Reflections on Charlotte Mason’s Series

Reflections on Charlotte Mason’s Series

by Art Middlekauff

(Adapted from emails to the cmseries Yahoo group 2007–2010.
Some references to persons and posts have been removed.)


Volume 3 : School Education

Preface : The 18 Points

Chapter 13 : Some Unconsidered Aspects of Religious Training

Chapter 14 : A Master Thought

Chapter 15 : School Books

Chapter 16 : How to Use School Books

Chapter 17 : Education, The Science of Relations

Chapter 18 : Further Affinities

Chapter 19 : Vocation

Chapter 20 : Suggestions Toward a Curriculum

Chapter 21 : School Books

Chapter 22 : The Love of Knowledge

Volume 4 : Ourselves

Book 1

Preface and Introduction : The Dual Self

Introduction – Part I Chapter 1 : The Perils Of Mansoul

Part I Chapters 2-5 : Our First Parents

Part II Chapters 1-3 : Intellect and Beauty

Part II Chapters 4-6 : The Way of the Reason

Part II Chapters 7-8 : Motivation

Part III Chapters 1-2 : Rulers of the Heart

Part III Chapters 3-6 : Many Virtues

Part III Chapters 7-9 : Fearless and Loyal

Part III Chapters 10-12 : The Valley of Humiliation

Part III Chapters 13-15 : Truth

Part III Chapters 16, 17 : Integrity

Part III Chapters 18, 19 : Opinions

Part III Chapters 20, Part IV : Vocation

Volume 5 : Formation of Character


Part I : Some Studies in Treatment

I : The Philosopher at Home

II : Inconstant Kitty

III : Under a Cloud

IV : Dorothy Elmore’s Achievement

V : Consequences

VI : Mrs Sedley’s Tale

VII : Ability

VIII : Poor Mrs Jumeau!

IX : “A Happy Christmas to You!”

Part II : Parents in Council

I : What a Salvage!

II : Where shall we go this Year?

III : The A-B-C-Darians

IV : A Schoolmaster’s Reverie

V : A Hundred Years after

Part III : Concerning Youths and Maidens

I : Concerning the Schoolboy and Schoolgirl

II : Concerning the Young Maidens at Home

PART IV “It Is Written”

I : Two Peasant Boys

II : A Genius at “School”

III : Pendennis of Boniface

IV : “Young Crossjay”

V : Better-than-my-Neighbour

VI : A Modern Educator: Thomas Godolphin Rooper


Volume 6 : Towards a Philosophy of Education



Chapter 1 : Self-Education

Chapter 2 : Children are Born Persons

Chapter 3 : The Good and Evil Nature of a Child

Chapter 4 : Authority and Docility

Chapter 7 : How We Make Use of Mind




My name is Art Middlekauff. My wife Barbara and I homeschool our two children and we started a Charlotte Mason study group in our area which is just finishing volume 1. I read volume 2 on my own, and I am now reading volume 3 according to the current cmseries schedule.

As I have read the cmseries emails on volume 3, I have noticed that all of the emails have been sent by mothers. I am curious whether or not this is by design. If it is, then I am content to quietly withdraw from the group. On the other hand, if the group can accommodate a homeschooling dad, then I am inclined to share my reflections and questions as I read the chapter each week.

As per the volume 3 schedule, I read chapter 12 last week. It is important to me to finish volume 3 by June, because I still have to read volumes 4–6. Each month that passes, my children get another month older, and the window to apply what I am learning gets one month shorter. As Charlotte Mason said in volume 2 (to moms and dads):

Even so, the busy parent, occupied with many cares, awakes to find the authority he has failed to wield has dropped out of his hands; perhaps has been picked up by others less fit, and a daughter is given over to the charge of a neighboring family, while father and mother hunt for rare prints.

I am happy to submit to the wishes of this group regarding whether I should be participating.

Blessings in Christ,

Volume 3 : School Education

Preface: The 18 Points

5. Therefore we are limited to three educational instruments—the atmosphere of environment, the discipline of habit, and the presentation of living ideas.

Points 6-8 explain in more detail what is meant by each of the three instruments. I think the key thought in point 5 is the word “limited.” If we are limited to these three instruments, what other instruments are forbidden?

I see the answer in a paragraph in volume 3 chapter 17. The paragraph is repeated in chapter 20 with some modifications. Here’s the quote from chapter 20, with the variations from chapter 17 in brackets:

By this we mean that parents and teachers should know how to make sensible use of a child’s circumstances (atmosphere) [to forward his sound education], should train him in habits of good living (discipline), and should nourish his mind with ideas, the food of the intellectual life [the food upon which personality waxes strong]. These three we believe to be the only instruments of which we may make lawful use in bringing up children. An easier way [short cut] may be found by trading on their sensibilities, emotions, desires, passions;but the result must be disastrous [will bring us and our children to grief]. And for this reason, that habits, ideas, and circumstances are external, and we may help each other to get the best that is to be had of them; we may not, however, meddle directly with personality of child or man; we may not work upon his vanity, his fears, his love, his emulation, [or any thing that is his by very right,] or anything that goes to make him a person. Most people are in earnest about the bringing up of children; but we are in danger of taking too much upon us, and of not recognising the limitations which confine us to the outworks of personality.

Charlotte Mason’s point 5 is saying that we can only lawfully use external instruments which respect the child’s person. We cannot use manipulative techniques. Manipulation (working upon vanity, fears, love, emulation) may result in outward achievement, but not the desired inward growth.

Yesterday, we saw a falconer. He explained how he trains hawks. It is not easy. He said he cannot make the hawk do anything. He can only use external means to try to convince the hawk to follow him. If the falconer gets impatient and tries to force the hawk to comply, he may lose the hawk forever. The falconer said the two skills required of a trainer are patience and discipline: patience to wait for the hawk to respond to training, and discipline to be perfectly consistent in every interaction.

At yesterday’s demonstration, the falconer brought out two hawks. One of them returned when called. The other hawk, named Fire, would not return to his master. The falconer had a large crowd to please. Perhaps he was embarrassed. But he had the discipline to not rush. to not force the hawk to return. He remained calm, and gently called Fire. But Fire remained perched high on a pole, and would not come back. Finally, the falconer dismissed the audience and ended his demonstration early.

As I sat watching the hawk on his perch, I thought of my children. I want my children to come to me; I want their hearts. But I cannot force them. I can only gently and patiently call to them, with the hope that they will freely give themselves to their father and to their father’s God.

My son is training for a figure skating competition. Tonight I wanted him to practice by skating his routine during a public skating session. My son did not want to. I started to get embarrassed, and I stated to get impatient. I was about to get angry and to raise my voice. I was about to work upon vanity, fears, love, or emulation. But I remembered the falconer’s patience and discipline. So I remained calm and patiently addressed my son’s concerns. And after a few minutes he agreed to skate his routine.

The hawk attacks his prey with precision, strength, and speed. Yet he employs this lethal strength with grace and beauty. The dive of the hawk is breathtaking. I had seen my son’s skating routine many times before from the stands, but I had never before seen it from the ice myself. As my son swooped by me, I could not help but see the grace of the hawk.

