Author’s note: I wrote this article on July 3, 2008 in response to an article I read by a classical educator who wrote, “After studying Charlotte Mason’s six volumes, a Christian should conclude that her educational philosophy is not for the children’s sake.”
Recently someone shared with me an article by Aimee Natal entitled, “Charlotte Mason: For Whose Sake?” As I have pondered this article for the past few days, I have felt a variety of emotions, ending at last with a feeling of sorrow. Ms. Natal evidently feels that Charlotte Mason has underestimated the overpowering evil present in every child and has overestimated the divine grace granted to every child. Miss Mason’s error is so fatal, says Ms. Natal, “that one begins to seriously question the popularity of Mason’s philosophy among Christian educators.” (p. 1) Ms. Natal concludes her article with the pronouncement that “a Christian should conclude that [Charlotte Mason’s] educational philosophy is not for the children’s sake.” (p. 5)
I am saddened as my mind and my heart turn to the story of our Savior in Matthew 19. As I read the story, I am one of those parents, jostling, stepping, reaching in hope. I have my children with me, my baby in one arm, my daughter’s hand in the other. My oldest son stands before me. I see Christ, and I know that He is the answer, that He is the hope for my children. Will He be willing to “put his hands on them, and pray”? (Mt 19:13) Or are my children too blackened by sin, too warped by evil, too tarnished by the curse for the Teacher’s blessed touch?
The disciples confirm my fears. They start to push me away. They rebuke me, saying that my children must first learn obedience through punishment. Ms. Natal’s words echo in my mind: “[God] requires us to act in obedience, giving us the incentive of reward or punishment.” (p. 5) (This is sometimes called legalism.) Ms. Natal writes, “[God] employs the use of reward and punishment throughout His dealings with man past, present and future. It is folly [to assume] the child is born with a yearning for knowledge.” (p. 5) In the place of wonder and relationship, Ms. Natal prescribes reward and punishment.
But Christ fixes His gaze on me and the other parents who want Him to touch our children. “Suffer little children, and forbid them not, to come unto me.” (Mt. 19:14) In grateful obedience, I bring my children directly to Christ’s feet. They hear His words, they see His loveliness, they feel His touch. I move to the side, I watch silently. My children discover, they wonder, they relate, they understand. “For of such is the kingdom of heaven.” (Mt. 19:14)
Charlotte Mason knows that these little ones suffer from an aversion to God. “There is in human nature an aversion to God. a natural and obstinate aversion to Him.” (IV:179-180) Miss Mason asserts that both the orthodox and the liberal recognize the fact of this aversion. The orthodox identify it as “that ‘original sin which is the natural fault and corruption of the nature of every man that naturally is engendered of the offspring of Adam.’” (IV:180) The liberal identify it as “that jerk of the shoulder from the hand of authority which belongs to freewill.” (IV:180) Charlotte Mason knows that human effort, all the power of the flesh, cannot bring a child to God. “We cannot make a child ‘good’; but, we can lay paths for the good life in the very substance of his brain. We cannot make him hear the voice of God; but, again, we can make paths where the Lord God may walk in the cool of the evening.” (V:142)
If human effort, education, “cannot make a child ‘good’”, what can? Only “the washing of regeneration, and renewing of the Holy Ghost.” (Titus 3:5) By the “the approaches of the divine tenderness, some living idea of God may arrest [the child’s] Mind and stir up his Will to desire, intend, resolve. This is what is called conversion, and is among the everyday dealings of the Almighty Father with His dull and callous children.” (IV:178)
Let us agree with Ms. Natal that “we are born in sin, and dead in our sin, and that our nature is not good, but evil.” (p. 4) Let us even assume that our children are monsters, devils, in whom nothing good dwells. Let us suppose that in essence we as parents are evangelizing our children. How then do we help our children come to the fountain of rebirth and renewal? How do we bring them to the moment of conversion?
