Friday, January 20, 2012

Charlotte Mason's "Scientific Spirit" Embodies the Humanities

Charlotte Mason's "Scientific Spirit" 
Embodies the Humanities

. . .  much and varied humane reading as well as human thought expressed in the forms of art, is, not a luxury, a tit-bit, to be given to children now and then, but their very bread of life, which they must have in abundant portions and at regular periods. This and more is implied in the phrase, “The mind feeds on ideas and therefore children should have a generous curriculum.” Philosophy of Education page 111.

The day I contemplated the above passage by Charlotte Mason twenty-some-odd years ago, was a sobering moment. It took account of how impoverished my education was in the area of the humanities. How on earth was I going to teach my children by a method that emphasized the humanities – something I was so lacking in myself? As a student who read few books cover to cover I still managed to graduate from high school with above average grades. I received at least a “smattering” of information from what might be called classroom lectures and then the hour-long homework assignments. But of books themselves – hardly a smattering.

Following graduation I committed my life to the Savior Christ Jesus. My interest in reading Scripture and books in general was lively. Such a spark of enlightenment (the epistles now wonderfully made sense) must have come from the Supreme Educator. I joke that I passed through all my years of school getting by with a sincere attentive reading of two books; one of these was Green Eggs and Ham.

“How injurious then is our habit of depreciating children; we water their books down and drain them of literary flavor, because we wrongly suppose that children cannot understand what we understand ourselves. . . .” Phil. of Ed. Pg 304.

My next question is best put with slang. Where did I get off thinking I was qualified to teach my own children? My answer is in hindsight. When confidence is low and still growing, courage steps up to lead. Love casts out fear. It fills the place in a mother’s heart where fear wishes to dwell. 

“Show me a mother with an enduring love for her children and I’ll show you a mother who meets the requirements for home teaching. With love comes the self-sacrifice, daily discipline, kindness, patience, and determination needed to set her children’s feet on the paths of righteousness, skill, and knowledge. She who sows seeds by home teaching overtime will reap the fruits of her labor.” Lessons of Blackberry Inn Pg 222.

We learned together. 

We turned to living books and various art forms for knowledge and culture. For science the typical grammar school textbook falls flat. Charlotte Mason points to where the trouble lies. Most science textbooks scarcely touch upon the humanities. It is the humanities in education – the human aspect - that Miss Mason so emphatically endorses. In her ideal point of view on the subject of science she challenges us to present its general principles with their accompanying philosophical ideas. This isn’t as puzzling as it may sound. A passage from Miss Mason simplifies it.

 “Scientific truths,” said Descartes, “are battles won; describe to the young the principal and most heroic of these battles; you will thus interest them in the results of science, and you will develop in them a scientific spirit by means of the enthusiasm for the conquest of truth; you will make them see the power of the reasoning which has led to discoveries in the past, and which will do so again in the future.” Parents and Children Pg 128.

Science becomes “living” when we mix
philosophy (ideas),
biography (personality),
literature (story),
drama (a touch of emotion),
some first hand observation.

Descartes’ word “heroic” must have swum around in the little quiet pool of my subconscious. For, when I was introduced to Your Story Hour audio I recognized its value. I was sensitive to whatever would help me bring the scientific spirit to our home school. If you ask my grown children about Your Story Hour they will tell you that they have fond memories of listening to it. Yolanda claims she “loves” it. The scripts are literary, philosophical, biographical, and touched with human emotion. (Mid to upper elementary and junior high.)

Some of the recordings were done as early as 1949 with a style that truly originates from the radio era. Perhaps this has something to do with their quality. Is there anything that surpasses them? They are a bit old-fashioned and corny around the edges, but never obnoxious, always respectful with an intelligent morality that is in keeping with a reverence for God. 

Your Story Hour was a welcomed help to this mother in giving her children Miss Mason’s “abundant portions” of  “varied humane reading.” The dramatized stories focus on persons in history who demonstrate attributes of strong moral character. Some are scientists.

Our first choice is “Heritage of Our Country” Album 6 with Alexander Graham Bell, the Wright brothers and others.

“Patterns of Destiny” Album 7 has Louis Pasteur and George W. Carver.

“Great Stories” Volume 10 also has a few scientists who persevere and struggle against adversity such as Fleming’s story of Penicillin and Roentgen’s discovery of the x-ray.

