Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Phantom Holes

Have you ever worried about the phantom "holes" in your child's education? You know, the important lessons, connections and facts that we might miss by not using the nationally sanctioned public school curriculum? I especially worried about these "holes" when I realized my six year old didn't know the days of the week in the right order! What else was I missing? What horrible damage was I doing to my child?

The feeling only intensified when I talked to people entrenched in the educational system. There was always worry, concern and anxiety surrounding their talk of education and the importance of consulting with "experts" on all matters. It's the same tone I used to get from my teachers in public school: Sure, you have great ideas and thoughts, but these things are decided and determined by the experts, and really it is above your head, you only need comply and acquiesce to get along well here and get ahead in life. Just follow the system and everything will be just great.

Ugh! Makes me want to grab my kids and run for the hills.

But what of that seed of concern they planted in my mind? What of the phantom holes? Are they really a concern?

Here are points 9-12 in Charlotte Mason's 20 Principles:

9. We hold that the child's mind is no mere sac to hold ideas; but is rather, if the figure may be allowed, a spiritual organism, with an appetite for all knowledge. This is its proper diet, with which it is prepared to deal; and which it can digest and assimilate as the body does foodstuffs.

10. Such a doctrine as e.g. the Herbartian, that the mind is a receptacle, lays the stress of education (the preparation of knowledge in enticing morsels duly ordered) upon the teacher. Children taught on this principle are in danger of receiving much teaching with little knowledge; and the teacher's axiom is,' what a child learns matters less than how he learns it."

11. But we, believing that the normal child has powers of mind which fit him to deal with all knowledge proper to him, give him a full and generous curriculum; taking care only that all knowledge offered him is vital, that is, that facts are not presented without their informing ideas. Out of this conception comes our principle that,––

12. "Education is the Science of Relations"; that is, that a child has natural relations with a vast number of things and thoughts: so we train him upon physical exercises, nature lore, handicrafts, science and art, and upon many living books, for we know that our business is not to teach him all about anything, but to help him to make valid as many as may be of––

"Those first-born affinities
"That fit our new existence to existing things."

This line from point 10 really sticks out to me: "Children taught on this principle are in danger of receiving much teaching with little knowledge"

What do I want for my children? Do I want my child to be "covered', in other words, no phantom holes? Or do I want my child to know how to think?

I'll tell you a story to answer that one.

I read somewhere that Henry Ford once filed a libel suit against a newspaper that had called him ignorant and uneducated. After being embarrassingly questioned on textbook facts like the fundamental principles of government, the dates of the Revolutionary War, etc. Ford grew tired of this line of questioning. He explained that if he wanted answers to those questions he could summon any number of men who could answer them by simply pushing a button on his desk. He then said, "Now will you kindly tell my why I should clutter up my mind with general knowledge for the purpose of being able to answer questions when I have men around me who can supply any knowledge I require?"

I guess my question is, in this day and age when any and all information is readily available at our fingertips, does it really matter if we miss a thing or two? We're not talking about the three R's here - that's covered. And obviously I'm not talking about specific conditions that would need outside expertise like dyslexia, autism, etc. What I mean is, won't a child, with your help, or the help of another, be able to figure out the days of the week when they become necessary to her? If we can't answer yes to that, there's a problem.

So, back to the question, what do I want for my children?

I think I'm opting for a child who knows how to think for him/herself. One who has been given the chance to make connections on their own, whose desire to learn hasn't been squelched, who has feasted on a banquet of living ideas, not stuffed from without on what a panel of so-called-experts, who don't know my child, who I'm almost certain I don't see eye-to-eye with, who are more concerned about a politically correct and socially acceptable curriculum than they are about valuable ideas for my child, has decided was good education!

Charlotte Mason wasn't perfect, she made mistakes, and she definitely had some strange ideas about some things, but she was really on to something big. Her principles of education are much greater than her. In my opinion, they feed the soul of the child in its right way. She knew children and she knew they were "persons". And for me, I don't need to go any further than my own home to see that truth clearly.

I just ran into an article on Ambleside about this same issue here: http://www.amblesideonline.org/Gaps.shtml
Great insight!


  1. What a great post Naomi. I have felt the same way at varoius times. I remember when James was just 3, all his friends were going to preschool and I felt very defensive about keeping him home. We were at our Mommy and Me class and I noticed a few kids were much better at using scissors than James. "Oh no!" I thought. "Maybe he isn't going to know how to use scissors well. I haven't taught him that yet." We spent the next week or so doing a lot of cutting. He figured it out and now he cuts like a champ.
    This scenario has happened time and again. I notice something I am missing, I cover it and they pick it up in a very short time. Just the other day James figured out the concept of a food chain by looking at a picture of it in a book. We talked about it for a bit and then he understood it. It din't take a unit study, or lots of posters or countless books. I think that is a big difference between our method of schooling and traditional methods. A lot of emphasis is placed on the basic material, the stuff that is on the tests. Whereas I feel like I can teach my kids a song about the days of the week and we've got it covered.

    This comment is crazy long. Maybe I should have written my own post! Oh, and I love that picture too.

  2. So very very true. I also opt for my children to be able to think for themselves, be curious about the world, and know how to find out what they want to learn.

    AF Wife

  3. This is excellent!

    It is so important that we teach our children the skills they need to learn for themselves! They need to know how to think, not merely what to think.
    Once our children are equipped with the knowledge of God and a knowledge of how to read, write, reason, think for themselves, and evaluate ideas, they can learn just about anything without ever stepping foot inside a "classroom".

    Blessings to You!