Posts Tagged ‘Charlotte Mason’

Hebraic Versus Hellenistic Education

Dear Reader,

For a change of pace I have not a book but a video review. I recently finished watching Art Middlekauff’s talk “Charlotte Mason and the Educational Tradition” at Charlotte Mason Poetry (Feb. 6, 2018). Let me start by saying that this is an excellent lecture and I highly recommend listening to the whole thing. I am going to summarize some of what Middlekauff said so you can understand what follows but I am by no means presenting all his content. My main purpose today is not to recap what he has said but to discuss one or two points about the traditions themselves.

First, a matter of terminology — Middlekauff speaks of two ancient approaches to education which he terms the Syriac and the Hellenic. I am using the word Hebraic for Syriac. This may be my idiosyncrasy, but I studied the Syriac language, which is a later form of Aramaic, in grad school (and even almost wrote a dissertation on Syriac interpretation) and to me it seems a misnomer for something that dates back to Old Testament times. Semitic would be a better term if we mean to refer to the educational traditions of the Ancient Near East (as it is called; today the same area is the Middle East) but Hebraic seems even better as it is really the traditions of God’s people, the Hebrews, that we are speaking of.

Middlekauff begins by showing that there were two ancient educational traditions, not just the classical, Greek model but also the Hebraic one, and that these two were different in some very fundamental ways. Showing these differences takes a good chunk of the lecture, and then he moves on to what is really the main point he is arguing, that Charlotte Mason looks back to not the Hellenic but the Hebraic model.  This is a controversial point in “CM” circles as many would place her within the classical tradition.

In his discussion of the two traditions, Middlekauff shows quite clearly that the classical Greek educational tradition is based on a humanistic foundation, humanistic in that it sees no higher than man and can have no ultimate truth. In contrast, what we need is a tradition like the Hebraic one which sees God as the beginning of all knowledge and the ultimate standard by which all is judged.  Cornelius Van Til (my review of his book on education is here) has made very similar arguments though his book is a bit of a harder slog. If you are a devotee of classical Christian education and have not been convinced by my feeble arguments, listen to what Middlekauff has to say. He does a particularly good job of showing how a virtue-based system of education founded on the classical model is really not Christian.

The second half of Middlekauff’s lecture is about Charlotte Mason’s philosophy of education. His presentation of her ideas is good and my quibble is not primarily with what he has to say but with the ideas themselves. I agree with Middlekauff that Charlotte Mason stands much more in the Hebraic tradition and that she clearly intended to go back and start something new founded upon the gospels and not upon classical sources. I have some issues with what she deems “the gospel principles of education”  which I have discussed in this post.

A point which Middlekauff spends some time on is the view of the child. He shows that in Hellenic education the child was seen as little more than an animal (on the level with women and slaves who were also not valued). In the Hebraic model the child is a gift of God (I have my own post on the child in Scripture here). When discussing the two traditions, Middlekauff also makes the comment that the child was the center of life and festivals in the Hebraic tradition. I am uncomfortable with how this is phrased. To some extent, it is true in that Hebrew festivals, as he says, often called for the father to explain the works of God to his children (though I tend to think that these explanations were almost as much for the adults). I would not go so far as to say that the child was the center of life and I would want to see more biblical support for this assertion.

This might be a minor point if it were not for how Charlotte Mason fits into the picture. I agree with Middlekauff’s assessment that Mason places a very high value on the child. In my opinion it is too high a value. The child according to Charlotte Mason belongs to a higher estate than we do. He sees this as a return to the Hebraic view of the child; I see it as going too far. I am fine with saying that the child is “a born person” (as Charlotte does in her first principle). I am fine with putting him on the same level as his elders in terms of his worth, his ability to know his Creator, his capacity for both faith and sin. But Charlotte, I believe, and I have said before (here, here, and here), goes beyond this and presents something of an idealized child with a capacity for good that is not just intellectual but also moral. This I cannot accept.

My lecture review is this: highly recommended (and I plan to return to a couple of specific points I liked in future posts). I am in complete agreement that we need an approach to education that is not based upon the classical, which is not and cannot be at its root Christian, and that we have at least the beginnings of a better model for us in the Hebraic tradition. But I have moved away from Charlotte Mason’s philosophy specifically because of the idea Middlekauff points out — that Charlotte holds the child to a higher estimate. This I do not believe to be biblical.



Living Books on Ancient Greece

Dear Reader,

A break from the theology– below are the books we have used this year in studying ancient Greece. You can find all my lists of living books here. My kids are all in middle or high school now so while some of these may work for elementary, that is not my focus.

Living Books on Ancient Greece

We are not doing a spine book together this year but some of the extras like art, science, and myth. We continued to use the relevant portions of Hillyer’s A Child’s History of Art. Not too surprisingly, he has quite a bit on Greek art. The volume I have contains all his smaller works on painting, sculpture and architecture. This is an elementary level book but I find it has enough substance to use with my older kids.

