So I have made the statement to a few people lately that I feel Charlotte Mason’s educational philosophy is very biblical. So now I feel I should take some time to explain what I mean by this. I don’t mean that doing copywork and narration in your homeschool is the only biblical way to go. I am not really speaking of the procedures of homeschooling when I make this statement. I do try to follow a lot of Miss Mason’s practices and I think they naturally flow out of her philosophy, but they are not the most important thing to me.
When I first heard f Miss Mason’s approach I thought it was all about copywork and such and it did not appeal to me. It was when I heard more of her theory that her ideas began to win me over. Now I would say that to say that Charlotte Mason schooling is all about narration is like saying that Calvinism is all about predestination. It is not. Those things, narration or predestination, are just outworkings of the underlying principles. In Calvinism, it is the sovereignty of God. In Charlotte Masonism it is this basic idea: children are born persons.
That may not sound radical, but I think it is. What this means to me is that our kids, from before birth, have their own standing before God. They are responsible to Him. They are called to worship and serve Him. And they are being shaped by Him. We need to not prevent them or keep them from those things (which is often done by separating them out from the rest of God’s people). And we need to not stand in His way as He works in them. God chooses to work through parents in shaping children. But we are not His only tool. Sometimes we need to step back and let Him work. We cannot compel our children to learn any more than we can force them to be saved. Miss Mason speaks of the Holy Spirit as the giver of all knowledge and insight (whether to believers or non-believers). We can present them with material, just as we present them with food, but we cannot force them to take it in. Even the “secular” knowledge they absorb is work of the Holy Spirit in them (and Miss Mason would say there is really no such thing as secular knowledge; all knowledge comes from Him).
Which brings me to the second part of what I think “children are born persons” means. They are complete. They have much to learn certainly. They are not fully developed, but all the basic capacities they need are there. They have consciences, a sense of justice, the ability to reason, an imagination, a sense of beauty, and an immense ability to take in the world and learn from it. In fact, in many of these areas they are superior to adults. They need training, of course, and they need to hone their abilities, but there is nothing inherently lacking in them that they will grow as adults. When it comes to their consciences, many children are, I think, better off than many adults. Though their sense of right and wrong needs training, it is often works better than that of an older person whose conscience has been mistrained or dulled.
So too are they born with the ability to reason. The classical mode of education sounds a lot like Charlotte Mason’s on the surface. Both use copywork and living books. But in this area of the faculties, I think the classical style goes wrong. It says that young kids should memorize and deal with facts. Argument and logic are saved until they are older. This does not fit the character I see in children at all. They ask “why” from a very young age. And they are able to reason. I think my oldest was four when he first out-logicked me. So we need not wait to give kids a good educational diet. Charlotte Mason speaks of ideas, and not dry facts, being the food of the mind that we lay out before them.
All this boils down to one thing, I think: children are made in the image of God. It is not something they grow into as they become older and wiser like us.
But then there is the flip-side: children are fallen creatures, just like we are. Unschooling recognizes that children learn for themselves (rather than us forcing information into them), but it misses this key point. That just as a child might be happy to eat candy all day if we let him, so he would be happy to fill his mind with worthless things (what Miss Mason calls “twaddle”) if that is the diet we always put before him. We need to present him with good, healthy intellectual food so that he will develop a taste for it.
We are all a delicate balance of these two things: the image of God in faulty vessels. I think Charlotte Mason’s philosophy incorporates both these aspects. It also acknowledges the great work that God is doing in our children and that it is primarily His work and not ours. That is why I think her philosophy is biblical. I don’t care so much if we all end up doing daily dictation exercises. That is not as important as just starting with a right view of children.