vol 6 pg 94
1.––Education is an Atmosphere
We certainly may use atmosphere as an instrument of education, but there are prohibitions, for ourselves rather than for children. Perhaps the chief of these is, that no artificial element be introduced, no sprinkling with rose-water, softening with cushions. Children must face life as it is; if their parents are anxious and perturbed children feel it in the air.
But a school may be working hard, not for love of knowledge, but for love of marks, our old enemy; and then young faces are not serene and joyous but eager, restless, apt to look anxious and worried. (…) When this is the case there is too much oxygen in the air; they are breathing a too stimulating atmosphere, and the nervous strain to which they are subjected must needs be followed by reaction. Then teachers think that lessons have been too hard, that children should be relieved of this and that study; the doctors probably advise that so-and-so should ‘run wild’ for a year. Poor little soul, at the very moment when he is most in need of knowledge for his sustenance he is left to prey upon himself! No wonder the nervous symptoms become worse, and the boy or girl suffers under the stigma of ‘nervous strain.’ The fault has been in the atmosphere and not in the work; the teacher, perhaps, is over anxious that her children should do well and her nervous excitation is catching. “I am afraid X cannot do his examination; he loves his work but he bursts into tears when he is asked an examination question. Perhaps it is that I have insisted too much that he must never be satisfied with anything but his best.” Poor little chap (of seven) pricked into over exertion by the spur of moral stimulus! We foresee happy days for children when all teachers know that no other exciting motive whatever is necessary to produce good work in each individual of however big a class than that love of knowledge which is natural to every child.
There are two courses open to us in this matter. One, to create by all manner of modified conditions a hot-house atmosphere, fragrant but emasculating, in which children grow apace but are feeble and dependent; the other to leave them open to all the “airts that blow,” but with care lest they be unduly battered; lest, for example, a miasma come their way in the shape of a vicious companion.
When I read Charlotte Mason’s words about atmosphere at home and school, I can only acquiesce, and ask myself why it is that I forget so often to keep this knowledge in my every day decisions and life. At home, we have never sheltered the girls from all which happens with our family and friends. Illnesses, death, hardships, are all known by the girls. At the same time, we are the grown ups, and we do not transmit our anxiety to the children, as Charlotte Mason also says in this chapter, the parents are in authority, the children in obedience; and again, the strong may not lay their burdens on the weak; nor must we expect from children that effort of decision, the most fatiguing in our lives, of which the young should generally be relieved.
But the vicious atmosphere she talks about as going on in some schools, that I sometimes have brought at home in our studies, yes. I read or understand the second paragraph like this. We make children anxious, not because of the difficulty of what we expect them to learn, but by the atmosphere of testing them, focusing on grades, and our doubts and fear that they will fall short and fail. And this can happen at home too, and it has been the case with me, as I said. It is this vicious atmosphere, and not the difficulty of the knowledge, what makes children become anxious and nervous. Then, we assume all that we expect them to learn is too difficult, we water down knowledge, or base it on rewards, prices, etc., at the time when they most need true knowledge for their sustenance, and they get worse. We forget that love of knowledge is natural to every child. Nowadays, every time the girls do not show motivation to learn or joy, I rethink about what it is I am expecting them to do. And the truth is that my daughters seldom refuse true knowledge, done in the right way and proportion.
Her conclusion in the third paragraph of the quote, is that there are two extremes equally bad that we should avoid. One is when we create an artificially pleasant atmosphere, whether at home or school, that appears inviting but it is dangerously castrating and creates sick dependency on children. At school (or home school), it will be the too demanding lessons, with tests and teachers (or parent-teacher) too focused on the students performance, who wants to, at all cost, get nice results that prove her teaching is excellent, her students gifted.
The other is to leave them wild, unguided, not nourished or satiated with that which is true and beautiful, but vulnerable to intoxicating gases around in the shape of a vicious companion, as she calls this. I understand this vicious companion to come from not just a bad person, but from media, books, music, and all around children who are not cared for.
So one would be the overprotective type of parents, who tries to manipulate the home atmosphere into an artificial happiness, the parent that frantically tries to remove all obstacles, solve all problems, avoid all falls and disappointments in their children life. And the other extreme, which will be when we do not care to be good examples around our children, and leave them vulnerable to every bad influence, every fashion or popular wind, and fail to cultivate a true atmosphere that starts within ourselves. It makes me think about Philippians 4:8,
Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things.