I have each of my kids reading some version of the Odyssey (see below) so for our myth together we read Padraic Colum’s The Golden Fleece. This also could be elementary, at least as a read-aloud.  It includes a number of other myths within it as tales told by Orpheus so it covers a lot of ground. I highly recommend this one.


I looked at a couple of books on words that have come into our language from Greek myths. One was Isaac Asimov’s Words from Myths which I was really excited about, based on the author, but was ultimately disappointed in ad it just didn’t seem engaging. It jumped too quickly from one subject to another. A similar book which I happened to have on my shelf as a hand-me-down is By Jove! Brush Up Your Mythology by Michael Macrone. This one is a little better as it offers one section on each word. We read about things like fascination and enthusiasm and how those words came into English and changed their meaning. It was okay but not spectacular.

With my younger two I also read portions of Eva Marie Tappan’s Greece and Rome. This is a compilation of first hand sources. Tappan is a too-often-neglected author I think we would all do well to rediscover, She has some 8 volumes like this with primary sources from different cultures as well as other history books (see below).

Each of my children read a book on Greek history and a version of the Odyssey.

My oldest (12th grade) read Isaac Asimov’s The Greeks: A Great Adventure. He used Asimov on the Egyptians earlier this year. My 11th grader read Edith Hamilton’s The Greek Way which focuses on Greek culture and influence a bit more. There is also a sequel we didn’t have time for, The Echo of Greece. I thought this would be a good fit for her as she is aiming for art school. My 8th grader read The Book of the Ancient Greeks by Dorothy Mills. I found her volume on Egypt and the Ancient Near East too curt for my taste but this one is much meatier. Finally, my 7th grader read Eva Marie Tappan’s Story of the Greek People. I much prefer Tappan’s books to the similar (and very popular) ones by Guerber.  

As I said, we each read a version of the Odyssey. With my two high schoolers, I read the whole thing — Homer’s the Odyssey as translated by Robert Fagles. I had gotten Leland Ryken’s study guide thinking we might need help but we actually found it pretty easy. It is divided up and laid out nicely in usually manageable paragraphs within reasonable chapters. Two or three times a week we just sat together and went around reading a chapter, a paragraph per person. We did not narrate or discuss.

My 8th grader used The Iliad and Odyssey of Homer by Alfred Church. This is,as its title says, both the Iliad and the Odyssey.  My 7th grader read The Adventures of Odysseus and The Tale of Troy by Padraic Colum and Willy Pogany. Both seem good for simpler versions of the tale. Even briefer is Rosemary Sutcliff’s The Wandering of Odysseus which would be good for upper elementary. Another elementary choice would be Mary Pope Osborne’s books of myths.

There are always lots of other good books we don’t have time for. Here are some I looked at:

I’ve liked some of the books in the “very brief introduction” series but decided the one on ancient Greece was too brief and dry for my tastes. Cotrell’s Minoan Civilization was intriguing but I didn’t want to devote that much time to Minoans alone. The Battle of Salamis looks impressive for an older boy who would really get into battle specifics. And finally, Peter Connolly’s books have lovely illustrations. They would be great for giving you things to put in your Book of Centuries. I was sorry to not have time (or extra kids) to use one of them at least.

Still to come this year: Rome!



Articles on Education

Dear Reader,

A couple of recent articles relating to education —

“Teenage Vandals were Sentenced to Read Books, ” by Christine Hauser in The New York Times (April 5, 2018). Books as punishment — what do you think? I like the idea. It seems the kids (or at least the one quoted) got the message through books in a way they never would have in adults just lectured them. Books convey ideas in a form that makes them much more palatable.

“Why You Forget Most of What You Read,” by Julie Beck from The Week (Apr. 13, 2018; republished from The Atlantic) — Honestly, I am just like the person in this article. I forget books. I forget movies. But I do tend to remember by impressions of them — how they made me feel and whether I liked them. I just don’t remember plots. It’s kind of good because I can rewatch movies 😉 Seriously, though, the techniques which we have been using as part of a Charlotte Mason education are just what this article recommends — narrating after reading to aid retention, and reading in smaller chunks over longer periods of time.


Why Not Charlotte Mason?

Dear Reader,

Thus far we have talked about why we need a reformed Christian philosophy of education, why we need a theology of education, how we should decide on such a theology, and what we can learn from public education in the United States today.

This week and next I’d like to look at two popular approaches to education — the Charlotte Mason method and Christian classical education. [Some would argue that Charlotte Mason is a subset of classical; I am not going to get into that debate as it really doesn’t affect what I am discussing.]

