Archive for the ‘Homeschool’ Category

Living Books on the 1990s

Dear Reader,

This is part of my continuing series of posts on the books we have been using on our homeschool. Find all my booklists here.

As I mentioned in my post on the ’70s and ’80s, it is getting tougher as we get closer to present day to find good living books to use. I was caught off guard when I realized that our spine series ended at 1990 so I scrambled to order all the library books I could find for kids on the 1990s. I checked out as many as I could and began sorting through them to find something that I could read to my kids (grades 6-11) to give them an overview of the major events of the decade:

Looking at all these books makes me appreciate how much better our spine series (Our Century) really was, though it may not be considered living by some.

The two I ended up using are The one on the top left there — The 1990s: Decade in Photos: The Rise of Technology and A Cultural History of the United States through the Decades: the 1990s by Stuart A. Kallen (top row, third book over). Note that the first book has no author listed on the cover; this is not a good sign. It is the simpler of the two and is really elementary level. I used it because it gave a not-too-too- bad synopsis of some events tat the other book left out. Kallen’s book is fuller and goes more in depth but it is a cultural history if the US and touches less on international events.  My third choice from this lot would be History of the 1990s (top, right) but in the end I decided it was a bit worse than my other choices. I did keep out Fashions of a Decade: the 1990s but used it only to show pictures of the fashions and trends of the era. The three on the bottom row I did not like.

More and more of what we are studying has direct bearing on current events so I have begun to take a slightly different take in their individual reading. My goal is for my kids to begin to understand the issues behind the stories they might see in the news. When studying Watergate, I ran across a book that I really liked edited by a woman named Debra A. Miller. A library search revealed that she has a quite a number of volumes available. They are part of different series and so there is some variation in format. Many, like the one I used on Watergate, are compilations of primary sources with only brief, added introductions. These selections may be speeches or statements by politicians and various groups or articles for or against an issue. They seem to be intentionally well-balanced — for every opinion on one side of an issue, there are opinions on the other.

So I began by getting a number of books on various countries and having each child pick one.

1990s 1

We ended up with North Korea, Darfur, Pakistan, and Iran. There is some variation in how hard these books are. Certainly a high schooler could handle them. A middle schooler might have to stretch a bit more. I wouldn’t recommend them for elementary age. I did not require my children to read all of their book but selected the essays that I thought most relevant. I also gave them each some targeted narration questions; that is, rather than just “narrate this” I would say something like “on today’s readings I want you to tell me about nuclear weapons in Pakistan.” Because they are each reading about different countries, they also have to share what they’ve learned with their siblings.

After picking countries, we are moving on to issues. Debra Miller again has numerous books on the hot-button topics of the day:

Some topics are political, some cultural. Some are more appropriate for my younger kids; some are acceptable for high schoolers. As I write this, we are just beginning this process, but my intention is to do the same as we did with the books on countries — guided narrations and presentations to their siblings.

One last book on the ’90s:

1990s 2

I found this one on Hispanic America which I may have my 6th grader read in place of one of the issue books. It seems to give a good idea of the scope of what we mean wen we say “Hispanic” and the different cultures that encompasses.



Living Books on the 1970s and 1980s

Dear Reader,

I have fallen a bit behind so I am going to give you the books we’ve have been using on both the ’70s and ’80s at once. We moved through both decades fairly quickly anyway. You can find all my lists of living books here.

This is a tough chunk of history to find good books for. IMO older books are more well-written, but you just can’t be that old if you are on recent history, now can you?

Our spine for the year, a series called Our Century by Gareth Steven Publishing, only seems to go through the 1980s; at least, I don’t own the volume for the 1990s and I couldn’t find it in my library system.  We did use the two volume son the ’70s and ’80s to finish up this section. As I am currently looking around for other books on the 1990s, I am more impressed with this series. The volumes are written as a series of separate articles, some written like news stories. They often take the perspective of putting you right in the time — i.e. they use the present tense. Though this is not one continuous narrative, for an overview of the time, I think they are fairly interesting and, as you get closer and closer to modern day, it is hard to find that. I like that they have few sidebars and the like which more recent books tend to overdo.

We covered the Vietnam War with the 1960s so I am not going to touch on that here. We had also dealt with the Cold War in our study of the ’50s and ’60s.

The big domestic topic for the 1970s is Watergate.

If you have a high schooler and a lot of time, there is no substitute for Bob Woodwards and Carl Bernstein’s classic account of their investigation, All the President’s Men. I remember reading his book in high school myself though I also remember that a lot of it went over my head. We didn’t want to take the time so we watched the movie version. I know given the length of the book and the length of the move that there must be a lot left out but this is a very well-done movie. The action keeps going, it was easy for even my middle schcoolers to understand, and they really appreciated the story. I’d watch it even if you are reading the book (afterwards, of course).

Bob Woodward has also written another book, Secret Man, that traces the identity of their famous secret source “Deep Throat.” If you have  a high schooler and want to really go in-depth, you might consider this one. I thought it would be too much for my kids who only came into this with the barest sense of what Watergate was at all. I believe Woodward and Bernstein also wrote other books covering  the later days of the scandal and its aftermath as well.

At the other end of the spectrum, younger children might enjoy The Story of Watergate from the Cornerstones of Freedom series. This series gives nice introductions to a variety of topics at an upper-elementary to middle school level. Just be sure to get the older version of the series whose titles begin with “The Story of . . . ” The newer ones are much worse.

I read a portion of Art Buchwald’s “I am Not a Crook” and read selections aloud to my kids. It is amazing what you can learn about a time but reading political satire of it 😉 I don’t remember Watergate and my kids certainly knew little of the time but I found many of the short articles in this book entertaining and the ones I chose to read to my kids they also enjoyed. It’s definitely middle school and up and probably better for high schoolers.

