Here are two quotes from Charlotte that don’t seem to line up. On the one hand, Charlotte often says that narration is an individual telling back, that is is not verbatim, but given back with the student’s own words and workings. Here is one of the several quotes where she talks about this output of narration:
“These narrations are never a slavish reproduction of the original. A child’s individuality plays about what he enjoys, and the story comes from his lips, not precisely as the author tells it, but with a certain spirit and colouring which express the narrator. By the way, it is very important that children should be allowed to narrate in their own way, and should not be pulled up or helped with words and expressions from the text. A narration should be original as it comes from a child—that is, his own mind should have acted upon the matter it has received. Narrations which are mere feats of memory are quite valueless.” – Volume 1 p.289
But in Volume 6, Charlotte uses the phrase “word perfect”. The students here are giving a Bible narration that is “word perfect”.
“…the reverent reading of the text, with the following narration which is often curiously word perfect after a single reading; this is the more surprising because we all know how difficult it is to repeat a passage which we have heard a thousand times;…” – Volume 6 p.165
That sounds far different from the above statement that a narration is individual and original to the child, not precisely as the author has written.
Can these two contradictions be reconciled? Which is it? Word perfect or original to the student?
Reading a little further in the second quote, we find that Charlotte uses the phrase “perfect word pictures”.
“…the single attentive reading does away with this difficulty and we are able to assure ourselves that children’s minds are stored with perfect word pictures of every tender and beautiful scene described in the Gospels;…”
And reading further, we find that she is interested in the student gaining a beautiful and reverent picture of Christ as our good Savior.
“…and are able reproduce the austere if equally tender teaching which enforces the object lessons of the miracles. By degrees the Person of Our Lord as revealed in His words and His works becomes real and dear to them, not through emotional appeals but through the impression left by accurate and detailed knowledge concerning the Saviour of the World, Who went about doing good….
…The young reader should experience in this study a curious and delightful sense of harmonious development, the rounding out of each incident, of the progressive unfolding which characterises Our Lord’s teaching; …and, let me say here, the custom of narration lends itself surprisingly to this sort of poetic insight.” –Volume 6 p.165-166
Ultimately Charlotte is looking for a perfect insight into the life and work of Christ that takes the child to a personal connection with Him. She wants a perfect picture of Him through knowing Him as a friend. A relationship is built. In CM lingo that is the Science of Relations. In a Living Education a relationship is built step by step through knowing something or someone. These steps are the daily lesson-tasks of narration. Knowledge follows narration. Knowledge comes by narrating.
Word perfect and personal telling back do not contradict in this sense. Rather they compliment. Narration is the act of knowing. Knowing in a Living Education is an inward sinking in, not just a surface hovering. In everything we want to know accurately-perfectly. In this case, we truly want the student to know deeply and perfectly about their Lord and Savior.
Here is a good quote to help us see what we are aiming for with narrations.
“Perhaps the chief function of a teacher is to distinguish information from knowledge in the acquisitions of his pupils. Because knowledge is power, the child who has got knowledge will certainly show power in dealing with it. He will recast, condense, illustrate, or narrate with vividness and with freedom in the arrangement of his words. The child who has got only information will write and speak in the stereotyped phrases of his text-book, or will mangle in his notes the words of his teacher.” – Volume 3 p.225
Charlotte gives us another way to think about this ‘information’ concept. She speaks of students taking in,- taking things (lessons, books, activities, experiences) into their inner being. However, not everything is taken in. Some things don’t sink in and seem to bounce off the child. You can throw it to them, but they don’t catch it. That does not mean they are not mentally capable of understanding, it does mean there will be no intellectual growth or knowledge built.
The mind appears to have an outer court into which matter can be taken and again expelled without ever having entered the inner place where personality dwells. Here we have the secret of learning by rote, a purely mechanical exercise of which no satisfactory account has been given, but which leaves the patient, or pupil, unaffected. Most teachers know the dreariness of piles of exercises into which no stray note of personality has escaped. – Volume 6 p.257
Verbatim telling back narration is not knowing. If it is a perfect, repeating back in an exact likeness, it has not not entered the inner court Charlotte speaks of. It is hovering around the student not sinking into the student. Only when it sinks in, will the child’s mind work on it to make it their own (digest it). Then it will be turned into their own mental possession. Then.- Then, they will know. The perfect that we are shooting for is a perfect picture, a contented filling, a perfect stimulation for growth to occur.