Poetic Knowledge or Food of the Mind?

Poetic Knowledge or Food of the Mind?

When Dr. Stephanie Spencer of University of Winchester submitted her scholarly essay for publication in Women, Education, and Agency 1600-2000, she chose the subtitle, “Charlotte Mason’s Philosophy of Education.” For the main title, however, she chose a phrase that for her (apparently) captures the essence of Mason’s philosophy of education: “Knowledge as the Necessary Food of the Mind.”

Eleven years earlier, James Taylor released his book entitled Poetic Knowledge: The Recovery of Education. Taylor (1998) defines poetic knowledge as “a sensory-emotional. . . encounter with reality that is nonanalytical, . . . when the mind, through the senses and emotions, sees in delight, or even in terror, the significance of what is really there” (pp. 5-6). Several voices within the Charlotte Mason community have celebrated Taylor’s book, and some suggest that Taylor’s agenda for education is essentially the same as Mason’s philosophy of education. But is Taylor’s “poetic knowledge” really the same thing as Mason’s “food of the mind”?

Taylor’s book is complex, layered, and broad, and any effort to compare his views to Mason’s must consider multiple dimensions. To help provide clarity around the layers of the discussion, I will use the metaphor of a tree to envision a theory of education. At the foundation, we have the roots. These represent the fundamental philosophical underpinnings of the theory. These underpinnings often extend to deep or ancient tradition. Above the roots, we have the branches. These represent the key ideas that the theorist proposes on the basis of his or her philosophical foundation. And finally we have the fruit. The fruit represents the theory in practice. These are the visible outcomes of the theory of education that are enacted, implemented, and tasted.

Following this metaphor, we observe that two trees may bear similar fruit, but have different branches and roots. Furthermore, while the two trees may bear some fruit that is similar, they may bear other fruit that is quite different. As an example, consider Christianity and Buddhism. Both religions mandate the rule of reciprocity: do unto others as you would have them to do unto you. That may be seen as a common fruit. However, we notice that other fruits between the two trees are quite different, such as guidance on how to prepare for life after death. We observe that the fruits are growing on different trees, each with their own respective philosophical underpinnings, ideas, and implications.

James Taylor’s Poetic Knowledge promotes various educational fruits that are similar to those promoted by Charlotte Mason. Indeed, many are common to a broad spectrum of educational methods and are not exclusive to Mason. Examples of these fruits that are common to Taylor and Mason are as follows:

  1. The theory and practice of education should align with the true nature of the child.
  2. The acquisition of knowledge is enhanced when the learner loves the subject matter.
  3. Children learn best from books that capture their attention and their imagination.
  4. Story is an important vehicle for the transmission of knowledge.
  5. A liberal education should:
    • convey more than just facts,
    • make use of the arts (including music and poetry),
    • include handicrafts,
    • and include nature study.
  6. Second languages are best taught in a manner that approximates the manner by which children initially acquire their first language.
  7. In many cases, learning should progress from the concrete to the abstract.
  8. Teachers should not explicitly teach moral principles, but instead should allow students to infer moral principles on their own.
  9. Children should grow in self-discipline and moral responsibility.

For educators committed to Charlotte Mason’s method, it is encouraging to see Taylor affirm these particular educational fruits. In fact, this list may cause some to suspect that the branches and roots of the trees are common as well. But a complete survey makes it clear that these common fruits are growing on two quite different trees. We begin this survey by noting the various educational fruits that are not shared by the two trees.

Fruits That are Not Shared

In this survey, the educational fruits that are not shared by the two methods will be expressed as practices that Taylor rejects but that Mason affirms.

1. Rejection or deferral of analysis. Taylor’s position on analysis is summarized when he writes, “By definition, poetic experience is free from analysis” (Taylor, 1998, p. 63). According to Taylor (1998), the poetic experience if necessarily free from analysis because of how it is obtained:

But whereas, the “delight we take in our senses” is the first knowledge of the thing itself, as it is, undisturbed, unanalyzed by the beginner and average man. . . (p. 23)

Taylor (1998) characterizes analysis as an activity that has no purpose, at least in the philosophical sense:

This is to say on the other hand, that modern science has no end in the philosophical sense because it seeks to simply analyze things, to take them apart and identify these parts, and there cannot be an end to an activity that disintegrates, that is not directed throughout to the wholeness of the thing. (p. 161)

Taylor indicates that analysis should at the very least be deferred. For example, he notes favorably that “[Henri] Charlier inveigh[s] against a learning that is largely abstract and prematurely analytical” (Taylor, 1998, p. 134). However, it is not clear when Taylor would consider analytical training to be appropriate: he celebrates even a college-level program that is intentionally free from analysis:

Furthermore, the professors taught the books from the classics of literature, history, and philosophy in the poetic mode, rather than in any analytical way. (Taylor, 1998, p. 151)

In contrast to Taylor, Charlotte Mason advocates a program of instruction where analysis and synthesis are integrated at all levels. For a detailed investigation of this approach, see my article “Analysis and Synthesis in the Parents’ Review.” Mason’s approach is actually nicely summarized by John Henry Cardinal Newman (as cited in Taylor, 1998):

When the reason is cultivated, it at once begins to combine, to centralize, to look forward, to look back, to view things as a whole, whether for speculation or for action; it practices synthesis and analysis, it discovers and invents. (p. 34)

By contrast, two difficulties may be observed in Taylor’s deferral or rejection of analysis. The first is that without analysis, one is unable to rationally evaluate truth claims. This may lead one to intuitively embrace errors, with dangerous consequences. Remarkably, Taylor seems to utterly reject the process of academic analysis to challenge truth claims; he favorably quotes Dennis B. Quinn:

The humanities have been professionalized and scientized to the point where the ordinary undergraduate with a budding love for poetry or history or art or philosophy finds his affection returned in the form of footnotes, research projects, bibliographies, and scholarly jargon—all the poisonous paraphernalia that murders to dissect. (Quinn, as cited in Taylor, 1998, p. 158)

Taken at face value, this would seem to indicate that any scholarly evaluation of Taylor’s own thesis (such as the one you are now reading) is a murderous dissection. So must we all simply intuitively embrace and apply Taylor’s thesis solely on the basis of its intrinsic appeal to our poetic nature?

