Bible Lessons FAQ

Bible Lessons FAQ

When speaking of Bible lessons, Charlotte Mason writes, “Now our objective in this most important part of education is to give the children the knowledge of God.”[1] After years of careful research, I have concluded that Mason did not approach this “most important part of education” in a haphazard fashion. Instead, I have discovered that she developed a progressive program of study for children from ages 6 to 18 that is breathtaking in its simplicity, elegance, and efficacy. I have been sharing my research since 2013, including the following articles and presentations:

The last of these was supposed to be my last word on the subject — a free presentation available in both audio and video formats that is more than an hour in length. However, I have learned that it can be difficult to have the last word on anything about Charlotte Mason. Her applied philosophy is so vast, so thorough, and so elegant that it always seems to be possible to find out something more. Almost as soon as I uploaded my video, I began to receive questions. Now seems like a good time to return to the topic, share the questions I’ve been asked, and provide some clarifications.

As I respond to these various questions about Charlotte Mason Bible lessons, I realize that I follow in the footsteps of much worthier writers. For example, Eileen C. Plumptre graduated from the House of Education before teaching at Overstone and then at Ambleside. In 1929, she gave her own answer to a frequently-asked question about Bible lessons:

I have taken the points which seemed to me to help us most from Miss Mason’s Essay Towards a Philosophy of Education. It is there that we find her fullest account of Bible lessons.

She says, for instance (p. 162):—

“The teacher opens the lesson by reading the passage from The Bible for the Young, in which the subject is pictorially treated.”

But on our programmes of work we read:

“Teacher study Paterson Smyth to bring the passage home to the children.”

Which I have always taken to mean that we did not read Paterson Smyth’s book aloud. Now which is correct? Surely both? Sometimes one, sometimes the other. But in either case, this introduction forms the first of the three essential parts of every Scripture lesson. It may be simply a reading of one of Paterson Smyth’s vivid word-pictures, of which Miss Mason is thinking in the passage I quote. It may be that the teacher gives a few words of her own, based on what she herself has read in the Bible for the Young. There may be one or two textual difficulties that need clearing up. Here we are on difficult ground. Should we ever explain the meanings of unusual words? If so, when should it be done, before the reading or after the narration? We know it must never be between the two. In any case, this part of the lesson should be brief, as the children will want to get on to the real thing, namely, the reading of the Bible text, followed by narration.[2]

I find this explanation from a CM-expert of a prior generation to be so reassuring. First, it shows that we are not alone in sometimes puzzling over how to reconcile what we read in the volumes with what we see in the programmes. Second, it shows that Plumptre’s response is not “either-or” but “both-and.” I think this is an important precedent for us as we approach not only Bible Lessons but any aspect of Mason’s method. Plumptre shows us how to let go of precise and inflexible rules, and instead to apply principles in a flexible manner that takes into account the specific context of parent, child, and book.

With Plumptre as my model, then, I will dive right in.

Q1: What is the preferred sequence of elements in a Bible lesson?

In my presentation on Mason’s Program for Bible Lessons, I stated that a CM-style Bible lesson involves a specific set of elements conducted in sequence. The table below shows the sequence as I understood it. Items in blue apply only to a special type of Bible lesson utilizing Mason’s The Saviour of the World poetry volumes.

1 Connection The lesson is connected with the previous one
2 Bible Text The Bible passage is read [in The Gospel History]
3 Narration The Bible passage is narrated
[4] [Comparison] [The individual Gospel accounts are compared (Forms V–VI)]
5 Discussion Discussion follows
[6] [Poem] [The poem is read]
[7] [Narration of Poem] [The poem is narrated]

The question that I have been asked the most frequently is whether I am missing a step between 1 and 2. Specifically, should there be an Introduction step? This is certainly implied in the above quote from Plumptre, where she says, “this introduction forms the first of the three essential parts of every Scripture lesson.” How could I have overlooked one of the essential elements?

