Avoid this Mistake when Teaching

The Hiding Place, by Corrie Ten Boom was the first living book I vividly remember reading. I was about eight or nine years old and I stumbled upon it in our basement while searching for yarn or something in the many random bins we had down there. I’m sure I read books previous to this one, or was read to by one of my teachers but I just don’t remember. However I will NEVER forget the incredible story and life of Corrie Ten Boom as she prays that the guards would pass over her as she walked nearly naked with a Bible around her neck while in the concentration camp. I can even see myself in the basement of the home I grew up in, simply devouring that book.

This is what came to mind when I read this passage from Charlotte Mason’s Philosophy of Education (Vol 6), Book II, pages 237-239: keep in mind- potency means the power of something to influence, or to make an impression.

Now Potency, not property, is the characteristic of mind. A child is able to deal with much knowledge, but he possesses none worth speaking of; yet we set to work to give him that potency which he already possesses rather than the knowledge which he lacks; we train his reason, cultivate his judgement, exercise this and the other faculty, which we have no more to do with than with the digestive processes of a healthy child…(they are) keen about games but dead to things of the mind, due to the processes carried out in our schools, to our plausible and pleasant ways of picturing, eliciting, demonstrating, illustrating, summarizing, doing all those things for children which they are born with the potency to do for themselves. No doubt we do give intellectual food, but too little of it; let us have courage and we shall be surprised, as we are now and then, at the amount of intellectual strong meat almost any child will take at a meal and digest at his leisure.

Amen, Amen, Amen! I think we fall into this trap over and over again, of working so hard to chew that intellectual food FOR them rather than trusting and knowing they are capable thinkers and it is our role to guide them in THAT (thinking and knowing) through narration and quality literature.

She goes on to say that the first thing for us to do is:

Get a just perception of what I may call the relativity of knowledge and the mind. The mind receives knowledge, not in order that is may know, but in order that it may grow, in breadth, in sound judgement and magnanimity; but in order to grow, it must know.

If you are looking for an incredible book to help you with the Art of Narration, I would highly recommend Know + Tell by Karen Glass. Through narration, and we know this for ourselves too, that it is difficult to KNOW something unless we tell it back. I will often read scripture and have no idea what I just read because I was just reading words (that I’ve read or heard so many times before) and unless I narrate it back, it is difficult for me to know and retain it.

We do not want to make the mistake of working so hard to digest the learning substance for our children through all our fun little ways of doing so. How can we truly unlearn a way of teaching that has been so ingrained in us through our own education (if we went through the school system.) As always, Charlotte has the answer for that too. Listen to this incredible wisdom:

The fact is that we are handicapped, not so much by the three or four difficulties I have already indicated, as by certain errors of judgement, forms of depreciation, which none of us escape because they are universal. We as teachers depreciate ourselves and our office; we do not realize that in the nature of things the teacher has a prophetic power of appeal and inspiration, that his part is not the weariful task of spoon-feeding pap-meat, but the delightful commerce of equal minds where his is the part of guide, philosopher and friend.

So our power struggle with our children can cease when we have this powerful shift in mindset. She then goes on to say that:

The friction of wills which makes school work harassing ceases to a surprising degree when we deal with children, mind to mind, through the medium of knowledge.

Her view of children was one of the many incredible principles that drew me to her philosophy, listen to this:

We must either reverence or despise children; and while we regard them as incomplete and undeveloped beings who will one day arrive at the completeness of man, rather than as weak and ignorant persons, whose ignorance we must inform and whose weakness we must support, but whose potentialities are as great as our own, we cannot do otherwise than despise children, however kindly and even tenderly we commit the offence.

If we have been mindful to protect the mental health of our children, then we know that as Miss Mason even writes about, that as soon as they find words to express themselves and communicate with us, they absolutely let us know what they think with “surprising clearness and directness.” So it is our task to fight against doing the mental work for our children, trust they have the potency or ability to comprehend the feast we lay before them, but to also focus on that feast! Let us give intellectual food, but not too little of it! May their books be rich, unabridged, living stories for their minds to devour. And may we hold their little person-hoods with reverence because:

A person is a mystery, that is, we cannot explain him or account for him, but must accept him as he is. This wonder of personality does not cease, does not disappear, when a child goes to school; he is still ‘all there’ in quite another sense from that of the vulgar catch-word. But we begin to lose the way to his mind from the day that he enters the schoolroom; the reason for this is, we have embraced the belief that ‘knowledge is sensation,’ that a child knows what he sees and handles rather than what he conceives in his mind and figures in his thoughts. I labor this point because our faith in a child’s spiritual, i.e., intellectual educability is one of our chief assets. Having brought ourselves face to face with the wonder of mind in children, we begin to see that knowledge is the aliment of the mind as food is that of the body.

So our wonder-filled and capable thinkers, not the teachers, are the responsible party for learning; they do the work by self-effort. We work with them “mind to mind” and we practice the art of coming alongside. We practice narration as a way of knowing, we spread a wide feast with varied subjects, we keep attention through short-lessons, and we focus on quality books and learning resources. If we prioritize these in our home, I believe we will be incredibly delighted by the natural fruit we will see in our children and the lack of difficulty we experience along the way. Thank you for reading!

Published by givethembeauty

A mountain mama raising four wild ones in the beaUTAHful SLC.

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