Flores and his capture and botched hanging. Here are some snippets:
Insecurity of life, and immorality, prevailed to an alarming extent in Los Angeles in the year 1854. The mission natives had retrograded since left to themselves, and continually gambled, drank, and quarrelled with each other; so that in the morning when natives were found dead in the streets the matter was not considered of sufficient importance to require investigation 

It being a dark night they were obliged to wait until early morning when as they were making an advance they saw Juan Flores watching their movements from an overhanging rock. He was beyond the reach of attack and proceeded on farther and higher with his men of whom all but two were on horseback. The mountains in which the Mexicans had taken refuge were almost inaccessible, even on foot, and while the Americans were following they were eluding pursuit by most reckless daring. Juan Flores, Jesus Espinosa, and Leonardo Lopez, on mounted horses, slid down a precipice to a kind of projecting ledge fifty feet below where, abandoning their animals, by the aid of brush growing upon an almost perpendicular wall, they descended five hundred feet. 

What's most fascinating is that much of it happened locally here in Orange County. You can see it for yourself up by Harding Truck Trail and also at Dripping Cave, aka "Robber's Cave", in Aliso & Woods Canyon, which was reportedly used as a hide-out by Juan Flores and his gang.

It didn't take long after looking around for info on Juan Flores that I came across Joaquin Murrieta, a Northern California bandit from around that time whose head was cut off and kept in a jar of whisky along with the hand of one of his gang members named "Three-fingered Jack" and exhibited for years.


JoaquinMurrieta-headflyer-02.jpg



According to Wikipedia, Murrieta was likely the original inspiration for Zorro.

There's even a poem about him in Joaquin Miller's Songs of the Sierras;







This poet himself has somewhat of a story. According to the LA Times, he was born "Cincinnatus Hiner Miller" who took on the name of Joaquin Murietta for marketability:

"He ditched his Indian bride and daughter, got jailed as a horse thief, busted out, shot a sheriff in Northern California. Then he turned up, just a couple of years later, as a judge in southern Oregon. Still largely unknown as a writer, he sailed across the Atlantic and sold himself to London's literati, with the aid of spurs and a sombrero, as the preeminent poet of the American West."

He was apparently a liar criticized by his contemporaries, but the writer of the Times article "Poetry from a Scoundrel's Pen" defends him:

"It's easy to forget that in the 1870s, much of California was a bloody mess of fugitives, liars, land-grabbers and mercenaries. Yet here was Miller, pausing between pillages to rhapsodize about the mountains and decry the effects of mining on the stream water."

In any case, I've ordered Songs of the Sierras and may replace a term of our AO poetry with it. 





Thursday, September 8, 2016

Who wants to read Norms & Nobility with Karen Glass?



What is Classical Education? Is Charlotte Mason Classical? We're all wondering the same thing! Well here's your chance to delve into Norms & Nobility, a "reappraisal of classical education" with Karen Glass, author of Consider This: Charlotte Mason and the Classical Tradition and dive into this discussion yourself. You'll find the discussion happening here on the AmblesideOnline Forum.

Monday, April 11, 2016

Reverence for Life




While we are getting our kids outdoors to experience God's glorious creation, let's remember that, though we've been given dominion over creation (Gen 1:26), we are also called to be good stewards (Gen 2:15). Charlotte Mason never intended nature study to be a careless ramble. In fact, she expected mothers to teach their kids reverence for life:
Is it advisable, then, to teach the children the elements of natural science, of biology, botany, zoology? on the whole, no: the dissection even of a flower is painful to a sensitive child, and, during the first six or eight years of life, I would not teach them any botany which should necessitate the pulling of flowers to bits; much less should they be permitted to injure or destroy any (not noxious) form of animal life. 
Reverence for life, as a wonderful and awful gift, which a ruthless child may destroy but never can restore, is a lesson of first importance to the child:–– 
     "Let knowledge grow from more to more;
     But more of reverence in us dwell." 
The child who sees his mother with reverent touch lift an early snowdrop to her lips, learns a higher lesson than the 'print-books' can teach. Years hence, when the children are old enough to understand that science itself is in a sense sacred and demands some sacrifices, all the 'common information' they have been gathering until then, and the habits of observation they have acquired, will form a capital groundwork for a scientific education. In the meantime, let them consider the lilies of the field and the fowls of the air. ~ Charlotte Mason, vol 1 pg 63

Thursday, March 31, 2016

Education is a Discipline: The Discipline of Life Part 4

In Part 1 we looked at discipline (discipling) as a chief function of parenting.
In Part 2 we looked at mechanical obedience and habits in the early years.
In Part 3 we looked at how authority behaves.

Next we'll look at the nature of the child as we transition from the more "mechanical" end of obedience in the younger years to a more "reasoned" obedience requiring conscious choice.


Mrs. H. Perrin, in a Parent's Review article, once wrote:
Steam and electricity are our servants, because we learned from them their nature, entered into it, and worked in sympathy with it - did not oppose it. The nature of the child can no more be altered by us. We must study, sympathize and conquer by obeying it.
In educating children, Charlotte Mason did just that - she began with their nature and claimed "children are born persons." All of her methods stand on this fundamental principle including her methods of discipline.

For our purposes here, we'll focus on two aspects of the idea that children are born persons: first, we assume that the child already has a capable mind, and second, that child's capable mind feeds and grows upon ideas.

