Charlotte Mason says parents must direct and instruct rather than defer to professional educators.
“It seems to me that we live in an age of pedagogy; that we of the teaching profession are inclined to take too much upon ourselves, and that parents are ready to yield the responsibility of direction, as well as of actual instruction, more than is wholesome for the children.”
“Though every mother should be a Kindergartnerin, in the sense in which Froebel would employ the term, it does not follow that every nursery should be a regularly organised Kindergarten. Indeed, the machinery of the Kindergarten is no more than a device to ensure the carrying out of certain educational principles, and some of these it is the mother's business to get at, and work out according to Froebel's methods––or her own.”
“Overall, being a parent may confer a special advantage. One recent study compared children’s interactions with parents and with other well-intentioned adults who were not parents. Parents did a much better job of guiding the children’s language, even if the children weren’t their own.”
Jane Healy, Ph.D., Endangered Minds p. 94
Charlotte Mason recognizes that a well conducted preschool or kindergarten can be beautiful. An exceptional teacher may impress, but not all teachers are exceptional.
“It is hardly necessary, here, to discuss the merits of the Kindergarten school. The success of such a school demands rare qualities in the teacher––high culture, some knowledge of psychology and of the art of education; intense sympathy with the children, much tact, much common sense, much common information, much 'joyousness of nature,' and much governing power;––in a word, the Kindergarten method is nicely contrived to bring the child en rapport with a superior intelligence. Given such a superior being to conduct it, and the Kindergarten is beautiful––'tis like a little heaven below'; but put a commonplace woman in charge of such a school, and the charmingly devised gifts and games and occupations become so many instruments of wooden teaching. If the very essence of the Kindergarten method is personal influence, a sort of spiritual mesmerism, it follows that the mother is naturally the best Kindergartnerin; for who so likely as she to have the needful tact, sympathy, common sense, culture?”
Even in such a lovely and unusual situation, the teacher manipulates the environment to make it so pleasant--and this, says Charlotte Mason, is not ideal.
“Our first care should be to preserve the individuality, to give play to the personality, of children.”
The charming teacher encourages the children to be good through her “zeal and enthusiasm”, and at home the children do not behave so well, but the school environment is for that reason probably not best for these young children.
“Most of us are misled by our virtues, and the entire zeal and enthusiasm of the Kindergartnerin is perhaps her stone of stumbling. 'But the children are so happy and good!' Precisely; the home-nursery is by no means such a scene of peace, but I venture to think it a better growing place.”
In this artificial environment, all ideas pass through teacher--and this is also not ideal.
“Everything is directed, expected, suggested. No other personality out of book, picture, or song, no, not even that of Nature herself, can get at the children without the mediation of the teacher. No room is left for spontaneity or personal initiation on their part.”
“The clash and sparkle of our equals now and then stirs up to health; but for everyday life, the mixed society of elders, juniors and equals, which we get in a family, gives at the same time the most repose and the most room for individual development. We have all wondered at the good sense, reasonableness, fun and resourcefulness shown by a child in his own home as compared with the same child in school life.”
In the next post in this series, we'll look at what Charlotte Mason and modern researchers say about what preschoolers really need. What works, and why?