Around the time my oldest (who is now a high school senior) was in third grade, I began to explore the Charlotte Mason approach to education. A lot of what I read initially rang true with me and I began more and more to incorporate that philosophy in our homeschool. More recently, however, as I read even more I have found that I cannot wholeheartedly subscribe to Miss Mason’s approach as there are parts of it which just not in line with my (reformed) theology.

I have written a lot about this, a whole series at the end of last year in fact; I will  not rehash it all today. If you want to get up to speed, the key posts are here and here.

First, the positive — what is there in Charlotte Mason’s philosophy of education that appeals to the reformed Christian? Charlotte’s approach has been summed up in 20 principles. The first and last of these (in my opinion) serve as a kind of bookends to her method. They are:

“1. Children are born persons.

20. 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.”

Simply put, Charlotte recognizes the personhood of the child (see this post for more on what that means) and the role of the Holy Spirit in education (see this one).  These are the ideas which first attracted me to Charlotte’s thought.

Charlotte bases her philosophy on what she calls the divine law — which boils down to special revelation (i.e. the Bible) and general revelation (God’s revelation through creation including what we know through science). In particular she points to what she calls the gospel principles of education. I count this as a positive in that, in contrast to many other approaches to education available to us today, she has a definitively Christian, biblical foundation.

On the negative side, I am not enamored by her interpretation of those passages. I find it plausible but not convincing as I discussed here.

The big negative, however, and the thing that has caused me to abandon Charlotte as my main role model in education and to begin this series, is her second principle which reads:

“2. They are not born either good or bad, but with possibilities for good and for evil.”

I diverge from most of those who write about Charlotte’s ideas in my understanding of this principle. I maintain that she pretty much meant what it sounds like she meant — children have the possibilities for good and evil in them from birth. This is not just a statement about education but about their spiritual state as well. You can see why I believe that in this post.

This conclusion was disturbing enough but more recently, I ran across a quote in her second volume, Parents and Children, which goes even further. There she says:

“But we live in a redeemed world, and one of the meanings which that unfathomable phrase bears is, that it is the duty of those who have the care of childhood to eradicate each vulgar and hateful trait, to plant and foster the fruits of that kingdom in the children who have been delivered from the kingdom of nature into the kingdom of grace; that is to say, all children born into this redeemed world.” (Parents and Children, p. 65; emphasis added)

This seems to say that all children are born into a state of grace. As I contemplated this idea, I realized that it is pretty foundational to her thinking. She assumes that the child can not just learn but can, when presented with the good, choose it. If you want to read more on all that see (again) this post or this one.

The problem for me as a reformed Christian is– if Charlotte in her method assumes that the child is capable of good, even bases her approach on that assumption, and I do not believe this, how can I apply her philosophy? [I do actually have a partial answer to that question –I consider my children covenant children and as such can expect them to be able to choose the good. The problem is that if I were educating other children I might not be able to assume this. I want a philosophy that I can apply to all children.]

My goal is to begin to develop a philosophy which is biblical from the ground up rather than to take an already existing approach and tweak it. Nonetheless, I think we can learn some things from Charlotte’s approach:

  1. I want a philosophy which acknowledges the personhood of the child.
  2. I want to be able to say something about the role of God the Holy Spirit in education.
  3. I want a philosophy that is built from the divine law, as Charlotte is, but with a better understanding of/treatment of Scripture.
  4. I want a philosophy that acknowledges man’s fallen state.
  5. I haven’t covered this yet but Charlotte’s approach is profoundly practical. It tells me as a parent  how to educate. This is not something I have gotten from most articles on reformed education but it is something that we homeschooling parents ultimately need. I don’t expect to get there soon but we need more than exalted theories; we need boots on the ground how do I get my child to read, add, learn history, etc.

Next time: Why not Christian classical?





Living Books on the Ancient Near East

Dear Reader,

We did a mini term between Thanksgiving and Christmas on Mesopotamia and Canaan. As a once and future Hebrew scholar, it kills me to give the short shrift to the Ancient Near East but there is only so much one can fit into a school year. You can find all my booklists here.

Living Books on the Ancient Near East

In our time all together, we concentrated on art and myths. I used Hillyer’s book for the art. Though it can be understood by elementary level, I think it still provides a good introduction for older children as well. Note that Hillyer has a few volumes, on painting, sculpture and architecture. I have the three in one volume, A Child’s History of Art, and we covered all the areas.

