Posts Tagged ‘Charlotte Mason’

My Nature Lore Booklist

Dear Reader,

This is a question that came up on a discussion board and it’s one of those things I probably should have gotten together a while ago. You can find all my lists of living books here.

What is Nature Lore and How do you use it?

Simply put, “nature lore” refers to books that tell about nature and science-related topics in a literary way. I use the term because it is popular in Charlotte Mason circles. In reality, “creation lore” might be a better term. I fear that nature lore makes one think that we must read about nature only — animals especially and maybe a little about plants. I use “creation” to draw our attention to all that God has made, from the stars to the rocks, from weather to physical laws. Really any science related topic presented in a literary form is fair game.

If I could go back in time, I would do a lot less with my kids when they were little, but one thing I would definitely keep is reading nature creation lore aloud. The goal of science in the early years particularly is just to keep alive and feed children’s innate curiosity and love for knowledge. Most kids have a love for the world around them in some way. It may be a passion for dinosaurs or panda bears or a penchant for filling up your car and their underwear drawer with rocks and sticks, but one way or another it comes out.  Feeding this love requires two things: time outside and good books. (The former I hope is obvious but at any rate would be the subject for another post.) Books give us the knowledge to dig deeper into what we see with our eyes (and feel and smell and hear). They expand out horizons. We don’t all live near volcanoes and kangaroos. Books take us to the places we can’t go ourselves. Good authors communicate their own passion and inspire ours. They draw us in through their own enthusiasm for their subject. (For more on science and why and how we study it, see this post.)

The actual process of doing nature lore with your kids is simple: read and narrate, read and narrate. If you have multiple kids, have them take turns narrating what you read. Read chunks that are appropriate to their age and ability to retain. With the littlest kids, you may be reading a paragraph or two at a time only. If you have multiple ages, I usually gear my reading to just below the level of the oldest child participating. The oldest can still get something out of what it read but so can the next one or two. Don’t worry too much about littles. They will get more than you expect. One nice thing about science-y topics is that they often lend themselves to alternative forms of narration. Charts, pictures, and diagrams can be good ways to reproduce what one has heard. For instance, if you have just read about types of volcanoes, each child can take a few minutes to draw the various kinds and, depending on age and ability, label them.

Nature lore and time outside are really all you need for science in the elementary years. I know this can be hard to swallow and that you want to add in more but remember the goals — to encourage a love for creation, to build relationships with the things God has made, to encourage curiosity and observational skills. If your child wants to do some hands-on experiments, that’s fine, but you don’t need such things. (They will be getting some hands-on experience in their time outside as well. It is fun to make slime and watch things explode and I would not deprive any kid of those joys, but often science experiments made for young children are pretty preachy and basic anyway.)

Nature lore does not need to end. As my kids got older, meaning into middle school, I would often pick a topic for the year or the term. Things like meteorology or geology (again, look at my other booklists for some of those). Even in high school we continue to use living books as the basis of our science, adding in labs and definitely being more topical (a year each of biology, chemistry, physics). But that doesn’t mean you need to abandon nature lore. There are many wonderful books written for adults that keep alive that sense of wonder and that transport us to new places.

This is not going to be a complete list (if that were ever possible!). There is just too much out there and I am sure I have forgotten a lot of what we used when they were little. If you have other suggestions, please let me know and I will add them. Don’t be afraid to find your own books. Some of the best ones we’ve used were garage sale or thrift store finds that are not on anybody else’s nature lore list. After you have done this a bit, you will become more adept at judging books for yourself. You can usually pick up a book and read the first few paragraphs and get a sense if it is going to be an engaging book and if it is the appropriate level for your kids. If you get a little ways in and for some reason don’t love it, drop it and move on to another.

The books below are roughly sorted by age level, from the youngest to the oldest. I am very hesitant to give specific age ranges. Good nature lore often appeals to a wide range fo ages. Older children can still get something out of simple books and young ones will get more than you expect from books that seem over their heads.

