Charlotte Mason Institute Blog

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  • 25 Mar 2017 7:13 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    As a Mason educator for over 20 years, I take seriously Charlotte Mason’s exhortation to “keep the fresh impulse of training” alive and not to get stuck in a groove due to my years of experience. I do this in 2 ways: first, by reading and rereading her volumes and second, by attending and speaking at conferences. And it’s why I think immersion groups can be such a wonderful, life-giving experience for the Mason educator. Therefore, I am committed to these training sessions and encourage those who have never attended one to consider it. Don’t just read about it – experience it!

    I will demonstrate a morning in a multi-age homeschool using Mason’s methods at the upcoming CMI East conference. The focus will be on subjects that can be successfully combined with multiple ages, an organizing strategy that has allowed me to keep grace and peace in my home when planning school for my six children.  Attendees assume the role of the student, experiencing firsthand the different forms of narration, the banquet of ideas, and the concept of self education. Subject areas that may be presented include Bible, dictation, citizenship, Shakespeare, history, geography, hymn, folksong, poetry, copywork, composer study, picture study, handcrafts, nature study, literature, architecture, and natural history.

    Whether you are new to the method and are eager to experience  training or, like me, you have some experience but always consider yourself under training and learning new things, I think you will find an immersion group a fresh and exciting experience that will help you be a better parent and teacher.

    Nancy’s Multi-age Homeschool Immersion will be at this year’s Charlotte Mason Institute Conference. You can register here.

    Nancy blogs about CM, homeschooling, and life at her blog, Sage Parnassus.

    #sageparnassus #nancykCMI2017

  • 20 Mar 2017 8:29 AM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    Charlotte Mason’s goal for school science was to instill a sense of wonder and awe in students and to provide them with the common information that allows for scientific literacy. This is a lofty goal, because, being scientifically literate means more than preparing a student for college entrance exams and possible university courses to follow, but also preparing them to be a citizen who can think about, discuss, and vote on the scientific issues of the day.

    Many parents recognize these as important goals, but they do not know where to begin. After all, Miss. Mason’s approach to science education is not at all similar to what many experienced during their school days.  During the High School Science Immersion class offered at the CMI Eastern Conference you will have the opportunity to experience Charlotte Mason’s science for yourself as well as learn: 

    Why our students must be allowed this portion of the feast, and why it is essential to follow Charlotte Mason’s method as we present it.

    How to ensure your student covers the material necessary for graduation, college entrance exams, and possible university courses to follow, as well as how to record what they have accomplished on high school transcripts.

    How to honor Mason’s principles while incorporating each of the practices she recommended with which to achieve these goals.  

    Why you must offer living books, how to choose the best ones, and how to deal with those that may have a different worldview than you have. 

    How to inspire your student to both awe and wonder for the wondrous world created for us.

    Science is often the last holdout for those pursuing a Charlotte Mason education, but it shouldn’t be. 

    In addition, however, to its utilitarian value, in addition to its training in accurate thinking, every science subject has its romance, its poetry, its philosophy, and it is for the recognition of this that I wish to plead most strongly. We give to the humanities, to classics, literature, history, recognition of their intellectual and cultural possibilities, we value their training in accurate thinking, and the wider life they make possible. Why should we ignore the inspiration of science, neglect the mental training it offers, and reduce science to the equivalent of a collection of cookery book recipes? The world is too poor, and our lives too denuded, to allow the robbery to continue. Let us give to our children the greatness of their inheritance. Make every science subject the portal to a fuller and wider world.  (Cultural Value of Science by D. Avery, The Parents' Review, Volume 31, no. 9, September 1920, pgs. 651-664)

    Let’s resolve to give our children their due.

    The Charlotte Mason Institute conference will be held at Asbury University, Wilmore, KY on 14, 15, 16, 17 June 2017.  You can find out more information by placing your cursor over the Events menu item and then selecting 2017 Eastern Conference.

    You can read more of Nicole’s thoughts about Science as the Last Hold Out on her blog at SabbathMoodHomeschool.com.(http://sabbathmoodhomeschool.com/2013/10/science-the-last-hold-out/)

  • 12 Mar 2017 9:18 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    ON a visit to the Armitt Museum and Library in Ambleside, England, I stumbled across a few letters which seem to indicate that in approximately 1921, there was an enquiry from a group in Ireland who wanted to set up an Irish Catholic House of Education.  I have always wanted to explore the topic further, but as with many things in life, other issues seem to be more pressing.  I thought it might be interesting to share with our blog readers a few of the letters that I stumbled upon that were written by Ellen Parish and Charlotte Mason.  It also seems that there were thoughts of training teachers in the "Dominions."

    Based on these letters there were plans developing to set up an Irish Catholic House of Education which would train teachers.  I do not know if it ever came to fruition.  Maybe someone will know, but the letters have always intrigued me. Maybe one day I can investigate further.

    Here is my typed version of a letter from Ellen Parish to Mrs. Franklin.  I have included the original as well.

    My dear Mrs. Franklin,

       The enclosed are copies of two existing letters from Mother de Sales, I have left out nothing but the dearie dears.

    To the first Miss Mason asked me to write & support Miss Hamilton Bruce who seems to be made for the job. 

    None of the other queries have been answered & so there is no more to tell you for the present.  But it does look like getting on doesn’t it?  I am delighted about it & Miss Mason wants to write to you about it as soon as she can.

     Yours affectionately (?)

    Ellen A. Parish

    The other letters I believe you will be able to read for your self since they were typed, probably by Elsie Kitching.  They are below the pictures of the original Parish letter.

    Here are the typed letters regarding the Irish Catholic House of Education also referred to as the Irish Catholic PUS Training College.

  • 04 Mar 2017 1:18 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    Several people have been asking me how the Parents’ Union School was organised, during the middle years of the twentieth century, when others took over after the death of Charlotte Mason. We know that the Hon Mrs Henrietta Franklin (1866-1964) took a leading role in organising P.N.E.U. school education while the home-school service, led by Elsie Kitching (1870-1955) until her retirement in 1948, spread widely across British colonial outposts and overseas countries where parents were based. What was this service like?  While sorting out boxes of notes, gathered over time, I stumbled over this engaging article written for the Housewife by Lady Pakenham (1906-2002) and reprinted in the PR or Pianta. She had married the 7th Earl of Longford and 1st Baron Pakenham in 1931 and was active in Labour political life, mother of eight remarkable children, and subsequently an acclaimed historical biographer, especially for her life of Queen Victoria (1964) and the Duke of Wellington (1969, 1972). In 1952, she decided to teach her youngest child, Kevin, aged five, at home for two terms in their busy upper-class household, guided by the Parents’ Union School.

    'And what school do you go to?' said a kindly grown-up to my youngest son aged five, 'Oh, I go to Mummy’s school,' came the prompt reply. There was an unmistakable note of self-satisfaction in his voice.

        Of course, the answer was not quite accurate. He and I could not make up a ‘School’ in the sense that his brothers and sisters used the word.  Our Schoolroom was really a playroom. His lessons were really ‘occupations’. But we had spent two whole terms together. And all this had been worked out under guidance      the wise and experienced guidance of the Parents’ National Educational Union.

           I wonder how many mothers have debated, as I did, this particular problem?  How to fill an awkward educational gap? The gap may be caused by different things. Perhaps you live far away from a school. You feel that you would like to wait a while before you send your child on that bus journey. Perhaps yours is an only child, and you want to give him a taste of organised occupations before he starts school proper. Possibly, as in my case, he has reached school age. But you can’t get him into the particular school you want for a term or two.

         Whatever the reason for the gap, there is an obvious place in which to fill it—Home. And, an obvious person—Mother.

        Before I go on to show how Mother and Home can turn into a Parents’ Union School, I want to make one point. It is very important that a child’s first impression of school should be a happy one. Many children do, indeed, look forward to school eagerly. They feel it will promote them to the grandeur of their older brothers and sisters. Some under-fives describe their school experiences to strangers before they have ever been there!

         But others will shrink from the whole idea of school, and they will need some tactful introduction to it. What could be happier than two hours every morning with Mother herself? To most children, the thought of having their mother to themselves, devoting herself to them, for two whole hours at a stretch, is very Paradise. My son, in fact, liked it far too much; he often badgered me to make it longer: ‘Can’t I have school in the afternoon too, Mummy?’ When I caught ‘flu in the middle of the winter term, my ruthless pupil tried to make me conduct his lessons from bed. An older sister, temporarily absent from school, was only too delighted to join in, having two children greatly increased the fun of many of our activities, particularly singing games, poetry and handwork. The only disaster was painting, where the temptation to paint each other instead of the paper, proved irresistible.

          But these two terms at home did not spoil Kevin for ‘real’ school when a vacancy appeared. His mornings away from home were described as ‘wizard’ and ‘smashing’. But when the other day he was kept indoors with a cold, there was no doubt in his mind as to how he should pass his time. He made a beeline for his old P.N.E.U.books. Out came the number books, reading, writing and handwork. What a boon when a six-year-old gives himself lessons!  And for the sheer joy of it. . . . It is a tribute, too, to the methods of this educational union.

        I turn now to the ‘guiding hand’ of the P.N.E.U. I was lucky enough to live near the London offices of the Parents’ National Educational Union at 171 Victoria Street. S.W.1. So having taken the decision to appoint myself  Kevin’s parent-teacher for the coming term, I went in search of advice and equipment.

       How much I enjoyed that first visit. I went in full of good, but undefined intentions; pious, but woolly hopes;  and a mass of half-formulated queries. How long is a ‘morning’s work’ for a child of five? Three hours or less? How long should one spend on anyone subject at a time? How should one test children’s knowledge? Is it a good thing to ask them questions about the books we read to them?

          I came out full of information, vital hints, and crayons galore—huge fat ones, all the colours of the rainbow. Also the thickest, blackest pencil I have ever seen, a pile of coloured sheets of paper, reading cards. Exercise books and tins of powder paint.

           But I think the most useful things of all were a shilling book by Miss E. Kitching on Children at Home and in the Parents’ Union School and a timetable (1) giving specimen timetables for preparatory classes.   

         Here is some of the useful advice I got.

