Monday, July 8, 2013

Those first-born affinities

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

Charlotte Mason quotes this more than once, it's a verse from William Wordsworth's poem Prelude describing something I'm not so sure any of us really know how to quantify.

What does she mean by it? She begins her entire section devoted to the task of laying out her curriculum with it in Vol.6, Chapter 10, The Curriculum 1:
"Education is the Science of Relations'; that is, 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."

...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."

What do you make of it? 

She says in Vol. 3"

Children have Affinities and should have Relations.––I cannot stop here to gather any more of the instruction and edification contained in those two great educational books, The Prelude and Præterita.
Have you read these? The latter is by Ruskin. I haven't, but I wonder what inspired Charlotte as she read. What sparked the ideas in her mind? 

It seems to be about first experiences... and "affinity." 
He attaches his being to mother, father, sister, brother, 'nanna,' the man in the street whom he calls 'dada,' cat and dog, spider and fly; earth, air, fire, and water attract him perilously; his eyes covet light and colour, his ears sound, his limbs movement; everything concerns him, and out of everything he gets–– 
"That calm delight 
Which, if I err not, surely must belong 
To those first-born affinities that fit 
Our new existence to existing things, 
And, in our dawn of being, constitute 
The bond of union between life and joy."(The Prelude)
~ Vol. 3, Ch.17, Education is the Science of Relations: We are Educated by Our Intimacies: The Prelude and Præterita, p.182

I think it was more than just first-time experiences CM was talking about. While it does involve them, I think perhaps it went beyond how we come to know a thing to what long-term ideas we form about it, which then forms our knowledge, which then affects our perspective and our very lives. Like the girls in the picture above - they see these wildflowers not as weeds,, but something beautiful to interact with and enjoy.

So many, many people have no ideas about things, no interest, no joy. No joy with wildflowers, no joy with literature, no joy with water and sand, no joy with children, no joy with people, no joy with insects, no joy in His grace.    

The bond of union between life and joy.

Charlotte was passionate about cultivating and not hindering this joy in children through her methods. 

How then?
It is enough for the present if they have shown us in what manner children attach themselves to their proper affinities, given opportunity and liberty. Our part is to drop occasion freely in the way, whether in school or at home. Children should have relations with earth and water, should run and leap, ride and swim, should establish the relation of maker to material in as many kinds as may be; should have dear and intimate relations with persons, through present intercourse, through tale or poem, picture or statue; through flint arrow-head or modern motor-car: beast and bird, herb and tree, they must have familiar acquaintance with. Other peoples and their languages must not be strange to them. Above all they should find that most intimate and highest of all Relationships,––the fulfilment of their being. [bold mine]
Giving opportunity and liberty. Is that on the schedule?
Meanwhile old grandame earth is grieved to find
The playthings, which her love designed for him,
Unthought of: in their woodland beds the flowers
Weep, and the river sides are all forlorn.
Oh! give us once again the wishing-cap
Of Fortunatus, and the invisible coat
Of Jack the Giant-killer, Robin Hood,
And Sabra in the forest with St George!
The child, whose love is here, at least, doth reap
One precious gain, that he forgets himself."'
 ~William Wordsworth, The Prelude
We might do well at times to listen to our children and what they want to stop and look at... the leaf, the bug, the bottle cap on the ground... to play a few more minutes, to sink your feet in the mud, to get sprayed with the water... to read another page, another book, sing another song...

....imagine if we forgot ourselves like Wordsworth says.

It is the children who are right, and we who are wrong; the world is more wonderful and more beautiful than even children think, and yet we would for ever correct them and inform them as to what we believe really is. We substitute facts for that wonder which is the seed of knowledge, and then we are amazed that eager, sweet-faced children grow into dull and indifferent little boys and girls. ~Edith Nesbit, Wings & The Child
Listen to Charlotte...
Our Part, to remove Obstructions and to give Stimulus.––Later, we step in to educate him. In proportion to the range of living relationships we put in his way, will he have wide and vital interests, fulness of joy in living. In proportion as he is made aware of the laws which rule every relationship, will his life be dutiful and serviceable: as he learns that no relation with persons or with things, animate or inanimate, can be maintained without strenuous effort, will he learn the laws of work and the joys of work. Our part is to remove obstructions and to give stimulus and guidance to the child who is trying to get into touch with the universe of things and thoughts which belongs to him.

Our Error.––Our deadly error is to suppose that we are his showman to the universe; and, not only so, but that there is no community at all between child and universe unless such as we choose to set up. We are the people! and if we choose that a village child's education should be confined to the 'three R's,' why, what right has he to ask for more? If life means for him his Saturday night in the ale-house, surely that is not our fault! If our own boys go through school and college and come out without quickening interests, without links to the things that are worth while, we are not sure that it is our fault either. We resent that they should be called 'muddied oafs' because we know them to be fine fellows. So they are, splendid stuff which has not yet arrived at the making! [bold mine] ~Vol. 3, p.188:
You can read deeper into what she means here, courtesy of AmblesideOnline.org:  http://www.amblesideonline.org/CM/vol3complete.html#3_17

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