The Ancient Near East includes a number of cultures. While they all have similarities, there is also some variation. We tried to include both Mesopotamian and Canaanite myths. I used Padraic Colum’s Myths of the World which I got on Kindle. It is nice because it gives some introduction to what we find in each of the cultures as well. For Mesopotamia, we also got a few of the storybooks by Zeman by tell the epic of Gilgamesh. There are three I believe that they each tell part of the story so you want to read them in order. Though these are picture books, they do a great job. For Canaan, I used Coogan’s Stories from Ancient Canaan. These are tales from Ugarit, a Canaanite town which was destroyed by fire. The destruction meant that the clay tablets on which the stories were written were baked hard and survived. It is interesting to see the similarities and differences here with one of Israel’s close neighbors. What we have is somewhat fragmentary. Coogan gives good introductions to each. I recommend prereading so you can give context and read selections. I blogged on these myths when we studied them previously. You can see one of those posts here.

We also talked about writing together using the book Sign, Symbol, Script. This is one I had leftover from my grad school days. It is actually a catalog from an exhibition but gives lots of info on the history of writing and the alphabet, a topic I couldn’t pass by. I have no idea how easy this is to find. We didn’t use Ancient Israleites and Their Neighbors. I find it a bit cumbersome. It has lots of extras like recipes if you are into that sort of thing.

I’m not thrilled with the historical fiction in this period. I don’t find it very well-written. My high school daughter read Adara by Gormley. My middle schooler read  Hittie Warrior by Williamson. The latter in particular seemed to through in every biblical motif it could (not in a good way). My senior read Silverberg’s Gilgamesh the King. I chose this book partly because he has been studying science fiction for his literature this year and Silverberg is a sci-fi writer. I thought the book would stray farther from the myth but it actually seemed to do better than I expected.

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My 8th grader read Science in Ancient Mesopotamia. I am not thrilled with this series but it is decent and provides info that one might not get elsewhere. He also read a book I loved for him — Ancient and Medieval Siege Weapons by Nosov. I only had him read the portions relevant to what we are studying. I seemed to be a very readable book. My 7th grader read Ancient Egyptian, Assyrian and Persian Costumes and Decorations by Houston. There are a lot of picture sin this book. She choose to do drawing of the costumes for most narrations and seemed to really get into it.

Lastly, we get to the actual history books.

My7th grader read The Ancient Near Eastern World by Podany. I’m not sure it’s 100% living but it seemed well-written. She liked that it included a lot of different things, like history and myths and how people lived. My 12th grader read A Short History of the Near East by Hitti. He seems to have really enjoyed it and says that it did a good job of being both broad and specific if that makes sense. My 11th grader read Fairservis’ Mesopotamia. She says it was pretty good. Since Fairservis only covers Mesopotamia, I also had her read The Phoenicians by Pamela Odijk. My 8th grader read the relevant portions of Dorothy Mills’ Book of the Ancient World. I am not thrilled with the book though I see it recommended a lot. It seems overly brief and simple (though her book on Greece is longer and I am planning to use that one). I was supposed to read Maspero’s Life in Ancient Egypt and Assyria but life got away from me and I never started it 😦

Next up: Ancient Greece


So, Is Charlotte Mason’s Philosophy Biblical?

Dear Reader,

With the holidays and various personal issues, I have not posted in about a month. This has also given me some time to think. I have decided to wrap up my series “Are CM’s 20 Principles Biblical?” Though I have not been through all 20 principles, I think I have gotten what I wanted to from this series (and I hope you have too).

Before I pull it all together and answer the big question, let’s review why we even asked this question and where we have been.

Goal and Methodology

This series sprang from a phrase “pure CM.” Art Middlekauff at Charlotte Mason Poetry argues that it is important that we adhere closely to Charlotte’s philosophy because her philosophy is founded upon “immutable divine law.” Essentially his argument is: If Charlotte’s philosophy of education is, as she claims, founded on the Scriptures and divine law, we should not dilute it but stick closely to her ideas. I agree with this statement, but it all hinges on the if. The goal of this series, then, has been to examine that if and to ask the question: Is Charlotte’s philosophy indeed founded upon the divine law? (The folks at A Delectable Education also advocate a “pure CM” approach though they cite different reasons; all of this was discussed in the first post in this series which you can read here.)

It took Miss Mason six lengthy, dense volumes to elucidate her philosophy. This is a bit much to tackle in one chunk. I chose to focus on Charlotte’s 20 Principles.  I understand that these principles were not spelled out in their current form from the get-go and that they, by nature of their brevity, may be lacking, but I believe they provide us with a good framework for Charlotte’s philosophy. My methodology was to take each principle, to ask what Charlotte herself meant by it, to see what the biblical text has to say on the issue, and then to hold the two up and compare them to say whether the one is in line with the other. My standard for evaluating each of Charlotte’s ideas is to ask “Is it agreeable to and founded upon the Scriptures?” To be founded upon the Scriptures is, in my mind, to find a clear biblical basis, precedent or command. Something that is agreeable to the Scriptures may not be directly addressed in the Bible but seems to fall in line with biblical principles.

