Friday, August 11, 2017

The Goal of Education is Relationship: My Theme for This School Year

Having just read School Education by Charlotte Mason, one of the things I have been thinking about most deeply is her principle "Education is the Science of Relations." In the past 3-4 years as I have been following Charlotte Mason's philosophy and methods, I think that I have focused more on the instruments of education: "Education is an Atmosphere, a Discipline, a Life." "Education is the Science of Relations" is a different kind of statement. It is not about the instruments of education, it is about the goal of education.

Yesterday I was half listening to the latest "Close Reads" podcast (the Q&A on Brideshead Revisited), when Andrew Kern said something that arrested me:
"The goal of education is friendship."
Now, I don't pretend to know how he would expand on that statement, but my mind immediately went back to Charlotte Mason's "Science of Relations". I believe that she would say something quite similar: The goal of education is relationship.

Here's Charlotte Mason's Principle 12:
Out of this conception [that the child’s mind comes fit to deal with knowledge, and that facts must not be presented without their informing ideas] comes our principle that, – "Education is the Science of Relations"; that is, that a child has natural relations with a vast number of things and thoughts: so we train him upon physical exercises, nature lore, handicrafts, science and art, and upon many living books, for we know that our business is not to teach him all about anything, but to help him to make valid as many as may be of--
 "Those first-born affinities
 "That fit our new existence to existing things."
Children are born persons. God has made them so that they are naturally equipped to form relationships with the world around them (things), with themselves (self-knowledge), with the people around them, with people and things of all times in history and all places in the world, and most importantly with Himself. Our job in education is to make the introductions; to facilitate with the goal that they will form relationships of friendship, of duty, of affection, or whatever is proper to each particular relationship.

There is one hitch for teachers, though. We don't know which introductions will result in friendship. Children form their own relationships with things and people they have a natural affinity for. One thing we do know, however, is that as human beings they have a natural affinity to many things. This is why we introduce children to such a feast in a Charlotte Mason education: "physical exercises, nature lore, handicrafts, science and art, and many living books." We know that if we make enough introductions, somehow, somewhere, they are going to "take to" something or someone. And the more relationships they form, the more relationships they are able to form.

The Goal of Education is Relationship is my theme for this school year. I'm going to write it on my wall and think about it as we're going through our daily routine. I hope it will make me ask questions of myself:

-Am I too focused on "covering everything"? (a common failing with me...)

-What kind of relationships am I facilitating here? Relationships of delight and affection? Of stress and animosity? Of indifference? (Of course, I do not control my children's responses, but I may have an effect on them by the way I present things.)

-Is there any way I can help with the relationships my children are forming? Resources? A well-placed question or comment? Standing aside? 

-How can I create a culture of sharing as both they and I form our own relationships with the things and books we study?

-How can I present this thing or book in a winsome way that will not hinder or manipulate my child's potential relationship with it?

Are there other questions I should be asking myself? How do you work out the principle "Education is the Science of Relations" in your day-to-day work as a home educator?

Thursday, August 10, 2017

School Education: The Appendices

I did it! I finished reading School Education yesterday, 29 days after starting. Some of it was hard going (Chapter 14, I'm looking at you!), and much of it was surprisingly repetitive. This is something you don't notice as much when you're reading through Charlotte Mason's works slowly, as I've always done. Still, the very repetition shows what was the most important to Charlotte Mason. It's as if she is continually saying, Before we focus in on this one principle, let's step back and see what place that principle has in the whole philosophy of education. Before we dig in to the details of one aspect of education, let's remind ourselves of the principle that informs it. Charlotte Mason was an unusual person, I think. She was a big picture person, a visionary who was yet eminently practical.

The appendices of Volume 3 are pictures of what happens when you apply Charlotte Mason's philosophy of education.

Appendix 1 is a study guide for Volume 3 intended for people who wanted to become "Qualified Members" of the P.N.E.U. by taking the "P.N.E.U. Reading Course." As I was reading very quickly, I did not make use of these questions, but I notice that they seem like narration questions for adults.

Appendix 2 contains samples of answers to exam questions from students in the Parents' Review School. There are answers from children age 6 through 15. Impressive as the answers are, Charlotte Mason assures us that it is "average work." As my own children are 9 and under, I can only compare their exams with the answers of the younger students. I find our results quite similar, with a weakness in nature study (I knew that already...). The work of the older children impresses and intimidates me, but no doubt we will grow into it.