Nature Lore Books for All Ages

Among the ………..People by Clara Dillingham Pierson — This series of books focuses on various environments — meadow, forest, etc. Each reading is fairly short, maybe 2 pages, which can work well with younger children. We had a one volume set that included all the books. My daughter did get tired of them after a while. I do think the whole lot might be a lot to do all at once.

Natural Wonders Every Child Should Know by Edwin Tenney Brewster — This was one of those thrift store finds for me. It covers a wide range of topics (including reproduction!) at an elementary level. I include not because I expect it to be easy for anyone to find (though certainly pick it up if you do) but because look at that title — if you see an old looking book with a title like this, you should always buy it.

Millicent Ellis Selsam — Some authors are so good it is hard to pick one book by them. Selsam’s are fairly brief, mostly of the easy reader variety, and cover a variety f topics. She has books on seeds, microscopes, turtles, and more.

Robert McClung — McClung will reappear below as well. His easier books are fun, easy reader level books. We particularly liked the one about Stripe the Chipmunk.

In the Land of the Lion — Another thrift store find. Again, this is the sort of title you should perk up at if you see it. This book discusses various African animals which brings up another point: nature lore can also often be geography. It’s good to learn more details about nature close to home, but books also open the world to us.

Toklat: The Story of an Alaskan Grizzly Bear by Alfred Milotte — Some books are surveys of a time or place; some take us in depth on one animal. The title kind of says it all for this one. A quick search on Amazon shows me Milotte wrote others as well and I suspect they are all worthwhile.

How’s Inky (and sequels) by Sam Campbell — The story of a porcupine (if I am remembering correctly). Told with humor.

Tale of …………….. by Thornton Burgess — Burgess will reappear below as well. His books that are along the lines of “the Story of so-and-so animal” are wonderful for children learning to read chapter books. Each section is very short but manages to advance the story so one doesn’t get bored.  I prefered his books that stick to animals and was less enamored of the ones that feature Mother West Wind.

The Storybook of Science  by Jean Henri Fabre — This is one of my must reads because it covers so many subjects, from bees to volcanoes, even including some history as I recall. I am not actually crazy about its modus operandi which is to set the information as stories told my an uncle to his nephews and nieces, but is it still a good book. Fabre has many others though I am less enamored of those that stick to a single subject.

Jack’s Insects by Edmund Selous — There are some guides to go along with this book and it is quite popular on living book lists. We used it. I wasn’t crazy about it. Honestly, it might be a bit too much on insects.

Spotty the Bower Bird by Edward Sorenson — This was out foray into Australian animals. I lovely book if you can manage to find it.

Jacques Cousteau — The famous French diver and oceanologist has written a number of books for kids. We stumbled across two, one on dolphins and one on walruses and seals. Both were fairly well done and worth getting. They are from the series the Undersea Discoveries of Jacques-Yves Cousteau. I believe there are other series under his name that are a bit more textbook-y.

Naturally Curious by Mary Holland — This book focuses on New England (my area) and gives what to look  for in each month, what is blooming etc. It tends to list a few things and then go in-depth on one or two. This would not be an every day or even every week book but is good to check in with every month to get an idea of what one might expect to see.

All Creatures Great and Small by James Herriot — Herriot’s tales of a vet and the people and animals he encounters are quite well-known. My daughters really enjoyed them. He has various volumes and you can also find shorter versions of his books that focus on one topic, cats for instance.

Forgotten by Time by Robert Silverberg — Silverberg is a favorite author of mine. He also has books on history and one called Scientists and Scoundrels. This one is on all those animals (and a few plants) that don’t quite fit our usual categories.

The Rhino with the Glue-on Shoes by Lucy Spelman — Tales from a zoo-keeper, I believe. My daughter liked this one when she was in middle school.

Curious Naturalist by Sy Montgomery — This book has short readings organized by season. It is good even for high school. The chapter on beavers is worth the whole book.

The Animal Book and  The Bird Book by Thornton Burgess — I told you he would reappear. These two books are longer and a bit more of a haul. We found the bird book a bit much all at once though my one bird-living daughter read some of it on her own. Beware that sometimes things change in science: rabbits are no longer considered rodents.

Silent Spring and The Sea Around Us by Rachel Carson — Silent Spring is quite famous and tells of the effect of pesticides on the environment.

