Posts Tagged ‘Charlotte Mason’

Charlotte Mason, Anglicanism, and You

Dear Reader,

This is part of an ongoing series in search of a reformed philosophy theology of education. You can find all the posts here.

Charlotte Mason Poetry had recently released in audio-form a series of articles by Benjamin Bernier entitled “Education for the Kingdom” (these articles were originally published on their website in 2017). The five articles in this series form one argument. Bernier, an Anglican minister and homeschooling parent, has done extensive research into the religious basis of Charlotte Mason’s educational philosophy. This series presents his argument that Charlotte’s philosophy cannot be separated from her Christian religion and that it is a distinctly Christian philosophy of education.

Bernier has clearly done his research. He shows specific authors and their writings that he believes influenced Miss Mason and makes a compelling case for each. I have no quibble with his scholarship and am very grateful to him for the work he has put in and his willingness to share it. Nor do I disagree with his conclusions. All in all this is an article well worth reading for anyone who uses Charlotte’s methods or who is interested in Christian education (and I do think reading is probably a better option than the audio versions as there is a lot here to take in). What I would like to talk about today is not Bernier’s scholarship but what we do with the information he has given us.

Miss Mason sought to develop a disticntly Christian approach to education. What Bernier shows is that that approach is heavily influenced, as it should be, by Miss Mason’s own church, the Church of England.

“In order to properly understand Mason’s philosophy, it is important to grasp the essential socio-religious context of her life and work, whch in this case happens to be the Anglicanism characteristic of the late-Victorian era England.” (Benjamin Bernier, “Education for the Kingdom, Part 1,” from charlottemasonpoetry.org, Feb. 18 2017)

Bernier goes on to argue that as the Anglican Church of the time encompassed a wide range of opinions that the form of Christianity embodied in Miss Mason’s philosophy is one that focuses on essentials, what he calls, following C.S. Lewis, a “mere Christianity.”

Bernier argues that Miss Mason’s goals in education were intrinsically religious. He shows from lesser known early writings that her concern in education was mainly apologetic. Specifically her motivation was to guard to youth of her day against the then very new theories of Darwinism and the Documentary Hypothesis [1] which threatened traditional faith assumptions (“Education for the Kingdom, Part 2, Beginnings,” Feb. 25, 2017). He maintains that she never abandoned the faith-basis of her method though she was forced, as the method became more popular and widely used in different contexts, to downplay the overt religious elements:

” . . . the Christ-centered foundation of Mason’s thought was not diminshed one bit; it simply became less overy and less conspicuous to a general audience when her message was repackaged in the hope of influencing the evolving national system of education as such a crucial stage.” (“Education for the Kingdom, Part 5, Enthroning the King,” March 18, 2017)

Note that Bernier here calls Mason’s philosophy “Christ-centered.” Elsewhere he speaks of the gospel foundation of her work. Mason herself spoke of the gospel principles of education which she derived from a few passages from the Book of Matthew. “As far as I have been able to trace,” Bernier says, “Mason was the first Christian educator to define a connection between these words of Christ [in Matthew’s gospel] and a philosophy of education” (“Education for the Kingdom, Part 2, Beginnings”).

Bernier thus makes three points that we need to consider:

  1. Mason’s philosophy cannot be separated from her Anglicanism which is itself a kind of “mere Christianity.”
  2.  As Mason’s philosophy reached a wider audience, its Christian foundation became more covert to the point that many in the modern CM movement are unaware of it altogether (“Education for the Kingdom, Part 1”).
  3. The biblical foundation for Mason’s philosophy is found primarily in certain words of Jesus from the gospel of Matthew.

Given these points, those of us who use or are considering Mason’s philosophy need to ask ourselves a few questions starting with: Is Mason’s Christianity my Christianity? If you are not Christian, Bernier shows clearly that Mason’s philosophy is not for you as it cannot be separated from its Christian underpinnings. If you are Anglican (as Bernier is) you can probably use Mason’s methods in good conscience. If you are from another Christian tradition, you need to consider what her faith is and if this “mere Christianity” is enough for you. Bernier points out, for instance, that Mason renounced the authority of the pope (“Education for the Kingdom, Part 3, Christ Himself for Himself,” March 4, 2017). If you are a Roman Catholic using this philosophy, it may be that you can ignore her personal views and still use her methods. Or maybe not. But it is an issue that needs thought.