Moving on to the Carter presidency, my 10th grader read What the Heck are you up to, Mr. President? by Kevin Mattson. This book tells the story of a speech Carter gave which should have been pivotal but wasn’t. From her narrations it does a really good job of telling about the issues of the day and she seemed to enjoy the book and understand it well. High school level again.

One of the big controversies of the time was the Iranian hostage crisis. I wanted to give my kids a sense of this not just for the historical value but also because Iran is still so much in the news. My 6th grader read America Held Hostage by Don Lawson which covers the Iran-Contra scandal as well. Amazon lists it as 7th-12th grade and I would say it was a bit of a stretch for her but it seemed like a decent book.

My 7th grader read Taken Hostage by David Farber. This too seemed like a solid book that gives a good intro to the issues.

My 11th grader read Shah of Shahs by Ryzard Kapuscinski. This book introduces the political situation in Iran rather than focusing solely on the hostage crisis.  It too seemed good. It could probably be done at a slightly earlier age, like early high school.

In fiction that gives a sense of the time, I had my 7th grader read When Zachary Beaver Comes to Town by Kimberley Willis Holt, the story of the fattest boy in the world who comes to a small Texas town and makes life more interesting for its residents. My 10th grader was upset when she saw him reading this for school and exclaimed, “Hey, I read that! I didn’t know it was a school book!”  When pressed, she admitted she had liked the book but she still felt tricked. I’d call it middle school level though honestly I’m not sure how much my kids learned about the 1970s from it.

My 6th grader read When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead. This one is set in 1970s New York City and the protagonist’s mother is slated to appear on the game show $20,000 Pyramid. There are other plots about her friends and there is some mystery involved. It turns out you can still get old episodes of the $25,000 Pyramid on TV (the amount of the big prize changed over time) so my daughter got into those as she read the book, for better or worse. Se seemed to enjoy the story and I think it gave a better sense of the time than Zachary Beaver but I found her narrations hard to follow and I suspect it is not that well-written. Definitely middle school level or maybe upper elementary for a good reader.

I read Revolution is not a Dinner Party by Ying Chang Compestine aloud to my middle schoolers. It is the story of a Chinese girl during Mao’s Cultural Revolution. I didn’t think it was the best-written book I’ve ever read but it did give a pretty good sense of what things were like then. I’d call it middle school level.

For myself I read Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini. This is the story of a boy growing up in Afghanistan through all the political changes there. I did learn a lot about the history of this very important place in today’s news. I began reading the book to see if it would be appropriate for one of my high schoolers. I decided not to let either of them read it yet. There are some very adult situations which are quite integral to the plot so read with care.

The big story for the 1980s is the end of the Soviet Union as such. My 6th grader read the Cornerstones of Freedom series again, The Story of the Fall of the Soviet Union. I also had her read Cause & Effect: the Fall of the Soviet Union by Don Nardo. It was in her words “okay.” I am not sure I would say it was spectacular but it seemed decent.

My 7th grader read The Rise and Fall of the Soviet Union by John R. Matthews. It seemed again like a decent book.

My 10th grader read The Rise and Fall of the Soviet Union (a popular title apparently) by Michael Kort. Her words : “It was okay for a school book.” She is very hard to get praise from so count this as a recommendation.

Nobody read The Age of Delirium but I did check it out. It looked long 😉 Amazon gives it good reviews but it definitely seems like high school level or above.

I am going to leave off here for now. Moving from the 1980s to the ’90s and beyond, I am having my children focus more on issues than events, but I will discuss the books we are using for that in my next post — stay tuned!





Is it Biblical?: CM’s 2nd Principle (Part 1 of 3)

Dear Reader,

I’ll admit it– I’ve been putting off tackling this post. Charlotte Mason’s second principle is a stumbling block for many who are new to her philosophy. Over time, if we are attracted enough to the rest of what she has to say, I think we end up coming up with explanations of why she didn’t really mean what she seems to say. I have my own ideas about what Charlotte meant which are a little unorthodox. But my goal today is to see how Charlotte herself explained her ideas and to see how they line up with the Word of God. To get up to speed on what I am doing in this series and why see this post on “pure CM,” and this one on her first principle and this one on her last principle.

Last note before we begin: as I am writing this post, I am realizing it could be very long so I am going to divide it into 3 parts. Today we will discuss Charlotte’s own words on her second principle, next time will be Christian views of human nature, and lastly I will give you my own thoughts on the topic.

The Second Principle as Charlotte Explains It

Charlotte Mason’s second principle is as follows:

“They are not born either good or bad, but with possibilities for good and for evil.” (“Charlotte Mason’s 20 Principles” from Ambleside Online)

When I looked at Charlotte’s first principle, I found that she addressed it in a number of places in her six-volume series. While it mat occasionally be alluded to in other places, Charlotte’s most thorough explanation of her second principle comes in an extended section in her sixth volume entitled “The Good and Evil Nature of a Child.” My discussion will mainly be a working through of this section, with only a few added notes from her other writings.

Charlotte’s philosophy on the nature of children is a rejection of two antithetical views:

“A well-known educationalist has brought heavy charges against us all on the score that we bring up children as ‘children of wrath.’ He probably exaggerates the effect of any such teaching, and the ‘little angel’ theory is fully as mischievous.” (Towards a Philosophy of Education, p. 46)

This is the first half of her principle — we must think of children neither as all evil nor as perfect angels. She goes on:

“The fact seems to be that children are like ourselves, not because they have become so, but because they are born so; that is, with tendencies, dispositions, towards good and towards evil, and also with intuitive knowledge as to which is good and which is evil. There are good and evil tendencies in body and mind, heart and soul; and the hope set before us is that we can foster the good so as to attenuate the evil; that is, on condition that we put Education in her true place as the handmaid of Religion.” (p. 46)

Many argue that Charlotte Mason did not mean her second principle theologically, that she was not talking about the moral state of children. I think the above quotes make clear that she is indeed in the spiritual realm. This is not to deny that she applied her educational ideas with great success to all classes of society and to those her culture called uneducable, undoubtedly she did (see, for instance, Towards a Philosophy of Education, p. xxv), but her remarks were not limited to such areas; she clearly spoke also of the moral nature of children.