Some principles of interpretation by which I have operated: 1) The Scriptures are only a part of the revealed divine law. God reveals Himself through both His written word and His creation. Miss Mason makes clear that she appeals to both of these sources, basing her method on both the gospels and the knowledge we derive through our senses and reason from God’s creation (this includes scientific knowledge).  2) The Scriptures are “the only infallible rule for faith and life.” That is to say, they are the only rule that is infallible, but not the only rule. We may also learn true things from other sources. 3) The Scriptures tell us about God and our sin and how we may be saved. They don’t tell us everything we need to know about every topic. They don’t tell us what diet is best nor are they a primer on godly education. 4) The Scriptures contain both prescriptive and descriptive passages. Sometimes it is clear what we are to do or not do (“Though shalt not . . . “). At other times we may derive general principles from Scripture and apply them to situations which the Bible, for whatever reason, does not directly address. Some times we are told what a given person did but we must make determinations about whether this is emulatable behavior or not.  5) The Scriptures are internally consistent. We may and should use clearer passages to illuminate those that are more confusing. And as a corollary — 6) The New Testament does not replace the Old. Those principles and practices that are not specifically abrogated in the New are assumed to still be in effect.

Recapping the Evidence

I began at the beginning — with Charlotte’s first principle. I then jumped to the 20th, as being, to my mind, one of the most pivotal (see this much earlier post). I then returned to that thorny second principle. And then, because my attention was drawn to new evidence, revisited the first principle. I did not treat the third principle, which deals with authority,  but addressed the fourth principle indirectly in my post on what Charlotte calls “the gospel principles.” I then moved on to principles 5 through 8 which put forth and then elucidate the PNEU motto: “Education is an atmosphere, a discipline, a life.” This is where I broke off.

If you have been counting, you will see that I have tackled less than half of the 20 principles. Nonetheless, I think I have gotten an answer to my own question. Before pulling everything together, let’s do a brief fly-over of each of the principles I did look at and how they stacked up:

  • I addressed Charlotte’s first principle, “Children are born persons,” in three posts: CM’s first principle, First Principle Revisited, and “the Greatness of the child as a person” (a fourth post, Man in the image of God, was a sidebar to this series within a series).  I saw that Charlotte, in speaking of children as spiritual beings and in discussing their various characteristics and abilities, is in line with biblical thought which includes children in the community of God’s people and says that they can sin and are capable of faith. However, in my post on  “the greatness of the child as a person,” I saw that Charlotte goes beyond what I am comfortable with in her interpretation of Matthew 18 and attributes a degree of innocence to the child which I find unwarranted. This is not to say that her idea of the child’s greatness is unbiblical, but that I personally judge it to be the result of poor biblical interpretation.
  • Charlotte’s 20th principle addresses the role of “the Divine Spirit” as the child’s “Continual Helper” in education. In my post on this principle, I found that Charlotte’s basic idea is biblical, though I had some reservations relating to the relationship between godliness and wisdom.
  • I treated Charlotte’s second principle in a three part mini series (see part 1, part 2, and part 3). Her second principle says that: “[Children] are not born either good or bad, but with possibilities for good and for evil.” Part 1 looked at how Charlotte herself explains this principle. Contrary to what I had read elsewhere, Charlotte clearly means her second principle to be a statement about morality, as well as about other aspects of the person. What does it mean to say that the child, on a moral or spiritual level, has possibilities for good and evil?  In part 2, I looked at the spectrum or orthodox Christian belief on original sin and the nature of man. I assumed at this point that Charlotte’s own idea of the level of good and evil in human nature would fall in line with the Church of England of the time of which she was a member. In part 3, I began to wrestle with reconciling my own beliefs with Charlotte’s. My conclusion at this point was that, while Charlotte falls within the spectrum of orthodox belief, she is not where I am on that spectrum (I am firmly in the “reformed Christian/Calvinist” camp) and that this poses some problems for me in using her philosophy. Again, I would not say at this point that her principle is unbiblical; I will say that it does not agree with my (reformed) view of what the Bible has to say on the (sinful) nature of man.
  • Charlotte claims to lay the foundation of her philosophy on what she calls the “gospel principles” of education. These gospel principles roughly correspond to Charlotte’s 4th and 5th of her 20 principles. They come out of her interpretation of Matthew 18-19 (see this post). I was not completely comfortable with how Charlotte interprets the relevant passages, but I cannot deny that she is clearly leaning on the biblical text for these ideas.
  • Charlotte’s fifth principle introduces her motto: “Education is an atmosphere, a discipline, and a life.” Principles 6, 7 and 8 pull apart this motto and explain its parts.  In the post on “Education is an atmosphere . . .” I decided that Charlotte’s idea of atmosphere is plausible biblically. We are ranging here into more of the specifics of education, the hows more than the whys, and we should not necessarily expect to find specific biblical evidence which her ideas are “founded upon”; it is enough to say that they are “agreeable to” the Scriptures.
  • I then jumped to “Education is . . . a life” in this post. Again we saw that not everything Charlotte says can be substantiated directly by the Scriptures. I was impressed, however, with how deeply biblical her thought seems to be. At this point more than any other, I got the sense that, even when she is not directly relying on the Bible, Charlotte’s thought is informed by deep spiritual undercurrents which are themselves biblically based.
  • “Education is  . . . a discipline . . .” is another thorny issue and took two posts here and here.  For Charlotte discipline means essentially habit training and she specifically rejects corporal punishment, at least as a regular or frequent form of discipline.  I spent some time looking at how the Bible uses various words for discipline and how it depicts both parental and divine discipline. There are two sides to this one — habit training itself is not unbiblical (and indeed I think there are undercurrents here too which betray a deeply Christian understanding)  but Charlotte goes well beyond the biblical text in her downplaying of the physical aspect of discipline. I am not quite willing to say unbiblical on this one but Charlotte certainly weights things in a  way that the Scriptures very clearly do not.