Personally, I am a reformed (read: Calvinistic) Christian. I have certain views of human nature (total depravity) which do not gel with Mason’s approach. I have blogged on this many times now (see this post and this one, for example) so I will not rehash all the arguments but I believe that when Charlotte states her infamous second principle — “[Children] are not born either good or bad, but with possibilities for good and evil” (“CM’s 20 Principles,” from Ambleside Online) — that she means this as a spiritual statement, that this statement is foundational to her philosophy, and that this view is incompatible with reformed Christianity [2].  Mason’s “mere Christianity” is not simply the core essentials that all Christians would agree to but is a kind of Arminianism (though no doubt it is not far from the faith of many evangeicals today). [3]

I also have concerns about the biblical basis of Mason’s philosophy. I do not deny that she derives her approach from the gospels, but I do question her use of these texts exclusively. There are many other passages in the Bible which speak of children and topics related to education, both in the Old and New Testaments (see this post, this one, or this one).  Though I doubt they had red-letter editions of the Bible in Mason’s day, her selection of these passages from Matthew, and only these passages, exalts the words of Jesus there recorded over other parts of God’s holy and inspired Word. And, as I discussed here, I do not even particularly like how she interprets and uses these passages.

“Education for the Kingdom” is well worth reading. Bernier’s scholarship is excellent. It is an article (or series of articles) that demands a response, however. Bernier shows us clearly what the religious basis of Mason’s philosophy of education is. But, if you are using or considering using this philosophy, it is not enough to know what it is, you must also ask if it is compatible with your own beliefs. Are Mason’s foundational ideas your own? And if they are not, is there enough commonality that you can use her methods as written in good conscience?

Nebby

[1] The Documantary Hypothesis is a theory about the origins of the biblical text, specifically the Pentateuch, which posits different authors for different sections and tends to chop the biblical text up into parts.

[2] Bernier quotes Charlotte Mason’s “A Catechism of Education Theory” which says: “‘What is the part of man? To choose good and refuse the evil'” (“Education for the Kingdom, Part 4, Meditation and PNEU Philosophy,” March 11, 2017). Though the immediate topic is education, the discussion is of spiritual food and it is hard to take this as anything but theological statement about man’s ability to choose.

[3] Charlotte Mason’s view of man’s state and abilites seems to be tied to the phrase “redeemed world.” Bernier, quoting Mason, also uses the phrase: “Christ is shown to extend His light and life over every sphere of knowledge and practice in this ‘redeemed world'”  (“Education for the Kingdom, Part 4, Meditation and PNEU Philosophy,” March 11, 2017).  I have discussed Mason’s use of the phrase and its possible meaning in this post.  I do not at this time feel completely confident in my grasp of what Mason means when she speaks of a “redeemed world” but I suspect that there is some odd soteriology underlying it.

CM Curriculum: Mater Amabilis

Dear Reader,

I have added one more installment to my charts of Charlotte Mason curricula overviews. This time we are looking at a distinctly Roman Catholic curriculum, Mater Amabilis:

CM curricula fourth

You can find all the charts comparing CM curricula here. Thus far I have restricted myself to fully CM curricula and not CM inspired ones. If you know of any I am missing, pelase let me know!

Nebby

 

Comparison of CM Curricula — updated!

Dear Reader,

I just updated my charts comparing Charlotte Mason curricula. Find them all here.

Nebby

Book Review: The Tech-Wise Family

Dear Reader,

This book is a bit of a departure for me but believe it or not I am going to manage to make this be about education too. First a mild disclaimer: I have met the author and his wife though they would not remember, I was a grad student at Harvard when they worked with the undergrad Christian fellowship so our paths did cross.

