“The function of education is not to give technical skill but to develop a person; the more of a person, the better the work of whatever kind.-Charlotte Mason, Towards a Philosophy of Education, Vol. 6, p. 147
The above quote from Charlotte speaks to the heart of her philosophy. But will a living education work for the STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) student living in this modern world? What if all your child wants to do is build things and study technical manuals of a specific scientific discipline? Can a Charlotte Mason education really benefit them? I have observed that STEM education is for everyone, that it’s nothing new, that it demands creativity, and that the STEM fields need compassion – all things that can be found in the fullness of a Mason education.
STEM is Part of the Feast
First of all, the four subjects that make up the STEM acronym are paramount for those who are not going into a specific STEM field. English majors need these subjects, too. You never know where your student’s life path will take them. I have seen my literature-focused son fall in love with statistics, data, and ecosystems and another pursue robotics and electrical technology. My daughter, after graduating from Bible college, found an entry-level job in customer service and was quickly promoted to the IT department because of her problem solving and computer skills. STEM is for everyone who wishes to know more about the world we live in. A CM education will have you spreading a wide feast; it’s all about the “large room” concept. Charlotte said:
“Our aim in education is to give children vital interests in as many directions as possible –to set their feet in a large room – because the crying evil of the day is, it seems to me, intellectual inanition. Believing that he is in the world to lay hold of all he can of those possessions which endure; that full, happy living, expansion, expression, resourcefulness, power of initiative, serviceableness – in a word, character, for him, depends upon how far he apprehends the relationships proper to him and how many of them he seizes.”-Charlotte Mason, School Education, Vol. 3, p. 231
Our aim in the 21st century is the same and I am reminded that STEM learning is not new. The disciplines are as old as time itself. It’s not just computers. From the pyramids of Egypt, the crazy-accurate Mayan calendars and the flying buttresses of Gothic cathedrals to the automobile and fighter planes of WWII, we can see that the STEM topics have always been important. Charlotte Mason herself was dealing with movies and cameras in her time, among many other technological and scientific advancements. So while it seems like the latest educational trend, it’s not new.
Over and over again, we see studies and books proclaiming that creativity and imagination are the #1 attribute for success of those working in STEM fields. Charlotte Mason champions the cultivation of creativity and imagination throughout her works, most notably in Ourselves, which was written to the student. She calls imagination “My Lord Chief Explorer” and states:
“My Lord Chief Explorer, Imagination, deserves a more complete introduction than the by-the-way mention he has had as a colleague of Intellect. He is an amazing personage, with power to produce, as we have seen, a procession of living pictures in every region open to Intellect. Great artists, whether they be poets or painters, builders or musicians, have the power of expressing and showing to the rest of us some part, anyway, of the wonderful visions Imagination has revealed to them.”-Charlotte Mason, Ourselves, Vol. 4, p. 48
I love how she classifies builders as “great artists” in that quote. The book Out of Our Minds: Learning to be Creative by Ken Robinson develops this idea in a modern context. He addresses the importance of imagination and creativity across the disciplines. Robinson asserts that, “All technologies are neutral. What counts is who uses them and what they use them for. Any material, any tool in the hands of an artist, can result in a work of art.” (p. 204)
Empathic Design Theory
Additionally, there’s the newer STEM theory on empathic design theory. Here again we find Mason ahead of her time. This theory reminds us that empathy is important because it allows the designer to fully understand and discover the needs and emotions of the clients. As Christians, reflecting the love and compassion of Christ is of first importance. STEM skills and knowledge are needed to help with every natural disaster, community tragedy, agricultural problem and disease outbreak. But without compassion and caring it is a cold, mechanical, theoretical thing. Charlotte Mason places such high value on empathy and caring about people as her philosophy is based on the Gospels and the compassion of Christ. She said:
“The question is not,-how much does the youth know? When he has finished his education – but how much does he care? And about how many orders of things does he care? In fact, how large is the room in which he finds his feet set? And, therefore, how full is the life he has before him?-Charlotte Mason, School Education, Vol. 3, p. 171
Finally, we can explore the study by Google in which they discovered that the seven most important qualities of their top employees were all soft skills (being a good coach, communicating and listening well, possessing insights into others, empathy, critical thinking, and able to make connections) with STEM expertise coming in last. All of these skills are cultivated in a Mason paradigm. So whether it is the enriching literature, the inspiring biographies, or the multitudinous relationships formed through delightful handcrafts, the exploration of Ourselves, or maybe even that random technical manual your student picks up, we can trust that a Mason education benefits everyone, STEM students included, in developing a person who can go into whichever field he chooses. The Charlotte Mason Philosophy and STEM education are completely compatible!
Perhaps we can step back and realize that the STEM is grafted onto a living tree that has been growing for centuries. And the stem is only part of the whole organism.
Tania Bingham says
Thank you, Nancy for this clarifying article. I really appreciated your insight.