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    Educational Philosophy

    Lessons from Charlotte: The Foundation

    June 9, 2010 by Brandy Vencel

    [dropcap]P[/dropcap]relimary considerations. This is what Charlotte Mason calls her foundational principles {one of which was habit training, discussed yesterday}. Without these foundations, the education of the child is shaky. Consider the bad habit of defiance. What would it take to teach a child with this habit? Do we see how shaky the education would be of a child like this?


    Lessons from Charlotte: The Foundation


    Her other foundational principles are as follows:

    1. The mother must have a “thinking love” of her child. She wrote:

      We are waking up to our duties, and in proportion as mothers become more highly educated and efficient, they will doubtless feel the more strongly that the education of their children during the firs six years of life is an undertaking hardly to be entrusted to any hands but their own.

      The best families I have known have had one commonality: they are deliberate. They are not cookie cutters. They do not all make the same decisions for their children {nor even necessarily for each children within the same family}. But what is very evident is that they have this “thinking love” for their children — they know what they are doing and why they are doing it.

    2. Approach child training and education using a method rather than a system. A system is the Darwinist/Dewey-an, mechanistic approach: we input pretty much the same data on one end of childhood and expect to get pretty much the same result on the other end of childhood {at graduation}. A method, however, is a principled approach. Naturally, Charlotte thinks her own method is the best {and I’d agree about 98% of the time} because it respects the nature of the child {viz., his inborn qualities, his soul, etcetera}.
    3. The child’s estate must be respected. What is a child? Charlotte asks. A blank slate to be written upon? “A twig to be bent? Wax to be moulded?” Charlotte, thankfully, has learned her catechism. She writes that the child is:

      a being belonging to an altogether higher estate than ours; as it were, a prince committed to the fostering care of peasants.

      She then quotes Wordsworth to support her assertion that the child is entrusted to us from heaven, and raising him a grave responsibility. This very naturally brings us full circle to our first point, the “thinking love” of the parents {and especially the mother}. Such a being deserves to be approached thoughtfully and deliberately.

    4. Obey the Gospel’s negative code of education: despise not, offend not, and hinder not. She then fleshes out what these phrases mean. She writes:

      [W]e offend them, when we do by them that which we ought not to have done; we despise them, when we leave undone those things which, for their sakes, we ought to have done.

      In other words, the first two are the two categories of sins: commission and omission   Charlotte assures us that we can cause offence by not respecting the natural laws by which a child should be reared: laws for healthy physical development, intellectual development, and moral development. She continues later that to despise the child is really to undervalue or have a low opinion of him {this is the literal definition of the word}:

      If the mother did not undervalue her child, would she leave him to the society of an ignorant nursemaid during the early years when his whole nature is, like the photographer’s sensitive plate, receiving momently indelible impressions?

      Likewise, if she did not undervalue her child, would she not take his faults seriously? This is connected to hindering the child, for there are a variety of ways in which we can hinder the child’s relationship to God. One of the primary causes is to, once again, leave the child for hours each day with a caregiver {at that time called a “nurse” — in our culture it is preschool and daycare} who tells the child false gospels all the day long. Charlotte tells us that this is:

      that same foolish undervaluing of the children, in the notion that the child can have no spiritual life until it please his elders to kindle the flame.

      As the child has a soul, he by definition has a spiritual life, whether we acknowledge this to be so or not.

    5. Create and maintain the conditions of healthy brain-activity. Here is mentioned exercise, sunshine, proper clothing {as in not too hot or too cold, etc.}, rest, wholesome food, and so on. This reminds me of the parenting class we just took, where it was declared that we could solve a lot of our problems at the outset by following some simple rules: give children copious and regular amounts of sleep, almost always nutrient-dense food, and routine. I was also reading some articles by Dr. Arthur Robinson, creator of the Robinson Curriculum {no, I am not thinking of switching; I was just reading}, and noticed that one of his keys to education is, likewise, environment: absolutely no television, no computer usage until age 16, a sugar- and honey-free diet, and so on. I think that Charlotte, were she here with us today, would concur with all of this. Education requires healthy brain activity. If we feed a child a high-sugar meal and then sit down to an arithmetic lesson, we are setting ourselves up for failure.

    These five things, should they be ingrained into the home life before the oldest child is the age of six or seven, will do the utmost in regard to the child’s education. A house full of chaos is a poor place of learning.

    Thus saith Charlotte.


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  • Reply Brandy Afterthoughts June 9, 2010 at 10:21 pm


    We, though we are technically one of those “media-free” families…who listen to talk radio ahem…recently began a once-per-month movie night with our eight-year-old. It’s just a little activity for the summer–in total we plan to do four of them (May-August). We do this when all the littles are sleeping. He doesn’t need as much sleep as he once did, and his affections are very solid, like you said, and we thought it’d be a nice treat. A perk of being movie-free for so long is that they are now considered so. much. fun. In other words, our kids are easily impressed. 😉

    Most of them watch the old Little House series at Grandma’s, by the way…

    As far as computer goes, we’re waiting. But I know that is your husband’s thing, and I TOTALLY understand him wanting to share it with the boys. My husband began to teach guitar to E. earlier than I expected for the same reason. Thankfully, E. now has an appropriately-sized one so that he isn’t learning bad posture from the lessons…

  • Reply Mystie June 9, 2010 at 9:42 pm

    Matt and I have been discussing computer & movie time lately. We decided that we didn’t want to be extreme parents with regard to screen time, forbidding either entirely, but that regulated use would be ok as long as it is proportionate. Most days will have no screen time, but 1-3 hours a week is ok as long as we see that it’s not replacing outside time and reading time and playing together time in their affections. Still, partly we felt comfortable making that decision because our two oldest have spent 5-6 years now with practically no screen time and their preferences for books, toys, and the outdoors are established; however, we have two younger ones whom I want to make sure get that foundation also.

    My husband, the computer programmer, also wants to make sure the children grow up accustomed to computer usage. He is looking forward to being able to play computer games with Hans in another year or so. 🙂 My caveat was that that was fine as long as it doesn’t become computer games to the exclusion of outdoor games and reading.

    This is a great summary of Miss Mason’s foundational points. Now I’ll go write my first HE-inspired post, referring back here for the basics. 🙂

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