Appendix 3 tells us what a child should learn in the six years between the ages of six and twelve. I will quote the list here in full. 

"a. To grasp the sense of a passage of some length at a single reading: and to narrate the substance of what they have read or heard.
b. To spell, and express themselves in writing with ease and fair correctness.
c. To give an orderly and detailed account of any subject they have studied.
d. To describe in writing what they have seen, or heard from the newspapers.
e. They should have a familiar acquaintance with the common objects of the country, with power to reproduce some of these in brushwork.
f. Should have skill in various handicrafts, as cardboard Sloyd, basket-making, clay-modelling, etc.
g. In Arithmetic, they should have some knowledge of vulgar and decimal fractions, percentage, household accounts, etc.
h. Should have a knowledge of Elementary Algebra, and should have done practical exercises in Geometry.
i. Of Elementary Latin Grammar; should read fables and easy tales, and, say, one or two books of 'Caesar.'
j. They should have some power of understanding spoken French, and be able to speak a little; and to read an easy French book without a dictionary.
k. In German, much the same as in French, but less progress.
l. In History, they will have gone through a rather detailed study of English, French, and Classical (Plutarch) History. 
m. In Geography they will have studied in detail the map of the world, and have been at one time able to fill in the landscape, industries, etc., from their studies, of each division of the map.
n. They will have learned the elements of Physical Geography, Botany, Human Physiology, and Natural History, and will have read interesting books on some of these subjects.
o. They should have some knowledge of English Grammar.
p. They should have a considerable knowledge of Scripture History and the Bible text.
q. They should have learned a good deal of Scripture and of Poetry, and should have read some Literature.
r. They should have learned to sing on the Tonic Sol-fa method, and should know a number of English, French, and German Songs.
s. They should have learned Swedish Drill and various drills and calisthenic exercises.
t. In Drawing they should be able to represent common objects of the house and field with brush or charcoal; should be able to give rudimentary expression to ideas; and should be acquainted with the works of some artists through reproduction.
u. In Music their knowledge of theory and their ear-training should keep pace with their powers of execution." (p. 301-302)

My oldest son is halfway...just starting Year 4. We have three of those six years left. I can definitely see areas that I have neglected (drill, drawing), areas where I need to buckle down (French, Nature Study), and areas that my student is lagging behind (writing). (Also, of course, areas of study that we will just begin this year.) However, overall I am encouraged to keep on offering this wonderful feast. It is good to know the ideal I'm aiming at. Without that I, for one, would not expect (and therefore not get) work of this level at this age.

Appendix 4 shows a term's work for a twelve-year-old: first the programme including all the books used, then the exam questions (2-4 per subject), then exam answers received from a typical (not exceptional) student. My main take-away at this point (since my children are a few years younger) is that I want to find geography books like the ones Charlotte Mason used! 

Appendix 5 shows how oral lessons are used. In general, the Charlotte Mason teacher's role is to "read with" her students, not lecture them. However, oral lessons were also used in Charlotte Mason's schools, "a channel for free intellectual sympathy between teacher and taught, and a means of widening the intellectual horizon of children." (p. 329) The oral lessons were always supplementary to the book-work of the students. Here are some ways they were used:
- to introduce a course of reading
- to bring certain readings to a point
- as an opportunity to read from several books on one subject in order to interest the student in learning more.
- to teach subjects that require oral lessons: languages, math, science
- to expand, illustrate, or summarize some part of students' book-work.

I found this appendix fascinating! I think I've shied away from oral lessons almost entirely because of Charlotte Mason's many warnings against too much talk from the teacher. And we do have to be careful of that. However, I see now that there are times when oral lessons are appropriate. Some of these examples depict what I've always heard referred to as "scaffolding" (introducing a reading in such a way as to capture a child's interest and remove obstacles in the way of his understanding). Read this appendix if you want to learn how to scaffold well. Others are just plain oral lesson plans, often with built-in discussion, and it's helpful to see how the teachers always kept their object (the science of relations...that students would form a relation with the subject/person/place) before them as they gave these lessons.

