Miss Charlotte Mason, classical educator

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Given the definition of classical education we developed previously – that classical education is a set of principles that focuses on developing a love of truth, goodness, and beauty – I then give you this, from Charlotte Mason’s Philosophy of Education:

[Education should] qualify their children for life rather than for earning a living.

One sentence, and that’s the real crux of it. What is the point of our studies? It is not to get into college or get a job. The point is that our studies make us fit and able to live a worthy and honorable life.

She continues:

As a matter of fact, it is the man who has read and thought on many subjects who is, with the necessary training, the most capable whether in handling tools, drawing plans, or keeping books. The more of a person we succeed in making a child, the better will he both filfil his own life and serve society.

It is not that we do not want our children to get jobs, but that a job is an indirect benefit, one that comes as “bonus” rather than as the end sought.

Miss Mason even gives us historical proof that this is the best way:

History, poetry, philosophy, proved the salvation of a ruined nation [Prussia after Napoleonic wars], because such studies make for the development of personality, public spirit, initiative, the qualities of which the State was in need, and which most advance individual happiness and success. On the other hand, the period when Germany made her school curriculum utilitarian marks the beginning of her moral downfall.

Next, Miss Mason proves she is no unschooler, and also no elitist:

Now, no one can employ leisure fitly whose mind is not brought into active play every day; the small affairs of a man’s own life supply no intellectual food and but small and monotonous intellectual exercise. Science, history, philosophy, literature, must no longer be the luxuries of the ‘educated’ classes; all classes must be educated and sit down to these things of the mind as they do to their daily bread. History must afford its pageants, science its wonders, literature its intimacies, philosophy its speculations, religion its assurances to every man, and his education must have prepared him for wanderings in these realms of gold.

Here she agrees with Sydney Harris, who said, “The primary purpose of a liberal education is to make one’s mind a pleasant place in which to spend one’s leisure.”

She also turns out to be no back-to-basics, 3Rs proponent:

A knowledge of reading, writing, and arithmetic is no education and no training but merely the elementary condition of further knowledge. [A liberal arts University’s] implicit contention is, given a well-educated man with cultivated imagination, trained judgement, and wide interests, he is prepared to master the intricacies of any profession; […] Special teaching towards engineering, cotton-spinning, and the rest is quite unnecessary for every manufacturer knows that given a ‘likely’ lad he will soon be turned into a good workman in the works themselves.

And she is relentless in rooting out our qualms about jobs and teaching to the tests:

But we are slow to learn because we have set up a little tin god of efficiency in that niche within our private pantheon which should be occupied by personality [personhood, individuality, humanity, souls]. […] We shall find, in the words of a well-known Swedish professor that “just as enrichment of the soil gives the best conditions for the seed sown in it so a well-grounded humanistic [humanities] training provides the surest basis for a business capacity.

This makes me think of the C.S. Lewis quote: “Aim at heaven and get earth thrown in. Aim at earth you will get neither.” Classical education is an education oriented toward the higher ideals that modern materialists don’t even believe exist, the primary ideal being truth. And Truth became a person. And Truth is evident in all His Creation. An education that aims at ignoring truth and focuses instead on shortcutting to results and outcomes will not get either, as should be manifest by now.

Charlotte Mason had her own particular and very precise methodology laid out, but it was founded upon classical principles. She worked out a reproducible application of the classical principles that was effective with privileged and unprivileged classes alike. She was a stalwart defender of classical education in a tide that was against her, a tide crashing with all haste toward our modern, utilitarian, materialist (not necessarily consumerist, but more broadly, not believing in a spiritual realm) system.

Our aim in Education is to give a Full Life. — We begin to see what we want. Children make large demands upon us. We owe it to them to initiate an immense number of interests. ‘Thou hast set my feet in a large room’ should be the glad cry of every intelligent soul. Life should be all living, and not merely a tedious passing of time; not all doing or all feeling or all thinking — the strain would be too great — but, all living; that is to say, we should be in touch wherever we go, whatever we hear, whatever we see, with some manner of vital interest… The question is not, — how much does the youth know? when he has finished his education — but how much does he care?

Plus, I know I’m right that Charlotte Mason is a classical educator because Cindy said so at CIRCE. :)

As I participate in Brandy’s study of Charlotte Mason’s 20 Principles of Education, I want to work through the core of those principles rather than her particular applications of them. In doing so, I think it will be clear that she was staunchly in the stream of classical education, and we can all benefit from her clear thinking and wise counsels.

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