The whole tendency of modern Geography, as taught in our schools, is to strip the unfortunate planet which has been assigned to us as our abode and environment of every trace of mystery and beauty. There is no longer anything to admire or to wonder at in this sweet world of ours. We can no longer say with Jasper Petulengro, - "Sun, moon and stars are sweet things, brother; there is likewise the wind on the heath." No, the questions which Geography has to solve henceforth are confined to how and under what conditions is the earth's surface profitable to man and desirable for his habitation. No more may children conceive themselves climbing Mont Blanc or Mount Everest, skating on the Fiords of Norway or swimming in a gondola at Venice. These are not the things that matter, but only how and where and why is money to be made under local conditions on the earth's surface. It is doubtful whether this kind of teaching is even lucrative because the mind works on great ideas, and, upon these, works to great ends. Where science does not teach a child to wonder and admire it has perhaps no educative value.I have written before of my daughter's privilege in having an intimate and personal knowledge of many regions of our beautiful earth. She has travelled extensively and often, and her knowledge has broadened in so many areas as a consequence, just as Charlotte Mason says it should.
Perhaps no knowledge is more delightful than such an intimacy with the earth's surface, region by region, as should enable the map of any region to unfold a panorama of delight, disclosing not only mountains, rivers, frontiers, the great features we know as 'Geography,' but associations, occupations, some parts of the past and much of the present, of every part of this beautiful earth.
Charlotte Mason, Towards A Philosophy of Education, p224
The freedom of travel that we know now was unheard of amongst the children of Victorian England, and so we find no instructions in Miss Mason's educational tomes on how to prepare our children for travelling; what books to read; and whether it is, in fact appropriate to alter a set curriculum to include an in depth study of the region to be visited, but I feel quite sure that she would find preparation for travel appropriate and indeed desirable.
The panoramic method (of geography) unrolls the landscape of the world, region by region, before the eyes of the scholar with in every region its own conditions of climate, its productions, its people, their industries and their history. This way of teaching the most delightful of all subjects has the effect of giving to a map of a country or region the brilliancy of colour and the wealth of detail which a panorama might afford, together with a sense of proportion and a knowledge of general principles.But how? How do we kindle the imagination? What ingredients can we provide to allow the child to create the connection without placing ourselves right in the way of that happening? How can we prevent our study becoming the type of amusing farce of a unit study that Miss Mason describes so amusingly in Towards a Philosophy of Education (p 115)?
Charlotte Mason, Towards A Philosophy of Education, p228
The conscientious, ingenious and laborious teachers who produce these 'concentration series' are little aware that each such lesson is an act of lese majesté. The children who are capable of and eager for a wide range of knowledge and literary expression are reduced to inanities; a lifelong ennui is set up; every approach to knowledge suggests avenues for boredom, and the children's minds sicken and perish long before their school-days come to an end.These are the questions I ponder before each voyage to distant climes. Should I do something different? Should I do nothing at all?
Over the years, over the trips abroad I have tried a number of different methods of introducing a region of the world prior to our departure. Some were more successful than others. None are failures though, because the travel alone with no intervention by me is the best teacher of all. But can I help?
Miss Mason makes much of this idea of a child forming the connections between ideas himself without interference from the teacher. She disliked forced connections very much. She did, however link certain subjects in her schools:
The co-ordination of studies is carefully regulated without any reference to the clash of ideas on the threshold or their combination into apperception masses; but solely with reference to the natural and inevitable co-ordination of certain subjects. Thus, in readings on the period of the Armada, we should not devote the contemporary arithmetic lessons to calculations as to the amount of food necessary to sustain the Spanish fleet, because this is an arbitrary and not an inherent connection; but we should read such history, travels, and literature as would make the Spanish Armada live in the mind.Okay, to extrapolate then: A study of Japan should involve readings in history, literature, geography and the arts, to enhance the imagination and make Japan live in my daughter's mind, giving her as many directions as possible, but allowing her to create her own connections in her own mind.
Our aim in education is to give children vital interests in as many directions as possible - to set their feet in a large room (Psalm 31:8) -because the crying evil of the day is, it seems to me, intellectual inanition.
Charlotte Mason, School Education p231
So to our plan.
We've focused our map drill around Japan, identifying other Asian countries in the region, the names of seas and islands and major cities. We've discussed a little of the politics and the border disputes with Russia, China, Korea and Taiwan because of their proximity.
We've also mapped the Tōkaidō Highway, important in our art study below.
I discussed our Picture study here. We're looking at the woodcuts of Andō Hiroshige 安藤広重, and hope to see some of his work during our visit. We're locating the various staging posts on our map as well.
We've learned the lovely Japanese folk song, Toko No Tsuki (but our version is written for kids and is from The Sing! Collectors' Edition 1995-1984.) Have a listen to this version though - it is beautiful.
Jemimah is reading the terribly sad but enormously thought provoking Sadako and the Thousand Paper Cranes by Eleanor Coerr. As the legend goes in Japan, if you fold one thousand paper cranes, your wish will be granted. It was Sadako's friends who managed to fold the remaining cranes to make up the thousand she needed, but we've been folding them too. Only we don't fold for luck - we fold for peace.
We're also reading The Big Wave and One Bright Day by Pearl S Buck. It was books from this wonderful author that first kindled my own interest in Asia. I'm hoping she might do the same for Jemimah.
One of our family read alouds is The Ink-Keeper's Apprentice by Allen Say, and based on Allen's own boyhood in Japan. Grandfather's Journey is one of our family's favourite picture books, and this novel is proving every bit as good so far. I would own every one of this man's books if I could.
There's other stuff too. We've used the excellent book Tokyo Friends by Betty Reynolds as a gentle introduction to the language, culture and etiquette of Japan. Studies of this type are much more fun when you're going to be there imminently!!
We've learned the kanji for telling the men's toilet room from the women's. Highly important stuff, this. Critical even.
Education is part of life, isn't it? It's hard to say now what else we're learning because we don't think of it as education - it is just part of preparing for our holiday. Our grand and exciting adventure to Japan.
I've done my bit. We've made adequate preparation. The rest now is up to Jemimah. I'm packing our nature notebooks though. Miss Mason tells us that they're excellent travelling companions!
But the peculiar value of geography lies in its fitness to nourish the mind with ideas, and to furnish the imagination with pictures. Herein lies the educational value of geography.
Charlotte Mason Home Education p 272