Monday, July 6, 2015

Vision for Children, Second Installment


It is imperative, Mason knew, for children to be nourished by story – nourished in mind and heart. Only living stories satisfy their appetite for life, for living, and their books must be living, to feed the soul. This feeding is our duty, she says, : “Here a little, there a little – whence and whither, we know not, but our great fault, our exceeding great fault, is that we keep our own minds and the minds of our children shamefully underfed. The mind is a spiritual octopus, reaching out limbs in every direction to draw in enormous rations of that which, under the action of the mind, become knowledge.” (vol. 6,
pg 331) We observe the body grows on food, but how can character be weighed on a scale, and what is the right diet of books? Mason encouraged “slow and steady progress,” which we understand with physical growth, slow and steady from newborn to adult, but there’s no growth chart to assess the development of the inner person.

We all need to see to understand. Stories help us see. They particularly appeal to this need to see - and to know. God made us this way. He is a storyteller, who left us His story, the Bible, and, as His image-bearers, we are made to love stories, learn through stories, be people of words. Language is His gift for us to make meaning, communicate with one another. His Word is the Living Book of Books, Jesus Himself called The Word, and as Mason adds, “The word is not a meaningless title applied to the second person of the Trinity; it’s not without significance that every utterance that fell from Him was marked by exquisite literary fitness…” Historically, she adds, “with all primitive people rhetoric was power; that men move the world, but the motivations that move men are conveyed by words…modern education with its focus on things, not words, is demoralizing...human intelligence demand[s] … literature as a bread hunger.” (vol. 6, pg 331)

We are shaped by the literature that feeds us. It nourishes our moral imagination, gives light to see by. Stories are like eyeglasses for the soul, to peer inside where physical eyes cannot see, to provide knowledge of ourselves, knowledge of others and our world, and, the highest aim in education: knowledge of God.

I have experienced the truth of these ideas myself. Words shaped into stories have had a formative influence in my life. My own story is not fiction, though a good deal of fiction comes into it. I was born at the peak of the “baby boom,” the first child of teenage parents, still kids themselves. They both grew up in homes where education and books were valued. I remember my grandmother’s home being stuffed with books in every conceivable place.My father worked in the auto factory seven days a week, long hours of mindless labor. When he relaxed, it was with a book. Both parents read to us – it was my sister’s and my favorite means of getting their undivided attention, “read us a story.”

My maternal grandfather was my hero. Among other gifts he gave me, he was a story-teller. His repertoire contained six or eight stories, creatively told, that I begged for again and again: David and Goliath, Androcles and the Lion, Goldilocks and the Three Bears, Beansy and Peasy. After years of searching for the origin of that last one, an elderly aunt confided that it was about my sister and I. I still know exactly how he told these tales, and they did their work: I must have gotten my strong desire for justice and speaking out for God’s side from David;I was awed by the courage of Androcles; and surely the lesson of Beansy and Peasy was about accepting others’ differences. He never explained his stories, just told them. I still carry his gift of stories inside.

I thought of Grandpa awhile ago when a lady in the grocery store said she was stuck with her grandchildren in a motel for two days and didn’t know what to do with them besides watch TV. How could I say, “try telling some stories “ – that she had a perfect opportunity to cultivate imagination, plant seeds that could grow into the moral character of those little persons. Storytelling is a dying art. Telling, instead of just reading stories, possibly has greater impact upon listeners, and rivets a child’s attention.

Mason encouraged crafting stories to tell, and discouraged explaining them. Has anyone ever told you a joke and then interpreted the punch line for you? It’s annoying. Over-explaining is one of the ways we despise children, by not crediting them with the ability to see the point; they swallow stories whole. Though children are morally weak and inexperienced, our interference, Mason said, “bores exceedingly the nimble and subtle minds of scholars.”(vol. 6, pg. 58) She also said it should b a canon: “No story, nor part of a story, is ever to be explained; you have sown the seed, leave it to germinate.”(vol. 5, pg. 216) We underestimate their abilities when we feel compelled to interpret,
but the lessons from stories outlast our explanations.

(To be continued)

For the joy of reading,

Liz

4 comments:

  1. Again, GREAT things here to consider. I just heard a gal speak recently on us being Christ's image bearers. I love this quote, "No story, nor part of a story, is ever to be explained; you have sown the seed, leave it to germinate." Wow. A needed reminder and also so freeing to the teacher. We make available the great books and ideas and they take away what is meaningful to them. Thank you! :)

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    1. We should probably all paste that quote on the front of our planning notebook - it is the point of my entire talk. Again, I'm so glad to be of encouragement and thankful Mason's wisdom is nourishing us 100 years later.

      Liz

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  2. Just this morning I found myself asking my children leading questions about a story we were reading--for shame! Thank you for this timely reminder to button my lips and let the story speak for itself.

    (Are you familiar with A Time to Read by Mary Ruth Wilkinson and her daughter Heidi Wilkinson Teel? I read their book when I was expecting my first child, and they introduced me to this idea of the importance of whole stories, unmediated by an adult. They deplored Sunday School story-telling that packaged the Scriptures in a nice little bow complete with snack and moral. I believe they sowed the seed that Mason later watered. It remains one of my favorite books about books.)

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    1. If it makes you feel better, I have to restrain myself from asking also. I have heard of the book you read, but have not read it. It sounds like a good one.

      Liz

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