”The intellectual life, like every manner of spiritual life, has but one food whereby it lives and grows––the sustenance of living ideas”.*
I could not articulate it at the time, but I had a secret life as a child. Maybe, an odd duality better names it. There was school to attend with worksheets (Xeroxed with purple print and that distinct smell), textbooks and tests. And, seemingly separate from that, a delightful world that was only mine. Stacks from the library, books and magazines ordered through Scholastic, and, my daily ritual, The Aiken Standard , enjoyed with an afterschool snack on the floor of my room. The duality–formal education as a duty vs a happy world of knowledge and ideas–didn’t dawn on me until I met Charlotte Mason.
I recall “The Cask of Amontillado” and “the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune.” Sentences were diagrammed. Papers outlined and put together. Labs done with a dedicated science teacher. Algebra and calculus were well taught. A few things captured my imagination and caused me to think.
However, excerpts in compendium-style “lit books” and chaptered science and history textbookswere chores. Dutifully, I did well . . if judged by grades. I don’t despise the experience God allowed me: I’m thankful for plenty of fine teachers who did what was expected and accepted. However, my mom’s goodness to take me to that sprawling old mansion, Banksia, that was our town’s library for so many years, shaped me. I’m thankful for the newspaper that informed me. Not just on the “news” but to awareness–there was much that I didn’t know. I saw that our little “horsey” town was mostly pretty sweet and the world was big and sometimes scary.
Fast forward a few decades to time with my own children and my sixth grade students. Reading is a shared experience. We think and wonder together. Students come in with purpose, “I couldn’t stop reading last night!” Or, upon receiving a book ask, “It’s okay to read ahead, right?!” They share impressions valuable for discussion. “Is this a real story?” “What a sad ending!” They make connections with things they’ve experienced and learned from other books or movies. They delight together in previously shared reads. Children narrate (retell)–oftentimes needing to be stopped for others to share. Enthused, they interject, “Oh, I wanted to tell that part!” Every book isn’t enjoyed by every child. But the mind food is there for them–ideas that come from their direct, mostly unhindered, (I hope) interaction with books and the living ideas therein.
Miss Mason asks: “Aren’t the requirements of the mind very much like those of the body? Both require as conditions of health––activity, variety, rest and, above all, food.”* I’m thankful to nourish that “spiritual organism” (our brains as she explains them) and to serve that feast along others who are like-minded.
*p. 122 of Vol. 3 of Charlotte Mason’s six volume series
6th Grade Teacher