Stacks of books tower on every flat surface (and some not-so-flat surfaces) of my house. I’ve been allowing my imagination to wander lately, and it has designed a beautiful library/meeting hall to be built in the field in front of my house. “Imagination” is the key word here, but if I don’t do something soon it will be either my family or the books—I don’t think there’s room for both. [wry grin]
One of these towering stacks is the “education and culture” stack (not to be confused with the culture and educational philosophy shelf).
Some books in this towering stack are more recent favorites: The Core, The Question, and The Conversation by Leigh Bortins; Beauty for Truth’s Sake and Beauty in the Word by Stratford Caldecott; Teaching from Rest: A Homeschooler’s Guide to Unshakable Peace by Sarah Mackenzie; and Leisure, the Basis of Culture by Josef Pieper.
Some are important books that require more intelligence than I currently possess in order to finish: Norms and Nobility by David Hicks and Climbing Parnassus by Tracy Lee Simmons. [Clearly I’m delusional about when that intelligence will manifest itself because I haven’t shelved them yet.]
Some are books I’ve finished in the past few months and whose riches I’m still digesting: Awakening Wonder: A Classical Guide to Truth, Goodness & Beauty by Stephen R. Turley, PhD (a good but dense read) and The Liberal Arts Tradition: A Philosophy of Christian Classical Education by Ravi Jain (an excellent must-read, even though it is over my head in parts).
[We won’t even talk about the books still on my wish list!]
After reading The Liberal Arts Tradition in particular, I had so many thoughts swirling in my brain and I began synthesizing some ideas to share in blog posts. My real hope was to somehow synthesize all of the above books into something resembling a cohesive educational philosophy complete with derivative practices.
So what does Heidi do when she is overwhelmed by a task in front of her? [Other than binge on chocolate and Netflix?] She watches multiple educational videos and series. She attends an educational retreat.
She starts another book. Or two.
Instead of buying more books, I looked at my educational philosophy shelf and grabbed two books I hadn’t read in forever.
First up: A Charlotte Mason Education by Catherine Levison. This one is completely manageable. Less than 100 pages. A brief introduction to Charlotte Mason. Very brief chapters covering all the subjects with practical how-to advice. A few lists and graphs (yay for lists and graphs!). In summary: brief and practical.
On a roll, I grabbed the second book: For the Children’s Sake by Susan Schaeffer Macaulay.
I’d like to have a little chat with the younger me who first read the book some years ago.
Why didn’t you allow these beautiful words and ideas to change your life?!
[Okay, I know why: I was overwhelmed. There just wasn’t enough of me to go around. My main goal was to keep everyone alive. But, still.]
I was convicted with every word. Convicted that I could spend a profitable 10 years just reading and re-reading the books I already own without buying another single book. Convicted that it doesn't matter how many books I read if they don't change me. Convicted that I need to choose a few beautiful books to re-read often. Convicted that I have failed myself and my children in setting good habits that would make doing the right things so. much. easier. for all of us because we could do all the little things without thinking and without effort and save our thinking and effort for the big things.
So I had a "chat" with my kids, which was probably the wrong thing (ha!), apologizing to them for my own poor habits and apologizing for failing to make their lives easier, and explaining that we are all under authority to do the right thing.
It's really difficult to turn a large passenger ship around. Especially when the captain has shockingly poor habits. Sigh.
But good stuff, friends. Good and beautiful stuff in this one.
This is not just a homeschooling book. It is not even just a book about education.
It is a book about these beautiful humans who inhabit our homes and how we should treat them. How we can respect them as persons and work to enlarge their lives.
From the Introduction:
This book…is not a specific guide to one particular plan. Education is an adventure that has to do with central themes, not the particular packages a given generation puts them into. It’s about people, children, life, reality!
In the first chapter, What Is Education?, the author introduces the reader to Charlotte Mason and her world.
In the lengthy second chapter, the reader learns that “Children Are Born Persons.”
At first glance, this idea does not seem revolutionary to us, but a deeper look at this idea reveals the truth.
Look well at the child on your knee. In whatever condition you find him, look with reverence. We can only love and serve him and be his friend. We cannot own him. He is not ours… Respect him. Do not see him as something to prune, form, or mold. This is an individual who thinks, acts, and feels. He is a separate human being whose strength lies in who he is, not in who he will become.
We are told to place a feast of ideas and experiences in front of a child and then get out of the way.
Allow the child to have an interior life that you don’t meddle in. Let the Holy Spirit and the child do what they will with what he has seen and heard.
Charlotte Mason highly valued a child’s time and opportunity to play. Encourage play, give a child time and materials and remove other distractions and pressures, but do not organize play.