6. By the saying, Education is an atmosphere, it is not meant that a child should be isolated in what may be called a ‘child environment,’ especially adapted and prepared; but that we should take into account the educational value of his natural home atmosphere, both as regards persons and things, and should let him live freely among his proper conditions. It stultifies a child to bring down his world to a ‘child’s’ level.

By the way, we lose something by substituting ‘environment’ (that blessed word, Mesopotamia!) for atmosphere. The latter word is symbolic, it is true, but a symbol means more to us all than the name of the thing signified. We think of fresh air, pure, bracing, tonic,—of the definite act of breathing which must be fully accomplished; and we are incited to do more and mean more in the matter of our children’s surroundings if we regard the whole as an atmosphere, than if we accept the more literal ‘environment.’ (C14)

Is “Education is an atmosphere” a sufficient instrument for education?

No; because though we cannot live without air, neither can we live upon air, and children brought up upon ‘environment’ soon begin to show signs of inanition; they have little or no healthy curiosity, power of attention, or of effort; what is worse, initiative; they expect life to drop into them like drops into a rain-tub, without effort or intention on their part. (C14)

7. By Education is a discipline, is meant the discipline of habits formed definitely and thoughtfully, whether habits of mind or body. Physiologists tell us of the adaptation of brain structure to habitual lines of thought––i.e. to our habits.

That the discipline of the habits of the good life, both intellectual and moral, forms a good third of education, we all believe. (C14)

8. In the saying that Education is a life, the need of intellectual and moral as well as of physical sustenance is implied. The mind feeds on ideas, and therefore children should have a generous curriculum.

In truth, a nation or a man becomes great upon one diet only, the diet of great ideas communicated to those already prepared to receive them by a higher Power than Nature herself. (C14)

Is “Education is a life” a sufficient instrument for education?

Education is a Life, results in Intellectual Exhaustion (C14)

‘Education is a life’ was the (unconscious) formula then; and a feverish chase after ideas was the outcome (C14)

Chapter 13 : Some Unconsidered Aspects of Religious Training

Prior to reading chapters 12 and 13, I thought that CM religious training involved 1) reading the Scriptures, 2) narrating the Scriptures, and 3) masterly inactivity. Once the child has a relationship with God through His Word, the Holy Spirit brings the growth.

Chapter 13 broadened my understanding of CM religious training to include the following:

A. Reading devotional literature.

B. Establishing habits of Christian practice. These habits include consistent daily devotions, reverent singing of hymns, and special Sunday activities. Also included is the habit of outward forms that encourage inward reverence.

C. Establishing the habit of “the thought of God.”

For me, the most challenging (even overwhelming) of these is “to keep [my] child in this habit of the thought of God—so that to lose it, for even a little while, is like coming home after an absence and finding his mother out.” Charlotte says this “is a very delicate part of a parent’s work.” Delicate indeed! Charlotte says, “Of the child it should be said that God is in all his thoughts.” Oh that it could be said of me that God is in all my thoughts!

I understand that one instills the habit of Christian practice as one instills the habit of closing the door. But installing the habit of God in all the thoughts? I am inclined to sneak back to chapter 3 to take refuge in “masterly inactivity.” This new habit of the soul? I say with Job, “Therefore have I uttered that I understood not; things too wonderful for me, which I knew not.”

Chapter 14 : A Master Thought

Dr. John Thorley is former Principal of Charlotte Mason College at Ambleside. At the 2006 ChildLight conference, Dr. John Thorley quoted Charlotte Mason from this chapter: “Evolution [is] the master-thought of the age, … the keyword for the interpretation of life, both animal and vegetable.” Dr. Thorley then added, “Now I don’t know whether that surprises you or not.”

Later in the conference, Jack Beckman also alluded to this topic. Dr. Beckman is Associate Professor of Education at Covenant College. Dr. Beckman said that many in the Charlotte Mason movement believe “that Charlotte can do no wrong, that everything she ever wrote is as clear and as clean as Scripture, [that] the problem is that our interpretation of it might be off.” In correction of this, Dr. Beckman said that we must not commit “the fallacy of historical anachronism” where we “take our 21st century evangelicalism and project it backwards to Charlotte Mason and say, ‘that’s what she is.’”

In this chapter, Mason writes that, “others of us, again, take refuge in repudiating ‘evolution’ and all its works and nailing our colours to religion, interpreted on our own narrow lines.” I freely and without apology admit that I fall into this camp. I hang all my beliefs on my narrow presupposition that the Bible is infallible, and so I repudiate evolution with all my might.

Nor do I take my evangelicalism and project it backwards to Charlotte Mason. It is not for me to say whether Mason would believe in evolution were she alive today, in this era of ICR, Answers in Genesis, and CMI. I do not wish to look back through the tunnel of history only to find a mirror reflecting my own image back to me. Instead, I want find the person who I know is different from me. I want to find Mason herself, in her time and in her system, and I wish to sit at her feet and learn.

So what do I do when the teacher I admire tells me that evolution is “the keyword for the interpretation of life”? First, I must discriminate between the “essential and [the] accidental” elements of her teaching. (A principle that Mason is willing to employ to interpret a Teacher of much greater wisdom and accomplishment.) Is evolution essential or accidental to Mason’s teaching? I say it is accidental. For even in this chapter, surrounding her bold statement about evolution, are profound words of insight which are absolutely true:

1. “Let us first of all settle it with ourselves that science and religion cannot, to the believer in God, by any possibility be antagonistic.” This statement is so simple and yet so limitless in application.

2. “Our piety, our virtue, our intellectual activities, and, let us add, our physical perfections, are all fed from the same source, God Himself.” Thanks to Miss Mason, I place before my children the best in music, art, and literature, (and I provide them training in skating and dancing), knowing with a clear conscience that it is all to love God with all the heart, mind, soul, and strength.

3. Scientists are “the mouthpieces, not merely of the truth, for which they are so ready to combat and suffer, but also as the chosen and prepared servants of Him who is the Truth.” Do we receive the benefits and conveniences of technology and medicine as the accomplishment of men? Or do we receive it from God’s hand as gifts of common grace? (Note that by science here I mean real or operational science, not the religion of evolution which only masquerades as science.)

4. “Many times since, with each epoch-making discovery, has science cried—Eureka! over the one principle which should explain all things and eliminate Personality. But Personality remains.” Science will never and can never erase the Person of God, or the person-ness of those made in His image. I bless God for leading me to a philosophy of education which begins with the truth that “children are born persons.”

I say evolution is only accidental to Mason’s teaching. And a bad accident at that. For she notes Coleridge’s lamentation, “What … is Botany at this present hour? Little more than an enormous nomenclature.” Mason thinks that evolution is the unifying principle “which should give it organisation.” But the real unifying principle is actually much closer to Mason’s heart than she realized. Why are children born persons? Because they are made in the image of the eternal God of Three Persons. The works of a great artist are endless in variety, and yet all reveal a common style. So to the endless diversity of plant and animal life points back to a common Designer, the Person who is there.

Chapter 15 : School Books

This extraordinary chapter is entitled, “School-Books and How They Make for Education.” It is a living chapter about living books. The chapter includes a lengthy quotation from the book The Neighbors. The quotation tells an astonishing story about school-girl life 200 years ago. The story is as inspiring as the books which inspired the heroine. It must be read to be believed.