To answer this question, I have surveyed every major explanation of Bible lessons that I can find by either Charlotte Mason herself or by a House of Education student or graduate. I’ve summarized the lesson steps in the following table:

NOL1
1903
NOL2
1903
NOL3
1903
HE
1905
SE
1905
PR1
1913
PR2
1915
PR3
1919
TPE1
1919
PR4
1923
TPE2
1925
PR5
1929
Connection 1 [1] [1] 3**
Introduction 1 1 2, 3 [2] [2] 4 [1] [1] 1
Bible Text 2 1 2 [1] 4 [3] [3] 5 [2] [1] [2] 2
Narration 3 3* 3 [2] 5 [4] [4] 6 [3] [2] [3]
Discussion [3] 6, 7 [5] [5] 7 [3] [4] 3
Poem [6] [4]
Narration of Poem [7] [5]

* Step 2 comes between reading and narrating: “Describe the scenes, trying to make the children imagine them clearly.”
** Steps 1 & 2 are teacher preparation.

Key:

  • Green indicates documents written by Charlotte Mason. All other documents are by House of Education (HOE) students or graduates.
  • Numbers without brackets are used when the source document itself had numbered steps. Numbers in this table then match the original.
  • Numbers with brackets are used when a sequence is given in the source document, but the steps are not numbered.

Sources:

NOL1 (1903) Notes of Lessons: Scripture, Class Ib by May E. Moule (HOE)
NOL2 (1903) Notes of Lessons: Old Testament, Class I by Adele Gytha Roffe (HOE)
NOL3 (1903) Notes of Lessons: New Testament Story, Class II by Lillian Lees (HOE)
(also appears in Appendix V of School Education, pp. 330–331)
HE (1905) Home Education by Charlotte Mason (pp. 251–252)
SE (1905) Appendix V of School Education (Notes of Lessons written by HOE students) pp. 329–330
PR1 (1913) Bible Teaching” by Eleanor Frost (HOE)
PR2 (1915) Scripture Teaching” by H. E. Wix (HOE)
PR3 (1919) “Bible Teaching in the PNEU” by Miss Bruce-Low (HOE)
(PR30 pp. 126–130)
TPE1 (1919) Towards a Philosophy of Education by Charlotte Mason (pp. 272–273)
(reprinted from the earlier “The Liberal Education for All Movement”)
PR4 (1923) “Miss Mason’s Message” by E. A. Parish (HOE)
(also appears in In Memoriam pp. 58–66)
TPE2 (1925) Towards a Philosophy of Education by Charlotte Mason (pp. 158–169)
PR5 (1929) The Teaching of Scripture” by E. C. Plumptre (HOE)

Note: I omitted Notes of Lessons: Scripture, Class IV (1909) by Jessie H. Smith since it is not a standard Bible lesson, but is rather a topical study, perhaps as an introduction to a new book of the Bible.

The table clearly indicates that most of the lesson explanations include an Introduction step. As I have studied these various sources, I have concluded that the best use of the Introduction step is to provide relevant geographical or cultural background when necessary. I will share more detail about this in a later section of this article. For now, I will simply say that I have taken this new insight to heart and have updated my recommended lesson sequence to the following:

1 Connection The lesson is connected with the previous one
2 Introduction When necessary, geographical or cultural background is provided
3 Bible Text The Bible passage is read [in The Gospel History]
4 Narration The Bible passage is narrated
[5] [Comparison] [The individual Gospel accounts are compared (Forms V­­–VI)]
6 Discussion Discussion follows
[7] [Poem] [The poem is read]
[8] [Narration of Poem] [The poem is narrated]

Step 1: Connection

Q2: How is the Bible lesson to be connected with the previous one?

The first step in the lesson sequence is to connect the current lesson with the previous one. This step is not unique to Bible lessons. In fact, Mason insists in Home Education that “Every Lesson must recall the Last.”[3]She emphasizes this for neurobiological reasons:

… you must not only fix his attention upon each new lesson, but each must be so linked into the last that it is impossible for him to recall one without the other following in its train. The physical effect of such a method appears to be that each new growth of brain tissue is, so to speak, laid upon the last…[4]

According to Mason, if the connection phase is skipped for any type of lesson, the power of recall is not properly developed:

To acquire any knowledge or power whatsoever, and then to leave it to grow rusty in a neglected corner of the brain, is practically useless. Where there is no chain of association to draw the bucket out of the well, it is all the same as if there were no water there.[5]