Charlotte Mason fed children with Living Ideas from outside of those children’s world. Read beautifully written biographies, stories of other cultures, fables, stories about animals, literature. Read slowly. Have a child narrate back what he has heard. Don’t test the child. Allow her to choose the details that she remembers. Allow a child to learn as his own speed.
The third chapter covers the topic of Authority and Freedom.
This is the chapter that hit me the hardest.
Charlotte Mason exhorts us to train a child in good habits so that right behavior becomes easy and the student’s efforts and energy can be used for greater challenges.
What I truly loved about the perspective here is that it is so full of grace. It is not a rigid system of endless dos and don’ts from an authoritative perspective, but an understanding that we are all under authority to do the right thing and that we must first understand the child’s needs. We must give children “freedom within known limits, both physically and morally.” We must not be aggressive. We as parents must “exercise great self-restraint” and not place too many limits or pile on expectations.
We must show that we are mature enough to stick to the lines which are right, and that we don’t merely boss the child about for our convenience.
In this lengthy chapter, I was reminded continuously of this quote by G.K. Chesterton: “The more I considered Christianity, the more I found that while it had established a rule and order, the chief aim of that order was to give room for good things to run wild.”
Chapter four introduces us to Charlotte Mason’s educational principles.
[You can read them here.]
Teach the skills for their own sake.
Introduce the child to a wide curriculum of living books.
Keep teaching time short enough so that his natural hunger for “real” life can be satisfied.
Macaulay focuses on Charlotte Mason’s motto: “Education is an atmosphere, a discipline, and a life.”
Atmosphere can be cultivated at home and at school.
Students can learn the discipline of attention and concentration, truthfulness, self-control, and unselfishness. Parents and teachers can provide structure and form.
Parents and teachers can give students access to the best sources.
“Let the children at the best of life!” is Charlotte Mason’s challenge to us. Life includes not only living experiences, but also the best that mankind has produced in art, books, music, ideas, and many more areas.
We don’t have to chart exactly what a child has “learned” from any of these sources to make it worthwhile using them. This is a different way of thinking about learning. Our job is to give the best nourishment regularly. The child takes what is appropriate to him at that time.
We are also encouraged to allow students to do real work, take on real responsibility, and spend time in creative pursuits.
Chapter five delves into the principle “education is a science of relationships.”
We must take steps to provide a diet which opens doors for each child to build a relationship with God, other persons, and the universe. If it sounds broad, it is broad!
Knowledge is divided into three categories: knowledge of God, knowledge of man, and knowledge of the universe.
These divisions correspond well to the three categories of philosophy outlined in The Liberal Arts Tradition: divine philosophy, moral philosophy, and natural philosophy.
In this chapter (again, lengthy), Macaulay covers the “subjects” of theology, history, literature, morals and citizenship, composition, languages, art, music, science, geography, mathematics, physical development, and handicrafts.
The Word of God is like fertile seed you drop into the soil. The child does not take in everything that is there. He thinks about some aspect of it.
“Why do you study, or do math, art, etc.?” should be swiftly answered by “Because it is part of the whole which God has created.”
Math does relate to the whole of truth; it has its place. It is like art, music, horticulture, or cooking: the “Christian-ness” of it lies in itself. We are secure in God’s truth, which is a framework into which we can fit all the parts of reality.
Having given the basis for the knowledge, plus a place for the telling of ideas or discussion, please allow each child to live his own private life. We tend to crash in where angels fear to tread. We want to push along the work that belongs to the Holy Spirit. Let the child do his own living—please!
The life of education has to include the whole of our humanness. We need to relate as persons to the God who is there, to be nourished with good ideas through books, art, music, history, literature, etc. We need to relate to other persons, to know and be known. We need the beauty of nature, and we are made to respond creatively in speech, music, through art, etc. We need to know the limits of law, and yet the freedom of our separate choices.
The book closes with a brief sixth chapter which introduces Charlotte Mason’s motto “I am, I can, I ought, I will.”
I am made in the image of God and made to have a relationship with Him. I can act with confidence. I ought to do what is right (not just what I want). I will choose what is right under all circumstances.
And God’s grace is available to me when I fail.
The motto, “I am, I can, I ought, I will” makes a circle, a perimeter, inside of which my human life may be lived with joy and fullness. There is song, lightness, spontaneity. There is the possibility of attaining height proper to one’s self.
Friends, I highly recommend this book, whether you are homeschooling or using other schooling methods, whether your children are still young or growing older.
So now I have so many beautiful ideas to synthesize that I may die trying. But stay tuned for more to come…