That Mason frequently invoked the metaphor of 'food for the mind' to convey the spiritual, non-material needs of a human being is hard to miss; her writings are sprinkled liberally with these references. As someone who thoroughly enjoys a good meal, I've always appreciated the imagery.
It is this everyday notion that I found myself returning to often this summer as I thought about and envisioned our next school year. Like a good idea, a truly living idea, it has been a quite fruitful one for meditation.
It was in this planning stage that I stumbled across a summary of Mason's philosophy in a 1926 pamphlet. I was brought up short. Here was a new aspect. Or, was it?
He says, 'A child before he is taught---say, up to six years---learns rapidly and permanently from his surroundings and from stories, etc., that are told him. If he is left alone he assimilates something new every day, i.e. he relates new facts to others already in his mind---a process which Miss Mason rightly calls 'thinking'.'
So far, so good.
He goes on, 'Simultaneously, he wholly ignores other facts for which his mind is not ready...'
Again, not a new thought. We eat and our digestive process includes a taking in of what is needed or useful, and an expelling of what is not.
But Lyttelton's next statement caught my attention: '...and the wholesomeness of the process depends as much on the rejection of alien facts, as upon the assimilation of those in which he sees a meaning.' [emphasis mine]
The rejection of foodstuff is not only needful, but it contributes to the wholesomeness of the entire process. The rejection is vital.
Now, I admit that I don't know what Lyttelton meant by 'alien facts' and I am not intending to even hazard a guess. Rather, I am offering to share what I gleaned from just one part of his statement---namely the importance he places on the rejection of ideas, the role of elimination in this mental digestive process.
'Miss Mason has thought out a practical method...which provides for the three essential elements---assimilation : rejection : and reproduction.'
In Lyttelton's estimation, Mason ranked rejection as one of the three essential elements, right up there with assimilation, which begins with the wide and generous feast, and reproduction, the practice of narration. This really had me thinking.
From the standpoint of the physical process of digestion, it makes sense. We eat; some is retained and some eliminated. When elimination is not functioning as it should be, we readily grasp how very vital this process is to our health and well-being. But we know it can be possible to stretch a metaphor too far and read into it things not intended by the author.
However, Mason, too, acknowledged the reality of elimination, or the rejection of ideas, as she called it in Volume 6. 'Probably [the child] will reject nine-tenths of the ideas we offer, as he makes use of only a small proportion of his bodily food, rejecting the rest.' [VI.109]
But how important is this rejection of ideas? Essential?? She goes on, 'He is an eclectic; he may choose this or that.' And it is here that I see a hint in her use of the verb choose.
' 'Choose ye this day' is the command that comes to each of us in every affair and on every day of our lives; and the business of the Will is to choose.' [IV.143]
It is the business of the will to choose, and it is a chief function of a human being. Mason says, 'A king is not a king unless he reigns and a man is less than a man unless he wills.' [VI.133] And elsewhere, in Mason's catechism of PNEU philosophy, she suggests that man's role in education is 'to choose the good and refuse the evil.' [P.N.E.U. Philosophy by The Editor, The Parents' Review, Vol. 3, 1892/3]
This choosing is what certainly guides our conduct, what we say and do day-in and day-out, and it is what forms and renews our character in the long run. It is what education is all about. Without elimination, digestion would ground to a halt; and without the rejection of ideas, the will would be obsolete, unnecessary and life would be far less than living. I think Lyttelton was right; it is essential. And, just as we (parents) don't meddle with digestion, we (parent-teachers) should not meddle with this rejecting of ideas. How thankful I am for the 'Continual Helper' who can enter into this holy place [IV.174] and support us in all our 'interests, duties and joys of life.' [A Short Synopsis]
*Charlotte Mason Digital Collection, CMC443.