“As to how to form these links,” she continues, “every subject will suggest a suitable method.”[6] To understand the “suitable method” to form the link during Bible lessons, I turned to the extremely helpful 1913 article “Bible Teaching” by HOE graduate Eleanor Frost. Frost first indicates that the work of connection is to be done by the teacher:

The preceding lesson would have been on the story of David and Goliath, therefore, the teacher begins by connecting that incident with to-day’s subject, and arousing their interest by a question perhaps on “Friend”; this word has a certain amount of everyday interest for all people, and used in connection with a Bible lesson it would attract the children’s attention at once.[7]

Later in the article, however, it sounds like the work of connection is to be done by the students:

… by a brief recapitulation let the pupils connect it with the last lesson…[8]

Instead of exploring this apparent contradiction further, I simply stated in my 2018 presentation that the teacher connects the current lesson to the previous lesson by reminding the student of what was covered in the previous Bible lesson. I have come to see over time, however, that this oversimplification does not realize the full potential of the connection phase as envisioned by Mason and her HOE colleagues.

The goal of the connection phase is to build the link of association. I see now that this involves both a look back and a look forward, so the elements of the chain can be firmly held together. Mason explains this in a general way in her “Method of Lesson” in Home Education:

Before the reading for the day begins, the teacher should talk a little (and get the children to talk) about the last lesson, with a few words about what is to be read, in order that the children may be animated by expectation; but she should beware of explanation, and, especially, of forestalling the narrative.[9]

The look back (highlighted in blue) is a recapitulation by the students and the look forward (highlighted in green) is a simple comment or sentence by the teacher. In an 1896 L’Umile Pianta article, Charlotte Mason elaborates on looking back with recapitulation:

… never begin a new lesson without ascertaining that the last has been thoroughly mastered step by step. If we absolutely and always and from the first secure the last lesson, I think we may be tolerably at ease about the whole series, as each last lesson is linked to the one before it and brings it to the surface in answer to a mental pull more or less vigorous. The power of producing what one knows is to be had only at the cost of thorough, careful, varied, interesting recapitulation.[10]

In this quotation, Mason uses the word ascertaining, which implies that the students are doing the recapitulating. Furthermore, Mason seems to use recapitulation as a synonym for narration. This assumption is justified by this 1899 quote from House of Education student R. A. Pennethorne:

Reproduction is the only proof of retention, therefore narration or recapitulation must form a part of each lesson.[11]

The other aspect of the connection is the look forward. Obviously, this can’t be done by the students since they don’t yet know what the next lesson is about. Only the teacher knows.

HOE graduate Miss Bruce-Low sums up the guidance nicely in her 1919 Parents’ Review article entitled “Bible Teaching in the PNEU”:

First of all the previous lesson is recapitulated by the children, and then the teacher connects it with the present lesson.[12]

In light of these additional considerations suggested by Mason and Bruce-Low, I now believe that as a general rule the Bible lesson should begin by the teacher asking the children to recapitulate the previous lesson, and then she connects it with the current lesson.[13]

Step 2: Introduction

Q3: What should happen in the Introduction step of the lesson?

As I explained earlier, my original summary of the lesson sequence did not include an Introduction step. One of my main reasons for this is the apparently unambiguous language found in the PNEU programmes for Bible lessons:

In all cases the Bible text must be read and narrated first.

This sentence is found consistently in programmes for Forms I–IV for every term and year we have in the archive. I took this directive at face value and said that after connecting the current lesson to the previous one, we should jump straight to the Bible. After all, as Plumptre explains:

… the children will want to get on to the real thing, namely, the reading of the Bible text, followed by narration.[14]

Nevertheless, after further study, I have come around to seeing that an Introduction is advisable in certain cases. As with connection and recapitulation, the key principle applies to more than just Bible lessons. Writing about geography lessons, Mason says:

Great attention is paid to map work; that is, before reading a lesson children have found the places mentioned in that lesson on a map and know where they are…[15]

This suggests that when geography plays an important part in a reading, Mason believes that the child should have a view of the map first. That way the child will be able to understand the distances and directions involved, something that normally cannot be determined by context. Note that I do not consider this kind of map work to be “scaffolding.” Scaffolding is a technique attributed to Lev Vygotsky (1896–1934) which involves temporary support from an adult to assist an immature learner. Scaffolds are removed from lessons when the child matures, just as scaffolds are removed from buildings when the structure matures. But maps are an important adjunct to Bible lessons for students of all ages and academic levels, including seminary students! Even though I have been reading the Bible all my life, I still use my Bible Atlas, and I don’t expect to ever cast it aside as a scaffold that I have outgrown.

