Charlotte Mason’s Original Homeschooling Series: Wrapping Up

Dear Reader,

So this might not really be the end since I never blogged much on Charlotte’s fourth book, but I have finished reading through all six volumes of her series on homeschooling so this will for now conclude my series of posts on them. There are way too many to provide a list of them all here (but feel free to look around under the tag “Charlotte Mason” 😉 ). I have not agreed with everything Miss Mason says, but I like a lot of it, particularly when she is on the topic of children and their education.

The sixth book, Towards a Philosophy of Education, ends with a series of quotes which I think sum up her thought pretty well so I though for my conclusion, I would lay them out for you. here goes . . .

The problem for Charlotte, in this last volume, has been made all the more urgent by WWI which, though now over, has thrown everyone for a loop. They seek ways to prevent future wars of such an epic scale. For Charlotte, as for her contemporary, Maria Montessori, education provides a solution:

“It is true that the War has changed much and brought us a temporary salvation, but education must secure to us our gains or the last state of the nation may be worse than the first.” (p. 241)

Sad to say, the problems Charlotte saw in the educational system of her own day do not seem to have changed much 100 years later in ours:

“Science says of literature, “I’ll none of it,’ and science is the preoccupation of our age. Whatever we study must be divested to the bone, and the principle of life goes with the flesh we strip away: history expires in the process, poetry cannot come to birth, religion faints; we sit down to the dry bones of science and say, Here is knowledge, all the knowledge there is to know.” (p. 244)

I will admit that when it comes to quotes like the first one above in which she speaks of salvation, I become a bit wary. But as we read a bit more, we find that Charlotte gives a very broad definition of knowledge. It is this knowledge which she believes has become so lacking in her day and, if anything, is even more so in our own:

“[Knowledge] is a state out of which people may pass and into which they may return, but never a store upon which they may draw.” (p. 246)

I love that quote. How different a view this is from that not just of our schools but of so many of our homeschool curricula!

But she goes on:

” . . . persons whose education has not enriched them with knowledge store up information (statistics and other facts), upon which they use their reasoning powers . . . ” (p. 246)

True knowledge can only come from God:

“That is, the Florentines of the Middle Ages believed . . . not only that the seven Liberal Arts were fully under the direct outpouring of the Holy Ghost, but that every fruitful idea, every original conception, be it in geometry, or grammar, or music, was directly derived from a Divine source.” (p. 248)

With such an idea, all knowledge, all education becomes sacred. There is no secular:

“Next, that knowledge, in this light, is no longer sacred and secular, great and trivial, practical and theoretical. All knowledge dealt out to us in such portions as we are ready for, is sacred.” (p. 248)

Because this knowledge of ours comes from God’s perfect knowledge, we catch it, as we see Him, in bits and pieces which may at times seem disconnected:

“Knowledge is for us a thing of shreds and patches, knowledge of this and that, with yawning gaps between.” (p. 247)

Nonetheless, we are made to know and we expire without knowledge:

” . . . knowledge and the mind of man are to each other as are air and the lungs. The mind lives by means of knowledge; stagnates, faints, perishes, deprived of this necessary knowledge.” (p. 249)

How then are we to acquire knowledge? Charlotte believes it is mostly through the written word:

” . . . it is generally impossible for the mind to receive knowledge except through the channel of letters.” (p. 247)

We see that writing is how God Himself has chosen to communicate with us (in these latter days, as they say) and that God the Son is even called “the Word” (p. 253). Charlotte further ties our knowledge in with our ability to name things (p. 253), a reference back to Adam’s naming of the animals in Genesis 2.

I have heard many homeschool moms say that their kids are just not visual, or nor readers and that they do not do well with books. Charlotte argues that very intelligent children will learn no matter what, but that it is the more ordinary or even backward children who most need a literary education (p. 254). The best education, she says, is both literary and ordered:

” . . . in the initial stages, it must be conveyed through a literary medium, whether it be knowledge of physics or of Letters, because there would seem to be some inherent quality in mind which prepares it to respond to this form of appeal and no other . . . the mind demands method, orderly presentation, as inevitably as it demands knowledge . . . ” (p. 255)

Though she can have had no idea of the many, many kinds of media we would have at our disposal, Charlotte argues against the use of pictures and images:

” . . . but without labour there is no profit, and probably the pictures which remain with us are those which we have first conceived through the medium of words . . . ” (p. 259)

The orderliness she refers to has to do with the order in which material is presented:

“Their reading should be carefully ordered, for the most part in historical sequence . . . ” (p. 260)

Finally, we must speak of the purpose of education. I said that Charlotte is concerned in this volume with the fate of her nation, but she does not lose sight of the individual. We do not educate to produce automatons that will serve the motherland thoughtlessly. Rather the individual is the focus and a nation of individuals full of (godly) knowledge will only benefit the nation:

” . . . for it is knowledge that exalteth a nation, because out of duly-ordered knowledge proceedeth righteousness and prosperity ensueth.” (p. 261)

” . .  . we perceive that a person is to be brought up in the first place for his own uses, and after that for the uses of society; but, as a matter of fact, the person who ‘lives his life’ most completely is also of most service to others . . . ” (p. 252)

And that, in a nutshell, is what a Charlotte Mason education is about.


2 responses to this post.

  1. […] Doesn’t this sound just like Sayers’ (and by extension the modern classical) approach — to store up facts upon which to use the reasoning powers? But Charlotte’s point is that true knowledge is a much deeper and broader thing (and for an idea of what she is talking about in this section, read this post). […]


  2. I see knowledge as the woof and warp and a tapestry barely started with some threads woven in and torn out as we live our life. God only has possession of the infinitely large tapestry.

    Thanks for a good reminder of the incompleteness of our knowledge as I plan a new school year!


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