    1.      Two to two–and-a-half hours a day is enough for the five-year-old. Don’t forget ‘Break' outdoors.
    2.       Never spend more than ten minutes at a time on a subject that needs concentration, e.g. reading, writing and numbers. You can carry on for fifteen or twenty minutes with the others. But encourage small ‘Breaks’ between lessons by letting your child get out and putting away everything himself.

    3. Preparatory work must be informal and flexible—but not irregular. Don’t confuse flexibility with a haphazard timetable. Frequent half-holidays, when two hours’ teaching happen to be a little inconvenient for you, are to be avoided. The child should have the feeling of utmost freedom. But the parent-teacher must consider herself as bound as if she was doing a paid job. Otherwise the whole thing will lack seriousness, and collapse.

    It was great help to know that all one’s efforts were made within a real educational framework. At the end of ten weeks one could send in a report. This would come back with further advice and criticism.   

    We parents were urged to keep a log book. In it we entered each morning’s work with the time spent on each subject. It’s amazing what a kindly mentor that log book becomes. Somehow one can’t let it down.

    4. The vexed question of handwriting is made beautifully easy. I use the word beautifully advisedly, for the Marian Richardson writing cards are lovely to look at and inspire splendid original patterns.

    All the sentences and rhymes are copied through tracing paper. Kevin found writing hard and numbers easy. But his aberrations were as fascinating as his successes. He had an uncontrollable urge to write backwards from right to left. We got great amusement from holding it up and reading it the right way in the mirror.

    Enormous pictures were achieved economically by an excellent tip given by the P.N.E.U. Secretary. Don’t buy fresh sheets of paper. If you do the expense will automatically make you say to your child. ‘Don’t waste it!’ This is all wrong. Sheet after sheet—3ft by2ft,--must be available. What so handy and inexpensive as old newspapers? Make a good thick pile of them. The wonderful thing is small children don’t mind the print.

    5.  On the point about questioning five-year-olds, the P.N.E.U. was quite definite. ‘Kevin should not be expected  to narrate what is read to him, nor should he be questioned on it. If he volunteers to tell back all well and good. But he should not be pushed at this stage.

     Poetry and singing play a big part in the P.N.E.U. curriculum. I doubt whether I should have dared to attempt the latter but for their encouragement. Born into a sadly unmusical family, it took Kevin a long time before he could imitate one note correctly. But how enchanted he was when the right sound came out at last. It reminded me of an older sister who had suddenly begun to sing in tune at four and a half, and was asked how she managed to do it. 'I just made a voice in my tummy,’ she replied, ‘and then put it into my mouth.’

         Impossible to enumerate the many other subjects we covered-foremost in popularity being Scripture and Nature. Enough to say that we tried to look at man in his three relationships – with himself, (History etc.), with the outside world, (Nature, Geography etc), and with his Maker (Scripture), always remembering  that ‘education’ for a five-year-old  means occupations in a playroom, not lessons in a classroom. And that for all ages ‘education is an atmosphere, a discipline, a life.’     Lady Pakenham

    End note

    Do you think the overall approach to P.N.E.U. home education has significantly changed since the early days of the P.U.S., established by Charlotte Mason in 1891, but managed and organised by Elsie Kitching and her team from the later 1890s until 1948? How far does this 1952 account resonate with parents’ experiences in the twenty-first century?

    (1) E Kitching, Children at Home and in the Parents’ Union School, P.N.E.U. pamphlet price 1s.6d. I have a copy. Revised 1955.

  • 25 Feb 2017 4:15 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    I have been contemplating a couple of things lately. First, I realize that when I read Charlotte Mason, I am reminded of the beauty and wholeness of the Gospel message. I am convicted to read my Bible more. I am inspired by Mason’s knowledge and understanding of the word of God and its application to all areas of life. When Mason points back to her principles, the principles are always pointing me to Jesus. Can the same be said of classical philosophy? If classical philosophy would lead me to wisdom, is that the same as leading me to Jesus? Where will classical philosophy lead me? Please join me as I try to answer some of these questions through the work of Plato, one of the greatest classical philosophers. 

    Plato was a student of Socrates. He was the teacher of Aristotle. His work influenced many men for centuries after his death and the effects of that influence are still being seen in our culture today. Plato’s Socratic dialogues preserved the Socratic method, which, under certain circumstances, can prove a useful tool. Charlotte Mason (1925/1954) says Socratic questioning should only be used for “moral conviction” and that is the only exception to her prohibition to “questioning from without” (p. 17). The Republic also offers interesting insight into several systems of government through the discussion of justice. (I was surprised to learn that Plato believed democracy to be just one step above tyranny.) Intellectually, I can separate out his useful and practical wisdom (dare I call it that?). But spiritually, I find many of his ideas to be shocking and dangerous. 

    I’ve been reading G.K. Chesterton’s Orthodoxy, and in his book he makes several references to Buddhism. I’ve been starting to see that many of his observations about Buddhism could also be made about Platonism. Here’s one example: 

    Students of popular science . . . are always insisting that Christianity and Buddhism are very much alike, especially Buddhism. This is generally believed, and I believed it myself until I read a book giving the reasons for it. The reason were of two kinds; resemblances that meant nothing because they were common to all humanity, and resemblances which were not resemblances at all. The author solemnly explained that the two creeds were alike in which all creeds are alike, or else he described them as alike in some point in which they are obviously different. . . . It is rather like alluding to the obvious connection between the two ceremonies of the sword; when it taps a man’s shoulder, and when it cuts off his head. It is not at all similar to the man. (Chesterton, 1909, p. 240) 

    Chesterton’s comparison reminds me of the comparison between classical philosophy and Charlotte Mason’s philosophy. While some may insist that the two are very much alike, I believe that they are not at all similar, especially to the child. I have found that Plato advocates many ideas that are quite different from Charlotte Mason’s philosophy and her founding inspiration, which is the Gospel. Many of these differences in philosophy affect the way we seek knowledge. The purpose of this article is to explore these differences, which amount to two separate paths to knowledge, with different destinations. 

    To present Plato’s ideas, I will use Phaedo, the last of the Four Dialogues. It is set in the hours before Socrates is to be executed. With his young friends, he has one last conversation as he contemplates the purpose of life, the nature of man and the eternity of his soul. 

    The Knower 

    To understand how to seek knowledge, we first must understand the knower. I believe we should begin by hearing directly from Plato. We start just after Socrates has sent his wife away for crying too much; he then begins to comfort his friends over his impending death sentence. He explains the relief it will be to him for his soul to be released from his body: 

    Would you not say that [the true philosopher] is entirely concerned with the soul and not with the body? He would like, as far as he can, to get away from the body and to turn to the soul. (Plato, 1892, p. 203)

    . . . the body is always breaking in upon us, causing turmoil and confusion in our enquiries, and so amazing us that we are prevented from seeing the truth. It has been proved to us by experience that if we would have pure knowledge of anything we must be quit of the body — the soul in herself must behold things in themselves: and then we shall attain the wisdom which we desire, and of which we say that we are lovers; not while we live, but after death; for if while in company with the body, the soul cannot have pure knowledge, one of two things follows — either knowledge is not to be attained at all, or, if at all, after death. For then, and not till then, the soul will be parted from the body and exist in herself alone. (Plato, 1892, p. 205) 

    So Plato believes that the body is a hindrance to the soul. He later says that the soul is defiled by the body. Is this the state that our Lord intended for us? Did God imprison us in our bodies to punish us? Absolutely not. When God created Adam, his body was created first:  “And the LORD God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul” (Genesis 2:7, KJV, 2009). 

    Adam became a living soul in his body. Charlotte Mason is, of course, completely in line with this Christian understanding of the body and soul united as one: 

    It is so much the habit to think of the person as a dual being, flesh and spirit, when he is, in truth, one, that it is necessary to clear our minds on this subject. The person is one and not several, and he is no more compact of ideas on the one hand than he is of nervous and muscular tissues on the other. That he requires nutriment of two kinds is no proof that he is two individuals. Pleasant and well-cooked food makes man of a cheerful countenance, and wine gladdens the heart of man, and we all know the spiritual refreshment of a needed meal. On the other hand, we all know the lack-lustre eye and pallid countenance of the well-fed who receive none of that other nutriment which we call ideas; quick and living thought is as necessary for the full and happy development of the body as it is for that of the soul. (Mason, 1905, pp. 64-65) 

    Plato, on the other hand, believed in reincarnation. He did not believe that a soul had a personality specific to that soul: 

    Suppose we consider the question whether the souls of men after death are or are not in the world below. There comes into my mind an ancient doctrine which affirms that they go from hence into the other world, and returning hither, are born again from the dead. Now if it be true that the living come from the dead, then our souls must exist in the other world, for if not, how could they have been born again? And this would be conclusive, if there were any real evidence that the living are only born from the dead; but if this is not so, then other arguments will have to be adduced. (Plato, 1892, p. 210)

    Plato proceeds to use his reason to show that all things come from their opposites; therefore the living must come from the dead. Later, he gives an account of what each soul faces before being imprisoned again into a body. The manner he describes in which souls are chained to their new bodies shows that the so-called personhood of each individual soul is transitory. By contrast, the Christian understanding is that every individual person created by God is, body and soul, an independent and special being that God knows personally from before birth: 

    For you formed my inward parts; 
    you knitted me together in my mother’s womb. 
    I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.
    Wonderful are your works;
    my soul knows it very well. 
    My frame was not hidden from you, 
    when I was being made in secret, 
    intricately woven in the depths of the earth. 
    Your eyes saw my unformed substance; 
    in your book were written, every one of them, 
    the days that were formed for me,
    when as yet there was none of them. (Psalm 139:13-16, ESV, 2016)

    We are known to the Lord our God while in our mother’s womb and throughout life as a whole person, body and soul. The fact that we must personally choose whether to love or reject Jesus as Savior is an affirmation of our individualism. We are not recycled through the universe over and over again, until, through philosophy or works, we finally earn some kind of bodiless, spiritual co-existence. Chesterton (1909) beautifully explains the Christian position:

    It is just here that Buddhism is on the side of modern pantheism and immanence. And it is just here that Christianity is on the side of humanity and liberty and love. Love desires personality; therefore love desires division. It is the instinct of Christianity to be glad that God has broken the universe into little pieces, because they are living pieces . . . No other philosophy makes God actually rejoice in the separation of the universe into living souls. (p. 245)

     Now re-read that quote, but this time substitute Platonism for Buddhism. I think you will find as I do that the observation remains just as accurate.

