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Rewording of Charlotte Mason’s 20 Principles- Part II

Part I of this series was begun so long ago, and yet I still receive requests to continue! I must admit, part of the reason I haven’t moved on in this series is because I’ve been stumped about how to handle the following section. I feel inadequate to the task to flesh out what Dear Charlotte gifts us to use for our little ones’ education. But I will do my best and I ask that you discuss freely in the comments!

To continue our discussion of dear Charlotte’s 20 Principles, we’ll look at what we CAN do to teach our children. I don’t know about you, but after reading all the ‘thou shalt nots’ of number 4, I wondered what was possibly left! Thankfully, Charlotte gives us some really excellent thoughts about how to best teach our littles.

5. The only means a teacher may use to educate children are the child’s natural environment, the training of good habits and exposure to living ideas and concepts. This is what CM’s motto “Education is an atmosphere, a discipline, a life” means.

So here are the three weapons in the Charlotte Mason educational arsenal; environment, habits, ideas. Three simple, powerful ways parents can influence their children toward education. A more detailed of each follows.

6. “Education is an atmosphere” doesn’t mean that we should create an artificial environment for children, but that we use the opportunities in the environment he already lives in to educate him. Children learn from real things in the real world.

In my mind, this point of educational philosophy is placed squarely in the parents’ laps. This isn’t about what a parent can ‘work up’ to create a child-centered atmosphere- imagine preschools where the environment has been carefully engineered to be childish- instead, this point sees that child as an appropriate part of the existing environment. And the existing environment of the home is the exact right place for education to take place.

What are our homes like? What would an ideal environment look like? I believe that Charlotte is advocating for an environment that is rich in things an educated *person* (not simply child) should have a relationship with. In my mind’s eye, I’m envisioning a garden filled with flowers, vegetables and herbs to be tended, handled, prepared and consumed- so the child is not only learning *about* the plants, but is also learning about the *life* of the plants. I see a library that is full of living books that speak with the voice of the author- here the child meets them one by one and spends many an hour ‘discussing’ their stories and views of the world. Here, too, the child brings the authors together to compare and contrast their ideas and then, to add his or her own. I see a telescope, an abacus, walls filled with maps, pets to tend, instruments to play, and friends to pray with and to enjoy.

Daybreak 2007

The environment in which we rear our child should be nourishing- emotionally, spiritually, educationally. We should fill our lives with the things and experiences that draw us to a deeper place in our community, ourselves, our God.

M.F. Jerrold once wrote in the Parents National Education Union newsletter, “…there is nothing in the way of direct teaching that will ever have so wide and lasting effect as the atmosphere of the home… the atmosphere emanates from ourselves- literally is ourselves; our children live in it and breathe it and what we are is thus incorporated into them.”

There was never a scarier or more wonderful thing written concerning how we may educate our children. Being the living, breathing example we wish our kids to follow is one powerful way to educate them. Allowing them to see us being self-disciplined, kind, interested in the world, curious, loving, humble, happy, thankful, careful- just letting them see good things in us- is one third of a Charlotte Mason style education.

But that means that the opposite is also true- our laziness, stinginess, apathy, pride, callousness, anger, discontent, carelessness- all these things may ALSO be a part of what our children are breathing in (gulp!).

Let’s start with an honest appraisal of our children’s environment, our educational atmosphere. Then, let’s continue with prayer and seek the Lord to help us in the areas we are weak. Let’s not get stuck in guilt and shame over the things we struggle with- let’s instead allow our children to see us admitting our sin & the places we fail. This is a good lesson for our children to learn.

7. “Education is a discipline” means that we train a child to have good habits and self-control.

Here is Charlotte’s expression for the need for order. One of my favorite new ideas is ordo amoris (discovered via one of my favorite blogs of the same name) which was described by C.S. Lewis (in the Abolition of Man) thusly:

“St Augustine defines virtue as ordo amoris, the ordinate condition of the affections in which every object is accorded that kind of degree of love which is appropriate to it.Aristotle says that the aim of education is to make the pupil like and dislike what he ought. When the age for reflective thought comes, the pupil who has been thus trained in ‘ordinate affections’ or ‘just sentiments’ will easily find the first principles in Ethics; but to the corrupt man they will never be visible at all and he can make no progress in that science. Plato before him had said the same. The little human animal will not at first have the right responses. It must be trained to feel pleasure, liking, disgust, and hatred at those things which really are pleasant, likeable, disgusting and hateful.”

I believe that likening education to a discipline means setting all things in their proper order- facts, experiences, and relationships. Our first discipline is a right relationship with God- our relationship with *everything* else is determined by this primary discipline being in the right place. When this first discipline is in place, we can rightly discern everything else- astronomy flows *from* God and points back to Him; Algebra comes *from* God and reflects back to Him; Poetry comes *from* God and reflects back to Him.

So, as parents, we acknowledge the need for good discipline- good order- in our lives. And we assist our children to create good discipline/habits from childhood to assist them as they discover ordo amoris in their own lives. So we help them practice simple disciplines- obedience to parents, making the bed each morning, completing a task well and thoroughly.

But, to me, this isn’t only about what we love most, it’s about the process of discerning what is most worthy of our love. So our children walk the pathways with various authors, listening to their ideas, studying the impact of those ideas on history and then comparing both to what they know is right. For our children who have discovered God’s primary place in his/her world, they will be comparing the ideas to scripture. For our children who have not discovered God’s primary place, they will be comparing the ideas to the vein of man’s morality. Either way, they are gaining the discipline of weighing the *worth* of an idea- as adults do.

8. “Education is a life” means that education should apply to body, soul and spirit. The mind needs ideas of all kinds, so the child’s curriculum should be varied and generous with many subjects included.

Education is not only what is learned in books. Education is discipleship. Education is child rearing. So, then, education is the sum of the life we give to our children. It’s the books we read, the math problems we solve, the garden we tend, the courses we run, the instruments we play, the cultural events we attend, the church we serve in- EACH of these together are the sum of education. Just as a child needs a well-rounded diet for proper physical health, a child needs a well-rounded set of experiences and exposures for educational health. So a child needs books and art and exercise and a chance to work. All the many things that we call ‘life’ are, indeed, education and come together to inform the child about the world we all live in and his place in it.

We see the value of our child ‘tasting’ many different dishes so s/he may discover what kinds of food are most to his/her liking. So we spend time exploring as many kinds of ideas & experiences as we can knowing that our child will begin making the connections that are appropriate to him. This *life* is not about memorizing rote facts for the sake of knowing rote facts, but is about discovering one’s individual gifts and talents. As our children discover aptitudes and affinities, s/he is also discovering callings to service and his/her own path to wholeness. And isn’t that the real goal of education? To adequately prepare a child to pursue passions, to live independently and to serve well?

Well, my friends, I certainly hope the post has been worth the wait! And I hope to continue the series sooner rather than later. I look forward to hearing your thoughts on these points!

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Rewording of Charlotte Mason’s 20 Principles- Part I

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:

Each child is unique and is born with the innate ability to become exactly who God has called her to be...

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.

Loving parents value their child's view of the world...

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…

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