Thursday, April 24, 2014

Do Your Books Bring Forth a Moral Stir?

Do Your Books Bring Forth a Moral Stir? 

     May this post be helpful to you as you gather resources for next school year or consider what to read in the coming months of Mother Culture. 

      I photographed our daffodils. Dean took the other photographs during our recent commute to Philadelphia. In general I find the city – well - ugly. But once-in-a-while the eye rests on something handsome. Standing outside the main entrance to the hospital this is what we see on Broad Street - with a statue of William Penn at the top. If I hadn’t home taught my children with biographies and lively picture books, this Quaker wouldn’t mean much to me. Yet, my heart is stirred each time I see it.

Character, like a good pot of soup, is best made at home. 

     In today’s schoolbooks the high ideals of moral and religious motivation do not make a positive contribution - if any. We might say, then, that the moral stir is lost. Many of us were drawn to home teach because we wanted to include the high ideals of moral and religious motivation. Ah, read a well-written biography – even a children’s picture-book-biography – (written fifty years ago or so) and the truth comes out. Patriotic people were patriotic because they valued religious freedom, justice, and free enterprise. While the textbook is shallow, the biography tells the story - with the nitty-gritty details that the story deserves. The heart is stirred. 

‘Girls,’ said Meg seriously, looking from the tumbled head beside her to the two little night-capped ones in the room beyond, ‘mother wants us to read and love and mind these books, and we must begin at once. We used to be faithful about it; but since father went away, and all this war trouble unsettled us, we have neglected many things. You can do as you please; but I shall keep my book on the table here, and read a little every morning as soon as I wake, for I know it will do me good, and help me through the day.’    Little Woman, Chapter Two

Books should to one of these fours ends conduce,
For wisdom, piety, delight, or use. - John Denham 

The Joy of Reading

     I’ll never forget meeting a certain young couple at a home school conference where Dean and I spoke ten years ago. Their faces were radiant. They stood behind a baby stroller beaming as they said hello. The husband stepped up to Dean and admitted that he never liked reading. He found it amusing to learn in Dean’s talk, that we were both in the slow-reader’s circle, in grammar schools (six miles apart) where Dick and Jane had to “see Spot run” mechanically over and over again.

     Anyway, this young dad told us that he managed to get good grades in school in spite of his dislike for reading. But something wonderful happened. After he graduated from all his years of schooling and the textbooks were closed, he was drawn to open a book. For the first time in his life he started reading. What I gathered from his bright countenance was that in his reading – outside of the confines of the dry and amoral textbook - his imagination was warmed, his heart stirred, his mind enlightened - by inspiring ideas.

     His shy wife nodded with her smile as if she remembered the very moment her husband became a reader. Feeling talkative the husband went on to tell us that when they began home teaching, a whole world opened up to their family – the delightful world of children’s books. Entering this world gave them confidence that their children would indeed benefit by their home teaching. Why? They were anticipating all that they would learn together – real knowledge – from real books of various kinds, where the truth is not tied and gagged, water-down or condensed into a compendium.

     It’s been noted that very little actual reading takes place in classrooms. Shouldn’t this seem odd? It certainly seemed odd to Miss Charlotte Mason over one hundred years ago. To her, the lack of good books – and the reading of them in a child’s education - was a great educational negligence, a pity. Reading is a big part Charlotte Mason’s method. A student deals directly with the mind of authors. Classroom lectures are trimmed in size considerably. A teacher may introduce, make emphasis, review, but for the most part, her students derive pleasure from hearing the teacher read aloud or from their silent reading. Reading goes hand in hand with narration (telling). Walking this pathway, at whatever natural stride taken, the child becomes a reader and a thinker. And with narration he learns, too, how to express himself. 

     Meg’s “I know it will do me good” is a clue of the moral stir. A portion of piety does indeed “help me through the day.” Miss Charlotte Mason points out:

“ ‘Lives of great men all remind us we can make our lives sublime,’ and the study of the lives of great men and of the great moments in the lives of smaller men is most wonderfully inspiring to children, especially when they perceive the strenuousness of the childhood out of which a noble manhood has evolved itself. . . .The Bible is, of course, a storehouse of most inspiring biographies. . .” *1

     We can pull up a chair and sit beside someone grand on the pages of a biography. During high school, a biography is especially advantageous. Young people coming-of-age are polishing up their personality. Dotting the years of school from the youngest to the eldest, some direct ethical teaching is needed, also, to identify and discern virtue, vice, and worldviews.

     Charlotte Mason says,

A certain rough-and-ready kind of morality . . . does come by heredity and environment; but that most delicate and beautiful of human possessions, an educated conscience, comes only by teaching with authority and adorning by example. *2

     Miss Mason recommends the “Ten Commandments and our Lord’s exposition of the moral law.” These were once featured in every schoolbook in America – yet are tossed aside today for being a religious imposition or as trite a thing as an embarrassing old-fashioned eccentricity. For the Christian, however, they are a lamp unto his feet.

     The first part of the Ten are our duty (what is due) to God and the second part of the Ten is our duty to man.

Verses for memory in The New England Primer, 1810.

The Sum of the Ten Commandments.

With all thy soul love God above,
And as thyself thy neighbour love.

Our Saviour’s Golden Rule.

