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    Educational Philosophy

    At School with Charlotte: Charlotte’s Brain Child

    August 31, 2010 by Brandy Vencel

    [dropcap]C[/dropcap]harlotte begins Chapter 7 of School Education by reminding us that we are educating human beings {a “homogenous spiritual being invested with a body”}, which is great considering that all of our educating stems from what we think man, and therefore a child, is.

    Ideas travel from mind to mind says Charlotte Mason, and today we start with babies as we begin to explore how to educate with ideas.

    Charlotte then tells us we must consider…

    • His Capacities: The child has many various capacities, he can build many relations and take “many modes of action” and we have yet to see any limit to this.
    • His Limitations: He has “no power of self-development.” This is where we, the teachers, mothers, guides, come in. At the same time, she doubts that a child deprived of this actually loses his capabilities. Perhaps this gives courage to the mother who fears she has begun “too late.”
    • His Education: Whatever he learns, whatever connections he makes, leaves a physical imprint upon his brain. Because of this, she reminds us of the importance of habit training.

      [S]ome nine-tenths of our life run upon lines of habit; and that, therefore, in order to educate, we must know something of both the psychological and physiological history of a habit, how to initiate it and how to develop it.

    After this brief refresher, Charlotte heads straight to ideas. Here’s a quick run-down of Charlotte’s main points:

    1. Ideas are living, and she appeals to Plato, who believed there was a separate realm in which ideas existed.
    2. An idea requires two minds. Another person puts an idea into my mind, you see. We think thoughts because of the people we know, the things we hear and see, the books we read. She believes that ideas are contagious.
    3. Ideas never die. An idea might be painted by an artist, written into a novel by a writer, or simply passed from voice to ear, but the fact remains that ideas are hard to shake from the earth.
    4. Certain people attract certain ideas. She also says it backwards and says that certain ideas appeal to certain people. “[T]he person,” she says, “brings forth ideas after his kind.”
    5. Ideas have a physical impact when they strike us. Charlotte specifically mentions the quickened pulse and brightened eye.
    6. Every habit has as its seed some idea which inspired it, and every idea has the potential to change or initiate a habit of thought and/or action.

    If you recall, Charlotte says that education is, among other things, the “science of relations.” She relates this to the growth and development of the person:

    It would seem as if a new human being came into the world with unlimited capacity for manifold relations, with a tendency to certain relations in preference to certain relations, but with no degree of adaptation to these relations. To secure that adaptation and the expansion and activity of the person, along the lines of the relations most proper to him, is the work of education; to be accomplished by the two facts of ideas and habits. Every relation must be initiated by its own ‘captain’ idea, sustained upon fitting ideas; and wrought into the material substance of the person by its proper habits. This is the field before us.

    Charlotte is putting her finger on the pulse of classical Christian education. The fact is that education — true education — does not leave the student {nor the teacher, for that matter} unchanged. This marriage of ideas and habits is making more and more sense. We learn something, grab hold of an idea, and that idea grows, but it doesn’t grow in some sort of Petri dish — a sterile, isolated environment. Rather, it invades our very lives. It brings about repentance, or maturity and growth. If we do not see these things in ourselves or our students, it is hard to say that learning is taking place at all.


    So What Do We DO?

    Charlotte first tells us what we shall not do: we shall not “develop the person.”

    [H]e is there already, with, possibly, every power that will serve him in his passage through life.

    We also shall not debate

    whether it is better to learn a few subjects ‘thoroughly,’ so we say, or to get a ‘smattering’ of many. These questions are beside the mark.

    Instead, we must consider

    the relationships which we may initiate for a child.

    And here she begins to give us a Ladder of Relationships, which will continue in other chapters.


    For Babies: the Lowest of Rungs

    At this stage, we are to form

    ties of intimacy, joy, association, and knowledge with the living and moving things that are therein.

    {This corresponds nicely with what Jan Amos Comenius called the Mother School.} We can teach a child “sciences” even at these early ages, but it is not the same as giving him an intimacy with living things. We teach science by reading the child a board book that tells them that “sheep says baaa.” We foster an intimacy when we stop by a hillside covered with sheep and let them watch the sheep, or when we take them to a place where they can pet a sheep. {If my daughter had her way, we would own a sheep.}

    Intimacy’s first step is recognition. To recognize a living thing intimately means that the child knows it by sight, yes, but also that he recognizes an environment appropriate for the thing, the sound or smell of the thing, and so on. In Volume 1, we see Charlotte’s students documenting where they found a flower and in what season, that they might search in similar places and at similar times for it, until they know the thing’s environment as well as the thing itself.

    The second step of intimacy is aesthetic appreciation. Children are naturally drawn to beauty, and they try to paint the pretty flower they see. Charlotte suggests we also show them how artists have captured these beautiful images.

    The third step, then, is first-hand knowledge. He begins to recognize so many trees that his mind naturally leaps into the science of it all, and he sees the similarity between the peach tree and the almond tree. Charlotte says that it is here he gets the idea of plants having “families” to which they belong.

    The fourth step is appreciative knowledge and exact knowledge. He is learning things in such a way that he will even come back to them fondly when he is aged. His desire to learn has been sparked in the best of ways.


    Setting up a New Relation

    Charlotte closes her chapter by giving us a picture of a little girl’s latest relation, in which she uses an oar in water, and through her experience, learns something about its nature. Her experience is superior to a text book description, and will stick with her longer.

    The conclusion, then, is that our primary task is to set up relations. {Charlotte includes here both moral as well as intellectual relations.} In this light, she then defines education as putting the child

    in the way of relations proper to him, and to offer the inspiring idea which commonly initiates a relation.



    I was thinking about that last part, and it seems to me that it would be prudent to examine our lessons and our schedule quarterly in this light. Am I setting up enough relations for my children? Or am I just giving into the pinnacle of modern temptation — getting through the material? Am I giving them many opportunities to become intimately acquainted with living things?

    We had our Circle Time out of doors again this morning, as the weather was favorable, and I am reminded why I wanted to make this a priority. Yes, our duck flock interrupts lessons, but having dragon flies and mockingbirds join us is more important, I think, than feeling academic by sitting at a table indoors. I am prone to forget this, though. That is why one of my goals this year is to have my many “definitions of education” from various respectable folks collected and listed up, that I might evaluate what we are doing on a regular basis.


    Moving On

    Charlotte’s next chapter will take us up a rung on the ladder, and we will learn what relations are proper to a child.

    I do wonder what Charlotte would say about children who missed that baby rung.


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  • Reply At School with Charlotte: Climbing the Ladder (Part I) | Afterthoughts September 1, 2019 at 6:45 pm

    […] the last chapter, Charlotte explained to us the “bottom rungs” of the Ladder of Relationships — the […]

  • Reply Pam September 1, 2010 at 4:43 am

    Wow. This is summarized so clearly. I love Charlotte’s insights, and the part on ‘Ideas’ and ‘relationships’ fascinates me always. Thank you! Love the post.

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