Why We Need to Use the Best Materials in Education

Dear Reader,

This is part of my continuing series in Charlotte Mason’s original works, and in particular it is a follow-up to this post on leaving little children well enough alone, otherwise known as masterly inactivity. If you read this section of  Formation of Character (Charlotte’s fifth volume) or if you read he previous post, you might be thinking that some kind of unschooling is being advocated here. That is, that nothing is to be done for children, but that is not Charlotte’s position at all. There is quite a lot that goes on in a Charlotte Mason education, and yet the burden is always on the children to learn, not on the teachers to come up with the right sorts of lessons.

It is easy for us, especially as homeschoolers, to feel that we must do all the right things to ensure that our children learn. But Charlotte urges us to juts leave well enough alone some times and to trust that the children are taking in what they need. Consider this quote:

“It would appear that nature opens to all children, one way or the other, a perception of time past, History, and of space remote, Geography, as if these ideas were quite necessary nutriment for the mind of a child” (p.181)

There are a couple of ideas in here. Firstly, that we need not teach children what history or geography is (of course particulars may need to be introduced but the ideas themselves need not be), and secondly, that children will get the ideas that are necessary to them. This quote implies that because these ideas are necessary to a child’s mental development, they will come by them on their own. And conversely, if they don’t take in something, no matter how essential we may feel it to be, perhaps it is because they don’t need it right then.

Charlotte did not believe in providing no formal education. She does, however, acknowledge that it is not often the education we deliberately try to supply which makes a person:

“Now, here is a point worth attention. How seldom do we hear of a famous man who got that food for his mind which enabled him out of his school studies! And how often, on the other hand, do we read of those whose course of life has been determined by the random readings of boyhood! We go on blindly and stubbornly with our school curriculum, as if this were a fact of no significance, . . . Why in the world should we not give children, while they are at school, the sort of books they can live upon . . .?” (pp. 185-86)

Charlotte’s point here is not that we should give up entirely but that we should provide as a part of the child’s education the sort of books that do inspire. Rather than allowing children to get the best things on their own as they will, let us deliberately supply them with the best materials.  I will leave off with this quote from Charlotte which sums it all up:

” . . . how good it would be if we could devise an education which should not only be serviceable in making a living, but should enable young people to realise, use, and enjoy fulness of life!” (p.189)


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