This is the last excerpt I’ll be sharing in our “Take the Fifth” series, and I couldn’t resist recording the passage in which Charlotte Mason talks about synthetic and analytic learning. (Both important, and best in their proper places.) Be sure to read the lovely testimony to a great educator, a great man, that Anne has shared.
From pages 380-82:
We are casting about rather wildly to find out what education is, and what it is to effect. There is certain knowledge, no doubt, which it is shameful not to possess, and, wanting which, the mind is as limp, feeble, and incapable as an ill-nourished body. There is also a time for sowing the seed of this knowledge, an intellectual as well as a natural springtime; and it would be interesting to examine the question, how far it is possible to prosecute any branch of knowledge, the sowing and germination of which has not taken place in early youth. It follows that the first three lustres [up to age 15] belong to what we may call the synthetic stage of education, during which his reading should be wide and varied enough to allow the young scholar to get into living touch with earth-knowledge, history, literature, and much besides. These things are necessary for his intellectual life, and are especially necessary to give him material for the second stage of his education, the analytic, which, indeed, continues with us to the end. It is in this second stage that the value of the classical and mathematical grind comes in. It produces a certain sanity of judgment, and therefore a certain capacity for affairs, an ability for the examination of questions, which are rather the distinguishing marks of the public schoolman.… Whatever be the faults of the public school, it is not a manufactory of ‘cranks’; and the danger of a transition period like the present is that it may produce a crop of these persons of unbalanced judgment and undisciplined will.
“‘O friend,’ said he, ‘hold up your mind; strength is but strength of will;
Reverence each other’s good in fight, and shame at things done ill.”‘
[from The Iliad, Book 5, Chapman’s translation]
This exordium of “Atrides” might well be the motto of our public schools; it sums up with curious exactness that which they accomplish,—the steady purpose, public spirit, and fine sense of honour which adorn our public services, recruited for the most part from our public schools.
But these fine qualities, of which we are proud, may co-exist with ignorance; and ignorance is the mother of prejudice and the obstinate foe of progress. The task before us in setting in order the house of our national education is a delicate one. We must guard those assets of character which the education of the past affords us, and recover, if we may, the passionate love of knowledge for its own sake which brought about an earlier Renaissance.
I really want to say: read the rest here.