For the next Charlotte Mason Blog Carnival, I have been reading through the section from Charlotte’s sixth book on the knowledge of God, that is, on how to teach children about God. I have touched on many of these topics before. There is a lot that Charlotte has to say about religious education that I agree with, but it is also the area where I think I most disagree with her.
To start with the negative, I think Charlotte was just too liberal in her view of the Bible. She is very much a product of her time. When she lived, the Documentary Hypothesis was just coming into its own. This is the idea that the Pentateuch in particular was comprised of other earlier sources, each of which was created by a different author with a different angle and an agenda of their own. This sort of breaking down of the biblical text was also applied to other books of the Old Testament but had the most impact on the first five. The Documentary Hypothesis is still around but the fervor over it is not as great as it was in Charlotte’s time. It is sort fo like when Darwin’s theories took off and people wanted to begin applying an evolutionary perspective to everything in life. Frankly, it is also like when my son learned to use a fork and wanted to use it on everything, even Cheerios and potato chips for which it was more trouble than good. In other words, a good tool was taken too far and used in ways that made it no longer a good tool.
The problem with all this is that it tends to break up the Bible. We are so focused on the sources and the authors behind them that we can no longer see the whole. Personally, I have no problem with the idea that there are different sources in the Bible. But alongside this, I believe that God guided the whole process and that the end result is that we have the text He wants us to have and which is His infallible Word. Biblical scholars in Charlotte’s day lost sight of this. They did the tearing apart, but no longer believed in the infallible Word. And, I am afraid, that their work trickled down to non-scholars like Charlotte who also began to doubt the veracity of the text we have. I have blogged on this before so I would refer you to this post on Charlotte’s view and this more general one on the biblical text.
Now for some more positive thoughts. As a former student of biblical Hebrew, I really like Charlotte’s emphasis on the Old Testament(elsewhere she recommends the Psalms particularly; see this post). She says that it is from the Old Testament that children will learn how God acts with His people. They learn His character. I also like that she says we should not dumb down such things for children or think that they cannot understand or have relationships with God. In general, I think children can understand a lot more in this area than we give them credit for. She says that we do not need to bring our “conceptions down to their ‘little’ minds” but that we should “be astonished at the range and depth of children’s minds” (p.158).
The methods Charlotte recommends are pretty simple. As with other areas of education, a large part of it is just reading and narration. In this case, reading the Bible. Charlotte mentions some books of Bible stories or the Bible edited for children. I have never been a fan of these except for the youngest children but prefer to use the Bible itself. The Word of God is different from other books. It has a power all its own, but many versions made for children diverge so far from the original text that I would not call them the Word of God and so they lose this special power. They may still be good books, even very good books, but only the Word of God is the Word of God.
In this chapter Charlotte talks not just about having children narrate but even about arranging so that when they learn something they are given an immediate opportunity to relate what they learned to someone else. Children do this naturally. They love to tell what they have done or learned. I don’t think Charlotte would be a big fan of prompting them “tell Daddy what we studied today” but saving talks for just before Daddy or someone else comes in so that they are more likely to be still eager to tell seems to be what she is suggesting.
But Charlotte is not a big fan of preachy sermonizing to children. Rather, she encourages mothers especially to simply talk about God in a natural way, as One who is present with them and involved in their lives. Of course if this is not how we feel, it may come off as fakey and children will see through it. So the key really is to work on our own spiritual lives and to not be afraid to talk about it as we go through our days.
These are really the main parts of religious education in Charlotte’s view. It is all pretty simple, isn’t it? Personally, I think children are also capable of more theological understanding than we give them credit for so I also like to introduce some more formal concepts early on. I still remember fondly how my younger daughter confused two of the 5 points of Calvinism, unconditional election and limited atonement, and came up with unlimited opponents (the lessons were not wasted though; her older siblings got the concepts I think).
Lastly, Charlotte has some advice for those difficult years when our children may start to question what they have always been taught (see this post too). Her advice is not to argue with them but to present them with good books on the subject so they can in a way argue with the authors. This makes it so they are not battling us but are wrestling with the ideas themselves.