Saturday, December 01, 2007

Great Minds Think Alike

The great minds in the title are to do with Charlotte Mason and St Ignatius, just so you know. They refer to a comment by Christine, the Thinking Mother, a couple of weeks back: that the Ignatian classical method of education (as I described it here) seems to have some overlap with Charlotte Mason's ideas. I think that she was absolutely right when she commented of the similarities between the approaches:

Great minds think alike, I guess.

I love it when I see great theories crossing over each other and duplicating each other.

That's exactly, exactly what I think and love about educational philosophy. In fact, if there has been any kind of continuous thread in my educational musings throughout the years, it has been that real truth is going to carry across methods. The truth is going to be expressed differently -- partly because of the audience it is directed to, partly because of the particular focus of the person who expresses the truth -- but it is going to overlap.

I love to see those overlaps. Particularly when they refer back to real truths about human nature, not just conveniences for society. Of course there will be differences too, between these methods and theories of education, and those are not to be minimized. But those are interesting to see too, because often they reveal differences in views of human nature.

I was clicking around on the internet to answer the question: Whether Charlotte Mason recommended lesson plans and if so, what kind? In the doing of that, I found this wonderful site by Carol Hepburn. Lots of nice resources. Carol says that lesson plans can be helpful to some types of Charlotte Mason homeschoolers, including herself. They help her keep on track and keep in mind her goals.

The reason I was looking for what Charlotte Mason thought about lesson plans is that I have been rereading an online article by Robert Schwickerath, SJ about the Ignatian method of teaching. The article is called The Method of Teaching in Practice and I've reread it several times through the years (usually when I ought to be doing something else instead)

I was drafting a sort of summary of what Schwickerath says in the article. In doing this I found myself running into the same problem that I run into every time I try to write about the Ignatian method. The last time I ran into it was when I tried to compose a compare/contrast post in answer to The Thinking Mother's comment mentioned above.

One reason for the difficulty is that not many people have even heard of the Ignatian method of classical education. They are more likely to have heard of Dorothy Sayers, or Douglas Wilson, or Laura Berquist, Andrew Campbell or Susan Wise Bauer -- who are proponents of different versions of classical education. Of these, I suspect that Andrew Campbell's Latin Centered Curriculum is the closest to the Ignatian method, though Laura Berquist's classical curriculum has many similarities, too. I see many similarities between Charlotte Mason's methods and the Ignatian method, to the point where I almost think that perhaps she was trying to "reclaim" some of those lost methods and reform them -- renew them -- according to her understanding of early childhood (the Ignatians focused mostly on high schools and colleges).

Another difficulty, trivial as it may seem, is that the very term "Ignatian classical method of education" is a real show-stopper. It's hard and clumsy to type, hard to read I'm sure, and hard to sum up in a sentence or two. I need a new word for it.

Another difficulty is that the founding document for the Ignatian method of education, called the Ratio Studiorum, is written in difficult language (and that's putting it mildly). It was written for administrators in 16th and 17th century secondary schools; the whole context is several removes from the ordinary homeschool environment. Just one example of some of the duties of the teacher:

10. Let him frequently pray for his pupils and set before them the good example of his religious life.

11. He shall obey the prefect of studies in all that relates to studies and school discipline. Without his advice he should not admit anyone to his class or dismiss anyone or choose a book for prelection in class or excuse anyone from the common class exercises.

12. Each class must keep to its own subject matter. Rules for the classes of rhetoric and humanities will be given in a separate place. There shall be three grammar classes, and in these a definite curriculum is to be completed. Hence all the precepts of Emmanuel [Alvarez] are to be divided into three parts and one part assigned to each class, but in such a way that the matter studied the previous year will always be reviewed at the beginning of the next year, as will be indicated further on in the rules of each teacher.

Good stuff, wouldn't you agree? But not what you would call accessible. You see, it was written for a very different environment than my mountain homeschool with 9 scholars of various ages (if you count the two parents; our dog isn't very scholarly and our cat has gone to places unknown to pursue his further studies). And the concerns were very different. Yes, the prayer part is easy to translate; but what about the prefect and the 3 part grammar curriculum? These are to varying extents artifacts.

But the final end, the goal, was rather similar.

Since the humanities or natural sciences prepare the intellectual powers for theology and assist in the perfect understanding and practical application of religious truth and by virtue of their content contribute to the attainment of this goal, the teacher whose heart is set on advancing the honor and glory of God, should teach these secular subjects in a spirit which will prepare his students, and especially his Jesuit students, for the study of theology. He should above all lead them to a knowledge of their Creator.
Paraphrase: All for the Greater Glory of God (or Ad Majorem Dei Gloriam, the motto of the Ignatians). That is my goal too.

When I was clicking around to find out what Charlotte Mason thought about lesson plans, I also found this article by the Thinking Mother: Homeschooling is a Lifestyle not a Lesson Plan. The operative truth here is that homeschool has so much more potential as a learning environment than most formal learning environments, also known as "schools". When I am steering through lesson plans, learning theory and the like, it is always helpful to remember that if a given idea happens to be true (that is, represent real truths about how human beings learn) then it will probably be already present in some natural, organic form in the family home. Often the trappings, made for institutions, can be discarded or simplified radically -- see here for a collection of posts about how efficiency and effectiveness are not the same thing.

Now, Ignatius recommended evaluating the success of your endeavour --- whether religious or educational in focus -- after accomplishing it. If I look back on this post, I think it ended up as a bit of a jumble. But there you go -- blogging! the way to express thoughts that aren't quite pulled together, yet ;-).


Jacqueline said...

I love reading your thoughts, be they jumbled or not. I'm always left with something to thing about. I have been challenged to think about so many things since I discovered your blog. Thank you for taking the time to share all you do.

Dana said...

Nice entry...a lot of great educational philosophers had very similar ideas. We use the Principle Approach and Charlotte Mason is quoted frequently in discussions. And the idea of education being a lifestyle, not a lesson plan, is pervasive.

Principled Discovery