Charlotte Mason's Foundational Principles - A Discussion from Vol. 6

From C. Mason’s Towards a Philosophy of Education, Volume 6: A Review

Peoria Area CM Study Group monthly meeting discussions

A Short Synopsis; Book I: Introduction; Chapter 1, Self Education         September 2011

A Short Synopsis

“The consequence of truth is great; therefore the judgment of it must not be negligent.” Whichcote

 1. Children are born persons – We must always return to this point in our evaluation. Most folks, on the surface, would adamantly agree with this statement, yet our actions - our methods, must always reflect this idea. Further discussion of what this really means to come in Ch. 2, but to establish a more clear understanding to start, we want to remember Charlotte Mason’s teaching regarding children being persons. They are created in the image of God by the creator himself with a mind that needs “mind food” – the nourishment of ideas directly dealt with mind to mind. This is to say that children are not sacks to be filled or matter to be molded into what we would make them or have them be – not an object to be manipulated (When Children Love to Learn, pg. 57). The teacher is not the imparter of all knowledge (whew ;-)) nor the interpreter of ideas for a child. Our job is to prepare the banquet table with a feast of nourishing food to present to the child - he takes as he wills and his mind will choose what is fit (his mind is presented with it all – a liberal education – and deals with the ideas – NOT that he gets to choose only from the dessert buffet if he desires :-0).

2. Good & bad nature… Be careful not to misinterpret the terms Miss Mason uses or the implications that might follow. C.S. Lewis, in chapter 4 of Mere Christianity, delivers what might be a very close explanation of the same idea Miss Mason is expressing here that might have some more familiar terms. Also, “And here we begin to see the reality of the child as both image-bearer and fallen creation – both exist at the same time in the life of the child from beginning to end – Gen. 8:21; Prov. 4:23; Rom. 1:18-32 (When Children Love to Learn, pg. 59).  

3. Authority & obedience – expounded in ch. 3.  

4. Limits b/c of personality of child

5. THEREFORE, (I) 3 instruments of education (IA) atmosphere, (IB) discipline, (IC) life.

6. (IA) atmosphere – here is where there is a contrast with some areas of Montessori philosophy. Underline the words natural and proper conditions. If you are old enough to remember, think more like Mr. Rogers J.

7. (IB) discipline – habits formed definitely and thoughtfully.

8. (IC) life – Underline here… The mind feeds on ideas, and therefore children should have a generous curriculum.

9. Proper diet of mind is knowledge – see ramblings under 1.

10. Ibid.

11. Knowledge proper to him… vital… that facts are not presented without their informing ideas.

12. “Education is the Science of Relations” (II) – a child has natural relations with a vast number of things and thoughts:

13. knowledge - much, varied, literary.

14. Narration!

15. Habit of attention!

16. Way of the will (1) & way of reason (2)

17. (1)

18. (2)

19. See 16-18 – see taught, teach & taught respectively listed in these points. Underline, star, bold, etc… * the chief responsibility which rests on (the student) as persons is the acceptance or rejection of ideas.*

20. This is about Worldview – what you believe about reality and truth determines how you act.

Book 1: Introduction

I. This whole first paragraph works backward into that Worldview concept. The next couple of paragraphs discuss and refute the ideas of materialism as an educational philosophy and utilitarian education. Some discussion of Darwinist thought and Locke as well as others from philosophy & “brain” vs. “mind” – suggested reading: 7 Men Who Rule the World From the Grave and The Consequence of Ideas. 

II. Transitions from those more recent examples to Charlotte Mason’s philosophy of education - specifically that the scholar not the teacher is responsible for the work; students must do the work themselves. Next comes the idea of facts vs. knowledge & that learning is not in the modern sense “delight directed” but instead “serves for delight”. This is the idea that, though some particular subject may not be the student’s particular interest, the subject can be interesting. Underline “Whereby Teachers Shall Teach Less and Scholars Shall Learn More”.

III. It follows that the children will then have, as adults, many interests and will continue in that pursuit. Next, the manipulations of instructive teachers through various methods generally “hinder” rather than help as “the mind of a child takes or rejects according to its needs” and “that only becomes knowledge to a person which he has assimilated, which his mind has acted upon”. The next whole section discusses more of the “laws of the mind” – attention & retention, reading to know, literary form, interesting vs. interested, narration as an act of the mind with a mention of the ideas of the Socratic method that are produced naturally by the scholar. The mind naturally acts and children are born persons with the same desire of knowledge common to all. This demands for the children that liberal education. Here then, CM “methodizes the whole” into an applied philosophy of education. This is where it fits together and one of the reasons to go right back to the basis of a CM philosophy – the child is born a person – and see if the methods employed reflect that. Charlotte’s proposed methods flow from her philosophy. So really, you can’t truly have a CM education if you aren’t employing CM methods. There is in her own words “no adhering to a ‘more or less’” application and expect the same results. The principles and practices are important. (I think that it is important to point out that, in experience, a CM understanding develops; this is not something to read all about and then just do; it takes time to assimilate the ideas and evaluate our methods to bring them more in line with the philosophy. Some of it may already be there from the beginning in our approach to our children and we just need to see how it applies to education. Then sometimes in our evaluations, we see the disconnect and need to regroup. That is okay. Really, there are a lot of things in play here – no one is a purist in that we have it all down!) What is a great thing to keep in front of us regarding education is one of the last lines: … stability of mind and magnanimity of character are the proper outcome and unfailing test of a LIBERAL EDUCATION.

Book 1: Chapter 1, Self Education

Chapter 1 begins with the distinction of the Charlotte Mason “point of view”. The trend in education of training may be desirable yet the outward application and activities do not produce effect upon the character and conduct of the student. Because of the central belief of the child being a person and a living being, all external applications do not promote inward growth. Miss Mason goes on to greatly disparage the analogy of a garden plant. Obviously disliking the interfering gardener character and despising the disrespect in disregarding the plant’s lack of personality and the sacred one of the child.
Miss Mason’s philosophy also looks at the “parallel behavior” of the body & mind and the needs for nourishment and growth. The mind is considered in the entirety of a spiritual nature – not just religion, but everything that encompasses one other than the body – thought, intellect, personality, emotion, spirituality, soul. The mind must also have what is needed for nourishment and growth. No “casual diet of ideas” that is meager and poor for proper health – quantity (square meals) is as important as quality. Miss Mason invites us to CONSIDER things and that action will follow thought. For example, first, CONSIDER the ideas that influence life, that character & conduct and how they are received from mind to mind. Thought begets thought… just as the body, the mind must do the work of digesting or it ceases to function properly. Our job is to provide this in quality & quantity. Yet the student’s dependence is not on the teacher but should be “largely self-educated”. The motive should be upon the desire of learning not grades or other manipulated misuse of personality (discussed in chapter 4). She tells us that we underestimate children, specifically with regards to their intellect. She mentions the idea of ‘Education as the Science of Relations’ determines the program/curriculum.

I ended our time with a couple of things for us to CONSIDER :-). 

1. First, what are the ideas that influence life? (HINT: think worldview)

2. Second, how do our plans/programs/curricula/methods reflect the philosophy of the Child as a Person and also employ Education as a Science of Relations?