Charlotte Mason and Worldview Formation

Charlotte Mason and Worldview Formation

In a Charlotte Mason education, we rely on books—not a teacher or a set of “tools” or textbooks—not only to inspire interest in the subject but also to ignite and shape our children’s imaginations; invite imitation of the True, Good, and Beautiful; and imbibe fruitful ideas that cause them to grow as persons.

But have you ever wondered if a Charlotte Mason education is providing a Christian worldview? After all, most of the books in Charlotte Mason’s programmes and in most Charlotte Mason curricula aren’t written by Christians, and Charlotte Mason certainly didn’t seem in favor of study guides that help students analyze the worldview of a book.

Now, to some of you, Christian worldview screams study guides and textbooks and picking apart every word until we’re left with just the facts. Others of you may think that you’ll cover that whole Christian worldview thing in a couple of cultural philosophy books in high school. Maybe something by Francis Schaeffer or James Sire.

But what if I told you that in the last 20 years, the whole concept surrounding what is a “worldview” has been completely redefined. In-depth, scholarly research reveals that forming a worldview has little to do with asking big philosophical questions or analysis of facts. Surprised?

And what if I also told you that Charlotte Mason already had it right 120 years ago. Not surprised?

So let’s briefly answer the question—what, really, is a worldview? And then we can see how Charlotte Mason, all along, provided the answer on how to help your children form a Christian worldview throughout their education before they face the adult world.

I think most of us have this vague idea that a worldview is like glasses we put on when we want to answer life’s big questions and culture’s big problems. We look through Christian lenses and analyze a given situation or philosophy through our “worldview.” To most people worldview means a thinking or analyzing tool. We speak of “worldview thinking,” “worldview analysis,” and the “Christian mind.”

And, honestly, that’s how we’ve been taught to understand worldview. The homeschooling parents of today—children of the 70s, 80s, and 90s—grew up in a world in which that was the accepted definition of worldview. Scholars like Nancy Pearcey, James Sire, and Francis Schaeffer defined worldview in terms of mental analysis. In the first several editions of The Universe Next Door: A Basic Worldview Catalog, a classic on the topic of worldview first published in 1976, James Sire defined worldview as “a set of presuppositions.”[1]

However, in recent years, this understanding has come under attack. Theologians and philosophers alike have argued that humans aren’t “brains on a stick.”[2] Our loves, not merely our thoughts, drive our actions. And, of course, C. S. Lewis so famously said this very thing in his Abolition of Man: “The head rules the belly through the chest.”[3] Facts and syllogisms just won’t cut it in a crisis because they don’t reach our affections.

In 2002, alongside these critiques, David Naugle wrote the most comprehensive study on worldview to date in his Worldview: The History of a Concept, which instigated a scholarly mentality shift regarding the definition of worldview. In this book he argues from history and Scripture that worldview must be “reinterpreted in light of the doctrine of the heart” rather than viewed as a philosophical tool for evaluating reality. The heart, he argues from Scripture, is the integration point of the mind, will, and affections—it is the “central, defining element of the human person.”[4]

In light of the valid critiques and Naugle’s seminal work in this area, James Sire changed his definition of worldview in the fifth (2009) and following editions of The Universe Next Door to “a fundamental orientation of the heart.” He furthermore says that he considers philosopher Charles Taylor’s term “social imaginaries” an equivalent term for “worldview.”[5]

Okay, one last bit of the definition puzzle before we get back to Miss Mason. Charles Taylor defines “social imaginaries” as “ways people imagine their social existence” and says that a social imaginary is “often not expressed in theoretical terms, but is carried in images, stories, and legends.” He explains that social imaginaries are not merely intellectual but are relational and normative—how people imagine their existence in relationship with others.[6] A social imaginary—or worldview—relies on the imagination to find and maintain relationships.

If the heart is the central part of a person—the seat of the mind, will, and affections in unity—the imagination is what connects the dots between the mind, will, and affections. The imagination is the “mind’s eye,” or as some scholars have better said, it is the “eyes of the heart.”[7] It creates a picture that engages more than just our minds. The imagination works through literary images and, by extension, stories to engage the whole heart—to make the vital connection between mind, will, and affections.[8] Unlike plain facts, stories make us want to know. Stories—not facts and analysis—orient the heart to form a worldview. Worldview is about making connections in our hearts. We could say this another way: Worldview is all about relations—and the relations are made through story.

Now, for those of us in the Charlotte Mason community, this sounds awfully familiar. If worldview is actually an “orientation of the heart” formed through story—and not an analysis tool—then how do we help our children form a Christian worldview?

Hint: It’s neither by using books written only by Christians nor by merely reading a few books on the topic of worldview so that we know how to analyze culture.

