My local Charlotte Mason group is discussing “Education is the Science of Relations” this week. As I prepare for that (I’m leading this time), I am struck once again but just how biblical Charlotte’s philosophy was. There are points at which I know she and I would disagree theologically, but again and again I find that her view of children and of education dovetails perfectly with what I find in the Scriptures.
I also love that ideas matter so much to her. Education is not just something we do to fill kids’ time. For Charlotte, education is life. And the purpose of education is really the purpose of life. What is that purpose?
“I have set before the reader the proposition that a human being comes into the world, not to develop his faculties nor to acquire knowledge, nor even to earn his living, but to establish certain relations . . . ” (School Education, p. 69)
The first and foremost of the relations we are to establish is with our Creator. In other words, we are put here in order to get to know God, to form a relationship with Him. This is our primary call, but subsidiary to it are two other categories of relationships: relations with creation, that which God has made, and with people, our fellow creatures whom we are called to love and serve. This is the purpose of life so it is also the purpose of education.
There are three categories then in the curriculum Charlotte proposes: elemental relations, by which she means relations with the physical world; human relations, all things which help us know ourselves and our fellow man better; and relations to God. All areas of study should fit into one of these of else who should question why we are studying them. This program leads to a very broad education, but I don’t want to take time now to discuss what each area is. Chapter 8 of School Education is where you will find Charlotte’s lists of subjects.
Too many “Christian” curricula are still concerned with very worldly goals. We speak of virtue and service and our Christian nation (it’s not, but that’s another post), of being a good steward and supporting one’s family, but we miss the true goal. These are all good things of course, but anything that causes us to shift focus ultimately takes us off course. Here’s what Charlotte says:
” . . . when our ideal for ourselves and for out children becomes limited to prosperity and comfort, we get these, very likely, for ourselves and for them, but we get no more.” (p. 65)
What should our goal be? Only this: To know God. And education should serve this goal:
“When we consider that the setting up of relations, moral and intellectual, is our chief concern in life, and that the function of education is to put the child in the way of the relations proper to him . . . ” (p. 62)
Education is not apart from life. It does not even prepare us for life as if the work we have to do comes later and childhood is only an introductory period. Education is life because, on the one hand, God is already working in our children from birth and before and they are called to follow Him as much as we are and, on the other, the process does not stop when we graduate or reach a certain age.