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For the Children's Sake: Foundations of Education for Home and School Paperback – June 17, 2009
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About the Author
Susan Schaeffer Macaulay grew up in Switzerland at L'Abri Fellowship, which was founded by her parents Francis and Edith Schaeffer. She and her husband Ranald Macaulay established and led the L'Abri branch in England for several years. She is also the author of For the Family's Sake and contributed to Books Children Love and When Children Love to Learn.
Fifteen years ago--in the world of education, a millennium--Macaulay wrote her ideological treatise on schooling, designed to assist parents and teachers in creating education that is both enriching and joyous. She states in her preface that the book embraces the Christian worldview as it applies the ideas and methods of educator Charlotte Mason to home-schooling, public education and family life. Mary Woods's crisp, cheerful reading aims to convince and encourage listeners. However, because of Macaulay's lifelong affiliation with the L'Abri Christian Fellowship in Switzerland and England, the underlying religious message is strong. Despite the acknowledged datedness of many of the books and materials suggested for use, and the underlying political tract, this recording will interest the Christian home-school market. T.B. (c) AudioFile, Portland, Maine --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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An error central to the book's teaching is its denial that man is born in sin ("Children...are not born either good or bad, but with possibilities for good and evil"). This fundamental error regarding children's souls causes the book's advice regarding how we should teach our children to be twisted.
Let's examine two examples of how this is so.
1. Hatred of authoritative teaching and preaching
First, the book teaches an educational approach that trusts the child to choose what is right:
"The PNEU schools followed a consecutive plan of Bible reading. The Gospels, the epistles, Revelation, and the Old Testament were included. The passages were carefully chosen. the child was put in touch with the men and women who found God worked into the history of their lives.
The reading was simply prepared. If there was a new name or place, this would first be explained briefly. One could look on a map to see the location, and perhaps have a short descriptive account of the place or custom. The previous reading would be briefly recalled.
Then the passage was read. It wouldn't be too long, but it would be long enough to draw the listener into the story, ideas, or poetry. At the close, someone in the class would narrate what they had heard.
The Word of God is like fertile seed you drop into the soil. The child does not take in everything that is there. He thinks about some aspect of it. "An idea strikes him," or he "feels" (knowledge touched with emotion). He thinks. He "chews on some part of it."
And that is that." (93-94)
Of course, we must teach our children to choose what is right! But the book warns against actually making application yourself. The author's sharpest words are against the father or mother who teaches the child the conclusions he should draw:
* "Do not forget that the reading of the Bible will put the child into direct contact with the person of God Himself. The brief, pithy statement or narration of Scripture is often worth ten sermons! Let the words themselves sink in. Don't chew up the ideas yourself and then hand over the half-digested "food" to the child. Let him have direct access to the source." (85)
* "There are many ways of applying the "Christianity that is true to the total reality." We don't have to make every day a sort of Sunday school lesson to achieve this. There are several dangers in that sort of approach. Too much pious talk, talk, talk. Too many "holy moments." expecting continual religious experiences. Not letting children "be." Not letting them wonder, puzzle, and ask." (101)
* "Get out of the way. Let the child, God, and His Word be alone together. Let them work out their own relationship." (104)
* "...we are not to use the teaching of history to communicate our own opinions or conclusions." (107)
* "Therefore, as we ourselves focus on the moral issues in literature, history, etc., we will ensure that children are nurtured on books which open the door to their understanding in these areas. We do not preach or moralize..." (120)
But it is evident that God desires and commands fathers to command their sons. Look at Abraham ("...that he may command his sons after him..."); His command to fathers in Deuteronomy 6; the example of the commanding and entreating father in Proverbs; Jesus' teaching that a true son always does the deeds of his father; and the Apostle Paul's teaching and personal example; and you see, first, that a true father is always commanding and teaching his son; and second, that this book's teaching is in opposition to the Scriptures on this point.
The book has a couple of other important matters upside-down.
2.1. Understanding of Christian maturity
A recurring theme in the book is that children are not to follow our example:
"Jesus lets little children remain who they are. He will meet them directly and will skillfully work into each separate life, telling them what is to be worked at, prayed about, and felt...We openly and honestly act like fellow human beings who are walking along the same road. Indeed, the child is, in many ways, to be our example. He is not to become like the grown-up church member. We are to become like the little child in our life with God." (104, 105)
Thank God for childlike faith. But there is a childishness we must leave behind as we grow up into the mature man. The book, however, teaches that in large part children are already where they should be--but that foolishness is bound up in the heart of the adult. The book prescribes many things for the adult--constantly the author is saying, "Do this! Don't do that!"--giving the mother sharply defined parameters for what she (and her husband) may and may not do to avoid stunting her children; but the children get much freedom and get to frolic in nature, literature, history, and science. Children are little adults ("born persons") who need to be let alone to explore and thrive; adults are big children who need much correction, as they naturally do poorly by their children. This is upside-down.