A second difficulty is that is impossible to enforce Taylor’s prohibition of analysis because it assumes an arbitrary frame of reference. For example, Taylor (1998) says that analysis wrongly examines the parts without the whole:

So, with dissection or isolation there is no longer an experience of the flower—only parts—and the thing called a rose is gone. (p. 169)

The problem with this assertion is that we live in a universe that has componentization at all levels. For example, the flower described above may be part of a prairie. So if we experience the flower, isn’t the thing called a prairie gone? In reality, God has given us a universe where there is beauty, meaning, and elegance at all levels of the componentization hierarchy. Prairies are beautiful, flowers are beautiful, and petals are beautiful. Even the sight of a plant cell in a microscope is wonderful and beautiful.

2. Rejection of literature as a primary feature of the curriculum. Taylor emphasizes what he considers to be the limitations of the power of books to effect education. He links this to the alleged imprecision of language:

. . . [H. Charlier] also says the means of transferring this kind of education—by mere language—has become imprecise: “Words no longer offer any precise meaning, they can no longer define things for the three quarters of the people who still use them.” (Taylor, 1998, p. 134)

He celebrates an approach to education that tempers a delight in literature and instead maintains “a healthy independence from books and notes and all the gimmicks so often used to keep this generation’s attention” (Taylor, 1998, p. 149). This contrasts starkly with Mason who explicitly relies on good books to foster the habit of attention: “We know that young people are enormously interested in the subject and give concentrated attention if we give them the right books” (Mason, 1925/1954, p. 171).

Taylor seems to accept the assertion that work done by the hands enjoys a more direct path to the mind than work done with books:

Let the child have a chance of doing manual labor, but do not hand over the task of teaching to a kind of unskilled laborer. Rather, let us address ourselves to a real teacher who can perfect the sense of touch, to the point that it becomes a refined sense of touch: intelligence will then climb right from the hands to the head. In all areas of studies our teaching has been too verbal. (A. Charlier, as cited in Taylor, 1998, p. 140)

Mason without a doubt celebrates work with the hands. However, she also insists that a rich and full diet of the knowledge that comes from books is equally essential:

But ‘surely, surely,’ as ‘Mrs. Proudie’ would say, scientific experiments, natural beauty, nature study, rhythmic movements, sensory exercises, are all fertile in ideas? Quite commonly, they are so, as regards ideas of invention and discovery; and even in ideas of art; but for the moment it may be well to consider the ideas that influence life, that is, character and conduct; these, it would seem, pass directly from mind to mind, and are neither helped nor hindered by educational outworks.

. . .

Naturally, each of us possesses this mind-stuff only in limited measure, but we know where to procure it; for the best thought the world possesses is stored in books; we must open books to children, the best books; our own concern is abundant provision and orderly serving. (Mason, 1925/1954, pp. 25-26)

Far from mistrusting the imprecision of language and words, Mason (1925/1954) asserts that literature is the essential key to education:

. . . we have made a rather strange discovery,— that the mind refuses to know anything except what reaches it in more or less literary form. (p. 256)

For Mason, unlike Taylor, literature is indeed a primary feature of the curriculum.

3. Rejection of program and syllabus in education. Taylor makes the interesting assertion that “one book could suffice for an entire curriculum” (p. 178). He proposes that even arithmetic lessons could be taught from calculating distances in a story (p. 179). By contrast, Mason (1925/1954) asserts that education should utilize “many living books,” since the child requires “much knowledge,” and the “knowledge should be various, for sameness in mental diet does not create appetite” (p. xxx). Interestingly, Mason (1905) specifically prescribes against using story as the context for teaching arithmetic; she writes:

Thus, in readings on the period of the Armada, we should not devote the contemporary arithmetic lessons to calculations as to the amount of food necessary to sustain the Spanish fleet, because this is an arbitrary and not an inherent connection. . . (p. 231)

Taylor (1998) praises the Integrated Humanities Program (IHP) at the University of Kansas, which was anything but programmatic:

. . . these twice-a-week, hour-and-twenty-minute meetings were not lectures at all but, rather, conversation between the three professors, one from classics and two from English, who had come to know one another through their shared ideas of education and had become friends. The conversations were, by design, unrehearsed and spontaneous, begun by simply taking up some moment from the Odyssey, or from Herodotus, or The Republic that interested one of the teachers, then exploring it with anecdotes, stories, connections with other readings, following wherever the theme took them. Now and then, they would acknowledge directly the presence of the nearly two hundred students in the hall, but for the most part the experience was one of listening and watching a real conversation take place among three men who were themselves sincerely caught up in their own topic and friendship. (pp. 146-147)

Mason (1925/1954), “ruling out the talky-talky of the oral lesson and the lecture” (p. 91), would utterly reject such a format. She would insist on program:

If we perceive that knowledge, like bread, is necessary food, we see also that it must be taken in set portions, fitly combined, duly served, and at due intervals, in order to induce the digestive processes without which, knowledge, like meat, gives us labour rather than strength. In other words, desultory reading affords entertainment, and perhaps an occasional stimulus to thought. (Mason, 1906/1989c, p. 382)

Taylor’s affection for having students learn by witnessing meandering conversations evinces a strong contrast to Mason.

4. Rejection of multi-cultural studies. In a critical review of Taylor’s Poetic Knowledge, Colleen Connolly (1998) writes:

In Taylor’s words, there is no room for a multicultural curriculum, for such a curriculum cannot change “the fact that we are born at a certain time into a certain culture and traditions, and no amount of study of … the East will make us any more Eastern” (178). Taylor claims that this approach is not exclusionary or xenophobic. Rather, he contends that such an education recognizes that examining another’s culture and traditions is “unnecessary and inappropriate” and should be left for graduate students who want to specialize in a particular field. (p. 106)

By contrast, Mason (1896/1989b) points to the value of learning from other cultures:

Such fables as ‘The Oak and the Reed,’ ‘The Brazen and the Earthen Pot,’ ‘The Kite and the Wolf,’ Mr. Adler would reject, as breathing of Eastern subserviency and fear. But possibly for the very reason that the British backbone is little disposed to bow before man or circumstances, the lessons of life culled by peoples of other, habits and other thoughts may be quite specially useful to the English child. Any way, we should lose some of the most charming fables if we cut out all that savours of the wisdom of the East. The fables Mr. Felix Adler specially commends are those which hold up virtue for our praise or evil for our censure; such as Cowardice, the fable of ‘The Stag and the Fawn’; Vanity, ‘The Peacock and the Crane’; Greediness, ‘The Dog and the Shadow.’ (p. 108)

When Taylor rules out certain forms of knowledge as “unnecessary and inappropriate,” he implicitly distances himself from Mason, who says that “a child’s knowledge may not be artificially restricted, that he has a right to and necessity for as much and as varied knowledge as he is able to receive. . .” (Mason, 1925/1954, p. 12).