A Walk in the Woods by Bill Bryson — Tells the author’s adventures on the Appalachian Trail.

A Walk through the Year, A Naturalist Buys an Old Farm  and Circle of the Seasons by Edwin Way Teale — Teale has a number fo wonderful books. They can be read by adults but I also read one aloud to my elementary kids. Circle of the Seasons gives daily readings. A Walk Through the Year is organized by seasons and can also be found as four separate volumes. A Naturalist Buys an Old Farm  is more anecdotal and the title pretty much tells you where you are going with this one.

Wilderness Essays by John Muir — Muir is famous naturalist and I have heard he was a Christian. His love for nature comes through. This is the book of his we have used but I suspect his others are also worth the time.

Tristan Gooley — Gooley has a number of books that are good reads for high school boys who might be les enthused by nature books. They cover things like finding your way in the woods.

Lost Wild America by Robert McClung — McClung reappears with a book for the older crew. This one is on endangered animals and includes some historical context for each.

My Family and Other Animals by Gerald Durrell — I loved this book. I laughed aloud in parts. It is an upper level book because, well, the family is included and there is some adult content. Read it yourself if you don’t want to give it to your kids. The Durrell family moved from England to Cyprus and the boy, Gerald, was quite the collector of animals. There is also a PBS series about them, though it strays quite far from the book.

As a reminder, if you are looking for specific topics like geology and environmental studies, click on the “lists of living books” link above and scroll down to the science section. There are other choices there that would work well for nature lore also but I didn’t want to repeat myself too much.

Happy Reading!

Nebby

 

The Holy Spirit in Education (A Podcast Review)

Dear Reader,

I am writing this having just listened to a recent podcast from A Delectable Education. Given the non-written nature of the material, I want to reflect on it while it is fresh in my mind. A Delectable Education, if you are not familiar with it, is a podcast devoted to Charlotte Mason’s philosophy of education. The episode in question (#140) is entitled “Live from Charlotte Mason Soiree Retreat Q&A” and was released on September 28, 2018.  As its title suggests, this podcast is actually the audio from the Q&A session of a recent retreat. The portion I am interested in comes about 35 minutes into the podcast episode.

The panel of speakers is asked how if, as Charlotte Mason says, the Holy Spirit is the prime mover in education, we can educate our children if they are not yet saved and have not yet been regenerated by the Holy Spirit. There are two answers given: that God is the source of all truth and that He does work in our children’s lives.

I am sorry I am not good at identifying which of the female panelists is speaking when, but one of them provides the first answer (not first in the order they say them; they go back and forth a bit), that all truth comes from God. This does not actually get to the heart of the question but it is a statement I heartily agree with. Art Middlekauff (the only male member of the panel) adds that just because we get a certain truth through say, Euclid, that does not mean all he has said is worth listening to. In other words, God may speak through an unbeliever on one topic or one set of topics but that does not mean all they say is inspired. This is a good reminder to us to use discernment.  In our own culture, we tend to put too much faith in anyone who does anything at all impressive from movie stars to sports heroes. I have read for instance that  Isaac Newton had some really wacky ideas on theology. This does not detract from his scientific theories but neither do his scientific theories lend credence to his theological ideas.

The second point, which is made primarily by Middlekauff, is that the question is flawed because our children are saved. My own church, like his, baptizes infants and considers them part of the body of believers. Middlekauff’s explanation is a good one as far as it goes. It addresses the case of Christian homeschooling parents educating their own kids.

We are left still with the question of other children. Whether at home or in a school context, we may find ourselves teaching children who do not have believing parents. Middlekauff partly addresses this issue. He says something along the lines of (paraphrasing, not an exact quote): even if you do not believe your children are saved, it is still the Holy Spirit that works in them and since your primary concern is presumably that they be saved you should very much desire and rely upon the work of the Holy Spirit in their lives.