And that's the end of this series! I'd love to hear from you if you've been reading along, or even if you have just dipped into volume 3 as topics interested you. What do you think of the picture Charlotte Mason paints of her results in the Parents' Review School? Does it intimidate you? Encourage you? Prod you to work harder or in a more balanced way?
Let's talk!

Friday, August 4, 2017

School Education Chapters 20-22: Suggestions Towards a Curriculum

This blog post is part of an on-going daily series this month as I read (very quickly) through School Education by Charlotte Mason. Join me! Pick up your book and read a chapter, or find it free online at Ambleside Online.


Charlotte Mason leaves her ideas for the selection of curriculum till last, and before she does, she reiterates all the principles that have come before in this book. "...because a curriculum is not an independent product, but is linked to much else by chains of cause and consequence."

Curriculum needs to be selected with several principles in mind:
-We do not have the right to pick and choose a limited number of subjects for children to study.
-Children are intelligent, though there is much they do not know yet.
-Our aim is knowledge, not mere information.
-We want to make children "at home in the world of books," putting them in direct communication with the minds of the authors.

Some do's and don'ts for teachers:
-Do find the right living book.
-Do let the author speak for himself, don't get in the way with too much explaining.
-Do be cautious about the use of "appliances" other than ones that allow children to observe things for themselves. (Microscopes, telescopes, and magic lanterns are good, elaborate models and diagrams not so much.)
-Do co-ordinate studies in a natural way, don't make artificial connections between subjects (as in unit studies).

Because education is all about making relationships with things, with people past and present, and with God, the curriculum we choose needs to cover a broad range of subjects: religion, philosophy, history, languages, mathematics, science, art, physical exercises, and manual crafts. Charlotte Mason gives some general guidelines as to what curriculum a child between twelve and fourteen should use, and what they should know:
Religion: curriculum is the Bible itself.
History: English history, contemporary French history, and Greek and Roman history by way of Plutarch's Lives.
Language: A fair knowledge of English grammar, some literature, more or less power in speaking and understanding French (able to read an easy French book), beginning German, ability to read at least 'Fables' in Latin.
Mathematics: "I need not touch upon the subject [...] it is rapidly becoming an instrument for living teaching in our schools."
Science: Nature study, the power to recognise and name natural things, keeping of personal nature-journals. Supplemented with occasional object lessons.
Drawing: No use of mechanical aids. Free rendering of objects observed. Illustrations of stories don't have value as art instruction, but are useful imaginative exercises.
Art Appreciation: Some study of the lines of composition, light and shade, and style with the object of appreciation, not reproduction.
Manual and Physical Training

Using living books as curriculum is efficient! Even given all the subjects to be studied, in the Parents' Review School all book work was done between 9:00 and 11:30 for the lowest class, and 9:00 and 1:00 for the highest class. One or two hours in the afternoon were devoted to handicrafts, field-work, and drawing, and the evenings were free for children's own hobbies, family reading, or other things.

Six reasons for failure in education:
-Oral lessons by a teacher, which are far inferior to treatment of the same subject by an original thinker in a living book.
-Lectures, also inferior to living books
-Textbooks, both the dry and uninteresting kind and the easy and beguiling kind.
-Motivations for learning other than desire for knowledge
-Dependence on apparatus and illustrative appliances
-Use of readers. Even if they have good selections, they can't match a whole book.
Teachers must also be careful not to follow educational fads.


Chapter 20
"--education should aim at giving knowledge 'touched with emotion.'" (Quoting Matthew Arnold) (p. 220)

"Therefore we do not feel it is lawful in the early days of a child's life to select certain subjects for his education to the exclusion of others; to say he shall not learn Latin, for example, or shall not learn Science; but we endeavour that he shall have relations of pleasure and intimacy established with as many as possible of the interests proper to him; not learning a slight or incomplete smattering about this or that subject, but plunging into vital knowledge, with a great field before him which in all his life he will not be able to explore." (p. 223)

"there is no such thing as the 'child-mind'; we believe that the ignorance of children is illimitable, but that, on the other hand, their intelligence is hardly to be reckoned with by our slower wits. In practical working we find this idea a great power; the teachers do not talk down to the children; they are careful not to explain every word that is used, or to ascertain if children understand every detail." (p. 223)

"Not what we have learned, but what we are waiting to know, is the delectable part of knowledge." (p. 224)