In this chapter, Charlotte Mason describes the aim of education: “The question is not,—how much does the youth know? when he has finished his education—but how much does he care? and about how many orders of things does he care?” This beautifully-worded statement is a fine one-sentence answer to the question, “Why a CM education?”

The criteria for identifying a living book remains elusive to me. So far, I have seen only intuitive descriptions from Mason. This chapter expands the description, but it remains intuitive. I think my own attempts to define a more objective criteria have been pretty weak. I come up with tests like “context” and “style” and “story.” But should I even bother? Perhaps it is better to just rely on Mason’s living descriptions like:

Now, if we send to any publisher for his catalogue of school books, we find that it is accepted as the nature of a school-book that it be drained dry of living thought… all that is left for the unhappy scholar is the dry bones of his subject denuded of soft flesh and living colour, of the stir of life and power of moving.

Perhaps that should be enough for me. My hobby is World War II history. I intuitively know enough to read Fighter Squadron at Gudalcanal instead of World War II: A Military And Social History. I thank my Charlotte Mason friends for choosing the rest of the curriculum.

Chapter 16 : How to Use School Books

What are living books? I hoped this chapter would finally give me the heuristic. Charlotte Mason says that:

  • “The ‘hundred best books for the schoolroom’ may be put down on a list, but not by [her].”
  • Living books may be long or short.
  • Living books need not be written by the original thinker. A book can be second-hand and still be living. (Phew!)
  • A living book must be “quick, and informed with the ideas proper to the subject of which it treats.”
  • “The children must enjoy the book.”

How does one “teach” a living book?

  • The teacher does not “impart” the knowledge. The teacher should show excitement and interest, but should not talk or explain too much.
  • The child must labor and dig for knowledge, by connecting to the thinker’s mind through his book. The child is the one who generalizes, classifies, infers, judges, visualizes, discriminates, and ultimately accepts or rejects ideas.

The primary activity to use with living books is narration, not surprisingly. What surprised me were the “other ways of using books,” alternatives to narration:

  1. Enumerate the statements in a given paragraph or chapter.
  2. Analyze a chapter. (Divide it into paragraphs under proper headings; tabulate and classify series.)
  3. Trace cause to consequence and consequence to cause.
  4. Discern character and perceive how character and circumstance interact.

Surely we all use narration… But do any of you use these other activities?

My 7-year-old son is reading Acts (KJV) and narrating it back to me. Sometimes we encounter passages that are hard for him to understand. For example, he was not clear on the events of Acts 17:14-15 after two or three slow readings. So we drew a simple map and moved around tokens representing Paul, Silas, Timothy, and “they that conducted Paul.” Once he saw it, he was able to narrate it easily. In this case, was I the teacher who “deadens the impression by a flood of talk,” or did I help my son to dig and analyze?

Chapter 17 : Education, The Science of Relations

“We are Educated by Our Intimacies”

Charlotte Mason quotes Pastor Pastorum, by H. Latham. In the quotation, Latham describes how Jesus Christ taught His disciples. Latham says that the disciples, in the eyes of Christ, were persons growing from within, not empty vessels to be filled with knowledge. In other words, some of the basic principles outlined by Charlotte Mason can be seen modeled by Christ. Does anyone know anything more about this Pastor Pastorum?

Mason quotes Hamlet saying, “Every man hath business and desire.” But Mason asks, “We have business, but have we desire? Are there many keen interests soliciting us outside of our necessary work? Perhaps not, or we should be less enslaved by the vapid joys of Ping-Pong, Patience, Bridge, and their like.”

Vapid joys! I won’t stand up to defend Ping-Pong or Patience, but certainly Bridge has some value? But if Bridge is vapid, then what of spectator sports, movies, or (oh my!) video games? As parents, it is our responsibility to “make provision for the future of our children” by setting up dynamic relationships that will lead to the fullest joys.

And so education is more than career preparation, and it is more even than discipleship. Education is also the cultivation of the appetite for better things. Mason says that children are born with a readiness for these relationships. Our job as parents is not to construct these affinities ex nihilo, but rather to 1) remove obstructions, 2) give stimulus, and 3) give guidance.

Mason concludes the chapter with excerpts from Wordsworth’s childhood. Now granted, “prudence and not panic should rule our conduct towards” our children. But even so, the free and wild childhood of Wordsworth is hard for me to even contemplate. I can perhaps imagine that “there were giants in the earth in those days,” but surely the “rough-and-tumble bringing up” of Wordsworth occurred in a different world.

Chapter 18 : Further Affinities

“We are Educated by Our Intimacies, Part II”

In this chapter, Charlotte Mason supports her principles by referring to the education of two well-known writers, John Ruskin and William Wordsworth. Mason seems to assume that her reader is not only familiar with Ruskin and Wordsworth, but also has read some of their autobiographical sketches. I confess that prior to reading this chapter and the previous, I could have recorded all that I know about Wordsworth on a postage stamp, and I had never even heard of Ruskin. Have any of you read more about Ruskin and Wordsworth?

Mason makes the case that the child should develop affinities, or relationships, with the following:

  • Material, such as objects used for constructing things
  • Living things, such as birds and flowers
  • Rocks and minerals
  • Living books
  • Poetry
  • History, through a living touch with the past
  • People (comradeships)

Mason shows how Ruskin and Wordsworth were either blessed by or deprived of these relationships.

This chapter gave more illustrations and helped me understand better what is meant by the phrase, “education is the science of relations.” It also further reinforced to me the importance of nature study and handicrafts. Handicrafts are certainly not a “local truth” of Charlotte Mason: I believe they are an essential part of a Charlotte Mason education even in the Information Age.

When my daughter was three, she gathered some pebbles at the Kenosha Sand Dunes and gave them to me as a gift. Now she is four, and just the other day, she saw the pebbles in a place of honor on my desk. She told me she needed to go and find more pebbles for me. Thank you, Ms. Mason, for opening my eyes to see that this affinity for pebbles is a living relation.

Chapter 19 – Vocation

1. Unnatural Growth

Charlotte Mason includes a moving quote from Wordsworth. If I interpreted it correctly, the quote describes an accomplished child educated under a certain system. Yet:

Meanwhile old grandame earth is grieved to find The playthings, which her love designed for him, Unthought of: in their woodland beds the flowers Weep, and the river sides are all forlorn. Oh! give us once again the wishing-cap Of Fortunatus, and the invisible coat Of Jack the Giant-killer, Robin Hood, And Sabra in the forest with St George! The child, whose love is here, at least, doth reap One precious gain, that he forgets himself.

I think the point of the quote is that the education of the child should foster natural affinities with nature and adventure. I do try to bring my children to nature. But I confess that in Chiwaukee Prairie there are flowers that weep because they miss a certain boy and girl.

2. Liberal Education

Someone in the homeschool community said, “What we’ve discovered is that some subjects need to be mastered, and others just require exposure. When it comes down to it, the two subjects that must be mastered to prepare your children for adult life are the English language and mathematics.”

Hmm. Charlotte Mason says, “We must get rid of the notion that to learn the ‘three R’s’ or the Latin grammar well, a child should learn these and nothing else. It is as true for children as for ourselves that, the wider the range of interests, the more intelligent is the apprehension of each.”

In my life, reading history (for example, about Dick Winters) has helped me professionally as a manager. For our children to master “the English language,” other subjects require more than just “exposure.”

