A Varied Education

Dear Reader,

The upcoming Charlotte Mason Blog Carnival is on Charlotte’s 13th principle which reads as follows:

“In devising a SYLLABUS for a normal child, of whatever social
class, three points must be considered:
(a) He requires much knowledge, for the mind needs sufficient food as much as does the
(b) The knowledge should be various, for sameness in mental diet does not create appetite (i.e., curiosity)
(c) Knowledge should be communicated in well-chosen language, because his attention
responds naturally to what is conveyed in literary form.”

[“CM’s 20 Principles,” from Ambleside Online]

The part of this that really stands out to me is the second point, that the child requires a varied educational diet. In my own homeschool this year, I find that we are covering around nine subjects a day apart from the work my children do independently like their math and foreign language. It sounds like a lot, doesn’t it? But many of these nine take just 5-10 minutes each. We might for instance read a poem and briefly discuss it or do our map drill or analyze the grammar of a sentence or two. Other subjects like history and science, of course, take a little longer.

But what I really want to emphasize today is why this varied diet, particularly a diet that includes things like art, music and poetry, is important. This is an idea that I am afraid our society is losing sight of. I recently read an article in Scientific American in which the two major presidential candidates were asked their views of various subjects including education. The question was why is America falling behind in math and science and how can we remedy this situation. President Obama’s answer used the acronym “STEM” six times. STEM stands for science, technology, engineering, and math. You see, the answer for him was that we need more teachers trained in these areas to improve education in these areas.

I think Charlotte Mason would have had a very different answer. The whole point of a varied educational diet is that one area alone is not sufficient. To concentrate on one thing leads to eccentricity. Charlotte believed in being balanced. President Obama talks about innovation because really that is our goal, isn’t it? We want to be educated in these areas so we can stay the world leader in new technologies and science. But innovation implies creativity. It is about thinking of things no one has thought of before. And for creativity, it is even more important not to be focused just on one area. Creativity happens when we make connections no one else has made before. And in order to make those connections, we  must have relationships with many different things. We must have a wide foundation of learning to draw from. And even as we grow and mature, we must keep feeding that font of ideas inside us.

I have a friend who truly does not understand the value of art. She feels that it is something she “ought” to teach her kids, but she doesn’t know why. Personally, I feel art and music and poetry and literature  have value in their own right. They communicate ideas and teach us about ourselves, each other, and our Creator. But they also have value for other areas. Without them, we risk becoming intellectually flat, two-dimensional if you will. These “extra” subjects expand our minds, they give us new ideas and help us learn to look at things in new ways.

So I won’t deny that the American educational system needs some help (we, after all, have opted out of it), but I don’t think the answer is to expand education in one area only. Rather, we need to provide a high quality, varied education that does not neglect any area. I would prefer children who are decent at math and science but have relations with a wide range of subjects to ones who are excellent in those two areas but have little acquaintance with the rest of the intellectual world. Public schools have exhibited a tendency to cut out more and more extracurriculars like art and gym when really these are the things we need to keep our students alive and growing.


5 responses to this post.

  1. Reblogged this on homeschoolingmiddleeast and commented:
    I absolutely agree with this post by Nebby. Kids/the future generation needs a varied educational diet which will help them imagine and create their way out of the challenges they will face – be they technological or other challenges. Too much focus on the STEM subjects won’t, contrary to popular opinion, help them do this. What do you think?


  2. You wrote: “Creativity happens when we make connections no one else has made before. And in order to make those connections, we must have relationships with many different things.”

    I completely agree with this! And to use CM’s analogy of feasting, who wants to eat only one thing at feast? The variety is what makes a feast fulfilling, memorable, enjoyable.

    Thank you for participating in the CM Carnival…and for writing on topic! 🙂 Great post.


  3. […] is not always said aloud the result is that other subjects like the humanities are neglected (see this post and this one and this one). In conversations with homeschoolers, the relevant topic is usually […]


  4. […] colors as possible. The food for the mind is similar. Variety is good. It allows creativity (see this post on the emphasis on STEM subjects). It allows new connections to […]


  5. […] is not always said aloud the result is that other subjects like the humanities are neglected (see this post and this one and this one). In conversations with homeschoolers, the relevant topic is usually […]


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