Charlotte Mason trusted the ability of the child's mind, like the stomach already knows how to digest food, she trusted that the child's mind already knew how to digest ideas if they were of the right sort.
[the teacher's] error is rather want of confidence in children. He has not formed a just measure of a child's mind and bores his scholars with much talk about matters which they are able to understand for themselves much better than he does ... This is how any child's mind works, and our concern is not to starve these fertile intelligences. They must have food in great abundance and variety. They know what to do with it well enough and we need not disturb ourselves to provide for the separate exercise of each so-called 'faculty'; for the mind is one and works all together; reason, imagination, reflection, judgment, what you please, are like 'all hands' summoned by the 'heave-ho!' of the boatswain. All swarm on deck for the lading of cargo, that rich and odorous cargo of ideas which the fair vessel of a child's mind is waiting to receive. vol 6 pg 41
The second aspect of the nature of the child Charlotte Mason claimed is that their minds feed on ideas, not just facts. We know this to be true about our children because it is true about us. When we see the idea of heroism through a heroic act or story, something stirs in us and inspires us more than if we had heroism defined and analyzed. The stories in the Book of Marvels catch our imagination and inspire us to adventure and travel in a way that an editor's description of the same lands in a geography textbook never would.
Here we have the right order. That which was born of the spirit, the idea, came first and demanded to confirm and illustrate. (Vol. 6, p. 39)
In other words, children have capable minds that we don't need to talk down to, and when we work with the nature of that capable mind and it becomes lit by an idea - it grows remarkably of its own will.

We see these principles permeate Charlotte Mason's educational methods:

- In nature study, children spend hours outdoors absorbing ideas of creation, growing in curiosity and wonder before ever having a lesson on metamorphosis or seed dispersion. When they do come to their lessons, they are willing because their minds are full of ideas now desiring the knowledge.

- The best literature is read to children from the first, filling them with the ideas of authors and their wonderful words while the analyzing of them is held off until much later when they desire to express themselves and better understand how to do so.

- Written narration begins with children putting their thoughts and ideas on paper freely for some time before they ever learn to outline or write a proper essay.

- In artist and composer study, children look at paintings and hear music, taking in the great ideas within them, before they ever learn the historic context of pointillism or study music theory.

Charlotte Mason understood that children's desires matter - when they care, they will care to know.
The question is not,––how much does the youth know? when he has finished his education––but how much does he care? and about how many orders of things does he care? In fact, how large is the room in which he finds his feet set? and, therefore, how full is the life he has before him? ~Charlotte Mason (Vol. 3, p.170)
So what does all this have to do with reasonable obedience? Well, this: the child will care to do right, when he is inspired by the idea to so. 

In other words, we can yell at him, lecture him, prod him and nag him, but eventually we come face to face with the reality that these things will only take him so far. In fact, over time they can produce the opposite effect.

We want the child to care to do right. We may move a child to do the right thing outwardly, while inwardly they are in full disagreement. This is not our goal; our goal is the inward desire to act rightly.
We who teach should make it clear to ourselves that our aim in education is less conduct than character; conduct may be arrived at, as we have seen, by indirect routes, but it is of value to the world only as it has its source in character. (Vol. 6, p.129)
Charlotte Mason quotes Wordsworth's poem that speaks to what "raises us from the mire" and liberates our hearts from low pursuits:
"...we need
More of ennobling impulse from the past
If for the future aught of good must come."
[from Musings Near Aquapendente, by William Wordsworth]
ennobling impulse...

David Hicks in Norms and Nobility talked about an "ideal type" - the ideal character of man studied and sought after for ages, a pattern of truth. In today's relativistic culture, it is more important than ever that we put our children in touch with man's search of that ideal type and bring them to the knowledge of our great God who displayed the most heroic act of all time, whose holiness, love and grace inspires us to real truth and to glorify Him forever.
The young people of this country are not to be regenerated by economic doctrine or economic history or physical science; they can only be elevated by ideas which act upon the imagination and act upon the character and influence the soul, and it is the function of all good teachers to bring those ideas before them. (Vol. 6, p.126)

Now we must deal with a child of man, who has a natural desire to know the history of his race and of his nation, what men thought in the past and are thinking now; the best thoughts of the best minds taking form as literature, and at its highest as poetry, or, as poetry rendered in the plastic forms of art: as a child of God, whose supreme desire and glory it is to know about and to know his almighty Father: as a person of many parts and passions who must know how to use, care for, and discipline himself, body, mind and soul: as a person of many relationships,––to family, city, church, state, neighbouring states, the world at large: as the inhabitant of a world full of beauty and interest, the features of which he must recognise and know how to name, and a world too, and a universe, whose every function of every part is ordered by laws which he must begin to know.
It is a wide programme founded on the educational rights of man; wide, but we may not say it is impossible nor may we pick and choose and educate him in this direction but not in that. We may not even make choice between science and the 'humanities.' Our part it seems to me is to give a child a vital hold upon as many as possible of those wide relationships proper to him. (Vol. 6, p.157)

Love is like understanding, that grows bright, 
Gazing on many truths;
'tis like they light,
Imagination! which from earth & sky,
And from the depths of human fantasy,
As from a thousand prisms and mirrors,
fills the Universe with glorious beams
(Percy Bysshe Shelley, Epipsychidion)
  
There is never a guarantee that our child will be inspired to good choices and right living because we put him in touch with great ideas, but...
In the morning sow your seed, and at evening withhold not your hand, for you do not know which will prosper, this or that, or whether both alike will be good. ~Ephesians 11:6
For a wide and generous curriculum based on these principles, visit AmblesideOnline.

In Part 5, we'll take a look at helping the the child make use of his own will.