The Sowers series is an excellent source of biographies. (Read aloud to 4th grade up, silent reading - upper elementary) We particularly enjoyed Isaac Newton by the John Hudson Tiner who is an author enthusiastic about science. I was probably hoping to tack onto our year his Johannes Kepler. It looks fabulous but it is one book that fell through the cracks.   

We read Jeanne Bendick’s Archimdedes and the Door of Science by Bethlehem Books.

In sixth grade Nigel enjoyed Michael Farady – Father of Electronics by Charles Ludwig.

We put our library discard to good use: Nikola Tesla –Giant of Electricity by Helen B. Walters. As a young boy Nikola spent much time gazing at nature and thinking. One of the lines reads, “No wonder God had looked at His world after creation and said it was good.” Authors of children’s books were still mentioning God incidentally in the 1960s when it was fitting.

I wish you and your children the scientific spirit.

Post Script
Written narration with sketches from Nigel’s 6th grade science notebook – the Edison entries - help decorate this post.

The retro wooden radio was once handy for playing cassettes. I still use it as a radio in my office/sewing room where I write you.

My grandson’s kitty cat is no longer part of the family. On the sad day his mother made him a stuffed kitty out of felt scraps - a soothing consolation.

I’m saving certain books and the Your Story Hour for William and his baby brother Joseph who, by the way, is wearing the wool cardigan that his grandmother knit him.  She couldn’t resist ending this post with the cute factor.

Discussion is invited.

Karen Andreola


  1. Hi Karen. You do have sweet grandchildren! My own kitty died a couple of years ago, and I still miss his warm greeting on the porch each day.

    About humanities: we stumbled upon a great resource for our children when we discovered the adult non-fiction section of the library. I had known it existed. We had just spent most of our time in children's fiction. One day my daughter came bounding up to me with a book about submarine warfare clapsed to her chest. "OHHHH look, mom, did you know THIS was in here?" From that day on, the non-fiction section has been her constant haunt.

    I found that we didn't need much directed study with her in this area. Natural curiosity was the best director she could have had.

    You'll never guess! A new couple has begun worshipping with our congregation. Last Sunday in Bible Class the wife mentioned Charlotte Mason's philosophy of working to learn in response to a question about why Jesus taught in parables. This might not be such a big deal to many, but my family was the lone homeschooling family in our congregation for 17 years or so. After class she and I talked about Miss Mason's Ourselves. What a wonderful surprise!

    Enjoy your day.


  2. Dear Karen,

    You introduced me to the Your Story Hour tapes years ago when we met. They are still being listened to here, although I should like to upgrade to CD's at some point:-) Our cassette player is really on its last let I am afraid.

    Charlotte's words ring true for the mastery of science. For the younger grades the textbooks are just too dry and uninteresting, we prefer the living books. Yet, in the HS years we had to use more formal texts along with living books.

    Thank you for highlighting her quotes.



  3. Susan,
    What a delight that after so many years another family has come to the church that you attend who has read Charlotte Mason's writings. After some years of keeping relatively quiet in our little country church in Maine about Miss Mason, an enthusiastic family walked through the door one Sunday and much conversation ensued, mostly over supper at our house. The following week we talked at their house. We took turns like this, sharing meals in and out of our houses, until our family moved out-of-state. I miss them.

    My daughter Yolanda reminded me today on the telephone that she remembers me telling her to stop listening to the "Your Story Hours" one day. Apparently I didn't wish her to get carried away or maybe the rain had stopped and it was time to go out and play.
    We also used some textbooks for science in the high school years.
    A wintery mix is on its way so I'm off to get some green grocery.
    Thank you for the discussion, ladies and for your long distance "Charlotte Mason friendship."
    Karen A.

  4. I have heard people say Charlotte Mason learning does not work to influence kids to be scientists.

    We found it very influential, just as the books and tapes and such you mention inspire kids!

    My son is in his senior year of college now (he graduates in December) and received straight A's last semester in a Science curriculum.

    He's found what homeschooling the way we did it (that being CM) taught him how to think and how to learn in all areas.

    We chose for him to attend his senior year of homeschooling at the community college so he could get the lab science and advanced math needed for entrance into the University.

    Otherwise, he learned everything he needed at home by reading and doing. :)

    Excellent post (as usual). :)

  5. Hi Karen!

    Thank you for the reminder about adding biographies of scientist etc...It has been an interesting year with purchasing our store that I have been 'doing the basics'. Time to bring out the biographies!