Not surprisingly, Mason applies this general principle directly to Bible lessons in Towards a Philosophy of Education:

If there are remarks to be made about local geography or local custom, the teacher makes them before the passage has been read.[16]

This guidance is directly echoed in the articles by House of Education students. For example, Miss Bruce-Low (1919) writes:

If places are to be found on the map let this be done now so as not to interfere with the flow of the lesson later on.[17]

Similarly, Helen Wix (1915) mentions map work when she explains the Connection and Introduction steps of the Bible lesson:

A few questions link on the coming story with that of the last lesson, a short introduction may be necessary, a picture or two to help the children to visualize the surroundings, a map perhaps, and any point in the wording of the story which might be difficult enough to interrupt the thread of the story, is explained. Then the verses from the Bible are read to the children.[18]

Now I recognize that Mason and Wix indicate a few other possible items to include in an Introduction besides just a map:

  • “Local custom”
  • “a picture or two to help the children to visualize the surroundings”
  • “any point in the wording of the story which might be difficult enough to interrupt the thread of the story”

However, I recommend restraint on the part of the teacher. The Introduction can easily get out of hand and overshadow the Bible text. After all, “the children will want to get on to the real thing,”[19] and the programmes say that “the Bible text must be read and narrated first.” Even so, I strongly support getting out a map before any Bible reading that has a major geographical component.[20] On the other hand, I only recommend adding other elements to the Introduction if you sincerely believe that the student will be confused by the reading. When in doubt, leave it out. The child will ask if he doesn’t understand.

Step 3: Bible Text

Q4: Who reads the Bible text, the teacher or the student? If the student does the reading, does he read aloud or silently?

The volumes would seem to indicate the teacher reads the Bible text. We see this in Home Education:

Read aloud to the children a few verses covering, if possible, an episode.[21]

Similarly, in Towards a Philosophy of Education Mason writes:

Then the teacher will read the Bible passage in question which the children will narrate…[22]

However, Plumptre observed that another line in Towards a Philosophy of Education seems to indicate that Mason wanted the older children to read the Bible text themselves:

Let us pass to the next direction.

“Forms III. and IV. read for themselves the whole of the Old Testament as produced by the Rev. H. Costley-White.”[23]

Does Miss Mason mean that they ought to read this silently? I do not know. But, for a large number of the term’s lessons, it has always been, in my experience, the only way of getting through the work—although the harder parts of the book need very careful supervision.[24]

Pennethorne concurs that it is not always the teacher who reads the Bible text:

The actual teaching method is as in other subjects that the pupil should have the actual words of the text either read to him or by him…[25]

Miss Bruce-Low not surprisingly clarifies that the determining factor is the age of the children:

The teacher (or children, according to the age of the children), reads the portion of the Bible comprising the lesson.[26]

So at what age do the students begin reading the Bible text for themselves? According to Frost, this happens at different ages depending on the Old and New Testament. She indicates that in Form II, “the children can read the Gospel Story themselves,”[27] but not until Form III do they begin reading the Old Testament on their own. This may be related to Mason’s advice that “where it is necessary to make omissions, as in the Old Testament narratives …, it is better that the teacher should always read the lesson.”[28] Until the children are ready to do the reading, “The Bible passage is always read to them.”[29]

Wix also places the transition at Form II, but she does not make a distinction between Old and New Testament readings:

In Class II they are taught in very much the same way; but they now read the Bible themselves, aloud, of course.[30]

Interestingly, Wix indicates that Form II students read the text aloud. Plumptre’s reference to reading silently seems to apply only to Form III and above.

By contrast, in the Notes of Lessons that we have, the teacher always reads the Bible text, even in Form II.

