Monday, April 2, 2012

A Good Question

I received the following comment from my last post:
I often think that if Charlotte Mason were alive today, she would be thrilled with the immense variety of children's titles now available...books that were such a rarity in her own time. To me, the wonder of Mason is that she recognized that education/ information didn't have to come in the form of textbooks but could be broadened to include texts that would appeal to children. Texts that are so widely published and available today.
Don't you think her progressive methods would extend to include books published today?

If Charlotte Mason were alive today, she would indeed have a great number of books available to her.  However, I do not think books were a rarity in her time. Abundance of books does not ensure quality of books. Charlotte Mason was scrupulously careful to provide only worthy literature for children, those books that provided great ideas in the best language. A careful consideration of the children's literature churned out today will yield a plethora of what she would consider twaddle and only a scant offering of books she would think uninsulting to children. The quality of literature reflects the thinking of the culture and if you read our
thoughts frequently posted here, you will discern that our opinion is that the children's books produced today most commonly represent the fleeting image-based and content-shy language and ideas of a quick and easy information era.

Since your question concerns Charlotte's opinion of today's books, I think we should consult her directly, quoting ver batum:

Children should Learn to Care for Books––In literature, we have definite ends in view, both for our own children and for the world through them. We wish the children to grow up to find joy and refreshment in the taste, the flavour of a book. We do not mean by a book any printed matter in a binding, but a work possessing certain literary qualities able to bring that sensible delight to the reader which belongs to a literary word fitly spoken. It is a sad fact that we are losing our joy in literary form. We are in such haste to be instructed by facts or titillated by theories, that we have no leisure to linger over the mere putting of a thought. But this is our error, for words are mighty both to delight and to inspire. If we were not as blind as bats, we should long ago have discovered a truth very fully indicated in the Bible––that that which is once said with perfect fitness can never be said again, and becomes ever thereafter a living power in the world. But in literature, as in art, we require more than mere form. Great ideas are brooding over the chaos of our thought; and it is he who shall say the thing we are all dumbly thinking, who shall be to us as a teacher sent from God.
Children must be Nurtured on the Best––For the children? They must grow up upon the best. There must never be a period in their lives when they are allowed to read or listen to twaddle or reading-made-easy. There is never a time when they are unequal to worthy thoughts, well put; inspiring tales, well told. Let  Blake's 'Songs of Innocence' represent their standard in poetry; De Foe and Stevenson, in prose; and we shall train a race of readers who will demand literature––that is, the fit and beautiful expression of inspiring ideas and pictures of life. Perhaps a printed form to the effect that gifts of books to the children will not be welcome in such and such a family, would greatly assist in this endeavour.
 (Charlotte Mason, Parents and Children, Volume 2, pages 262-263)

You observe from this passage that she made a distinction of worthy books that went beyond the textbook/non-textbook division. There is such a danger in assuming that because mankind has made great
strides, all of our current notions are better than those in the past. After carefully reading her criteria in this sample passage, do you think most of the books of today would measure up to her standards?

For the joy of reading,

Liz

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