Preferred Paths (new book excerpt)

Step-by-step drawing books were therefore discouraged, although at least one such book was included in curriculum for the primary grades. A contradiction, right there? If you can access an archive of scanned-in books, look for What to Draw and How to Draw It, by the American illustrator Edwin George Lutz. From the back cover:

This is really a remarkable book in which line is made a good reason for form. The youngest child may grasp the magic progress of this way of working and he will draw the picture naturally and well. Instructions are very brief, for the key lines of each object tell their own story and the child is entranced by the results soon gained. There is no stupid tracing, for tracing accomplishes at most only a little muscular control.

“Stupid” is an unpopular word, but it is used here in its Victorian sense of dull, boring, pointless. It’s obvious from the description why this book was felt to be an antidote to the “scales without music” approach. How brilliant…we might even say, how C.M. is it…to let “the key lines of each object tell their own story?” It echoes Charlotte’s insistence that “Every relation must be initiated by its own ‘captain’ idea, sustained upon fitting ideas; and wrought into the material substance of the person by its proper habits” (School Education, p. 71).

Could we apply the same thinking to arithmetic lessons?

Composer studies?

Bible lessons?

Clay modelling?


What we’re looking for is, as Charlotte says, the opposite of a “macadamised” road. I think her objection to such roads was not so much the stuff they were made from (which was, originally, just crushed rock) as, perhaps, their inorganic, industrial nature, and also their tendency to sprawl all over the countryside, as compared to the “old ways,” pathways which had come into being over the centuries to serve the purposes of the people who used them. When Charlotte travelled, she must have been thankful for safe, mud-free roads, and perhaps even for railways; but for a walk through the countryside, the old paths were preferred; and to teach children drawing, the major lines would be just enough. The brush-drawn flower might be rough, and the early narrations might lack detail, but were the children seeing? Were they listening? Were they catching the “main lines,” the “pictures themselves?” That was more important.

Excerpted from a forthcoming book, Ideas Freely Sown: The Matter and Method of Charlotte Mason, by Anne E. White.

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