BY LAURA WITTEN
Eight years ago the ‘soul’ of a class of children in a mining village school awoke simultaneously at this magic touch and has remained awake. We know that religion can awaken souls, that love makes a new man, that the call of a vocation may do it, and in the age of the Renaissance, men’s souls, the general soul, awoke to knowledge: but this appeal rarely reaches the modern soul; and, notwithstanding the pleasantness attending lessons and marks in all our schools, I believe the ardour for knowledge in the children of this mining village is a phenomenon that indicates new possibilities. Already many thousands of the children of the Empire had experienced this intellectual conversion, but they were the children of educated persons. To find that the children of a mining population were equally responsive seemed to open a new hope for the world. It may be that the souls of all children are waiting for the call of knowledge to awaken them to delightful living.Charlotte Mason (Philosophy of Education, p. xxv)
Hoity-toity tea times. Children sitting in straight-backed chairs, dressed up and hair perfectly done, listening to Bach in the drawing room. A governess striding about, lecturing about a piece of art or the virtues of a literary figure in the library. The mother ordering servants about while reclining on a chaise lounge. When I think the education of a rich elite in England, this is what I picture in my mind.
From the pictures some use on some book covers and blogs, you might think that this is what Charlotte Mason was aiming for with her educational philosophy. But to my relief, it simply isn’t so!
[A]ll classes must be educated and sit down to these things of the mind as they do to their daily bread. History must afford its pageants, science its wonders, literature its intimacies, philosophy its speculations, religion its assurances to every man, and his education must have prepared him for wanderings in these realms of gold.Philosophy of Education, p. 43
Charlotte believed in education for every person, both genders and all ages. She was the leader of the Liberal Education for All movement of her day. In fact, the original title of Volume 6 was An Essay Towards a Philosophy of Education: a liberal education for all. None excluded due to lack of funds or the atrocious child-labor laws of her day.
Bringing her philosophy of education into the present day should not lose this essential belief! Sure, elite private schools and boarding schools could (and should, in my humble opinion) follow the CM way. So can cottage schools, home schools, church-based schools, and inner city schools.
What?! Yes, inner city schools. I believe that would be her radical stance in today’s world. Even those from broken homes with older siblings in a gang, the foster children in group-homes, those with learning challenges, can benefit from a Charlotte Mason education.
We do not talk about developing his faculties, training his moral nature, guiding his religious feelings, educating him with a view to his social standing or his future calling. The joys of ‘child-study’ are not for us. We take the child for granted, or rather, we take him as we find him — a person with an enormous number of healthy affinities, embryo attachments; and we think it is our chief business to give him a chance to make the largest possible number of these attachments valid [by exposing him to as many things as possible].School Education, pg 186
Each person will take what he is able from the feast spread before him. She will grow with the living thoughts presented in books and from nature itself. Doesn’t it sound heavenly? (And it really is!)
The beauty of a CM school isn’t in the system. Systems are restrictive and rule-bound, and ignore the person. The beauty is in the method, the wholeness, the respecting of the persons in each class. The Charlotte Mason way allows each child to develop at his own pace, yet doesn’t restrict his access to great thoughts.
Children’s aptitude for knowledge and their eagerness for it made for the conclusion that the field of a child’s knowledge may not be artificially restricted, that he has a right to and necessity for as much and as varied knowledge as he is able to receive; and that the limitations in his curriculum should depend only upon the age at which he must leave school; in a word, a common curriculum (up to the age of say, fourteen or fifteen) appears to be due to all children.
We have left behind the feudal notion that intellect is a class prerogative, that intelligence is a matter of inheritance and environment; inheritance, no doubt, means much but everyone has a very mixed inheritance; environment makes for satisfaction or uneasiness, but education is of the spirit and is not to be taken in by the eye or effected by the hand; mind appeals to mind and thought begets thought and that is how we become educated.Philosophy of Education, p. 12
How does CM look in my non-rich, non-elite home? I use AmblesideOnline for my starting point, and the PUS time-tables. I use copywork and math programs that are on his level — challenging but (hopefully) not tear-inducing. My son has learning difficulties — sensory processing disorder, possible dyslexia and eye tracking issues.
At home, he is allowed to be himself. I do my best to respect his personhood while challenging him to grow, bit by bit. I read everything aloud at this point (4th grade, using AO 3.5). He is doing math below grade level, just a little each day. In copywork, he is learning cursive and not nearly as much as others his age. Should I not read him the best books that AO has selected because they are “too hard” for him to read on his own, and he might not understand every sentence? No!!!
His narration and listening skills can continue to improve at one pace, while the other skills can grow at another pace. No holding him back until his reading is up to par. Instead of easy readers, he hears the beautiful classics that will fill his mind with adventure and virtues.
It is about respecting who he is. I don’t quit on the hard stuff, but I don’t act like his life is a failure until he hits certain milestones, either.
We must have some measure of a child’s requirements, not based upon his uses to society, nor upon the standard of the world he lives in, but upon his own capacity and needs. We would not willingly educate him towards what is called ‘self-expression’; he has little to express except what he has received as knowledge, whether by way of record or impression; what he can do is to assimilate and give this forth in a form which is original because it is modified, re-created, by the action of his own mind; and this originality is produced by the common bread and milk which is food for everyone, acting upon the mind which is peculiar to each individual child.Philosophy of Education, pp. 65-66
Not to say that a CM education full of the riches wouldn’t be easier if we were monetarily rich as well! There are opportunities we must miss, places we can’t go, things we just can’t do due to time or money constraints. But with a CM education, we can make the most of the resources we do have — cheap, free or local!
If the masses know ‘Sancho Panza,’ Elsinore, ‘Excalibur,’ ‘Rosinante,’ ‘Mrs. Jellaby,’ redstart, ‘Bevis,’ bogbean, the classes must know these things too with easy intimacy. … What we want is a common basis of thought, such a ground work as we get from having read the same books, grown familiar with the same pictures, the same musical compositions, the same interests; when we have such a fundamental basis, we shall be able to speak to each other whether in public speaking or common talk; we shall “all hear in our own tongue the wonderful works of God” because we have learned a common speech through those who in their books have lived to educate the race. And how persuasively shall we speak to those who know, and therefore do not present the dead front of opposition the natural resource of ignorance!Philosophy of Education, pp. 264-265
If you are interested in reading more about Miss Mason’s work with poor children, please read the article Charlotte Mason and the Nation’s Children by H.W. Household.
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