"The distinction between knowledge and information is, I think, fundamental. Information is the record of facts, experiences, appearances, etc., whether in books or in the verbal memory of the individual; knowledge, it seems to me, implies the result of the voluntary and delightful action of the mind upon the material presented to it." (p. 224)

"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." (p. 225)

"It seems to me that education, which appeals to the desire for wealth (marks, prizes, scholarships, or the like), or to the desire of excelling (as in the taking of places, etc.), or to any other of the natural desires, except that for knowledge, destroys the balance of character; and, what is even more fatal, destroys by inanition that desire for and delight in knowledge which is meant for our joy and enrichment through the whole of life." (p. 226)

"no education seems to be worth the name which has not made children at home in the world of books, and so related them, mind to mind, with thinkers who have dealt with knowledge." (p. 226)

Chapter 21
"A book may be long or short, old or new, easy or hard, written by a great man or a lesser man, and yet be the living book which finds its way to the mind of a young reader. The expert is not the person to choose; the children themselves are the experts in this case." (p. 228)

"The master must have it in him to distinguish between twaddle and simplicity, and between vivacity and life. For the rest, he must experiment or test the experiments of others, being assured of one thing--that a book serves the ends of education only as it is vital." (p. 229)

"The business of the teacher is to put his class in the right attitude towards their book by a word or two of his own interest in the matter contained, of his own delight in the manner of the author. But boys get knowledge only as they dig for it. Labour prepares the way for assimilation, that mental process which converts information into knowledge; and the effort of taking in the sequence of thought of his author is worth to the boy a great deal of oral teaching." (p. 229)

"Do teachers always realise the paralysing and stupefying effect that a flood of talk has upon the mind?" (p. 229)

"For the same reason, that is, that we may not paralyse the mental vigour of children, we are very chary in the use of appliances (except such as the microscope, telescope, magic lantern, etc.)." (p. 230)

"the co-ordination of studies is carefully regulated [...] solely with reference to the natural and inevitable co-ordination of certain subjects. Thus, in readings on the period of the Armada, we should not devote the contemporary arithmetic lessons to calculations as to the amount of food necessary to sustain the Spanish fleet, because this is an arbitrary and not an inherent connection; but we should read such history, travels, and literature as would make the Spanish Armada live in the mind." (p. 231)

"Writing, of course, comes of reading, and nobody can write well who does not read much." (p. 233)

"The teachers are careful not to make these nature walks an opportunity for scientific instruction, as we wish the children's attention to be given to observation with very little direction. In this way they lay up that store of 'common information' which Huxley considered should precede science teaching; and, what is much more important, they learn to know and delight in natural objects as in the familiar faces of friends."(p. 237)

Chapter 22
"To educate children for any immediate end--towards commercial or manufacturing aptitude, for example--is to put a premium upon general ignorance with a view to such special aptitude. [...] Excellent work of whatever kind is produced by a person of character and intelligence, and we who teach cannot do better for the nation than to prepare such persons for its uses. He who has intelligent relations with life will produce good work." (p. 241)

"...[theorists] feel it to be more important that a child should think than that he should know. My contention is rather that he cannot know without having thought; and also that he cannot think without an abundant, varied, and regular supply of the material of knowledge."

"Let us, out of reverence for the children, be modest; let us not stake their interests on the hope that this or that new way would lead to great results if people had only the courage to follow it. It is exciting to become a pioneer; but, for the children's sake, it may be well to constrain ourselves to follow those roads only by which we know that persons have arrived, or those newer roads which offer evident and assured means of progress towards a desired end. Self-will is not permitted to the educationalist; and he may not take up fads." (p. 245)

"Knowledge is, no doubt, a comparative term, and the knowledge of a subject possessed by a child would be the ignorance of a student. All the same, there is such a thing as an educated child--a child who possesses a sound and fairly wide knowledge of a number of subjects, all of which serve to interest him; such a child studies with 'delight.'" (p. 245)

"My plea is, and I think I have justified it by experience, that many doors shall be opened to boys and girls until they are at least twelve or fourteen, and always the doors of good houses, ('Education,' says Taine, 'is but a card of invitation to noble and privileged salons'); that they shall be introduced to no subject whatever through compendiums, abstracts, or selections; that the young people shall learn what history is, what literature is, what life is, from the living books of those who know." (p. 247)

That's it for this week, and the book is done! I'll be back next week with the appendices.