3. Affinities not Cravings

Charlotte Mason points out that children have natural affinities for the relations of education. But these are not cravings. Although we do not create the affinities in our children, it is our responsibility to nurture them. This nurturing must not be “desultory.”

4. The Captain Idea

Miss Mason includes a paragraph called, “The Angel troubles the still Pool.” I believe she is saying that the simple method of education yields better results than the fancy. For example, might I suggest it is better to learn Christian apologetics from reading (and narrating) William Paley than a fancy multimedia DVD course with study guide?

The chapter closes with an account of Brother Lawrence and the Captain Idea that filled his heart with a lifelong love for God. No human teacher taught him this, only the Holy Spirit. I think that Charlotte Mason included this account to show that as teachers, the best we can do is bring our children to the still pool with the hope that the angel will stir the waters.

5. An Educational Manifesto

Page 214 contains a one-page “Educational Manifesto.” It is more practical than the 20 principles, and it seems to me to be a great one-page summary of CM applied.

Chapter 20 – Suggestions Toward a Curriculum

This helpful chapter is in many respects a summary of the preceding chapters. Charlotte Mason asks for the “reader’s patience with such repetitions,” and I for one was gladly patient for (more than) one careful reading. The summary nicely displays the conceptual links between all the preceding ideas.

Charlotte Mason further explains the phrase “Education is the Science of Relations” by saying that, for her, the goal of education is to give children the use of as much of the world as may be.

Miss Mason discusses the difference between knowledge and information. Information is “the record of facts, experiences, appearances, etc.,” whether in books or memory. By contrast, knowledge is “the result of the voluntary and delightful action of the mind upon the material presented to it.” Her use of these terms seems a bit obscure to readers of our time, because we tend to think of knowledge as “the record of facts.”

At first, I thought that “understanding” might be today’s term for what she called knowledge. However, in Chapter 22, Miss Mason further differentiates between “knowing” and “thinking,” and she makes it clear that “knowing” is more than just a thought process. So here’s my interpretation of Charlotte Mason’s terms, borrowing the words “incorporated” and “remembered” from this chapter:

Knowledge: Living ideas understood and incorporated by a knower.

Information: Facts or experiences recorded in documents or remembered in the mind.

Miss Mason says the mind processes material to form knowledge as naturally as the organs process food to form energy. We don’t teach our stomach how to digest food. Nor do we really teach judgment or imagination. We only give opportunity for these God-given gifts of the mind to act.

I was delighted by the statement that “education should give knowledge touched with emotion.” The child should have an emotional relationship with the material (not the emotions associated with rewards, grades, and exams). Knowledge is most enriching when it leaves behind a “dormant appetite for more of the kind.”

Jesus said to the Jews, “You diligently study the Scriptures because you think that by them you possess eternal life. These are the Scriptures that testify about me, yet you refuse to come to me to have life” (John 5:39-40). Could it be that they found only Information in the words of Scripture? But to find Knowledge — the knowledge of God — one must come in relationship to Christ the Living Word.

Chapter 21 – School Books

This chapter is packed with detailed guidance from Charlotte Mason on designing a curriculum for children under twelve.

Miss Mason says that education should be done by Things and Books.

Education by Things: Science, nature study, handicrafts, art appreciation.

Education by Books: Religion, history, languages.

Miss Mason says that education should NOT be done by Lectures or Appliances.

Lectures are nice if they are given by orators, but most teachers (and parents) are not orators. The teacher should only give “a word or two of his own interest in the matter contained, of his own delight in the manner of the author,” and then let the student engage with the book.

Appliances are apparently elaborate models that are “stultifying,” and that “stale on the senses and produce a torpor of thought.” Miss Mason describes how the torpedo was clearly explained to her using the simple model of a spectacle case. A “few lines on the blackboard” are better than elaborate printed diagrams. This is good news for homeschoolers who would find it costly and difficult to gather up expensive materials.

The Books must be living books. Miss Mason says rightly that the cornerstone for both religion and literature is the Bible. Second in educational value is Plutarch’s lives. All other books must of course be living books.

In this chapter I finally find out how to choose living books. The answer is… “The expert is not the person to choose; the children themselves are the experts in this case.” A living book is one that opens the door to the child’s mind. The expert can make an educated guess about a particular book, but then must “experiment or test the experiments of others,” presumably by actually seeing how children respond to the book.

This chapter contains welcome guidance on nature study that I have long sought for. The main goal of nature study is observation. “The teachers are careful not to make these nature walks an opportunity for scientific instruction.” The children “notice for themselves,” manage their own nature note-books, and are ideally given “very little direction.”

The chapter also includes what seems to be Charlotte Mason’s verdict on unit studies. Arbitrary connections are not allowed, so math problems about logistics should not be invented for a study of the Spanish Armada. However, inherent connections such as literature and travels should be brought in when studying history.

I have heard other people say that Charlotte Mason advocated linking ideas together so children could remember them. Yet in this and many other chapters, Miss Mason vigorously rejects the concept of “apperception masses.” It seems that Miss Mason is not overly concerned about linking together topics in the curriculum. Have I misunderstood this point?

Chapter 22 – The Love of Knowledge

1. Short Hours

Finally at the end of Volume 3, Charlotte Mason discloses the now famous distinctive that book-work in her schools ends at 1 PM, with no homework. But, there are one to two hours of handicrafts, field-work, and drawing in the afternoon. Also, the preceding 21 chapters explain how book-work can end by 1 PM: it requires the habit of close attention and the flame of steady interest.

In other words, the careful application of all of the CM methods makes it possible to have a short school day. Simply ending at 1 PM because that is the CM way is mistaking the fruit for the method.

2. Knowledge

In Chapter 20, Miss Mason contrasted knowledge with information. In this chapter, she contrasts knowing with thinking. She is concerned about educational theorists who feel it is more important that the child should think than that the child should know. But Miss Mason says that “giving ‘‘education’ without abundant knowledge” is like trying to achieve physical fitness by “giving the maximum of exercise with the minimum of food.”

In fact, she points out that knowing is impossible without thinking. So by providing an abundance of material (living ideas), the child will grow in knowledge and by necessity learn how to think.

3. Causes of Failure

Miss Mason gives a nice concise list of methods that undermine education:

  1. The oral lesson
  2. The lecture
  3. The text-book
  4. Motivating by appealing to anything but the desire for knowledge
  5. Dependence on appliances (which I understand to be elaborate models)
  6. Readers (instead of whole books)

4. Fads

Charlotte Mason cautions against trying the latest fad in education. I think this advice is relevant in our day of homeschool curriculum fairs where there is always a new trick for sale. Miss Mason says that new methods should only be employed when they have proven to be successful with real students, or they have been clearly derived from previously established principles.

5. School

Miss Mason says that children love school (not homeschool) because of the social interaction, the opportunity for reward and praise, the frequent fun and games, and the inviting personality of favorite teachers. But these are not the love of knowledge. We send our children to Sunday school and Awana. What do they enjoy most about these group settings? I think Miss Mason is right. She points out that all the joys of school will pass, and only the love of knowledge will remain.

To grow in the knowledge of God for a lifetime, the child must love the knowledge of God. Will this love be born in Sunday school? Or is there some quiet hidden spot in my home where my children will, like Samuel, hear God’s voice for the first time and say, “Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening.”

