Saturday, March 6, 2010

We Undervalue Children

One of the basic tenets of a Charlotte Mason Education is that "Children are born persons."

What does that mean; that a child is born a person?

While I won't assume to understand what CM meant by that completely, as a CM homeschooling mom, part of its meaning is becoming more and more apparent to me.

In Vol. 3, p. 171 CM writes:

The fact is, we undervalue children. The notion that an infant is a huge oyster, who by slow degrees, and more and more, develops into that splendid intellectual and moral being, a full-grown man or woman, has been impressed upon us so much of late years that we believe intellectual spoon-meat to be the only food for what we are pleased to call 'little minds.'

...our grandfathers and grandmothers recognised children as reasonable beings, persons of mind and conscience like themselves; but, needing their guidance and control, as having neither knowledge nor experience. Witness the queer old children's books which have come down to us; these addressed children as, before all things, reasonable, intelligent, and responsible persons. This is the note of home-life in the last generation. So soon as the baby realised his surroundings, he found himself morally and intellectually responsible.

Children as they are.––And children have not altered. This is how we find them––with intelligence more acute, logic more keen, observing powers more alert, moral sensibilities more quick, love and faith and hope more abounding; in fact, in all points like as we are, only more so; but absolutely ignorant of the world and its belongings, of us and our ways, and, above all, of how to control and direct and manifest the infinite possibilities with which they are born.

Have you seen this? This undervaluing of children? This 'intellectual-spoon meat' for 'little minds'?

It's everywhere...

Toys, crafts, foods, menus, toiletries, clothes, even Sunday school handouts ooze it. All gleaming with fluorescent colors and glitter, emblazoned with the latest animated TV characters. Most, lacking in substance, quality and actual usefulness.

I see it in the conduct of educators, rangers, librarians, volunteers, parents. Talking louder, slower, CLEARER with wide eyes and fake smiles in a patronizing way - similar to how people begin talking to seniors when their hearing begins to go. Around here, we also get a lot of adults trying to be 'cool' and 'on the level' with the kids. "Whas happenin' dude!" "Don't call me Mr! It's Joe"

Books - abridged, adapted, re-written, made easier and shorter. Simplifying, dumbing down. Nothing offends me more than a Peter Rabbit book with cartoon pictures replacing the originals, or Disney versions of Winnie-the-Pooh.

I see parents shoving their children off, away from the cooking, cleaning, shopping, fixing, everything; treating them as incapable of helping or contributing, unable to add any value anywhere in the home, unable to take part in any 'real' discussions, set before the boob tube to be 'managed'... how sad.

Where does this offensive idea come from that children are so limited, shallow, incapable?

Charlotte Mason's idea that children are born persons, is truly revolutionary in our society today. Okay, maybe not everywhere, but in Southern California, where we are, it certainly is :)

One of my favorite authors lately is Edith Nesbit. Her writing is so clever and interesting for children. She writes the sort of books that are food to nourish the mind (how's that for a little CM-ism?) Actually, she might possibly have been categorized as 'idle entertainment' in CM's time, nevertheless, she is someone who treats children as persons.

To show you what I mean, here are some snippets from her writing in the chapter "Uncle James" in The Dragon Book, a story about a princess in a far away land called 'Rotundia'. Just listen to how she speaks to the children:

Now that you have read as far as this you know, of course, that the kingdom of Rotundia was a very remarkable place; and if you are a thoughtful child - as of course you are - you will not need me to tell you what was the most remarkable thing about it. But in case you are not a thoughtful child - and it is just possible of course that you are not - I will tell you at once what that most remarkable thing was. All the animals were the wrong sizes!

Now you will remember that I told you there was one wicked person in Rotundia, and I cannot conceal from you any longer that this Complete Bad was the princess's uncle James. Magicians are always bad, as you know from your fairy books, and some uncles are bad as you see by the Babes in the Wood, or the Norfolk Tragedy, and one James at least was bad, as you have learned from your English history. And when anyone is a magician, and is also an uncle, and is named James as well, you need not expect anything nice from him. He is Threefold Complete Bad - and he will come to no good.
(This was especially fun since we had just read about King James in Our Island Story!)

Because you see the princess and the gardener's son were so fond of each other they could not help being happy - and besides, they had an elephant of their very own to ride on. If that is not enough to make people happy, I should like to know what is. Though, of course, I know there are people who could not be happy unless they had a whale to sail on, and perhaps not even then. But they are greedy, grasping people, the kind who would take four helps of pudding, as likely not...

Whether you enjoy Nesbit or not, CM's idea that children are born persons is, I believe, foundational to educating them, in so many ways. I would even go so far to say that it is also a clue to finding the answer to the many issues facing education in our country today. But... I'll save that rant for another day :)

For now, with these three very special persons, I thank the Lord for this opportunity to implement CM's ideas in our homeschool.

1 comment:

  1. I agree, it is the clue to solving the problem of eduation in America. They need to stop teaching to the test and trying to fill up little buckets with dry as dust facts. I find it so sad that an 8 year boy in public school, who does not like the book selections in his classroom, cannot choose another book (that his Mom suggests) because the teacher cannot test him on other books! THAT is the problem. No living books to inspire the child... Oh, how I could go on. =)