Perhaps my favorite direction comes from Wix regarding Forms V and VI (which correspond to Class IV):

During the lesson time in Class IV teacher and pupil read, as it were, together.[31]

This one sentence brings out what I think is the most important element of this step of the lesson: that it is done together. Whether the teacher is reading aloud, the student is reading aloud, or the student is reading silently, the teacher should be physically and mentally present, and should be reading too. My Form III student reads his Bible passage silently, but I always have my Bible, and I am reading the same passage silently at his side. I don’t think a student should ever be sent off to do his Bible lesson on his own. If there is one lesson to do together, it is Bible. According to Mason, “the knowledge of God ranks first in importance, is indispensable, and most happy-making.”[32] Therefore I believe it has the highest claim on the teacher’s time.

Q5: Why is it strongly recommended (=required) to use C. C. James’s The Gospel History when doing Bible lessons with Charlotte Mason’s The Saviour of the World?

In my article on “New Testament Studies in the Higher Forms,” I explain that starting in Form III, Mason assigned a special form of Bible lesson that studies the life of Christ chronologically based on a harmonization of the four canonical Gospels. Mason explains in Towards a Philosophy of Education why this special study is so important:

Let us observe, notebook in hand, the orderly and progressive sequence, the penetrating quality, the irresistible appeal, the unique content of the Divine teaching; (for this purpose it might be well to use some one of the approximately chronological arrangements of the Gospel History in the words of the text). Let us read, not for our profiting, though that will come, but for love of that knowledge which is better than thousands of gold and silver. By and by we perceive that this knowledge is the chief thing in life; the meaning of Christ’s saying, “Behold, I make all things new,” dawns upon us; we get new ideas as to the relative worth of things; new vigour, new joy, new hope are ours.[33]

In order to enhance and illuminate this special study of the life of Christ, Mason wrote seven volumes of poetry entitled The Saviour of the World. These volumes were always assigned in the programmes as the spine for the chronological and harmonized study of the Gospels.

Mason’s statement in Towards a Philosophy of Education would seem to imply that it doesn’t matter which “one of the approximately chronological arrangements of the Gospel History” is selected for use with her poetry volumes.  However, Frost’s ­­1913 article “Bible Teaching In The Parents’ Union School” singles out one particular Gospel history to use: the one by C. C. James. The simple reason why Frost points to James’s The Gospel History is that it was the text Mason herself used when writing her poetry volumes! In the “Introductory” to volume 1, Mason explains:

The writer begs to acknowledge her great indebtedness to the Rev. C. C. James’s Gospel History, combining the four Gospels (in the words of the Revised Version), which she has followed for the chronological order of events.[34]

It is hard to overemphasize the synergy between Mason’s The Saviour of the World and James’s The Gospel History. Mason did not rely on James merely for the “chronological order of events.” She also relied on James for the harmonization of the four Gospels, and most importantly, for the segmentation of the harmonized text into discrete readings. Mason’s Index of Scripture verses to poem is based on James’s index of Scripture verses to readings.

Studying The Saviour of the World in conjunction with James’s The Gospel History is simple and seamless. For many years, I have personally enjoyed the ease and elegance of using these two books together in my homeschool. A few of the PNEU programmes in the digital collection join Frost in making this linkage explicit. While all programmes in the digital collection assign pages from The Saviour of the World, Programmes 99–102 (1924–1925) include an additional note such as the following:

The Saviour of the World, Vol. I … pp. 107–159: Bible passages from index, or from The Gospel History, arranged by the Rev. C. C. James[35]

This instruction indicates that The Gospel History is interchangeable with the index of Bible passages in The Saviour of the World. The only reason they are interchangeable is because Mason organized The Saviour of the World around James’s text!

This practical truth seems to have been forgotten a few years after Mason’s death. In 1929, a different “approximately chronological arrangement” of the Gospels was assigned in the programmes. I am guessing this was done because James’s book went out of print. Programme 115 thus introduced the following instruction:

(d) The Life of Christ in the Four Gospels, arranged by Rev. A. E. Hillard, D.D. … pp. 1–70;
(e) The Saviour of the World, Vol. I. … pp. 1–52, with Bible text (see Index)…

Notice that Hillard’s text is no longer an alternative to the index of The Saviour of the World. Rather, Hillard’s text is a separate line item in the programme. The student reads Hillard’s text and The Saviour of the World in parallel, but in an asynchronous fashion. There is no fundamental alignment between Hillard’s text and Mason’s. The result is an inelegant lesson format that I think defeats Mason’s purpose. Perhaps the PNEU realized this because the experiment with Hillard was short-lived. It lasted only 3 terms.