The phrase “body and mind, heart and soul” in the above quote is key. This is not a mere rhetorical flourish; Charlotte means each of these four areas literally and goes on to devote a section to each of them and to how our “good and evil tendencies” play out in them.

First she offers some explanation of what she means by a “tendency.” She does not use the phrase “genetic predisposition” but might as well have:

“Physicians and physiologists tell us that new-born children start fair. A child is not born with tuberculosis, for example, if with a tendency which it is our business to counteract. In the same way all possibilities for good are contained in his moral and intellectual outfit, hindered it may be by a corresponding tendency to evil for every such potentiality. We begin to see our way. It is our business to know of what parts and passions a child is made up, to discern the dangers that present themselves, and still more the possibilities of free-going in delightful paths. However disappointing, even forbidding, the failings of a child, we may be quite sure that in every case the opposite tendency is there and we must bring the wit to give it play.” (p. 47)

Note again that she is speaking here of both “moral and intellectual” tendencies. Just as one child may be born more prone to infection than another, so one may be more prone to fits of temper or laziness or any other malady. Though some failings may affect one more than another, we are all subject to them:

” . . . in every child there are tendencies to greediness, restlessness, sloth, impurity, any one of which by allowance may ruin the child and the man that he will be.” (p. 48)

Charlotte spends a brief time only on the body and her main emphasis is on developing “nervous over-pressure” (pp. 48-49). I am not going to dwell on the body because Charlotte herself spends little time on it and because I think it causes the least dispute.

Moving on to the mind Charlotte says:

“We do not perceive that the mind, too, has its tendencies both good and evil and that every inclination towards good is hindered and may be thwarted by a corresponding inclination towards evil; I am not speaking of moral evil but of those intellectual evils which we are slow to define and are careless in dealing with.” (pp. 49-50)

The intellectual tendencies to good are in every child: “even backward children, have extraordinary ‘possibilities for good'” (p. 52). Among the evil intellectual tendencies, Charlotte lists “slumbering minds,”  a desire for marks (grades), and “lethargy.” She also speaks in this section of the need to engage in a broad curriculum so as to not become eccentric and to develop the imagination, reason, and sense of beauty.

In dealing with the heart, Charlotte speaks of “‘feelings'” but perhaps not in the sense in which we use the word today. Her concern is really for what we would call the virtues.  Again, “every child, even the rudest, is endowed” with these including “Love and . . .  all its manifestations, kindness, benevolence, generosity, gratitude, pity, sympathy, loyalty, humility, gladness” (p. 59). So too “everyone has Justice in his heart” (p. 60). It is under this heading that she might also include conscience as she says elsewhere that:

“[The child] is born a law abiding being, with a sense of may, and must not, of right and wrong . . . But how has it been brought about that the babe, with an acute sense of right and wrong even when it can understand little of human speech, should grow into the boy or girl already proving ‘the curse of lawless heart’? By slow degrees, here a little and there a little, as all that is good or bad in character comes to pass.” (Home Education, p. 14).

Lastly, Charlotte turns to “the well-being of the soul” (Towards a Philosophy of Education, p. 63). Here her concern is our relationship with our Creator. She says that “we have in us an infinite capacity for love, loyalty and service which we cannot expend upon any other [than God]” (p. 64). She speaks elsewhere of “[the child’s] natural relationship with Almighty God” (Home Education, p. 19).

In concluding this section, Charlotte says:

“I have endeavoured to sketch some of the possibilities for good and the corresponding possibilities for evil present in all children; they are waiting for direction and control, certainly, but still more for the formative influence of knowledge. I have avoided philosophical terms, using only names in common use,––body and soul, body and mind, body, soul and spirit,––because these represent ideas that we cannot elude and that convey certain definite notions; and these ideas must needs form the basis of our educational thought.” (Towards a Philosophy of Education, p. 65)

The key points we have seen in all this are:

  • “the possibilities for good and the corresponding possibilities for evil” are “present in all children”
  • the whole child is in view, “body and soul, body and mind, body, soul and spirit”

Though it is beyond the scope of this principle, Miss Mason makes clear that the answer for her, the way to build the good and avoid the evil, is education — albeit perhaps an education more broadly defined than we tend to use the term these days. Though she sees both good and evil latent in the child, Mason does admit that “it is unchangeably true that the child who is not being constantly raised to a higher and a higher platform will sink to a lower and a lower” (Home Education, p. 103).

Identifying the Issues

In this principle, Charlotte makes two interrelated statements: children have the potential for good and children have the potential for evil. Among Christians of various stripes, it is the first of these which is up for debate. No one denies that children are to some extent sinful or at least have the potential to sin. It is how good they are or can be which causes disputes.

I hope I have shown that Charlotte has the whole person in mind when she makes this statement. She does not exclude the religious or moral aspects of the person, nor does she confine herself to them. It is truly a “whole child” approach. Having said which, it is beyond the scope of what I am doing here to go very deeply into the body and mind and the Scriptures have little to say on these. What Charlotte calls the heart and soul are what I would like to focus on. When she speaks of the heart, she is talking about virtues — above all love and justice but also the other virtues which flow out of these such as kindness, generosity and gladness, among many others. When she speaks of the soul, she is talking about our ability to have a relationship with our Creator. These then are the two questions we must ask: Are children capable of virtue, that is of good moral acts? and Are they able to have a relationship with their Creator?

One final note: Charlotte’s focus is on children because her subject is education. Children of course come in all shapes and sizes. It is not long before outside forces act on an individual and whatever latent tendencies there are are pushed one way or another. But I think what Charlotte has in mind, and what theologians debate is really what capacity for good is there in the unaffected individual, the person as he is born, before the world, for good or evil, has its effect.

