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    Books & Reading, Home Education

    At School with Charlotte: Charlotte, the Humanized Herbart

    September 14, 2010 by Brandy Vencel

    In a past chapter of Volume 3: School Education, Charlotte gave a critique of Herbart. We talked about this in Examining Underlying Assumptions Part III — that Herbart believed that the soul, if it existed at all, was irrelevant, and essentially undermined personhood as a result.

    A discussion on what Charlotte Mason had in common with Herbart an also Comenius.

    At the time of Charlotte’s writing, Herbart was very influential. In this chapter, she explains all that her philosophy has in common with Herbart. There are also some wonderful ideas in this chapter, which we’ll get to at the end.

    But first, a moment of silence for: Jon Amos Comenius.

    Charlotte mentions him at the beginning of the chapter.

    I just knew she had to have read him!

    The Commonalities

    Charlotte and Herbart both…

    1. Reject Pestalozzi’s and Froebel’s division of the mind into various faculties. This is important because this division resulted in redefining education as “the development of mental faculties.” In rejecting the division of the mind into faculties, the resulting definition of education is rejected as well.
    2. Recognize the force of the Zeitgeist — the spirit of the age, the ideas dominating a culture at any one time. It was acknowledged that the Zeitgeist itself was a sort of schoolmaster for both the parents and the children, that it influenced mood, aspirations, and inclinations.
    3. Admit that a child grows up under many schoolmasters: Nature, family, social intercourse, the Zeitgeist, the Church, the State.
    4. Recognize that the most valuable part of education is carried on by the family. This was an admission that education falls under the family’s sphere of influence. When we consider Charlotte as a founder of schools, we are apt to forget that she fully had a homeschooler’s heart. Her schools were not hers  — they belonged to the PNEU (Parents’ National Education Union). Charlotte ran schools that existed under parental influence and authority and she full recognized the family’s rightful dominion in this area. The schools assisted the parents in their work of educating their children.
    5. Reach back and pluck the fruit of the tree of medieval education. I adored this, for you know I love to say that Charlotte is a classicist. Her thoughts here are just beautiful. For instance, she says that it is not that we offer a religious education (as if there could be some other sort — some secular — education), but rather acknowledge that education is by its nature religious. She also confirms that knowledge is revelatory, that the Holy Spirit is “the supreme educator of mankind.”
    6. Agree that the purpose of education is character-building.

    Where They Differ

    It is this last point that leads Charlotte to their differences — if “differences” is the word I want*. Though Herbart also said that education was for building character, he hadn’t a very definite means to accomplish the task. Charlotte believes that, with the new understanding and mastery of the formation of habits — the ability to harness habit formation for the good of children — allow character-building to become a reality.

    An Aside

    I do feel a tad bit uncomfortable with saying that “character-building” is the purpose of education, though I’m almost certain I’m splitting hairs rather than discovering a real point of controversy. I am much more comfortable with the definitions over on the CiRCE website. Framed in my library is this definition:

    CHRISTIAN EDUCATION is the cultivation of wisdom and virtue by nourishing the soul on truth, goodness, and beauty by means of the seven liberal arts and the four sciences so that, in Christ, the student is enabled to better know, glorify, and enjoy God.

    Do you see the purpose there? It is knowing, glorifying, and enjoying God. I believe that character-building is a means to this purpose. I would add “character-building” right into the list along with the seven liberal arts and four sciences, for I have found Charlotte’s habit-training to be an indispensable tool.

    But I cannot agree that character-building is THE purpose of education**.

    Jewels from the Idea Tree

    I cannot leave off without sharing a few of Charlotte’s choice gems, which can easily be lost when someone dares to summarize her.

    • The family is the proper place to cultivate religious affections. She quotes Herbart as saying

      To the child, the family should be the symbol of the order in the world; from the parents one should derive by idealisation the characteristics of the deity.

    • She describes a beautiful a beautiful fresco on the walls of the Spanish chapel in Florence:

      Here we have represented the descent of the Holy Ghost upon the Twelve, and directly under them, fully under the illuminating rays, are the noble figures of the seven liberal arts, Grammar, Rhetoric, Logic, Music, Astronomy, Geometry, Arithmetic, and under these again the men who received and expressed, so far as the artist knew, the initial idea in each of these subjects; such men as Pythagoras, Zoroaster, Euclid…

      Charlotte was a big Ruskin fan, and Ruskin discusses this chapel in great detail in his book Mornings in Florence.

    • Charlotte emphasizes that we simply must attempt to grasp the purpose of education, no matter how hotly debated it must be. Her reason?

      [F]ew of us definitely know what we propose to ourselves in the education of our children. We do not know what it is possible to effect, and, as a man does not usually compass more than he aims at, the results of our education are very inadequate and unsatisfactory.

    Without a purpose, we aim at nothing, so it seems.

    Next Time

    I’m excited about the next chapter, which is devoted to physical training. I glanced at it, and it reminded me of a post I wrote a year or two ago: Toward a Philosophy of Physical Education.

    *Three points for naming that literary allusion.
    ** Let he who is without sin cast the first stone. I’m just saying.

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  • Reply Brandy Afterthoughts September 16, 2010 at 3:45 pm


    That is the way I see it, and I am pretty sure that this is what Kern’s definitions imply.

    LOVE the visual representation. 🙂

  • Reply Mystie September 15, 2010 at 8:28 pm

    Of course. 🙂

    I am all for the splitting of hairs.

    So in Kern’s definition, virtue is what is cultivated (what education *does*) *so that* we glorify & enjoy God forever (*why* we educate). Thus, virtue is a means to the end, not the end.

    Education —> virtue/character —-> glorify God.

    Did I get it right?

  • Reply Brandy Afterthoughts September 15, 2010 at 3:46 pm

    Wooster, my friend. Wooster.

    I think you are right that she means “virtue” but I still hesitate to say that virtue is the end. Virtue is indeed a primary means of pleasing God (especially when we see its cultivation as part of our sanctification), but I wouldn’t say that it is the purpose of education. I know this is splitting hairs, but I try to hold in my mind that our goal is knowing, pleasing, enjoying, and serving the Lord and these other things are all direct means of accomplishing that goal.

  • Reply Mystie September 15, 2010 at 3:28 pm

    Nope, don’t have the literary allusion, unless it be Stellaluna. 🙂

    Does she mean character in the same way CiRCE’s definition means “virtue”?

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