Thursday, August 3, 2017

School Education Chapters 17-19: Educated by Our Intimacies

This blog post is part of an on-going daily series this month as I read (very quickly) through School Education by Charlotte Mason. Join me! Pick up your book and read a chapter, or find it free online at Ambleside Online.


In these three chapters, Charlotte Mason uses autobiographical works "The Prelude" by William Wordsworth and Praeterita by John Ruskin to illustrate how education is the science of relations.

Because children are born persons, we are limited to the use of three external instruments of education: atmosphere, discipline, and life. Any other instrument would encroach on the child's personality by playing on his vanity, or his love, or his desire to please, or even his fears. Even atmosphere, discipline, and life are limited by our respect for them as persons: we do not manipulate their environment to shield them too much from real life, and we help them develop habits in the context of real life.

 Education is the science of relations: "we personally have relations with all that there is in the present, all that there has been in the past, and all that there will be in the future--with all above us and all about us--and that fulness of living, expansion, expression, and serviceableness, for each of us, depend upon how far we apprehend these relationships and how many of them we lay hold of." (p. 186) In education, our role as parents and teachers is "to remove obstructions and to give stimulus and guidance to the child who is trying to get into touch with the universe of things and thoughts which belong to him." (p. 188)

Neither Wordsworth nor Ruskin had perfect educations, but the ideas that took hold of them and bore fruit in their lives were the result of their intimacies. Charlotte Mason gives examples from Ruskin of how he handled and made with material objects, from Wordsworth of his intimacy with wildflowers, from both of their love of books by specific authors. There were limitations in the educations of each of them, but their autobiographical works show how children latch on to "their proper affinities" when they are given the opportunity to do so.

Education as the science of relations should not be seen as an excuse to be lazy or unintentional in our schooling. Strenuous effort has to be put into making these relationships. Often this effort is made for the joy of it, but it is work all the same. Quiet, steady, daily effort is more conducive to "Captain ideas" than taking random special opportunities to learn.


"habits, ideas, and circumstances are external, and we may all help each other to get the best that is to be had of these; but we may not meddle directly with the personality of child or man." (p. 183)

"All I would urge is a natural treatment of children, and that they be allowed their fair share of life, such as it is; prudence and not panic should rule our conduct towards them." (p. 185)

"habits, whether helpful or hindering, only come into play occasionally, while a great deal of spontaneous living is always going on towards which we can do no more than drop in vital ideas as opportunity occurs." (p. 185)

"Our deadly error is to suppose that we are his showman to the universe; and, not only so, but that there is no community at all between child and universe unless such as we choose to set up." (p. 188)

"It is enough for the present if they have shown us in what manner children attach themselves to their proper affinities, given opportunity and liberty. Our part is to drop occasion freely in the way, whether in school or at home. Children should have relations with earth and water, should run and leap, ride and swim, should establish the relation of maker to material in as many kinds as may be; should have dear and intimate relations with persons, through present intercourse, through tale or poem, picture or statue; through flint arrow-head or modern motor-car: beast and bird, herb and tree, they must have familiar acquaintance with. Other peoples and their languages must not be strange to them. Above all they should find that most intimate and highest of all Relationships,--the fulfilment of their being." (p. 209)

"We must get rid of the notion that to learn the 'three R's' or the Latin grammar well, a child should learn these and nothing else. It is as true for children as for ourselves that, the wider the range of interests, the more intelligent is the apprehension of each." (p. 209)

(quoting Sir Walter Scott in Waverley:) "Alas, while he was thus permitted to read only for the gratification of his amusement, he foresaw not that he was losing for ever the opportunity of acquiring habits of firm and assiduous application, of gaining the art of controlling, directing, and concentrating the powers of his mind for earnest investigation--an art far more essential than even that intimate acquaintance with classical learning which is the primary object of study." (p. 210)

"we cannot catch hold of any one of the affinities that are in waiting for us without strenuous effort and without reverence." (p. 211)

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

School Education Chapter 16: How to Use School-Books

This blog post is part of an on-going daily series this month as I read (very quickly) through School Education by Charlotte Mason. Join me! Pick up your book and read a chapter, or find it free online at Ambleside Online.