Next time in part 2: Christian views of human nature



General Revelation and How We Live Our Lives

Dear Reader,

In my current series, I am looking at how Charlotte Mason’s educational philosophy lines up with Special Revelation, that is, the Scriptures (see this post, this one, and this one). I am doing this to some extent because I can — because the Bible is a finite book and I can hold Miss Mason’s propositions up to it and ask if the two agree. But Charlotte does not claim to get her philosophy just from the Bible but also from God’s general revelation, His revealing of Himself through what she calls divine law and which we might call natural law or simply Creation.

In her first book, Home Education, Charlotte makes a strong case that we need to order our lives and our children’s lives around the principles God has revealed if we want to obtain the blessings He promises of health and wholeness:

“The reason why education effects so much less than it should effect is just this––that in nine cases out of ten, sensible good parents trust too much to their common sense and their good intentions, forgetting that common sense must be at the pains to instruct itself in the nature of the case, and that well-intended efforts come to little if they are not carried on in obedience to divine laws, to be read in many cases, not in the Bible, but in the facts of life.” (Charlotte Mason, Home Education, p. 38)

In other words, we must not trust to common sense or even entirely to the Bible but must discern God’s laws for how we should live our lives from “the facts of life.” If we as Christians are not thriving while our non-Christian neighbors are, she tells us, then it is because:

“all safety, progress, and success in life come out of obedience to law, to the laws of mental, moral or physical science, or of that spiritual science which the Bible unfolds; that it is possible to ascertain laws and keep laws without recognising the Lawgiver, and that those who do ascertain and keep any divine law inherit the blessing due to obedience, whatever be their attitude towards the Lawgiver.” (p. 39)

Notice that these laws are for the most part scientific laws in that we learn them through observation and experimentation. Things that were once new ideas which encountered much resistance — that fruit should be eaten to avoid scurvy, that doctors should wash their hands — now seem completely obvious to us, but there was a time when these basic principles had to be discovered. These are the sorts of laws which Charlotte has in mind; we ignore them at our own peril.

As I read what Charlotte wrote more than one hundred years ago, I wonder if we as Christians still believe this? Do we believe that there are discernable divine laws which govern life?

Too often it seems that Christians have forgotten that there is a general revelation and that we can know anything from creation alone. If you’ll allow me, I’ll pick once again on the Trim Healthy Mama diet (THM). My main problem with this eating plan (see my review here) is not that it is illogical or doesn’t work, but that it claims to be based on the Bible but has little solid Scriptural basis. For my purposes today, the question is not is THM Bible-based but why does it think it needs to be? Why is there a bread on the market based on the grains in the book of Ezekiel? Why do some wear only fibers mentioned in the Bible?

The problem, it seems to me, is that we have thrown the baby out with the bathwater; in an effort to reject certain scientific theories, we have turned our backs on a whole arm of God’s revelation to us. Without general revelation, we are left trying to find biblical justifications for all we do, a process which leads to bad exegesis and ultimately undermines biblical authority as well as texts are stretched to speak to subjects they were never intended to address.

If today’s Christians are skeptical of science, they are not alone. Miss Mason speaks from a time of great scientific progress. Her view of man’s ability to discern God’s unwritten laws is an optimistic one. I think in many ways that is not true today. In the context of her book, the issues Charlotte addresses are very practical ones — What types of foods should we eat? How much fresh air do we need? She lived in an age when science was expected to give the answers to these questions. We live in a time when low fat diets have gotten us fatter and low carb is the answer — or, wait, is it? Maybe it’s paleo, maybe it’s gluten-free, maybe the pesticides which increased our food stores and can cure hunger are secretly killing us.

We live in a time of too many voices saying too many competing things and we have lost faith in our ability to discern God’s laws. I am somewhat comforted by the idea that we still seek truth. The many competing theories out there — whether it is about what we eat or how we raise our children — at least show that we still believe there is a truth; we just can’t find it.

I really don’t know where to end with this. Charlotte disparaged common sense but I am not sure that it is not one of our best and most helpful guides. Its is no longer a matter of just obtaining scientific knowledge; we need to decide which science to believe.

Any thoughts?


Is it Biblical?: CM’s 20th Principle

Dear Reader,

No, you did not miss 18 posts. I am skipping to Charlotte Mason’s 20th and final principle in my examination of the biblical foundation for her ideas. [Interesting fact: I didn’t fully realize till I began this series that CM did not always have 20 principles; in earlier volumes she lists 18.] I began this series with this post on what it means to be “pure CM” and why we should care. Simply put, Charlotte Mason claims that her philosophy of education is rooted in immutable divine law. Now divine law, as she uses the term, includes both special revelation (Scripture) and general revelation (science and observation, what we can discern from God’s creation). The latter is beyond my expertise to analyze, but I think we can hold Charlotte’s 20 Principles up to the light of Scripture and ask if they do indeed reflect what we find there. The phrase I am using, borrowed from my church’s membership vows, is “founded on and agreeable to the Scriptures.” My process with each of these is to present the principle, to look at how Charlotte herself explained it, and then to examine Bible passages which seem to speak to the same issues with the goal of answering the question “Is Charlotte’s principle ‘founded on and agreeable to’ the Scriptures?” In my previous post, I looked at Charlotte’s first principle, “Children are born persons,” and concluded that it is indeed well-rooted in the Scriptures.

For this second post, I am going to leap-frog to Charlotte’s final principle: “We allow no separation to grow up between the intellectual and ‘spiritual’ life of children, but teach them that the Divine Spirit has constant access to their spirits, and is their Continual Helper in all the interests, duties and joys of life.” If you are wondering about that tricky second principle, have no fear; I do plan to come back to it next time. I happen to think that the first and final principles form a kind of bookends to Charlotte’s whole philosophy and as such encapsulate the whole so I am tackling them first and then will come back to what lies between.

CM’s 20th Principle: What does it mean?