    Knowledge and the Senses

    Since Plato (1892) rejects body-soul unity, he also distrusts the senses:

     What again shall we say of the actual acquirement of knowledge? — Is the body, if invited to share in the enquiry, a hinderer or a helper? I mean to say, have sight and hearing any truth in them? Are they not, as the poets are always telling us, inaccurate witnesses? and yet, if even they are inaccurate and indistinct, what is to be said of the other senses? — for you will allow that they are the best of them?

    . . . Then when does the soul attain truth? — for in attempting to consider anything in company with the body she is obviously deceived. (pp. 203–204) 

    By contrast, Christian affirmation of body-soul unity points to a much different perspective on the senses. Consider for a moment, in what ways God reveals Himself to us. Is it through essence? Through spiritual encounters? No. God uses our senses and our ability to understand through these senses. It is our spiritual senses and our will that deceive us. Recall the story of the blind man in ninth chapter of John. He had been blind since birth. Jesus made a paste out of clay and spit and rubbed it on the man’s eyes. He then told the blind man to go and wash in the pool of Siloam. After he had done so, the man could see. The townspeople brought him to the Pharisees, who questioned him repeatedly and did not believe that his story could be true. If it were true, it was surely the work of a sinner – breaking the holiness of the Sabbath to perform a miracle. Despite the clear evidence of the miracle and of Jesus’ authority over the things of the earth, the Pharisees stubbornly remained blind in their hearts. They were willing to accept every answer but the most obvious one. Any answer but the one they observed with their physical eyes.

    Jesus said, “For judgment I came into this world, that those who do not see may see, and those who see may become blind.” Some of the Pharisees near him heard these things, and said to him, “Are we also blind?” Jesus said to them, “If you were blind, you would have no guilt; but now that you say, ‘We see,’ your guilt remains.” (John 9:39-41, ESV, 2016)

    The Old Testament gives us several examples of God speaking directly to humans with audible words. My favorite is the story of Samuel: 

    And the LORD called Samuel again the third time. And he arose and went to Eli and said, “Here I am, for you called me.” Then Eli perceived that the LORD was calling the boy. Therefore Eli said to Samuel, “Go, lie down, and if he calls you, you shall say, ‘Speak, LORD, for your servant hears.’” So Samuel went and lay down in his place. 

    And the LORD came and stood, calling as at other times, “Samuel! Samuel!” And Samuel said, “Speak, for your servant hears.” (1 Samuel 3:8-10, ESV, 2016) 

    Then, of course, there is the spread of the Gospel message itself, first through the preaching of Jesus and then the disciples. “So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ” (Romans 10:17, ESV, 2016).

    We should not depreciate our senses; we should enjoy them. Charlotte Mason (1886/1989a) believed that the senses were the first avenue of learning available to the child (p. 65). She believed that we should develop the senses to become more sensitive and to create habits of observation for life: 

    There is a great deal of joy, again, to be had out of listening . . . Have you ever been in the fields on a spring day, and heard nothing at all but your own voice and the voices of your companions, and then, perhaps, suddenly you have become silent, and you find a concert going on which you had not heard a note? At first you hear the voices of the birds; then by degrees, you perceive high voices, low voices and middle voices, small notes and great notes, and you begin to wish you knew who sang each of the songs you can distinguish. (Mason, 1905/1924, pp. 29-30)

    Knowledge and Life

    How one views the nature of the body and soul will also affect how one views the purpose of life. In Phaedo, Socrates, though he is the one about to lose his life, comforts his friends and rejoices at the thought: 

    For I deem that the true votary of philosophy is likely to be misunderstood by other men; they do not perceive that he is always pursuing death and dying; and if this be so, and he has had the desire of death all his life long, why when his time comes should he repine at that which he has been always pursuing and desiring? (Plato, 1892, p. 202) 

    Socrates goes on to ask his friends if the true philosopher should care about the “pleasures of eating and drinking,” or the “pleasure of love.” He asks (rhetorically), “Instead of caring about them, does he not rather despise anything more than nature needs?” (Plato, 1892, p. 203) It seems that the philosopher should simply get through life, go through the motions until the gods decide to end this round and begin the next. There is no promise or hope for the future. While the soul may be freed at death, freedom is short lived. It is only a matter of time before imprisonment in the body begins again. 

    The biblical perspective is quite different. It tells us that life is a gift, that we are made in God’s image, and that his very breath is in our lungs. Should the Christian disdain this gift of life on earth and be in a rush to go to heaven? Certainly not. The Bible itself is concerned with teaching us how to live. And not how to live in ideal situations, but how to live in all situations. Chesterton (1909) gives us a very Mason-like contrast to the two ways of looking at life, “To the Buddhist or eastern fatalist existence is a science or a plan, which must end up a certain way. But to a Christian existence is a story, which may end up in any way” (p. 252).

    How appropriate that the biography of Miss Mason, written by Essex Cholmondeley, would be entitled The Story of Charlotte Mason. This biography includes the first encounter with Miss Mason from a student to the House of Education, “On my arrival at Ambleside I was interviewed by Miss Mason who asked me for what purpose I had come. I replied: ‘I have come to learn to teach.’ Then Miss Mason said: ‘My dear, you have come here to learn to live’” (Cholmondeley, 1960/2000, p. 69). 

    Charlotte Mason’s entire philosophy is based on the idea of living: the living God, living books, living ideas, living nature, and children who are born persons. Through her work, Charlotte Mason (1925/1954) hopes to improve the lives of all children, “It may be that the souls of all children are waiting for the call of knowledge to awaken them to delightful living” (p. xxv).

    The Scope of Knowledge

    With or without the senses, it would seem that both Plato and Miss Mason agree that we should seek wisdom and knowledge. But are they talking about the same thing? I think the best way to discern this is to look at how wisdom is attained. Let’s begin with Plato. Socrates says:

    Many a man has been willing to go to the world below animated by the hope of seeing there an earthly love, or wife, or son, and conversing with them. And will he who is a true lover of wisdom, and is strongly persuaded in like manner that only in the world below he can worthily enjoy her, still repine at death? Will he not depart with joy? Surely he will, O my friend, if he be a true philosopher. For he will have a firm conviction that there, and there only, he can find wisdom in her purity. And if this be true, he would be very absurd, as I was saying, if he were afraid of death. (Plato, 1892, p. 207) 

    So Socrates says that only in “the world below” can wisdom be found and enjoyed. He then goes on to describe, through reason, that wisdom is gained in this time when the soul is temporarily freed from the body. Knowledge is forgotten at birth and then “recollected” in the present life:

    And if we acquired this knowledge before we were born, and were born having the use of it, then we also knew before we were born and at the instant of birth not only the equal or the greater or the less, but all other ideas; . . . of beauty, goodness, justice, holiness, and of all which we stamp with the name of essence in the dialectical process, both when we ask and when we answer questions. Of all this we may certainly affirm that we acquired the knowledge before birth?

    . . . But if, after having acquired, we have not forgotten what in each case we acquired, then we must always have come into life having knowledge, and shall always continue to know as long as life lasts — for knowing is the acquiring and retaining knowledge and not forgetting. . . .

    But if the knowledge which we acquired before birth was lost by us at birth, and if afterwards by the use of the senses we recovered what we previously knew, will not the process which we call learning be a recovering of the knowledge which is natural to us, and may not this be rightly termed recollection? (Plato, 1892, pp. 216-217) 

    If I were to live by the logic of Plato, I would seek wisdom through philosophy within myself, in an attempt to recall the knowledge of things that I have simply forgotten. As much as possible, I should disconnect from my body and all earthly pleasure so that I might reduce the burden the body places on the soul. 

    Now, let’s move to the Christian perspective. Chesterton (1909) nicely contrasts these opposing world views, “Certainly the most sagacious creeds may suggest that we should pursue God into deeper and deeper rings of the labyrinth of our own ego. But only we of Christendom have said that we should hunt God like an eagle upon the mountains. . ." (p. 249). 

    The Christian perspective tells us that the person seeking wisdom and knowledge should first seek a relationship with an external God.  The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom, and the knowledge of the Holy One is insight (Proverbs 9:10, ESV, 2016). And again, “If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him” (James 1:5, ESV, 2016).

    Since Plato and Christian revelation point to two such different methods for attaining wisdom, we might expect that Plato and Christian revelation also point to different ideas of what wisdom actually is. Indeed, they do. Wisdom, from the Hebrew perspective, includes the entire being of the person, as also in Miss Mason’s method. Interestingly, the Aramaic word for wisdom is chokmah, and it includes the wisdom of technical skill. When the Israelites were building the temple after the exodus from Egypt, God filled the craftsmen with wisdom, “And thou shalt speak unto all that are wise hearted, whom I have filled with the spirit of wisdom, that they may make Aaron’s garments to consecrate him, that he may minister unto me in the priest’s office” (Exodus 28:3, KJV, 2009).

    Since Plato depreciates the body, he would not accept this kind of technical skill as wisdom. Socrates didn’t work; he spent his days philosophizing with his admirers, so he certainly would not have seen the value in craftsmanship. But God does, and all Christians should; Charlotte Mason certainly did. Her inclusion of handicrafts in the curriculum shows that she understands that the body is part of the child and is part of his pursuit of wisdom. R.A. Pennethorne (1899), one of my favorite authors in The Parents’ Review, tells us: 

    The child is only truly educated who can use his hands as truly as his head, for to neglect one part of our being injures the whole, and the learned book-worm who is ignorant of the uses of a screwdriver, also lacks that readiness and resourcefulness, mental neatness and capability, and reverence for labour and its results, which a knowledge of practical matter gives. (p. 561)

    I come from a long line of craftsmen and skilled laborers. I have seen first-hand the attitudes of pride and superiority that form when a person does not have an understanding and appreciation for the importance of every kind of work. There is one body of Christ, each member having its own duty (Ephesians 4:16), and no work being more important than any other. My work as a hairdresser was no less important than the work of the doctors, teachers, and computer engineers I served. My work now – homeschooling, making dinner, folding laundry and de-escalating tantrums – is no less important than my previous career. So I wonder, how many classical philosophers would be considered wise by the biblical standard?