Principles for selecting the best school-books:

-Books must be living, informed with the ideas proper to the subject.
-Books do not have to be big to be living
-Books do not necessarily have to written by the original thinker to be living, as long as the author has made its ideas his own and can communicate them in a suitable way.

How to use the right books:

-Enjoy the books
-Do the work of thinking
-Assimilate or reject the ideas for himself

-Enjoy the books themselves, and communicate that in some small way
-Do not explain too much
-Require the child to do the work of thinking by asking for narration after a single reading
-Be prepared, so they know the lessons and can choose work suitable to the book and challenging for the child.
-Do not allow teaching methods to come between the child and the ideas in the book.

Different ways to use narration:
-Narration after a single careful reading 
-Give the points of a description
-Give the sequence of a series of incidents
-Give the links in a chain of argument

Other ways to use books:
-Enumerate the statements in a paragraph or chapter
-Analyse a chapter
-Divide a chapter into paragraphs under proper headings
-Tabulate and classify series
-Trace cause to consequence and consequence to cause
-Discern character and perceive how character and circumstance interact
-Get lessons of life and conduct
-Get living knowledge that makes for science
-Write a half a dozen questions covering the passage studied


"I think we should have a great educational revolution once we [...] realised ourselves as persons whose great business it is to get in touch with other persons of all sorts and conditions, of all countries and climes, of all times, past and present. History would become entrancing, literature a magic mirror for the discovery of other minds, the study of sociology a duty and a delight. We should tend to become responsive and wise, humble and reverent, recognising the duties and the joys of the full human life.  We cannot of course overtake such a programme of work, but we can keep it in view; and I suppose every life is moulded upon its ideal." (p. 175)

"In their power of giving impulse and stirring emotion is another use of books, the right books; but that is just the question--which are the right books?--a point upon which I should not wish to play Sir Oracle. The 'hundred best books for the schoolroom' may be put down on a list, but not by me. I venture to propose one or two principles in the matter of school-books, and shall leave the far more difficult part, the application of those principles, to the reader." (p. 177)

"I think we owe it to children to let them dig their knowledge, of whatever subject, for themselves out of the fit book; and this for two reasons: What a child digs for is his own possession; what is poured into his ear, like the idle song of a pleasant singer, floats out as lightly as it came in, and is rarely assimilated." (p. 177)

"ideas must reach us directly from the mind of the thinker, and it is chiefly by means of the books they have written that we get into touch with the best minds." (p. 177)

"Again, we need not always insist that a book should be written by the original thinker. It sometimes happens that second-rate minds have assimilated the matter in hand, and are able to give out what is their own thought (only because they have made it their own) in a form more suitable for our purpose than that of the first-hand thinkers." (p. 178)

"The children must enjoy the book. The ideas it holds must each make that sudden, delightful impact upon their minds, must cause that intellectual stir, which mark the inception of an idea. The teacher's part in this regard is to see and feel for himself, and then to rouse his pupils by an appreciative look or word; but to beware how he deadens the impression by a flood of talk." (p. 178)

"the labour of thought is what his book must induce in the child. He must generalise, classify, infer, judge, visualise, discriminate, labour in one way or another, with that capable mind of his, until the substance of his book is assimilated or rejected, according as he shall determine; for the determination rests with him and not with his teacher." (p. 179)

"The simplest way of dealing with a paragraph or a chapter is to require the child to narrate its contents after a single attentive reading." (p. 179)

"The teacher's part is, in the first place, to see what is to be done, to look over the work of the day in advance and see what mental discipline, as well as what vital knowledge, this and that lesson afford; and then to set such questions and such tasks as shall give full scope to his pupils' mental activity." (p. 181)

"Let marginal notes be freely made, as neatly and beautifully as may be, for books should be handled with reverence. Let numbers, letters, underlining be used to help the eye and to save the needless fag of writing abstracts. Let the pupil write for himself half a dozen questions which cover the passage studied; he need not write the answers if he be taught that the mind can know nothing but what it can produce in the form of an answer to a question put by the mind to itself." (p. 181)

"let us be careful that our disciplinary devices, and our mechanical devices to secure and tabulate the substance of knowledge, do not come between the children and that which is the soul of the book, the living thought it contains."

