Whenever I quote Charlotte Mason, I assume that folks understand the context, which is probably a mistake considering that very few CM educators have actually read her original works. In addition to this, I sometimes tend to assume that readers grasp the context of my mind … which isn’t very realistic as sometimes my husband has trouble doing this! So I find myself today in need of clarifying what I said yesterday, so that we don’t have any misunderstandings.
I have been an avid ‘anonymous’ reader for some time and most often wholeheartedly appreciate what you have to say, finding much of it Biblical and Christ-centered. That said, I don’t often comment, but I feel I must at this time.
I would ask you what is your biblical backing for the statements you have made concerning children and sin? I may be completely mistaken, but it seems you are saying some very dangerous things here … such as children only being taught to sin, not knowing how on their own … and forgetting some of the scriptures which clearly state otherwise, such as Proverbs 22:15 which says “Foolishness is bound up in the heart of a child” and Genesis 8:21 which states, “…the intent of man’s heart is evil from his youth.”
Perhaps I have misunderstood you, but if not I implore you to consider these things in Scripture. This is a great article I have come across from Desiring God.
I have to admit that when I wrote the post, I wondered if this might come up, and I tried to phrase everything in such a way that we wouldn’t have this misunderstanding, but obviously I was not clear enough. I try to balance in my writing my desire to communicate a single idea with the temptation to cover all of my bases with every possible objection or misunderstanding of what I said. However, comma, in this case I do not think I did a good job.
I love comments like this because I think they refine all of us as readers and thinkers.
So let’s talk.
First, I want to clarify exactly what I believe. As I said in my original post, I believe in the co-existence of two components of anthropological theology (i.e., (1) man is fallen in nature and (2) he still bears the Divine Image). When I say I believe in the total depravity of man (and I do, as did Charlotte Mason before me), this means that I believe that man cannot save himself. In other words: man needs Jesus. But it means more than this, for being depraved implies being not perfect. Man is lacking morally, yes, but he is also lacking in every other way. He is fallen in every area of his being and requires redemption and improvement on every level.
When I say, as I said yesterday, that “most men are not as fallen as they might be,” I understand how this could be taken as an attack on the doctrine of Total Depravity. I should have explained this better.
Let’s take an individual, generic man as an example. He is not a Christian, and so not redeemed. If he were “as fallen as he might be” he would be a murderer, adulterer, etc. He would be the worst thing we can imagine. When I wrote that man’s natural “goodnesses” are a form of common grace, I mean that just as God sends rain to the godly and the ungodly, so He gives innate goodnesses (“virtues” is perhaps a better word) to the godly and ungodly. These goodnesses do not save. They do not redeem. But they are an amazing sign of the Divine hand … and the Divine plan.
I think here of Horatius the pagan, boldly defending the bridge over the Tiber river, laying his life down for his friends and comrades. We are told that no greater type of love exists, and yet this man did not know Christ. All we can say, then, is that there are goodnesses that are common to us all, for humanity bears the Divine Image. Even these things, then, are a gift of God.
Charlotte Mason in Context
I think that when we read Miss Mason’s works, we need to remember that she was first and foremost writing an educational treatise. Even though the way that we educate naturally flows from our theology, when she speaks of “children as persons” and children being born with “possibilities for good and evil,” I think she speaks here first and foremost as a teacher, not a theologian.
To clarify further, by “possibilities for good and evil,” she is thinking about developing the child as a person, not of the idea that he is still in a perfect state and does not require redemption, or that only society or his family corrupts him.
Now, personally, I think Charlotte’s principles are an excellent outworking of the theological tenants I mentioned before — meaning man being both fallen as well as bearer of the Divine Image (and, I might add, possessing a soul, though this used to go without saying). Charlotte herself, though, called education the handmaid of Religion. She believed that education could offer real, tangible assistance to the progress of the work of the Gospel, but she never believed it replaced the Gospel. If we keep this in the back of our minds, it helps us know the limits of her ideas.
All of this, and more, was in my heart when I wrote about the little girl I observed. I firmly believe that most people are born with a natural reverence or religious impulse. I would say this is akin to the now proverbial “God-shaped hole.” Romans chapter 1, for instance, talks about the idea that there is a natural knowledge of God that must be honored (and if it isn’t, a culture quickly plummets into every imaginable depravity).
What I saw in this little girl was the brief honoring of this natural form of religion. I saw a glimmer of the Divine Image. This does not mean I thought she was not fallen. It means that I saw her possibilities — what God originally intended her to be, and what I hope will be her future.
I also saw that she had not yet been fully tainted by our education system and popular culture. There is so much packed into this statement that it is hard for me to explain it all in this small space. I do not mean that our culture is the sole source of sin, or that if we could just clean it up, we would reach perfection. I know that perfection is only found in the Gospel.