5. Rejection of work. Taylor expresses a pronounced dualism separating work from leisure. He cites Aristotle to support the notion that work is demeaning and is a barrier to learning:

To young children should be imparted only such kinds of knowledge as will be useful to them without vulgarizing them. And any occupation, art, or science, which makes the body or soul or mind of the freeman less fit for the practice and exercise of virtue, is vulgar; wherefore, we call those arts vulgar which tend to deform the body, and likewise all paid employments, for they absorb and degrade the mind. (Aristotle, as cited in Taylor, 1998, p. 19)

Taylor further denigrates work by assigning it a place outside the realm of “wonder,” which is the sentiment that, according to Taylor, drives learning. To explain this, Taylor quotes Josef Pieper, who writes that “wonder does not occur in the workaday world” (Pieper, as cited in Taylor, 1998, p. 79).

Mason (1896/1989b) decisively rejects this dualism by linking her Great Recognition of the teaching ministry of the Holy Spirit to the vocational labor of the farmer:

God, the Holy Spirit, is Himself the supreme Educator of mankind.

. . .

Is there any teaching in the Bible to support this view?

Yes; very much. Isaiah, for example, says that the ploughman knows how to carry on the successive operations of husbandry, ‘for his God doth instruct him and doth teach him.’ (pp. 245-246)

Furthermore, Mason (1905/1924) even characterizes the activity of learning as work: “. . . it seems to be a law in the things of life and mind that we do not get anything for our own unless we work for it. It is a case of lightly come, lightly go” (p. 184).

Whereas Aristotle claims that work degrades the mind, Mason affirms the sacred dignity of work as taught by the Holy Scriptures.

6. Rejection of science. A pervasive theme in Taylor’s book is his virtually categorical rejection of science. This perspective is explored in detail in a 2001 review by Mary Daly. Taylor links the undoing of education to the increased influence of science:

Rather, it was Descartes’ love of method, process, and the tools of science that are bequeathed to philosophers such as [John] Dewey. (pp. 97-98)

But the same tools of science were bequeathed not only to Dewey but also to Mason. Rather than signaling the sunset of true education, Mason (1896/1989b) saw science as the instrument of a new dawn:

But his commandment is exceeding broad; becomes broader year by year with every revelation of science; and we had need gird up the loins of our mind to keep pace with this current revelation. . . we shall be enabled to perceive the unity and continuity of this revelation with that of the written word of God. (p. 21)

Mason sought to understand the mechanics of education not on the basis of classical philosophical anthropology but rather on the basis of scientific physiology. She writes:

How is this great work of character-making, the single effectual labour possible to human beings, to be carried on? We shall rest our inquiries on a physiological basis. (Mason, 1896/1989b, p. 23)

Taylor’s rejection of science is a rejection of Mason’s philosophy of education.

7. Rejection of technology. Building upon his rejection of science, Taylor rejects technology with breathtaking force. He derides technological innovation as inherently bad:

To show this another way: a Teflon spatula is useful, at least, for a Teflon pan; but a wooden ladle, of curved and smooth wood, is not only useful but beautiful. The first is scientific, in the modern sense, reduced to its most base utilitarian level, not to mention the strange materials wrought from laboratories; while the second tool is crafted from the poetic mode of life. (Taylor, 1998, p. 2)

This astonishing statement utterly ignores the fact that human beings actually work in these labs, and human beings designed these spatulas. Is it not possible for human beings to use technology to create beautiful and aesthetically-pleasing tools and artifacts? Taylor seems to sweep aside the entire discipline of human factors engineering and user experience design. He suggests with sarcasm:

A test of this truth would be to contrast the idea of someone walking round and round a microwave or a child’s plastic toy, commenting with admiration on the beauty and loving workmanship of such items. (Taylor, 1998, p. 138)

It is not clear why a human being cannot design a microwave that is elegant and admirable. And is there not somewhere a toymaker who has made something good from plastic? Does plastic truly destroy the human spirit? Perhaps Taylor’s assertion can only be understood in the “poetic mode.”

But my “poetic mode” has seen software developers write code with exquisite elegance and craftsmanship. I have seen user interface designers create applications that enable productivity while maintaining aesthetic dignity and even beauty. And what of technology which has saved lives? Is there nothing wonderful about the ultrasound that shows a beating heart? Is there nothing breathtaking about the invention of the MRI that has brought hope to countless souls?

Apparently not, according to Taylor. “Machines,” he writes, “tend to destroy the cultivation of poetic knowledge” (Taylor, 1998, p. 138). What Taylor (1998) laments as “the rise and dominance of science and its technological applications” (p. 139) is the very progress of society that has resulted in dramatic improvements in medicine, health, and quality of life. Mason unequivocally celebrates this form of progressive development. For example, Mason (1925/1954) points to divine revelation as the source of the discovery of wireless telegraphy:

Coleridge has revealed the innermost secret, whether of science or literature: speaking on the genesis of an idea, he says, “When the idea of Nature (presented to chosen minds by a Higher Power than Nature herself),” etc. The man who would write for us about the true inwardness of wireless telegraphy, say, how truly it was a discovery, a revealing of that which was there and had been there all along, might make our hearts burn within us. (p. 318)

Taylor seems to relegate the products of technology to a different ontological category. He writes:

Yet, the close of the twentieth century also forces us to look more closely, for there still is a nature, and a human nature, that can respond to reality and to the permanent things. It is simply more difficult now. (Taylor, 1998, p. 175)

Are machines not part of reality? Or do machines belong to an ethereal plane where they defy the otherwise accessible qualities of being?

Taylor notes Henri Charlier’s observation that in the real world of farming, a peasant can learn because “he is used to seeing nature put to the test, to test his conclusions about things (p. 141)” (as cited in Taylor, 1998, p. 141). But in actual fact, the world of technology is just as real, and one learns the hard lessons of logic and human fallibility in this context as well. I have often explained that it was through computer programming that I came face-to-face with the relentless logic of reality and my own mind’s frequent reluctance to acknowledge it.

Nowhere in his discussion of technology does Taylor seem to address the underlying economic factors that relate to his call for a poetic way of life. Taylor often expresses his yearning for a preindustrial society. For example, he writes:

All true, as far as it goes, but the integration of former times is missing in Emerson’s work, that is, the harmony of the senses, emotions, will, and intellect, as well as the integrated society of a preindustrial culture. (p. 117)

In his discussion of the school building (p. 176), he seems to imply that a school filled with hand-made furniture would be less expensive than one produced by industry. But this does not reflect the economic reality of the enormous cost of labor. In his book, Taylor never acknowledges the positive effects of industrialization on human society. In a preindustrial culture, craftsmen are entirely dependent on the small communities they service, no matter how good their work product. If local crops fail, craftsman starve. By contrast, industrialization raises the general standard of living.