I am one of those parents, jostling, stepping, reaching in hope. What is evangelism if not bringing the little ones to Christ? A Charlotte Mason education is Matthew 19:13-15. We know that “faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.” (Romans 10:1) We give our children the gift of reading so they can read the Scriptures. Not the “talky-talky of the teacher.” (VI:52) Not Ms. Natal’s “example and questioning and illustration.” Not the catechism. We heed the call of Bishop J.C. Ryle: “And some are to be found in like manner who honor a catechism more than the Bible, or fill the minds of their children with miserable little story-books, instead of the Scripture of truth. But if you love your children, let the simple Bible be everything in the training of their souls; and let all other books go down and take the second place.”
Our children meet the living Christ by reading His word. And when they narrate, they eat His word, they consume his Word, they make his Word their own, and they confess its truth with their mouths.
But Ms. Natal claims that Charlotte Mason makes “little or no mention of Scripture, leaving one doubting her faith in God’s Word.” (p. 4) These are the Scriptures of which Ms. Mason writes “that in these is to be found, and nowhere but in these, a revealed knowledge of God.” (IV:185) Ms. Natal claims that “Mason’s hope for man’s salvation seems to be placed in Science.” (p. 4) But Ms. Mason writes “that men cannot by searching find out God.” The Bible alone is the “revelation of God which satisfies and directs every aspiration of the Soul of man.” (IV:186)
In John Wesley’s day many people wanted to know how to obtain for themselves the experience of conversion. Was it best to simply wait in stillness for that gift from above? Wesley answered as follows:
“But does not the Scripture direct us to wait for salvation? Does not David say, ‘My soul waiteth upon God, for of him cometh my salvation?’ And does not Isaiah teach us the same thing, saying, ‘O Lord, we have waited for thee?’” All this cannot be denied. Seeing it is the gift of God, we are undoubtedly to wait on him for salvation. But how shall we wait? If God himself has appointed a way, can you find a better way of waiting for him? But that he hath appointed a way hath been shown at large, and also what that way is. The very words of the Prophet, which you cite, put this out of all question. For the whole sentence runs thus: “In the way of thy judgments,” or ordinances, “O Lord, have we waited for thee.” (Isaiah 26:8.) And in the very same way did David wait, as his own words abundantly testify: “I have waited for thy saving health, O Lord, and have kept thy law. Teach me, O Lord, the way of thy statutes, and I shall keep it unto the end.”
Wesley the evangelist said that the waiting for the gift from above should be an active waiting. We should help our children to walk in the spiritual habits of the Christian life until God “hath shined in [their] hearts, to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.” (2 Cor. 4:6) In other words evangelism is the “discipline of habits formed definitely and thoughtfully” (I:5) and the presentation of the living ideas of the Gospel of Christ. Miss Mason assures us that it is “the impact of the Divine upon the human, which generates life, ‘without which there is no living.’ The life is there, imparted and sustained from above; but we have something to do here also. Spirit, like body, thrives upon daily bread and daily labour, and it is our part to set before the child those ‘new thoughts of God, new hopes of Heaven,’ which should be his spiritual diet; and to practise him in the spiritual labours of prayer, praise, and endeavour.” (V:142-143)
Evangelism is a discipline and a life. And I know of no better method to evangelize your children than a Charlotte Mason education.
And then the parent witnesses the most wondrous miracle of all, when his child is “born of water and of the Spirit.” (John 3:5) The child still has “possibilities for good and for evil,” (VI:46), but now God’s “seed remaineth in him, because he is born of God.” (1 John 3:9) The child is now destined for heaven. And how do we lead this regenerate child into ever greater Christ-likeness?
We help the regenerate child to develop the spiritual habits of the Christine life, and we present to the regenerate child the living ideas of the Gospel of Christ. For discipleship is a discipline and a life. And I know of no better method to disciple your children than a Charlotte Mason education.
Charlotte Mason was correct when she wrote, “Children are not born bad but with possibilities for good and for evil.” (VI:46) Jesus said, “For of such is the kingdom of heaven.” (Mt. 19:14) Jesus said this not because of the undeniable truth that infants (Luke 18:15) and children carry within their very nature the sentence of death which they inherit from the first Adam. Jesus said this because of the undeniable truth that infants and children are born persons, created in the image of God, and because He, the second Adam, “was the true Light, which lighteth every man that cometh into the world.” (John 1:9)