Again, I agree largely with what Middlekauff has to say, but I do have two concerns. I believe that it is the Holy Spirit that is working even if our students are unregenerate. If there is any good to be done in and for them, it is He that does it. Charlotte Mason’s philsophy of education relies upon the student being able to choose the good and I would not say that the unregenerate (children or adults) have any power to do so. I think then that more needs to be said about how this philosophy can work for such children. (I do have my own theories about the purpose of education in the lives of both regenerate and unregenerate children; you can read them here.)

My second concern is that I am just not convinced that this is how Miss Mason herself thought of the issue. I *think* that Middlekauff is saying something very similar to what I have been saying in my current blog series, that the Holy Spirit works in the lives of regenerate covenant children and that if any are outside of the covenant we still educate them while praying and hoping for His work in them too. (I hope I am not misrepresenting his ideas; this is how I took what he had to say. Though we seem to get to the same place, I am not sure our reasoning is the same.)

In contrast, when I read Charlotte Mason’s writings, what I understand her to say is that her education is for all children (she is particularly concerned to include those her society would have deemed uneducable). I do not think she makes a distinction between regenerate and unregeneate children because I do not think that she sees such a difference. She had a very different view (from mine) of what it means to live in a “redeemed world” (her term) and of the general moral and spiritual ability of people apart from the saving work of Christ. (I just did a long post on that here.) The long and the short of it is that her philosophy relies upon the ability of all children to choose the good because she believed that all children were capabale of doing so. She does not address what we do with unregenerate children because she did not believe in them as such. She believed all children had, through Christ’s redemptive work, been given some ability to choose and do good.

So I guess my conclsuion on this episode is that I like a lot of what the panelists had to say. I was surprised, in fact, to find myself agreeing so much with them. I am less convinced that how they explain the situation is how Miss Mason herself saw things. I still think we need a philsophy of education which considers all children — whether from believing parents or not — and which finds its origins in a reformed understanding of human nature and the purpose of life.

Nebby

Was Charlotte Mason Reformed?

Dear Reader,

This is a bit of a sidebar to  my current series. I feel like I have discussed this topic many times over, but I am revisiting it for two reasons: I recently got into an online debate about it (I know, I know, stay away from forums) and I ran across some relevant quotes in rereading Charlotte’s second volume, Parents and Children. (Previous posts on this topic can be found here, here,  here, and here.)

In truth, the question is not usually “Was Charlotte Mason reformed?” I don’t think there are many people who would argue that yes, she was overtly reformed in the sense of positively propounding a reformed theology. The argument is usually that her church, the Church of England (CoE) in the late 1800s/early 1900s, was reformed and that she therefore was also reformed or at least that her outlook would have been in line with reformed theology.

It is beyond my expertise to examine the theology of the CoE of the time. My concern is with Charlotte herself and the statements she made. I will say that my understanding is that the CoE was intentionally very broad in its theology.  This is the position of Benjamin Bernier who writes extensively on the Anglican basis of Charlotte’s thought in a series of articles called “Education for the Kingdom” which have been published at Charlotte Mason Poetry (Part 1 of Bernier’s series can be found here; I discussed these articles previously in this post). Bernier says that:

“Among other important features of this context, one which helps us understand the contemporary applicability of Mason’s method to various religious backgrounds is related to a distinctive characteristic of traditional Anglicanism as an established church. The Church of England has always had a variety of currents flowing within it, often incorporating under the same roof groups holding conflicting opinions. For this reason, it has a long-established tradition of differentiating between essentials and non-essentials in Christian doctrine by limiting the essentials to that deposit of truth which can be shown to be commonly shared by all Christians, i.e. what all Christians believe at all times and in all places.

“This is essentially the same principle later identified by C.S. Lewis, another influential Anglican intellectual, who coined the term “mere Christianity” to identify it. It is this core of common Christian belief which Mason embraced from her Anglican perspective and used as a foundation to develop her interpretation of education for the children’s sake.” (Benjamin Bernier, “Education for the Kingdom, Part 1,” from Charlotte Mason Poetry, Feb. 18. 2017; emphasis added)

When examining at someone’s theology, it is important that we let that person speak for themselves and that we consider their words within the broader context of their writing. Which is to say, we can find quotes in which Charlotte sounds reformed, but we need to look at the range of what she has to say, not isolated quotes.