Taylor offers no explanation of how his poetic way of life could be economically sustainable. He consistently rejects technology, a rejection not found in Mason’s writings.

8. Rejection of progressive optimism. Finally, Taylor rejects the mindset of progressivism, that social advancements are necessary to improve the human condition. He asserts that the progressive orientation is an outgrowth of the institutions of science and capitalism that he rejects:

Furthermore, both societies are steeped in their separate ideas of progress, a materialistic progress advanced by a scientific philosophy such as dialectical materialism, or of the optimistic future brought about by the marriage of science and capitalism. . . (Taylor, 1998, p. 103)

Taylor (1998) notes Dewey as an example of the negative impact of the progressive mindset:

. . . all learning now becomes a kind of effort and work which Dewey models after a dynamic idea of democracy of social change, where learning has as its end the fulfillment of a progressive society always changing toward some perfected goal. (p. 98)

Mason was progressive in the standard sense that she believed society was becoming better and better. She believed that new light was making the world a better place:

Life is more intense, more difficult, more exhausting for us than it was for our fathers; it will probably be more difficult still for our children than for ourselves. How timely, then, and how truly, as we say, providential, that, just at this juncture of difficult living, certain simple, definite clues to the art of living should have been put into our hands! Is it presumptuous to hope that new light has been vouchsafed to us in these days, in response to our more earnest endeavours, our more passionate cravings for ‘more light and fuller.’

Mason wrote a chapter entitled “A Hundred Years After” in Formation of Character, which envisioned the results of a century of implementation of the ideas of Mason and the P.N.E.U. Such a chapter reveals Mason’s progressive optimism, of the kind which Taylor strongly repudiates.

We are using the analogy of a tree to describe a philosophy of education. These eight examples are fruits growing on the two trees. The examples show that Taylor’s philosophy of education produces outcomes quite different from the philosophy advocated by Mason. The differences in these fruits point to differences in the branches as well.

Different Branches

Given that the trees of Mason and Taylor share certain fruits in common, how do we account for the many differences? The explanation is found in the ideas and theories that underlie the outcomes. In our metaphor, these ideas and theories are the branches of the trees, responsible for the fruits that grow upon them.

In order to explore these ideas and theories, we must delve more deeply into Taylor’s descriptions of poetic knowledge. We begin by noting that Taylor describes two levels of poetic knowledge.

1. Taylor’s first level of poetic knowledge may be referred to as “prerational knowledge” (Taylor, 1998, p. 26). This refers to the natural ability of the mind to instantly grasp essential qualities of an external entity based on only sense input and without rational thought. It is essentially the same as the “estimative sense” in Taylor’s interpretation of Aristotelian psychology and anthropology.

2. Taylor’s second level of poetic knowledge may be referred to as “connatural knowledge” (p. 64). This refers to the mystical ability of the person to comprehend the actual essence of an external entity via a sort of metaphysical union. This goes well beyond the estimative sense. Taylor (1998) explains:

To be connatural with a thing is to participate in some way with its nature, as distinct from its intentional form, to share a likeness of nature. (p. 64)

According to Taylor, both levels of poetic knowledge are foundational for all other forms of knowledge. With these two levels in mind, let us ask a series of questions and see how Taylor and Mason would answer them differently.

Question #1: Should apprehension be prerational or co-rational?

Taylor (1998) explains prerational knowledge, the “estimative sense,” as follows:

The estimative power, then, is part of every instinct and the root of estimative behavior is the power of estimation. What does it do? It is the ability of the animal—including the human being—to know, without any previous information, what is good and what is bad for itself. (p. 47)

One important aspect of this sense of instinct is that it is fallible. When man trusts his own instinct of right and wrong, without rational oversight, he follows what “seems right” to him. The Bible warns us that this approach is not reliable:

There is a way which seems right to a man, but its end is the way to death. (Proverbs 14:12, RSV2CE, 2006)

Taylor (1998) apparently acknowledges this fallibility when he notes that even St. Thomas Aquinas calls poetic knowledge “defective” (p. 64). But Taylor (1998) attempts to minimize the importance of this fallibility by saying that “knowing a thing is the first condition of loving it” (p. 54). But that does not align with experience as we know it. One can love something and not know what it is. A simple example is Samson and Delilah. Samson apparently loved Delilah with a vibrant poetic knowledge. But that estimative sense was gravely mistaken about her true nature and intent. One of the most significant flaws of Taylor’s book is that he does not explain how to manage the fallibility of this estimative sense.

Mason avoids this problem altogether by avoiding any dualism of knowledge or perception. For Mason, there is no prerational knowledge or faculty; rather, for Mason, knowedge is co-rational. Dr. Stephanie Spencer explains:

Mason frequently conflated intellectual, spiritual and physical requirements and undermined any concept of a mind / body dualism. She clearly linked the intellectual with the spiritual when she rewrote Matthew Arnold’s definition of religion (religion is morality touched with emotion): “Knowledge is information touched with emotion: feeling must be stirred, imagination must picture, reason must consider, nay conscience must pronounce on the information we offer before it becomes mindstuff”. Her choice of “mindstuff” as analogous to foodstuff is unlikely to have been accidental as it is a theme to which she continually returns. She also worked to change ideas that reason, a characteristic primarily associated with men was not compatible with emotion, a traditionally female characteristic. (p. 118)

Mason describes how all the mental powers of the person are naturally applied in a unified way. Feeling, imagination, reason, and conscience all simultaneously operate in a mysterious way known only to the mind that is consuming knowledge. Because of that, persons are able to consume art in a co-rational rather than prerational way.

Mason describes how God uses art to speak to persons in a sacramental way. This message is co-rational, combining study, reflection, and emotion. Mason writes:

There are always those present with us whom God whispers in the ear, through whom He sends a direct message to the rest. Among these messengers are the great painters who interpret to us some of the meanings of life. To read their messages aright is a thing due from us. But this, like other good gifts, does not come by nature. It is the reward of humble, patient study. It is not in a day or a year that Fra Angelico will tell us of the beauty of holiness, that Giotto will confide his interpretation of the meaning of life, that Millet will tell us of the simplicity and dignity that belong to labour on the soil, that Rembrandt will show us the sweetness of humanity in many a commonplace countenance.

