Educational Philosophy

Myth: Charlotte Mason isn’t Christian enough.

October 19, 2014 by Brandy Vencel

BY JOY SHANNON

Some would question whether or not CM is Christian enough. This question often stems from parents who take seriously the Biblical calling to bring up their children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord. I too take this calling seriously and when considering homeschooling felt the appeal of popular Christian boxed curriculum that had “Christian” words sprinkled through the spelling lists and snippets of verses and moralizations scattered throughout the workbook pages. I would argue that a CM education provides more.

Charlotte Mason was a devout Christian whose beliefs permeate her writings. In Philosophy of Education, page 158 we read,

Of the three sorts of knowledge proper to a child, the knowledge of God, of man, and of the universe, — the knowledge of God ranks first in importance, is indispensable, and most happy-making.

She devotes large chunks of all her volumes to instructions regarding the child and his relationship with God, which she views as a parent’s highest calling and the child’s right.

Mason believed the Holy Spirit is the Supreme Teacher, and as parents we are to work in cooperation with the Holy Spirit. Her Principle #20 says we are to “teach them that the Divine Spirit has constant access to their spirits, and is their Continual Helper in all the interests, duties and joys of life.” I find this reassuring. I do not have to know it all. Instead, I can rely on the Holy Spirit to know what my children need and when. I can trust that He who started a good work will be faithful to complete it.

She goes on to say,

We do not merely give a religious education, because that would seem to imply the possibility of some other education, a secular education, for example. But we hold that all education is divine, that every good gift of knowledge and insight comes from above, that the Lord the Holy Spirit is the supreme educator of mankind, and that the culmination of all education (which may, at the same time, be reached by a little child) is that personal knowledge of and intimacy with God in which our being finds its fullest perfection.

School Education, p. 96

Those who utilize a CM education will indeed find their days filled with the methodical reading of scripture and church history, devotionals, memorization, Hymns, as well as the reading of Christian classics such as Pilgrim’s Progress and poetical works such as Milton’s Paradise Lost.

A CM education provides more than these worthy activities; a CM education presents living ideas and teaches the child to think. One of the primary tasks of the student is to accept or reject ideas. In addition, we learn that our reason has limitations, and we learn how to enlist our will to do what is right. CM exhorts us using the words of Christ himself,

Choose you this day whom you will serve. There are two services open to us all, the service of God or the service of self. … But if we serve God and our neighbor, we have always to be on guard to choose between ideas that present themselves.

Philosophy of Education, p. 134-135

How do our children know which ideas to accept and which to reject? I believe this comes from being grounded in the Word of God. It will not matter how “Christian” our curriculum appears if there is not habitual examination of everything through the lens of scripture. We must weigh all against the Living Word of God which needs to become an actual living part of our lives.

So rather than examine my curriculum, I have decided I need to examine myself. What example do I set before my children? Do I accept or reject ideas based on the truth of scripture? What are my values? To what do I devote my time and resources? Do I love the Lord my God with all my heart, with all my soul, with all my mind, and with all my strength? This is the heart of the matter.

When I thus examine myself, I find I fall short … quite short. I begin to feel inadequate and overwhelmed. Then I remember the encouragement I have received from Dear Charlotte. I am not alone in this endeavor to bring my children up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord, to teach them to love the Lord their God with all their hearts, souls, minds and strength. I am to work in cooperation with the Holy Spirit, letting Him lead. As I remember that He is the Great Teacher, the Great Helper, I rest in the arms of the One who also teaches and helps me. I find peace.

I would like to conclude with Charlotte’s own words from Home Education, pages 343-344, as she encourages parents in their efforts to bring their children into the knowledge of God, though their attempts are no more than that of the bumbling bee.

The Parent must present the idea of God to the Soul of the Child. — But this holy mystery, this union and communion of God and the soul, how may human parents presume to meddle with it? What can they do? How can they promote it? and is there not every risk that they may lay rude hands upon the ark? In the first place, it does not rest with the parent to choose whether he will or will not attempt to quicken and nourish this divine life in his child. To do so this is his bounden duty and service. If he neglect or fail in this, I am not sure how much it matters that he has fulfilled his duties in the physical, moral and mental culture of his child, except in so far as the child is the fitter for the divine service should the divine life be awakened in him. But what can the parent do? Just this, and no more: he can present the idea of God to the soul of the child. Here, as throughout his universe, Almighty God works by apparently inadequate means. Who would say that a bee can produce apple trees? Yet a bee flies from an apple tree laden with the pollen of its flowers: this it unwittingly deposits on the stigmas of the flowers of the next tree it comes to. The bee goes, but the pollen remains, but with all the length of the style between it and the immature ovule below. That does not matter; the ovule has no power to reach the pollen grain, but the latter sends forth a slender tube, within the tube of the style; the ovule is reached; behold, then, the fruit, with its seed, and, if you like, future apple trees! Accept the parable: the parent is little better in this matter than the witless bee; it is his part to deposit, so to speak, within reach of the soul of the child some fruitful idea of God; the immature soul makes no effort towards that idea, but the living Word reaches down, touches the soul, — and there is life; growth and beauty, flower and fruit.

Joy Shannon is a homeschooling mom who is extremely thankful to have found Charlotte Mason six years ago at the outset of her family’s homeschooling journey. Along with her husband, Wes, Joy is learning to “spread the feast” before her three children, ages 15, 13 and 9. Her goal is to implement Charlotte Mason’s educational approach more fully each year. She enjoys spending time reading, gardening, hanging out on the AO Forum and talking about Dear Charlotte.

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