Thanks to philosophers such as Spencer and Locke who enhanced the status of Reason, parents are more open with their children, and children aren't merely seen and not heard. They can come to us with questions and concerns. Yet, although this aspect of progress is positive, we must remember that a philosophy based on Reason has, as its ultimate goal, a desire to be rid of all authority, including God's. But we don't need to throw out the concept of authority; we just need to use it properly. Proper authority isn't tyrannical; a parent who understands that he himself is under God's authority and will answer to God for his treatment of his children will be gentle and merciful while still expecting proper, prompt obedience.
It's easy for parents to do so much for children that the children never learn to do for themselves. A wise parent will step back and allow children to work things out for themselves, mull thoughts over in their minds, and come to their own conclusions. Charlotte Mason calls this kind of hands-off parenting "masterly inactivity." It isn't neglect because the parent is still very much involved and aware, and the child knows that parental authority is still there in the background.
Children have rights that parents must not take away. They should have enough spare time for imaginative free play. They should be given instruction in using resources, but left to be creative with those resources in their own way. They should be allowed to suffer the consequences of their failings instead of having constant reminders and proddings. They should be trusted to choose their own friends and decide for themselves who is unworthy of them. Their free spending money should be theirs to spend however they want, so they can learn financial wisdom from their own mistakes. They should feel free to come to their own conclusions rather than pressured to accept parents' opinions.
Charlotte gives criteria that a good working educational philosophy should have. It should apply to all facets of man - body, soul and spirit. It should treat persons as sacred, intelligent beings. It should encourage the growth of the whole person rather than merely address vocational training. It should encourage bonding with all people of all cultures, classes and times.
Locke's model of 'training faculties' treated man as a machine with no personality, no ability to broaden his mind, and no opportunity to bond with other peoples--so his philosophy is found to be lacking. Herbart, while he agreed that man is a complex whole, still left out unique personality and decribed the mind as a void and waiting to be stuffed with ideas that a teacher put in. Charlotte Mason largely rejected these educational philosophies.
Charlotte's philosophy treated children as persons who were able to form intelligent connections with ideas, encouraged the growth of the whole person and encouraged connections with people of all cultures and times through reading books about them. Children are born with minds ready to see, hear and think--all they need are ideas, experiences and the discipline of good habits to make the most of those learning opportunities. Their education should broaden them and enrich their whole life with interesting knowledge about all kinds of things. Since children are individual and we don't know which ideas will strike their fancy, we present a mutitude of noble, interesting ideas and let him choose which ones to take.
Children should be taught that service and devotion to God is a duty, not an option, and that remaining physically fit is for His service, not for their own pleasure. They should know that reason and intellect can steer them wrong and cultivate good intellectual habits--attention, concentration, thoroughness, accuracy, ability to change thoughts at will, reflection and meditation. The intellect needs interesting ideas in the form of well-written books to thrive. Children have capable minds and don't need books written down to them. They need lots of exposure to nature and noble ideas.
Education is an atmosphere (meaning that we fill their environment with learning opportunities), a discipline (we train them to have habits that will sharpen their ability to make the most of learning opportunities), a life (their education must be relevant to the growth of the whole person.)
Dry textbooks will not give the kind of education Charlotte Mason had in mind. Children need real, vital books instead of a teacher giving mediocre lectures. Children learn more when they have to get knowledge from books themselves, rather than having a teacher's lecture or list of comprehension questions extracting knowledge for them. Narration encourages careful reading the first time.
Children have a natural curiosity and using grades and rewards to motivate students kills their curiosity. With good books, life experiences, nature exposure and time to ruminate, we can trust a child's curiosity to learn. It takes effort to learn, but effort can be fun, as anyone who takes pains with a beloved hobby knows. In chapter 21, Charlotte briefly discusses what kinds of books to look for in each subject.
Well-educated people are interested in lots of things. We dare not restrict education to "the 3 R's" but we must expose children to ideas in many different topics. Our goal is for children to love knowledge and become real readers.
2004 Leslie N. Laurio
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