As I’ve mentioned several times, I am posting short updates on my discoveries from reading the original work of Charlotte Mason. Her first volume, entitled Home Education, starts with a chapter discussing ‘Some Preliminary Considerations’. Here, she lays the foundation for much of what follows, and as with everything I have read so far, does so with a clarity and wisdom which is still highly relevant today.
She first talks about the differences between what she terms a ‘method’ and a ‘system’. A system is in some ways easier – a legalistic list of prescribed tasks which themselves become more important than the end which they seek to accomplish. However, the method is all-encompassing, and seems to address the pattern outlined in Deuteronomy Chapter 6 where parents are encouraged to talk with their children at many opportunities throughout a day of normal life, and use these opportunities to give glory to God. (Some of our major reasons for choosing to home educate). ‘The parent will...make use of every circumstance of the child’s life almost without intention on his own part, so easy and spontaneous is a method of education based upon Natural Law. Does the child eat or drink, does he come, or go, or play – all the time he is being educated, though he is as little aware of it as he is of the act of breathing’. On the one hand, it is a gentle and spontaneous method, but on the other hand, does not necessarily appeal to ‘the sluggishness of human nature, to which any definite scheme is more agreeable than the constant watchfulness, the unforeseen action, called for when the whole of a child’s existence is to be used as the means of his education’.
Much of Charlotte’s preliminary considerations as to the foundation for her method of education rest on the words of Christ Himself regarding the importance of, and the correct attitude towards children. ‘Take heed that ye OFFEND not – DESPISE not – HINDER not – one of these little ones’... She then unpacks just what it means to offend, despise or hinder a child, and this makes for very interesting reading. ‘We offend them when we do by them that which we ought not to have done; we despise them when we leave undone those things which, for their sakes, we ought to have done’. I was particularly interested as she unpacked what it might mean to despise a child. ‘To have a low opinion of, to undervalue.’ ‘If the mother did not undervalue her child, would she leave him to the society of an ignorant nursemaid during the early years when his whole nature is, like the photographer’s sensitive plate, receiving momentary indelible impressions?’ ‘Many a child leaves the nursery with his moral sense blunted, and with an alienation from his heavenly Father which may last his lifetime.’
‘The most fatal way of despising the child falls under the third educational law of the Gospels; it is to overlook and make light of his natural relationship with Almighty God’. She discusses some of the things which have challenged me greatly, regarding how even the youngest of infants can clearly have a relationship with God that is not fully understood by their elders.
Her preliminary considerations convey some of the most fundamental truths regarding education – all knowledge and understanding relate to the God who created the world, everything within it, all knowledge and intelligence, every gift that education seeks to develop. These are things seldom discussed in modern education, especially not that which is found in the mainstream sector. One could argue that such schools and methods entirely miss the most important point of all. Charlotte Mason started with the right foundation, building upon it as with gold, silver and other precious stones. I believe the Lord will prove her work to be that which brings Him lasting honour.