Oddly enough, the experiment was repeated a year later with yet another “approximately chronological arrangement” of the Gospels, this time that of R. G. Ponsonby. Beginning with programme 121 in 1931, we see the following instruction:

The Life of Our Lord (a continuous Gospel narrative compiled by R. G. Ponsonby …), pp. 1–69…
The Saviour of the World, Vol. III … pp. 1–65, with Bible text (see Index)…

Notice again that Ponsonby’s text is not an alternative to Mason’s index. Instead, it is a supplemental text. The student would have effectively read two disjointed sequences from the life of Christ, which would seriously undermine Mason’s goal of showing a clear and unified progression of Gospel teaching.

This experiment also was short-lived, lasting a total of only 4 terms. After that, as far as I know, no other harmonization of the Gospels was assigned. Without C. C. James, the student was left to rely on only the index of The Saviour of the World.

The experiment was tried twice and failed both times. There is no need for us to repeat the experiment again today. Enjoy the simplicity and elegance of The Saviour of the World by using C. C. James’s The Gospel History. Not only is it now in print, but a PDF version is available for free. I wouldn’t dream of doing this kind of Bible lesson without it.

Q6: When using The Gospel History with The Saviour of the World, which of the two books should determine the Bible reading for the lesson?

Some people have read my articles on The Gospel History and The Saviour of the World and have tried this powerful form of Bible study. However, they have run into a difficulty after the first lesson. The first lesson is straightforward since the first reading in The Gospel History corresponds directly with the first poem in The Saviour of the World: the passage for both is John 1:1–14. The difficulty arises with the second and third readings in The Gospel History.

The second reading in The Gospel History covers Matthew 1:1–17, and the third reading covers Luke 3:23–38. Both are genealogies which are not examined in The Saviour of the World. I have been asked if lessons two and three should correspond to The Gospel History readings two and three, which would mean setting aside The Saviour of the World for those two lessons. My answer is a firm no. Based on the evidence of the programmes and my experience of lessons with my children, I believe that the sequence of Bible readings for this lesson type should be determined by the sequence of poems in The Saviour of the World.

Another dimension to this question is what to do with poems in The Saviour of the World that do not have corresponding Bible passages. Teachers also encounter this situation right away since neither poem 2 nor poem 4 have a Scripture reference. Then poem 5 links to a set of Old Testament verses rather than a passage from the Gospels.

My recommendation is to follow the sequence of passages and poems in The Saviour of the World. If there is a corresponding passage in The Gospel History, then read it, even if it means skipping a reading to get there. If an Old Testament passage is given in the Index, read it from your preferred Bible. If there is no Scripture passage, then simply read, narrate, and discuss the poem.

Our team has provided some resources to make this process easier. First, we have posted tables that indicate which reading from The Gospel History (or the Old Testament) corresponds to which poem from The Saviour of the World:

Second, for many poems, we have provided standalone pages that include the reading from The Gospel History and the poem from The Saviour of the World together in a single page. This is still a work-in-progress and we haven’t completed all of the volumes yet. But you can see what we have here, under the section entitled “Combined Gospel reading versions.”

Step 4: Narration

Q7: Should the student get a second chance to narrate the Bible passage?

At first this would seem to be an odd question. Principle 14 of Mason’s Twenty Principles states unequivocally that children should narrate after a single reading:

14. As knowledge is not assimilated until it is reproduced, children should ‘tell back’ after a single reading or hearing: or should write on some part of what they have read.[36]

The next principle gives the rationale for this:

15. A single reading is insisted on, because children have naturally great power of attention; but this force is dissipated by the re-reading of passages, and also, by questioning, summarising, and the like.[37]

Mason clearly indicates that if students know they will have a “second chance” to narrate, they will not apply as much attention and effort to the first reading and narration. This is no mere question of style or custom. We are speaking here of principles that are core to the method. Indeed, in the Parents’ Review, teacher Daisy Golding singled out this principle as essential for an authentic Charlotte Mason education:

The once reading is necessary if we are to work faithfully along the lines of the P.N.E.U., and if we are to make possible of realisation the extraordinary claims of the scheme.[38]

Golding understands that the prospect of a second narration gives the child the sense that the first narration doesn’t have to be very good. This compromise undermines the effectiveness of the entire scheme.