    When Solomon asks God for wisdom, he is given discernment, largeness of heart, proverbs, songs, and knowledge of the natural world (1Kings 4:29, 32-33). The beginning of wisdom is the fear of the Lord, but once our hearts are set on Him, the fruit of wisdom encompasses everything that allows us to better serve others and to live more fully in our bodies and on this earth. God would have us be more present, not less. We should be more connected to the people and things of this earth through love. The pursuit of wisdom should project outward.

    Chesterton (1909) compares paintings of the Buddhist saint to paintings of the Christian saint. He writes: 

    The opposition exists at every point, but perhaps the shortest statement of it is that the Buddhist saint always has his eyes shut, while the Christian saint always has them very wide open. . . . The Buddhist is looking with a peculiar intentness inwards. The Christian is staring with a frantic intentness outwards. (p. 243)

    Miss Mason’s philosophy and method completely harmonizes with biblical pattern of looking outward from the self. She has the child looking outward in wonder and in pursuit of relationships with many things, and especially with God himself. The crux of her philosophy is in the Great Recognition, “that God the Holy Spirit is Himself, personally, the Imparter of knowledge, the Instructor of youth, the Inspirer of genius” (Mason, 1896/1989b, p. 270-271).

    Does this doctrine of ideas as the spiritual food needful to sustain the immaterial life throw any light on the doctrines of the Christian religion? 

    Yes; the Bread of Life, the Water of Life, the Word by which man lives, the ‘meat to eat which ye know not of,’ and much more, cease to be figurative expressions, except that we must use the same words to name the corporeal and the incorporeal sustenance of man. We understand, moreover, how ideas emanating from our Lord and Saviour, which are of His essence, are the spiritual meat and drink of His believing people. We find it no longer a ‘hard saying,’ nor a dark saying, that we must sustain our spiritual selves upon Him, even as our bodies upon bread. (Mason, 1896/1989b, p. 246) 

    Knowledge and Purity 

    While the Christian looks outwardly for wisdom, he is also inwardly aware of sin. As Christians, we know that sin is what separates us from God, and we know that all have sinned. No man is righteous on his own, but self-righteousness is still as much a problem now as it was with the Pharisees. I hope you will follow my logic here. Plato’s ideas on purity and separation from the body actually reinforce our sinful tendencies to seek only the spiritual, to think of ourselves as above others, and to believe that through our own works we can earn a place in the presence of God.

    In this present life, I reckon that we make the nearest approach to knowledge when we have the least possible intercourse or communion with the body, and are not surfeited with the bodily nature, but keep ourselves pure until the hour when God himself is pleased to release us. And thus having got rid of the foolishness of the body we shall be pure and hold converse with the pure, and know of ourselves the clear light everywhere, which is no other than the light of truth. For the impure are not permitted to approach the pure. (Plato, 1892, p. 206) 

    Do you see the danger here? There are words that stand out, phrases even, that can be misconstrued to be in agreement with Christianity. There are verses in the Bible that can be and have been misconstrued into agreeing with Plato. Ranald Macaulay and Jerram Barrs (1978) discuss the problem with asceticism in Chapter six of their book Being Human

    Because asceticism is such a common problem in the church and because these (Bible) passages appear to encourage asceticism, it is very important to look carefully at them. . . asceticism raises its head in some form or other in every generation. People think that being a Christian – being spiritual – means giving up everything that is enjoyable and crushing whatever inner impulses they have simply because they are part of the human experience. . . Throughout history there has been a tendency toward asceticism within the religions of the world, so that for ordinary men and women “religion” has become synonymous with the negative, the drab, the gaunt, the unnatural. The monk, for example, gives up everything, renounces his possessions, lives in great austerity, shaves his head and is celibate. This is the idea of “being spiritual.” The “religious,” as they are called, even seem like athletes in a race of negation – each trying to outdo the other in severity toward the body by sitting on beds of nails or in ice-bound caves, never speaking and eating hardly anything. (p. 118)

    For a fuller understanding of the confusion that leads to asceticism, and more insight into the negative effects of Platonism in the Church, I recommend reading Being Human in its entirety. Personally, I think the way Plato rejects the body and separates the pure from the impure is completely selfish. I think that such an attitude in a Christian is a hindrance to doing the work of Christ. It is actually a luxury to say that one should have very little interest in the body. To the poor, the hungry, and the sinful, the ascetic is untouchable. And to the ascetic, the common people are impure.

    What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him? If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and filled,” without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that? So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead. (James 2:14-17, ESV, 2016)

     By focusing on self, whether through asceticism, according to Plato, or through materialism, according to what we see in our society today, the believer separates himself from the world and loses the opportunity to participate in the real work of Christ. Charlotte Mason (1905/1989d) understood this too: 

    Life, circumscribed by self, its interests and advantages, falls under the condemnation, – “He that saveth his life shall lose it.” 

    Therefore, Christ ate with publicans and sinners, and pronounced woes against the respectable classes because the sinners might still have a Will which might rise, however weakly, at the impact of a great thought, at the call to a life outside of themselves. The men at whom no one could point a finger were tied and bound in self, and were incapable of the great act of will implied in, “Choose ye this day whom ye will serve.” 

    There are but two services open to men – that which has self as the end and centre, and that which has God (and, by consequence, man) for its object. (p. 172) 


    Plato believed the body exists in opposition to the soul and is a hindrance to the acquirement of wisdom. He believed that true wisdom could only be experienced and enjoyed in the time that the soul spent between bodies. He said that the pursuit of philosophy, through the diminishment of the body, was the best one could hope for in this life. All knowledge which has passed on to the soul in death is forgotten when the soul is imprisoned once again into a new body. Rather than learning new knowledge, education is only the remembrance of those forgotten things and can only be accomplished by introspection and contemplation within the self. 

    The Christian view, which Charlotte Mason embraced, is that a united body and soul comprise a complete and individual being with inherent value and significance. Life is precious and is a gift. Wisdom is built up as God, the Holy Spirit, educates the person “by means of his senses” (Mason, 1886/1989a, p. 65). The person acquires wisdom as one means of fulfilling the first and second great commandments. 

    Now I am ready to answer my original questions. Where will classical philosophy lead me? It leads me to myself, which is away from Jesus. If classical philosophy would lead me to wisdom, is that the same as leading me to Jesus? Certainly not. 

    As Christians, we have to discern carefully which ideas we accept and which ones we reject. It does matter where ideas come from and what lies at the heart of it. We must take seriously the warning of the Apostle: "See to it that no one takes you captive by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the world, and not according to Christ" (Colossians 2:8, ESV, 2016). 

    © 2017 by Brittney McGann


     Chesterton, G. (1909). Orthodoxy. New York: John Lane Company.

     Cholmondeley, E. (2000). The story of Charlotte Mason. London: Wadsworth and Co. (Original work published 1960) 

    ESV. (2016). The Holy Bible: English standard version. Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.

     KJV. (2009). The Holy Bible: King James version. (Electronic Edition of the 1900 Authorized Version.). Bellingham, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc. 

    Macaulay, R. and Barrs, J. (1978). Being human. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press. 

    Mason, C. (1905). School education. London: Kegan Paul, Trench, Trübner & Co.

     Mason, C. (1924). Ourselves: Book I, self-knowledge. London: Kegan Paul, Trench, Trübner & Co. (Original work published 1905)

     Mason, C. (1954). An essay towards a philosophy of education. London: Lowe & Brydone. (Original work published 1925) 

    Mason, C. (1989a). Home education: Training and educating children under nine. Quarryville: Charlotte Mason Research & Supply. (Original work published 1886) 

    Mason, C. (1989b). Parents and children: The role of the parent in the education of the child. Quarryville: Charlotte Mason Research & Supply. (Original work published 1896)

     Mason, C. (1989d). Ourselves: Book II, self-direction. Quarryville: Charlotte Mason Research & Supply. (Original work published 1905) 

    Pennethorne, R. (1899). P.N.E.U. principles as illustrated by teaching. In The Parents’ Review, 10. 549-563. London: Parents’ National Educational Union.

     Plato. (1892). The Dialogues of Plato. (B. Jowett, Trans.) (Third Edition, Vol. 2). New York; London: Oxford University Press. 

  • 19 Feb 2017 1:12 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    It is a happy thing that the ‘difficult’ children who are the readiest to resist a direct command are often the quickest to respond to the stimulus of an idea.” 1

     — Charlotte Mason


                One day, I noticed a dad hanging around with his toddler on a sidewalk. The little tot, about 18 months old, had her face set like flint in one direction. The dad, towering over her, was looking down at her and moving right in front of her each time she tried to go that direction.

                She would move to go around him, and he would step over to block her way, over and over. No words were being exchanged. She had no understanding of why her dad was preventing her from going that way. Dad was making no effort to explain the situation to her. His mind seemed to be elsewhere.

                Naturally, the little girl was getting a fiercely outraged look on her face. Maybe she was too young to understand why she couldn’t go there, though she probably was not. It wasn’t really explanations that were needed, however.

                Another time, I observed a mom with her toddler of about the same age. The little guy wanted to get into the cat’s food. The mom was telling him, No, James, you can’t get into the cat’s food!” She would pull him away repeatedly and say, No, James!” and he would go for it again. They stayed there by the cat dish, battling it out, his will against hers.

                Again, no explanations were given. This little guy was probably even less interested in explanations than the little girl with her dad had been. Like the little girl, he just needed a diversion, a distraction, a redirection, a gentle change of thinking from what he was trying to do. He needed an action from Mom that showed she was serious.

                The girl needed Dad to pick her up, talk to her, maybe show her something interesting in another direction. Engage her, give her some attention, understand her, entertain her, treat her like a person. An explanation probably wouldn’t have hurt, but wasn’t essential.

                The same applies to James’ mom. Pick up the child, go into the other room and show him a car driving by out the window or a picture on the wall, or a toy. Give him something more compelling to think about. Surely the cat itself would be more interesting than the cat food. Bring up a subject he likes to talk about. Then the problem dissolves, the battle’s over, and everybody’s happy.

                Little ones are easily distracted. Leverage it. Yes, kids need to learn to mind you, but there is more than one way to accomplish that goal. Going head-to-head isn’t always necessary. A change in thinking changes behavior.

