Monday, April 21, 2014

The 'Wider Circle' of Living Books

Dear Charlotte Mason Friends,

I recently read through some Parent's Review articles about "suitable" books for children.  It seems the question of what that is has been a hot button topic all along!  Today as well, 'Living Books' can be vague and even ambiguous phrase depending on the source of the definition.  The term is much in use in the home education venue and many different curriculum makers grab the words and apply their own meaning.  Which tends to make things more fuzzy!  After listening to a disillusioned young mom beginning the home school adventure exclaim, "Just tell me what a Living Book is for goodness sake and I'll get them!", it occurred to me that instead of setting out a feast of ideas, we are back down to our system perspective where we input this and out comes this, removing the life and vitality out of individuals AND books!  We were able to talk a little about the aura that seems to surround 'living books', give a few examples and realistic applications that helped clear the tension in the air a bit.

A note to self & other CM advocates:  We may be in need of a gentle rebuke... I think we have to be more careful and thoughtful in the way we use familiar "CM" words. I am sad to remember times of hearing a flippant, "Oh, you know... we only use living books in our home.  None of that twaddle for us!" And off we go having left, at the very least, a snobby impression in our wake and no clearer understanding of what Charlotte Mason meant when she said that children should be fed upon the very best and many worthy books.  I think it is not generally intended that way, and we would be aghast and even ashamed that we tread so rough-shod upon a foundational method instead of sharing discussion on vital thoughts and living ideas!
a display of living books for older students
Vital thoughts and living ideas are contained in living books, but to give hard and fast 'rules' won't encompass the nourishment of truth, nobility and beauty of those works.  We need a bigger picture and an overarching perspective.  There are some principles we can consider to help in our choices; we will discuss some to consider as we continue talking more about living books.  For now, I will leave you with a couple of thoughts to ponder...

Matthew Arnold's definition of 'culture' may apply: "to know the best that has been thought and said."
"One of the great functions of reading [sic] is to widen the sympathies by throwing the reader into a larger circle of life than his own...that annihilates time and space...a world that is opened up..." (Ronald McNeill, Parent's Review, vol. 8)