"Education has three faces." "Education is an atmosphere, a discipline, and a life." "Education is the science of relations."
Charlotte Mason wrote her books over a century ago. How might these ideas look today?
Our nature walks embody the three faces of education as well as the science of relations. Two weeks ago, on our first trip to a Carolina Bay, we came across a water bug that's probably not on any standard for "must-study" insects (i.e., bees, butterflies, ladybugs, etc.). To get a clear picture, someone tossed it in this net full of honeysuckle. We plopped it back in a Mason jar of bay water and brought the curious creature with the bumpy back to school for further study.
Some believe atmosphere depends upon classroom decorations, appealing graphics in textbooks, modern technology, and kid-friendly books that entertain while educating. However, we think bringing the world down to a "child's level" dulls the mind. First, it sows the idea that learning happens only at school. Home isn't full of textbooks and educational posters. Neither is the store nor the outdoors. Second, facts must be boring if teachers have to works so hard to make it look appealing. Third, it implies that, once we leave school for the day, weekend, holiday, summer, or forever, we stop learning. When free of the bonds of school, we seek entertainment rather than life-long learning.
Harvest relies upon the real world of books and things for knowledge. Our school has the most sophisticated science laboratory ever equipped. It's full of ideas for inquiry. It's also free. It's called the outdoors, and studying nature is the best foundation for science we can imagine. For example, this cockroach-like water bug raises many questions. What is it? What are those bumps? What should we feed it? Why does it seem reluctant to swim?
We turned to our community for help since education is the science of relations. A mom in one of our homeschool families texted a photo to her father, an entomologist. He classified it as something in the Belostomatidae lethocerus family, which grows to four inches long! He even identified its gender as male. Why? Because the mother lays her eggs on the father's back, which he carries for about two weeks until they hatch. We all grew excited when we realized we might see young water bugs emerge before the school year ended.
One scary aspect of the science of relations is that teachers never know when something beyond our knowledge will arrive on the scene. That's okay! The water bug sent us all on a quest for knowledge. We studied with our students. While we guided them in finding answers, we had no idea of what to expect on hatching day. It's hard to find eyewitness accounts on such an obscure topic!
Monday, May 12, was an exciting day. Over the weekend, some families decorated the school for our headmaster's birthday! Her own children kept dawdling and forgetting things to make her late, so that all the students school could shout "Surprise!" when she walked in the large room. The eggs looked "like cylinders" according to one student. Someone said, "Wouldn't it be cool if the toe-biters hatched on Mrs. Angie's birthday?" God must have a sense of humor for we noticed two wee nymphs hovering around their daddy at noon, exactly ten days after we found him. She might be the only person who has ever been serenaded with "Happy birthday, Mrs. Angie and the toe-biters."
Two days later, a few lucky students had the great joy of seeing one hatch. The pale-yellow nymph that emerged shocked us! Such a lovely lemony color! We learned that they turn brown within the first hour of life — a factoid hard to find in your average article about these water bugs. We even posted a video on our facebook page to share with friends and family. After four days, the entire family huddled close together.
Education is a life when new lines of thought emerge in the mind, and our experience with the toe biter family offered many! Some students likened them to seahorses and penguins because the father cares for the eggs. We couldn't believe that such small creatures could kill a small snake until we watched daddy and his kids gang up on a minnow! Daddy injects his prey with a toxin that liquifies the body's interior so that he and his nymphs can insert their proboscis and slurp a meal. We wondered about what kind of food he ate: we tried an ant, earthworm, and mealworms as well. Then, we began to plot when and where we would release the gruesome family. Oh, yes, gruesome for cannibalism is one way they feed as we saw with our own eyes. One student concluded, "I think God must have created toe-biters after the fall. I can't imagine how they're good."
Education is also discipline in developing habits that support the nourishment of mind, body, and spirit. Nearly every week, we walked Santee National Wildlife Refuge: rain, shine, wind, snow, and ice. When the park was closed, we found other places in our area to walk. On special occasions, we explored other sites. At first, some children were not used to walking over a mile and complained of exhaustion. Now, they eagerly seek rabbit trails. At first, some found very little to interest them. Now, they stop all the time to study something interesting. At first, they didn't know the proper stewardship of the critters in our care. Now, they beg to take turns to feed the fish, frogs, turtles, anole, and toe-biters.
We are thrilled to see how our children have flourished under the three faces of education (atmosphere, discipline, and life). Every day, they apply the science of relations (making connections in a world of living ideas). While they may not understand what these words mean, they know how to live them.
"Give children a wide range of subjects, with the end in view of establishing in each case some one or more of the relations I have indicated. Let them learn from first-hand sources of information — really good books, the best going, on the subject they are engaged upon. The teacher's business is to indicate, stimulate, direct and constrain to the acquirement of knowledge, but by no means to be the fountain-head and source of all knowledge in his or her own person. The less parents and teachers talk-in and expound their rations of knowledge and thought to the children they are educating, the better for the children.... They will ask for help if they want it."