The artist–

“Reaching, that heaven might so replenish him,
Above and through his art,”–

has indispensable lessons to give us, whether he convey them through the brush of the painter, the vast parables of the architect, or through such another cathedral built of sound as ‘Abt Vogler’ produced: the outward and visible sign is of less moment than the inward and spiritual grace. (Mason, 1905/1989d, p. 102)

Because of Taylor’s segmented and dualistic view, poetry ceases to be sacramental and instead is limited to the function of arousing certain insights in the reader. For example, he cites Franklyn Nelick: “Poetry aims to delight by the recognition on the part of the reader or auditor of the similarities between things” (as cited in Taylor, 1998, p. 163). Taylor (1998) explains:

Poetry, especially of the lyric kind, and poetic knowledge, do not give mystical experience in the religious sense. . . (p. 115)

But in Mason’s understanding, the co-rational experience of mind can consume knowledge in a mystical and sacramental way. Mason (1896/1989b) generalizes this principle to all knowledge, assigning a religious or mystical character to all of education:

Does this doctrine of ideas as the spiritual food needful to sustain the immaterial life throw any light on the doctrines of the Christian religion?

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. (p. 246)

The key to this sacramental experience is co-rationality. When I analyze a poem, I behold more of its beauty. When I contemplate science, I behold more of its beauty. Both bring to bear all the powers of my mind; both incline my heart to worship; both are gifts from God.

Question #2: How does the mind apprehend an essence?

For Taylor, the second level of poetic knowledge after prerational knowledge is connatural knowledge. This is the power of the intellect to intuit, and immediately grasp the “material and immaterial reality” of an external thing (Taylor, 1998, p. 52). According to Taylor (1998), this is achieved not via the estimative faculty, but via a metaphysical encounter:

To be connatural with a thing is to participate in some way with its nature, as distinct from its intentional form, to share a likeness of nature. (p. 64)

Taylor (1998) says that the learner “achieves a spiritual union” with the “objects of desire” (p. 75). He also describes this as “immaterial union” (Taylor, 1998, p. 63). Taylor (1998) explains why he refers to this metaphysical transaction as “poetic”:

It is partly because this process is immaterial, that is, spiritual, that it is called poetic, effortless and pure, as it participates in the thing known. (p. 63)

At the outset I would note that this could be a dangerous way to acquire knowledge. Since this process imports ideas in an effortless manner, no act of logical discernment is employed to evaluate the incoming idea for error. This is a cause for serious concern, given Mason’s  (1896/1989b) assertion that some ideas are dangerous:

Are all ideas which have a purely spiritual origin ideas of good?

Unhappily, no; it is the sad experience of mankind that ideas of evil also are spiritually conveyed.

What is the part of the man?

To choose the good and refuse the evil. (p. 246)

How can man refuse evil ideas spiritual conveyed if he does not employ discernment?

But why does Taylor (1998) conceive that such metaphysical union is necessary to explain “all unpremeditated intellectual acts of knowing” (p. 65)? His logic rests on the following presuppositions:

1. Objects possess an immaterial essence that is distinct from the object itself. Taylor accepts this on the authority of “the Realist tradition of philosophy, particularly the Platonic-Aristotelian-Thomist tradition” (p. 48). Taylor explains:

. . . Plato insisted that this knowable universe is ultimately spiritual in nature, and that ‘Genuine knowledge was immaterial, intellectual, and eternal as were the perfect forms upon which it was based,’. . . (Taylor, and Gutek, as cited in Taylor, 1998, p. 17)

2. Knowledge of an object is achieved when the mind possesses its actual immaterial essence. Taylor (1989) explains this possession as follows:

St. Thomas Aquinas puts it this way: “The noblest way of possessing a thing is to possess it in an immaterial manner, that is by possessing its form without its matter; and this is the definition of knowledge.” (p. 63)

3. The mind is preconfigured with the ability to possess every immaterial essence in existence. Taylor notes that Jacques Maritain refers to this as “the preconscious life of the intellect” or the “primeval activity of the intellect” (as cited in Taylor, 1998, p. 65).

The implication of the above three assumptions is that the mind of the person is somehow linked to all other things. Taylor quotes Henri Renard to explain: “In order to know, one must somehow become another; for to know is to be another” (as cited in Taylor, 1998, p. 61). Taylor quotes Aristotle who explains the fullest implication of this logic:

The soul is in a way all existing things; for existing things are either sensible or thinkable, and knowledge is in a way what is knowable, and sensation is in a way what is sensible. (as cited in Taylor, 1998, p. 60)

This statement of Aristotle, quoted favorably by Taylor, should make any Christian pause. The idea that “the soul is in a way all existing things” sounds very much like the goal of Eastern mysticism, where the soul achieves Nirvana. In this state, the soul achieves an awareness of its metaphysical oneness with the universe. This similarity has not gone unnoticed. For example, Louis Markos writes about the poem “Expostulation and Reply,” quoted in Taylor’s book, and the writings of Josef Pieper, cited frequently by Taylor:

What Wordsworth advocates in his poem is almost identical to what Pieper calls for in Leisure, the Basis of Culture. Indeed, an alternate title for Pieper’s book would be “Wise Passiveness,” a key Wordsworthian phrase that might best be defined as an active focusing that prepares the mind to receive passively. As I noted above, this kind of learning bears much similarity to Buddhism; however, as with the Catholic Pieper, the Anglican Wordsworth factors in an essential element of joy and directs his musings toward a divine Presence that transcends both nature and the self. (Markos, 2014, p. 80)

Even Taylor (1998) himself provides an example of where someone blended Plato, Aristotle, and Buddhism:

In Emerson can be heard something of Plato, Aristotle, Buddha, Rousseau, usually in bits and pieces. (p. 117)

The idea that “the soul is in a way all existing things” would not be troubling to Aristotle, who was a pre-Christian pagan. But to a Christian, this might raise concerns of panentheism, or even paganism.

