Friday, February 5, 2016

Geography as a Panorama of Delight

In volume 6, Towards A Philosophy of Education, Charlotte Mason describes how her philosophy of education governs the manner of teaching specific subjects. I happened to be reading this chapter recently for my Start Here book club and was struck specifically by the section on Geography.

She bemoans the "current" geography courses of her time
The whole tendency of modern Geography, as taught in our schools, is to strip the unfortunate planet which has been assigned to us as our abode and environment of every trace of mystery and beauty.
No more may children conceive themselves climbing Mont Blanc or Mount Everest, skating on the Fiords of Norway or swimming in a gondola at Venice. These are not the things that matter, but only how and where and why money is to be made under local conditions on the earth's surface. It is doubtful whether this kind of teaching is even lucrative because the mind works on great ideas, and, upon these, works to great ends.
I'm not sure how schools teach geography now, if they teach it at all, but Mason argues eloquently for its inclusion in every child's education:
Perhaps no knowledge is more delightful than such an intimacy with the earth's surface, region by region, as should enable the map of any region to unfold a panorama of delight, disclosing not only mountains, rivers, frontiers, the great features we know as 'Geography,' but associations, occupations, some parts of the past and much of the present, of every part of this beautiful earth.
Level 1B of Mater Amabilis (first grade) suggests a family geography study which, while it seems fantastic, has also seemed overwhelming to me every time I've approached first grade (currently with my third student) so I've always just skipped it. This year, I thought I'd try using  A Child's Introduction to the World: Geography, Cultures, and People - From the Grand Canyon to the Great Wall of China by Heather Alexander, which I bought used after loving A Child's Introduction to the Night Sky: The Story of the Stars, Planets, and Constellations--and How You Can Find Them in the Sky by Micheal Driscoll from the same series. I've been reading two or three pages with Second Daughter about once a week. She's narrated it acceptably and never complained about it, but after reading the description of geography from Charlotte Mason and, especially, comparing it to First Son's Level 3 geography book, Richard Halliburton's Complete Book of Marvels (which is really two books and will be read over two years), I realized A Child's Introduction to the World just doesn't live up to the ideal. Rather than delving deeply into a few places, it skims the surface of everything. Too often, it spouts off a list of facts rather than inviting the child into a country's life.

I've decided, therefore, to set Second Daughter's geography study aside for now. Instead, we're going to increase the time we spend on her greatest current love, birds and The Burgess Bird Book For Children. (I have this one, which is lovely but quite pricey.)

In a couple of years, I'll have one last shot at first grade with Second Son. Perhaps I can gather myself together for the recommended family geography that year!

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