Another school year is beginning! This is always such an invigorating time of dreaming, planning, and purchasing. As I mentor moms from every different stage of a Charlotte Mason education – from the newbie to the veteran – there is one lesson that it seems I always need to share with them. In a living education, we seek to put our children in direct contact with the artist or author whose original thought, informed by the Holy Spirit, is expressed in books and things. We learn to eschew the middleman, the enrichment activities – anything that might get in the way. Crafting a natural atmosphere where this is evident becomes second nature to us, yet we should always be on guard. I like to remind myself that “the thing is the thing” and that this direct simplicity with books and things keeps us from veering off into realms of lesser importance, deadening the love of knowledge and learning.
What a Relational Education is Not
A relational education using Mason’s methods is not about the little projects, extra workbooks, cute resources, supplemental videos, perfect schedules and charts, and the like. For instance, for composer study, just pick a composer and choose the pieces to listen to. The biography of the artist is secondary. Why? Because the music is what you want to build a relationship with; it is about the music. History? A few excellent living books and maybe some maps will do. Why? It’s about enjoying the pageant and building a relationship with a character and the time period. Poetry? Just read the poetry from a poet. The poetry is the thing, not the coloring page.
In When Children Love to Learn, Susan Schaeffer Macaulay relates another example:
Some well-meaning persons read about Charlotte Mason and decided it was a “good thing to study art” – to make it a part of the curriculum. Beautiful art reproductions were made available. These are wonderful, but the course that goes with them gets in the way. The living wonderful gift of art is spoiled by making it into one more lesson, textbook fashion. The children and teenagers who take this course may pass a test, but rarely will a love affair grow between the child and the art. They must learn more facts, more lists, and never fall in love (as it were) with the pictures that speak strongly to them. (p. 42)
To corroborate that, a 1913 Parents’ Review article by Miss Evans states, “The pupil will then continue to take an interest in the master all through the term, but be careful that the picture, apart from the painter, is the main study.”
A Cautionary Tale
I remember a teacher in the early years of our Truth, Beauty, Goodness Community. She was given the opportunity to teach the hymn to our students. The children gathered round her with bright eyes and ready to sing with the eagerness of learning something new! She began with great enthusiasm to share about the composer, then went on about the history of the song, then more fun facts about it. You could see that the bright eyes were now glazed over and the opportunity to impart the ideas and beauty of the song had been lost. Thankfully, a thoughtful conversation later where I asked her how she thought it went and what she observed opened the door to discussing how she could improve for next time.
The Gift of Mason’s Method
This directness in Charlotte Mason’s method is a gift. In Ourselves, we read this description of the libraries in Mansoul, an analogy for man’s soul (his inner life) – “When anybody sits down to read, the author who made the book comes and leans over his shoulder and talks to him. I forgot to say that in the picture-galleries the old painters do the same thing; they come and say what they meant by it all.” (p. 3) It should be a continual relief to know that the onus of learning doesn’t fall on all our crafty plans or attractive personalities, but rather it falls on the student and his relationship with the book, the statue, the music, or whatever it is. We present the feast and then step back and let the Holy Spirit teach the child, careful not to get in the way with our teacher-talk or endless opinions. And it really does apply across the board! Regarding a grammar lesson, Mason says, “the teaching of grammar by its guiding ideas and simple principles, the true, direct, and humble teaching of grammar; without pedantry and without verbiage, is, we may venture to believe, accompanied by the illuminating power of the Holy Spirit, of whom is all knowledge.” Vol. 2, p. 274
Resources can be helpful and good in their proper place. I appreciate the way so many share them freely. But be wary of taking in everything everyone suggests. The education you offer your children should be a beautiful and rich love affair with learning and it would behoove us to remember that “the thing is the thing” and to let the Holy Spirit work directly with their spirits without getting in the way. Let us heed the following words of Charlotte Mason:
All our teaching of children should be given reverently, with the humble sense that we are invited in this matter to co-operate with the Holy Spirit; but it should be given dutifully and diligently, with the awful sense that our co-operation would appear to be made a condition of the Divine action; that the Saviour of the world pleads with us to ‘suffer the little children to come unto Me,’ as if we had the power to hinder, as we know that we have. Vol. 2, p. 48