The Teaching of Scripture

The Teaching of Scripture

Editor’s Note: From time to time I am asked about apparent contradictions in Charlotte Mason’s writings. For example, we are told that narrations are to be in the child’s own words. And yet when it comes to Bible lessons, Mason says that while narrating, the child should be “keeping as close as he can to the Bible words.” A second example is that the programmes say, “In all cases the Bible text must be read and narrated first.” So a friend of mine was surprised to read on p. 162 of Towards a Philosophy of Education that Mason says, “The teacher opens the lesson by reading the passage from The Bible for the Young.” Were the programmes in error?

The good news is that we are not the first students of Charlotte Mason to wrestle with these questions. At the 31st Annual Conference of the PNEU, House of Education graduate Eileen C. Plumptre called attention to these very same apparent inconsistencies. Her analysis is a fitting model for contemporary interpreters of Charlotte Mason’s writings. It shows that the richness of Mason’s ideas are best understood by exploring rather than erasing the nuances. In this way we come to see that Mason’s principles can be more complex than they first appear.

As an introduction to Plumptre’s 1929 article, we are including a short piece by Rose Amy Pennethorne. First presented at the 1921 “Conference of Educational Associations,” this paper gives an overview of Bible lessons in the Charlotte Mason method. I am happy that both articles touch on Mason’s poetry volumes, The Saviour of the World, showing us the value of these unique devotional collections. I was astonished to see Plumptre call out a specific poem that I have used many times in immersion lessons. It is moving to know that hearts and minds were touched in 1929 in the same manner as in 2019.

– Art

P.N.E.U. Methods of Teaching Scripture

By R. A. Pennethorne
The Parents’ Review, 1921, pp. 156-157

To begin with, Scripture with us is not an isolated subject—the only ‘public recognition of God’ in the school curriculum. We believe that in that painting in Florence, which Miss Mason ventures to describe as the Great Recognition, is shewn the true educational gospel—that all knowledge is part of Holy Wisdom and the gift of God’s spirit. So we try to inculcate a spirit of reverence and wonder in all studies, while putting first things first and beginning every morning with a scripture lesson in the place of honour. 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. The syllabus followed will take a child—say from 7 to 17—right through the Bible in a reasoned order. We begin in the age of faith with the story of the beginning—using Dr. Paterson Smyth’s books as explanatory guides to the teacher who will give the necessary comment either upon the reading or after the narration as seems most helpful. The child goes on from origins to the great ‘fathers,’ the patriarchs, on through the story of Moses to the historical relationship of prophets and kings and actually reads the prophets in their proper setting when old enough to follow their ‘inspired comment’—that is in the Upper Classes of the School. For the New Testament work the child just reads the Synoptic Gospels: then, when older, the Synoptic Gospels, and St. John, companioned by Miss Mason’s own commentary in Verse, the ‘Saviour of the World’ which in a beautifully impersonal form shows the ideas which should arise in the mind of every humble and loyal disciple.

Then by the time the school career has well advanced the child will have read the epistles and a great many other optional books given as Sunday Reading—church teaching, the history of the Prayer Book, and of the Great Saints—Stories of the lands from which the great book came or of the civilizing work of Christianity in all ages. Eventually the child should be ready for the world, taught to ‘search the scriptures’ with a conception of their growth and sequence, realising that he must add his share before the day can dawn when ‘The Earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea.”

The Teaching Of Scripture

By E. C. Plumptre
The Parents’ Review, 1929, pp. 368-371

No doubt the right way to begin any discussion or paper on the teaching of Scripture, is by reminding ourselves of the supreme importance of this subject and of its outstanding place on the Time Table. But as we surely all agree on this point, may I pass straight on to a few practical points which might arouse discussion.

It may prove useful to remind ourselves of one or two of the principles behind the teaching of Scripture, which belong especially to the P.N.E.U. philosophy; also of any directions which we have for the teaching of this great subject. 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. The last part of the lesson is devoted to discussion—this is a very important part, as here lies the opportunity for bringing home any special teaching the story may afford and of clearing up any difficulties raised by the children.

