Charlotte Mason’s Ourselves, which is Volume 4 of her Original Homeschooling Series, is fast becoming one of my favourites in the series, although I tend to say that every time I read one of her books. I’ve been reading Ourselves aloud over the last four and a half years and have enjoyed sharing her wisdom with my children whilst gleaning some for myself at the same time.
One of her ideas that impressed me recently was her connection between the inability to form a scientific habit of mind, and the habit of generalisation in our speech.
There are behaviours or attitudes in my children, and in myself also, that I don’t automatically connect to other areas of life or learning. Some aspects of learning seem to be dependent on individual ability or innate talent and the tendency is to conclude that a lack in certain areas stems from the fact that there is no natural affinity for them. Charlotte Mason turns that idea on its head.
So what does it mean to generalise?
The habit of generalising, of stating something about a whole class of persons or things which we have noticed in only one or two cases, is one to be carefully guarded against…’All the cups are cracked,’ when one is so…’Oh, no, I can’t bear Rossetti’s pictures’: the critic has seen but one. ‘I love Schumann’s songs’: again, the critic has heard one.
Charlotte Mason called it ‘loose’ talk, and observed that it disables us in accurate observation:
Let us stop generalisations of this kind before they escape our lips. They are not truthful, because they give the idea of a wider knowledge or experience than we possess; and by the indulgence of this manner of loose statement, we incapacitate ourselves for the scientific habit of mind – accurate observation and exact record.
At times I’ve talked to a couple of my children about not embellishing their nature or science notebooks with art work, or using unrealistic colours – a pink butterfly when the one they’d seen was orange and black etc. My aim is not to stifle their creativity but to teach them to accurately observe and record what they are, in fact, seeing. The embellishments were a sort of generalisation; a space filler. By drawing something they are not actually observing, in a notebook designed to depict what they have observed, allows the habit of inattention or ‘looseness’ to develop.