Monday, June 21, 2010

Great Recognition

I attended Deani Van Pelt's workshop at the Childlight conference on Charlotte Mason's Great Recognition and its possible implications for education today and have been chewing on it ever since.

Here is a little background on Mason's Great Recognition in case it is new to you:

In 1893, the year following the opening of the House of Education as well as the death of a close friend, Mason takes a 3 month break and visits Florence with Mrs. Firth, an art interpreter. There, studying John Ruskin's exposition of the "Vaulted Book," i.e., the frescoes at the Spanish Chapel attached to the Church of Santa Maria Novella, in Mornings in Florence, she comes upon a Great Recognition. (links courtesy of AmblesideOnline.org)

In her own words, Mason describes this Great Recognition in her Original Homeschooling Series, Volume 2, Chapter 25:

Many Christian people rise a little higher; they conceive that even grammar and arithmetic may in some not very clear way be used for God; but the great recognition, that God the Holy Spirit is Himself, personally, the Imparter of knowledge, the Instructor of youth, the Inspirer of genius, is a conception so far lost to us that we should think it distinctly irreverent to conceive of the divine teaching as co-operating with ours in a child's arithmetic lesson, for example.

But the Florentine mind of the Middle Ages went further than this: it believed, not only that the seven Liberal Arts were fully under the direct outpouring of the Holy Ghost, but that every fruitful idea, every original conception, whether in Euclid, or grammar, or music, was a direct inspiration from the Holy Spirit, without any thought at all as to whether the person so inspired named himself by the name of God, or recognised whence his inspiration came.

and again in Vol. 3, Chapter 9:

This idea of all education springing from and resting upon our relation to Almighty God is one which we have ever laboured to enforce. We take a very distinct stand upon this point. We do not merely give a religious education, because that would seem to imply the possibility of some other education, a secular education, for example. But we hold that all education is divine, that every good gift of knowledge and insight comes from above, that the Lord the Holy Spirit is the supreme educator of mankind, and that the culmination of all education (which may, at the same time, be reached by a little child) is that personal knowledge of and intimacy with God in which our being finds its fullest perfection.

We hold, in fact, that great conception of education held by the medieval Church, as pictured upon the walls of the Spanish chapel in Florence. Here we have represented the descent of the Holy Ghost upon the Twelve, and directly under them, fully under the Illuminating rays, are the noble figures of the seven liberal arts, Grammar, Rhetoric, Logic, Music, Astronomy, Geometry, Arithmetic, and under these again the men who received and expressed, so far as the artist knew, the initial idea in each of these subjects; such men as Pythagoras, Zoroaster, Euclid, whom we might call pagans, but whom the earlier Church recognised as divinely taught and illuminated.

She writes in more detail of her thoughts on the fresco and the noble figures in a Parent's Review article made available by AmblesideOnline here if you'd like to read it:

Looking back, I found I'd written a post about it on the day after Christmas last year, you can read it here - interestingly, I mistakenly assumed the fresco Mason spoke of was the "Descent of the Holy Ghost", which is also used as the header of the Charlotte Mason Education site!

I believe one of the practical implications of this Great Recognition, which seems to harmonize with what Mason says throughout her writing, is that the teacher (we) are not the ultimate source of our Child's education. As much as we may fret over every minutia of what our children 'get' or 'don't get', their learning is in the hands of the Holy Spirit.

We are not the end-all and we do not control our children's learning. Think about it; isn't it true that we could read any amount of living books to them, follow every methodology and yet they still might end up not truly learning or worse, rejecting truth? And hasn't it happened that a child whose parent or teacher was aloof still managed to find truth and somehow manage their own education? Try as we may, no amount of 'doing' on our part produces a guaranteed result.

Mason's Great Recognition makes us, Mothers and Teachers alike, come to terms with the fact that God, not us, is sovereign over our child's education.

It is humbling, and freeing all at once.