"to quote the golden words of Milton: 'Books are not absolutely dead things, but do contain a potency of life in them to be as active as that soul was, whose progeny they are; nay, they do preserve, as in a vial, the purest efficacy and extraction of that living intellect that bred them. [...]'" (p. 181) (So that's where the idea of living books came from! - np)

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

School Education Chapter 15: School-Books

This blog post is part of an on-going daily series this month as I read (very quickly) through School Education by Charlotte Mason. Join me! Pick up your book and read a chapter, or find it free online at Ambleside Online.


What kind of school books should our children use? Their spiritual life (the life of thought, of feeling, of the soul) is only sustained by a diet of living ideas. 

Sadly, most regular school books are devoid of living thought and contain nothing but dry facts. To compensate for this, teachers give oral lessons. It is possible for living ideas to pass from teacher to student this way, but only when the teacher has vital interest and original thought on his subject. We can't expect teachers to have this kind of living interest in all of the wide feast of knowledge and ideas that we owe to our children. The teacher's job is really to be a guide, not the fount of all knowledge.

"And all the time we have books, books teeming with ideas fresh from the minds of thinkers upon every subject to which we can wish to introduce children." (p. 171)

Children are persons: intelligent, observant, logical, spiritual beings like ourselves. Our job is to inspire them with living ideas and to help them form good habits resting on these ideas. We cannot do this on our own, but the Holy Spirit is our helper. He is the supreme Educator in all things both (so-called) secular and sacred.


"It cannot be too often said that information is not education." (p. 169)

"The question is not,--how much does the youth know? when he has finished his education--but how much does he care? and about how many orders of things does he care? In fact, how large is the room in which he finds his feet set? and, therefore, how full is the life he has before him?" (p. 171)

"And children have not altered. This is how we find them--with intelligence more acute, logic more keen, observing powers more alert, moral sensibilities more quick, love and faith and hope more abounding; in fact, in all points like as we are, only more so; but absolutely ignorant of the world and its belongings, of us and our ways, and, above all, of how to control and direct and manifest the infinite possibilities with which they are born." (p. 172)

"...we perceive that the great work of education is to inspire children with vitalising ideas as to every relation of life, every department of knowledge, every subject of thought; and to give deliberate care to the formation of those habits of the good life which are the outcome of vitalising ideas." (p. 173)

School Education Chapter 14: A Master-Thought

This blog post is part of an on-going daily series this month as I read (very quickly) through School Education by Charlotte Mason. Join me! Pick up your book and read a chapter, or find it free online at Ambleside Online.

Note: I'm sorry this is post took me two days! It was a very challenging chapter for me to understand, let alone summarize. I read it three times: twice in the original, and once in the modern paraphrase at AO. I'm sure I didn't capture it, but I tried!


Education is an atmosphere, a discipline, a life. It is a challenge to live up to our motto. One of the most common problems is when people take "a part for the whole, and a part of the part for the whole of that part." (p. 149) 

If we focus only on education as an atmosphere, there will be a resulting lack of vigour in our children's curiosity, attention, and effort. If we focus only on education as a life (ideas), the result will be a lack of balance in understanding the relative importance of different ideas. If we focus on education as a discipline, we will expect a system of effort to produce a specific result, and that result will be rather narrow.

Having made sure we understand this balance, Charlotte Mason turns to consider "Education is a Life."

In the Spanish Chapel of the church of S. Maria Novella, there is a fresco which shows the Holy Spirit descending in the form of a dove. Immediately below him are the disciples who were first inspired by Him. Under them is a diverse crowd of many nationalities who received the benefits of that outpouring. In the lower part of the fresco, there are the cardinal virtues floating above the apostles and prophets, who "spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost." Interestingly, the seven liberal arts are also pictured as coming from the Holy Spirit: grammar, rhetoric, logic, music, astronomy, geometry and arithmetic, though the representatives of each were not Christians. 

In this fresco, Charlotte Mason sees a unifying principle, not only for education, but for all of life. "Our piety, our virtue, our intellectual activities, and, let us add, our physical perfections, are all fed from the same source, God Himself; are all inspired by the same Spirit, the Spirit of God." (p. 155)

But doesn't this principle contradict science, and particularly, evolution? Evolution was the "master-thought" of Charlotte Mason's own age, and she had no reason to distrust its truth. To her, evolution provided a key to the interpretation of science. However, Charlotte Mason does not believe that evolution explains everything and eliminates a basis for belief in God and the soul.