The sense of paganism grows when Taylor (1998) begins speaking of “the muse of knowledge” (p. 66). In some instances, he cites passages that capitalize the word muse (also on p. 66). Now one might say that Taylor is merely using a figure of speech. But we should recall that a muse is a pagan god. St. Paul identifies the pagan gods with demonic entities when he writes, “I imply that what pagans sacrifice they offer to demons and not to God. I do not want you to be partners with demons” (1 Corinthians 10:20, RSV2CE, 2006). Is it helpful to describe education as a mystical process of union under the guidance of a demonic being, even if it is just intended as a metaphor? Taylor cites Quinn who writes:

In The Laws, Plato’s spokesman says, “Shall we begin then, with the acknowledgment that education is first given through Apollo and the Muses?” The Muses are the deities of poetry, music, dance, history, and astronomy. They introduce the young to reality through delight. It is a total education including the heart—the memory and passions and imagination—as well as the body and intelligence. (as cited in Taylor, 1998, p. 159)

It is striking that Taylor is comfortable describing education in terms of pagan gods and metaphysical union with the universe. Indeed, Taylor (1998) seems view the desire for metaphysical union as a strong motivator for learning:

The fact is, we are not moved by thought alone but by the integration of an idea and desire, the desire for union with reality, and all our composite being perceives reality as good. (p. 171)

Taylor (1998) cites Pieper’s description of happiness: “To hold a celebration means to affirm . . . a sense of oneness with [the universe]. . .” (p. 80). But he makes little if any mention of true happiness, which is the knowledge of God in relationship (John 17:3). But that should not come as a surprise because the idea of a personal relationship with God is foreign to the thinking of Aristotle.

Interestingly, the P.N.E.U. of Mason’s day also saw the similarity between classical Greek thought and Buddhism. In The Parents’ Review, Henry Belcher writes:

Religion naturally in theory falls into two departments, the Hebrew-Christian department, and the Hellenic-Buddhist department. The former looks chiefly to the worship, attributes and work of the Almighty, subsidiarily to the action and scope of the soul. The latter to the soul, subsidiarily towards Almighty God. (Belcher, 1900, p. 756)

In Mason’s writings, we do not find even a hint of the Hellenic-Buddhist concept of “connatural knowledge.” Mason’s writings show a clear rejection of the assumptions in Taylor’s reasoning. Mason (1925/1954) explicitly points out that her use of the word idea does not correspond to the form or essence of Plato, but rather to “the Platonic sense of images” (p. 10). In Plato’s metaphysics, an image is a symbol of thing. So in distinction to Taylor, Mason considers the ideas of the mind as symbols of reality, not the realities themselves. For Mason, the mind does not achieve knowledge via metaphysical union, but rather via mental construction.

The fourteenth principle of Mason’s Synopsis states explicitly that “knowledge is not assimilated until it is reproduced” (Mason, 1925/1954, p. xxx). This sounds a lot like John Dewey, whom Taylor (1998) rejects as one who believes “the objects of thought are constructed by the mind only as a result of inquiry” (p. 101). For Mason, the acquisition of knowledge always involves work. It is not a restful metaphysical union by the soul that “is in a way all existing things.” For example, Mason (1905/1924) writes:

. . . it seems to be a law in the things of life and mind that we do not get anything for our own unless we work for it. It is a case of lightly come, lightly go. That is why we are told of our Lord that ‘without a parable spake He not unto them.’ He told the people stories which they might allow to pass lightly through their minds as an interest of the moment, or which they might think upon, form opinions upon, and find in them a guide to the meaning of their lives. (p. 184)

Marian Wallace Ney, an educationalist involved in many PNEU-related projects between 1954 and her death in 1991, wrote an academic paper on Charlotte Mason’s philosophy in 1981. In this paper, she exposits Mason’s belief that learning involves hard work by the mind and brain:

To me, it seems that Charlotte Mason’s understanding of this need to ‘engage in cognitive activity’ was so strong that she emphasised that no material in PNEU schools need ever be reviewed or even read twice. It is the emphasis upon narration and the fixing of attention which makes this possible. When the child knows that he will read or hear a tale only once, his attention is total and the activities of assimilation, accommodation, and equilibrium are called upon to work at their most efficacious pitch. It is quite remarkable how the children learn in this way – and what they remember – for attention is attached to retention. The mind must work at its fullest power; the pupil is learning in accordance with the natural laws which Piaget has named for us and Charlotte Mason intuitively discovered for herself. (Ney, 1981/1999, p. 32)

Ney (1981/1999) believed that Mason’s theory of knowledge and learning was confirmed by the later work of the constructivist Jean Piaget:

Charlotte Mason based much of her reaching upon this insight, insisting that, “only that which the mind has acted upon becomes knowledge”. I found much corroboration of PNEU learning principles in the Psychology of the Child by Piaget and Inhelder, as well as in Barry Wadsworth’s excellent work, Piaget’s Theory of Cognitive Learning. (pp. 29-30)

Ney (1981/1999) elaborates:

As we saw in the earlier sections, Charlotte Mason’s discussions of assimilation, “science of relations,” organisation, (by means of narration), and retention, show that she intuitively, (supported by much observation), had a grasp of the learning process as we now see it In Piaget’s work. There has been further research by others, but in general Piaget’s findings seem to be accepted. (p. 64)

Mason understood that when the child constructs knowledge, the activity is intensely personal. The acquisition of knowledge is not the reception of Platonic forms by a primevally-configured mind that “is in a way all existing things.” Ney (1981/1999) explains Mason’s view as follows:

Where we go wrong, where “a stage of precision is imposed,” is when we intervene with our meddlesome pedagogy when we teach too much and they learn too little. Assimilation is a very private act, and the imagination must be allowed its freedom, for, “imagination has the property of magical expansion; the more it holds, the more it will hold”. When this route to assimilation becomes blocked, we see very serious problems indeed, and the names for these problems are legion. (p. 33)

The contrast is clear. Mason’s view is that knowledge is built in the mind via work. Taylor’s view is that knowledge appears effortlessly in the mind via metaphysical union. With this difference in mind, it is clear why Taylor (1998) rejects work and believes that all learning takes place in leisure:

But, since modern philosophies have emerged that no longer regard knowing the truth as natural, or even possible, where what was recognized as self-evident is replaced with a system of doubt, under such conditions, Pieper says, learning is now perceived exclusively as work, rather than an act of leisure. In other words, the modern idea of learning is dominated by the ratio, and the simplex intuitus acts of the mind are dismissed as irrelevant under a scientific idea of knowledge. There are no “givens” nor can “inspiration” be taken seriously as valid knowledge—all is mental work and the student, more and more, becomes the intellectual laborer. (p. 77)

For Mason, the last clause describes precisely what the student does. He or she works in some way (narrating, writing, drawing, sketching, tabulating) to achieve knowledge. Mason (1925/1954)  essentially repudiates Taylor’s theory of connatural knowledge when she writes:

One thing at any rate we know with certainty, that no teaching, no information becomes knowledge to any of us until the individual mind has acted upon it, translated it, transformed, absorbed it, to reappear, like our bodily food, in forms of vitality. (p. 240)

Without the work of the mind, information and ideas pass through the child’s mind without ever finding a home:

The mind appears to have an outer court into which matter can be taken and again expelled without ever having entered the inner place where personality dwells. Here we have the secret of learning by rote, a purely mechanical exercise of which no satisfactory account has been given, but which leaves the patient, or pupil, unaffected. (Mason, 1925/1954, p. 257)

Taylor might say that Mason fell under the influence of Kant and Descartes:

With the influences of Kant, as well as with Descartes, all learning now becomes a kind of effort and work which Dewey models after a dynamic idea of democracy of social change, where learning has as its end the fulfillment of a progressive society always changing toward some perfected goal. (p. 98)

Taylor’s rejection of learning as work is a rejection of Mason’s theory of education.