We must diligently do our part, and trust the learning and direction of their mind and soul to the infinite wisdom of the Holy Spirit.

And now we are able to see this recognition weaved throughout her philosophy - less lecturing and filtering of ideas and more putting the child in contact with the source; narration instead of asking them to produce the 'right' answers; less fabricated lessons performed by the teacher and more grand conversations; less abridged, filtered, regurgitated twaddle and more substance - the list goes on. A philosophy grounded in scripture.

I think the hardest part for me at times is letting go of my importance in the matter of it all. Hearing from others at the conference that as they get older, I won't be able to keep up with all the reading they do was downright disturbing! I have this terrible desire to want to teach them all I know, or all I learned, or all I'm thinking about it to make sure they learn everything I know. Once not that long ago, during a fantastic talk I was giving my children on some character issue, my daughter plainly asked me to stop talking! That was painful.

But as I relinquish the reigns and come beside them, I find myself enjoying our school time more and more. And resting in the knowledge that the Holy Spirit is intricately involved in the process allows me a peace and a calmness that all is well with their education.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

The Discontented Buttercup

I found this poem in a book I picked up at the Childlight conference for $3 called Readings and Recitations for Juniors by Eleanor O'Grady.

The Discontented Buttercup
by Sarah A. Jewett

Down in a field, one day in June,
The flowers all bloomed together,
Save one, who tried to hide herself,
And drooped, that pleasant weather.

A robin who had soared too high,
And felt a little lazy,
Was resting near a buttercup
Who wished she were a daisy,

For daisies grow so trig and tall;
She always had a passion
For wearing frills about her neck
In just the daisies' fashion.

And buttercups must always be
The same old tiresome color,
While daisies dress in gold and white,
Although their gold is duller.

"Dear robin," said this sad young flower,
"Perhaps you'd not mind trying
To find a nice white frill for me,
Some day, when you are flying?"

"You silly thing!" the robin said;
"I think you must be crazy!
I'd rather be my honest self
Than any made-up daisy.

"You're nicer in your own bright gown;
The little children love you;
Be the best buttercup you can,
And think no flower above you.

"Though swallows leave me out of sight,
We'd better keep our places;
Perhaps the world would all go wrong
With one too many daisies.

"Look bravely up into the sky,
And be content with knowing
That God wished for a buttercup
Just here where you are growing."

I read it to my daughter before bed and it reminds me of some of the times when I'd wished I was a daisy.

When I first started connecting with our Nature Study group almost three years ago, I remember listening in to some of the conversations the women were having and feeling so incredibly ignorant and uneducated. They talked about books for their children I'd never heard of, theology I didn't understand, wisdom in parenting I hadn't known. It seemed to me that experience and knowledge dripped from every word they spoke. Oh how I wished to be a daisy like that - smart, well spoken, knowledgeable, beautiful, wise, comfortable in their own skin, handling their children with skill, etc., etc. Unable to participate in much of their conversation, I stood mostly silent, feeling... well, 'less than'.

It had nothing to do with their attitude towards me (which was completely welcoming and kind). It was my own feelings of insecurity and that awful thing we women sometimes do of comparing our internal worst, with their exterior best.

You know... where we take all our shortcomings and the horrible, sinful, selfish, ugliness we know of ourselves and stack that up alongside the beautiful, lovely, wonderful, very best put forth by others in public, sprinkled with a side of perfection attributed to them a la our ridiculous imaginations.

Well, it's skewed thinking at best. And so destructive.

I think I went home grumpy and looked at my kids thinking, "Poor things, they'll never have much of an education with me as their Teacher."

But the reality, which I've had to remind myself of time and again when I find myself feeling 'less-than', is that I am where God intends me to be. He is sovereign over all things and for me to think less of myself or complain about my situation is to complain against God Himself and presume that I know better than Him in all his infinite wisdom.

