Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Living Pulsing Thought

It is hard to describe how incredibly satisfying it is when you make a new discovery. When a light of truth comes on as a result of your very own digging - it is nothing less than thrilling.

I recently had just such a discovery.

In YR4, we read both Poor Richard - a biography of Benjamin Franklin and Robinson Crusoe by Daniel DeFoe, side by side in the same first term. And last week, a discussion on the topic of Robinson Crusoe came up in the AO Yahoo Group, where someone asked, "What does CM say about Robinson Crusoe?" to which, Anne White replied with a link to a Parent's Review article titled:

"Robinson Crusoe" in Education by T.G. Rooper dating back to 1903

Defoe in the pillory for pamphleteering and political activities.
1862 line engraving by James Charles Armytage courtesy of Wikipedia

The article by Rooper is a biography of Daniel Defoe followed by some writing on educational philosophy related to Robinson Crusoe. In it, there is a quote by Benjamin Franklin:
I discovered in my father's library an old book, yellow with age, Defoe's Essay on Projects, a book full of novel and illuminating ideas, which had so great an influence upon me that it changed my whole system of philosophy and morality. The chief events of my life and the share which I have taken in the revolution in my country are to a certain extent due to the perusal of the Essay on Projects in my youth.
That Franklin was so influenced by Defoe's writing was fascinating to me and unraveled a chain of thought upon thought in my mind, connecting people, places, practices, books and ideas. I'm sure it is common knowledge to anyone who reads much history, which I am not, being more of the 'just awakening' sort, to me it was a brand new discovery of great consequence to my understanding of many things.

Charlotte understood about this thrill; hers was a cause to preserve this joy of discovery for children.
A child should be brought up to have relations of force with earth and water, should run and ride, swim and skate, lift and carry; should know texture, and work in material; should know by name, and where and how they live at any rate, the things of the earth about him, its birds and beasts and creeping things, its herbs and trees; should be in touch with the literature, art and thought of the past and the present. I do not mean that he should know all these things; but he should feel, when he reads of it in the newspapers, the thrill which stirred the Cretan peasants when the frescoes in the palace of King Minos were disclosed to the labour of their spades. He should feel the thrill, not from mere contiguity, but because he has with the past the relationship of living pulsing thought; and, if blood be thicker than water, thought is more quickening than blood. ~Vol. 3, p.161

living pulsing thought...

Why else would she rant against teachers who practiced otherwise:
The conscientious, ingenious and laborious teachers who produce these 'concentration series' are little aware that each such lesson is an act of lese majesté. The children who are capable of and eager for a wide range of knowledge and literary expression are reduced to inanities; a lifelong ennui is set up; every approach to knowledge suggests avenues for boredom, and the children's minds sicken and perish long before their school-days come to an end. ~Vol. 6, p.116
and rant...
A scheme which throws the whole burden of education on the teacher, which exalts the personality of the teacher as the chief agent in education, which affords ingenious, interesting, and more or less creative work to a vast number of highly intelligent and devoted persons, whose passionate hope is to leave the world a little better than they found it by means of those children whom they have raised to a higher level, must needs make a wide and successful appeal. It appeals equally to Education Committees and school managers. Consider the saving involved in the notion that teachers are compendiums of all knowledge, that they have but, as it were, to turn on the tap and the necessary knowledge flows forth. All responsibility is shifted ... triumphs are brought about by dramatic display, so ingenious, pleasing, fascinating, are the ways in which the teacher chooses to arrive at her point. I say 'her' point because women excel in this kind of teaching, but men do not come far short. What of the children themselves? They, too, are amused and entertained, they enjoy the puzzle-element and greatly enjoy the teacher who lays herself out to attract them. There is no flaw in the practical working of the method while it is being carried out. Later, it gives rise to dismay and anxiety among thoughtful people. ~Vol. 6, p.118
tell us how you really feel Charlotte ;-)

