Chapter 3 The Good and Evil Nature of a Child.Children are not born bad but with possibilities for good and for evil.
vol 6 pg 56, 57, 58
Every child wants to be approved, even baby in his new red shoes; to be first in what is going on; to get what is going; to be admired; to lead and manage the rest; to have the companionship of children and grown people; and last, but not least, every child wants to know. There they are, those desires, ready to act on occasion and our business is to make due use of this natural provision for the work of education. We do make use of the desires, not wisely, but too well. We run our schools upon emulation, the desire of every child to be first; and not the ablest, but the most pushing, comes to the front. We quicken emulation by the common desire to get and to have, that is, by the impulse of avarice. So we offer prizes, exhibitions, scholarships, every incentive that can be proposed. We cause him to work for our approbation, we play upon his vanity, and the boy does more than he can. What is the harm, we say, when all those springs of action are in the child already? The athlete is beginning to discover that he suffers elsewhere from the undue development of any set of muscles; and the boy whose ambition, or emulation, has been unduly stimulated becomes a flaccid person. But there is a worse evil. We all want knowledge just as much as we want bread. We know it is possible to cure the latter appetite by giving more stimulating food; and the worst of using other spurs to learning is that a natural love of knowledge which should carry us through eager school-days, and give a spice of adventure to the duller days of mature life, is effectually choked; and boys and girls 'Cram to pass but not to know; they do pass but they don't know.' The divine curiosity which should have been an equipment for life hardly survives early schooldays.
Now it has been demonstrated very fully indeed that the delightfulness of knowledge is sufficient to carry a pupil joyfully and eagerly through his school life and that prizes and places, praise, blame and punishment, are unnecessary insofar as they are used to secure ardent interest and eager work. The love of knowledge is sufficient. Each of those other stimuli should no doubt have its natural action, but one or two springs of action seem to be played upon excessively in our schools.
I see my daughters equipped with that divine curiosity, and I'm humbled by my task, I have to keep it alive throughout the 'school years'. I've been in the classrooms, much of what it was done came externally to the children, they were not fed ideas, their connection with knowledge was pending from a very fine thread, sometimes it was totally broken. Even at home I've been tempted many times to resort to more punishment and prizes, to give them 'steroids', to buy the curriculum with the many projects and quizzes, and I tend to praise them for academic excellence (which I unconsciously relate to obtaining milestones, completing and showing 'progress' the way we know it and we can brag about, even though I know this is not the pivotal part of their education). And I don't see that it's necessary, that the 'prize' is knowing, learning, and nothing else. We haven't done the summer reading prizes, but I caught myself offering some chocolate if she finished two math worksheets!... and I don't think those may always be bad as CM says, but in all honesty I affirm these days I see us ABUSING THIS in all aspects of life, homeschooled and not. If you have read Understood Betsy, you'll remember how when she is in the country and asked to do different tasks and not given lots of praise for doing them she gets perplexed, and needless to say that in the end she becomes a more sensible and much less ingrate young lady.
I could spell out details and start up a controversy like the ones that get heated in some groups saying we believe in this, we don't do that...but the quid is not in the specifics, but in the tone, in the attitude, and we and we alone know in our sincere and private introspection, in our prayers and confessions to our pillow, if we ourselves have that desire to learn, if we fulfill our obligations not expecting anything in return, even when nobody praises our cooking, our latest post, or we are not told how educated we are because we read this or that book. We also know if our children are moved by the impulse of possessions, prizes, promised activities, of this and that, or if they live on the impulse of their own curiosity, with their ability to obey and contribute to the domestic tasks, with the satisfaction of a simple life rich in ideas, experiences and values, and not in toys, shopping, or consumerism.
Maybe we have lost faith in the children. When Charlotte Mason lived, many regarded children and even adults who were poor or without means as not much more than animals, teachers thought they were empty vessels. We know they are born persons and with a desire to learn, but do we really treat them as such?
But a Charlotte Mason education looks more like THIS, and I'm committing to it.