Charlotte Mason believes that all truth, however discovered, is God's truth. Ultimately, no truth will contradict another truth. Also, no single aspect of truth that is discovered will be found to explain everything and eliminate Personality. The knowledge of God gives us a broader view than even a knowledge of history affords. [I'm not sure exactly what she means, but I think she is saying that as a Person, God is in control of all of science and history, including what truths people discover when. He is working out his purposes in all of it. -np] Recognizing this, we can pass on to our children reverence for God, respect for science, and open-mindedness.

It is tempting to take the great ideas of our own time and make them the basis for our children's education. However, there are so many of them that we cannot possibly use them all. We pick and choose and end up with a one-sided education. We need a universal principle to evaluate all the ideas and put them in their proper place. Charlotte Mason proposes this one: Education is the science of relations.

A child should be put into relationship with the material world, with people and ideas from both the present and the past. This is such a broad aim, but it can be accomplished by the time a child is thirteen or fourteen because it does not depend on how much is learned, but how things are learned. They need to be given a broad curriculum, learning from first-hand sources. Teachers guide, but do not mediate the knowledge to their students. Subjects are not chosen or rejected on utilitarian grounds, because that would limit a child's exposure to ideas. An idea that truly captures a child will do more for his education than years of slogging.


"...a broad divergence in practice often arises from what appears to be a small difference in conception, in matters educational." (p. 151)

"We are apt to think that piety is one thing, that our intellectual and artistic yearnings are quite another matter, and that our moral virtues are pretty much matters of inheritance and environment, and have not much to do with our conscious religion. Hence, there come discords into our lives..." (p. 154)

"In truth, a nation or a man becomes great upon one diet only, the diet of great ideas communicated to those already prepared to receive them by a higher Power than Nature herself." (p. 156)

"Let us set ourselves to labour with purpose and passion to restore to the world, enriched by the additions of later knowledge, that great scheme of unity of life which produced great men and great work in the past." (p. 156)

"Many of us feel, and, I think, rightly, that the teaching of science is the new teaching which is being vouchsafed to mankind in our age. Some of us are triumphant, and believe that the elements of moral and religious struggle are about to be eliminated from life, which shall run henceforth, whether happy or disastrous, on the easy plane of the inevitable; others are bewildered and look in vain for a middle way, a place of reconciliation for science and religion; while others of us, again, take refuge in repudiating 'evolution' and all its works and nailing our colours ot religion, interpreted on our own narrow lines. Whichever of these lines we take, we probably err through want of faith." (p. 156)

"Let us first of all settle it with ourselves that science and religion cannot, to the believer in God, by any possibility be antagonistic." (p. 156)

"If parents take no heed of the great thoughts which move their age, they cannot expect to retain influence over the minds of their children. If they fear and distrust the revelations of science, they introduce an element of distrust and discord into their children's lives. If, with the mere neophyte of science, they rush to the conclusion that the last revelation is final, accounts for all that is in man, and, to say the least, makes God unnecessary and unknowable, or negligible, they may lower the level of their children's living to that struggle for existence--without aspiration, consecration, and sacrifice--of which we hear so much." (p. 159)

"If, lastly, parents recognise every great idea of nature as a new page in the progressive revelation made by God to men already prepared to receive such idea; if they realise that the new idea, however comprehensive, is not final nor all-inclusive, nor to be set in opposition with that personal knowledge of God which is the greatest knowledge, why, then, their children will grow up in that attitude of reverence for science, reverence for God, and openness of mind, which befits us for whom life is a probation and a continual education." (p. 159-160)

"two things are incumbent upon us,--to keep ourselves and our children in touch with the great thoughts by which the world has been educated in the past, and to keep ourselves and them in the right attitude towards the great ideas of the present." (p. 160)

"Give children a wide range of subjects, with the end in view of establishing in each case some one or more of the relations I have indicated. Let them learn from first-hand sources of information--really good books, the best going, on the subject they are engaged upon. Let them get at the books themselves, and do not let them be flooded with a warm diluent at the lips of their teacher. The teacher's business is to indicate, stimulate, direct and constrain to the acquirement of knowledge, but by no means to be the fountain-head and source of all knowledge in his or her own person." (p. 162)