    Also my kids are voracious listeners to Radio Theater and Jonathan Park...I do believe Your Story Hour will be excellent as well.

    Off to check out CBD!


  6. Poor William--how sad it is to lose a beloved pet. Your grandsons are precious. Joseph is nicely roly-poly (as I think babies should be!).

    Our eldest is a sixth grader this year and has read a number of the science biographies you mention here. She is currently reading Archimedes and today's chapter was the explanation of pi. I thought it helpful that she was able to see the usefulness of the concept before she encountered it in a math lesson. I do feel truly blessed that our children can learn this way, especially when I think of the many wasted hours of my school career. (Your description of school work in NJ sounds much like mine was in MD.)

    Thank you for your words of encouragement to keep striving as home educators and mothers.

    Enjoy your wintry mix. We are still (sadly) without snow.


  7. Karen, Thanks so much for the book recommendations. I really disliked science (in public school), and find that I skirt around the subject with my own daughters.

    I'm sure that some good books would help me to enjoy science - and would be good for the girls as well.

    Also, I have such trouble with science because I keep thinking that studying science needs to involve beakers and experiments and things I don't understand. I really need to "get it through my head" that reading a great book on a great inventor or great mathematician would count as science at the ages of my girls.

    Have a great day! We're waiting for some snow in our area. :)

  8. Dear Karen,

    Thank you for giving me some great ideas to use with my son Jacob for science.

    It so far has been a bit of a dull year for science, I read, we discuss and he writes down what he has learned, but I have not included any story books along with it.

    I need to remember that it is okay to learn about different types of science at the same time, that I don't have to save certain books for later.

    I was gifted some of the "Your Story Hour" cassettes from a friend that sells homeschool books, as everyone wants CD's now. We have a similar vintage looking radio that plays cassettes and CD's, we listen to it often...mostly classical music. I find it is a great background to learning.

    Anyway, enough of my rambling.
    Thanks again for sharing your thoughts and the pictures of your adorable grandsons!


  9. It is interesting to hear your "take" on science and your experiences with it. Thank you, Ladies.

    I should mention that the kitty cat had to be given away. But to a child it is a similar sadness and I appreciate your sympathy. My daughter calls the baby "Plumpkins." I think it most fitting.

    Karen A..

  10. Oh yes, please tell Nigel that his drawings are fantastic. Watching an artist at work is a great treat. It must be a greater delight when the artist is your very own son.


  11. I remember listening to Your Story Hour on the radio as a child. My children listen on the internet and enjoy it too. We also have the CDs about the Wright brothers and the Pilgrims, which they like a lot! Thank you for the birthday greetings--you made my day!

  12. I agree that children can be spurred on to the sciences through the reading of biographies. I have a 17 year old who tends to be rather artistic (music, drawing etc.) However he is leaning toward a medical missions career after having been inspired by the lives of scientist and doctor's. We all know that motivation is half of the equation ...and it's the first half in accomplishing mastery in any area of skill.

  13. What a timely post. After experiencing one frustrating moment after another with a popular Christian science curriculum, I recently decided to shelve it and go back to reading biographies aloud to my 13 and 11 year olds. The discussions we're enjoying together are ever so much more delightful than what we experienced prior. Thanks, Karen, for reminding me (through this post and your other writings) of the joy and pleasure of the "human aspect" of the sciences and humanities. I've learned so much from you and will be forever grateful. :)

    By the way, your grands are adorable -- the sweater is also.

    Blessings in HIM,

    Lisa :)

  14. These have been recommended to me before!! THANK YOU! :) Love the Charlotte quotes...I am getting mentally geared up and inspired for us returning to some of our more "formal" learning...just had my baby, so we are relaxing right now. :)

  15. Karen,
    I working very hard on switching over to present our learning more in line with Charlotte Mason's philosophy. Thank you so much for this post. I am to the point where I am looking for specifics.
    Warm wishes,

  16. Karen,

    We have been listening to Your Story Hour for years! In fact, my oldest daughter, now 25, emphatically states that that was how she learned her history!

    We've begun getting the mp3 downloads now, because our tapes have long ago been worn out.



  17. We recently pulled my son out of a homeschool academy and I wasn't sure what to do with him regarding science as he has some learning difficulties. I have him reading science biographies mainly and I'm glad to see that I was not wrong in doing so.