Pennethorne directly applies this core principle to Bible lessons when she says that a single reading must suffice for the child to make the passage his own. This “act of knowing”[39] happens once, immediately after the reading:

The actual teaching method is as in other subjects that the pupil should have the actual words of the text either read to him or by him and then narrate them back to the teacher—making the passage his by one hearing or seeing.[40]

I have read through every guideline on Bible lessons that I can find in books by Charlotte Mason, Parents’ Review articles and Notes of Lessons by House of Education graduates, and programmes by the PNEU.[41] I find narration of the Bible text explicitly mentioned in all six of the Parents’ Review articles, all four of the Notes of Lessons, every programme for Forms I–IV, and all three explanations by Mason in her volumes. All fourteen of these sources say to have a single narration. All fourteen of these sources conform to Principle 14. Not one says to have a second narration.

Here we have an extraordinarily unified testimony. The programmes, the Notes of Lessons, The Parents’ Review, the volumes, and the Twenty Principles all say to have only one narration. Against such overwhelming evidence, why would anyone even consider adding a second narration?

That’s the question I ask when I read an anonymous and undated PNEU document entitled “Suggestions” which gives the following outline of a Bible lesson:

Suggested method: Read aloud to the children a few verses, as, for example, the first five verses of Genesis xii. Read deliberately, carefully, and with just expression. Require the children to narrate what they have listened to, as nearly as possible in the Bible words. Talk the narrative over with them, adding all possible light from modern research and criticism. Let the teaching, moral and spiritual, reach them without too much personal application. At the end, let the children narrate the passage again, reverently and perfectly. Let each new lesson begin with questions on the last.

I am astonished by this paragraph. The suggestion to have a second narration contradicts fourteen other sources and compromises the basic principles of the method. I also find a curious contradiction within this suggestion itself. The first narration is described as follows:

Require the children to narrate what they have listened to, as nearly as possible in the Bible words.

The emphasis on narrating “in the Bible words” is consistent with several other authorities, including Mason,[42] Frost,[43] Wix,[44] Bruce-Low,[45] Moule,[46] Roffe,[47] and Lees.[48] But if the “first” narration is to be “in the Bible words,” what of the “second” narration? The “Suggestions” document says:

At the end, let the children narrate the passage again, reverently and perfectly.

There is no mention this time of “the Bible words,” and the intervening activity would not help:

Talk the narrative over with them, adding all possible light from modern research and criticism.

How could such an activity possibly result in an improved second narration that is somehow closer to the Bible words?

My best guess is that the undated, anonymous “Suggestions” booklet was printed in 1905. I can only conclude that its advice for a second narration was misguided, misinformed, and corrected by later writings. No named author from the House of Education (or any other historical source that I can locate) has ever supported this practice. In my view, it is a practice that is best ignored. My advice is to have a single narration after a single reading.

To Be Continued

I hope you have enjoyed digging deeper into the nuances of Charlotte Mason’s approach to Bible lessons. In part 2 of this two-part series I will be exploring questions related to the remaining elements of a Bible lesson. Stay tuned!

Endnotes

[1] Towards a Philosophy of Education, p. 160.

[2]The Teaching of Scripture,” The Parents’ Review, vol. 40, p. 368.

[3] Home Education, p. 158.

[4] Ibid., p. 157.

[5] Ibid., p. 158.

[6] Ibid.

[7]Bible Teaching in the Parents’ Union School,” The Parents’ Review, vol. 24, p. 517.

[8]Bible Teaching in the Parents’ Union School,” The Parents’ Review, vol. 24, p. 519.

[9] Home Education, pp. 232–233.

[10]President’s Letter,” L’Umile Pianta, July 1896, p. 3.

[11] “P.N.E.U. Principles as Illustrated by Teaching,” The Parents’ Review, vol. 10, p. 551.

[12] “Bible Teaching in the PNEU,” The Parents’ Review, vol. 30, p. 129.

[13] Note also Helen Wix’s indication that “A few questions link on the coming story with that of the last lesson.” From “Scripture Teaching,” The Parents’ Review, vol. 26, p. 591.

[14]The Teaching of Scripture,” The Parents’ Review, vol. 40, p. 368.