So it is with pleasure that I recommend The Tech-Wise Family: Everyday Steps for Putting Technology in Its Proper Place by Andy Crouch (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2017). Crouch takes what I found to be a very balanced approach to how to manage technology in your home. There are strict limits but technology is not the enemy and he is honest about where his own family fell short. This is definitely a good book to read as early in your parenting career as you can, but even if your kids are older it is worth a read, though it may be harder to implement.

I am not going to give you a lot of the meat of the book; you can read it for that. I would like to focus in on just a couple of ideas that really struck me.

First a Charlotte Mason connection:

“An increasing body of psychological research suggests that our supply of willpower – the ability to make hard decisions that go against our instincts or preferences- is limited. Nudges help us make some of those right decisions without having to use up that precious limited supply of willpower, leaving it available for the moments when we really need it.” (Kindle loc. 268)

This is exactly Charlotte Mason’s idea of the Way of the Will and Habit Training. We use the term will in some very contradictory ways today but Charlotte spoke of it as exactly this– the ability to make ourselves do what we don’t want to do. Habit training forms in us good habits, like rutted roads in the soul, that keep us in good paths without too much thought. These “nudges,” as Crouch tells us (Kindle loc. 289), are not in themselves good character but to the extent that they keep is from having to think about every little decision, they aid us in doing the right thing. (Of course, bad habits to just the opposite.)

Misunderstanding the relationship between the body and soul has led to a host of heresies. Crouch rightly tells us that there was no real division in Hebrew thought. What was interesting to me in light of our present discussion is how he ties this idea to education:

“But the further we explore into the astonishingly complex nature of human beings, especially the mysterious organ called the ‘brain’ and the even more mysterious reality of personhood called the ‘mind,’ the more the Hebrew perspective seems fundamentally sound. And nowhere is it more evident that we are body and soul together than in studies of how we learn.

“The best and richest experiences of learning, it turns out, are embodied ones.” (Kindle loc. 1157)

Crouch goes on to talk about how we learn language by physically speaking it – by moving our tongues – and how we learn more when we read physical books and when we use a pencil to take notes. I know I always found this to be true — I remembered what I took notes on in class without needing to ever look back at those notes; the process of writing the information incised it in my brain (oh, that I had that young brain now!).

“We can have a faint idea or hunch in our mind, but it is only when we speak or write it that it becomes clear, not just to others but to ourselves as well.” (Kindle loc. 1179)

This is why Charlotte Mason, in her approach to education, had students narrate everything they read, first orally and then as they were able in writing. Narration is not for the teacher to evaluate but enables the student to cement what they have read in their brains.

And one last thought on education:

“The last thing you need when you are learning, at any age but especially in childhood, is to have things made too easy. Difficulty and resistance as long as they are age appropriate and not too discouraging, are actually what press our brains and bodies to adapt and learn.” (Kindle loc. 1189)

As out muscles are not built with physical resistance, without ever pushing them slightly beyond what they have done before, so our intellect is not built without some struggle.

In all honesty, I feel like there are a lot of books on Christian parenting and technology and I was not expecting too much of this one. I was pleasantly surprised. Though not all of Crouch’s suggestions are unique, he doe shave some good insights and writes in a very enjoyable way. The true treasure in my eyes is the nuggets of thought in there on other topics (like education). But either way The Tech-Wise Family is a book well worth reading.

Nebby

 

 

Book Review: The Christian Home School

Dear Reader,

Thank you all for continuing to give book suggestions. My latest read has been Gregg Harris’ The Christian Home School (Gresham, OR: Noble Publishing Associates, 1995; originally published 1988).

Harris’ book is a bit dated (can one still realistically homeschool for $100-200 per child per year??) and I found its scope too narrow, particularly in talking about how to homeschool, but there enough good material here to make it worth perusing.  As my source indicated, there is one stellar chapter here, chapter 5: “The Biblical Basis of Education.” If you are new to homeschooling and need encouragement and the very basics of how to begin, you might appreciate the rest of the book; otherwise you can probably just skim large chunks (as I confess I did).

