The longer I live with dear Charlotte and steep in her words and wisdom, the more I realize I have to learn. A Charlotte Mason style education is not an easy thing to grasp. It is not easily explainable in just a few words or a blurb in a homeschooling magazine. I’ve been studying Charlotte’s ideas for about three years now and I still feel like I’ve barely scratched the surface! When her ideas capture us, we must have patience with ourselves and enact her methods as we understand them and see their value in our families.
However, Leslie Noelani, one of the wonderful moderators at Ambleside Online, took it upon herself to reword Charlotte’s ’20 Principles’ for the modern reader. These 20 concepts were listed in the front of each book Charlotte published (she wrote many) and give us a very good overview of her philosophy. This is very different than methodology, which we’ve been discussing in our ‘Wonders of the Last Sea’ threads. Anyone can take a book list and take a string of methods and put them into practice. What makes a Masonian education, in my opinion, is an internal agreement with Charlotte’s reasons for choosing those books, for using that method. The thought process and belief system behind the methodology give life to the method. I’ve been thinking through these lately and have been deeply impacted- again- by the depth of the insight dear Charlotte had concerning education. Well, let us begin:
1. Children are born persons – they are not blank slates or embyonic oysters who have the potential of becoming persons. They already are persons.
Let that sink in a moment, let it rest in your mind. Are the implications of such a statement becoming clear? That children are people, with thoughts, needs, desires, opinions, hopes, fears, and dreams is a revolutuonary thought- even in our modern time! This is the entire basis for the Attachment Parenting movement around the world- that children are people whose needs should be respected. This is far more than an educational theory- this impacts to the very core what it means to be human; it colors our ideas of who deserves to be treated as I would like to be treated as our Master commanded us. If my child is a sentient being- a person- then she deserves intellectual respect (in addition to every other kind of consideration). This means that I cannot assume that she has no ability to think until I teach her to do so or until I fill her mind with tons of facts so she has something ‘worthwhile’ to say. As Dr. Suess wrote, “A person’s a person, no matter how small”. Indeed.
This fundamental respect for the child is the basis upon which the other nineteen Principles are founded.
2. Although children are born with a sin nature, they are neither all bad, nor all good. Children from all walks of life and backgrounds may make choices for good or evil.
As I said above, these Principles are more than educational theory- these describe a basic world-view. This is why it is so diffucult to explain what a Masonian education is- we can describe what it looks like (methodology), but describing the inspiration means digging into the very way we see the world, our most basic beliefs about people, our nature and our possibilities.
In this second point, Charlotte is reminding us that each child we deal with is a fallen being, BUT is a fallen being with hope. Any of us, no matter who we are, have failed. We have sinned and have done horrendous wrong. But we are also capable of great good and compassion. In Jesus, we all have potential to be better than we are on our own. I think this statement also calls to mind the idea that there is no kind of education that is unattainable for anyone. The meanest street urchin in Brazil can make a choice for good regardless of his background- his potential, in Jesus, is not limited by his past. Also, the most privledged child may have the greediest bent. Origen does not portend destiny.
3. The concepts of authority and obedience are true for all people whether they accept it or not. Submission to authority is necessary for any society or group or family to run smoothly.
God has ordered the universe. He has ordered the planets to revolve, He has ordered the flower to grow, He has ordered parents to raise their children lovingly and has ordered that those children heed the authority of their parents. We, every one of us, exist under authority, even if we disregard it. God is Master, Jesus is King. Due to His kindness, some of us turn and acknowledge this relationship of ‘Ruler’ over ‘ruled’. But He has passed on that authority to parents as well. We are to reflect the Lord to our children- both His love and His authority. Just how we do this depends in large amount on how we personally perceive God.
In my family, we see both His lovingkindness and gentleness and His awesomeness and fearsome-ness. He is our dear Savior, our Brother, our Father and our Friend, but He is also the Holy One, The Alpha and Omega, the great I AM. We can be perfectly safe, secure and loved, and yet understand that our God will not be mocked. Because God is nuanced in His relationship to us, we try to be similarly balanced with our children- free and ample with laughter and praise and grace, but firm where we believe it is needed.
4. Authority is not a license to abuse children, or to play upon their emotions or other desires, and adults are not free to limit a child’s education or use fear, love, power of suggestion, or their own influence over a child to make a child learn.
There’s just so much to unwrap in this statement! We are not to: ‘abuse‘- children are not to be belittled, criticized or bullied into compliance; ‘play upon emotions or other desires’– we can not manipulate our children using rewards or promises to obtain their cooperation; ‘limits– we are not to decide when our children have had enough education. They must pursue their God-given educational inclinations and abilities to their furthest extent. This says to me, we should not be teaching our children that they only need ‘so much’ education and that will be good enough for their adult life. God instills the desire to learn in children, we must not come between that desire and the fulfillment of that desire because God has determined for that child what & how much s/he needs to know; ‘use fear’– children should not be concerned about punishments or reprecussions for not attending to lessons, nor should they fear that they will not be allowed to learn unless they are completely compliant; ‘use love’– so often, I’ve heard people say that a child will do something if you only love them enough. What they are really saying is that the child will feel guilty if that thing is not done due to his love for the parent. Our love for our children should not be manipulated as a means to an end. Love is too pure a Person to be used to gain compliance; ‘power of suggestion’– I think this has to do with being an intermediary between the child and the Great Thought in the material being studied. We are not to direct a child toward a particluar interpretation of the work in question. We are to encourage the child to think his own thoughts and to support them from the work itself…
I believe that the basic two thoughts being communicated to us by dear Charlotte above are that 1) Kids have been created to learn and are pre-wired to do so according to their particular, God-given programming, and that 2) we shouldn’t try to force them to learn in any specific way.
In the next part of this series, we’ll discuss what parents CAN do, according to dear Charlotte, to help their little one’s learn…