Question #3: Is analysis beautiful?

Taylor (1998) writes:

. . . there is nothing penetrating, sublime, or lovable about, for example, a diagramed sentence, a chart of historical dates, or a dissected frog. (p. 167)

I wonder if Taylor has ever seen a book of centuries. I have, and they are penetrating, sublime, and lovable.

How can someone say that there is nothing sublime about a dissected frog? Perhaps there is a the grim reminder of death that would give us pause. But the master designer, the master programmer, the master architect, the master engineer, the master builder, the master artist – He designed the perfectly-functioned organs on display. These works reveal His handiwork, His genius, His mastery.

I love diagramming sentences. To me, it is wondrous to behold how a sentence, which contains meaning, can somehow be represented spatially. There is inherent symmetry and elegance which makes a sentence diagram pleasing aesthetically. When we combine that elegance with the fact that it graphically displays meaning (or logos), and we contemplate that “the Word was with God, and the Word was God,” then it is sublime.

And yet Taylor says that in sentence diagramming, “the integrity of the language as that living thing capable of communicating living ideas is violated” (p. 167). What justification does he have for this? Such an assertion perhaps can only be grasped poetically, for my co-rational mind recoils from it.

It is true that Mason did not recommend teaching English grammar to young children. But she apparently reached this position only reluctantly:

One limitation I did discover in the minds of these little people; my friend insisted that they could not understand English Grammar; I maintained that they could and wrote a little Grammar (still waiting to be prepared for publication!) for the two of seven and eight; but she was right. . . (Mason, 1925/1954, p. 10)

She permitted delay only because of the child’s intellectual ability, not because of a fear of breaking the child’s poetic spirit. There is nothing harmful, contrary, or unbecoming in the study of grammar. It is good, beautiful, and true.

Taylor writes, “It is a priority of the scientific mode that it be free of emotional responses to reality” (p. 173). Reading this as an engineer, I find that statement to be as offensive as it is inaccurate. Taylor baldly asserts, “Stated as simply as possible, science sees knowledge as power; poetic knowledge is admiratio, love” (p. 169). The statement is an attack on the character of every scientist.

Taylor seems to hesitate even to present math in its analytical glory. He writes:

Even the “hard” subjects of math, where perhaps calculations for distances were determined, always had the full context of the story underneath them as the foundation of reference, rather than the cold black and white numbers in a lifeless story problem in a textbook. (p. 179)

Numbers are anything but cold and black and white. That the slope of the tangent at any point on the curve of a simple parabola is simply two times the x-coordinate is nothing short of a miracle. One does not need to evoke “the full context of a story” to give life to that thought. The beauty and wonder is there for the beholder, if he has eyes to see. I affirm with Mason (1925/1954) that “Mathematics are delightful to the mind of man which revels in the perception of law” (p. 152).

Question #4: What is the role of the teacher?

In keeping with the classical tradition, Taylor assigns a powerful role in education to the teacher. Perhaps this explains why he relegates the written word to a secondary place. According to Taylor, apparently, a child can receive a teacher poetically, but not an abstract book. He writes:

And so it is with teaching in the poetic mode where the conditions are present for the spark of insight to leap from one soul to another, that is, from teacher to student, sometimes from student to teacher. . . (Taylor, 1998, p. 180)

The teacher “protects” the student from non-poetic influences:

The teacher becomes as it were the poet of history, science, arithmetic, as well as rescuing languages and literature from the deadening treatment of scientific analysis. (Taylor, 1998, p. 84)

The teachers model the “form” of love – the immaterial essence of the concept. Rather than finding such ideas in a literary medium as Mason advocates, they are modeled in the schoolroom:

But given the presence of teachers who are friends and who love their students in the highest order, desiring their good, and understanding and patient of their age, students will have the model in their memory, the form of love in their minds. . . (Taylor, 1998, p. 183)

The poetic influence of the teacher again is seen when Taylor (1998) refers to “the teacher illuminating a book with the student” (p. 181). According to Mason (1905), such a tenet of classical education is a deadly error: “Our deadly error is to suppose that we are his showman to the universe; and, not only so, but that there is no community at all between child and universe unless such as we choose to set up” (p 188).

In language reminiscent of connatural knowledge and its mystical union, Taylor (1998) speaks of “the mysterious bond between teacher and student” (p. 180). Since, according to Taylor, the soul longs to experience oneness with the universe, it would be natural for the student to seek oneness with the teacher as well. Mason (1925/1954), however, sternly warns against this kind of relationship: “A snare which attends the really brilliant teacher is the exhausting effect upon children of an overpowering personality” (p. 48). Mason (1925/1954) elaborates on this warning:

Supineness before a single, steady, persistent influence is a different matter, and the schoolgirl who idolises her mistress, the boy who worships his master, is deprived of the chance of free and independent living. His personality fails to develop and he goes into the world as a parasitic plant, clinging ever to the support of some stronger character. (p. 83)

Taylor and Mason point to very different roles for the teacher; these differences demonstrate that their respective ideas are branching forth from different trees.

Question #5: What are the abilities of the child?