Those who argue either that Charlotte Mason’s theology was compatible with reformed theology  use one of two arguments (or, more usually, both). They either allege that Charlotte is in line with reformed theology or they argue that reformed theology is being misrepresented. I’d like to approach the topic by looking at some of these arguments:

“Charlotte Mason’s second principle doesn’t say what you think it says.” Charlotte’s second principle is often a stumbling block to those of the reformed faith. It is that which first raises the question in our  minds, “Wait, what is she saying? Can I really believe this philosophy of education if she is saying what I think she is saying?” If you are unfamiliar with it, that infamous principle says that “[Children] are not born either good or bad, but with possibilities for good and for evil.” The usual explanation of this principle is that Charlotte was dealing with the rigid class structure of her time which said that the children of the poor or the uneducated or criminals were inherently uneducable and were both morally and intellectually inferior. There are many articles which present this position including the note which Ambleside Online adds to the principle. It reads as follows:

“Principle 2 should not be understood as a theological position on the doctrine of original sin, but as a belief that even poor children who were previously thought incapable of living honest lives could choose right from wrong if they were taught. Charlotte Mason was a member in good standing of the Anglican Church of England, whose Thirty Nine Articles includes this statement: “Original sin stands not in the following of Adam, but it is the fault and corruption of the nature of every man that naturally is engendered of the offspring of Adam, whereby man is very far gone from original righteousness, and is of his own nature inclined to evil.“” (emphasis added)

In other words, Charlotte was correcting a wrong idea of her time that certain children were less able than others. I agree both that this idea was present at the time and that Charlotte disagreed with it. I do not agree that Charlotte was not expressing an inherently theological position. Note that even in trying to defend this principle, Ambleside Online acknowledges that Charlotte was talking about morality as well as intellectual ability. Any time we are talking about morality, we are already in the realm of theology.

As I have argued in this post, Charlotte always views the child as a whole containing body, mind, heart and spirit. When she propounds her second principle, she has all these parts in mind and therefore she is speaking not just of intellectual ability but of moral and spiritual ability as well. From a reformed standpoint, if we wanted to counter the argument of her day — that certain children are morally and intellectually inferior– the answer is not to elevate the children of the poor and downtrodden but to bring down the children of the rich and privleged for we all are dead in our sins.

“Charlotte Mason believed in Original Sin.” This argument is closely related to the previous one (you will see that the editors of Ambleside Online make it in the quote above). I do not doubt that Charlotte did believe in Original Sin. The problem is that there are many definitions within Christendom of what Original Sin means and what the Fall did to man’s nature (I tried to give some idea of the range of Christian belief on the topic in this post). The Roman Catholic Church, for instance, does not see corruption in man’s reason (an idea which Charlotte clearly rejects). The core of the CoE’s position is presented in its Thirty-Nine Articles (the relevant portion is in the Ambleside Online quote above). There is nothing wrong in this statement in my view but it is not complete. Further examination shows that the CoE believes that man retains some kind of “formal freedom” to choose and do good. This formal freedom is a prerequisite for grace and allows man to cooperate to some degree in his own salvation (again, I discussed all this here). This is not the reformed position which goes beyond Original Sin is known as Total Depravity.

“Total Depravity does not mean what you think it means. Total Depravity is not utter (or absolute) depravity.” Which brings us to the next argument: that total depravity is total in the sense of affecting all parts of human nature but that man is not as evil as he could be. In other words, he is not absolutely or utterly depraved. Man retains some ability to do good (though, it is often added, not good that leads unto salvation).

There is some truth in this argument. We are not as evil as we could be and even unregenerate people seem to do “good.” The problem is in our definition of good. “Good,” I would argue, is defined by God. There any many things we do which seem “good” in the sense that they are outwardly in line with God’s will and law. If these things are done without faith, however, the Scriptures tell us that they are not truly good in the sense of being able to please God (Heb. 11:6).  Similarly, unregenerate people can be used to further God’s kingdom [for example, Jospeh’s brothers who sold him into slavery (Gen. 50:20) and Cyrus, king of the Persians, who is God’s instrument for restoring His people (Isa. 45:1)]. Their actions in so doing will be “good” on one level, but their actions are still sinful and they gain no favor with God by what they do (if that were possible).