The first step in evaluating Miss Mason’s 20th principle is to see what she herself meant by it. Here again is the principle:

“We allow no separation to grow up between the intellectual and ‘spiritual’ life of children, but teach them that the Divine Spirit has constant access to their spirits, and is their Continual Helper in all the interests, duties and joys of life.”

This principle largely flows out of the first one; when we looked at Charlotte’s own remarks on her initial principle– “That children are born persons” — we saw that a major aspect of this idea was, for her, that children are spiritual beings. It follows upon this idea, she tells us, that they can and do have communion with the Divine Spirit (i.e. the Holy Spirit):

“That the divine Spirit has like intimate power of corresponding with the human spirit, needs not to be urged, once we recognise ourselves as spiritual beings at all.” (School Education, p. 71)

In volume 4, Ourselves, which reads a something of an owner’s manual for one’s mind, Charlotte discusses the role of the Holy Spirit in helping us to understand Scripture:

“It would seem as if the divine Spirit taught essential truths [of Scripture], the truths by which we live, by all means fitted to the understanding of men.” (Ourselves, pp. 88-89)

But, she tells us, the revelatory work of the Spirit is not confined to Scripture but is also at work in other realms of human knowledge:

“We may believe also, with the medieval Church, that a revelation is still going on of things not hitherto made known to men. Great secrets of nature, for example, would seem to be imparted to minds already prepared to receive them, as, for example, that of the ‘ions’ or ‘electrons’ of which that we call matter is said to consist. For this sort of knowledge also is of God, and is, I believe, a matter of revelation, given as the world is prepared to receive it.” (Ourselves, vol. 4, pp. 86-87)

It does not matter whether we call these subjects “sacred” or “secular” — Charlotte would call such a distinction “an Irreligious Classification” (Parents and Children, p. 129).  All knowledge comes from God:

 “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.” (School Education, p. 173)

Charlotte tells us that when big new ideas (such as gravity) come to humanity it is through the work of the Holy Spirit, but this work of the Spirit is not confined to big new revelations. He works in the same way in each of us as we receive new ideas and knowledge. It is God the Holy Spirit who provides men, both corporately and individually, with all knowledge. Even a child’s arithmetic lesson is under the dominion of God the Holy Spirit:

“Many Christian people rise a little higher; they conceive that even grammar and arithmetic may in some not very clear way be used for God; but the great recognition, that God the Holy Spirit is Himself, personally, the Imparter of knowledge, the Instructor of youth, the Inspirer of genius, is a conception so far lost to us that we should think it distinctly irreverent to conceive of the divine teaching as co-operating with ours in a child’s arithmetic lesson, for example. But the Florentine mind of the Middle Ages went further than this: it 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, whether in Euclid, or grammar, or music, was a direct inspiration from the Holy Spirit, without any thought at all as to whether the person so inspired named himself by the name of God, or recognised whence his inspiration came. All of these seven figures are those of persons whom we should roughly class as pagans, and whom we might be lightly inclined to consider as outside the pale of the divine inspiration. It is truly difficult to grasp the amazing boldness of this scheme of the education of the world which Florence accepted in simple faith.” (Parents and Children, pp. 270-71)

Charlotte refers to the ideas of the Middle Ages and to Plato in discussing this point but also firming rests it in the Bible. She quotes Isaiah (Parents and Children, p. 272) to show that the plowman gets the knowledge he needs for his work from God and refers to David and Solomon to show that art also comes from Him:

“‘The Spirit of God came upon him and he prophesied among them,’ we are told of Saul, and we may believe that this is the history of every great invention and every great discovery of the secrets of Nature. ‘Then David gave to Solomon his son . . . . the pattern of all that he had by the spirit, of the courts of the house of the Lord.’ We have here a suggestion of the source of every conception of beauty to be expressed in forms of art.” (Parents and Children, pp. 271-72)

Finally, she makes clear that this instruction of the Holy Spirit is not just for adults but is the key to the education of every child:

“In the things of science, in the things of art, in the things of practical everyday life, his God doth instruct him and doth teach him, her God doth instruct her and doth teach her. Let this be the mother’s key to the whole of the education of each boy and each girl; not of her children; the Divine Spirit does not work with nouns of multitude, but with each single child.” (Parents and Children, p. 273)

What areas of life then are exempt from this divine instruction? There seems to be little if anything that is not so encompassed:

“And what subjects are under the direction of this Divine Teacher? The child’s faith and hope and charity––that we already knew; his temperance, justice, prudence and fortitude––that we might have guessed; his grammar, rhetoric, logic, music, astronomy, geometry, arithmetic––this we might have forgotten, if these Florentine teachers had not reminded us; his practical skill in the use of tools and instruments, from a knife and fork to a microscope, and in the sensible management of all the affairs of life––these also come from the Lord, which is wonderful in counsel and excellent in working. His God doth instruct him and doth teach him. Let the mother visualise the thought as an illuminated scroll about her newborn child, and let her never contemplate any kind of instruction for her child, except under the sense of the divine co-operation.” (Parents and Children, pp. 273-74)

Charlotte goes on to provide a reason for her belief:

“We must think, we must know, we must rejoice in and create the beautiful. And if all the burning thoughts that stir in the minds of men, all the beautiful conceptions they give birth to, are things apart from God, then we too must have a separate life, a life apart from God, a division of ourselves into secular and religious––discord and unrest.” (Parents and Children, p. 275)

What she is saying here is that all our life — our creativity and intellect in particular– is subject to God. If it were not so, we would have some part of life apart from Him and that to us would be “discord and unrest.” But if we recognize God the Holy Spirit as our teacher in all realms, then we have “harmony and peace” (p. 276). [A corollary to this idea which Charlotte points out is that we must keep our intellectual life subject to God; there is intellectual as well as moral sin.]

One last thought before we move on to the biblical evidence — when Charlotte says that the Holy Spirit is the Great Educator, this does not preclude some role for parents: “Our co-operation appears to be the indispensable condition of all the divine workings” (p. 274).

