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How to Encourage Enthusiasm for Learning

By Karen Andreola
Printed in Practical Homeschooling #11, 1996.

Teaching enthusiasm for learning is key to students learning success
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Karen Andreola

In the following article, I have borrowed passages from the article “Enthusiasm” by Mrs. Boldero which appeared in Charlotte Mason’s original magazine in the year 1897.

Charlotte Mason knew that for education to be successful it had to run on the energy of the students as much, or more so, as that of the teacher. She believed that enthusiasm for learning must be safeguarded and that all true education is self-education. The self-educated, self-made man is energetic, curious, and enthusiastic. Enthusiasm, more than any other quality, has powerfully and permanently influenced the shaping of mankind. Enthusiasm has swayed the hearts of nations and determined the lives and characters of many individuals. Therefore, parents should carefully consider enthusiasm in the scheme of education.

An Education of Lasting Value

Charlotte Mason considered the value of enthusiasm at the start of her teaching career when she formulated her philosophy: knowledge for knowledge’s sake. She was opposed to intellectual force-feeding and found it entirely unnecessary in her method.

Grades were not a part of her program. She recognized that in many schools statistics, prizes, and grades were more important than the child’s genuine attainment of knowledge. Her students either understood or they didn’t, but each was expected to do his very best.

In order to grade, one must have a grading system: a certain number of completed questions to arrive at a grade percentage. To accommodate these numbers, the curriculum becomes more factual—terminology highlighted, memorization over-emphasized, and thinking left behind.

Today, when children become weary of this means to an end, teachers remind them that “the grade is what’s important. You want a ‘good grade’ don’t you?” Charlotte Mason didn’t see the advantage of grades, but she did see that a love of knowledge was the best motivation for learning.

Charlotte preserved enthusiasm for learning by providing lessons full of delight. Disciplined subjects such as math and spelling were kept short in the early years and consistently performed with strict attention. Young students were read to out of a suitable “real” book. Charlotte discovered that children enjoy the literary language of “real” books more than a teacher’s lecture or a textbook. The children demonstrated what they understood by relating the passage in their own words. Charlotte’s technical term for this was “narration.” Her schoolchildren narrated with observant detail and choice words, feasting on the whole passage instead of responding with tidbit points. The anxious attitude behind “do we have to know this for the test?” was never heard.

Older students read and narrated on single questions that required them to discuss any part of the curriculum: pollination, the Knights of the Round Table, the functions of the inner ear, the voyage of the Mayflower, or the life of Joseph in Egypt, for example.

Narration was the means for gaining knowledge from real (living) books because, in Charlotte’s words, “What the child digs for becomes his own possession.” With her method children become self-educated and gain knowledge for knowledge’s sake. Continual grinding and cramming are cast aside for an education of lasting value. (To read more about Charlotte’s view of self education, see the first chapter of her book Philosophy of Education. To read more about her view of grades and the tendency of grind, see chapter 20 of her book Parents and Children.)

Culture Is Shared Enthusiasm

Charlotte Mason believed enthusiasm for learning produced enthusiasm for life and culture. We should not considered culture a luxury or mere trimming for the well-to-do. To Charlotte, culture was “a child’s very bread of life.” In other words, a child cannot be spoiled by too much culture.

Some human beings express themselves best through painting. Some write poetry. Others put their heart into composing a symphony. Still others raise the spirit of mankind through a story or play. Charlotte wished all children, not just the well-to-do, to contact these human expressions. If education is, in her words, “an atmosphere, a discipline, a life,” the student will appreciate the arts and humanities through his entire life. A successfully self-educated person learns how to pick up the enthusiasm of great thinkers and doers—he is cultured.

Get Outdoors

Charlotte Mason encouraged first-hand experience with nature, the outdoors, and the huff and puff of play. Recreation gives rest so we may return to our work with ardor. As the poem says, “Students with ardor/Work harder!” Habits of discovery, observation, and recording provide the ground work for successful work in all the sciences.

Enthusiasm— God in us

The word “enthusiasm,” originally derived from the Greek word Entheos (en–in, theos–god), literally means “full of God” or “inspired.” We can, therefore, refer to an enthusiast as “one possessed by God.”

Charlotte’s philosophy mirrors that of John Calvin when he writes, “Whenever, therefore, we meet with heathen writers, let us learn from that light of truth which is admirably displayed in their works, that the human mind, fallen as it is, and corrupted from its integrity, is yet invested and adorned by God with excellent talents. If we believe that the Spirit of God is the only fountain of truth, we shall neither reject nor despise the truth itself, wherever it shall appear, unless we wish to insult the Spirit of God.”

Though truly the “favorite virtue of heaven,” enthusiasm has sadly been replaced with other reasons for living. Charlotte Mason wished children to live by admiration, hope, and love. Thus, heroic stories from the Bible and elsewhere were read to and by the children each term. She wanted children to know the heroes and heroines, the poets, the prophets and warriors, the high tempered spirits, the giants of human nature, who through force of mind, courage and perseverance, have won the day for nations and for individuals, when all other hearts but their own were faint, and who against hope believed in hope when others desponded. She thought children should strive for virtues not test scores and grades. The enthusiast carries a glowing splendor and gladness which leads him on to victory.

Results Of Enthusiasm

Let’s turn again to the arts, less heroic but no less marked in intellectual pursuits and achievements. Only enthusiasm could have led to the creations and results that are seen and heard in art. For example, Beethoven, Handel, Schubert, and Bach, who we widely regard as super-successful composers, not for their great financial successes (none of them died rich) but for their enduring contribution to world music, did not create their symphonies out of selfish ambition or desire for fame. They all felt an absorbing, passionate love of their art. Their enthusiasm gave full play to their emotions and led their inspired souls to give utterance to imprisoned thoughts and to give to the world a language without words. The beauty of their creations was in them, and they desired that others should recognize it.

Michaelangelo, Raphael, Velasquez, and Rossetti, were born with a love of form and color that led to the ideals of beauty. None could not have survived the laborious years of disappointment, failure, poverty and discouragement on the vainglorious love of fame. The will of these great men was driven by desire, born of a pure and true enthusiasm that others might see in their God-given art and love what they loved.

True Enthusiasm Presses Forward

True enthusiasm is far-seeing in hope and effort. Enthusiastic teachers press forward through difficulty and discouragement, knowing that the sovereign power of love will not fail in the end. For love—that greatest thing in the world—can never fail.

Charlotte Mason encouraged enthusiasm in the young from the earliest day. She wanted to let them learn that without the Entheos, the Spirit of God in them, they would be nothing. She said, “Teach them how they must put their whole being into action to arrive at the fullness of their measure.” Now that is success!

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