For the Children’s Sake
A New Perspective
Chapter 4 is a wonderful chapter where Susan Schaeffer Macaulay begins to delve into Charlotte Mason’s specific ideas on education more fully.
1. How did Charlotte arrive at her ideas of what education is supposed to be?
SSM provides us with a quote from Charlotte Mason that details how Charlotte arrived at her idea of what education is supposed to be on pages 59-61. In summary, Charlotte began her career as a brand new teacher with the idea that if children were “bad” students it was clearly the fault of the instructor being unable to teach them. What she quickly came to realize is that each child has a unique personality and that no amount of teaching subjects is going to change them as they are. It seemed that students would make progress one day only to regress the next. This led her to struggle with wondering what the point of education was in the first place. She felt that education had to be more than just the daily coverage of certain topics. “It must mean something over and above the daily plodding along at small tasks which goes by the name.” (CM page 60) Ultimately, she believed that it “is the business of education to find some way of supplementing that weakness of will which is the bane of most of us as of the children.” (CM pg 61).
What did she mean by this? Personally, I believe that what she intends for education for children is also education for us. There is one main goal: “So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.” 1 Corinthians 10:31. As Christ said, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” Matthew 22:37-40. What a freeing thought this is! It frees us from the burdens of the world, which teach us to pursue money or knowledge as our chief educational goal. There is nothing wrong with making money or having knowledge, as long as we do so within the framework of the main goal. It allows us to be ourselves, which is what Charlotte meant when she said that ‘Children are born persons.’ She is simply stating that we all were made with certain gifts and talents and the goal is to glorify God with our unique gifts and talents. It frees us from worrying about getting the RIGHT curriculum, but instead focusing on what our child’s specific needs are and finding a curriculum that suits their specific needs.
In the proceeding chapters, SSM discussed the idea that ‘Children are born Persons’ and that we are all under authority and as parents our authority comes to us through God. Understanding these concepts is fundamental in understanding the educational philosophies of Charlotte Mason.
2. What three educational instruments are we limited to as educators?
In order to get to these three educational instruments, SSM first lays forth Charlotte’s following points that are to be accepted as true and necessary before we can move forward with the instruments of education:
a. “Children are born persons
b. They are not born either good or bad, but with possibilities for good and evil.
c. The principles of authority on the one hand and obedience on the other, are natural, necessary and fundamental; but
d. These principles are limited by the respect due to the personality of the children, which must not be encroached upon, whether by fear or love, suggestion or influence, or undue play upon any one natural desire.” (pg 61)
With these points thus being laid out we are then limited to: education is an atmosphere, a discipline, and a life. But not really limited, more so, we are set free. Through these three instruments we have the tools to arrive at our goal of assisting the child in glorifying God with their life. And this will be a lifelong pursuit. Therefore, they need to be equipped in learning how to independently educate themselves properly.
3. What does she mean by “Education is an atmosphere”?
By saying that ‘Education is an atmosphere’ Charlotte is pointing toward an atmosphere where:
a. The child is valued for who he is: “that the Christian world view properly applied produces an atmosphere in which the child is accepted just as he is. He does not have to prove himself, pass a test or show particular talent. He is valuable and unique. He is loved by God, valued and respected by Him.” Page 70.
b. “The moral atmosphere is not judgmental.” Page 71.
c. The atmosphere produced in home or school is a positive one where “the adult is eagerly alive to the vital interest in book, subject, activity or what have you.” Emphasis added. Page 71.
d. The family atmosphere is aimed “toward an atmosphere of love and forgiveness” where the child “is not a job, he is a friend”. Page 72
e. Real life situations exist on a daily basis in the home and success and failure are normal, everyday occurrences. There is not some artificial classroom atmosphere that doesn’t truly replicate real life. Page 73
f. The children and their activities are not over organized.
When we create this type of atmosphere we have arrived at a place where a child can learn and be excited to learn, because he is valued as he is. We do not strive to educate our children through manipulation, whether that be using “harsh discipline” page 66, having them rely on strong adult personalities foregoing their own ability to “stand on their own two feet” page 67, or playing “upon the natural desires of power and ambition” page 67.
Does this sound like something you have used? What if it was put in the form of questions often posed to children?
• Son, don’t you want to succeed?
• How are you going to get into college if you don’t know this?
• Mommy really wants you to learn this and you want mommy to be happy, right?
• You’re going to learn this or you’re grounded!
• Don’t you want to make a lot of money when you get older?
• So and so’s daughter got an A in math. Don’t you want to make your mommy and daddy proud?
Then how do we motivate our children? Through great material which Charlotte Mason refers to as “Living Books” and through proper use of time. SSM lays out the following points: “Teach the skills for their own sake, introduce the child to a wide curriculum of living books, keep teaching time short so that his natural hunger for “real” life can be satisfied (meaning that he can get outdoors and play!).” Page 69
4. What does she mean by “Education is a discipline”?
By discipline, Charlotte Mason means habits. She emphasizes that most of what we do is driven by our habits. Consider your daily routine: Eat breakfast, take a shower, brush your teeth, and get dressed. How many of these things do you do without thinking about them? When did you learn these habits? They are probably all done routinely every day without a second thought, and they were all probably taught to you by your mother (if not, your caretaker). They were not things that you learned in school, but they are habits you utilize every day. Consider your habits: good and bad. Consider how difficult it is to break a bad habit. We should strive to teach our children the necessary habits they will require in life. The main habit is obedience. Other habits that SSM covers in pages 77-81: attention-concentration, truthfulness, self-control and unselfishness. We teach these habits through ‘structure and form’, which SSM covers on pages 81-82.
5. What does she mean by “Education is a life”?
Give your children access to “the best that mankind has produced in art, books, music ideas and many more.” Page 83 And let them “freely play in and enjoy the gardens, meadows, woods, and lanes…every afternoon.” Page 86.
Does this sound exciting? It should! “Life is just too interesting for boredom.” Page 41. If you haven’t read this book, please do so. You are simply missing out if you don’t!
What are your thoughts? What inspired you?