Volume 4 : Ourselves

Book 1
Preface and Introduction – The Dual Self

They are “merely conscious little rocks, every one of them, whereas … I am Charlotte Simmons.” (Tom Wolfe)

This week, I read the Preface and Introduction of Volume 4 in which Charlotte Mason discusses the dual self. “This [fact], of a dual self, is perhaps our most intimate and our least-acknowledged consciousness,” writes Mason.

In this, one would think, Charlotte Mason is on solid ground. J.P. Moreland writes, “It is safe to say that throughout human history, the vast majority of people, educated and uneducated alike, have been dualists.” Furthermore, he adds, “For two thousand years, the vast majority of Christian thinkers have believed in the souls of men.”

And yet even in Mason’s day doubt was forming. Mason could not, “as yet, go to Psychology for an answer, because [psychology] is still in the act of determining whether or no there be any spirit.” Nowadays, Psychology has long since determined that there be no spirit. Moreland writes, “Today things have changed. For many, the rise of modern science has called into question the viability of dualism… Many argue that neurophysiology demonstrates the … identity between mind and brain.”

Sadly, the trend among Christian thinkers is to follow the spirit of the age. “Among contemporary Christian intellectuals there is a widespread loathing for dualism as well… In short, dualism is [considered] outdated, unbiblical and incorrect,” writes Moreland. For example, Christian theologian Bruce Reichenbach denies the existence of the soul. For Reichenbach, “Persons are indetical to properly functioning … brains; when the body dies the person ceases to exist.” How does Reichenbach explain life after death? “At the future, final resurrection, persons are re-created after a period of nonexistence.”

I am happy to find in Charlotte Mason not just a guide for education, but also a defender of belief in the soul. Miss Mason stands firmly with Thomas Aquinas, who writes that man “is composed of a spiritual and corporeal substance.”

In the Introduction, Miss Mason describes the objective self and the subjective self. The objective self is “the self of great and beautiful possibilities”; in a sense, the self’s potential. However, the subjective self is what actually chooses the unfolding destiny of the person.” “Upon its insight and its action depends the redemption of that greater self, whose limitations no man has discovered.”

Mason draws an analogy between the dual self and a country. The objective self is the country itself, and the subjective self is its governing body. “The country is ever greater than the governing body; and yet, for its development, the former must depend upon the latter.”

From this, I gather that the subjective self is the conscious self. (The “I” who I am, which would make sense, since “I” is the subject.) I believe this is called qualia. Daniel Tate, in Journal of Creation, Vol 21(1) 2007, says that “the ‘hard’ problem concerns whether neuroscience can explain our subjective awareness or experiences (phenomenal consciousness), which in the analytic tradition are often called qualia.”

Tate also writes that “… dualism, with humans consisting of both a physical brain and a non-physical component or components (soul and/or spirit), remains the best explanation for the phenomenon of consciousness. This conclusion seems sound both philosophically and scientifically. Unfortunately, the term ‘dualism’ is currently very unpopular within theology.”

Moreland, Tate, and Mason all appeal to philosophy. Charlotte Mason explains that her methodology is based on philosophy, guided by Scripture and reason. Mason writes, “Where I appear to abandon the dicta of our more ancient guide, Philosophy, it is only as I am led by common intuition.” Also, “The scheme of thought rests upon intuitive morality, as sanctioned by the authority of Revelation.”

I am glad to be reading Volume 4. Once, I invited Charlotte Mason to structure my homsechool. To my surprise, she began to change my life.

Introduction – Part I Chapter 1 – The Perils Of Mansoul

This week I read and pondered the first four chapters of Volume 4. Charlotte Mason had already introduced me to “Mansoul” back in Volume 1, Part VI. But here in Volume 4 I learn much more about this wonderful land. “Of all the fair lands which God has made, there is no country more fair.” In the tradition of Pilgrim’s Progress and Pilgrim’s Regress (C. S. Lewis), Miss Mason discusses abstract concepts with the help of allegory.

Fortunately for us, Miss Mason helps us understand the symbols of her allegory. Even with this help, she supposes the reader has “already found it difficult to make everything fit.” (Even Lewis gives us some help understanding his allegory, adding interpretive headings to each page.) These allegories work because certain spiritual concepts are simply easier to understand when mapped to familiar physical realities. I like her analogy. I am enjoying thinking of the soul as a land for which “no map has been made of the country, because a great deal of it is unexplored, and men have not discovered its boundaries.”

I read of the perils of Mansoul with great interest. I have an idea of what is meant by the peril of fire. My guess is that these are dangerous ideas planted in the soul that lead to destruction. “Sometimes an incendiary will land at one of its ports from some foreign country, perhaps with the express purpose of setting fire to what is best in Mansoul; but perhaps a man sets fire to things by accident because he does not know how inflammable they are.” As a homeschooling father and family defender, I feel I must do my best to block the incendiaries from reaching one of the ports under my care. Or at least to help the young governments to recognize and extinguish the fires.

I certainly agree that the peril of sloth is a “most common evil.” I think that the warning of Proverbs 24 applies to all aspects of Mansoul:

I went by the field of the slothful, and by the vineyard of the man void of understanding; And, lo, it was all grown over with thorns, and nettles had covered the face thereof, and the stone wall thereof was broken down. Then I saw, and considered it well: I looked upon it, and received instruction. Yet a little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding of the hands to sleep: So shall thy poverty come as one that travelleth; and thy want as an armed man.

I enjoyed reading about gluttony. Perhaps I have been going to the wrong churches, but in the twenty plus years that I have believed the Bible, I can only recall hearing one sermon on gluttony. That seems a bit odd, given that it is one of the seven deadly sins recognized by church history. Miss Mason’s advice seems unusual nowadays: “Never think of your meals till they come, and, while you are eating, talk and think of something more amusing than your food.” However, it reminded me of words written by Susanna Wesley (who is, by the way, mentioned in Volume 1):

‘Twill be very necessary to think often upon the true end of eating and drinking, which is to repair the decays of nature and thereby to strengthen and refresh the body, that it may be serviceable to the mind, as both must be to God. And whatever other end is proposed, as pleasure, company, etc., are directly contrary to the will of God and the great law of nature.

All I intend is that we should by no means make pleasure our principle end in eating or drinking. But whether we eat or drink or whatsoever we do, let us do all to the glory of God.

What does this have to do with homeschool? Well, I suppose I can only teach what I have learned, and I certainly have not learned such an attitude towards food. But Charlotte Mason did not intend this material primarily for the teacher. Rather, from the Preface, “The teaching in Book I. is designed for boys and girls under sixteen.” In the Introduction she explains how to use it: “I think that in teaching children mothers should make their own of so much as they wish to give of such teaching, and speak it, a little at a time, perhaps by way of Sunday talks. This would help to impress children with the thought that our relations with God embrace the whole of our lives.”

To that end, I wonder if I should start telling my children about this wonderful land called Mansoul. My son certainly loves Pilgrim’s Progress. I did speak a line today (on a Sunday, no less), when I told my son that “Sometimes the people still care to play; but play without work becomes dull after a time, and soon comes to a stop.” Perhaps I could have elaborated more, if I hadn’t been so preoccupied with my turtle sundae.

Part II Chapters 2-5 – Our First Parents

This week I read the remainder of Volume 4, Book 1, Part 1. I continue to be very pleased with the allegory and model of Mansoul. There are classic Christian concepts here, most notably, that one’s desires are God-given and good, but when one makes the desires the master, the result is sin and ruin. The concepts are familiar, but Charlotte Mason’s model and mode of presentation is especially clear, convicting, and useful.

Besides the wise words about eating, drinking, purity, and alertness, I was very pleased to read some words of sound orthodoxy:

Remember that God puts before each of us in this matter the choice between good and evil, obedience and disobedience, which he put before Adam and Eve. They sinned, and death entered into the world. And so surely as you allow yourself in this sin of Uncleanness, even to think a thought which you could not go straight and tell your mother, death begins in you, death of body and soul. Fight the good fight, and do not let yourself, like our first parents, be the victim of unholy curiosity.

Here are words that resonate with the creationist:

  • God placed a choice before Adam and Eve.
  • Death entered the world because Adam and Eve sinned.
  • Adam and Eve were the first people, our first parents.

I choose to take these words at face value, and assert that Miss Mason believed in a literal Fall, by which death entered a perfect world. I think one must believe in the Fall to make sense of Mansoul, and I think that Mason’s sympathetic words elsewhere on evolution reveal an inconsistency on her part which later generations can and should correct.

Furthermore, someone might criticize Charlotte Mason’s teaching on habits and moral training as overemphasizing the human aspect, and perhaps even suggesting that man can sanctify himself. But in these chapters, I read:

It is our thoughts that we must rule, and the way to rule them is very simple. We just have to think of something else when an evil thought comes, something really interesting and nice, with a prayer in our hearts to God to help us to do so.

I appreciate this quote because it shows that Charlotte Mason acknowledges God’s role in sanctification and holiness. While we use our wills to change our thoughts and develop habits, we still must seek help from God in prayer. “I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God made it grow.”

In general, I am very comfortable with Charlotte Mason’s pairing of desire and vice in these chapters (hunger – gluttony, thirst – drunkenness, rest – sloth, etc.). I would suggest adding one vice, though. The Bible often associates greed with the desire of the eyes. For example, Ecclesiastes 5:11:

As goods increase, so do those who consume them. And what benefit are they to the owner except to feast his eyes on them?

Of the sense of sight and hearing, Miss Mason says, “I do not know that they have any serious faults as servants, excepting those of laziness and inattention.” However, I would say that greed (in at least some form) is a Dæmon of sight.

So far I still think that Book 1 could be quite useful for teaching young people in the homeschool. I am still pondering how to best use it in my family.

Part II Chapters 1-3 – Intellect and Beauty

This week I moved on from the House of the Body to the House of the Mind, and I read about my Lord Intellect and his dæmons. These chapters struck me as an allegory of Charlotte Mason’s teaching on education. For example, Miss Mason famously says that “education is the science of relations.” In Volume 3, she explains this phrase:

What we are concerned with is the fact that we 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 above us and all about us — and that fulness of living, expansion, expression, and serviceableness, for each of us, depend upon how far we apprehend these relationships and how many of them we lay hold of.

Now in Volume 4, this concept is illustrated. She writes that my Lord Intellect “establishes relations with many foreign kingdoms.”

One relation is history. “Of all the pleasant places in the world of mind, I do not know that any are more delightful than those in the domain of History.” The emphasis is on the joy of learning history, rather than its utilitarian benefit. One delight of history is that “the longer you look at any one person, the more clearly he stands out until at last he may become more real to you than the people who live in your own home.” This is certainly true in my experience. It suggests to me that the most fulfilling study of history involves some degree of specialization: One can’t have such a deep and lingering look at every one of history’s personages.

Learning history is not about memorizing facts and dates, but making “acquaintance with many who were noble and great.” To do so, it is necessary to “think of things and figure them to ourselves, until at last they are real and alive to us.” That is why we need living books. Books that are dry outlines of history do not provide the food the imagination requires to bring history to life in the mind.

Another relation is mathematics. I thought Charlotte Mason’s analogy was very clever: the Principality of Mathematics “differs from most mountainous countries in this, that you cannot lose your way, and that every step taken is on firm ground.” Math is indeed the land of proof and certainty.

Literature is another rich source of relations. As with history, with literature we can make a “multitude of acquaintances.” The characters in great books can “live in [our] thoughts.” After I read The Bride of Lammermoor, the Master of Ravenswood did live in my thoughts! I can still look through the chink with Caleb and see Ravenswood “engaged in measuring the length of two or three swords which lay in a closet adjoining to the apartment.” Ravenswood mutters to himself, as he selects one of these weapons, “It is shorter: let him have this advantage, as he has every other.”

Literature also requires living books. When I read through Volume 3, I struggled to find the criteria that identifies a living book. This section illustrates it, by saying that non-living books are “where pictures are painted for you and where people are introduced; but you cannot see the pictures with your eyes shut, and the people do not live and act in your thoughts.” Living books are identified in a practical way: do they come alive in your mind?

Charlotte Mason also talks about Nature Study in this section. Is the main point about Nature Study to learn the names of plants and the steps of photosynthesis? Perhaps in the Province of Science. But “the person who watches Nature closely and knows her well, like the poet Wordsworth, for example, has his Beauty Sense always active, always bringing him joy.” This section enhances Volume 3 by emphasizing observation and beauty in the study of nature.

Besides Nature, we find Beauty “in picture, statue, glorious cathedral, in delicate ornament, in fugue, sonata, simple melody.” Edgar Allan Poe wrote:

That pleasure which is at once the most pure, the most elevating, and the most intense, is derived, I maintain, from the contemplation of the Beautiful. In the contemplation of Beauty we alone find it possible to attain that pleasurable elevation, or excitement of the soul, which we recognize as the Poetic Sentiment, and which is so easily distinguished from Truth, which is the satisfaction of the Reason, or from Passion, which is the excitement of the heart.

My favorite composer is Maurice Ravel. His biographer said that this quote from Poe is “the closest approximation of Ravel’s aesthetic.” “Ravel’s art strove neither for passion nor for truth, but rather for the ‘contemplation of the Beautiful,’ through the satisfaction of the mind by means of the ear’s pleasure.” He is one of those “whose souls become so filled with the Beauty they gather through eye and ear that they produce for us new forms of Beauty.”

But beware! There is “a dull and dreary Hall of Simulation which we may enter and believe it to be the Palace of Art.” Indeed, we have a whole culture and industry based on simulated sound, which some call music. Plato observed what we see: “I notice endless innovation in dancing and all branches of music generally, constant change, inspired not by the laws but by a sort of unregulated taste.” In our homeschools let us train the Beauty Sense to tame this unregulated taste.

In Volume 3 Chapter 15, I read the measure of an education: “The question is not,—how much does the youth know? when he has finished his education—but how much does he care? and about how many orders of things does he care?” This is echoed here in Volume 4: “The happiness of the intellectual life comes of knowing and thinking, imagining and perceiving or rather, comes of the range of things which we know and think about, imagine and perceive.” We should be occupied with bigger things, not the “stamp collection or of the next cricket match.” (Actually, I would be somewhat impressed with a boy nowadays who was concerned about a stamp collection!)

