CM on the Value of Math and Grammar

Dear Reader,

In my previous post on the Sacred and Secular in Education, I talked about how we make our children’s educations Christian and even if we need to. It is easy to see for some subjects, such as science and history, how what one believes makes a difference. But it can harder to see the bigger picture for more mundane subjects like math and grammar. Most of us would never think of dropping these subject, but perhaps we think of them as necessary evils we must toil through? I think they are some of the areas most likely to generate busy work and to make us say “you just have to know it; that’s why.”

But in her second volume, Parents and Children, Charlotte Mason gives us some reasons for doing math and grammar:

“We ask ourselves, ‘Is there any fruitful idea underlying this or that study that the children are engaged in?’ . . . and a ‘subject’ which does not rise out of some great thought of life we usually reject as not nourishing, not fruitful; while we usually, but not invariably, retain those studies which give exercises in habits of clear and orderly thinking. We have some gymnastics of the mind whose object is to exercise what we call faculties as well as to train in the habit of clear and ordered thinking. Mathematics, grammar, logic, etc., are not purely disciplinary; they do develop, if a bull may be allowed intellectual muscle. We by no means reject the familiar staples of education, in the school sense, but we prize them even more for the record of intellectual habits they leave in the brain tissue than for their distinct value in developing certain ‘faculties.'” [Parents and Children (Seven Treasures Publications, 2009) p. 116]

One wonders if Charlotte was accused by some of neglecting these staples of education. Her main point, I think, is that these often rote subjects like math and grammar have real value for training the mind in orderly thinking. They fall, then, under the category of habit training. Just as one of the benefits of nature study is to train the powers of observation so mathematical thought trains one to think in an ordered fashion.


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