It was with great interest that I began one week ago to read Karen Glass’s response to my review of her book. I had waited many months for just such a response. After reading it carefully, I felt gratitude for several things:
- She took the time to write a piece that is careful and thorough.
- She provided new clarifications.
- She expressed a desire for peace and unity.
And perhaps most importantly to me, she responded in the form of academic dialogue. I am so grateful that the discussion continues to be about ideas rather than persons.
I was also pleased that Glass’s response contains many affirmations with which I wholeheartedly agree:
- “Charlotte Mason needs nothing added to her. Her method is complete as it stands.”
- “Charlotte Mason was a brilliant educational philosopher and her methods some of the most effective that have ever been proposed.”
- Mason makes “claims . . . about her ideas being new and progressive.” (Glass, 2017)
It was invigorating to read such clear and strong affirmations that I also accept without reservation.
Further, I found it extremely helpful that Glass clearly identified certain key elements of my thinking. In particular, I applaud her insight expressed in this statement:
I believe [Mr. Middlekauff] conflates Charlotte Mason’s philosophy of education with her religion or theology. (Glass, 2017)
I am not sure how Glass determined this from my writings. I did not state this explicitly in my review of her book, but she has inferred my perspective from my writing with perfect accuracy. Glass’s insight has unlocked an important key to understanding why she and I interpret Mason so differently.
But as much as I am thankful for these points of intersection, I am nevertheless disappointed that the response did not deal with the most important elements of my review. The main point of my review was that situating Mason within the classical tradition leads readers to approach her texts with an interpretative paradigm. If that paradigm is very strong, it can lead to eisegesis. The result is a modification of Mason’s ideas in order to fit them into the classical tradition. In my review, I attempted to demonstrate this by a study of:
- Eight of Mason’s twenty principles
- The concept of synthetic thinking
- The question of the purpose of education
Unfortunately, Glass did not respond to my thesis, and commented on only one of the three items on the above list. Because she did not engage with our documented differences in interpretation of the twenty principles and of synthetic thinking, the article gave the appearance that this is merely a discussion about theoretical classification with no real impact on education in practice. But the impact of the classical paradigm on interpretation is the main reason I write about Charlotte Mason and classical education. My sole motivation in this discussion is to promote an authentic interpretation of Mason’s writings. Sadly, Glass’s response indicates that we nearly missed an opportunity to deeply engage with the meaning of Mason’s writings. I say nearly, because on one point, Glass explicitly confirmed my thesis.
In my review I asserted that due to a classical lens, Glass identified virtue as the purpose of education in Mason’s theory. I asserted that a faithful reading of Mason’s writings points instead to the knowledge of God as the purpose of education. In Glass’s response, she reaffirms her claim that virtue is the purpose of education. In fact, she asserts that this must be the case:
The classical tradition—or in fact, any educational philosophy—will take us just so far and no further. The personal knowledge of God, “the best thing worth living for,” is simply beyond its grasp. (Glass, 2017)
Glass’s assertion that the purpose of education is “to effect right conduct on the basis of right thinking” is precisely what one would expect if one believed that Mason was a classical educator. It is the result of a simple syllogism:
- The purpose of classical education is to develop virtue.
- Mason “rejects none of the content of classical education, as it was classically understood” (Glass, 2014, p. 59).
- Therefore, the purpose of education in Mason’s method is to develop virtue.
That paradigm then determines how one interprets Mason’s educational catechism, and in particular the following statement: “to direct and assist the evolution of character is the chief office of education” (Mason, 1896/1989b, p. 233). This is taken as Mason’s defining statement of the purpose of education.
But since I do not believe Mason is a classical educator, I do not assume this interpretive paradigm. I weigh the above statement in the educational catechism carefully in light of the preceding sentences, especially this one:
That disposition, intellect, genius, come pretty much by nature. (Mason, 1896/1989b, p. 233)
So I take the latter statement to be an admission that since education cannot change nature, the best it can do is assist in the development of character. But this is no more an absolute statement of the purpose of education than is Mason’s “automaton” (1886/1989a, p. 110) remark an absolute statement about the nature of the person.
Rather, since I believe that Mason’s theory of education is a direct outworking of her Christian faith, I assume that the purpose of education reflects the highest purpose of life according to Christian tradition:
God is the Summum Bonum, the devout contemplation and enjoyment of which is the true and chief end of man; for, as the infinitely Perfect One, and the source of all good, He comprehends in His own essence all that is needed for our eternal blessedness. (Hall, 1905, pp. 99-100)
So when I see Mason state that the knowledge of God is the purpose of education, I take that to be the supreme purpose, above even the development of character:
. . . the culmination of all education (which may, at the same time, be reached by a little child) is that personal knowledge of and intimacy with the Supreme, in which our being finds its fullest perfection. (Mason, 1895, p. 926).
The paradigm makes a difference! The proof is in the difference between the ways that Glass and I interpret Mason on the purpose of education.
This difference in interpretation leads to a difference in practice. I have explored this difference in my article entitled “Where Virtue is the Goal”. This article explains that this question of Charlotte Mason and the classical tradition is no mere secondary question. It affects the heart of what we do as Charlotte Mason educators. That is why I cannot let the discussion go by without comment. That is why I am committed to continuing this debate indefinitely.
The classical paradigm is also, I believe, the reason why Glass (2017) expresses her disagreement with me via the following statement:
I believe [Mr. Middlekauff] conflates Charlotte Mason’s philosophy of education with her religion or theology.
In Glass’s classical paradigm, (classical) education and (Christian) theology must be separated. She explains:
Charlotte Mason calls education the “handmaid of religion,” and I think that description is an important one to recall if you want to keep the fine line of distinction in mind. A handmaid is a servant to someone more important, but a distinct and different personage at the same time. Mr. Middlekauff is correct in placing Christ above the classical tradition of education, as a lady is above her handmaid, but it is the distinct handmaid with which we have to deal in the education of our children. Properly understood, she will do her duty and prepare and lead our children to their own service of our Savior, but, as Charlotte Mason says, for that final step, no moral science will be enough.
Now, having made this distinction for us, Charlotte Mason is very cavalier about it, and but rarely makes reference to it in all her six volumes. I fault no one for conflating her philosophy of education with her religion, as her discussion romps freely from one side of the line to the other, trampling it into obscurity; but it is there just the same. She knew it. It may be that the only way to understand my discussion of Charlotte Mason and her connection to the classical tradition is to remember that that line is there. The classical tradition—or in fact, any educational philosophy—will take us just so far and no further. The personal knowledge of God, “the best thing worth living for,” is simply beyond its grasp. (Glass, 2017)
These two paragraphs powerfully highlight the difference between Glass’s view and mine, and explain why we view Mason’s theory of education so differently, and why we view classical education so differently.
I believe that in Mason’s theory, education and Christian theology cannot be separated. They are as intimately connected as Christ is to His own body. That is why I pointed Glass’s attention to the educational catechism:
Yes; the Bread of Life, the Water of Life, the Word by which man lives, the ‘meat to eat which ye know not of,’ and much more, cease to be figurative expressions, except that we must use the same words to name the corporeal and the incorporeal sustenance of man. We understand, moreover, how ideas emanating from our Lord and Saviour, which are of His essence, are the spiritual meat and drink of His believing people. We find it no longer a ‘hard saying,’ nor a dark saying, that we must sustain our spiritual selves upon Him, even as our bodies upon bread. (Mason, 1896/1989b, p. 246)
I believe strongly that Mason’s extensive references to St. John Chapter 6 reflect a “master thought” in her conception of education. She meditates extensively on this chapter of St. John’s Gospel in her Scale How Meditations and in The Saviour of the World, painting a picture that the process of education is in a very literal way the consumption of our Lord’s body and blood.
Mason’s close associate Agnes Drury (1914) wrote, “[Mason] has herself told us that she has drawn her philosophy from the Gospels, where we may study and note ‘the development of that consummate philosophy which meets every occasion of our lives, all demands of the intellect, every uneasiness of the soul’” (p. 64). I unabashedly conflate Mason’s theory of education with her Christian faith, because they are in fact one and the same.
It is by Christian revelation that we know the Holy Spirit, and it is the recognition of the Holy Spirit that is the mother’s key in education:
Let this be the mother’s key to the whole of the education of each boy and each girl; not of her children; the Divine Spirit does not work with nouns of multitude, but with each single child. (Mason, 1896/1989b, p. 273)
What is Mason’s theory of education without the mother’s key?
Glass’s paradigm which separates education into a “classical” domain and a “religious” domain seems to rest uneasily beside Mason’s bold pronouncement:
Things ‘Sacred’ and Things ‘Secular’ an Irreligious Classification – There is a little involuntary resistance in our minds to any teaching which shall draw the deep things of our faith within the sphere of the laws which govern our development as human beings. We prefer that the commerce between God and the soul, in which is our life, should be altogether ‘supernatural’; apart from the common laws of life, arbitrary, inexplicable, opposed to reason. If we err in this, it is in reverence we err. Our thought may be poor and crude, but all our desire is to hallow the divine Name, and we know no other way in which to set it apart. But though we err in reverence, we do err, and in the spiritual, as in the natural world, the motive does not atone for the act. We lose through this misconception of our relations with God the sense of unity in our lives. We become aware of an altogether unnatural and irreligious classification into things sacred and things secular. We are not in all things at one with God. There are beautiful lives in which there is no trace of this separation, whose aims are confined to the things we call sacred. But many thoughtful, earnest persons feel sorely the need of a conception of the divine relation which shall embrace the whole of human life which shall make art, science, politics, all those cares and thoughts of men which are not rebellious, sacred also as being all engaged in the great evolution, the evolution of the Kingdom of God. (Mason, 1896/1989b, pp. 129-130)
Mason applies this principle to education:
We take a very distinct stand upon this point. We do not give a religious education, because that would seem to imply the possibility of some other education, a secular education, for example. (Mason, 1895, p. 925)
Since Mason utterly rejects any division between the so-called secular and the so-called sacred, it is impossible to identify a non-Christian element of her theory. That fact clearly disqualifies her theory from being classical in the sense that Glass describes.
Glass seems to find support for her view in Mason’s many references to natural law. She seems to equate this (and many other terms in Mason’s writings) to “classical tradition.” Within a classical paradigm, it is natural, I suppose, to assume that “natural law” means “classical tradition.” But that is not how Mason (1886/1989a) defines the term:
At the same time, there is such a thing as a science of education, that does not come by intuition, in the knowledge of which it is possible to bring up a child entirely according to natural law, which is also Divine law, in the keeping of which there is great reward. (p. 135)
Mason says that “natural law” is “Divine law.” It is difficult to understand how this reference to “Divine law” by an openly committed Christian could be misunderstood. But such is the power of an interpretive paradigm.
Since Glass identifies “natural law” as “classical tradition,” however, she finds a wealth of evidence for the notion that Mason derived her ideas from the classical tradition. But since “natural law” is actually “Divine law,” which may be learned through observation, the references actually support my account of the development of Mason’s theory.
Glass spends a lot of time in her review disproving that the Gospels were the sole source of Mason’s complete theory of education. I am not sure why she did this, since I am not aware of anyone who holds this position. I have repeatedly stated my own position:
According to Mason’s own testimony, she based this theory of education on the teachings of Christ, the discoveries of science, and the [observed] behaviors of children. (Middlekauff, 2016)
I trace each of Mason’s twenty principles back to these three sources in my article entitled, “The Sources of Charlotte Mason’s Theory of Education”. I also explain the profound influence of the Holy Scriptures upon Mason’s ideas in my article entitled “A Theory of Education in the Gospels”. I recommend these two articles as they provide a more balanced representation of my view than the simplistic view that Glass rebuts.
I suppose it is only fair that I should feel misinterpreted by Glass’s response. After all, a large portion of her response to me is the protestation that I have, in fact, misinterpreted her. I understand, of course, that only Glass knows the true meaning of what she wrote. But after having reread her article and the related passages in her book, I find it difficult to understand just what I have misinterpreted. It seems that the largest dispute centers around the topic of humility. But this topic has been covered by another review of Glass’s book:
It is exactly this experience that Mason desires for her pupils, an experience that can be expressed in numerous words, all of which combine the physical, emotional, and spiritual, and all of which produce that all-important humility that lies at the root of education: astonishment, wonder, awe, terror, fear. the child, Mason and Wordsworth both insist, has the ability to take in such experiences, even if he cannot immediately understand them. and it is right for parents and teachers to allow him to have that experience without incessantly demanding that it be broken down, analyzed, and categorized under scientific-sociological headings. (Markos, 2016, p. 6)
Is Markos misrepresenting Glass when he states that according to Glass, educational experiences (lessons?) produce humility in the child? Is humility the child’s natural estate, or isn’t it?
Glass’s response includes a lengthy quotation from her book from the section entitled “Lessons in Humility.” But she unfortunately stops short of the sentence that I thought was germane to understanding the section:
Humility is not a lesson that can be learned from a textbook or a lecture, but if we want to make the traditions of classical education our aim, we must find a way to instill this attitude in ourselves and in our pupils. (Glass, 2014, p. 30)
This sentence (in the section “Lessons on Humility”) clearly states that the educator must find a way to instill the attitude of humility in his or her pupils. Synonyms for “instill” include: catechize, indoctrinate, program, impart, inculcate, inject, and brainwash. Given the use of the word “instill” under a subsection called “Lessons in Humility,” my phrase “training in humility” seems to be amply supported by the text. Consider also that “training” is a word Glass uses in conjunction with character development:
We might understand character-training as a task that belongs to parents, or churches, but we tend to separate that kind of teaching from the teaching of school subjects such as math or grammar. The classical educators did not make such a distinction. (Glass, 2014, p. 19)
Indeed, formation of humility is a key concept in Consider This. Humility is part of the classical education closed circle on the top of p. 47. If you break humility, you break the chain. The book contains repeated admonitions to fighting intellectual pride, to which children are said to be liable, and there are suggestions about how to instill proper humility. Here are some examples:
Pride in our intellectual achievements, hubris, is a death knell to the kind of real education that produces virtue, and children are very susceptible to being drawn into this kind of pride, as are their parents. Our educational system of grades, prizes, contests, tests, and “My child is an honor student” bumper stickers has a tendency to make educational efforts more a matter of performing well than of achieving wisdom. If virtue is the true goal of classical education, pride in intellectual achievement is the perfect stumbling block to ensure that the goal is never reached. In other words, we must not only become humble, but remain humble if we want to continue our pursuit of wisdom and virtue. (p. 26)
Neither children nor their teachers are immune to intellectual pride. (p. 27)
We do not list “humility” among our school subjects or put it on a transcript, but that is actually the little secret of classical education. (p. 30)
First, a healthy interaction with the world, the experience of natural disappointments and failures, and the triumph of small successes contribute to keeping a child humble about his place in the world, and aware of his own ignorance and need to continue learning. (p. 66)
She considered the reading in these areas to contribute to a student’s understanding of virtue, to provide examples of both good and bad citizenship or leadership, and to broaden their perception of the world in a way that would contribute to that humility that is necessary to education. (p. 99)
Even Glass’s own web site talks about working hard for humility:
I am fascinated by a discussion about thinking and learning that devotes so much attention to the role of humility. This, I think, is a hard-won virtue, since the mere suspicion of achieving it is fraught with pride, and there we are, back at square one again. And yet, without that humility that makes us teachable, well. . . how are we going to learn all those things that are possible to know? (Glass, 2015)
Given this recurring theme, it is not clear how exactly I misinterpreted Glass on this point or why it was so egregious. The bottom line is that Glass describes humility as a virtue that is “instilled” and “hard-won,” whereas Mason (1896/1989b) describes humility as something that is not to be worked for even by adults:
Humility does not think much or little of itself; it does not think of itself at all. It is a negative rather than a positive quality, being an absence of self-consciousness rather than the presence of any distinctive virtue. The person who is unaware of himself is capable of all lowly service, of all suffering for others, of bright cheerfulness under all the small crosses and worries of everyday life. This is the quality that makes heroes, and this is the quality that makes saints. We are able to pray, but we are hardly able to worship or to praise, to say, ‘My soul doth magnify the Lord’ so long as in the innermost chamber of our hearts we are self-occupied. (pp. 284-285)
A second allegation of misinterpretation is when I wrote:
Glass (2014a) claims that Mason’s educational theory is a “particular implementation” of a “classical education” (p. 125). (Middlekauff, 2016)
The full passage in Consider This reads:
Those for whom all philosophies will be held up to the Bible for inspection, to determine their rightness and validity, might be interested to know to what degree this concept of classical education, and Charlotte Mason’s particular implementation of it, is consistent with a Biblical understanding of knowledge. (Glass, 2014, p. 125)
Note that there are no brackets in the original.
Glass’s response explains how this passage was supposed to be interpreted:
“Those for whom all philosophies will be held up to the Bible for inspection, to determine their rightness and validity, might be interested to know to what degree this [i.e., my] concept of classical education, and Charlotte Mason’s particular implementation of it, is consistent with a Biblical understanding of knowledge.” (Consider This, p. 125)
In this sentence (which appears in the Afterword, after a great deal of other discussion), the point of reference is my personal concept of classical education as presented in Consider This, and the sentence is worded to suggest that Charlotte Mason’s philosophy contains or includes an implementation of it (this is implied by the possessive form: Charlotte Mason’s). (Glass, 2017)
Apparently I made two errors in my interpretation:
- I thought that classical education meant classical education, not the author’s “personal concept of classical education as presented in Consider This.”
- I thought that “particular implementation” meant a version of something, not a superset of something.
It seems that my interpretation was quite natural, and I am not sure how the reader was supposed to infer the two correctives that Glass provides. It seems that another reviewer made the same mistake:
Not so fast, says Karen Glass in her new book, Consider This: Charlotte Mason and the Classical Tradition. Glass not only argues that Charlotte Mason’s philosophies and methods are truly classical, but further presses the case that modern interpretations of classical education have missed the mark. She begins by demonstrating how Charlotte Mason rooted her philosophy in ancient, classical voices and insisted that any model for classical education must not only include the methods of classical education but also the principles. (Stanford, 2016, p. 12)
I would point out the following from Stanford’s review in CiRCE Magazine:
- Stanford never states that by “truly classical,” Glass really meant her own “personal concept of classical education as presented in Consider This.”
- Stanford never states that by “truly classical,” Glass really meant that “Charlotte Mason’s philosophy contains or includes an implementation of it.”
Will Glass also write an article against Sanford, saying that her review is a gross misinterpretation of her book?
In any event, whatever the author’s intent, there is the English language. I like fried chicken, and I like KFC’s particular implementation of it. KFC makes a version of fried chicken; it does not “contain or include” an implementation of fried chicken.
All that being said, we have weightier matters to discuss than whether I was wrong to say “insists” when Glass’s book says “seems to indicate.” What is really at stake is what is the nature of a Charlotte Mason education. Glass closes her response with:
In the meantime, enjoy the common ground you share, and talk about nature notebooks, or narration, or picture study. Watch your children forming relationships with knowledge. Share the books you are reading and the things you are learning. Encourage each other in this venture, and build each other up. Wouldn’t you consider that the best tribute to Charlotte Mason that we could offer? (Glass, 2017)
Actually, no, I think that would be about the worst tribute to Charlotte Mason that we could offer. Dr. Bernier offers a much better tribute:
Mason should be recognized as a unique educational philosopher, the framer of what could be regarded as the only fully articulated gospel centred philosophy of education and discipleship based upon the doctrinal foundation of Anglicanism, a unique contribution to the theory and practice of Christian education. Mason’s idea of the sacredness of the person and the recognition of children as persons, made every willing person an authorized self-educator, it redefined the role of teachers as helpers, potentially challenging the established order of class, based upon money or race. (Bernier, 2009, p. 198)
Separating Mason’s philosophy from her religion is no tribute. Reducing Mason’s philosophy to a few random practices is no tribute. Tying Mason’s philosophy back to ancient classical precedents is no tribute.
At Charlotte Mason Poetry, we are dedicated to promoting an authentic interpretation of Mason’s writings. We will continue to publish articles on this topic from every conceivable angle for as long as the Lord allows. But Mrs. Glass can rest easy. It is not about Karen Glass. It never was. It is about Charlotte Mason.
Bernier, B. E. (2009). Education for the kingdom: An exploration of the religious foundation of Charlotte Mason’s educational philosophy. Publisher: Author.
Drury, A. (1914). How past students can keep in touch with the newest features of the training at Scale How. In L’Umile Pianta, May, 1914 (pp. 59-65). London: Parents’ National Educational Union.
Glass, K. (2014). Consider this: Charlotte Mason and the classical tradition. Publisher: Author.
Glass, K. (2015). A “science of relations” moment. Retrieved from http://www.karenglass.net/a-science-of-relations-moment/.
Hall, F. (1905). Theological Outlines: The Doctrine of God (Vol. 1). Milwaukee, WI: The Young Churchman Co.
Markos, L. (2016). Raising a child according to Wordsworth and Charlotte Mason. In Classis, Volume 23, Number 3 (pp. 4-8). Moscow: Association of Classical & Christian Schools.
Mason, C. (1895). Editorial. In The Parents’ Review, volume 5 (pp. 923-928). London: Parents’ National Educational Union.
Mason, C. (1989a). Home education: Training and educating children under nine. Quarryville: Charlotte Mason Research & Supply. (Original work published 1886)
Mason, C. (1989b). Parents and children: The role of the parent in the education of the child. Quarryville: Charlotte Mason Research & Supply. (Original work published 1896)
Middlekauff, A. (2016). Reconsidering Charlotte Mason and the Classical Tradition. Retrieved from http://www.charlottemasoninstitute.org/reconsidering-charlotte-mason-and-the-classical-tradition-by-art-middlekauff/.
Stanford, A. (2016). Words of wisdom: book reviews. In CiRCE Magazine, issue #4 (p. 12). Concord: The CiRCE Institute.