The Christian Home School begins with a lot of the usual scary stories about public schools. I don’t doubt the truth of these stories; there no doubt is something indeed to be afraid of. But I’m not a big fan of this approach. Harris also includes a brief history of public schooling in the United States and shows why reforming the current system is not an option.

Harris then turns his attention to Christian schools. For me as a homeschooler, this was refreshing; all the other books I have read thus far have been pro-Christina school and not even mentioned homeschooling as an option so it was nice to hear arguments for homeschooling in particular. Nevertheless, while I agree with a lot of what Harris says, both anti-Christian school and pro-homeschooling, I don’t think he is as fair and well-rounded as he could be. Let’s just say there are pros and cons in any option.

Having established the case for homeschooling, Harris then gets to the meat: the role of the Bible. Though he appears to be a fairly conservative writer, Harris’ stance is not overly fundamentalist. The Bible, he says, “isn’t intended to be a textbook for teachers and school administrators . . .But it does tell us everything we need to know to evaluate education – to tell the basic difference between good education and bad” (p. 66).

Parents are the primary educators (p. 66). This point is easily established. Harris makes the case that as our parenting is compared to God’s that we will be better parents the more we emulate God and adopt His style. While the Bible may not give us many specific instructions in how to parent, there is much we can learn from examining how God parents and educates us (p. 67). [1]

Harris finds the purpose of education in the purpose of man (p. 70). He goes on to say: “It only stands to reason, then, that one of the primary purposes of education is to prepare people to be born again and then to worship and fellowship with God” (p. 70) and again: “Thus, education is to benefit our society and the Church by equipping us to fulfill our part and take our place in the community of faith” (pp. 70-1). I agree with him in much of this — the purpose of education is found in God’s overall plan for man; and the primary purpose is for the individual but the larger society also benefits. I have a slight quibble with his phraseology, however. Harris speaks of “preparing” and “equipping” as if children are not yet a full part of the Church. I have argued here that there is no real divide between children and adults in the covenant community. Children are fully part of that community, are able to contribute to it, and are already interwoven into God’s plan (see this post, this one, and this one).

When it comes to the how of education, Harris tries to keep an open mind, allowing for various methods of education [though not unschooling (p. 88), a conclusion I agree with], but he clearly has a favorite. His own preference is for what he calls “Delight-Directed Study” which he equates with Unit Studies. Very briefly when we began homeschooling, we tried unit studies. I have some problems with the idea of unit studies (see this post or this one) though Harris’ arguments make me more amenable to his approach that I would have thought I would be. Part of the issue is that Harris shows no awareness of a living books approach to homeschooling such as Charlotte Mason advocates. I suspect this is because his book is older and the Charlotte Mason resurgence in homeschooling circles had not occurred, or at least not developed so much steam.  [More than any other approach we have followed the Charlotte Mason method in our homeschool. While I have become less enamored of her philosophy in recent years (and this series is the result of that disillusionment), hers is still the best single approach I have found.]

In reality there is much that Harris says that would fit well with Charlotte Mason’s philosophy. He argues that children have an innate, God-ordained appetite for knowledge (p. 69) and advocates a broad liberal arts education (p. 71). In fact, his language is very much like Miss Mason’s when he argues for a balanced intellectual meal that will bring pleasure to the child (pp. 101-02). They also both say that education cannot and should not be accomplished through force or discipline and that the role of the parent/teacher is largely to prepare the feast (Charlotte’s image) and to wait for the child to respond, as flower bud opens (Harris’ image, p. 111). 

Harris is a bit more in the classical mode in that he sees stages on education, those his are not strictly defined (pp. 112-17). This should not surprise us given the emphasis he places on education as preparation (as I argued in this post).

Delight-directed studies, as Harris defines them, teach multiple subjects through whatever topic the child is interested in. That is, if a child has a particular interest in cats, he might do language arts by reading and writing about cats and learn math by starting a cat sitting business. This were he is most like Unit Studies and least like Charlotte Mason. Though I think in the end, there is more similarity here than I thought; Charlotte’s approach also teaches some subjects, like grammar and writing, indirectly through readings and narrations done on history or other topics.