Further Evidence 

At this point I ran across a quote in Charlotte’s second volume that caused me to revisit her second principle and to do some reevaluating.  If you haven’t read that post — The Key to Charlotte Mason’s Thought — I would encourage you to stop here and do so before continuing.

In Parents and Children Charlotte says that all children “born in this redeemed world” are in “the kingdom of grace” as opposed to “the kingdom of nature” (p. 65). This is to say that children are born, if not good, at least able to do and choose the good.  Her whole philosophy is predicated on this idea — that the child can choose the good. The child has an appetite for knowledge and when presented with the right intellectual food is able to ingest what he needs (principle 9). The job of the teacher is to present the right foodstuffs (principle 11); it is up to the child to accept or reject what he is presented with (principle 19). This methodology only works if the child is able to accept what is good.

Art Middlekauff discusses this passage and argues that Charlotte is not really saying anything new or out of step with her church (“Charlotte Mason’s Theology: Orthodoxy or Innovation?” from Essays on the Life and Work of Charlotte Mason, Volume 1, Riverbend Press, 2014). His argument is that Mason “is not denying the doctrine of original sin, but she is rather asserting that (a) children are created in the image of God and (b) we live in a redeemed world in which Christ gives a measure of light to all.” We all agree, I think, that there is evil in human nature. The point of debate seems to be how much good, or potential for good, there is and where it comes from. As I understand it, Middlekauff, on Charlotte’s behalf, argues that there is good in even an unredeemed human and that it comes from two sources: (1) some remnant of the image of God and (2) the general, widespread good effects of Christ’s redemptive work, what has been called common grace. These two provide enough good for the child to be able to respond to the good when it is put before him.

I have some problems with this idea as Middlekauff presents it. On one hand, I do not believe that man does retain the image of God post-Fall; I discussed that here.  On the other, I think Middlekauff overstates the ability of man to do true good apart from redemptive (not just common) grace.

But beyond these arguments, I am not at all convinced that this is what Charlotte meant when she spoke of the redeemed world. Let us look again at the quote in question as well as another from Parents and Children and one from her first volume, Home Education:

“But we live in a redeemed world, and one of the meanings which that unfathomable phrase bears is, that it is the duty of those who have the care of childhood to eradicate each vulgar and hateful trait, to plant and foster the fruits of that kingdom in the children who have been delivered from the kingdom of nature into the kingdom of grace; that is to say, all children born into this redeemed world.” (Parents and Children, p. 65)

“Perhaps it is incumbent upon them to make conscientious endeavours to further all means used to spread the views they hold; believing that there is such ‘progress in character and virtue’ possible to the redeemed human race as has not yet been realised or even imagined.” (Ibid., pp. 247-48)

“The most fatal way of despising the child falls under the third educational law of the Gospels; it is to overlook and make light of his natural relationship with Almighty God. ‘Suffer the little children to come unto Me,’ says the Saviour, as if that were the natural thing for the children to do, the thing they do when they are not hindered by their elders. And perhaps it is not too beautiful a thing to believe in this redeemed world, that, as the babe turns to his mother though he has no power to say her name, as the flowers turn to the sun, so the hearts of the children turn to their Saviour and God with unconscious delight and trust.” (Home Education, pp. 19-20)

Children, Charlotte says, bear “vulgar and hateful traits,” but they also contain “the  fruits of the kingdom.” Note that these are fostered. To me “foster” implies that they are already present, perhaps in a seed-like form. In these two we see Charlotte’s second principle clearly — the possibilities for good and evil. There is a hint of something more than just a possibility, a propensity we might say, in the quote from Home Education.  Charlotte phrases it in a way so as to not fully commit herself but advances the idea that children would naturally turn to Christ as Savior if they were not hindered by their elders.

