Thursday, August 23, 2012

Chapter 4: Bible Instruction

Charlotte Mason believed that all beauty and truth comes from God and therefore there does not need to be an artificial distinction between "religious" subjects and the rest of learning.  History tells us the story of mankind and his relationship to his Creator; science helps us understand the world that Creator made; beautiful music, poetry, and art lift our hearts and inspire our minds, ultimately, toward the beauty of heaven; and so on.  We do not need to Christianize these subjects because, studied properly, they are naturally oriented toward the development of ourselves as children of God.  

But that said, there is still religious instruction to be given, and in this chapter, Bobby Scott provides some guidelines regarding Bible instruction, which Charlotte Mason refers to as a student's "chief lessons" (181).  First, though, he makes clear that he is not referring to "the religious life of children," which is properly learned in the home from a child's parents and shouldn't be usurped by the schoolroom.  For homeschoolers, of course, this distinction is less important, but I think it is a good reminder that in this chapter, we are discussing a more academic side of Bible study rather than a devotional one.  Scott opens with some important points about how these lessons should be broached: namely, with respect for text and for the child.  Briefly,
:: "The Bible should never be watered down into simple paraphrases,"
:: "Children are capable of dealing with the truth of the Scriptures,"
:: "The Bible itself as a book should be treated and handled respectfully,"
::  and "The Old Testament and the Gospels should be handled in a pleasant and poetic way" (182).
We should not underestimate our children's capacity for biblical language and truths; we should teach them that the Bible is a text unlike any other and more deserving of respect than any other.  This respect extends also to the teacher, who should not use the Bible as a tool of punishment or a lesson in moralism.  His main point in this discussion seems to be that we shouldn't twist our Bible lessons to manipulate the student but should let him encounter it as a sacred text.

His suggestions regarding the format of a Bible curriculum also hinge on these principles and mimic the lessons we see in other subjects: careful and reverent reading, narrating that takes on the biblical language as closely as possible, relevant mapwork and timeline work, the use of picture study for illustration.  For children approaching and in the teen years, he suggests socratic-like discussions, research projects, apologetics, doctrinal questioning, and thoughtful memorization and recitation.  And for all ages, there should be some systematic course of study to be sure that the child gets the full experience of the Scriptures.  

Approaching this chapter as a Catholic, I think these suggestions are sound as far as the Scriptures go.  And I'm planning to pull out the Douay-Rheims translation to read alongside our story from Child's Bible History this week.  My children seem to enjoy the poetic quality of Knecht's version, and I know they'll enjoy hearing the older translation more often than just at Mass and on special feast days.  But obviously there is no mention of the richness of our Faith and what kinds of other instruction would fall under a student's "religion lessons" beyond Bible reading in this chapter.  And indeed, there is so much more to pass along to our little (and big!) ones for their edification: the stories of the saints and spiritual biographies, catechism lessons and the study of church teachings, the celebration of feast days and their history, and so on.  These are not meant just for teens and adults but are true and inspiring for young ones too, and, as such, can very well be part of our homeschool curriculum.  They partly fall under the "religious life of children" that Scott mentions at the beginning as suited to a student's home life, but there is an academic side to these subjects as well, and I think there's certainly a way of incorporating them into our lessons in a Charlotte Mason way--by which I mean with an emphasis on quality, non-dumbed-down texts that take into account the learning potential of the child and his natural desire for beauty, truth, and real ideas.  I'm looking forward to talking more about CM-friendly religious instruction in the younger grades when I get a chance to discuss our first-grade plans here on the blog.

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