Get the exclusive (almost) Weekly Digest.

    Norms and Nobility: Charlotte Sightings

    July 2, 2010 by Brandy Vencel

    I am becoming more and more convinced that those of us who suspect that Charlotte perfected classical education in a Christian Victorian culture are…right. I think that those who would beg to differ probably assume that Dorothy Sayers summed up the entirety of classical education in her famous speech. I’ve learned a lot from that speech, and if I hadn’t kept reading, I would have thought that it said all there was to say about classical education.

    David Hicks, among others, informed me that there is a lot more to say about classicism, and he sometimes sounds a lot like Plato channeling Charlotte Mason…in Greek or something.

    Chapter Six of Norms and Nobility is On the Necessity of Dogma, and though the majority of the content was new to me, every once in a while I felt like I was having déjà vu.

    In his second paragraph, Hicks reminds us of the aim of a classical education:

    …the formation of a mature person who loves inquiry that reaches into earthly as well as transcendent realms of knowledge, who makes the connection between this knowledge and his responsiblity in the life of virtue, and who struggles against long odds to fulfill in himself the high exigencies of the Ideal Type.

    We cannot read Charlotte and think that she would disagree with this aim. Charlotte was offering a liberal education, true to the tradition of every classical educator before her. She was concerned with what the student would be–not his occupation, but in his soul–upon graduation. This is why she took such pains in Home Education to build habits, to grow character, to inform the conscience.

    Hicks surprised me by spending some time on the conscience as well:

    Classical education…cannot hope to achieve its lofty aims without laying great emphasis upon the development of conscience in the student.

    Do you remember that Charlotte said that children are not born with mature consciences, but only the potential of a good conscience? That consciences must be developed and informed? Hicks says something similar:

    [Conscience] is an aprioric human potential that either builds muscle or atrophies…

    Charlotte believed children should only be offered the best ideas. They should not be fed twaddlish books which insult their intelligence and appeal to their passions, nor should they be fed bad ideas, because every idea is a seed which grows up to bear fruit. Hicks mentions that this protection for children reaches back at least to Cicero and Isokrates:

    Whatever fails to evoke and develop a lively conscience in himself and in his students is, so far as he is concerned, banal, mediocre, devoid of style, and empty of meaning and value.

    I spent a bit of time pondering that quote. Do I as teacher protect my own conscience in this way? Do I, for instance, select movies in light of the fact that I myself have a soul? Sometimes we mothers forget ourselves in caring for our children, do we not?

    Charlotte also wanted the children to be excited about their learning, to take joy in their lessons. She believed in the fully involved learner, with attention completely engaged, and she knew that it was only in grappling with ideas that this was possible. Likewise, Hicks says:

    Man’s knowledge is without value to him unless he reaches it dialectically–unless it animates his body, indwells his mind, and possesses his soul.

    The connections between Hicks and Mason amazed me, even though I take it for granted that Charlotte was a classical educator.

    Granted, Hicks says a lot that Charlotte doesn’t say (or, at least, I think she doesn’t–I haven’t read School Education yet), it is apparent to me that Charlotte existed within a great tradition, and that the tradition, though battered by modernism and almost torn asunder by a tyrannizing science, is alive and well, and growing not just with the classical movement, but with the Charlotte Mason Education movement, too.

    Someday, I hope we realize that classicism and CM can inform each other, complement each other, strengthen each other,  and hold hands, rejoicing in the triumph of a truly glorious philosophy of education.

    Get the (almost) weekly digest!

    Weekly encouragement, direct to your inbox, (almost) every Saturday.

    Powered by ConvertKit


  • Reply Brandy Afterthoughts July 8, 2010 at 4:10 pm


    What good news! To be honest, even though I know we are supposed to map out a plan for the whole education, I haven’t actually done that, and so I’ve only glanced at the upper years of Ambleside a time or two. I am thrilled to hear that Hicks was an inspiration for it!

    I flipped through N&N and noticed that his suggested course of study was for the upper years. This makes me wonder what he expected for children under 11. Perhaps he was even more like Charlotte than I realized? Hmmm…

  • Reply Lynn B. July 5, 2010 at 6:27 am

    Yes, bravo, yes. Hicks and Mason are branches of the same vine.

    This is why we felt free to draw on Hicks’ wisdom when we designed the upper years of Ambleside Online (with his blessing). Stitching them together made a pretty smooth seam.

  • Leave a Reply