    The distracted child

                Dr. Benjamin Spock, in speaking of How to Manage One-Year-Olds” in Dr. Spock on Parenting (1988), recommends telling a one-year-old no” in combination with brisk removal” of the object or the child. In classically perfect Dr. Spock parenting advice, he advocates saying no whenever it’s called for, but without anger. The child will be better able to accept” the lesson when it’s given calmly and gently.Isn’t that the truth for any size human?

                Noting that physical punishment is neither needed nor really effective, Spock explains that “prompt, firm removal is the most convincing method. After a while the child learns that you mean what you say, and then ‘No, no’ becomes a sufficient reminder.”

                Combining a clear “no” with physical separation makes it clear to a child that she can’t have what she wants. Giving her something else to think about helps make that denial a painless pill to swallow.

                “Distraction is the most effective way of getting your one-year-old’s mind off a forbidden object or forbidden action,” Dr. Spock advises.  Many a dangerously boring situation has been saved by a few everyday objects to occupy a little one.

                Dr. Spock tells the story of how, when he had a one-year-old, he set out to see how long he could occupy and interest the little guy with just a pair of cufflinks. Twenty minutes later, Dr. Spock was the only one who was tired of the experiment.

                In the same way, if your high schooler is asking to take the car on a long weekend with friends and your inner alarm is screaming against it, you can say no and explain your objections clearly and briefly. If your teen wants to keep arguing, express your empathy for his disappointment, then just cut it off and change the subject. Make it clear you mean what you say.

                Exceedingly little actual punishment is necessary where children are brought up with care,” Miss Mason writes. The need for punishment is mostly preventable.”3

                If you have to take your child to wait with you in some office, go prepared. Bring a few books and toys to keep him entertained and head off misbehavior at the pass. Don’t get angry with your child for clambering around the waiting room when you’ve set him up to misbehave. Don’t expect your baby to behave like a grownup and watch talk shows and read magazines in the waiting room and then get all hateful and shaming if he doesn’t.

                Walk him around and show him whatever there is to see. Talk to him so he’s not bored. Play with him; he’s a baby. Come prepared with a snack if it’s snack time. Don’t end up buying your baby a candy bar out of the vending machines because he’s bored and hungry in the waiting room.

                Little peeps just like messing with stuff. It’s not a weakness to be despised. Play is how they learn. Youngsters, from infancy through teenage, need to be kept busy. They will be busy, for better or worse. It’s up to us parents to decide how they’ll keep busy, for their benefit or their detriment.

                Many a battle on the changing table and smacking of baby thighs could be averted by giving the baby something interesting to hold while he lies there. Instead of trying to habituate our children to boredom, why not give them something their busy little minds and fingers can work on? 

                Creating such a diversion is a parenting technique Miss Mason recommended some 100 years ago. Far beyond age one, children respond as readily to thoughts that capture their fancy as a baby who latches onto an interesting object.

                This way of changing children’s thoughts,” as Miss Mason calls it, lets a child save face without a parent giving in. It avoids unnecessary battles, anger on either side, and punishments.

                Where [the parent] cannot yield, she diverts, she does not crush with a sledgehammer,”4 writes Miss Mason. Helping children make constructive changes is always a matter of changing their thoughts, changing their minds, not just coercing them to do what you want.              

                Whether it’s the thinking of the moment or the habits of thinking that need to be changed, a compelling idea will move a child in the right direction. Whatever the age of your child, when you make up your mind to keep your wandering lamb in the pasture, your motivation and knowledge of your own child will lead you to the way to reach that aim.


    1 School Education 23

    2 215

    3 Home Education 148

    4 School Education 23


    Anna Migeon is the author of The Happy Dinner Table: The Path to Healthy, Harmonious Family Meals (2016), available on Amazon, of which this article is an excerpt. Anna’s children were born in France, where she was inspired by the strong food traditions, delicious dishes and healthy attitudes toward eating. Her children also attended Charlotte Mason schools, where Anna learned more about raising kids who love what’s good for them.  She has conducted workshops and coached parents and about how to get picky kids to eat better according to Charlotte Mason’s educational philosophy. Anna is also an award-winning cook (her chocolate truffles won a red ribbon at the Gillespie County Fair in 2005, even though they melted into one blob in the Texas heat). She and her French husband, Gérard, share an empty nest in San Antonio. 

  • 11 Feb 2017 8:12 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    For the past six months I have been contemplating the subject of service as a family and have entertained many questions along the way. One such question came while traveling home from holiday with family. I had taken the wrong exit in a complicated maize of highway and found myself going the opposite direction of what I had intended. I was nearly out of fuel and feeling peevishly annoyed at an extended family member for a personal slight. Complaining words of frustration seeped out of me as I pulled into a gas station.  While I fueled the car in the biting northern air, a homeless man approached me and asked for money for food and water. Because we were traveling long distance I had plenty of food with me and was able to give him a bag of jerky, snacks and water and his gratitude was deeply touching. Why wasn't I always prepared to serve in this way?  It would be easy to keep shelf stable food in my van for moments like this. My oldest son observed that we probably didn't accidentally take the wrong exit, rather someone needed something which we had and God sent us a couple miles off our intended route to meet his need. After this incident, hours of travel in unusual quiet lay before me, each child was either asleep or enjoying an audio book and my thoughts were free to roam. Instead, they kept circling back to the missed road, the homeless man and my self-centeredness. Earlier in the week I read these striking words from Mason:

    "A nation is probably only as healthy as how many proper outlets it has--how many colonies and dependents that it tries to include in its national life. And the miniature nation--the family--is the same way. Struggling families at the bottom of the socio-economic ladder, orphanages, missions, people whose paths we cross who have needs, all help to sustain the family's higher life.

    But it isn't enough for the family commune to be on friendly terms with its neighbors and strangers that cross its path. The nation is constructed of family units. The nation, like the human body, is an organic, living whole body, made up of lots of smaller living cellular organisms. The family life is only complete when it meets its obligation of contributing to the health of the whole body. The family needs to share in public interests, help with public works, and value what's good for the public. If the family isn't participating in the life of the nation, then it's no longer a vital part of the living whole organism. In fact, it becomes harmful, like decayed tissue in a human body."  Vol.2 pg.5&6

    The family must serve. It must contribute. This may not be a radical overhaul of life, but it is a call to be aware and actively participating in the world around us.  In October 2016, Liz Cottril spoke at a retreat in Ashville and mentioned recent research that homeschooled children were found to be the most self-involved and unaware or indifferent to social issues and needs. I found this sobering and deeply disturbing. Our commitment to our children must never unwittingly make them feel that they are the center of the universe.

    "'Every man for himself and Heaven for all' is another fallacy that shuts up lives in narrow rooms.  Man is not for himself, and to get out of ourselves and into the wide current of human life, of all sorts and conditions, is our wisdom and should be our care.   Vol.4/Book 1 pg.107

    "Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.  On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets"  Matt 22:37:40 KJV.

    What does it look like to love our neighbor, our nation and our world? Do we discredit small acts because we think we can't do the big things? A generous heart leads us into involvement with others who live differently than ourselves. This human connection, when led by Christ's love, will result in acts of kindness and service.  It is true that our lives have many seasons and what is possible at one time is far beyond reach at another time. I will share a bit of my own journey hoping that you will see how different various seasons have been for us.

    Before I married, I was deeply involved in inner city work with young children, this ministry became my life and I was star dusted with dreams of full time ministry. A few short years later I had three little boys under 4, and I was no longer searching for outside ministry opportunities. I have distinct memories of praying in desperation that someone might come and minister to me. Living far from family, many days found me overwhelmed with caring for the endless needs of my young children. I barely had time to take care of my own personal needs and my husband usually came home to an exhausted wife.  If you are a mother of young children, especially multiple babies and toddlers, then you must find peace and joy in pouring out for those little lives placed directly under your care.  I believe Jen Willkin said it beautifully when she wrote,  “Because if children are people, then they are also our neighbors. This means that every scriptural imperative that speaks to loving our neighbor as we love ourselves suddenly comes to bear on how we parent. Every command to love preferentially at great cost, with great effort, and with godly wisdom becomes not just a command to love the people in my workplace or the people in my church or the people at my hair salon or the people on my street or the people in the homeless shelter. It becomes a command to love the people under my own roof, no matter how small. If children are people, then our own children are our very closest neighbors. No other neighbor lives closer or needs our self-sacrificing love more.

    I do not believe that our immediate family and those beyond our homes create two conflicting obligations, rather our path lies between the tension of these two important truths. Miss Mason said that, "It is usually in our way, and not by going out of our way, that we shall find the particular piece of brotherly work appointed for us to do" Vol.4/ Book 2 pg.105.  You will find things that you can do along the way. Words of kindness and living with a generous spirit will bless and minister in ways you may never know. This is not beyond your reach even while your hands are full and you are not able to engage frequently outside the home. Your children are watching as you live generously and these things are no small part of creating a healthy whole body. It is also helpful to remember that what we pour out in those few short years will lay the foundation for leading our children into more ministry in the future years. Keep the vision burning and hold an open home and heart.

    As my children grew older the dynamics shifted and our family enjoyed serving together at a rescue mission. Here our lives touched the lives of those just coming out of drug and alcohol treatment centers or prison. During this stage of our life we also spent a great deal of time inviting others into our home for a shared meal and lively discussions. Then came a season of great darkness and turmoil and a valiant struggle to survive.  Life seemed nearly impossible, and moving through each day was a testimony to the strength and grace of God.  Tears well in my eyes as I type this, though three years have now passed since God closed that difficult chapter of our lives. We spent a year of quietness and healing and then an opportunity for me to touch the lives of displaced children in a nearby shelter opened up and I spent the next year investing much time in this ministry until, those doors shut  Now, I find myself  mostly facilitating my teenagers involvement in outside ministries.  They have helped to feed the homeless in our city through Street Side Ministries and spend hours at the local community operated food bank sorting and stocking and delivering food to those less fortunate in our community.  These ministries do not allow young children to serve and so I stay at home with my youngest, who is not old enough to join.  I have a few things I am actively involved in, but again I must remind myself that those things appointed for me will be there in my path, if I have eyes to see.  Living intentionally with eyes wide open remains a journey. I have to fight my addiction to busyness and practice being fully present.  