God uses our circumstances, good and bad, to shape, mold, and sanctify us into the image of Christ. All things are in His time, in His way, for His glory - not our own. So like the buttercup, we ought to look "bravely up into the sky and be content in knowing" that God wished for a you just here where you are!

Sunday, June 13, 2010


This was my first year attending the Childlight Conference. It was an amazing experience and there is much to tell, but for this post, I must tell you some of what Carroll Smith said on Thursday morning in discussing A Framework for a Mason Curriculum. I am hoping they will make the mp3 available immediately so you can listen to his talk for yourself - it gave voice to many truths about our children and education and I really wish more people could have heard it.

Gardner Webb University Campus, location of Childlight Conference 2010

As a side note, as you may or may not know, Childlight has a team of people working on developing a Charlotte Mason curriculum. While many of us are anxious to learn more about this curriculum, my understanding is that there are many considerations in coming up with it because it is intended for use as a Charter School curriculum, which, as you can imagine, has its implications. As Smith said, "You can not put Mason in an old box, it is like putting new wine in an old wine skin." And therein, I believe, lies some of the challenge. As a homeschooler, I am immensely grateful for the freedom I am afforded in implementing a CM education outside the classroom.

But back to my intended purpose for this post; I want to tell you about an "awakening" of sorts I had myself as I read through my notes from Smith's talk on the plane ride home. He started by reading this section from the preface to Mason's volume 6:

It would seem a far cry from Undine [read Undine online] to a 'liberal education' but there is a point of contact between the two; a soul awoke within a water-sprite at the touch of love; so, I have to tell of the awakening of a 'general soul' at the touch of knowledge. (Text and links from AO)

She's saying that, similar to Undine (a character in a story you may or may not be familiar with, see the link above), whose soul awoke at the touch of love, so Mason has to tell us of the awakening of a 'general soul' at the touch of knowledge. She is, of course, speaking of the soul of children she has herself observed awakened at the touch of knowledge through a CM education.

...It may be that the souls of all children are waiting for the call of knowledge to awaken them to delightful livi

This is where we begin in a CM education. We begin with the child, the learner, in mind. An 'awakening', defined by Smith as: "to become fully aware, conscious of, alive to." We awaken them to truth and knowledge. Contrast that to the public school or other types of education we know of where the material to be learned (the three Rs, dates and facts, etc.) is the starting point.

Begin with the nature of the child in mind - seems completely obvious doesn't it? The problem, Smith says, is that we have been so programmed with a materialistic view that even parents simply can not imagine education any other way.

It is why Mason's ideas might at times be looked upon as radical.

So the purpose of education, Smith says is a turning of the mind toward truth; to awaken our children to the knowledge of God, the knowledge of man, the knowledge of the universe.

Contrast that with the idea of 'covering all the material' or making sure we 'get it all in'.

We begin with the child, the learner, a living organic soul, created in the image of God. Hungry to learn from inception, awakening to all that is around them. There is the physical aspect of a child, and the spiritual (speaking here not of the religious, but the non-physical: emotions, ideas, etc.). The physical and the spiritual can not be divorced, the child must be seen as a whole.

Smith gave the example of water. Water is H2O and has three physical states: water, solid, and vapor. And yet water is so much more. It is more in our relationship with it: it pulls us in the current of an ocean wave, it cleans us after we get dirty from play, we see how it revives our wilted plants in the garden, we feel its presence in the humid air, or in the early morning grass. Smith particularly liked how refreshing it is in an ice cold glass of Southern tea.

Everything in the physical world has its spiritual component and it is this consideration that is one of the things that differentiates a CM education. Physical things matter not only in and of themselves but also in our relation to them.

The last point in Mason's 'Short Synopsis', also in the preface to Vol.6 states:

20. We allow no separation to grow up between the intellectual and 'spiritual' life of children, but teach them that the Divine Spirit has constant access to their spirits, and is their Continual Helper in all the interests, duties and joys of life.

So when we teach Phonics, the goal is not to get them to learn their ABC's for the sake of learning them, it is for the sake of meaning making. So they can make meaning themselves and relate with others who have made meaning with their words.