To return for a moment to the second part of the lesson, the reading and narration. We are reminded in the Essay Towards a Philosophy of Education, that “the Bible text must be read without interruption.” This is, of course, so familiar to us as to be, at first sight, hardly worth mentioning. But we do still hear that “small children cannot possibly understand the Bible”—or, that one must have an easier version for the little ones.

Now, in Natural History, we do not give small children a flower to study with the sepals, stamens or pistil picked off, because they are too young to learn such words or the functions of these parts, and only the bright petals will appeal to them. We let them have the real flower and they take from it, for themselves, those joys and interests suited to them. This is a somewhat far fetched illustration, but it may suggest what I mean. If the beauties of our English Bible be spread before the children, they will take and reject for themselves. The part of the teacher is, surely, that of helper, by giving just the right background and introduction in the first part of the lesson.

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.”

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. Surely here is a good starting-place for training children in Form III. to study alone (if they have not already learnt to do so).

Again, in the Essay Towards a Philosophy of Education, in connection with New Testament, we find

“Narration is often curiously word-perfect after a single reading.”

It is indeed surprising how children will do this almost unconsciously. Surely a witness to the beauty of our Bible language! What opportunities our children get of laying up for themselves large stores of these beauties. As a rule we discourage “word-perfect” narrations as simply verbal memory. But in the New Testament lessons it seems that this need not be so.

Lastly, Miss Mason tells us that she felt it to be extremely important for our children to have

“… a poetic presentation of the life and teaching of Our Lord.”

That in such a study they will experience

“… a curious and delightful sense of harmonious development … of the progressive unfolding which characterises Our Lord’s teaching.”

Because “the need seemed urgent,” because we are “waiting for the great epic,” Miss Mason put forward what she called a “stop-gap” in the six volumes of the Saviour of the World. Most unfortunately I can say nothing from personal experience as to the best means of studying this with the children. When I have had girls old enough to take it, I have not been teaching New Testament, as parents have desired otherwise. For I am told that you don’t really know the Saviour of the World until you have taught it. My sister was not “brought up on it,” as I was, and never cared for it. But she says that now that she teaches it, she loves it. But I am quite convinced, from having been taught it, that we ought not to neglect the wonderful opportunities it gives us. May I briefly illustrate what I mean?

Firstly, we have the development of Our Lord’s life and teaching brought out. Take, for example, the portions which comment upon the passage following the story of the healing of the man at Bethesda; I mean those in St. John beginning “My Father worketh hitherto and I work.” How clearly the Saviour of the World portions bring before us the point of dispute between Christ and the Jews—namely, the observance of the Sabbath. Then we follow on to Our Lord’s teaching arising from this—about the Oneness of the Father and the Son, the Work of Judgment committed to the Son and the Atonement of Father, Son and those who will follow Him.

Secondly, what opportunities there are for building up a clear view of life upon a sure foundation. For instance, such passages as that about the colours held in the white light, in the poem on the Annunciation; or those called Rest and Restlessness; or, again, the commentary on St. John’s Prologue—

“No longer baffled we by tortuous quest
Whether all life proceed from two or many,
Whether our origins be high or low—
Those things concern the manner of our making:
In Him was life; this is enough to know:
How He dispersed the largess of His bounty,
’Twere good indeed to learn; and time will come
When ear to hear the whisper of the Word
Shall wake; a man, learned in the laws of things,
That he heard whispered by the Word, shall tell.
Till then we wait, not knowing whence we came,
But knowing Him from whom all doth proceed.”

Surely some such study gives a much-needed background in our present life of rush and whirl? Many delightful sidelights on familiar stories are thrown by “The Disciple” poems in all six volumes. After reading of the Syro-Phoenician Woman, we find a little picture of ourselves as the happy dogs of Our Lord, waiting His command, telling of His going forth, gathering in His sheep, lying still at His bidding.

In all our teaching we seek occasion “to visualize, realize, every incident of Our Lord’s life; to ponder, search after” His sayings and discourses, and to find in Him “the consummation of all human aspiration and the means of its accomplishment.”

Editor’s Note: The formatting of the above articles was optimized for online viewing. To access a version which is formatted more similarly to the original, and which includes the original page numbers, please click here and here.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *