Friday, February 12, 2010

"A Short Synopsis of Educational Theory"

Though I would best describe our homeschooling method as "eclectic", if there is any one philosophy I adhere to more than others, it is the educational theories of Charlotte Mason. Who was Charlotte Mason? Most people outside of homeschool circles will never have heard of her, and yet what a brilliant and inspired woman she was!

To read more about this amazing woman, visit here.

I have read Miss Mason's books and many other books inspired by her methodologies, as well as having implemented them in our own homeschool for the past few years. I can speak personally to the fact that they work! I was perusing my "Original Homeschooling Series" today (I had to laugh, as at least half--if not more--of the books have been highlighted) and came across the synopsis Miss Mason presents us with in the Preface.

If you don't know Charlotte Mason's works, let me introduce you to her way of thinking, through the use of her own words in the Preface:

1. Children are born persons.

2. They are not born either good or bad, but with possibilities for both good and 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 the 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 instruemtns--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 the '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 food stuffs.
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. Chidlren taught upon this principle are in danger of receiving much teaching with little knowledge; and the teacher's axiom is, 'What a child learns matter 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, that 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 nex 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 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 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 it 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 teh 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 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 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, an dis their continual helper in all their interests, duties and joys of life.

Recommended Reading on Charlotte Mason's philosophies:
The Original Homeschooling Series, by Charlotte M. Mason
Pocketful of Pinecones, by Karen Andreola
Lessons at Blackberry Inn, by Karen Andreola
For the Children's Sake, by Susan Schaeffer Macualay
For the Family's Sake, by Susan Schaeffer Macualay


  1. Love Charlotte Mason's philosophies! I got her series just recently, and am still working through volume 1, but it is simply amazing at how relevant, as well as counter-cultural (as pertaining to government schools) it is! Brilliant woman!

  2. I have many of the Charlotte Mason books (or related to her methodology), but the ones you mention above that I still want to get are the books by Karen Andreola.

    I also purchased the CM book/dvd called Laying Down the Rails by Sonya Shafer. That is EXCELLENT!



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