Oh, How Many Ways There are to Mess Up

Dear Reader,

So in preparation for the next Charlotte Mason Blog Carnival, I was reading through the section of Charlotte’s third book called “A Master Thought.” There is a lot in this section and perhaps I am a bit tired today but I find it all hard to process. There are a few things that stand out to me, however. In seeking to write this post, the one common thread I see is that there are so many ways we parents/teachers can go wrong.

Charlotte talks in this section about her school motto, “Education is  an atmosphere, a discipline, a life,” and about how we need all three. If we emphasize just one of another of these, we fall into error. It seems that way in so much of life, doesn’t it? One must always manage to walk on the middle line and not fall to one side or the other.

Charlotte distinguishes here between an atmosphere and an environment. The latter seems to her to mean a much more physical thing. I think perhaps we already use this term more broadly and figuratively so some of the distinction may be lost on us. But in terms of one’s homeschool, I think what she is getting at is that “atmosphere” is not created by putting educational posters and signs on the walls. Now certainly, having good artwork displayed is a start, but atmosphere is more than that. It is something one senses in the air, an eagerness to discuss and to know. It is piles of art supplies, books, and nature collections. But it is also a mindset. I think perhaps it is more obvious when it is missing. When a child has no interest in anything but video games, we feel the lack of proper atmosphere.

When speaking of discipline, Charlotte says:

“Had the boy been put through his Homer as a classical grind, as a machine for the development of faculty, a pedant would have come out, and not a man of the world in touch with life at many points, capable of bringing men and affairs to the touchstone of a sane and generous mind.”

What I understand form this is that there are two possible ways to learn even something as worthy and classic as Homer. We may learn it as an act of memory, perhaps even committing to heart large passage and memorizing names and dates. But this is the discipline that misses the whole point. Memory work is not the same as forming relationships.

I am a little more at a loss as to what Charlotte is talking about here when she discusses “education is a life.” Her illustration of those who go overboard on this one point is of a group of people who stay up late and get up early to pose little puzzles to each other and to make up rhymes, poems, etc. I suppose the problem is that they are really staying n the surface of things. They may be spending a lot of time on these intellectual pursuits but they are mostly just trying to outdo each other in cleverness rather than to really learn anything. In my on life, I think the closest I have been to this is to be among those who like to stay up late arguing points when they have no real desire to learn or to change their opinions, perhaps even no real desire to convert others to their opinion (can you say “grad school”?). It is intellectualism without meaning.

In addition to the need to balance the atmosphere, discipline, and life, Charlotte goes on to speak of the need to include a broad curriculum. She points out how the greatest artists ever, Michelangelo and Da Vinci, did much more than just art or than one kind of art. She also has some things to say about evolution and science but I think I will save those for next time.

Until then



One response to this post.

  1. Atmosphere versus environment comes easier to homeschoolers because teachers have been ingrained with bulletin boards and educational posters as environment, not how you treat the child as a person and what that means. I didn’t realize this until I sat in a room with primarily teachers (working at a CM school). The concept was less obvious to them. And, I agree with you on the “decorations”. At our school, the decorations are things like nature collections, bookshelves full of living books, Bible verses in watercolor made by one of the teachers, a watercolor by Pamela, real furniture for homes (not from school catalogs), art prints, timelines, maps, etc.

    On discipline, I think I have the hardest time explaining that because so many classical homeschoolers I met think Charlotte Mason had students memorizing dates. While we use the same classic books, we treat them differently and our memory work (recitation) is for different purposes. Our training is pointing toward character, nurtured by living ideas and habits. I probably need to point my friends to Karen Glass’s thoughts.

    I love what da Vinci has done for some high schoolers I know. They’re taking a “crash course” in art appreciation. Intrigued by some of the books listed at the back of the da Vinci biography, she asked her mom to buy the book he illustrated for a mathematician. It was way to expensive, but I found his illustrations. She and her classmate studied them and I found some cardstock versions for them to build. We followed this thread because SHE was longing to know more. That is what it’s all about.

    One could spend a lifetime understanding and living this one motto!


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