    Blessing others isn't always physical or financial.  Sometimes it may be encouraging words about the worth we see in others, actively building them up. Do my children see me doing this inside and outside my home?  This is always within my reach, and possible in every stage of life.  Further, I believe these blessings stretch beyond words to encompass all sorts of random acts of magnanimity. Even seemingly insignificant things like holding a door, standing so someone else can sit, picking up litter that someone thoughtlessly dropped, warm and caring eye contact, and lending a helping hand where needed. Are these small generous acts of national purport?  I don't know.  Are they? I can't help but think of the Aesop fable "The Lion and the Mouse" and the closing line, “No act of kindness, no matter how small, is ever wasted.”  When we realize that poverty is so much more than material, then these small acts may, in fact, target the area of greatest need within the impoverished soul sending ripples of healing in concentric circles far beyond our short-sighted eyes. Recently, there was a very thought provoking article in the Wall Street Journal which quoted Chris Arnade as saying, "The front row, needs to learn two things. 'One is how much the rest of the country is hurting. It’s not just economic pain, it’s a deep feeling of meaninglessness, of humiliation, of not being wanted.”   

     It seem that often we end up focused primarily on the material needs and we miss the deeper human personal need or make it worse through our own ignorance and/or pride.

    “Until we embrace our mutual brokenness, our work with low-income people is likely to do more harm than good. I sometimes unintentionally reduce poor people to objects that I use to fulfill my own need to accomplish something. I am not okay, and you are not okay. But Jesus can fix us both.”  -Steve Corbett

    This is a call to humility and a heart that is willing to learn outside our comfort zone, even to admit that we may at times be serving ourselves while engaged in serving others.  As we reach out, pouring into national and community efforts, our lives expand and it is through true humanness that we are kept from being shut into narrow little rooms of self absorption and we will find ourselves truly within a wide room.

    "Let us not love with word or with tongue but in deed and truth" (1 John 3:18 NASB).


    Mason, C. M. (1989). Parents and children. Wheaton IL: Tyndale House Publishers, Inc. (Original work published in 1925).  Paraphrased by L. N. Laurio Copyright © 2003 Ambleside Online.

    Wilkens, J. (17 Sept. 2015). Your child Is your neighbor, (Web blog post). The Gospel Coalition, Retrieved from https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/article/your-child-is-your-neighbor.

    Mason, C. M. (1989). Ourselves. Wheaton, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, Inc. (Original work published in 1925). 

    Aesop (1919, 1947) The Aesop for children: Checkerboard Press.

    Noonan, P. (2016). Shining a light on 'back row' AmericaWall Street Journal. 29 December 2016.

    Corbett, S. & Fikkart, B. (2009).  When helping hurts. Chicago, IL: Moody Publisher.

  • 05 Feb 2017 11:18 AM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    How do we deal with failure? I have to say that I’m not aware of much reference to failure in Charlotte Mason’s writings, except that she attributes it to methods of teaching, and I am sure there is much truth in that. But there are other factors, and it is something that interests me, because as a primary (elementary) school child I failed a lot. Maybe it was good for me. It didn’t seem so at the time. Looking back now I can see some humour in the situations that I still remember so vividly, but they were not funny then. The events were mainly quite insignificant in the general scheme of things, but they did not seem so to me at the time. I don’t think my primary school friends Wally Rhodes and Cyril Clark were worried at all by their failures, even though they failed in all sorts of ways and neither of them progressed very far with reading and writing in the primary school. Maybe it was something in me; in fact I’m sure it was. So here is some of the sad story of my failures . . . .

    I enjoyed Mrs Barton’s class, as most of us did. Everything was orderly, we filed into the classroom and out again by rows, we did things at the same time every day, and everything, including us, smelled of carbolic soap because we had to wash our hands three times every day. The big clock on the wall ticked away the minutes of every day, and most of them we heard because Mrs Barton’s class was a calm, quiet place.

    But while I was still in Mrs Barton’s class a cloud began to appear on my horizon. On Tuesday and Thursday afternoons the girls from the Mr Hirst’s top class (Mr Hirst was the headmaster) came to join the girls from Mrs Barton’s class to do needlework, and the boys from Mrs Barton’s class went to join the boys from Mr Hirst’s class to do art and craft. Art and craft were never my forte, but they were Mr Hirst’s forte. The very first of these lessons exposed my grave inadequacies. I was put in a double desk with my elder brother David, who was already in Mr Hirst’s class, presumably for him to act as my mentor. Mr Hirst gave us each a sheet of paper covered in small faint blue squares (what I later knew as graph-paper) and told us to cover it with a pattern, any pattern, in black and white, using just a soft black lead pencil to fill in the squares. He briefly showed us an example that he had prepared beforehand, quite a complicated and beautiful pattern that was certainly way beyond me. We set to work. David worked steadily on a simple pattern of rows of alternating large black and white rectangles. Being utterly lacking in any ideas I thought it best to copy as exactly as I could what David was doing. I found that the blocks of dense black produced by the soft lead pencil tended to come off on my sweaty little hands and then smear themselves on the rest of the paper. After three quarters of an hour or so Mr Hirst, who had been busy counting dinner money and doing other administrative tasks, told us all to display our work so far. I held up a scruffy and besmirched sheet, though still recognisably a pretty exact copy of what David had produced. I was duly reprimanded, not only for copying David’s work but also for making such a mess. I was told to go immediately and get my hands washed before I smeared lead pencil on anything else. I had not made a good first impression on the headmaster.

    And I never did. I went up to his class when I was eight. Gone were the comforting Nelson Arithmetic books with all the sums sensibly laid out. Gone were the writing books with three widely-spaced guidelines on which we had constructed large, round letters. Any writing now had to be done on single lines, with nowhere near enough space between them. My carefully formed but slow and laborious large writing deteriorated into a squashed scrawl, still just as slowly and laboriously produced. So while others wrote a page or two I laboured to complete five or six lines. I never remember actually finishing any written exercise; the end of a lesson frequently found me mid-sentence and still on the first paragraph.

    My memories of Mr Hirst’s class are almost entirely of depressing failure. The first Christmas Mr Hirst decided that we were each going to make a booklet of our favourite carols, a perfectly sensible educational project. First we had to make the booklet. Mr Hirst offered us different ways of making the booklet: we could have it stapled, ring-bound, or stitched, and there would be one group of children for each method. For some reason that I later regretted I opted for the stitched version – though I would probably have made just as much of a mess of the other two. So each of my group was given a nice coloured sheet of thick paper for the cover of the booklet and three sheets of white paper for the inside pages. All we had to do was to fold them in the middle and then stitch them together. Why I found this so impossibly difficult I don’t know. My pals Cyril Clark and Wally Rhodes, neither of them with great intellectual pretentions, did the job very effectively. I could not get the four pieces of paper to stay aligned, and my stitches went anywhere except along the fold. The finished product would neither close nor open straight. It was so bad that it was pretty clear that I wasn’t going to be able to write anything in it. Mr Hirst quietly made me another one in two minutes flat. And of course I didn’t get to fill it with carols. I managed a few verses of one carol before the Christmas holidays brought a merciful release from arts and crafts and writing.

    We did a project on coinage. The idea was that we would carefully observe the coins of the realm, draw and colour some of them and write about the designs, as well as doing some practical mathematics about coinage and their values. All good stuff for primary education, one might think. The first task was careful observation. I was called upon to go to the front of the class, which always made me nervous, and to identify and describe some of the motifs on the coins that Mr Hirst was holding up for all to see. Doubtless Mr Hirst thought that this was a simple enough task, well within my limited capabilities. Now I had a slight stammer, nothing really serious, but enough to make me tongue-tied if I was flustered, especially in front of Mr Hirst. The first coin I was asked to describe was a threepenny bit. The obverse was of course the king’s head; that was OK. But what was this funny plant thing on the reverse? To me it looked like the flower that onions produce when they go to seed, like I had seen in Uncle Jim’s garden down at Waterside. But why on earth would anybody be so daft as to put a picture of onions going to seed on the back of a coin? I had of course seen threepenny bits hundreds of times, but it had never occurred to me to question what the plants were. I did not want to appear a fool and say that they were onions gone to seed, so I just stood there speechless. Others were asked to contribute. ‘It’s a flower,’ shouted Wally Rhodes. ‘That’s right,’ said Mr Hirst encouragingly. Well I could have said that – but I didn’t! Next coin was a half-crown. What was this thing on the reverse? I had no idea. It looked to me like a medal of some kind, because I noticed, for the first time ever, that it was hanging from some sort of ribbon at the top (I have since checked with pictures on the internet – we no longer use half-crowns; it is hanging from some sort of ribbon at the top). I tried to get out the word ‘medal’, but nothing would come. The problem was put to the rest of the class. ‘It looks like a shield,’ offered Margery. ‘Yes, it is a kind of shield,’ Mr Hirst confirmed. ‘It is the royal shield, the royal coat of arms.’ Then what’s it doing hanging from a flimsy bit of ribbon, I wondered, but I was too humiliated to ask.

    And there were other occasions, too numerous to catalogue them all in detail, when my lack of understanding and my inability to ask sensible questions simply confirmed my dullness. There was the maths project based on the knock-out system in the Football Association Cup. Of course everybody knew how the FA Cup knock-out system worked – all except me! It had somehow passed me by, so I didn’t understand what it was all about, and of course I didn’t ask. Maths anyway had become a dark area for me. We didn’t do Nelson Arithmetic, we did ‘problems’, where I could rarely see how you got from the ‘problem’ to a nice simple sum. Then we were taught how to use the telephone, with large black telephones with dials and buttons set up in our classroom and in the room we used as a school hall. Of course none of us had telephones in our houses in those days, so we had no experience of actually using them, and for me, a stammerer, the whole thing was a humiliating disaster. And there were the constant craft lessons, often with raffia when for me (why only me?) the strands of the infernal stuff were constantly breaking, shredding or getting tangled or covered in glue. In the run-up to Christmas I was always in the group that made paper chains – you can’t go too far wrong sticking strips of paper together. I spent whole afternoons making yards of paper chains, while most of the others made more exciting decorations with shiny gold, red and green paper, card, raffia, tinsel, and cotton wool, and Christmas crackers that actually worked. Mr Hirst was of course a specialist in art and craft; I was one of his disappointments.

