One of the foundational tools in a Living Education is narration. It is a practice, stemming from Charlotte’s philosophy that children are persons, that, probably more than anything else, distinguishes her method from all other methods.
Narration is not a test to see what knowledge the student has, but rather the way in which we GET the knowledge.
Charlotte tells us in various places in her Volumes and writings about the vital aspect of narration. Narration is the way we know or, as she sometimes says, the act of knowing. Sprinkled throughout the Volumes she repeatedly conveys the principle that narration is not something to be done haphazardly or without intention.
Here, I have collected many of her quotes to remind us all that the simple process of narration is the ultimate hinge on which a child learns. Without narration, there is no learning, no knowing. In order to know it, you must tell it.
Here we get the mind forces which must act continuously in education,––attention, assimilation, narration, retention, reproduction. – Volume 6 p.259
…knowledge is acquired only by what we may call “the act of knowing,” which is both encouraged and tested by narration…- Volume 6 p. 291
That is how we all learn, we tell again, to ourselves if need be, the matter we wish to retain, the sermon, the lecture, the conversation. The method is as old as the mind of man, the distressful fact is that it has been made so little use of in general education. – Volume 6 p.160
…we (of the P.N.E.U.) confine ourselves to affording two things, —knowledge, and a keen sympathy in the interest roused by that knowledge. It is our part to see that every child knows and can tell, whether by way of oral narrative or written essay. V6 p.171
As we have already urged, there is but one right way, that is, children must do the work for themselves. They must read the given pages and tell what they have read, they must perform, that is, what we may call the act of knowing. We are all aware, alas, what a monstrous quantity of printed matter has gone into the dustbin of our memories, because we have failed to perform that quite natural and spontaneous ‘act of knowing,’ as easy to a child as breathing and, if we would believe it, comparatively easy to ourselves. The reward is two-fold: no intellectual habit is so valuable as that of attention; it is a mere habit but it is also the hall-mark of an educated person. Use is second nature… – Volume 6 p.99
…power of knowing, evinced by the one sure test,––they are able to ‘tell’ each work they have read not only with accuracy but with spirit and originality. How is it possible, it may be asked, to show originality in ‘mere narration’? …the children narrate; they see it all so vividly that when you read or hear their versions the theme is illuminated for you too. – Volume 6 p.183
Knowledge [is] received with attention and fixed by narration. – Volume 6 p.259
Let the boy read and he knows, that is, if he must tell again what he has read. – Volume 6 p.261
But what about reason, judgment, imagination, discrimination, and those other ‘faculties’ that teachers have been working so hard to develop? They take care of themselves and work on the knowledge that’s been received with attention, and cemented with narration. – Volume 6 p.259
It is a simple, yet complex process that brings great rewards.
I am anxious to bring this idea of a discovery before the reader because our methods are so simple and obvious that people are inclined to take them up at random and say that extensive reading is a “good idea which we have all tried more or less” and that free narration “is a good plan in which there is nothing new.” It is true that we all read and that narration is as natural as breathing, its value depending solely upon what is narrated. What we have perhaps failed to discover hitherto is the immense hunger for knowledge (curiosity) existing in everyone and the immeasurable power of attention with which everyone is endowed; that everyone likes knowledge best in a literary form; that the knowledge should be exceedingly various concerning many things on which the mind of man reflects; but that knowledge is acquired only by what we may call “the act of knowing,” which is both encouraged and tested by narration, and which further requires the later test and record afforded by examinations. This is nothing new, you will say, and possibly no natural law in action appears extraordinarily new; we take flying already as a matter of course; but though there is nothing surprising in the action of natural laws, the results are exceedingly surprising, and to that test we willingly submit these methods. – Volume 6 p.290-291