Children Are Born Persons


In the introduction to each of her six books, Miss Mason included her list of basic principles, principles she considered integral to her philosophy of education. In the first part of volume 6, her final work, she clarified those principles one by one.

The first principle is that children are born persons.   What you need to do to really see Miss Mason’s point is put the emphasis on ‘born.’  Children are born persons.  They do not come into the world as empty sacs for us to fill, essentially making the adults around them their creators, because they are already born persons, full persons. They are not blobs of tissue, blank slates, or oysters.  They are human beings with minds, of their own, each of them with a soul, and each with a personality.  We can influence them, but we do not have blank slates upon which to write, empty mind-sacs to fill, or oysters to help grow up to human-hood.     This probably seems obvious to most of us, but it wasn’t obvious in Charlotte’s Time. In her day, the infant was viewed as an oyster, lacking personality or brains.

Charlotte writes about this at the beginning of volume six:

“But is the baby more than a ‘huge oyster’? That is the problem before us and hitherto educators have been inclined to answer it in the negative. Their notion is that by means of a pull here, a push there, a compression elsewhere a person is at last turned out according to the pattern the educator has in his mind. “

This is a view of infants and toddlers that Charlotte is trying to overcome.

She explains that if we only think about it, we can:

“realise that to run and jump and climb stairs, even to sit and stand at will must require fully as much reasoned endeavour as it takes in after years to accomplish skating, dancing, skiing, fencing, whatever athletic exercises people spend years in perfecting; and all these the infant accomplishes in his first two years. He learns the properties of matter, knows colours and has first notions of size, solid, liquid; has learned in his third year to articulate with surprising clearness. What is more, he has learned a language, two languages, if he has had the opportunity, and the writer has known of three languages being mastered by a child of three, and one of them was Arabic; mastered, that is, so far that a child can say all that he needs to say in any one of the three––the sort of mastery most of us wish for when we are travelling in foreign countries.
Lady Mary Wortley Montagu tells us that in her time the little children of Constantinople prattled in five tongues with a good knowledge of each. If we have not proved that a child is born a person with a mind as complete and as beautiful as his beautiful little body, we can at least show that he always has all the mind he requires for his occasions; that is, that his mind is the instrument of his education and that his education does not produce his mind. “

Those are some pretty big concepts.

Healthy children come into the world with eyes to see, ears to hear, and the ability to taste.  Education does not produce these these things.  However, a bad education can cripple them.
In the same way,   Education doesn’t produce a child’s mind, because he already had one when he came into the world.  But the education we choose can help or harm the child.  It can even cripple his mind, acting on the mind much as the practice of foot-binding operated on the normal, healthy development of little girls’ feet in China.
More Friday.
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