But I also know that there are good cultures, and there are bad cultures, and there are great cultures … and that culture is built by men. God ordained it to be so. So the way that we do things really does matter. My husband always draws this out as a cycle. We make culture, and culture makes us, and on and on.
I think the most logical application of my post is to consider the culture we have built and are building around us. It predisposes people to be silly, shallow — it steadily lessens their humanity day by day. I think here of Wendell Berry describing the television as a tube which pumps meaning and depth out of the home.
One of the things I love about Charlotte Mason is that she taught me that children really are persons. Or maybe it is actually bigger than that. I think she actually taught me that all people really are persons. They really have potential. And we really often do approach the child-mind as if it were silly and shallow and only capable of being entertained by highly animated kindergarten teachers that plan and control the carefully constructed child-centered environment.
We treat them as less than human, and by the time they are grown they actually seem it.
This is one contributing factor to our culture’s decay.
In many ways, the Greek pagan culture was much, much higher than ours, and that is probably because it actually educated its children more in accordance with the Divine Image than we do. They didn’t believe in it, of course, but their view of man was much higher than the average American Christian you meet on the street. (Of course, they believed in the perfectibility of man without Christ, which was their downfall, except for those individuals who realized the beauty of Christ being the Logos.)
I completely understand how parts of my post could be misconstrued, and I appreciate the chance to clarify my stance. I never want anyone to think that I do not believe in the depravity of man, or in man’s need for redemption through Christ. When we consider the bulk of Charlotte’s work we see that she was not talking here about the need for redemption. I think she was talking here about the Divine Image — the fact that all are human, that all deserve respect, that all are capable of a sort of reverence that is due to common grace, and that all ought to be educated in light of these truths.
Remember that while others in her day believed that the lowest of low society could not be educated — almost as if they bore no Divine Image at all — Charlotte was offering her generous curriculum to the least of these (in this instance, the children of the impoverished miners).
When I say that “we have made them so,” I understand that not everyone was inside the context of my head. I am not a Utopia-touting Rousseau disciple by any means! However, comma, as John Hodges once said, cultivating good things in the soul of all children will not save them … but there will be more of a soul to save!
Let’s Discuss the Scriptures Framing the Conversation
Proverbs 22:15 is a good example here, I think. It is true: all children have foolishness bound up inside of them, and, according to this Scripture, need a good paddling now and then! But this doesn’t mean that they need be paddled all the day long. These foolish little sinners are still more than capable of delighting in butterflies and frogs and meadows and lightning and all the good things that the Lord hath made. They are able to love. They are able to extend kindness and joy to others. In other words, they still possess (broken) fragments of the Divine Image worth cultivating.
We extend much grace to children, believing that they are able to receive it.
In the case of Genesis 8:21, I looked up the Hebrew to be sure. The idea here is that the form of the man’s heart — of his conscience — is evil. It is malignant. It gives pain. And so on. I completely agree. In Adam’s fall, we sinned all. We are a fallen race, and the evidence for that abounds. But I do not believe that this means that we no longer bear the Divine Image. We are twisted and in need of redemption, but the imago dei is still there. Because it was the essence of what we were at creation, it has remained after the fall. When we fell, we became fallen humans. We did not become subhuman. This is why Paul can still say that man is the glory of God.
I know that salvation is a work of the Holy Spirit. But even the Scriptures tell us that faith comes from hearing and how can people hear if we do not preach? God chooses to use people — mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers, and on and on — as means. When people tell their testimonies, they do not just say, “the Holy Spirit saved me;” they usually give a name — “I was talking with so-and-so, and he preached the Gospel to me.”
God gives us the honor of sowing seeds and helping to prepare the ground. A child that knows grammar and logic and rhetoric will be more able to understand the Gospel when she reads it or hears it, because he is more able to understand anything he reads and hears. Education, being the handmaid of Religion, has a rightful place in preparing the ground and sowing seeds.
And here is the crux of the issue I meant to be addressing (though my effectiveness in this instance is clearly up for debate): modern education handicaps the soul. I do not have the time to discuss all that this means, but let me be clear here. A modern Darwinian education cultivates nothing less than practical atheism, if not actual atheism. This approach to educating eliminates questions of metaphysics, thereby disregarding the Divine Image, thereby treating students as less than human. When I said that the little girl had not been ruined by our culture, I meant that every little religious impulse had not, in the words of C. S. Lewis, been completely debunked out of her soul.
At least, not yet.
And my hope, of course, is not ever.
Update: I believe that the definitive article on this subject is Why Did She Have to Say That? by Karen Glass.
Get the (almost) weekly digest!
Weekly encouragement, direct to your inbox, (almost) every Saturday.