As I slowly work my way through Charlotte Mason‘s principles, I’m going to call myself out for a little misunderstanding I held for a couple of years. When I first learned about Charlotte Mason’s eighth principle, education is a life, I tried to fit it into the context of modern-day education. I cheapened the richness of Charlotte Mason’s wisdom by explaining it with education buzz words. This is how I would have (wrongly) summed up this eighth principle:
- If we do this right, we’ll raise lifelong learners! Education is a life!!
- Children are always learning! Education is a life!
If you don’t get anything else from this post, I hope that you’ll understand that my interpretations are wrong, or if I give myself more grace, incomplete.
There’s More to “Education is a life” than lifelong learning
There’s no denying that Charlotte Mason thought that a successful education culminates with a person who wants to learn. But this doesn’t happen with the “Hurrah, learning is fun!” attitude that I shoved in my public school students’ faces while doing the Most Boring Lessons On Earth with them. We don’t need to cajole children into thinking learning is fun through elaborate activities or a pep-rally mentality. They know that it is interesting and worthy from a very young age, and by presenting them with interesting and worth ideas, we sustain this need that they have to learn.
Education is a life. That life is sustained on ideas. Ideas are of spiritual origin, and God has made us so that we get them chiefly as we convey them to one another, whether by word of mouth, written page, Scripture word, musical symphony; but we must sustain a child’s inner life with ideas as we sustain his body with food. Probably he will reject nine-tenths of the ideas we offer, as he makes use of only a small proportion of his bodily food, rejecting the rest. He is an eclectic; he may choose this or that; our business is to supply him with due abundance and variety and his to take what he needs. Urgency on our part annoys him. He resists forcible feeding and loathes predigested food. What suits him best is pabulum presented in the indirect literary form which Our Lord adopts in those wonderful parables whose quality is that they cannot be forgotten though, while every detail of the story is remembered, its application may pass and leave no trace. We, too, must take this risk.” Towards a Philosophy of Education, page 109
Ideas are food for the mind, and it is our responsibility to feed our children! But what is an idea?
What is an idea? we ask, and find ourselves plunged beyond our depth. A live thing of the mind, seems to be the conclusion of our greatest thinkers from Plato to Bacon, from Bacon to Coleridge. We all know how an idea ‘strikes,’ ‘seizes,’ ‘catches hold of,’ ‘impresses’ us and at last, if it be big enough, ‘possesses’ us; in a word, behaves like an entity.” Towards a Philosophy of Education, page 105
Children will become lifelong learners, but it isn’t the only goal
Developing a lifelong learner often seems to be the goal of education. But by presenting them with the good and the lovely, we will never squash that innate desire to learn, and we’ll see it bubble up more and more over time.
Yes, children are always learning
Children learn from the very start. This natural occurrence is commonly accepted- I probably don’t have to convince you of this! My littlest recently turned two months old. We love seeing him awaken to the world. He is so interested in what he sees, just taking it in and learning all he can from observing. This morning, he kicked his legs and cooed when I showed him a purple ball. Simply by using his senses, he is constantly learning.
Personally, I think this idea that children are always learning fits in better with Charlotte Mason’s 6th principle, education is an atmosphere. Just like my little guy is learning about the world around him by observing the things in his environment and experiencing the care and language of the people around him, older children also learn from the atmosphere. And although “education is an atmosphere” and “education is a life” have some overlap, establishing a meaningful home atmosphere will not be enough to feed the child’s need for mental sustenance.
We Need All Three Tools
Charlotte Mason said that we have three instruments in a child’s education- “education is an atmosphere, a discipline, and a life.” In the past, I tried to isolate this trio and pull out the aspect of education that best suits the season I’m in. But there is a big problem with this.
- If we view education as only an atmosphere, then we place our children in a home with pretty things and happy thoughts and expect them to be fully educated.
- Viewing education as only a discipline puts all the focus on what a child does (habits) rather than what he thinks or knows.
- And if we view education as only a life, then we put books and ideas in front of him without giving the tools that they need to tap into real learning.
I’m learning to view all of Charlotte Mason’s principles in an interconnected way, and this helps me get a better understanding of how these principles can be applied to my children’s education in the early years.