A Philosophy of Education by Charlotte M. Mason (1925)


So… it’s no secret that I love Charlotte Mason, but if you haven’t the foggiest clue about who she is, let me just say that for a Victorian educator, she was remarkably sharp. She loved reading all the latest neuroscience research and applying it to educational theory. Plus, she was a devout Christian and incorporated that into her philosophy of education.

Basically, when I realized I wanted to homeschool my children and then started feeling overwhelmed at the impossibility of formulating my own educational ideals that fully took into account the science of the brain and body as well as the nature of the child as children of God… well, I was… overwhelmed. I didn’t think anyone had done that before.

Well, I was wrong. Charlotte may not have had the restored gospel of Jesus Christ in her life, but she got a remarkable amount of theology correct when it comes to the the nature of man, and the nature of child, and what their relationship with their Father in Heaven needs to be like. Nor was she science-phobic, but embraced it as a sort of modern revelation. So basically, I heart Charlotte Mason.

This is her sixth and last volume. I’d only read bits and pieces of it, maybe about half of it… so this year I sat and read it cover to cover. It’s a good one. I highly recommend it. Here’s a dusting of my favorite bits from the last chapter only.

  • How injurious then is our habit of depreciating children; we water their books down and drain them of literary flavour, because we wrongly suppose that children cannot understand what we understand ourselves: what is worse, we explain and we question (pg. 304).
  • The point I insist upon, however, is that from his sixth year the child should be an “educated child” for his age (pg. 305).
  • Children brought up largely on books compare favourably with those education on a few books and many lectures; they have generous enthusiasms, keen sympathies, a wide outlook and sound judgment, because they are treated from the first as beings of “large discourse looking before and after.” They are persons of leisure too, with time for hobbies, because their work is easily done in the hours of morning school (pg. 305).
  • I say nothing now about the teaching of science, for which most schools provide, except that for our generation, science seems to me to be the way of intellectual advance. All the same, the necessity incumbent upon at the moment is to inculcate a knowledge of Letters. Men and their motives, the historical sequence of events, principles for the conduct of life, in fact, practical philosophy, is what the emergencies of the times require us to possess, and to be able to communicate. These things are not to be arrived at by any short cut of economics, eugenics, and the like, but are the gathered harvests of many seasons’ sowing of poetry, literature, history. The nation is in sore need of wise men, and these must be made out of educated boys (pg. 313).
  • […I]t is a fatal error to think that reason can take the place of knowledge, that reason is infallible, that reasonable conclusions are of necessity right conclusions. Reason is a man’s servant, not his master [… H]e who reasons without knowledge is like a child playing with edged tools (pg. 314-315).
  • […G]reat thoughts anticipate great works; and these come only to a people conversant with the great thoughts that have been written and said (pg. 316).
  • But there is a region of apparent sterility in our intellectual life. Science says of literature, “I’ll none of it,” and science is the preoccupation of our age. Whatever we study must be divested to the bone, and the principle of life goes with the flesh we strip away: history expires in the process, poetry cannot come to birth, religion faints; we sit down to the dry bones of science and say, Here is knowledge, all the knowledge there is to know. [… F]or the most part science as she is taught leaves us cold; the utility of scientific discoveries does not appeal to the best that is in us […] But the fault is not in science […] but in our presentation of it by means of facts and figures and demonstrations that mean no more to the general audience than the point demonstrated, never showing the wonder and magnificent reason of the law unfolded. [… S]cience as it is too commonly taught tends to leave us crude in thought and hard and narrow in judgment (pg. 317-318).
  • [… A]ll knowledge (undebased) comes from above and is conveyed to minds which are, as Coleridge says, previously prepared to receive it; and, further, that it comes to a mind so prepared, without question as to whether it be the mind of pagan or Christian […] Knowledge is dealt out to us according to our preparedness and according to our needs; that God whispers in the ear of the man who is ready in order that he may be the vehicle to carry the new knowledge to the rest of us. […] All knowledge, dealt out to us in such portions as we are ready for, is sacred; knowledge is, perhaps, a beautiful whole, a great unity, embracing God and man and the universe (pg. 322, 324).
  • We are tired of the man who claims to live his life at the general expense, of the girl who will live hers to her family’s annoyance or distress [… S]o wonderful is the economy of the world that when a man really lives his life he benefits his neighbor as well as himself; we all thrive in the well-being of each. [… W]e perceive that a person is to be brought up in the first place for his own uses, and after that for the uses of society; but, as a matter of fact, the person who “lives his life” most completely is also of most service to others because he contains within him provision for many serviceable activities which are employed in living his life (pg. 327-329).
  • But a man is not made up only of eyes to see, a heart to enjoy, limbs delightful in the using, hands satisfied with perfect execution: life in all these kinds is open more or less to all but the idly depraved. But what of man’s eager, hungry, restless, insatiable mind? True, we teach him the mechanical art of reading while he is at school, but we do not teach him to read; he has little power of attention, a poor vocabulary, little habit of conceiving any life but his own; to add to the gate-money at a football match is his notion of adventure and diversion (pg. 330).
  • But our fault, our exceeding great fault, is that we keep our own minds and the minds of our children shamefully underfed. The mind is a spiritual octopus, reaching out limbs in every direction to draw in enormous rations of that which under the action of the mind itself becomes knowledge. Nothing can stale its infinite variety; the heavens and the earth, the past, the present, and the future, things great and things minute, nations and men, the universe, all are within the scope of the human intelligence (pg. 330)
  • I have so far urged that knowledge is necessary to men, and that, in the initial stages, it must be conveyed through a literary medium, whether it be knowledge of physics or of Letters, because there would seem to be some inherent quality in mind which prepares it to respond to this form of appeal and no other. I say in the initial stages, because possibly, when the mind becomes conversant with knowledge of a given type, it unconsciously translates the driest formulae into living speech (pg. 333-334).
  • We are waiting for a Christianity such as the world has not yet known (pg. 336).
  • Let us give at least as profound attention to the teaching of Christ as the disciples of Plato, say, gave to his words of wisdom (pg. 337).
  • Great confidence is placed in diagrammatic and pictorial representation, and it is true that children enjoy diagrams and understand them as they enjoy and understand puzzles; but there is apt to be in their minds a great gulf between the diagram and the fact it illustrates. We trust much to pictures, lantern slides, cinematograph displays; but without labor there is no profit, and probably the pictures which remain with us are those which we have first conceived through the medium of words (pg. 340).

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