Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Mark Twain knew a thing or two

I still read to Sean at night. I plan to continue until he asks me to stop, and I secretly hope that is at least a few years away.

We finished a book last week, and I looked for another one to begin, and decided to pick through a book called "The Young Folks Shelf of Books," a collection of junior classics.

It includes the first chapter of Tom Sawyer. I don't know if I've ever read all of Tom Sawyer. If I did I was very young.

At first I was struggling with the language a bit, but being from the South, I picked up on it quickly.

I plan to get a copy from the library so we can finish the story, or if I can find an inexpensive copy I'll buy it.

At the end of the first chapter something jumped out at me that pertains to Montessori education. The story goes, for those of you who either have forgotten or haven't read it, Tom is being punished by his Auntie, who is raising him. He's supposed to be whitewashing the fence on a Saturday afternoon, and as the other boys come by to tease him, he turns it around. He convinces them that to whitewash that fence is a coveted job, and they all want a turn at it. Not only does he get out of doing the work, they pay him to let them do it.

And Mark Twain says, "If he had been a great wise philosopher, like the writer of this book, he would now have comprehended that Work consists of whatever a body is obliged to do, and Play consists of whatever a body is not obliged to do."

That sentence says it all. Montessori education, and indeed unschooling as well, educate the child with the notion that they are not obliged to do anything, but instead the work, and the world, is so compelling and full of interesting things that one could not imagine anyone not wanting to do the work of learning. And that makes the work more like play.

Mark Twain continues:
 "And this would help him to understand why constructing artificial flowers or performing on a treadmill is work, while rolling tenpins or climbing Mont Blanc is only amusement. There are wealthy gentlemen in England who drive four-horse passenger-coaches twenty or thirty miles on a daily line, in the summer, because the privilege costs them considerable money; but if they were offered wages for the service, that would turn it into work and then they would resign."

Wordsmith Extraordinaire, that Mark Twain.


  1. I love that you still read to your son! We have been up until the last year or so... but I think I am going to restart this practice! Thank you for the inspiration!!

  2. Thanks for visiting my blog, Trish, and thanks so much for taking the time to comment. Happy that this blog can inspire :-}