Before I had Charlotte as my education mentor, my role model for fruitful interaction with children was Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle, a fictional character created by Betty Edwards who premiered in 1947 in a book of that title and was further developed in subsequent books in the series. Upon reading the first chapter of the first book, I was filled with admiration for this clever author’s wit and wisdom, and found myself laughing out loud at the ironic extremes in the situations she created. I delighted in recognizing my own child-self and the efforts of adults around me in the stories penned from chapter to chapter.
The character “Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle” was a sort of Dr. Spock (Benjamin Spock — child psychologist, not the Vulcan) to a neighborhood full of mothers who wrung their hands and fretted themselves endlessly over their very ordinary children’s peccadilloes, struggling all the while to convince each other of their children’s superiority.
Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle, the sugar-cookie scented wife of a deceased pirate, lived in an upside-down house at the end of the street. She received children as visitors at all hours of the day, letting boys dig up her yard in search of her husband’s lost treasure and girls re-enact their favorite princess dramas over and over again. When the befuddled mothers consulted with her in exasperation over their children’s annoying behavior, her standard cures were natural consequences — enhanced by a little “magic” which inevitably pushed those consequences to extremes.
Each chapter begins with a series of phone calls from one mother to the others, explaining her latest challenge with her darling “Percival Lightfeather” or some such ludicrous name. Eventually one mother will refer the beleaguered parent to Mrs. P, and the cure will ensue. From “The Picky-Eater-Tiny-Bite-Taker” to “The Scaredy-Cat-Cure”, I think there is still a lot of wisdom to be gleaned from this sage’s intuitive understanding of how parents need to let consequences take their course.
When I finally picked up Volume 5 of Charlotte Mason’s “Original Home Schooling Series” Formation of Character and met the characters she created to convey her points about the shaping of children’s personalities, I couldn’t help but laugh out loud just as I had done years before with Mrs. Piggle Wiggle. In these chapters, Charlotte takes the voices of fictional parents, conversing with each other and with friends over their not-quite-as-ridiculously-named children’s foibles. In my mind’s eye, I could picture Charlotte penning these accounts with a half-smile on her face and a gleam in her eye. “Inconstant” Kitty has “no faculty of attention” and Fred Bruce forgets “everything he is desired to remember” (Part I), while the “A-B-C Darians” sort through folk practices of child-rearing in light of the encroaching scientific principles of child-rearing, and come up with a new scheme for education, the outcome of which is the Parents’ National Education Union (PNEU) (Part II).
These accounts show that Charlotte was a keen observer of family life and interaction between mother and father, child and parent, novice and professional in the detail with which she distinguishes her characters from each other and has them trot out quite eloquently the views on character development and education disputed in her day. Her comical though compassionate depictions of children caught up in bad habits shows forth her years of being present in the moment –watching and listening — in order to later reflect on what could have been done to address the situation effectively. The historical fiction of the beginning of the PNEU Charlotte crafted through her likewise exquisite attentiveness to drawing room discussions and dinner conversations. It’s delightful to read Charlotte in this capacity of eavesdropper, and impressive to see her adeptness at conveying her ideas and principles through imagined dialogue and socially-situated interaction.
In reading Betty Edwards’ Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle volumes, one will have no trouble picking up on the parenting weaknesses and wisdom of the mid 20th century. I recommend Leslie Laurio’s summaries and paraphrases of Formation of Character, found at amblesideonline.org, to support the reading of Volume 5 of the Original Home-Schooling Series. In either case, I’m certain that one will recognize the same foolishnesses and insights in the deliberations of the characters in both books. And because we deal with the same parenting and child-rearing matters today, readers will find themselves laughing out loud as they recognize their own fumbling issues and efforts in the pages of these delightful books.
Copyright Lisa Cadora 2012