Taylor follows the classical tradition in assigning discrete stages to the children’s learning career. This seems to arise from a sense that faculties must be developed before higher-order learning is possible. Taylor favorably quotes Robert Carlson, who writes:

These are the stages of poetry, liberal arts, and sciences. According to Plato, the first step in the long itinerary of liberal education is the elementary or poetic stage. . . . These descriptions of the poetic stage of development mention the powers within the young student—senses, memory, imagination. Poetic education begins to humanize by developing these powers. (as cited in Taylor, 1998, p. 145)

Children, in Taylor’s system, are not fully capable of loving God and others. Instead, they must proceed through stages. Taylor quotes John Senior to explain:

Love grows in five cumulative (not disjunctive) stages, each defined by its object: parents, animals, boys, girls, God. (as cited in Taylor, 1998, p. 173)

According to Taylor, if we violate these stages, we may harm the child’s development. Taylor quotes Thomas Shields to illustrate this point:

. . . when our enthusiasm for the inductive method leads us to overwhelm our pupils with a multitude of details before they have obtained a general view of the subject, the usual result is an uncoordinated mass of facts, from which the pupils are unable to extract the great fundamental truths (as cited in Taylor, 1998, p. 132)

Against such a notion, Mason asserts that children are born persons with fully-functioning powers of heart and mind. The eleventh point of her Synopsis reads, “But we, believing that the normal child has powers of mind which fit him to deal with all knowledge proper to him. . .” (Mason, 1925/1954, p. xxx). Little children can love parents, animals, boys, girls, and God –perhaps better than mature adults. After all, Jesus said, “Let the children come to me, and do not hinder them; for to such belongs the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 19:14, RSV2CE, 2006). Mason took this verse quite literally, saying that parents must “[divest] themselves of the notion that these sayings belong, in the first place, to the grown up people who have become as little children” (Mason, 1886/1989a, p. 12).

Taylor’s Roots

Taylor’s answers to the previous five questions all consistently derive from his self-stated philosophical starting point. This is the root of Taylor’s tree:

It is necessary to point out again that the background for poetic knowledge is developed from the Realist tradition of philosophy, particularly the Platonic-Aristotelian-Thomist tradition. . .  In fact, it is only with the Realist view that we are able to understand the idea that the outer and inner senses, which are material powers, have an integrated participation in the intellect, the supreme immaterial power. (Taylor, 1998, pp. 48-49)

From this classical tradition, Taylor develops a set of ideas (branches) and practices (fruit) that are typical for classical education. As he states:

Of course, to give a foundation for this description of the poetic mode it is necessary for me to survey and generally refer to the tradition of philosophy that informs it found primarily in the Idealist-Realist tradition of classical and medieval times. (p. 1)

Taylor embraces classical theory consistently, so he also endorses the ancient trivium and quadrivium:

The Metaphysics of Aristotle, for example, and the Summa Theologica of St. Thomas presuppose years and years of experience, first in direct contact with nature, with music and gymnastic, followed by a slow and patient journey through what came to be known as the trivium and quadrivium of classical and medieval education. (p. 151)

Taylor (1998) acknowledges that this philosophical foundation leads to dualism, though he calls it “a moderate dualism” (p. 18). Just how “moderate” this dualism is may be seen from his favorable quotation of Abbot Suger:

I see myself dwelling, as it were, in some strange region of the universe which neither exists entirely in the slime of earth nor entirely in the purity of Heaven; and, that, by the grace of God, I can be transported from the inferior to that higher world in an analogical manner. (as cited in Taylor, 1998, p. 107)

As with other classical education theorists, Taylor’s task is to unearth ideas from the classical past and carry them forward to the present. So he writes, “this work is closer to the efforts of philosophical archeology and the attempt to resuscitate a nearly forgotten mode of knowledge” (Taylor, 1998, p. 1). If successful, then perhaps he can open all of our eyes to recognize the earth for the “slime” that it allegedly is.

Mason’s Roots

In contrast to Taylor’s classical model, Mason begins not with Aristotle but with Christ. Mason first unveiled her theory of education in a series of lectures in 1885. The first lecture began with an exposition of specific teachings of Christ. In that way, she began her method both chronologically and structurally on the teachings of Christ. These lectures are captured in Volume 1 of the Home Education Series. Pages 12-20 contain her exposition of the key Gospel passages that are foundational to her entire theory of education. She (1886/1989a) began this exposition by saying that she had “discover[ed] . . . a code of education in the Gospels, expressly laid down by Christ” (p. 12).

Mason appealed to its discoveries as an authoritative basis for her method of education. Standing with the scientists, Mason (1894) writes:

Within our own time the science of Education has been absolutely revolutionised, not by educationalists, but by Physiologists, who have made the brain their specialty. Any real education depends upon the possibility of setting up good records, obliterating evil records, in the physical substance of the brain.

Mason’s third major source of guidance for her theory of education was her own personal observation of children. Mason described her effort as follows:

For between thirty and forty years I have laboured without pause to establish a working and philosophic theory of education; and each article of the educational faith I offer has been arrived at by inductive processes, and has, I think, been verified by a long and wide series of experiments. (Cholmondeley, 1960/2000, p. 201)

Ney (1981/1999) points to the enormous influence of this third source of guidance on Mason’s theory of education:

Is it possible that a relatively obscure British educator could have used her observations to construct a philosophy of education? A philosophy which might be as comprehensive and as true – as anyone else’s? Even more comprehensive?

. . .

Is it possible that she could have seen as deeply into the hearts and minds and needs of children as any other figure in education? Even more deeply?

Mason’s root system was the Gospel of Christ, the discoveries of science, and the children she loved and taught. From this root system grew branches quite different from those found in Taylor’s tree.


In respect to certain outward practices of education, Mason and Taylor bear certain similarities. These may be regarded as the common fruit. But in various other outward practices of education, the two philosophies are quite different. These differences are seen in the list of Taylors rejections. This disjointed set is accounted for by the fact that the two theories are fundamentally different trees growing from different root systems, but which bear certain fruit in common.

Ideas matter. Starting with pagan roots, Taylor arrives at a model where the child is “in a way all existing things.” Seen by some as reminiscent of Buddhism, the model leads to a teacher-driven education where the learner “achieves a spiritual union” with the “objects of desire.” Starting with Gospel roots, Mason arrives at a model where the children is a person. In this model, education is seen as primarily self-education. The child hungers for the “necessary food of the mind,” which are “ideas emanating from our Lord and Saviour,. . . the spiritual meat and drink of His believing people.”


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Connolly, C. (1998) Poetic knowledge: The recovery of education. In Rhetoric Society Quarterly, Vol. 28, No. 4, pp. 104-106. Taylor & Francis, Ltd.

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Mason, C. (1894). Pamphlet in the Charlotte Mason Digital Collection (i2p3pneu36).

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Mason, C. (1989d). Ourselves: Book II, self-direction. Quarryville: Charlotte Mason Research & Supply. (Original work published 1905)

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RSV2CE. (2006). Revised standard version; second Catholic edition. San Francisco, CA: Ignatius Press.

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