Be you to others kind and true,
As you’d have others be to you.
And neither do nor lay to men,
Whate’er you would not take again. *3

Sadly, a great many students are unfamiliar with the aims of these today.       

The Poets Back Us Up

     The poets come to our aid in upholding virtues. Reading the Victorian verse familiar to Miss Mason, we are met with the moral stir. These poets, she says, “add love to law and devotion to duty.” A convenient resource for high school (or Mother Culture) is 101 Famous Poems by Roy J. Cook.

On the Roadside

     On a beautiful spring day last week, returning home from Philadelphia, Dean and I stopped at an historical house on the roadside. It was a bit of a thrill to learn that here General George Washington stayed during the battle of Brandywine. He made this house his headquarters in 1777.

     Its doors were not open for tours but peeking in the windows we saw that it is furnished for the period – right down to a rag doll on a small bed in the corner of the kitchen. (My imagination wandered back-in-time on this set-up).

      The grass is slightly worn around its four walls. It is evident that other admirers had peered inside its wavy glass as we had tried to do. I peeked into whichever window I could reach on tip-toe.

     Moseying along the worn grass to the next window I thought, “Would the average textbook evoke enough interest to create “admirers” - and so induce them to veer off the beaten path to walk along this one?

      Or had the admirers come because they were acquainted with the life and character of George Washington through his story?


     At a hazy distance the remarkable men and women in history books may seem as unreal as fairy tale characters. In a biography, however, the brave, the clever and the faithful, seem more like real people - like us. And we are more inclined to want to be, in some ways, like them.

Wishing to Make Your Visits Here Worthwhile,
Karen Andreola

Post Script 
Thank you for your order of Parents' Review and the Mother Culture CD. 

End Notes
*1  Charlotte Mason, School Education, pg 133 The word “evolved” here means “slow, gradual change” and is not in reference to Darwin’s theory.
*2  Ibid, pg 129 
*3  Clifton Johnson, Old-Time Schools and School-books, Dover, 1963, pg 92

Further Reading
School Education, Chap 12 “Some Unconsidered Asprects of Moral Training”
A Charlotte Mason Companion, Chap 24 “Hero-Admiration as a Factor in Education.”

To enliven the subject of science with biography, visit my post: “Charlotte Mason and the Scientific Spirit.”


  1. What a LOVELY post! Thanks for your thoughts and I wholeheartedly agree!! How fun to peek into that beautiful house! :) I was drawn to the colorful book delightful...especially the William Shakespeare one as I *think* yesterday was the celebration of his 450th birthday. :)

  2. Thank you for this post! So much what I have been thinking on recently. We READ here. I am thrilled with my children's learning this way.

    Thank you too, for the information on the Parent's Review. Can you believe I haven't even looked at it yet? Off to do it now!


  3. Karen, oh how I wish my son and I could come have tea at your home! The daffodils made me think of him (a budding botanist/horticulturalist at the tender age of 8), and how he would be buzzing around your house in awe of what you have growing, and also the architecture of yesteryear! Thank you for the inspiration to read more biographies. I think Evan (son) and I shall pick one from our collection and start! Blessings and hugs from Texas!

  4. Karen,Thank-you again for a beautiful post here.Loved the pictures,especially the house where George Washington stayed.I always anticipate your writings as they so lift my spirit. I too have struggled with many health issues these last 6 months,hospital stays as well.Still many unanswered questions but I trust God has all of the answers .He is surely enough.Bless you as you serve Him and your dear family. Dawn E. Brown

  5. Your posts are always so peaceful. Thank you.

  6. My great-niece just finished reading The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe. She found it a bit tedious at first, but we read it aloud until the spark was lit! She thoroughly enjoyed it.


  7. Thank you again! You give us courage to continue on the blessed as you give yourself away for all of us following your footsteps.
    Praying for you,
    Marybeth xoxo

  8. Good morning Karen! Your post was lovely and refreshing!! Your daffodils are so gorgeous. We are truly enjoying spring and all of the daffodils around here.
    We so enjoyed our visit to the Brandywine Battleground and to that home last autumn. It was so neat to imagine George Washington leading our nation from those very rooms. :o)
    It is a lovely day here in Northern Delaware, I hope it is up there too.

  9. Always so much more than just worthwhiled! I always take away with me much knowledge from your every post. I so appreciate the words and pictures you share...thank you my friend....blessings

  10. Where do you find such lovely old books? I would love to begin collecting biographies but I'm really drawn to the old books instead of new. Thank you. Mary S.

  11. Dear Ladies,

    You bestow me with kindness. Thank you.

    Oh, I saw are large photograph of the globe theatre, recently, in London. What a beautiful place, and authentic to its Elizabethan design, it was rebuilt it to be.

    Some of the books pictured on this post are old Landmark Books that I found and purchased in used book shops. Such shops are far fewer today. Out-of-print Landmark Books can be found in the used book booths at home school conferences and on-line. Some are still in print. Here is an example of one on Amazon:

    We have enjoyed C.S. Lewis' The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. In the 90s a friend from church put it on as a play and my girls took part. Sophia was Mrs. Beaver and Yolanda was a talking tree. I made the costumes. Fun.

    A fellow book lover,
    Karen A.