Looking at the Biblical Evidence

Having seen how Charlotte herself explained this principle, we must now ask what the Scriptures have to say on it. The key points I see that Charlotte made and which we are looking for in the Bible are:

  • That God the Holy Spirit is the Giver of wisdom and knowledge
  • That He does so in all areas of life — not just “religious” areas
  • That there really is no separation between sacred and secular

When we begin to ask what the Bible has to say about wisdom, we must first say that God Himself is the source of wisdom. Wisdom resides with Him (Prov. 8:22ff; Job 12:13), and it was through wisdom that God created the world (Prov. 3:19). The wisdom of the Son was remarked upon (Matt. 13:54; Mk. 6:2; Lk 2:40,52; I Cor. 1:30). The Spirit also is associated with wisdom (Isa. 11:2; Eph. 1:17).

God is the source of wisdom for us:

“If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him.” (James 1:5; all biblical quotes are from the ESV unless otherwise noted)

“Who has put wisdom in the inward parts or given understanding to the mind? “(Job 38:36; cf. Prov. 2:6; Eccl. 2:26)

The story of King Solomon, who more than any other person is associated with wisdom, shows us clearly that wisdom is a gift of God (I Kgs. 4:29-30; cf. Deut. 34:9; Ezra 7:25; Acts 7:10).  His story also begins to show us the practical character of wisdom in that it allowed him to rule his kingdom well and to judge tricky judicial cases (I Kgs. 3:16-28).

Charlotte pointed out that God gives the farmer wisdom for his work (Isa. 28:26). So too God gives the wisdom needed to build a house (Prov. 24:3). Skill and craftsmanship of all kinds, particularly the art needed to make beautiful work, come from God (Exod. 31:2-6).  The wisdom to understand languages and literature (Dan.1:4, 17), to speak (I Cor. 1:5), and to “solve problems” (Dan. 5:11) is also given by God.

Though God is the source of wisdom, He may use means to convey that wisdom to people. Foremost among these is parental instruction (Prov. 4:11; 29:15).

Up to this point, we find that much of what Charlotte had to say is confirmed by the biblical text — God is the source of wisdom, and the wisdom that comes from Him is not just for “religious” matters but also applies to artistic skill, to practical knowledge, and  to many areas of intellectual understanding. The role of parents is also acknowledged by both.

On one (minor) point I do not think the Scriptures are as clear as Charlotte is. She speaks consistently of “the divine Spirit” (as opposed to the Father or the Son) as the source of knowledge and wisdom. I think it is a reasonable conclusion to say that it is the role of the Spirit to give wisdom, especially since Christ’s ascension, but I think it is also important to note that all three Persons of the Trinity are said to possess, even to be characterized by, wisdom and that quite often the Bible simply says that wisdom comes from God, without distinguishing clearly which Person is meant. On the flip side, in Charlotte’s defense, I will point out that the Bible speaks of “the Spirit of Wisdom” and that when an individual is said to be particularly wise, it may say he is “filled with the Spirit of wisdom” (as Joshua in Deut. 34:9 or Stephen in Acts 6-7). So too, Jesus tells his disciples that the “Spirit of truth” will reveal things to them:

“When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth, for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come.” (John 16:13)

Thus far, we have seen that what Charlotte has to say lines up fairly well with the biblical evidence. There are two other, inter-related points, however, which do not seem to come into Charlotte’s thinking. Perhaps one of the best known verses about wisdom comes at the beginning of Proverbs:

“The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge; fools despise wisdom and instruction.” (Prov. 1:7)

Wisdom in the Bible is intimately connected to godliness. It originates in godly fear, as in this verse from Proverbs, and its end goal is also to produce the good fruit of righteous deeds:

“And so, from the day we heard, we have not ceased to pray for you, asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of his will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, so as to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him: bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God.” (Col. 1:9-10; cf. I Chr. 22:12)

Conversely, the Bible tells us that no fool — that is no irreligious man (Ps. 14:1) — can truly possess wisdom (Prov. 14:6).

The Bible makes it clear as well that there is “wisdom” that does not come from God. Moses, Solomon, and Daniel all pit their wisdom against that of non-believers (Exod. 7:8-13; I Kgs. 4:29-30; Dan. 5). Paul also makes clear that there is a “wisdom of the world”:

“Where is the one who is wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world?” (I Cor. 1:20)

Paul condemns such wisdom so strongly that one almost begins to think wisdom is not a thing to be desired. He goes on, however, to make clear that there is a godly wisdom:

“Yet among the mature we do impart wisdom, although it is not a wisdom of this age or of the rulers of this age, who are doomed to pass away. But we impart a secret and hidden wisdom of God, which God decreed before the ages for our glory.” (I Cor. 2:6-7)

James ties these two ideas together, saying that worldly wisdom leads to sinful desires and deeds:

“Who is wise and understanding among you? By his good conduct let him show his works in the meekness of wisdom.  But if you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast and be false to the truth. This is not the wisdom that comes down from above, but is earthly, unspiritual, demonic. For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there will be disorder and every vile practice. But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere.” (James 3:13-17)

How are we to take all this? Is there real wisdom which is imparted to non-believers? The Bible does make clear that practical knowledge — such as that the plowman needs to do his work or the skill of an artist — comes from God. If we see such knowledge and skill in a non-believer, I think we must assume that it too comes from God, though the person themselves may not acknowledge him.  In John 16:13 (above), Jesus calls the Spirit He is sending “the Sprit of Truth”; insofar as what is revealed to humanity is true (here I am thinking of the big new ideas that come to us at certain points in history, ideas like gravity or the movement of the planets) I think we may say that it comes from God though it may come through ungodly men.

