“Strong minds discuss ideas, average minds discuss events, weak minds discuss people.” Socrates
The Charlotte Mason philosophy reflects wisdom from many different philosophers. She studied great thinkers, and pieced together their thoughts into an educational philosophy. I think she must have studied Socrates because of her view on ideas. Charlotte Mason believed that children’s lessons and texts should be filled with inspirational ideas.
What is an Idea?
We use the word “idea’ interchangeably with “thought.” We say, “I have an idea; let’s watch a movie!” Or, “I have an idea; we’ll go to the zoo today!” Charlotte Mason wasn’t talking about this kind of idea. She said:
For the dictionary appears to me to fall short of the truth in its definition of the term ‘idea’. An idea is more than an image or a picture; it is, so to speak, a spiritual germ endowed with vital force- with power, that is, to grow, and produce after it’s kind.” Home Education, page 173
The difference between how we use the word idea and what Charlotte Mason intended is that an idea grows. If you can’t discuss a thought from multiple angles; it doesn’t inspire deeper thought or change; it doesn’t stick with you because it is so intriguing, then it probably isn’t an inspirational idea.
How an Idea Grows
In Home Education, Mason describes how an idea grabs hold of us and grows. This is something that you’ve probably experienced over and over, maybe without realizing it. When we were searching for names for our daughter, we wanted to know everything about it. Who are the historical people with this name? What does it mean? How many children also have this name? Suddenly, we were very aware of every sign, company, and child with that name. This is the same thing that happens with inspirational ideas.
A friend once told me, “Reality is perception.” I didn’t necessarily agree with this idea, but we were able to discuss it for at least an hour. Throughout the next week, little instances arose that reminded me of this idea; an overly produced Facebook post, a celebrities polished appearance. That is an idea.
Two Stories About Ideas
I teach third grade in a public school. 30 students sit with text books in front of them. We’re reading Charlotte’s Web, except that it has been cut up into bits in pieces to fit into their books. I ask the questions in the teacher’s manual. “Why do you think the author included this? What does this teach us about our lives?” The students read on dutifully, without a smile, an enthusiastic hand in the air, or any joy. Few of them have any desire to read the rest of the story.
I’m new to teaching at an Ambleside School. The concept of inspirational ideas is still nebulous to me. I think ideas lie somewhere between a thought about everyday life, and the groundbreaking theory of a great scientist. It’s time for history, and I notice my students are dragging through it. Wasn’t living text supposed to be engaging? I didn’t see the difference between a this living text and the former text books I used to read with my students.
It’s the next day, and a founder of our school observes my class. He says, “Your class just isn’t engaged.” In my mind I think, “I know, right!? This text is just too challenging!” He points to the history book and skims through it. Then he says, “Look at this! This is amazing!” There is a thought-provoking idea that I had completely missed. He teaches a history lesson to my class. The idea is gently coaxed from the text, and my once-bored class is suddenly on fire with excitement. Their hands shoot up as they think of things to add to our discussion. I notice that any side conversations going on are about this life-giving thought that fills our space.
This is why this quote resonates so much with me:
It is not too much to say that a morning in which a child receives no new idea is a morning wasted, however closely the little student has been kept at his books.” Home Education, page 173
This kind of education, where living texts and inspirational ideas are introduced daily, is rich, engaging, and fun for children. There’s so much to say about this topic, but I’ll save it for another post. Do you think inspirational ideas have a positive effect on learning?