[15] Towards a Philosophy of Education, p. 224.

[16] Towards a Philosophy of Education, p. 272.

[17] “Bible Teaching in the PNEU,” The Parents’ Review, vol. 30, p. 129.

[18]Scripture Teaching,” The Parents’ Review, vol. 26, p. 591.

[19]The Teaching of Scripture,” The Parents’ Review, vol. 40, p. 368.

[20] In the section on Bible lessons, the programmes often mention the use of a Bible atlas. For example, Programme 90 Form I (1921) says, “Children might use Bible Atlas.” However, admittedly, it does not say whether to use the atlas before or after the reading and narration.

[21] Home Education, p. 251.

[22] Towards a Philosophy of Education, p. 163.

[23] Here Plumptre is quoting Towards a Philosophy of Education p. 163.

[24]The Teaching of Scripture,” The Parents’ Review, vol. 40, p. 369.

[25]P.N.E.U. Methods of Teaching Scripture,” The Parents’ Review, vol. 32, pp. 156–157.

[26] “Bible Teaching in the PNEU,” The Parents’ Review, vol. 30, p. 129.

[27]Bible Teaching in the Parents’ Union School,” The Parents’ Review, vol. 24, p. 519.

[28] Home Education, p. 233.

[29] Ibid.

[30]Scripture Teaching,” The Parents’ Review, vol. 26, p. 592. Note that by comparing the age ranges for Classes given in Mason’s School Education (Appendix II) to the age ranges for Forms given in the Programmes, we can see that Class 2 maps to Form 2.

[31]Scripture Teaching,” The Parents’ Review, vol. 26, p. 594.

[32] Towards a Philosophy of Education, p. 158.

[33] Towards a Philosophy of Education, pp. 337–338.

[34] The Saviour of the World, vol. 1, p. xvi.

[35] Programme 99.

[36] Towards a Philosophy of Education, p. xxx.

[37] Ibid.

[38]Knowledge and Narration,” The Parents’ Review, vol. 36, p. 423.

[39] Towards a Philosophy of Education, p. 292.

[40]P.N.E.U. Methods of Teaching Scripture,” The Parents’ Review, vol. 32, pp. 156–157.

[41] For example, Programme 90 Form I (1921) says, “Teacher to prepare beforehand: in teaching, read the Bible passages once and get the children to narrate; add such comments (see Paterson Smyth) as will bring the passages home to the children.”

[42] Home Education, p. 151. See also School Education, p. 330 for a “Notes of Lessons” written by an anonymous House of Education student.

[43]Bible Teaching in the Parents’ Union School,” The Parents’ Review, vol. 24, p. 518.

[44]Scripture Teaching,” The Parents’ Review, vol. 26, p. 591.

[45] “Bible Teaching in the PNEU,” The Parents’ Review, vol. 30, p. 128.

[46]Notes of Lessons: Scripture, Class Ib,” The Parents’ Review, vol. 14, p. 230.

[47]Notes of Lessons: Old Testament, Class I,” The Parents’ Review, vol. 14, p. 691.

[48]Notes of Lessons: New Testament Story, Class II,” The Parents’ Review, vol. 14, p. 388.

4 Replies to “Bible Lessons FAQ”

  1. Art – thanks so much for this podcast! I’ve been doing Mason’s method with my students in the lower forms and will have my first Form III student next year.

    A clarifying question from me. I read through and listened to the podcast and just want to be sure my understanding is correct.

    Your advice is to have “The Savior of the World” set the pace for the readings and when there is a Gospel History correlation, read it. If there are OT passages referenced, read those instead. Do I have that correct? I think in my mind I had assumed Gospel History would set the pace and SoTW would be “added in” when it corresponded with a Gospel History reading and not the other way around.

    1. Christine,

      Thank you for listening to this podcast episode! Yes, my advice is to have The Saviour of the World set the pace for the readings. That means on some weeks there will be no reading from The Gospel History, and some sections of The Gospel History will be bypassed. Your prior assumption was shared by others, however, and that is why I was so pleased to have the opportunity to discuss this topic as Question 6 in this episode.

      Blessings,
      Art

  2. Thank you Art for answering these questions! It clarified many things for me and it’ll definitely help me serve the Portuguese-speaking community better!
    Blessings,
    Mariana

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