Friday, March 22, 2013

Character, Conduct, and the Conveyance of Vital Ideas

This week, we're going to hear from Miss Mason herself. This tidy summation of the chief office of education should offer lots of food for thought. The educational method that she created and aspired to was Miss Mason's mark on the world. These scratches along the trail are hers. What will yours be? And mine? We've talked about legacy. This is hers. 

I refuse to intrude, but I'd be happy to answer any questions you may have after reading this article. It's a little different from what we've read in the volumes. It sort of has a Socratic bent to it. Enjoy.

The Conveyance of Ideas
by The Editor (Charlotte Mason)
Volume 3, 1892/93, pgs. 349-358

"As the philosophy which underlies any educational or social scheme is really the vital part of that scheme, it may be well to set forth, however meagerly, some fragments of P.N.E.U. Philosophy.

We believe--

That disposition, intellect, genius, come pretty much by nature.

That character is an achievement, the one practical achievement possible to us for ourselves and for our children.

That all real advance, in family or individual, is along the line of character.

That, therefore, to direct and assist the evolution of character is the chief office of education.

But perhaps we shall clear the ground better by throwing a little P.N.E.U. teaching into categorical form:

What is character?
The resultant or residuum of conduct. That is to say, a man is what he has made himself by the thoughts in which he has allowed himself, the words he has spoken, the deeds he has done. 

How does conduct itself originate?
Commonly, in our habitual modes of thought. We think we are accustomed to think, and, therefore, act as we are accustomed to act.

What, again, is the origin of these habits of thought and act?
Commonly, inherited disposition. The man who is generous, obstinate, hot-tempered, devout, is so, on the whole, because that strain of character runs in his family.

Are there any means of modifying inherited dispositions?
Yes; marriage, for the race; education, for the individual.

How may a bad habit which has its rise in an inherited disposition be corrected?
By the contrary good habit: as Thomas a Kempis has said, "One custom overcometh another."

Trace the genesis of a habit.
Every act proceeds from a thought. Every thought modifies somewhat the material structure of the brain. That is, the nerve substance of the brain forms itself, so to speak, to the manner of thoughts we think. The habit of act arises from the habit of thought. The person who thinks," Oh, it will do!" "Oh, it doesn't matter!" forms a habit of negligent and imperfect work. 

How may such habit be corrected?
By introducing the contrary line of thought, which will lead to contrary action. "This must be done well, because--."

Is it enough to think such thought once?
No, the stimulus of the new idea must be applied until it is, so to speak, at home in the brain and arises involuntarily.

What do you mean by involuntary thought?
The brain is at work unceasingly, is always thinking, or rather is always being acted upon by thought, as the keys of an instrument by the fingers of a player.

Is the person aware of all the thoughts that the brain elaborates?
No, only of those which are new and "striking." The old familiar "way of thinking" beats in the brain without the consciousness of the thinker. 

What name is given to this unconscious thought?
Unconscious cerebration.

Why is it important to the educator?
Because most of our actions spring from thoughts of which we are not conscious.

Is there any means of altering the trend of unconscious cerebration? 
Yes, by diverting it into a new channel."

" would appear that, as the material life is sustained upon its appropriate food from without, so the immaterial life is sustained upon its food -- ideas or suggestions spiritually conveyed."

May the words "idea" and "suggestion" be used as synonymous terms? Only in so far as that ideas convey suggestions to be effected in acts.

What part does the man himself play in the reception of this immaterial food? 
It is as though one stood on the threshold to admit or refuse the workmen who should fashion the house.

Is this free-will in the reception or rejection of ideas the limit of man's responsibility in the conduct of his life?

Probably it is, for an idea once intercepted must run its course, unless it be connected with another idea, in the reception of which volition is again exercised.

How do ideas originate?
They appear to be spiritual emanations from spiritual beings; thus, one man conveys to another the idea which is a very part of himself. 

Is the intervention of a bodily presence necessary for the transmission of an idea?
By no means, ideas may be conveyed through picture or printed page; absent friends would appear to communicate ideas without the intervention of means; natural objects convey ideas, but perhaps, the initial idea in this case may always be traced to another mind.

Then the spiritual sustenance of ideas is derived directly or indirectly from other human beings?
No; and here is the great recognition which the educator is called upon to make. God, the Holy Spirit, is Himself the supreme Educator of mankind.

He openeth man's ear morning by morning, to hear so much of the best as the man is able to bear.

Are the ideas suggested by the Holy Spirit confined to the sphere of the religious life?
No, Coleridge, speaking of Columbus and the discovery of America, ascribes the origin of great inventions and discoveries to the fact that "certain ideas of the natural world are presented to minds, already prepared to receive them, by a higher Power than Nature herself."

Is there any teaching in the Bible to support this view?
Yes, very much. Isaiah, for example, says that the ploughman knows how to carry on the successive operations of husbandry, "for his God doth instruct him and doth teach him."

Are all ideas which have a purely spiritual origin ideas of good?
Unhappily, no. It is the sad experience of mankind that suggestions of evil also are spiritually conveyed.

What is the part of the man?
To choose the good and refuse the evil.

Does this doctrine of ideas as the spiritual food needful to sustain the immaterial life throw any light on the doctrines of the Christian religion? 
Yes, the Bread of Life, the Water of Life, the Word by which man lives, the "meat to eat which ye know not of," and much more, cease to be figurative expressions, except that we must use the same words to name the corporeal and the incorporeal sustenance of man. We understand, moreover, how suggestions emanating from our Lord and Savior, which are of His essence, are the spiritual meat and drink of His believing people. We find it no longer a "hard saying," nor a dark saying, that we must sustain our spiritual selves upon Him, even as our bodies upon bread.

What practical bearing upon the educator has this doctrine of ideas? 
He knows that it is his part to place before the child daily nourishment of ideas; that he may give the child the right initial idea in every study, and respecting each relation and duty of life; above all, he recognizes the divine co-operation in the direction, teaching, and training of the child. 

How would you summarise the functions of education?
Education is a discipline-that is, the discipline of the good habits in which the child is trained. Education is a life, nourished upon ideas; and education is an atmosphere (Matthew Arnold)--that is, the child breathes the atmosphere emanating from his parents; that of the ideas which rule their own lives.

What part do lessons and the general work of the schoolroom play in education thus regarded?
They should afford opportunity for the discipline of many good habits, and should convey to the child such initial ideas of interest in his various studies as to make the pursuit of knowledge on those lines an object in life and a delight to him."

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