While you can certainly find reformed people who say that Total Depravity is not utter depravity (see this article by R.C. Sproul; the PRCA, on the other hand, argues for absolute depravity), there is a gap between “not as evil as we could be” and “good.” Boettner says that when we are “not as evil as we could be”  we are not doing good but doing the lesser rather than the greater evil.  In other words, there is a false dichotomoy presented, either we are good or evil. In reality, there are not only two options, but there is room in between these positions.

Those who make this argument are, I think, being a bit disingenuous. There is quite a chasm between what Charlotte says (quoting that second principle again):    “[Children] are not born either good or bad, but with possibilities for good and for evil” and a classic statement of reformed doctrine such as is found in the  Westminster Confession of Faith which says that we are dead in our sins and “opposite to all good, and wholly inclined to all evil . . .” (WCF, VI, 4).  Charlotte presents “possibilities for good and evil” as if these are equal and balanced options. While there may be some difference among reformed people in what exactly total depravity means, it is not this.

“Calvin also said similar things  — so it is okay if we do and/or you are misunderstanding what Calvinism is.” This again is a variant of the above argument which says that reformed position is being misconstrued. There is one quote  in particular which seems to circulate in CM circles and if often brought up in such discussions. It says that:

“In every age there have been persons who, guided by nature, have striven toward virtue throughout life. For they have, by the very zeal of their honesty, given proof that there was some purity in their nature. These examples, accordingly, seem to warn us against judging man’s nature wholly corrupted, because some men have by its prompting not only excelled in remarkable deeds, but conducted themselves most honorably throughout life.” (John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, Volume 1, Book 2, Chapter III)

My goal is to give Charlotte Mason fair play and to look at what she says as a whole and not to take things out of context; we need to do the same for Calvin. The context in this case is really the entire argument he is making in his Institutes. The rest of the paragraph reads as follows (this is actually a different translation; above I used the quote as it appears in CM circles; below I am using the translation I own):

“Although we will explain what value this sort of virtue has before God more fully when we discuss the merit of works, nevertheless for the present we must say what is necessary for the matter we have in hand. These examples inform us, then, that we should not regard human nature as completely defective, since by its guidance some have not only done more than a few excellent actions but also have conducted themselves honorably the whole course of their lives.” [John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, trans. by Elsie Anne McKee, (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2009) p.80]

Though Calvin seems to leave place here for goodness apart from regeneration, he goes on to say in the next paragraph that there is “universal corruption” in the human race that is only restrained by God’s grace and that if He did not do so “there is no one who did not show by experience that all the vices . . .would be in him” (p. 81).  He goes on to speak of the reasons why some do good — fear, shame and honor among them — and to say that “the Lord restrains the corruption of our nature but does not purify it” (p. 81).

From here Calvin goes on to make clear that the goodness which seems to be in some men is a gift of God which He gives to some and not others. “Therefore, in our common speech we do not hesitate to say that one is born good and another is born bad, one born with a good nature and another with a bad nature; we still include both under the universal condition of human corruption . . .” (p. 82).

In the paragraph which was first quoted, Calvin says that he will return to this topic when he discusses the merit of good works and so he does. He reiterates that this goodness is a gift God gives to some — but note not all — unregenrate people at the same time calling such virtue “external and hypocritical ” (p. 336). This gift, however, appears to be a mixed blessing. In the next paragraph Calvin quotes Augustine who says that:

“‘ . . . they are not only unworthy of any remuneration [for their good works] but rather they deserve punishment because they contaminate God’s gifts by the pollution of their heart . . . They are held back from doing evil not by a pure feeling of uprightness or righteousness, but by ambition or self-love or by some other indirect and perverse consideration. Since their works are corrupted by the heart’s impurity from their first origin, they no more deserve to be placed among virtues than do the vices which deceive people because of some likeness and relationship to the virtues. To cut it short, because we know that the unique and perpetual goal of righteousness and uprightness is that God be honored, all that tends in some other direction rightly loses the name of uprightness. Since such people do not consider the goal which God’s wisdom has ordained, although what they do seems good in external action it is still sin because of its wicked goal.'” (pp. 336-37)

Thus while Calvin in the original quote seems to acknowledge that there is good that unregenerate people do, even to the point that he calls them virtuous and says that conduct their whole loves honorably, he ends by saying that these “virtues” are really vices, are sinful, and indeed deserve all the more condemnation because though a gift from God they are wrongly used.

