More from CM on Variety in Education

Dear Reader,

I feel that I have addressed this topic a number of times, but Charlotte Mason keeps coming back to it so I do also. It is something that seems to come up in everyday life. In poplar media I read articles about science education and why we need to emphasize what is called the STEM subjects (science, technology and math), and though it 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 “why do I have to teach . . .  anyway?” The blank is usually filled in with art or literature or some other subject deemed less essential and practical.

So why do we teach what we do? Why is variety necessary and why are subjects that don’t seem inherently useful (like art and Shakespeare) still important?

In her third volume, School Education, Charlotte says that “our youth – whatever we make of it – abides with us to the end” (p.151). What she means is that what we take in in early years prepares us for our later years. If we have no exposure to good art and music in our youth, we will never take an interest in them in later years.

She continues this idea:

“Therefore we do not feel it is lawful in the early days of a child’s life to select certain subjects for his education to the exclusion of others . . . but we endeavor that he shall have relations of pleasure and intimacy established with as many as possible of the interests proper to him . . . ” [p. 161]

One may say that is all very well but my child will never need a knowledge of fine art, but bother introducing it at all? I do not care if he lacks it as an adult. But we do not know what path God is leading our children on. We do not know what they will need. And more to the point, we do not know what will interest them. We need to open up to them all fields of knowledge. If they have never had an exposure to art, they will most likely never take to it. But if we give them that exposure, who knows but it may capture their fancy. Again one may say but art is not necessary to life. They will not get a good job with a knowledge of art. And here we say a very modern thing and use different language than Charlotte did. Notice that she never discusses what fields of study are most practical or are likely to be most profitable. Rather she speaks of pleasure and intimacy.

So we are back in the realm of talking about goals. If our goal in educating our children is to help them get a financially stable job, then art may be of little value. But Charlotte’s goals are much more extensive. Pleasure is mentioned but also the need to have relations with as many things and people and ideas as possible. It is about having a full life, not just as successful life as the world terms it.

What subjects does Charlotte deem necessary for a full life? Here is her answer:

“Perhaps the main part of a child’s education should be concerned with the great human relationships. History, literature, art, languages (whether ancient or modern), travel – all these are the record or expression of persons; so is science, so far as it is the history of discoveries, the record of observations, that is, so far as it is to be got out of books . . . Before all these ranks Religion, including our relations of worship, loyalty, love and service to God; and next in order, perhaps, the intimate interpersonal relations implied in such terms as self-knowledge, self-control . . . The curriculum which should give children their due falls into some six or eight groups – Religion, Philosophy (?), History, Languages, Mathematics, Science, Art, Physical Exercises and Manual Crafts.” [pp. 167-8]

What strikes me most is that Charlotte’s emphasis is completely different from where our society usually places it. We elevate science, and  a very hands on experimental kind of science. Charlotte also includes science, but mostly as the record of discoveries. It is a narrative kind of science. She gives religion, something or schools can’t teach, first place and after it history and literature and all those other “impractical” subjects. But again the reason is that her goals are different. We seek to maintain American dominance in the world, especially when it comes to developing new technologies. She seeks to develop persons. We are back to her first principle here: “Children are born persons.” It is that personhood that her approach seeks to feed. And it is fed by very human subjects, by the “human”ities one might say. Ideas are the food of the mind and they are transmitted from mind to mind. So in order to nourish our children’s minds we need to put them into contact with other minds through all the records that humanity leaves– histories and sonatas and sculptures and the like.

So why is variety in education necessary? Because we want to grow little persons into big ones. Because we care about the whole child, not just their future income.


3 responses to this post.

  1. Thanks Nebby for writing this. I concur! As I was growing up I had (and still do have) a bent for art. My father and my mother were both scientific. I remember clearly knowing God wanted me to be whom He created and pursue this bent. The discussion with my Godly parents epitomized what you said in your post. Which choice would be practical? My father wanted me to be able to support myself and be taken card for so he said, “But how will you ever get a job with a college degree in art?” Though they had no interest and could not see my future in it they trusted God with me and I spent 8 years exploring art at out local university. Once I graduated I got a job at HP and why did I get a job there? Because I had a degree in art. I was an independent thinker who could invent. The crux of the HP Way. If I had a degree in marine biology or biology like my parents I would be out of a job. Not to mention I spent eight years glorifying God being whom he created me to be. Now many years later my life is rich because of the arts even if I do not earn money from it.


  2. Hi Nebby! I’m popping over from the CM Blog Carnival, and I’m glad I did. What a marvelous post. IMHO, study of the fine arts cultivates a richer, more satisfying life. The CEO with a six-figure salary but no appreciation for the arts is far poorer than the low-paid person who seeks out and recognizes beautiful music, art, and poetry.


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