“All the thought we offer to our children shall be living thought; no mere dry summaries of facts will do.” The very first word in this quote from Mason is “all”, not some, not in special cases, and not all but when dealing with science. “All” means “the whole of; every; entire; full; all of a particular thing, amount, group, or area is involved or affected.”2
There are many sites that have recommended living science books for the early years. The stumbling block is those middle and high school grades. We go the way of the public system and default to the text book. Mason states that “books dealing with science (as in history, say) should be of a literary character, and we should probably be more scientific as a people if we scrapped all the textbooks which swell publishers’ lists.”3 Did you notice which textbooks Mason was referring to? All the textbooks. Not some or to use just when dealing with science, but all textbooks. If we, students and teachers, want to become more science literate we need to continue our Mason education right through to year twelve with living books for science.
Every Fall I excitedly watch for the transformation of the burning bush:
It starts with just a hint of color; the red creeps in from the very tips of the leaves but we cannot see yet why it is called the burning bush. If we switched mid-stream from living books to textbooks this is all we’d get; another plant with a name that doesn’t make sense. Much like calling it a Charlotte Mason school but only using her philosophies for a few of the subjects. You are only getting a hint of the incredible potential.
“The burning bush will display the most brilliant red colors if it is planted in full sun.”4 The feast of ideas found in living books is the full sun. “Planting it in shaded areas will prevent the red color from developing.”4 Introduce a textbook and you’ve cast a shadow over what could continue to be a thriving learning environment. “The older the plant gets and becomes established, you will see a better fall color.”4 Don’t think that as a student approaches high school that textbooks must be used in order for it to be a serious and demanding course. We know that a Mason education starts slow and builds exponentially. It is a rigorous study that is comparable and I would dare to say surpass what is happening in mainstream schools. The marked difference is the passion for the knowledge acquired for the majority of students compared to the very few who are able to “’get up’ the driest of pulverized textbooks.”5
Facts, nomenclature, definitions and formulas are important to a full science education but are not central. The second part of the first quote continues; “given the vitalizing idea, children will readily hang the mere facts upon the idea as upon a peg capable of sustaining all that it is needful to retain.”1 It is the idea that must fundamentally be the center then from the idea all the facts and formulas make sense.
“Make sure to water regularly, as a lack of water or drought conditions will hinder their fall display.”4 We, as teachers, do not want to hinder the intellectual growth of our students by sudden abandonment of ideas in the curriculum. With confidence and freedom we can continue on the joyous and challenging path of a Mason education knowing the full glorious pageant is promised to come. The burning bush given all the right conditions becomes blazing red. Our students given all possible advantages of a Mason education become afire with passion for knowledge.
A Mason education looks very different from most other types of instruction and can’t help but stand out in a crowd of typical greenery. Get the full transformation and expect to know why it is called the burning bush.
2 Encarta Dictionary
3 Charlotte Mason, A Philosophy of Education, pp.218
4 Backyard Landscape Ideas, burning bush shrub
5 Charlotte Mason, A Philosophy of Education, pp.256
© Jennifer Larnder Gagnon 2012