On the other hand, the Bible also makes clear that the wisdom that is in God’s people, Daniel and Moses being prime examples, is greater than that which is in their worldly opponents. There is a level or kind of wisdom which seems to be impossible without true godliness. This certainly applies to what we might call spiritual wisdom, that which deals with spiritual matters, but I am not at all convinced that it does not also apply to more practical considerations.

If you will allow me a slight diversion, I will give you an example of what I mean — My oldest has been studying political philosophy this year.  I did a whole blog series some time back on evolution and creationism and did not come to firm conclusions, but as we read about all whom Darwin inspired — from Margaret Sanger to Nietzsche and Hitler —   it is hard not to think that Darwin’s theory of evolution which led to so many of the 20th centuries atrocities is just what James had in mind when he spoke of “earthly, unspiritual, demonic” wisdom which leads to “every vile practice.” [I do not think that Charlotte would disagree with this point. Though I don’t have quotes in front of me, I know she saw the need to test new theories and to see if they stand the test of time.]


The question before us is: Is Charlotte Mason’s 20th principle biblical? I am willing as this point to say yes, it is, but with one caveat that I think we need to think more about the relationship between godliness and wisdom. Charlotte propounds her ideas as applicable to all children — whether poor or rich, normal or delayed (if you’ll pardon the terms), but I think we need to ask as well whether those who are unsaved can truly grow in wisdom. Which will be a nice segway into what’s up next: that tricky second principle.

Until then




What Does it Mean to be “Pure CM”? — and Why Should We Care?

Dear Reader,

I have been getting out of my little bubble recently and reading more from different sources and schools of thought about Charlotte Mason (CM) and her educational philosophy. As I have, I have come to the somewhat sad realization that there are differences and disputes in the CM world. (It is a bit like realizing that there are different Protestant denominations.)

My recent posts on the different CM curricula (here and here) are the fruit of this realization as I try to wrap my head around what the real distinctions are. In those posts, I tried to just present what each source had to say for itself, without my interpretation or commentary, and without judgment as to which is closest to Charlotte’s original ideas.

One phrase I have seen thrown around is “pure CM” or “purely CM.” Everyone I have read is very gracious but it is hard to hear one curricula or approach called “purely CM” without taking it as an implied judgment on others.

There have been two contributions recently to the debate on what it means to be “purely CM” (I have no idea if they planned this; it seems too coordinated to have been mere coincidence). Art Middlekauff has written an article at Charlotte Mason Poetry entitled “Towards an Authentic Interpretation” in which he discusses how we can determine if something is “pure CM.” And the ladies from A Delectable Education have a new podcast is which they discuss what it means to be “pure CM” and why it is important. Middlekauff looks mainly at the criteria we use — how do we know if a given practice is true to Charlotte’s intentions? The short answer to this, and I think it is a good one, is that if Charlotte did something or if her close (both in time and in relationship) followers did it, then it can merit the label “pure CM” (he uses the word “authentic”). If, however, we only find it mentioned in later sources, even PNEU sources, it does not get the coveted designation.

The ladies at ADE — Emily Kiser, Liz Cottrill, and Nicole Williams —  seem to be responding in their podcast to a pejorative use of the term. Apparently they have been accused of being “CM purists,” that is, of being too harsh or strict in what they call CM.  Their object is two-fold: to explain why it is important to try to adhere as closely as possible to CM’s methods and to draw a distinction between being “purely CM” and “perfectly CM.” With regard to the first, I will not rehash their arguments but I will say that, in my own homeschooling journey, I too have found that the more I make an effort to stick to Charlotte’s methods, the more I am rewarded with positive results. Having said that one should try to follow CM’s ideas as closely as possible, the folks at ADE make a point to say that, nonetheless, “pure CM” is a goal we aim for and which many, if not all, of us still struggle to achieve.

In large part, I like what both Middlekauff and ADE have to say. I do feel, though, this niggling sense that there is something below the surface which we are not addressing. So this post is my attempt to work out (through writing) what it means to be “pure CM” and why we should care, if indeed we should care at all.

To begin, I think we need to consider what sorts of things Charlotte Mason actually had to say and where she got her ides from. Charlotte’s philosophy of education is really more of a philosophy of life. It works on many levels; it is not just about education. In the practical details, Charlotte discusses everything from nutrition and exercise to the knowledge of God and man to interior decorating. The topics she covers are so all-encompassing because her thought is all-encompassing. What she gives us is not just a way to teach, or even an approach to child-rearing, but a theory about how we work and who we are. As she is a theist (and, of course, a Christian), one might even call it a theology.

Charlotte’s essential ideas — the basis on which her philosophy rests — come from two sources: special revelation and general revelation. In this she is very much in line with orthodox Christian thought.We know about God and His Creation from the specific things He has told us in His Word, the Bible, and from the information we can gather from His works, that is creation. She speaks of both “the three educational laws of the New Testament” (Home Education, p. 12) and of “a method of education based upon Natural Law” (p. 8), by which she means those which we discern from Nature itself. At times, Charlotte also says her ideas rest on scientific principles. By this we must understand science as that knowledge which we gain through an examination of Nature. It is often proven by testing, in Charlotte’s case by her experience as a teacher “in the field.” Such knowledge fits under the broader heading of “general revelation” though it may not be so easily acquired but requires some effort to obtain.

Perhaps because her wisdom comes from these two sources, the one directly revealed and the other discerned, we find that the sorts of things Charlotte has to tell us range from broad statements about God and man to practical details for daily teaching. On one hand, she tells us that “Children are born Persons” and that “The Holy Spirit is the Great Educator.” On the other, she tells us that early lessons must be no more than 10 minutes long, that spelling should be learned through dictation, or that lessons in grammar must not proceed proficiency in reading. As we begin to ask what it means to be purely CM and why it matters, we need to keep in mind that there are these very different kinds of statements that Charlotte makes.

