Part II—So many things to think about!

Don’t miss Anne’s overview of part II from Monday.

I think one of the most interesting inclusions in Part II is Chapter 4,— “Die Neue Zeit Bedarf Der Neuen Schule: A Schoolmaster’s Reverie.”

This chapter can be a bit difficult to follow. It is written as if it were the private “reverie” of a teacher who has been given the position of headmaster, running a grammar school—that is, a small boarding school which typically focused on the British version of classical education.

His first thought is that it would be easiest to maintain the status quo. He muses: “What is, is best. But that is laziness, cowardice.” Charlotte Mason imagines him as a thinker who has been delving into deep thoughts and new ideas about education, so we are treated to his rambling thoughts as he envisions plans and schemes for his school, justifying the rationale of it all to himself as he goes. It can be a cumbersome vehicle for the ideas, but we have to indulge Miss Mason and dig for the treasure.

While on vacation in Germany, our schoolmaster has picked up a pamphlet about education, and his reverie is taking place on the train carrying him home. The title of the publication is the title of this chapter— “New Times Require A New School,” and the pamphlet in question is real. The author, Arnold Dodel-Port (pictured) is a real person—a botanist, a socialist, and a freethinker (which is a euphemism for someone who rejects religion). The pamphlet described in this chapter was published in German in 1889 and translated into English in 1891.

It’s possible that Miss Mason thought many of her readers would be familiar with it, or it may be that, like the schoolmaster in the story, she picked up a copy of it during her own continental travels. It’s interesting to see the way in which she presented ideas that she disagreed with. In this story, the real pamphlet becomes a foil for the fictional schoolmaster’s dissenting thought. It requires a careful reading to observe which ideas are the ones expressed by the pamphlet, and which are his (and probably her) reactions. Miss Mason sacrificed clarity for “story” in this chapter, and the stream-of-consciousness style she uses can be a bit difficult to follow.

She presents three main arguments:

    1. If the goal of education is the pursuit of truth, how much time in educational pursuits should be given to religion? (“Pilate’s world-famed question” is referenced: “What is truth?”) Dodel-Port laments that too much time is spent on religious studies in Germany. Charlotte Mason’s schoolmaster, on the other hand, laments that England has reduced religious studies so much that “we have deprived the people of the classics, the metaphysics, the ethics—as well as the religion—peculiarly their own.” I think we can safely conclude that Charlotte Mason believed the Bible had an important role in an education with truth as its object.
    2. The title of the pamphlet in English was “Moses or Darwin?” Moses equates to Genesis and the account of creation, and Darwin represents evolution. So, the question actually is not, “How can creation and evolution be reconciled?” but “which one are you going to believe?” They are presented as an either/or proposition.  Charlotte Mason’s schoolmaster—and I think we can assume he expresses her own feelings—refuses to be drawn into a dichotomy. He believes, in faith, that both may be true in their degree, and that loyalty to Christ will be a safeguard against fretting about lesser truths. Charlotte Mason makes it plain that she did not consider the apparent conflict a vital one, and believed a relationship with the Eternal was the only way to live purposefully and joyfully.

It is difficult to put into words, but, somehow, one is landed on the other side of the controversies of the day: they are of immense interest, but are not vital.

  1. How can the Bible be taught in the face of extreme criticism? Biblical criticism is not much discussed today, but the controversy was pretty warm when this was written. We can assume Dodel-Port was influenced by the German higher criticism of the Bible, and the schoolmaster attempts to sort through ways in which he might ground his pupils in God’s Word and fortify them to defend the Scripture. He didn’t consider the Bible weakened by the critics, and without hesitation declared, “The fortress is intact.”  I think Charlotte Mason made it clear that she was not willing to yield the truth of Scripture to critics.

I suspect that the words Charlotte Mason puts into the mouth of her schoolmaster in the closing pages are the convictions of her own heart.

Do I incline with lingering fondness rather to the things of the past than to the eager stir of the present, the promise of the future? Not so; I appreciate to the full the joy of living in days characterised by childlike frankness, openness to conviction, readiness to try all things and choose that which is good….

But the past offers us its accumulated treasures of wisdom and experience…

Few things could be more disastrous (as, alas, few are more imminent) than a sudden break with the traditions of the past; wherefore, let us gently knit the bonds that bind us to the generation all too rapidly dying out. Without a thought of disloyalty towards our own most earnest days, perhaps some of us feel that the cultivated men and women of the middle decades of the last century had more breadth and sweetness—any way, more delightful humour—than we perceive in our contemporaries. It is well that we gather up, with tender reverence, such fragments of their insight and experience as come in our way.

This is a most gentle warning not to take up the “latest and greatest” fads in theological or educational teaching, not to be “carried away by every wind” of trend and fashion, and most especially, not to allow education to be divided into “sacred” and “secular.” Miss Mason told us it was imminent, and she was right. Contemporary education is largely considered to be secular, and all too often “Christian” education is merely a veneer of morality or Bible-themed appendages added to that secular education. Miss Mason urges us to think as she has shown her schoolmaster thought, as well as the parents in the other stories in this section. We must think, and then we may look any educational question squarely in the face, discern truth, and act confidently upon our convictions.

Read all the posts in this series.