and rant...
I have even known of teachers who have thought well to compose the songs and poems which their children use. Think of it! not even our poets are allowed to interpose between the poor child and the probably mediocre mind of the teacher. The art of standing aside to let a child develop the relations proper to him is the fine art of education... ~Vol. 3, p.67
and rant...
Everything is directed, expected, suggested. No other personality out of book, picture, or song, no, not even that of Nature herself, can get at the children without the mediation of the teacher. No room is left for spontaneity or personal initiation on their part. ~Vol. 1, p.188
and this...
...we feed upon the thoughts of other minds; and thought applied to thought generates thought and we become more thoughtful. No one need invite us to reason, compare, imagine; the mind, like the body, digests its proper food, and it must have the labour of digestion or it ceases to function.

But the children ask for bread and we give them a stone; we give information about objects and events which mind does not attempt to digest but casts out bodily. But let information hang upon a principle, be inspired by an idea, and it is taken with avidity and used in making whatsoever in the spiritual nature stands for tissue in the physical.

"Education," said Lord Haldane, some time ago, "is a matter of the spirit,"––no wiser word has been said on the subject, and yet we persist in applying education from without as a bodily activity or emollient. We begin to see light. No one knoweth the things of a man but the spirit of a man which is in him; therefore, there is no education but self-education, and as soon as a young child begins his education he does so as a student. ~Vol. 6, p.26
and this...
He must generalise, classify, infer, judge, visualise, discriminate, labour in one way or another, with that capable mind of his, until the substance of his book is assimilated or rejected, according as he shall determine; for the determination rests with him and not with his teacher. ~Vol. 3, p.179

As a parent, learning side by side with my children, I find I need to be careful of keeping the learning theirs as well. It is human to want to tell all about everything we've learned and are excited about - and for a CM educator - there is much of that. We are, after all, the teacher and it's our responsibility to teach and now we can do so with such vigor and life because we are so excited about what we are learning through the CM method and we have new eyes to see... But in doing so, might we be robbing them of *their* opportunities for discovery and thrill?

I admit it is not always easy to discern what ought to be pointed out and what ought to be left for their own discovery.

I think in this instance, regarding Franklin and Defoe, I'll practice the 'art of standing aside' and save it for my daughter for another day. Defoe's time in history is still to come in Term 2 and one of her books may mention him yet. Without that, and without a fuller knowledge of the American Revolution, I don't think it would be quite as exciting to her right now.

I am every so grateful again for the AO Curriculum. As I travel through it, the many, many opportunities for the learner to make connections of their own - ones that haven't been pointed out, mapped out and beaten to a bloody pulp - ones that float about you like little seeds waiting to take root - are so richly abundant.

It is this very point that educators miss when they try to find ways to engage children in their education and fail.

Charlotte's advice?
Let them get at the books themselves, and do not let them be flooded with a warm diluent at the lips of their teacher. The teacher's business is to indicate, stimulate, direct and constrain to the acquirement of knowledge, but by no means to be the fountain-head and source of all knowledge in his or her own person. The less parents and teachers talk-in and expound their rations of knowledge and thought to the children they are educating, the better for the children. Peptonised food for a healthy stomach does not tend to a vigorous digestion. Children must be allowed to ruminate, must be left alone with their own thoughts. They will ask for help if they want it. ~Vol. 3, p.162


  1. It's so exciting when one finds a gem buried down in the earth. It becomes one's own discovery, though it may have been unveiled by others time and time again. But to be our gem. That's when it is precious.
    How exciting. I love this post and I may link up to it in the future. You have provided meat for us today, and have dug down deep into the rich stuff. Thanks!

  2. yes!
    to buried gems and defoe and franklin and "just awakening"... oh the glory of it all ;)

    to teacher as cheif agent in education, teacher composed poems (unless she really is a poet! and even then encouraging free access to the greats!)... yes these rants make me smile. :)