Charlotte repeatedly uses the phrase “redeemed world” to describe our current state (in addition to the quotes above, see also Home Education p. 331). I spent some time googling and as far as I can tell Christians are a lot more likely to speak of our world as fallen and to discuss how we live as redeemed people in a fallen world.  Though I’ll acknowledge my approach is by no means exhaustive, I could find very few references to a “redeemed world.” I am very hesitant to ever use words, especially loaded words like “redeemed” or redemption, in ways that the Scriptures themselves do not. I did a cursory search in my concordance and could not find that the Bible ever speaks of a “redeemed world.” I have no doubt that Creation at the end of time will be renewed and redeemed but I see no precedent for saying it is so now. Romans 8 springs to mind:

 For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.” (Rom. 8:19-25; ESV)

While there is some hint here that perhaps the waiting of the fallen creation is at an end, the thrust of the passage seems to be that that creation still waits in hope for its redemption.

My instinct is that this idea of a “redeemed world” must come from the postmillennialism movement which was popular at the time, the idea (briefly put) being that we are in the millennial rule of Christ that will culminate on His second coming and that this is a time of blessing, optimism and progress. Though I have some sympathy with postmillennialism, the idea that world is at this point redeemed does not seem to be a biblical one.

Whether the world is redeemed or not, the main question seems to be how much potential for good children have. Middlekauff, as we have seen, speaks of the image of God and common grace (though he does not use that term). Charlotte seems to me to go beyond these. She says that children have been “delivered from the kingdom of nature into the kingdom of grace.”  If Charlotte only said that children had the power to do good then I would agree with Middlekauff’s reading. But to speak of children as being delivered from the kingdom of nature to that of grace seems to me to take it a step further. Delivered is another loaded term and implies salvation.

The phrases “kingdom of nature” and “kingdom of grace” also deserve attention. Dean Boyd, an Anglican minister preaching in the 1850s and 60s, says:

” There is, however, a kingdom which is neither the kingdom of nature nor the kingdom of glory, but something between the two: but nevertheless, it belongs to earth in one respect, and to heaven in another. Its great object is to rescue sinners, and to build them up in holiness; and therefore the subjects of this kingdom are those that have been once rebellious, but, through the grace of God, have been brought into a state of loyalty and allegiance to the Lord” (“The End of the Kingdom of Grace,” from

The terms were not new in the 1800s; in the 17th century a Puritan, Thomas Watson, was also spoke of “the kingdom of grace.” The kingdoms of grace and glory, he says, “differ not specifically, but gradually; they differ not in nature, but only in degree. The kingdom of grace is nothing but the inchoation or beginning of the kingdom of glory” (T. Watson, “The Kingdoms of Grace and Glory,” from So we see that the kingdom of nature is opposed to the kingdoms of grace and glory. The latter two being roughly equivalent though the kingdom of grace exists on this earth for believers in the here and now and the kingdom of glory is the fulfillment yet to come. To say, then, that children have been delivered from the kingdom of nature to that of grace is as much as to say that they have been saved.

One final note: in the second quote above from Parents and Children, Charlotte speaks of “the redeemed human race.” We might overlook this phrase if it were not for the context provided by the other quotes we have been looking at. As it is, I cannot help but thinking that Charlotte saw the results of Christ’s redemptive work as extending to humanity as a whole. It would be beyond the scope of this post to follow all the threads but there are huge theological implications to saying that all the human race is redeemed or, as Charlotte does, that all children have been delivered into the kingdom of grace, beginning with what we actually believe Christ’s sacrifice accomplished, whether is it actual or only potential atonement.


Where do we go from here?

There is a lot I love in Charlotte Mason’s philosophy. I have been using it, or some version of it, in my family to good effect. There is a lot in her thought that I find good and biblical and true and at times I am in awe of just how deeply biblical ideas seem to penetrate her thinking. There is much good here. I know of no other philosophy of education which is as biblical as hers. She takes her ideas from the gospels — however misread — and works from a Christian worldview and I do not doubt that she had genuine, saving faith.

But then there is this one idea which I cannot accept. Though my disagreement with Charlotte boils down to this one point, it is so foundational to Charlotte’s thinking and has such profound theological implications that I cannot dismiss it.

I believe that ideas have consequences and that every philosophy of education, whether consciously or not, is based upon assumptions about human nature which cannot help but manifest themselves. As a reformed Christian, I have concerns about Charlotte’s philosophy which I cannot ignore. These began as niggling uneasiness but the more I have read her words, the more I see that that are clearly ideas that I do not agree with or consider to be biblical.

I want to take a new direction in this blog in the new year. Up to this point I have been beginning with Charlotte’s philosophy and holding it up to the Word of God. I think we need to begin somewhere else — as Charlotte did perhaps, with the Word itself.

I am going to leave it there for now. Look for more on the new direction in the new year.

