Education and Mind (part I)

Charlotte Mason wrote six volumes on education, and in every one of them, in the front of each book, she put a list of the principles she thought were foundational to her method.

In her sixth volume, she did one better and devoted an entire chapter to nearly each one, although it became 20 principles instead of 18.

That sixth volume is titled ‘Toward a philosophy of education.’ That kind of scares people sometimes, especially homeschoolers- “philosophy of education” sounds a bit intimidating, right? Philosophy is for people who live in college towns and who have few responsibilities and never have to do dishes or clean up after sick children, deal with leaky diapers, or clean out the remains of mystery dinners from their refrigerators.

Except that’s not true. That might describe professional philosophers, but we all have a philosophy. It’s just a fancy way to say the way we think about life, the world, and our place in it. Some of us might say we don’t think about it at all, we are too busy living our lives and dealing with the messes. But that, too, is a philosophy. So we have one.

We all need, and we all *have* a philosophy of education. whether you carefully and purposefully think a philosophy of education through, or at least the beginnings of one, or whether you just bought some curriculum and started on page one, or whether you sent your kids to public school, you do still have some sort of philosophy of education.

Thinking it through will just save you some time and unnecessary steps later. As a homeschooler, thinking through what you believe about education will help you choose curriculum, materials, and a homeschooling style that are mutually supportive rather than constantly undermining one another. IT will help save you time and money so you do not purchase and attempt to force yourself to use materials that are contrary to what you really believe about education.

So, what is education to you? What is its purpose? What is it for? Who is it for?

Keep the big picture always before you: In a CM education, three of the distinctive are: the goal, the actor, and the method.

I’m not saying these are the only distinctives- just that these three seem to me to be particularly important.

“What is Charlotte Mason’s goal for education?

I think we could say many things about this, because he did, too. But one of the shortest things she sad is in the early part of volume six, and that is:
“”We seek by education to qualify children for life rather than for earning a living.” Now, learning things in order to earn a living is not always wrong. I think what Miss Mason would say is that this is important, but it is not itself *education,* and it is not the only reason to learn something. When you are looking over curriculum and planning your school year, you do not want everything in your curriculum to be solely about earning a living. Probably in the early years it doesn’t matter if none of it is only about earning a living. In high school you might begin to incorporate some skills and topics primarily for utilitarian (earning a living) reasons, but even then, that should not be the bulk of your time or expense.

What is education? Charlotte Mason believed it was about feeding the mind. Mason said that the mind requires ideas as the body requires food. How do we provide food for our children’s bodies? We serve them plenty of nourishing food, we serve meals regularly. We don’t expect them to just eat whatever they find in a haphazard, careless way on a daily basis (an occasional emergency situation might have us saying ‘just grab a sandwish or a bowl of cereal or whatever,’ and there are some who have to resort to begging (but they are probably not reading this blog). At any rate, most of the time in normal circumstances, we feed regular, nutritious meals). We might study some nutrition so their meals are well-balanced, and we don’t let the children spoil their appetites with too many sweets between meals (we would do well to apply this rule to ourselves as well, in both physical food and mind food)
The mind also needs regular feeding, nutritious food, and healthy servings from a wide variety.

When we feed the body, we don’t try to digest their food for them first and then serve them pellets of vitamins. We don’t do blood tests at every meal to make sure they absorbed the right nutrients. We don’t put windows on their stomachs so we can examine their digestive processes.

We watch the results- they are active, healthy, with bright eyes, clear skin, shining hair, and we assume they are likely getting what they need from their meals.

With the mind- we watch their alertness, how attentive they are, we listen to narrations, we see them making connections, and we see they are getting healthy meals for their minds. We do not administer true/false quizzes, vocabulary tests, fill in the blank pop quizzes, insist they memorize lists of dates and dry facts. We put them in touch with ideas, found in the best books, in well written, language, in good stories. We ask them to narrate in one form or another.

We trust their normal, healthy, unhindered minds to handle ideas in their stories. We might discuss with them in the same way we might play with them and given them physical scope for their growing bodies by taking them to parks, on walks, swimming, letting them climb and run and jump and sommersault down hills. We trust, but continue to supply healthy meals for mind and body and and oversea their healthy growth by providing healthy, natural ways to use minds and bodies.

Narration, telling back, is sometimes hard, but it’s natural. Children tend to ‘tell back’ in many ways on their own even if we don’t ask. Watch and you will see them drawing pictures of things that have happened or that they have seen or heard. They will incorporate those things into their pretend play, and into their talks with you. Narration is just one more formal step to stretch them and move the short-term memory and ideas over into the long-term.

This works, because children are born persons, with minds equipped to deal with knowledge.

Part II

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