As I spend more time in the Charlotte Mason community, an increasing number of myths come to the surface, some that I once believed, too. One of these revolves around Charlotte Mason's 8th principle:
Education is a Life
This principle is subjected to the tyranny of shorthand. Rather than including the complete phrase, people tend to stop with "education is a life." This sounds so similar to educational paragons that anyone, no matter their education choices or philosophies, can agree upon it. It's tempting to allow this shortened phrase to satisfy our need for understanding.
Without looking into the rest of this principle, it's possible to believe that these words mean "education is a lifestyle." When we think of a learning lifestyle, we think of one in which learning is a daily part of life, not separated from education, and that we are creating lifelong learners. For many of us, even Charlotte Mason educators, this is one of our main goals. I personally started investigating other options apart from public schools when I realized that they weren't conducive to lifelong learning.
But, to say that this is the gist of Charlotte Mason's 8th principle is incorrect.
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Charlotte Mason's 8th Principle
This principle in question is a part of a triune that makes up the three tools of education: education is an atmosphere, a discipline, and a life. Since these are tools, each one has actionable things related to it. It's important to know this because lifelong learning isn't a tool, but an ideal.
If we continue to read the rest of this principle, we can clue into the tool that Charlotte Mason intended for us:
In saying that "education is a life," the need of intellectual and moral as well as of physical sustenance is implied. The mind feeds on ideas, and therefore children should have a generous curriculum.
The tool related to "education is a life" is ideas. A child's intellectual life demands to be fed by ideas, and so in order to sustain this life, (not this lifestyle), we need to present our children with ideas.
Ideas can be found in living books, in conversations, and in the world around us. It is a concept or an interesting thought that can be built upon and pondered on over and over again. The best discussions are usually about an idea, instead of a topic, an object, or another person. A famous quote often misattributed to Socrates says, "Strong minds discuss ideas, average minds discuss events, weak minds discuss people.”
Lifelong Learning is a Wide Room
In School Education, Charlotte Mason gives us a goal to reach for with education.
"The question is not,-- how much does the youth know? when he has finished his education-- but how much does he care? and about how many orders of things does he care? In fact, how large is the room in which he finds his feet set? and, therefore, how full is the life he has before him?”
This reminds us that through the tools and principles of education that she has laid out before us, our children will learn to not just facts, but how to care about the things that they learn about. Their understanding will be broad and diverse, because they have been placed in front of so many interesting books, people, and experiences. It is impossible for a child who has experienced such a robust education, who cares about so many issues and topics, to stop learning. They will become lifelong learners, not as a tool used to make them learn, but as a result of the tools that this rich form of education beholds.