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Great Kids Need Great Thoughts

By Karen Andreola
Printed in Practical Homeschooling #13, 1996.

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Karen Andreola


One word best reflects high educational ideals. That word is magnanimity. Go ahead, pronounce the word again. I find it does get easier to roll off the tongue the more it's spoken.

What is "magnanimity," and what place can it have in your homeschool? Magnanimity is generosity or nobility of mind or greatness of soul. This quality of mind and greatness of spirit comes about with a combination of "high thinking" and "lowly living." A magnanimous person thinks great thoughts but also is generous in overlooking injury or insult - for example, he or she rises above pettiness or animosity.

Homeschool is the best place to raise children to be magnanimous. We can hold up Jesus Christ as the perfect example of magnanimity for our children. We can endeavor to be like Him. We can teach our children to share even when it is hard, to forgive when it doesn't seem fair, give them opportunities to absorb the principle of magnanimity, and eventually see them turn into magnanimous persons themselves.

Was there ever a time when magnanimous minds were more needed? Charlotte Mason bid us to "endow our children, not only with a multitude of ideas, but with the greatest ideas and most noble thoughts mankind has to offer, springing from great minds in every sphere of human relationships." A person who contemplates these noble and great thoughts in humility will not become "high-brow" but magnanimous. It was her hope and prayer that magnanimity may be a character trait common to all students.

Begin with a Regular Diet of Ideas

Charlotte Mason wrote in her Philosophy of Education that "the work of education is greatly simplified when we realize that children, apparently all children want to know all human knowledge." Children are born with all the curiosity they will ever need. It will last a lifetime if they are fed upon a daily diet of ideas. For finding ideas in "every sphere of human relationships," we can go to the Bible and to the humanities. With the Bible, children can develop a relationship with God and learn to desire righteousness. With the humanities, children see as a painters sees by studying great art. They learn to feel as a poet feels by reading poetry aloud. They listen to great music and read the best literature (including heroic biography) and plays. They observe closely the wonders God has made in nature. They pick up noble ideas and train their consciences.

Children Naturally Understand Good Books

While Charlotte Mason was alive, hundreds of teachers following her principles wrote to her describing the same experience - watching children pick up ideas from well-written books. Charlotte said, "The finding of this power which is described as 'sensing a passage,' is as the striking of a vein of gold in that fabulously rich country, human nature." Those teachers found that "children have a natural aptitude for literary expression which they enjoy in hearing and reading and employ in telling or writing."

Unfortunately ideas are often left out of school textbooks. The speeches and sayings of historical or scientific figures are often excluded, for example. The editors, Miss Mason said, "consider these sayings too much cultivated rhetoric to be possible for any but the highly educated. The time is coming when we shall perceive that only minds like those of children are capable of producing thoughts so fresh and so finely expressed. This natural aptitude for literature, or shall we say, rhetoric, which overcomes the disabilities of a poor vocabulary without effort, should direct the manner of instruction we give."

If regular school books do not contain ideas, we must search to find books that do. According to Miss Mason, "only those which have the terseness and vividness proper to literary work [should be] put in the hands of children."

The chatter of the oral lesson where the teacher paraphrases a chapter for the children was ruled out of Charlotte's schools and homeschools. Paraphrasing became the children's work, not the teacher's work, as they spoke and wrote. A natural desire for knowledge was retained and the children grew as they were fed a diet of real literature and did the mental "chewing" themselves. This is a method she used to help form magnanimous minds.

Give Them "Mind-Stuff"

Charlotte said that our business as teachers is to give children mind-stuff, and both quality and quantity are essential. "The children ask for bread and we give them a stone; we give information about objects and events which the mind does not attempt to digest but casts out bodily upon the examination paper. But let information hang upon a principle, be inspired by an idea, and it is taken with avidity and used in making whatsoever the spiritual nature stands for tissue in the physical."

"Easy" is Not Always Interesting

To make learning easy or entertaining is today the sole purpose of too many teachers. But easy learning is often little learning, even though these teachers are acting as if "easy" and "interesting" were synonymous.

Some children do not find it easy to read and narrate back in their own words, but they do grow in greater skill and knowledge when they practice these. Our part is finding all those lovely, living books spoken of by Charlotte Mason.

Where to Search?

Scrounge around the local library, glean through homeschool catalogs, dust off old piles of books in a used-book store. You will find books that "live," that your children will be eager to narrate to you in their own words. Your search will be work, but it is the rewarding kind. As a result of your search. some books may have to be cast aside, as they do not spark your children's desire to narrate. No need to mourn over these. There are plenty of books to go around. Try another.

Look for unusual books that inspire noble ideas in a variety of subjects. For example: So many naturalists share their observations with us that it would be a pity for children to be only exposed to a textbook on the subject. I love what the hymn writers had to say about nature in dozens of old hymns. Why not learn these as part of your study of magnanimity?

There are so many biographies and historical novels with admirable heroes that it would be a pity, too, if the only view of history a child receives is that of the textbook. Although some textbooks work well in a homeschool, providing a framework on which to build, younger students are rarely able to narrate from them.

What About Holes?

Many parents lack confidence to stray from the textbook. They worry about those haunting holes. With Charlotte Mason's method, your children fill in the holes. You just work at knitting the net. Like the netted hammock, though it is filled with holes, it will securely uphold its owner.

Work at expanding their horizons. Support them with a wide and generous curriculum, a net full of living books and experiences. They will slowly fill in the holes over the years with these. Meanwhile drills and skills are developed beginning with consistent short lessons. The length of these skill lessons gradually increase with the student's age and ability.

An Ideal Goal

As long as your educational goal is to raise magnanimous children, if you follow Charlotte's advice you will keep the bases covered. Living books (literature), the humanities, nature study, and narration work well with both the dull and the bright child, with both young and old people. They give power to the diligent and set the captive fact-laden mind free to imagine and explore. To Miss Mason, every well-reared person is one who has become magnanimous. He is a person who practices high thinking and lowly living. I invite you to make magnanimity a goal in your homeschooling endeavors.


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