A Charlotte Mason education is built on the right motivation. “Boys and girls may be so full of marks and places, prizes and scholarships, that they never see that their studies are meant to unlock the door for them into this or that region of intellectual joy and interest.” When I was in school, that was all I thought about in education. It is only as a believer and an adult that I have begun to discover this “region of intellectual joy.” Hopefully my children will be able to experience this from their youth.

Interestingly, this section identifies a dark side of habit, which I have not seen before in Miss Mason’s writing. “The other Dæmon of Intellect is Habit… The mistake is to keep always on the same beaten track. It may be the mechanical round of lessons, without a thought of what it is all about.” This I think is an important caution or balance as we work on habit in the homeschool.

Another Dæmon is excessive specialization. The remarks here on Leonardo da Vinci echo those in Volume 3 Chapter 14. From Volume 3: “But when art was great, men were not mere artists. Quentin Matsys wrought in iron and painted pictures and did many things besides. Michael Angelo wrote sonnets, designed buildings, painted pictures; marble was by no means his only vehicle of expression. Leonardo wrote treatises, planned canals, played instruments of music, did a hundred things, and all exquisitely.”

My own Lord Intellect likes to wander in the Palace of Art. Maurice Ravel invites me, as four hands play La Ma Mère l’Oye. I have a recording of the “Empress of the Pagoda” where the pianos becomes bells, and sounds sparkle as light reflecting on a fountain. My Beauty Sense knows it well. But alas Charlotte Mason gives me another test. She presents me two examples of verse. “Try if the first gives you a sense of delight in the words alone, without any thought of the meaning of them, if the very words seem to sing to you.” I read the two samples over and over, trying to find in either of them a key the Palace. Alas, my Beauty Sense could find no difference between the two.

Miss Mason offers me hope: “If you cannot see any difference in value between these two passages, perhaps you will do so some “ Perhaps after a few more years with Charlotte Mason, I may grow up, too.

Part II Chapters 4-6 : The Way of the Reason

In this section of Ourselves, Charlotte Mason discusses My Lord Chief Attorney-General Reason. This chapter is essentially a lengthy exposition of her Point 16, “The Way of the Reason.” Point 16 reads as follows:

We should teach children, too, not to ‘lean’ (too confidently) “unto their own understanding,’ because the function of reason is, to give logical demonstration (a) of mathematical truth; and (b) of an initial idea, accepted by the will. In the former case reason is, perhaps, an infallible guide, but in the second it is not always a safe one; for whether that initial idea be right or wrong, reason will confirm it by irrefragable proofs.

Chapter 6 explains this in detail. As such, I again find Ourselves to be not just a text book for young people, but a guidebook for interpreting Miss Mason’s other writings. Why is reason not always a safe guide? How do we know that the function of reason is to give logical demonstration of ideas already accepted by the will?

Charlotte Mason provides several points of evidence to show the fallibility of reason:

  • When reason was deified by revolutionary France, the result was the Reign of Terror.
  • Good and sensible persons come to opposite conclusions.
  • Criminals have logically justified their crimes using reason.
  • There are many different schools of philosophy.

Reason is fallible because “Reason does not begin” the process of reason. Rather, “the beginning, … is almost always a notion admitted by … the Will.” Therefore, “Reason has no right to speak the last word on most subjects; because to speak the first word does not rest with him, and the last word follows the lead of the first.” That is most certainly true; however, whereas Charlotte Mason says that the conclusion (“idea”) is first “accepted by the will,” and then reason develops the logical arguments that prove the conclusion, I would add that the will also accepts presuppositions or assumptions, from which reason develops the logical implications and new conclusions.

Charlotte Mason says that reason is perfectly reliable in the area of mathematics, and here we find “absolute and certain truth.” Indeed this is so, but why? Unfortunately, Miss Mason does not explain it (at least here). I would suggest that reason is so reliable in mathematics because 1) the presuppositions and assumptions are extremely few in number and agreed upon by all and 2) every intermediate and final conclusion of reason is completely testable in numerous ways. Errors can be spotted as easily as placing two Math-U-See blocks side-by-side.

Perhaps today, Charlotte Mason would say that operational science (technology) is a close second to mathematics. It is similar to mathematics, in that, for example, all mechanical engineers agree on the basic presuppositions of force and vector, and it is completely testable. The structure as designed by the engineer either stands or falls.

But in other areas, reason is fallible, mainly because reason acts on presuppositions that have already been accepted by the will. Since secular scientists today presuppose naturalism, their reason logically deduces evolution. On the other hand, I presuppose the authority of the Bible, so my reason logically deduces a recent Creation, with variation of life only within the created kinds.

Unfortunately, Miss Mason has set herself up for a problem. Back in Volume 1, she suggests that passages in the Bible contain both accidental and essential truth. Accidental truth concerns only “time, place, and circumstances,” and may discarded without harming the essential truth. Presumably, she believed that the accidental truth could be mythical. But who logically determines which elements of Scripture are essential and which are accidental?

In the Parents’ Review article “How to Give Religious Instruction,” Miss Agnes Mason writes, “But in the New Testament the fact is history, and is only the other side of the spiritual relation. Indeed, the second part of the Creed is nothing but a recitation of historical facts about Jesus Christ.” In other words, “time, place, and circumstances” are so essential that they are not only enshrined in the most ancient creeds, but they are inextricably linked to the spiritual truth. If this is true of the New Testament, why not the Old? The same creed that says Christ “suffered under Pontius Pilate” also says, “I believe in God the Father Almighty, maker of heaven and earth.”

Charlotte Mason can only appeal to fallible reason as the arbitrator between essential and accidental truth. But for me, in Scripture there is only essential truth. When the Bible speaks of time, place, and circumstances, it does so with as much accuracy and authority as when it speaks of spirituality. So then for me, mathematics is not the crown jewel of truth. Rather, God’s Word is “absolute and certain truth, … perfect joy to us.” When My Lord Chief Attorney-General Reason calculates the age of the earth based on the half-life rate of radioisotopes, I do not believe him. Rather, I tell him to take a closer look at the times and places of the Old Testament genealogies.

Why would will, the Prime Minister, accept such a dangerous presupposition as the absolute truth and authority of the Word of God? Because “The Spirit itself beareth witness with our spirit.” It is not a notion a man lets in “because it is an old one, or because it is a new one; because a man he respects thinks so-and-so, or because a man he dislikes thinks the other thing; because it is for his interest to think thus and thus, or because it is for his pleasure, or because it shows him to be a clever fellow, in advance of the rest of the world, to have such a notion,” but because “God, who commanded the light to shine out of darkness, hath shined in our hearts, to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.”

Part II Chapters 7-8 : Motivation

The more I read of Ourselves, the more I see it as a commentary on Charlotte Mason’s other writings (at least of volumes 1-3, the only volumes I’ve read). This continues in the two chapters I read this week on The Lords Of The Exchequer, The Desires. Here, Charlotte Mason uses another approach to describe concepts already presented in earlier volumes on the topic of motivation.

