|I hope you had a great Thanksgiving. This scene is by Tasha Tudor from Rosemary for Remembrance.|
Excretion of the mind…anyone have a guess as to what Mason is referring to with that phrase? We came across it at our PMEU meeting where we are finishing up the usually-neglected Volume 5 study. It should be read more as it has acorns worth digging for, including this phrase.
In the chapter, “Young Crossjay”, Mason talks about a boy character from the novel, The Egoist by George Meredith (1879). (Perhaps some of the challenges of Volume 5 are all her references to novels unfamiliar to us.?)Anyway, we learn that Crossjay balks at his education- he simply doesn’t want to participate. Oh, he certainly “does get it into the Lethe of the mind we call the verbal memory, out of which it can shortly be reproduced on call without having undergone any ‘mind-change,’ untouched by ideas, unwarmed by imagination mere dead matter, an excretion of the mind.” (4.393)
The Lethe (LEE-thee) in Greek mythology is the river of unmindfulness that caused complete forgetfulness. In order to know something, really know, the knowledge needs to connect with ideas or warm the imagination. If not, it’s just “dead matter, an excretion of the mind”. All this points to rote memory, something Mason wasn’t fond of.
|Waters of Lethe by John Roddam Spencer-Stanhope (1879)|
So be careful with how you teach what you teach. Recitation should be more than just verbal or rote memory – so should narration and so should dictation. (I will explore that in a future post.) If you are trying to follow Mason’s methods and you are doing something in which the student can quickly look, perhaps reproduce, and be done with it – it probably didn’t reach the part of the mind that makes things stick. It’s good to think about this when we feel we are behind and ask our students to just “quickly finish up the rest of that book” with no narration of any sort.
I know – this post didn’t have a pleasing title. But as each of us slowly moves more and more towards this authentic, relational education, it’s good to understand what Charlotte Mason thought about different ways of learning. It helps me to think through and evaluate how learning happens around here – hopefully all knowledge passes the Lethe of the mind and goes deeper to a place that warms the imagination and sprouts ideas.
From joy to joy,
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