As I slowly work my way through Charlotte Mason‘s principles, I wanted to bring up a misunderstanding that I used to hold. In the days before I actually took the time to read Charlotte Mason’s volumes for myself, I believed that her eighth principle, education is a life, referred to becoming a lifelong learner. I’m mentioning it today because I don’t think I am the only one who has ever thought this!
I viewed this principle in light of my public school teaching days:
- If we do this right, we’ll raise lifelong learners. Education is a life!!
- Children are always learning. Education is a life!
Let’s investigate this myth, and dig into why it is more of a verb than a noun.
There’s More to “Education is a life” than lifelong learning
It’s true that Charlotte Mason thought that a successful education culminates with a person who wants to learn. But this principle is not about the results of education, it is about the tools of education. We have, at our disposal, the tool of ideas to help our children be pulled into a love of learning. If we present our child with living ideas, they will learn how to think, not just how to know.
In Towards a Philosophy of Education, Charlotte Mason expanded on this principle: “Education is a life. That life is sustained on ideas…but we must sustain a child’s inner life with ideas as we sustain a body with food.”
We can view the mind as something living that needs to be fed, and ideas are the sustenance.
What is an Idea?
I think we may be very far removed from understanding the true meaning of the word “idea.” It is not a fancy that strikes us, or a notion to eat something. Charlotte Mason said:
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 and 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.
Did you catch all of those verbs?
- catches hold of
- impresses us
- possesses us
- behaves like an entity (a thing with distinct independent existence)
We present the idea, but the idea does the real work.
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 worthy ideas, we will never squash that innate desire to learn, and we’ll see it bubble up more and more over time.
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.” We cannot isolate this principle, education is a life, and expect that presenting ideas will suffice.
- If we view education as only an atmosphere, then we expect our children to be fully educated with happy thoughts and a nice environment.
- 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.
We can view all of these tools in an interconnected way.