Harris advocates delight-directed study not just because it works but because, he says, it is biblical. This is perhaps his best and most unique argument — that God intended us to have pleasure even in the things we need, from food to procreation, and that we should also find delight as we satisfy our intellectual appetites (pp. 96ff). For evidence of this he points to the Psalmist’s pleasure in his study of the law of God (Ps. 1:2 among others).

One final quibble — I am once again (as I was with Rushdoony) uncomfortable when Harris talks about education for boys versus that of girls (pp. 119-20). He argues that high school age boys should be educated for a specific career but that girls should be given a broad education so that they will be prepared to help their husbands in whatever their calling might be.  My problem with this kind of thinking is two-fold: It ignores the very real possibility that not every Christian will get married. In fact, the Scriptures tell us that it is better not to be married (1 Cor. 7:32ff) and  perhaps we would take this injunction more seriously if we didn’t start our kids off with marriage as the be-all and end-all of Christian life. Secondly, it tends to undervalue knowledge for its own sake. Harris does not go as far as Rushdoony in this but perhaps just teeters in the edge of the idea.

The bottom line is that Gregg Harris’ The Christian Home School is not a book you necessarily need to run out and get right away but there is one solid good idea in here which I think we need to add to our discussion of a reformed Christian approach to education.

Nebby

[1] As a side note, I don’t agree with Harris’ definition of “to train up” in Proverbs 22:6 as “to touch the palate” (p. 68).  I have no idea where he got this. You can see my own interpretation of that verse here.

 

Living Books on Ancient Rome

Dear Reader,

We wrapped up the school year by reading about ancient Rome. Each child (2 middle schoolers and 2 high schoolers) read a historical account and a book of historical fiction. We read some myth, science and art together and also Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar. You can find all my lists of living books here.

Living Books on Ancient Rome

History:

The Roman Way by Edith Hamilton — My 11th grader read this book and the similar one on Greece. Hamilton talks more about culture than history and shows the impact ad influence of the Romans.

The Roman Empire Assimov — My senior enjoys Assimov’s histories.  He is not Christian so I would take the bits that touch on Christianity with a grain of salt. He also has one on the Roman republic.

The Story of the Romans by Eva Marie Tappan — I prefer Tappan to the all-popular Guerber. My 7th grader read this one.

The Book of the Ancient Romans by Dorothy Mills — I didn’t like her book on the ancient near east but her volumes on Greece and roe are more meaty. My 8th grader read this one.

Historical Fiction:

Quo Vadis by Henryk Sinkiwicz — One of three long fictional books that were read in the house. This one is set after the time of Christ. My 11th grader read it and seemed okay with it.

Ben Hur by Lew Wallace– A classic. I had my 12th grader read it.

The Robe by Lloyd Douglas — I assigned this one  to myself, and honestly couldn’t get through it all. The writing is okay, though not stellar. At time sit was engaging. But it is set at the very end and just after Christ’s time and says a lot about Him and His disciples and I found that it plays with the biblical story too much.

Bronze Bow by Elizabeth George Speare — My 7th grader read this book by a well-known author of historical fiction.

Tiger Tiger by Lynne Reid Banks — Historical fiction from the author of the Indian in the Cupboard.

White Isle by Caroline Dale Snedeker — I had heard about Snedeker in homeschooling circles but we had never sued one of her books. I had my 8th grader read this one. It is set in Roman Britain.

Other Subjects:

Aeneid for Boys and Girls by Alfred Church — Having just tacked the full Odyssey I didn’t want to read the original book but Church’s retelling is fun and exciting.

Child’s History of Art by V.M. Hillyer — We read the sections on Rome from all three books within a book: painting, sculpture and architecture. This is elementary level but one can still get quite a bit out of it.

Science in Ancient Rome  by Jacqueline Harris — Also elementary level.

Happy reading!

Nebby

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.

Nebby

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