For the upcoming Charlotte Mason Blog Carnival, I was reading through the section of her third book entitled “School Books and How They Make for Education.” People often ask where they should start in reading Charlotte’s writings and I can think of no better answer than with this passage. It contains some of Charlotte’s most famous and best quotes and sums up her philosophy very well.
Here we find the goal of education:
“The question is not,––how much does the youth know? when he has finished his education––but how much does he care? and about how many orders of things does he care? In fact, how large is the room in which he finds his feet set? and, therefore, how full is the life he has before him?” (pp. 170-71)
And Charlotte’s view of children:
“All we ask of them is to remind us that our grandfathers and grandmothers recognised children as reasonable beings, persons of mind and conscience like themselves; but, needing their guidance and control, as having neither knowledge nor experience . . . And children have not altered. This is how we find them––with intelligence more acute, logic more keen, observing powers more alert, moral sensibilities more quick, love and faith and hope more abounding; in fact, in all points like as we are, only more so; but absolutely ignorant of the world and its belongings, of us and our ways, and, above all, of how to control and direct and manifest the infinite possibilities with which they are born.” (p. 172)
And the true Source of all education:
“In this great work we seek and assuredly find the co-operation of the Divine Spirit, whom we recognise, in a sense rather new to modern thought, as the supreme Educator of mankind in things that have been called secular, fully as much as in those that have been called sacred.” (p. 173)
But above all, this section is on books. Living books are the key to a Charlotte Mason education. They are the means by which ideas, the living food of the mind, are conveyed from mind to mind. One teacher can only do so much; she may have one area of expertise but can never give the sort of food the mind demands in all areas. So we resort (not that it is at all a last resort!) to books.
What makes a living book? I am sure we have all heard the criteria before: books written by one author, books which you (the parent) don’t mind reading again and again (this especially applies to picture books), books which are literary, which tell a story (biographies are a great choice). But Charlotte tells is best in this section when she tells a story of some girls who turn their gym class into a historical battle between Charles XII of Sweden and Czar Peter (I won’t repeat it all here; go read it for yourself). When kids’ minds have been captured in this way, when they take what they have read and incorporate it into their play, then you know you have hit upon the right sort of books. (For some stories about what my own kids have remembered see this post and this one.)
One last thought which I think bears repeating because it is so contrary to how many homeschoolers operate: we do not cater (overly much) to our children’s interests. We pick good books, inherently interesting books, and we expand their interests. In a Charlotte Mason education, the child has to do the work fo learning, they are not really taught by us, but this is not really child-led learning either. We provide the path through the books we choose, they have to walk down it.