Until then



Living Books on Ancient Egypt

Dear Reader,

We have gone back in time and are studying ancient history this year. We are just finishing up 11 weeks on Ancient Egypt. My kids are in 7th, 8th, 11th and 12th grades this year so most of what we have used will be for middle school and up. I also read some of my own books as well and did written narrations. I have been learning the limitations of my own memory 😉 You can find all my lists of living books here.

Living Books on Ancient Egypt

For something different, we did not use a spine book for the whole family this year. We did do Egyptian art, science, and tales together.

egypt 1

We read Science in Ancient Egypt by Geraldine Woods together. This is an elementary level book and is not truly living but it is not awful and there is not much else I could find on the subject. Woods has a series of these books and I do think they are worth a look.

For art, we began with The Art of Ancient Egypt by Shirley Glubok. This is very similar to Woods’ book but on at instead of science. Both are elementary level — perhaps even early elementary– and are not  the best quality. Glubok’s also is part of a series of such books. We followed it up wih an old stand-by from my book shelf, V.M. Hillyer’s Child’s History of Art. Though also appropriate for elementary, I found this book so much more interesting and informative so I think we will continue with it alone for art as we move to other cultures. A word of warning– Hillyer has a few volumes on art. Mine is a compendium of his histories of painting, architecture and sculpture. All three are worth having.

We also read some tales together, both myths and legendary tales, from Roger Lancelyn Green’s Tales of Ancient Egypt.

My middle schoolers each read a number of books.

Both had geography on Egypt as well. My son read L. Frank Baum’s The Boy Fortune Hunters in Egypt. Baum is the author of the Wizard of Oz books so I was excited to have him try this one. It seems to be a fairly adventurous story of some boys hunting treasure in Egypt and battling various bad guys. From his narrations, I am not sure how much my son learned about Egypt itself. I will say though that he is my worst narrator and probably not as good as others at extracting info from a narrative so others might do better with it. My daughter read The Warringtons Abroad, which we found online here. This is another older book about a family’s journey through various lands and covers much more than Egypt.

My 7th grader read two other books: Egypt’s Queen Cleopatra by Iris Noble and The Pharaoh’s of Ancient Egypt by Elizabeth Payne. Both are upper elementary-lower middle school level and are highly recommended. Iris Noble is a favorite author and we always look for books on her. The Payne book is also used by the Greenleaf history guide for the period.

My 8th grader read three books: The Mask of Akhnaten by Robert Silverberg, Egypt: Land of the Pharaohs, and Egypt in the Age of the Pyramids. The first is fiction about a boy looking for the Pharaoh’s mask. I have liked Silverberg’s books a lot and read one myself (see below). The other two are non-fiction and are not truly living books. They were the result of getting what looked best from my library’s bookshelf. Egypt: Land of Pharaohs is mostly about the pyramids and the archaeological side of things. Egypt in the Age of Pyramids tells a fair amlunt about daily life in ancient Egypt and, though it is not the most engaging, is decent for providing that side of things. Another similar book which we checked out but did not use is Daily Life of the Ancient Egyptians, again not living but our choices were limited.

egypt 12

Because she has a lot else going on this year, I went easy on my 11th grader. The two books she read could really both be middle school level. They are: The Book of the Ancient World by Dorothy Mills and Mara, Daughter of the Nile by Eloise Jarvis McGraw. The latter is fiction by an author I often see recommend in homeschooling lists. I am not overly impressed with her writing style but had problems finding good historical fiction on the period. Mills’ book covers more than just Egypt. I only had her read the relevant portions.

My senior read two books I am pretty excited about: In the Valley of the Kings by Meyerson and Isaac Assimov’s The Egyptians. Both could be read by adults, not that they are overly hard reading but that is the intended audience. Assimov’s history goes from the beginnings through Cleopatra. Meyerson’s is again more about the archaeological side. I think he enjoyed both.

egypt 11

As I mentioned above, I also read some books on our time period (and did written narrations!). They are: Akhnaten the Rebel Pharaoh by Robert Silverberg and Beneath the Sands of Egypt by Donald Ryan. I enjoyed both and they could both be read by high schoolers. Ryan is an archaeologist and while his book has much to say about Egypt it would be excellent for a student considering a career in archaeology. Silverberg I mentioned above; my 8th grader also read a book by him. Mine was non-fiction. It covered a fair amount more than Akhnaten’s time though that was certainly the focus. It bordered on being too detailed but didn’t quite cross the line. One caveat– Silverberg has a chapter at the end on Akhnaten and Moses. He makes it clear that he does not accept the Bible as a historical document. If you are not already familiar with the Documentary Hypothesis and biblical interpretation, enough to know what to believe and what not to believe, I would skip it entirely.

caveat–egypt 8Happy reading!


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