Monday, March 3, 2014

{My Charlotte Mason Journal} That's like unschooling, right?

I haven't made a lot of progress. After my post last week, I spent a lot of time thinking further about the same quote I shared then. Today's post will focus in on this part of it:
"It is illuminating, too, showing the value, or lack of value, of a thousand systems and expedients. It is not only a light, but a measure, providing a standard whereby all things, small and great, belonging to education work must be tested."
 Two other homeschooling approaches that have strong philosophies of education are the seemingly polar opposites Unschooling and Classical Education. I think it is illuminating to compare and contrast these two with Charlotte Mason's philosophy of education.

I believe that the reason people who aren't very familiar with Charlotte Mason say things like "Charlotte Mason? That's something like unschooling, right?" (though truthfully they are quite different in practice) is because the two are based on the same first principle: that children are born persons. Her thoughts about the "respect due to the personality of children," the "educational value of his natural home atmosphere," and the child's natural "appetite for all knowledge" would all earn a hearty affirmation from unschoolers, I think. (Quotes from the "20 Principles" found in the Preface of Volume 6)

When it comes to Charlotte Mason's "Education is an atmosphere, a discipline, a life," I think unschoolers emphasize the truth that "Education is an atmosphere" very strongly. I think that Charlotte Mason's "discipline of habit" is not recognized as a foundational aspect of education in unschooling (though different households would of course recognize it to a greater or lesser degree). As for "Education is a life," the similarities and differences seem more complex. Most unschoolers I know would take pains to expose their children to a wide variety of ideas and experiences. And yet this is the point where Charlotte Mason exposes her Classical roots and takes "Children are born persons" in a different direction than unschooling does.
"The fundamental idea is, that children are persons and are therefore moved by the same springs of conduct as their elders. Among these is the Desire of Knowledge, knowledge-hunger being natural to everybody." (Vol. 6, p. 14)
To Charlotte Mason, curiosity is "the chief instrument of education." (vol. 6, p. 11) Children are born with this desire for learning and maintain it until the artificial incentives for learning that teachers and systems set up stifle it and leave the students apathetic. (Vol. 6, p.11) She also says that "self-education is the only possible education; the rest is mere veneer laid on the surface of a child’s nature" and that "...The mind of a child takes or rejects according to its needs" (Vol. 6, p. 10). So far, my perception is that the unschooler would agree with her completely.

The conclusion Charlotte Mason comes to from these points is startlingly different than the one unschoolers come to, however. Because children are born persons, and are naturally curious about everything, we owe it to them to give them a broad, generous, liberal arts education. How do we do this in a way that stimulates the desire for learning, rather than stifling it? Put the children in touch with great minds and great ideas through "living books" (Books by people who lived what they wrote about, who were passionate about their subject.). Then get out of the way and trust the child to take what he needs from the banquet of ideas you set out.
"...mind appeals to mind and thought begets thought and that is how we become educated. For this reason we owe it to every child to put him in communication with great minds that he may get at great thoughts; with the minds, that is, of those who have left us great works; and the only vital method of education appears to be that children should read worthy books, many worthy books." (Vol. 6, p. 12)
And so you will find that, unlike unschooling, Charlotte Mason does not advocate following a child's own interests in his lessons, though she does call for short lessons and plenty of spare time for a child to do just that. The lessons should be consecutive, she says, and there should be "no stray lessons." This is so we do not unduly limit the amount of knowledge a child can learn in the short years that are their school years.
13. In devising a SYLLABUS for a normal child, of whatever social class, three points must be considered:
     (a) He requires much knowledge, for the mind needs sufficient food as much as does the body.
     (b) The knowledge should be various, for sameness in mental diet does not create appetite (i.e., curiosity)
     (c) Knowledge should be communicated in well-chosen language, because his attention responds naturally to what is conveyed in literary form. (20 Principles, Preface, Vol. 6)
If you'll forgive me for saying this, in Charlotte Mason we find a Classical education flowing from what looks very much like an Unschooling heart, and that distinguishes it from the majority of the Classical education we are familiar with in the homeschooling world today.

This post has become long enough, though. I'll get into measuring Classical education against Charlotte Mason's philosophy of education next time.

(disclaimer: I am no expert in any of these philosophies or methods, even Charlotte Mason's --you can see I'm still quoting from prefaces and introductions because I haven't gotten any farther yet. You can also see that my perspective is one of love for Charlotte Mason's ideas, and that I'm analyzing these philosophies based on my perception of them, which may possibly be faulty. I am open to gracious correction.)