A Philosophy of Education

As Charlotte Mason was sharing her philosophy of education in Home Education, she knew that she would be called on to defend her positions, so she wrote out 18 points in which she explained the basis of her methods. They are foundational to being able to understand those methods.

1. Children are born persons.

2. They are not born either good or bad, but with possibilities for either good or evil.

3. The principles of authority on the one hand and obedience on the other, are natural, necessary and fundamental; but 

4. These principles are limited by the respect due to the personality of children, which must not be encroached upon, whether by fear or love, suggestion or influence, or undue play upon any one natural desire.

5. Therefore we are limited to three educational instruments––the atmosphere of environment, the discipline of habit, and the presentation of living ideas.

6. By the saying, Education is an atmosphere, it is not meant that a child should be isolated in what may be called a ‘child environment,’ especially adapted and prepared; but that we should take into account the educational value of his natural home atmosphere, both as regards persons and things, and should let him live freely among his proper conditions. It stultifies a child to bring down his world to a ‘child’s’ level.

7. By Education is a discipline, is meant the discipline of habits formed definitely and thoughtfully, whether habits of mind or body. Physiologists tell us of the adaptation of brain structure to habitual lines of thought––i.e. to our habits.

8. In the 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.

9. But the mind is not a receptacle into which ideas must be dropped, each idea adding to an ‘apperception mass’ of its like, the theory upon which the Herbartian doctrine of interest rests.

10. On the contrary, a child’s mind is no mere sac to hold ideas; but is rather, if the figure may be allowed, a spiritual organism, with an appetite for all knowledge. This is its proper diet, with which it is prepared to deal, and which it can digest and assimilate as the body does foodstuffs.

11. This difference is not a verbal quibble. The Herbartian doctrine lays the stress of education––the preparation of knowledge in enticing morsels, presented in due order––upon the teacher. Children taught upon this principle are in danger of receiving much teaching with little knowledge; and the teacher’s axiom is, ‘What a child learns matters less than how he learns it.’

12. But, believing that the normal child has powers of mind that fit him to deal with all knowledge proper to him, we must give him a full and generous curriculum; taking care, only, that the knowledge offered to him is vital––that is, the facts are not presented without their informing ideas. Out of this conception comes the principle that,

13. Education is the Science of Relations; that is, that a child has natural relations with a vast number of things and thoughts: so we must train him upon physical exercises, nature, handicrafts, science and art, and upon many living books; for we know that our business is, not to teach him all about anything, but to help him make valid, as many as may be of

     ‘Those first born affinities,
     ‘That fit our new existence to existing things.’

14. There are also two secrets of moral and intellectual self management which should be offered to children; these we may call the Way of the Will and the Way of the Reason.

15. The Way of the Will.––Children should be taught
     (a) To distinguish between ‘I want’ and ‘I will.’
     (b) That the way to will effectively is to turn our thoughts from that which we desire but do not will.
     (c) That the best way to turn our thoughts is to think of or do some quite different thing, entertaining or interesting.
     (d) That, after a little rest in this way, the will returns to its work with new vigour.
(This adjunct of the will is familiar to us as diversion, whose office is to ease us for a time from will effort, that we may ‘will’ again with added power. The use of suggestion––even self suggestion––as an aid to the will, is to be deprecated, as tending to stultify and stereotype character. It would seem that spontaneity is a condition of development, and that human nature needs the discipline of failure as well as of success.)

16.  The Way of the Reason.––We should teach children, too, not to ‘lean’ (too confidently) ‘unto their own understanding,’ because of the function of reason is, to give logical demonstration (a) of mathematical truth; and (b) of an initial idea, accepted by the will. In the former case reason is, perhaps, an infallible guide, but in the second it is not always a safe one, for whether that initial idea be right or wrong, reason will confirm it by irrefragable proofs.

17. Therefore children should be taught, as they become mature enough to understand such teaching that the chief responsibility which rests on them as persons is the acceptance or rejection of initial ideas. To help them in this choice we should give them principles of conduct and a wide range of the knowledge fitted for them. These three principles (15, 16 and 17) should save children from some of the loose thinking and heedless action which cause most of us to live at a lower level than we need.

18. We should allow no separation to grow up between the intellectual and ‘spiritual’ life of children; but should teach them that the divine Spirit has constant access to their spirits, and is their continual helper in all the interests, duties and joys of life.

By the time Charlotte Mason wrote her final book, Towards a Philosophy of Education, she had clarified and added a couple more points. For further reading and understanding, I recommend you use Brandy Vencel’s Start Here guide.

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