And nature study is not to get the kids to be able to learn and classify every order of thing, but to begin a love relationship between the child and nature as a way to awaken the child to the universe.

And so Smith rightly states that a CM curriculum is beyond the walls of a school room.
And it is the breadth and method of a CM education that provides for engagement.

There is so much more he said, and I'm sure I'm butchering and inaccurately filtering some of what he did say so please do contact Childlight to tell them you want to hear this talk asap. It is full of truth and good things for us all to understand in implementing a CM education.

Interestingly enough, when I spoke with him briefly afterward, he said he'd been studying Mason for years and had read those words before, but this time, there they were plainly, right in the preface, and he hadn't seen it until now... isn't that just how it often is? A testament that our awakening truly is guided by the Divine spirit!

Monday, June 7, 2010

Insect Field Observations

Do you get that thrill when you identify something new to you? Or something you have seen countless times but never had a name or an idea about it? I do.

Our neighbor found this little bug on her back.

My five year old helped me figure out what it was with our Kaufman Field Guide to Insects of North America. We narrowed it down to the leafhopper category. It looked like a lot of other insects at first, but had no identifiable antennae. Its head was somewhat triangular, like a little rattlesnake, and it had reddish spots along its lateral sides and a yellow underbelly. Once we narrowed it to leafhopper from the Kaufman guide, we googled leafhopper and California hoping to narrow it down.

Eventually we found it here at http://www.bugguide.net/. It is a Smoketree Sharpshooter - Homalodisca liturata. We found out that it is a pest to vineyards, oleander, and citrus trees. It feeds on the xylem of the plant resulting in scorched leaves and bacteria in the plant leading to its death. Now we know.

Jen just identified two insects we saw at Gum Grove in Seal Beach.

The diabolical ironclad beetle (what a great name!) to the left of the little eucalyptus tortoise beetle on the right. The tortoise beetle is what eats the semicircular holes in the eucalyptus leaves. Another pest.

The ironclad beetle eats dead wood and plays dead like this.

We tend to notice things more when we draw them and when we attempt to identify them. Here's the boys' nature journal from the outing:

Another favorite site for identifying insects is http://www.whatsthatbug.com/.

We've been reading a few nature study books on insectsThe Insect Folk by Margaret Warner Morley, Knowing Insects through Stories by Floyd Bralliar, Fabre's Book of Insects by Jean-Henri Fabre. And The Handbook of Nature Study by Comstock often has insight not found elsewhere.

What about you? Do you have favorite field guides or nature study books for insects?

Friday, June 4, 2010

From the Library

I found this lovely poem today in an old copy of "Favorite Poems of Emily Dickinson". I came across it at the library in the used books they were selling - along with Black Beauty, Stone Soup, and Famous Poets for Young People (which my daughter said "Pleeease can we get it?" {sigh of pure joy in a CM mother's heart!}).

Interestingly enough, the poem is titled "In a library" and it spoke so much to me about CM's belief that children are to be put in touch with ideas, directly from the source. I just love how she personifies him in such an intimate way.

I'll share it with you so you can enjoy it with me.

In a Library
by Emily Dickinson

A precious, mouldering pleasure 't is
To meet an antique book,
In just the dress his century wore;
A privilege, I think,

His venerable hand to take,
And warming in our own,
A passage back, or two, to make
To times when he was young.

His quaint opinions to inspect,
His knowledge to unfold
On what concerns our mutual mind,
The literature of old;

What interested scholars most,
What competitions ran
When Plato was a certainty,
And Sophocles a man;

When Sappho was a living girl,
And Beatrice wore
The gown that Dante deified,
Facts, centuries before,

He traverses familiar,
As one should come to town
And tell you all your dreams were true:
He lived where dreams were sown.

His presence is enchantment,
You beg him not to go;
Old volumes shake their vellum heads
And tantalize, just so.