    On one occasion all the class had to do an ‘official’ reading test. I was eight or nine at the time, and despite my lack of practical skills I was at least a reasonably competent reader. We had to go out of our classroom to the room next door where a young woman we had never seen before was sitting at a desk with a clip-board. She asked us to read out the words on a card. They started very easy, ‘was’, ‘into’ and such, but then they got progressively more difficult as you read further down the page. Around half-way down was the word ‘parlour’. I had never seen the word before, and we certainly didn’t have one in our house, and I pronounced it as something like ‘par-lower’. On the next line was the word ‘melon’. Again I had no idea what it meant (I had of course never seen a melon; this was just after World War II, and we didn’t have melons in England), and I pronounced it ‘mee-lon’. The woman stopped me at that point. She said, ‘Thank you. Please ask the next person to come in,’ and that was that. Apparently it wasn’t relevant that I could read most of the words on the rest of the card. I discovered, much later as a teacher myself, that the rule of the game in this kind of test was that once a pupil had failed to read two words correctly that was the end of the test and the score was then worked out from the point that the second error was made. I suspect that my reading age was a year or two below my chronological age on this 1930s test, which was clearly constructed with the affluent middle classes in mind.

    A cloud of gloom hung over going to school. I even had nightmares about it, in which I often just curled up on my fold-up desk seat and went to sleep to avoid being compelled to do something I knew I couldn’t do. I had plenty of friends at school; that was not the problem. It was simply the constant reminder of things that I could not do. I could not draw; I could not make things; I could not write quickly enough; I was confused by maths; I could not play games very well; I could not skip with a rope; I could not go down the icy slides that more competent boys made every winter down the front school yard; and I could not answer questions in class without stammering. My nightmares were always about being compelled to do things I couldn’t do and failing abjectly. Mr Hirst was in no way antagonistic towards me, in fact he often tried to help me, but we were just not on the same wavelength . . .

    I suppose a good child psychologist today would say that I was suffering from depression, and from some lack of physical coordination, and of course from a slight stammer, but in those days there were no child psychologists and depression in children was unheard of – good heavens, we had just survived a war! As it happened, things for me changed quite radically at school, and by the end of my primary school years I was a happy child – and my stammer disappeared.

    Looking back now as an educator I wonder what went wrong for those two years. It’s true, art and craft were a bit of a problem, but for my friends Wally and Cyril most things were a problem, and it didn’t seem to worry them one bit. So what is failure? And why does it affect us differently? And as teachers what do we do about it?

  • 28 Jan 2017 11:10 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    “This isn’t enough.”

    I can still remember playing this phrase over in my mind, again and again.  Our church was hosting its monthly pot luck style meal, open to the community.  The tables were set and families were beginning to arrive.  From where I was standing, the table designated for casseroles and crock pots didn’t seem quite full enough when I looked around at the room full of people.  The meal hadn’t even begun, but my mind had already raced ahead to a scene where the whole evening was falling apart - not enough food and everyone looking at me with disappointment on their faces.

    A few minutes later, I was frantically whispering in my husband’s ear, “Honey, there’s no way we have enough here.  We have to do something - right now, I think.”  What could we do? There was only one thing I could think of; order up the quickest, cheapest  solution available.  “Jason, quick…order ten pizzas.  It’ll only take twenty minutes for them to get here.  Then we’ll be fine.”  And so he did.  Twenty minutes later, the delivery man walked in with a stack of pizza boxes.

    But guess what? No one ate those pizzas.  Over the course of those twenty minutes, it all just worked out on its own.  What I had perceived as a problem wasn’t a problem at all.  A few more dishes had arrived, a prayer had been said, and everyone had gone through the line, filling their plates and finding their seats.  The room was buzzing with laughter and conversation, and I was writing a check for a stack of pizzas that we didn’t even need.

    As a Mason educator, have you ever been there?  You’re looking around at your feasting table and in a moment of panic, you feel utterly convinced that it just isn’t enough.  Or, perhaps you’re not even looking at your own table, you’re online looking at everyone else’s.

    This fall, I was privileged to take part in an online CM class where we took extended time to soak in small sections of Mason’s writing and really talk them through, relating them back to her twenty principles.  One passage in particular from An Essay Towards a Philosophy of Education had a profound impact on me, even though I had read it many times before:

    “Education is a life. That life is sustained on ideas. Ideas are of spiritual origin, and God has made us so that we get them chiefly as we convey them to one another, whether by word of mouth, written page, Scripture word, musical symphony; but we must sustain a child's inner life with ideas as we sustain his body with food. Probably he will reject nine-tenths of the ideas we offer, as he makes use of only a small proportion of his bodily food, rejecting the rest. He is an eclectic; he may choose this or that; our business is to supply him with due abundance and variety and his to take what he needs. Urgency on our part annoys him. He resists forcible feeding and loathes predigested food. What suits him best is pabulum presented in the indirect literary form which Our Lord adopts in those wonderful parables whose quality is that they cannot be forgotten though, while every detail of the story is remembered, its application may pass and leave no trace. We, too, must take this risk” [emphasis mine] (109).

    There is so much contained in this short section.  First, Mason is reminding us of our connection to God - that He is the source of all ideas and also that He created us to take in those ideas in a certain way.  She goes on to speak of the unique personhood of our children, as well as our role as teachers.  And finally, she acknowledges the risk of teaching through story, using Christ Himself as an example, saying that we must do as He did.

    I had never before thought of embracing a living education as risky.  I began to consider that perhaps not acknowledging the risk was the reason I found myself unprepared to deal with the moments of doubt and uncertainty along the way.  Though the church pot luck story I just shared is rather comical and had a happy ending, the truth is that I’m often plagued by a tendency to convince myself of so many other “not enough’s” in my life.  Many of these are directly related to home educating my children.  

    “What I’m teaching isn’t enough.” 

    “I don’t own enough books.”  

    “My kids aren’t learning enough.”

    “What we’re doing isn’t enough.”

    “I don’t have enough time.”

    “I’m not enough.”

    The triggers for these doubts can vary.  It might be a child struggling through a particular lesson, or a conversation with another parent.  It might be scrolling through Instagram, or even catching up on a favorite CM podcast.   But the panicky feeling is the same every time, and my knee-jerk reaction is usually the same as well.  I end up making hasty decisions in a mad rush to remedy the situation. In the end, I usually find I’m holding a stack of pizza boxes (or books, or curriculum) that I never needed in the first place.

    I remember once sitting in on a group discussion about co-ops at a CM retreat.  The room was packed with moms, seeking advice and encouragement about moving forward with their own CM communities back home.  Many of them were there because their particular groups were struggling.  The person facilitating that discussion, a dear friend and CM mentor, said something I will never forget.  Before beginning to share her wisdom, she said to us, “You need to know that when I share advice or ideas, I always do it with the assumption that each of you, first and foremost, are praying.”

    If I truly believe, as Mason states in the quote above, that God Himself is the divine source of all that I seek to teach my children, that He created them (and me) uniquely as persons, that His Holy Spirit is our Divine Teacher in all things, shouldn’t my first response in my moments of doubt be to go directly to Him?  To truly embrace a Mason education for my children, with all of its beauty and all of its risk, I need to remember one of the key principles she built her philosophy on, that “the Divine Spirit has constant access to their spirits, and is their continual Helper in all the interests, duties and joys of life.”

    There is a deep mystery to the role of the Holy Spirit as teacher that cannot be packaged or marketed.  I’m learning that to embrace it requires faith and a willingness to commit to a long walk in the same direction.  Are there times to step back and reassess, to make an adjustment or a change?  Absolutely.  But I do best to make those decisions only after I’ve taken the time to bring my concerns to the Lord Himself.  As we in the Mason Community continue to support each other, share ideas, grow together, and risk together, let’s also remember that our ultimate hope is not in a curriculum, or a book list, or even in Mason’s philosophy, but rather in Almighty God, who is always enough.

    © 2017 by Amy Fiedler

  • 22 Jan 2017 8:51 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    Continued from the previous blog post by Karen Glass

    As we near the end of my response, I would like to share one part of Mr. Middlekauff’s critique about my ideas which is correct. I genuinely wish he had been as accurate in describing all my ideas as he is in this one instance. It is much more interesting to have a discussion about the actual ideas in question than to be called upon to correct mis-statements. He writes:

    Glass (2014a) repeatedly states that the purpose of education is virtue – right behavior. For example, she quotes David Hicks as saying, “The purpose of education is not the assimilation of facts or the retention of information, but the habituation of the mind and body to will and act in accordance with what one knows” (as cited on p. 18). She also asserts that in the classical model, “education was intended to result in right action,” and “all areas of education were brought into service for this single goal—to teach children to think and actrightly” (p. 19, emphasis added). Glass (2014a) is clear that the aim of education is “most importantly—bringing that knowledge to bear on actual conduct” (p. 20, emphasis added).

    According to Glass (2014a), this motivation for the classical educators includes all types of academic study: “They pursued all areas of knowledge—even arithmetic or grammar—as a part of the process that would lead to wisdom, and ultimately, character and virtue” (p. 23, emphasis added). Glass (2014a) attempts to show that Mason also believed that the purpose of education is right action. Quoting Mason, she writes that “[the formation of character is] the ultimate object of education” (as cited on p. 24). The problem with this quotation is that the full context of Mason’s (1989b) statement is: “Suppose the parent see that the formation of character is the ultimate object of education” (p. 83, emphasis added). In other words, the sentence is hypothetical and not a definitive statement of Mason’s official statement on the goal of education.

    There’s no need to fact-check this bit. This is a reasonable assertion of my first premise about the classical tradition of education—that it aimed to effect right conduct on the basis of right thinking.

    However, earlier in his critique, Mr. Middlekauff also said this:

    But in order for Glass to claim this, she must completely ignore Mason’s educational catechism (found in Parents and Children). It is not surprising that Glass’s book never mentions this catechism. In this catechism especially, Mason (1989b) casts aside all notions of a classical system in favor of the powerful Person of Jesus Christ . . . .

    Mr. Middlekauff has my thanks for drawing my attention to this catechism. I’m not sure why he finds it “not surprising” that I neglected to mention it, or why he thinks I would be in the least disturbed by it, but he has my assurance that if the occasion ever arises to produce a second edition of Consider This, I will most definitely mention it, and more. It’s almost as if Charlotte Mason had set out on purpose to articulate my exact premise, as described above.

