February 21st, 2013

Ecological Learning: Lessons from Charlotte Mason for the 21st C.


Charlotte Mason at the turn of the 20th Century

Education, for Charlotte Mason, was coming to know the world and one's place in it, rather than studying for exams or employment. She considered children capable of complex abstract ideas as well as detailed particulars. Her educational theories and methods advocated an experimental and observational approach to learning rather than a teacher-led experience dispensing facts. She had great respect for science and scientific methods. But, more than this, she wanted to nurture the curiosity and sense of wonder in the natural world. Her respect for children's experimental nature accords with recent work in developmental psychology that views the growing child's brain like that of a young scientist (see the work of Alison Gopnik on the child scientist). Charlotte thought that children are capable, but must be scaffolded to work every day. She says in Charlotte Mason's Home Education,

"Do not let the children pass a day without distinct efforts, intellectual, moral, volitional; let them brace themselves to understand; let them compel themselves to do and to bear; and let them do right at the sacrifice of ease and pleasure: and this for many higher reasons, but, in the first and lowest place, that the mere physical organ of mind and will may grow vigorous with work."


While Charlotte shared early educators' vision for hard work, she thought the classroom a poor catalyst for learning. Instead, she thought the best way to learn was outdoors.

"True, we must needs houses for shelter from the weather by day and for rest at night; but in proportion as we cease to make our houses 'comfortable,' as we regard them merely as necessary shelters when we cannot be out of doors, shall we enjoy to the full the vigorous vitality possible to us"

"On fine days when it is warm enough to sit out with wraps, why should not tea and breakfast, everything but a hot dinner, be served out of doors?... every hour spent in the open is a clear gain, tending to the increase of brain power and bodily vigour, and to the lengthening of life itself. They who know what it is to have fevered skin and throbbing brain deliciously soothed by the cool touch of the air are inclined to make a new rule of life, Never be within doors when you can rightly be without. Collapse )


Inspired by Charlotte Masons vision of education outdoors, I have created a digital artefact (Haiku Deck) as a testament to Charlotte Mason in the 21st century. My artefact explores how modern digital devices and constant access to information ought be combined for optimal well-being and attainment of knowledge. In this way I create utopian argument for the use of technology in education. The ideal location for learning is outdoors, therefore technology ought to augment human experiences within a natural environment and during hours spent under traditional habitation.

Ecological Learning [Haiku Deck] or Pinterest board

Draft assignment for eLearning & Digital Cultures MOOC