I want to close by looking at some quotes from Charlotte’s second volume, Parents and Children. (No doubt there are many others which could be considered. This is the volume I have been re-reading recently so these are what are on my mind.) One I have already discussed in other posts is:

“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 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.” [Charlotte Mason, Parents and Children, (Seven Treasures Publications, 2009) p. 40]

There is a lot in this little sentence; I will not reiterate it all here other than to say there seems to be a very odd idea about soteriology contained in this phrase “redeemed world.” You can read my previous post on this passage here.

At one point Charlotte herself seems to speak of total depravity:

“But the man who is utterly depraved has no capacity for gratitude, for example? Yes, he has; depravity is a disease, a morbid condition; beneath is the man, capable of recovery.” (p. 86)

Here Charlotte nods to the doctrine of total depravity (though she actually uses the word “utter”) but notice her definition of it: it is a disease from which man may recover. This is not the reformed view. The biblical view (Eph. 2:1) and that of the Westminster Confession of Faith (WCF, VI, 4; see above) is that man is not sick only but dead in his sins. One does not recover from death.

Another quite theological passage which might help shed light on Charlotte’s thought is a little earlier in the volume:

“[Jesus] is far from declaring that men can do no good thing, that He assumes always that man in his proper state of dependence on God has the power to do righteousness, ‘Whosoever shall do the will of My Father, which is in heaven, the same is My brother, and sister, and mother.’ But the question remains, How, considering our actual shortcomings, can any of us be spoken of by Jesus as righteous here and now? . . . [Paul’s] answer was, that according to Jesus, a man is accounted righteous, not from consideration of his works, but from consideration of his faith in God. Human righteousness is not a verdict upon the summing up of a life, but it is reckoned to a man at any moment from a certain disposition of his spirit to the Spirit of God . . . Righteousness, in the only sense in which it is possible for men, means believing and trusting God.” (p. 74)

On its surface, this does not sound entirely bad. Notice in the first sentence that she says man is able to do right if he is “in his proper state of dependence on God.” It is a little vague but we could take this to mean that those who are regenerate, having been put in a proper realtionship to God, are able to do good. That is certainly a statement I agree with. I also agree that we are “accounted righteous” and that this is not done on the basis of our works. The last part of the paragraph is a problem, however. Here Charlotte seems to make our justification (when we are declared righteous) dependent upon our faith. Righteousness, she says, is reckoned to us at the moment when we have a right disposition (that of faith) and thus she is able to say that righteousness means believing and trusting in God.  I will acknowledge that there is some ambiguity here as to what Charlotte means but my reading of it would be that she is making faith the work by which we are declared righteous, a work which we are all capable of. (Neither is there any mention of the fact that it is Christ’s righteousness which is applied to us.)

I don’t see any solid reasons to say that Charlotte Mason’s theology was reformed or in line with reformed understandings. She was a prolific writer and I will acknowledge that there is much of her work I have not read. But from what I have read, my inclination is to take her at face value and to to sya that she did believe that children, all children regardless of regeneration, have capacity for good. Those who say otherwise, I believe, either misrepresent Charlotte’s ideas or misrepresent reformed doctrine. The Church of England of the time (and still today, I believe) was a broad umbrella. I do nto doubt that Charlotte was well within the confines of orthodoxy as the CoE defined it nor do I doubt that she was a sincere believer. But I do not think we can call her reformed by any stretch.

So where does this leave us? As I have said before, I think that Charlotte’s view of children is fairly integral to her philosophy of education. I also think that her approach is about the best single take on Christian education out there. But I do think we need to use it with discernment and to ask oursleves where her particular theology may differ from our own and how that it going to play out in the practical details.

Nebby

 

 

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

 

 

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