The ADE podcast gives us two reasons why we should care about what is “purely CM.” On one level, it is a matter of terminology. There is a concern in the CM community at large, which the ADE talk makes clear, that the term “Charlotte Mason” be kept pure, that is, clearly defined. In modern terms, we might say we don’t want the Charlotte Mason brand to be diluted. If too many other things come to be attached to the name, then it eventually ceases to mean anything. I think we see this with “classical education.” It is used to mean so many things, that it soon means nothing. Because the Charlotte Mason method originates with one person, we have a certain leg up in this area. We can go back to the original person, or her writings at least, and say what is and isn’t “CM.” This is where Art Middlekauff’s article, mentioned above, comes in useful; it gives us guidelines for determining what is “authentic” CM and what is not.

The second reason ADE gives us for speaking of “pure CM” has to do with the nature of her approach. They say it much better than I can (and you should listen to the podcast linked above to hear them do so), but, simply put, the CM method is a unified whole. More perhaps than other approaches to education, it is designed in such a way that its parts all work together. When we tamper too much with it, we lose its benefits. This is good as far as it goes and I don’t think it is too controversial, at least within CM circles.

Thus far we have been on a fairly practical level, discussing how we implement the Cm method, but we have not discussed an even more basic question: Why we would even want to listen to a hundred-year-old educator from Britain? Middlekauff in his article provides an answer:

“Mason claimed that she developed a theory of education that conforms to divine law, that is, the way things are. And unlike the theories of man, divine law never changes. To the extent to which Mason succeeded in her aim, her method is as relevant today as it was a century ago. And if we wish to benefit from the results of her method, we must seek to understand and apply it authentically.

… The quest for an authentic interpretation begins with the recognition that in Mason’s twenty principles, she has summarized a method of education that conforms with divine law.” (“Towards an Authentic Interpretation,” from Charlotte Mason Poetry)

Middlekauff here goes well beyond what we have said; it is not just about keeping clear terminology or adhering to a unified method. It is vital to keep Mason’s theories pure, he says, because they are true. They are “the way things are” and are in accordance with unchangeable divine law.

The clause “to the extent to which Mason succeeded in her aim” is key. Mason claims, as I discussed above, to get her ideas from divine revelation which, as Middlekauff says, is immutable. If she has succeeded, then what we have are not just the theories of one woman but divine principles.

I am teetering here on the edge of some really big questions that can not easily be answered in one post. Simply put, we may ask: Has Mason succeeded in her aim? Are her ideas an accurate reflection of divine law? To truly answer this question we would need to break it down. Mason looked at both special and general revelation. She dealt with both big, broad principles about human nature and particular theories about how education happens. The former may be tested against God’s special revelation, that is Scripture. We may ask, for instance, if God’s Word tells us that children are indeed “born persons” and if the Holy Spirit is the source of wisdom (to both of these I would answer yes, and I have discussed in the past why I do think CM’s approach is biblical). But we should not expect Scripture to tell us much about the practical details. These things Charlotte derived not from special but from general revelation. They are the fruit of her experience and knowledge.

When it comes to evaluating Charlotte’s work and theories, then, we must distinguish between those propositions which we may hold up to the light of Scripture and those upon which the Bible offers us no particular insight. These latter we may still test but through more mundane means. It may be that more recent scholarship confirms or denies Charlotte’s methods (and I think it often does, in trying to build something new, come back to the principles Charlotte espoused 100 years ago; see this post). In practice, I think we homeschooling parents turn not to the educational research of our day but to our own experience: Do Charlotte’s ideas resonate with us? Do they seem to reflect our own instincts and experiences? Do her methods work for us? Do our children thrive with them?

There is a bit of a chicken and egg problem here. We may come into this endeavor with certain notions of what will work, but at some point we must trust Charlotte enough to apply her methods in order to see that they do indeed bear fruit. But to even begin to trust her with something as vital as our children’s education, we must first have some sense that this is the right path and that there is at least some measure of truth to what she says. This is perhaps why so many of us come to CM’s ideas bit by bit. We try a little, we find it works well for us, so we try a bit more, adding on piece by piece until we decide to commit fully to her philosophy.

What then does it matter what is “pure CM”? Middlekauff’s answer is simple even as it opens a giant can of worms: It matters because she is right.  If Charlotte’s ideas do indeed reflect unchangeable divine law, then we should not expect substantial changes or improvements and we should care very much what is “pure CM.”

I’d like to end for now with a different question than that which we started with. I began by asking: What does it means to be “pure CM”? Middlekauff has given us very good criteria with which to answer this question but it leads to another: Why should we care what is authentic? To that ADE gives two good answers. But Middlekauff again alludes to something even bigger: Was Charlotte Mason right? Can she lay any claim to having put before us the immutable divine law as regards education? I am not prepared to fully answer that question in this post. Personally, Charlotte’s ideas resonate with me as reflecting both the broader ideas I see in Scripture and my own observations of how learning works. I don’t intend to spend much time defending the practical details – the use of living books, how we learn spelling, and such. I would like, for my own benefit, to spend more time looking at all the Scriptures have to say about the big ideas – the nature of children, the role of the Holy Spirit in education, and even, where applicable, how learning works. You can be sure I will blog about anything I find 😉



Three More CM Curricula Compared

Dear Reader,

I recently shared with you a chart comparing four of the biggest Charlotte Mason based curricula out there (find it here). I have less familiarity with this next batch of programs but in order to be as fair as possible, I have also tried to find the same information for them. This time we will consider A Modern Charlotte Mason (MCM), Living Books Curriculum (LBC), and Higher Up and Further In (HUFI) from Charlotte Mason Help. These three, with the four I look at previously, make up the bulk of the “Charlotte Mason Curricula” listed by Ambling Along Together in their list of CM resources. The two I did not include had particular religious bents (Catholic and LDS) and there are also CM “adaptable” and CM “influenced” curricula which I have not looked at.

Here then is the pdf chart of these three curricula compared:


As before, feel free to let me know what can be added or corrected, as long as it is true to the philosophy of the curriculum itself.


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