    This is the beginning of the catechism:

    Character an Achievement––As the philosophy which underlies any educational or social scheme is really the vital part of that scheme, it may be well to set forth, however meagrely, some fragments of the thought on which we found our teaching. We believe––

    That disposition, intellect, genius, come pretty much by nature.

    That character is an achievement, the one practical achievement possible to us for ourselves and for our children.

    That all real advance, in family or individual or nation, is along the lines of character.

    That, therefore, to direct and assist the evolution of character is the chief office of education. [Emphasis mine]

    But perhaps we shall clear the ground better by throwing a little of the teaching of the Union into categorical form:––

    Character and Disposition.

    Origin of Conduct––What is character?

    The resultant or residuum of conduct.

    That is to say, a man is what he has made himself by the thoughts which he has allowed himself, the words he has spoken, the deeds he has done.

    How does conduct itself originate?

    Commonly, in our habitual modes of thought. We think as we are accustomed to think, and, therefore, act as we are accustomed to act.” (Parents and Children, p. 233-34)

    This is such a tidy summation of my thesis, you might imagine I had made my beginning here, but that is not the case, although I could have. I went to have a special look at the catechism because of Mr. Middlekauff’s comment, and this is what I found. It is very difficult for me to understand how a person who read this would not see the obvious connection to my ideas as described above. Observe the relationships:

    “We think as we are accustomed to think, and, therefore act as we are accustomed to act.”  Our actions begin with our thoughts; our conduct arises out of our manner of thinking. The residuum of our conduct is character, which we produce with our thoughts, words, and deeds. And Charlotte Mason says, “To direct and assist the evolution of character is the chief office of education.” This assertion is consistent with my premise that the classical goal of education is virtue or character, and I think it is a “definitive statement of Mason’s official statement on the goal of education.”  She uses the term “chief office of education” to indicate its primary place.

    This is remarkably similar to my quote from David Hicks above. “The purpose of education is not the assimilation of facts or the retention of information, but the habituation of the mind and body to will and act in accordance with what one knows.” Whatever else Charlotte Mason says (and she says plenty—there is a lot in those six volumes of hers), this is her very catechism, her philosophy in its essence, the “vital part” of the whole thing—and she begins it by essentially articulating my description of the first vital element of the classical tradition. I invite you to read chapter three of Consider This.

    This understanding of the relationship between thoughts, actions, and character is one of those “natural laws” of mind and morals that Charlotte Mason talks about in her “preliminary considerations.” These are some of the “universal truths” that I refer to, which were articulated by educators throughout history. My claim for Charlotte Mason is not that she based all her ideas on the educators of the past, but that she shares some of the same vital ideas that others have articulated before her, from within the classical tradition, again and again, and that she was aware of those connections.

    The connection is even stronger when you look at the next part of the catechism, about habit; however, there is no more space for that discussion right now. Those who are interested can follow it up if they choose. One thing only I will point out. Charlotte Mason quotes and names Thomas à Kempis as she points out “one habit overcometh another.” As much as her specific ideas about habit are founded in contemporary science, their role in education is not at all new, and she chooses to link the idea to the past as well.

    A little further into the catechism, we find this statement: “It is time we reverted to the teaching of Socrates. ‘Know thyself,’ exhorted the wise man, in season and out of season; and it will be well with us when we understand that to acquaint a child with himself—what he is as a human being—is a great part of education.” I’m not really sure a catechism which suggests that it is time to “revert” to the teaching of Socrates can be described as one which “casts aside all notions of a classical system.”

    These repeated references to thinkers and ideas from the past are just the sort of thing I have in mind when I claim that Charlotte Mason “links her ideas to the ideas of the past.” For all the claims she makes about her ideas being new and progressive (and I don’t discount that aspect of her philosophy), she makes other claims as well, and she herself chooses to call attention to the fact that her ideas align with the ideas of earlier thinkers. Draw your own conclusions. Mine is that, while she intends to be progressive and forward-thinking, she wants to make it clear that her ideas are anchored to the solid ideas in the “philosophy of the ages.” Even Plato’s. A correct understanding of Charlotte Mason’s philosophy must allow for the inclusion of all that she has said.


    I said earlier that a part is only a part, and should not be mistaken for the whole, and while writing this response, and looking closely at what Mr. Middlekauff wrote, I came to what I think is an understanding of his position. I believe he conflates Charlotte Mason’s philosophy of education with her religion or theology. Indeed, she makes it all too easy to do that. Nevertheless, there is a distinction, a definite line, which must be drawn. Charlotte Mason drew it for us in her preliminary considerations in Home Education. I quoted it earlier, but I repeat it here:

    Parents must acquaint themselves with the Principles of Physiology and Moral Science.––Now, believing parents have no right to lay up this crucial difficulty for their children. They have no right, for instance, to pray that their children may be made truthful, diligent, upright, and at the same time neglect to acquaint themselves with those principles of moral science the observance of which will guide into truthfulness, diligence, and uprightness of character. For this, also, is the law of God. Observe, not into the knowledge of God, the thing best worth living for: no mental science, and no moral science, is pledged to reveal that. What I contend for is, that these sciences have their part to play in the education of the human race, and that the parent may not disregard them with impunity. (Home Education, p. 40-41, emphasis mine)

    Do you see the fine line? The principles of moral science will give us the character which is the object of education—truthfulness, diligence, uprightness—but they stop short of giving us the knowledge of God himself. Yet Charlotte Mason tells us these things have “a part to play in the education of the human race,” and it is this part (which is also not the whole) which I have focused on in Consider This. Charlotte Mason calls education the “handmaid of religion,” and I think that description is an important one to recall if you want to keep the fine line of distinction in mind. A handmaid is a servant to someone more important, but a distinct and different personage at the same time. Mr. Middlekauff is correct in placing Christ above the classical tradition of education, as a lady is above her handmaid, but it is the distinct handmaid with which we have to deal in the education of our children. Properly understood, she will do her duty and prepare and lead our children to their own service of our Savior, but, as Charlotte Mason says, for that final step, no moral science will be enough.

    Now, having made this distinction for us, Charlotte Mason is very cavalier about it, and but rarely makes reference to it in all her six volumes. I fault no one for conflating her philosophy of education with her religion, as her discussion romps freely from one side of the line to the other, trampling it into obscurity; but it is there just the same. She knew it. It may be that the only way to understand my discussion of Charlotte Mason and her connection to the classical tradition is to remember that that line is there. The classical tradition—or in fact, any educational philosophy—will take us just so far and no further. The personal knowledge of God, “the best thing worth living for,” is simply beyond its grasp.

    It may well be that my response to Mr. Middlekauff will not be enough to convince anyone that Charlotte Mason has any connection whatsoever with the educational traditions of the past. So be it. This is the closest I will ever come to writing anything with the object of convincing someone, already staunchly opposed to the idea, that she does. I have done this much only because the actual ideas in my book were so extensively misrepresented.

    I have no fears whatsoever of the truth, in any guise, but untruth I cannot abide, and that is why I felt compelled to respond to Mr. Middlekauff’s invitation and to write this corrective to his critique. Anyone is welcome to disagree with me, but you can only disagree effectively if you disagree with what I actually have said, not an incorrect presentation of my ideas. However, beside the stark categories of “true” and “untrue,” there is another category of thought. There are opinions. One of the most valuable abilities we can cultivate is the ability to recognize the difference between an opinion and an absolute truth.

    For example, in my earlier discussion of Charlotte Mason’s Plutarch quote, about philosophy and religion, Mr. Middlekauff and I reached different conclusions. He considered her remark as a contrast, while I considered it rather as a comparison (Miss Mason compared the educational role of religion to the similar educational role of philosophy in ancient Greece). Both of those ideas are opinions—his, and mine. She is not here to elucidate for us. You can read the passage for yourself and form your own opinion. Opinions can be correct or incorrect (obviously, I think mine is more correct in this instance), but in neither case should they be mistaken for absolute truth.

    I said earlier that I quoted Charlotte Mason who was quoting Plato, but I did not share the quote. I find it interesting that that quote contains a reference to this very thing. 

    She makes the very bold claim that her educational theory can meet any rational demand, and would stand up even to the severest criterion set forth by Plato because it is able to ‘run the gauntlet of objections, and is ready to disprove them, not by appeals to opinion, but to absolute truth.’” (Consider This, p. 1)

    Ultimately, whether you think Charlotte Mason has a connection to the classical tradition, or you do not, that is an opinion which will be shaped by how you define that tradition. Evidence may be brought in to support an opinion, as I have given you some of mine in this long piece, and some opinions are indeed more credible than others. But our opinions are never going to become absolute truth. For one thing, the classical tradition involves 2000 years and more of Great Conversation, and pinning it down to a simplistic, comprehensive, concrete definition is impossible. Opinions about that definition vary widely, and are constantly being refined as one reads and considers more of that Conversation. My understanding of the classical tradition is based upon more than 15 years of reading authors like Quintilian, Plato, Montaigne, Erasmus, Augustine, and many others, with the occasional contemporary book to balance things a bit. I’m still refining that understanding.

    I think, however, for those of us who embrace Charlotte Mason’s educational methods, this concept of whether or not she is part of the classical tradition should be relegated to a place of secondary importance. Whether or not we share the same opinion of classical education is fairly insignificant beside the fact that we do share the opinion that Charlotte Mason was a brilliant educational philosopher and her methods some of the most effective that have ever been proposed. If you feel that one’s opinion of the classical tradition is a matter for contention, worthy of endless dispute, I can only politely say that that, too, is an opinion, and one which I cannot share.

    I would encourage us to look for our common ground—it’s not that hard to find—and stand there together. If you meet a fellow Charlotte-Mason-enthusiast who has a different opinion than your own about whether or not she is part of the classical tradition, have a little grace and remember that opinions are not absolute truth. Many are still learning and refining their opinions, and one of the most gracious examples that Charlotte Mason has left us is her willingness to allow others to take their time in that journey of learning and understanding without pressure.

    In the meantime, enjoy the common ground you share, and talk about nature notebooks, or narration, or picture study. Watch your children forming relationships with knowledge. Share the books you are reading and the things you are learning. Encourage each other in this venture, and build each other up. Wouldn’t you consider that the best tribute to Charlotte Mason that we could offer?

    © 2017 by Karen Glass

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