Charlotte Mason gives us the answer. She says that children should be reading stories—and not just any old stories—but stories “informed with the ideas proper to the subject of which it treats”[9] and “possessing certain literary qualities able to bring that sensible delight to the reader.”[10]

And what is an idea according to Charlotte Mason? It is “the image or picture formed by the mind of anything external” and moreover a “spiritual germ endowed with vital force—with power that is, to grow, and to produce after its kind.”[11]It is “a live thing of the mind.”[12] She further says that “any teaching which does not leave [the child] possessed of a new mental image has, by so far, missed its mark.”[13] She desires that lessons “leave[] a mental picture behind”[14]and leave the student’s “imagination warmed.”[15]

Notice also that teachers are to choose books that procure not just any mental image but those that contain “ideas proper to the subject”[16]—those books that excite a desire “toward things lovely, honest, and of good report.”[17]Books are to have “the fit and beautiful expression of inspiring ideas and pictures of life.”[18]

These types of books spark a vital image in the student’s mind through which the child is able then to “generalise, classify, infer, judge, visualise, discriminate, labour in one way or another with that capable mind of his.”[19] Through these books, the student will grow to “personally have relations with all that there is in the present, all that there has been in the past, and all that there will be in the future—with all that is above us and all about us.”[20] In other words, the ideas that make up a child’s education—those vital images in fit and beautiful books—give the child the power to have relationships with the world around—past, present, and future. His heart is oriented.

The key to worldview formation then, in Charlotte Mason’s philosophy, lies in ideas—those proper mental images procured by lovely, quality stories. What we call living books. When we feed our children’s imaginations on living books containing images that point them toward the Good, True, and Beautiful, we’re doing more towards forming their Christian worldview than any textbook of worldview facts or any study guide about worldview analysis.

Right again, Miss Mason. Imagine that!

Becky Aniol is a wife, keeper of the home, and mother of four children ages 4–15. She has a PhD in Christian education from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, where she focused her studies on the Christian imagination. She has homeschooled her children from the beginning but providentially discovered Charlotte Mason in 2012 during her master’s degree, when she was assigned Volume 6 for class discussion. She and her family recently moved from Texas to Douglasville, Georgia. Becky writes and speaks at conferences on education, family discipleship, and the Christian imagination and leads expository women’s Bible studies in her local church.

Endnotes

[1] James W. Sire, The Universe Next Door: A Basic Worldview Catalog (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 1976).

[2] James K. A. Smith, Desiring the Kingdom: Worship, Worldview, and Cultural Formation (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2009). See also Andy Crouch, Culture Making: Recovering Our Creative Calling (Downers Grove: InterVarsity, 2008); James Davison Hunter, To Change the World: The Irony, Tragedy, and Possibility of Christianity in the Late Modern World (New York: Oxford University Press, 2010); James K. A. Smith, You Are What You Love: The Spiritual Power of Habit (Grand Rapids: Brazos, 2016); Kevin J. Vanhoozer, “Lost in Interpretation? Truth, Scripture, and Hermeneutics,” Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 48 (2005): 89–114; Kevin J. Vanhoozer, “Love’s Wisdom: The Authority of Scripture’s Form and Content for Faith’s Understanding and Theological Judgment,” Journal of Reformed Theology 5 (2011): 247–75.

[3] C.S. Lewis, The Abolition of Man (New York: HarperCollins, 1974).

[4] David K. Naugle, Worldview: The History of a Concept (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2002).

[5] James W. Sire, The Universe Next Door: A Basic Worldview Catalog, 5th ed. (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2009). See also James W. Sire, Naming the Elephant: Worldview as a Concept (Downers Grove: InterVarsity, 2014) in which he explains the reasons behind his change in definition of worldview.

[6] Charles Taylor, Modern Social Imaginaries (Durham: Duke University Press, 2004).

[7] Alison Searle, The Eyes of Your Heart: Literary and Theological Trajectories of Imagining Biblically (Eugene, OR: Wipf and Stock, 2009); Kevin J. Vanhoozer, Pictures at a Theological Exhibition: Scenes of the Church’s Worship, Witness and Wisdom (Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2016).

[8] Leland Ryken, The Liberated Imagination: Thinking Christianly About the Arts (Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock, 1989); Gene Edward Veith Jr. and Matthew P. Ristuccia, Imagination Redeemed: Glorifying God with a Neglected Part of Your Mind (Wheaton: Crossway, 2014).

[9] Charlotte M. Mason, School Education (Jilliby, Australia: Living Book Press, 2017), 178, emphasis added.

[10] Charlotte M. Mason, Parents and Children (Jilliby, Australia: Living Book Press, 2017), 263.

[11] Charlotte M. Mason, Home Education (Jilliby, Australia: Living Book Press, 2017), 173.

[12] Mason, School Education, 69.

[13] Mason, Home Education, 173.

[14] Mason, Home Education, 173.

[15] Mason, School Education, 243.

[16] Mason, School Education, 178, emphasis added.

[17] Mason, Parents and Children, 36.

[18] Mason, Parents and Children, 263, emphasis added.

[19] Mason, School Education, 179.

[20] Mason, School Education, 185–86.

©2022 Becky Aniol

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