Throughout the book the author stresses the importance of pampering children in just the right way: a deluxe environment that includes great books, regular time outdoors, and physical fitness.
Great books, regular time outdoors, and physical fitness are all good things--but they are not the most important things. The apostles were never exposed to great books, yet with the prophets they are the foundation of the New Jerusalem. And what will playtime outdoors and physical fitness matter if you have not been authoritatively taught the truth of God, but it has been left to your deceitful heart? These priorities are upside-down.
In one sense the book's failure is in the very fact that the educational system it teaches is all for the children's sake, focusing on their present comfort instead of being faithful to call them to come and die.*
Like us, our children are sinners with deceitful hearts, and it is not safe to reject any means of help that God has given to us to use for their benefit--thank God for the life-giving rebuke, encouragement, entreaty, instruction, discipline, exhortation, and sermons He sends to us through fathers in the faith! In this sense the book's failure is that in teaching a system that leaves our children largely unwarned (to their peril!) it is not for the children's sake at all.
We must take care that in making use of the many helpful tips contained in this book the mothers in our churches are not drawn away into these errors.
*(See the beginning of Dietrich Bonhoeffer's The Cost of Discipleship. A footnoted version of this review is available here: [...] )
I am Christian, but the authors view point of Christianity just didn't sit well with me. She mentions repeatedly our "fallen world", I have no intention of teaching my children anything but love until they begin to notice how our world is less than ideal themselves, only then will we start discussing things such as evil. It just seems odd to me.
I know this isn't a great review, but I honestly can't put my finger on what the aim of this book is. Read Masons original work directly and form your own conclusions.
Some points I have learned (not all necessarily new but a reminder anyway) are:
-Read the bible to my children everyday. No little sermons or Sunday school fluff, just the bible. And only a couple of verses or within the child's ability to sit still and listen. Sermons are not necessary aside from church when our lives are reflective of our Christianity.
-Read good books to my children that may seem to me above their level. Read quality chapter books to my preschooler and have her retell what she is getting from the story. This should only be for short periods a day, maybe 10 minutes. Just as long as she likes. And have her draw pictures if she likes of what she's getting from the book. She may not take from it what an older child will, but she will take something from it, and it will be her's. We shouldn't underestimate the abilities of our children to comprehend good books.
-Make lots of time for outdoor explorations.
-Treat my children as friends. They are "born persons", and we are equally under the same law of God. Teach that we both answer to God's law, and be an example. We both have things to learn from each other or together.
-Learning is not a race. Have high expectations, but at a level that is "appropriate to the individual who is progressing at his own rate of development".
-Let the child learn things for learning's sake or for "his own sake", not because of the expectations of others or in competition of others' abilities.
-Teach that we must do things that are right by God's law. We do not "merely boss the child about for our own convenience".
-"Law restrain[s] from evil, and love impell[s] toward good"
-Create an atmosphere of friendship, acceptance, security, and creativity where the child is comfortable with who she is and can flourish by sharing in worthwhile studies with people who like her "as a person".
I have already begun following some of the ideas introduced with my 3 year old daughter. The result? My daughter is understanding bible verses above what I ever believed she could. No fluff or coloring sheets, just raw bible. She gets it, and she's repeating the verses to me in appropriate circumstances! I have also begun reading the book "Black Beauty" to her. She likes it, and she understands it. Today when she asked to see a picture of the boy throwing sticks and rocks at the horses, I told her there was not a picture of this. So she decided we should draw our own illustration of this scene. We did so together, and I made a speech bubble for the master, in which she dictated what the master would say in our picture. I wrote in her words, "You're bad. I don't need you here. Go home, and be bad at your house!" Her dictation was a clear correct summary of what the master said in the book, which was, "You're a bad boy to chase the colts! But you won't get the chance to do it anymore. Take your pay and go home. I don't need you here." She clearly understands this classic, which is well above the level of what most 3 year old children are read. The reason we don't usually read these books to children is not because of their limited ability to comprehend but because of our underestimation of our children. I believe any child can prosper and benefit from being respected, challenged, and not having her abilities underestimated and undermined. I feel blessed to have read this book and plan to use the points I've learned in homeschooling my children.