First, Miss Mason elaborates on Point 10, which reads, “a child’s mind is … a spiritual organism, with an appetite for all knowledge. This is its proper diet, with which it is prepared to deal, and which it can digest and assimilate as the body does foodstuffs.” This analogy is used to explain the Desires: “their office is to do for Mind pretty much what the Appetites do for Body.” Miss Mason lists six basic Desires:

  1. The Desire of Approbation
  2. The Desire of Excelling
  3. The Desire of Wealth
  4. The Desire of Power
  5. The Desire of Society
  6. The Desire of Knowledge

Each desire has its proper function (which leads to a well-fed mind) and its potential abuses (its dæmons).

The Desire of Approbation is a good and wholesome desire for approval. Its abuse is vanity (or, shall I say, pride). Back on July 9, Lorraine asked, “is pride [a misplaced] appetite too”? I think this chapter gives a pretty close answer from Miss Mason, who writes, “He is stupid who wants nobody’s approval; he is vain who wants the approval of the unworthy.”

The Desire of Excelling is also called Emulation. Charlotte Mason discusses the danger of emulation in detail in other places, such as Chapter 20 of Volume 2. Here, she summarizes the danger well: “Mind is sometimes so starved by the boy who comes out first that it never afterwards recovers its appetite.” Certainly when I was a student, I cared only about grades; I have only lately recovered the real appetite for knowledge. One can recognize emulation when students “only want the marks, or prize, the place in class.” Surely that’s not a problem in Awana, is it?

The Desire of Wealth can lead to Avarice (greed). I had suggested earlier that greed was a dæmon of the eyes. But Miss Mason argues that greed is an abuse of a good and wholesome desire for “things useful and necessary for our lives.” Charlotte Mason’s words on this Desire remind me of a sermon by John Wesley: “‘Gain all you can.’ … And it is our bounden duty to do this: We ought to gain all we can gain… No more sloth! Whatsoever your hand findeth to do, do it with your might! … But employ whatever God has entrusted you with, in doing good, all possible good, in every possible kind and degree to the household of faith, to all men!” I sometimes feel guilty that I buy too many books. Miss Mason eased my conscience with these words: “Let us begin soon to collect a good library of books that we shall always value.”

While discussing the Desire for Society, Charlotte Mason points out the great value of being a good listener. “To listen with all one’s mind is an act of delicate courtesy which draws their best out of even dull people.” This is an extremely important lesson and shows me again the value of having a young person read this book.

The Prince of Desires is the Desire of Knowledge. I suspect this concept is a key to unlocking a Charlotte Mason education. Miss Mason says “every human being has a natural Desire to explore those realms open to intellect.” Here is the key to making a place “where children love to learn.” Miss Mason writes, “It is only in so far as Knowledge is dear to us and delights us for herself that she yields us lifelong joy and contentment. He who delights in her, not for the sake of showing off, and not for the sake of excelling others, but just because she is so worthy to be loved, cannot be unhappy.” This chapter contains one of the most beautiful sentences from Charlotte’s pen that I have read so far: “But Knowledge has her own prizes, and these she reserves for her lovers.”

It was especially relevant for me that this week’s chapters gave the example of skating (to illustrate emulation):

If we are learning to skate, we have no peace till we skate as well as a boy we know who learned last winter; then we want to outdo him; then, to skate as well as another better skater; then, to outdo him; and so on, and when we go to bed at night we dream of the day when we shall skate better than anyone in the neighbourhood; nay, we think how glorious it would be to be the very best skater in the whole world.

This week my son finally had his figure skating competition, for which he had been practicing for many weeks. He competed for the first time against other boys, one from New York and one from Pennsylvania. He skated to the best of his ability, but the judges gave him 3rd place (of 3). My son was very disappointed.

In the weeks leading up to the competition, he was often half-hearted while practicing on the ice. But now he says he wants to beat those boys next year. I think he will be more serious about his practicing now. Ah, sweet emulation. Such a convenient and powerful motivator. I only help Lady Knowledge will not get too jealous.

Part III Chapters 1-2 : Rulers of the Heart

This week I moved on from the House of the Mind and began reading about the House of the Heart. This House is ruled by two great Lords, Love and Justice. The office of these Lords is to bring Mansoul happiness, and to cause him to bring happiness to others. Unlike previous chapters, I did not see these chapters as commentaries on Charlotte Mason’s other writings. Rather, I found them to be helpful (and convicting) expositions on Christian virtue.

I was most pleased to see so many Scriptural principles in these chapters on love:

1. The Scriptural balance of self-love. Miss Mason writes that a certain degree of self-love is required, or else, “we should not take care of our own lives, property, or interests at all.” This is just the point in Ephesians 5, which says, “After all, no one ever hated his own body, but he feeds and cares for it, just as Christ does the church.” But Miss Mason points out that focused self-love is a counterfeit love. Similarly, Paul writes to Timothy, “In the last days perilous times shall come. For men shall be lovers of their own selves.”

2. The kingdom of God. I was very intrigued by this sentence: “For it is they who love, rather than they who are beloved, who live every day in the kingdom of God.” At least in my circles, I don’t hear this kind of expression. Often in evangelical circles, the Kingdom of God is only some future state that begins with the Millennial reign of Christ. But for Miss Mason, the kingdom of God is here right now, for those who chose to walk in love. What a beautiful and motivating thought.

3. The mark of true love. Charlotte Mason says that true love always has a thought and a desire for service. Miss Mason quotes 1 John directly: ““Love not in word, neither in tongue,’ says the Apostle, ‘but in deed and in truth.’” Love comes from one’s heart but is shown by one’s works.

4. The power to love. Some of Charlotte Mason’s writings may sound like behaviorism. The material on habit-formation may seem to suggest that sanctification is a human effort. But this chapter shows that Miss Mason truly believes that God is the source of good in each individual. I was so happy to read her words: “We have it not in us in our own strength to forgive. It is only in the Love and the presence of God that we can forgive injuries, and when we forgive, we love.” Amen and amen.

5. Joy in suffering. Charlotte Mason says that to avoid self-pity, “We must never let our minds dwell upon any pain or bodily infirmity… Many great sufferers are the very hearth of their homes, so cheerful and comforting are they.” Furthermore, we are “never to go over in our minds for an instant any chance, hasty, or even intended word or look that might offend us.” So says the Apostle James, who instructs us to “count it all joy when you fall into various trials.”

In addition to these Scriptural concepts, Charlotte Mason also makes several statements that were very convicting to me. The most convicting was her warning that “Every movement of pity which does not lead to an effort to help goes to form a heart of stone.” She used this powerful illustration: “The tears of [idle pity] … are like the water of certain springs in the limestone which have the property of coating soft substances with stone.” I must pray that my feelings of pity do not harden my heart.

Charlotte gives examples of the extraordinary deeds that can be done for Love’s sake. She mentions “the soldier who goes into the thick of the fight to rescue his comrade.” This reminded me of an account from Quartered Safe out Here by George MacDonald Fraser. Fraser served as a young man in the British army during World War II. He fought against the Japanese in India. Quartered Safe out Here are his extremely well-written and personal memoirs from when he was a foot soldier in that terrifying conflict.

One fateful night, Fraser was safe within the perimeter when the Japanese made a surprise attack. Within the perimeter there was some degree of safety, but outside in the dark, death was lurking. Stanley and Wells were two bodies who had been stationed well outside the perimeter as lookouts when the Japanese struck. They both made a run for their lives back to the safety of the perimeter. Fraser tells the story:

[Stanley] had been in the o.p. with Wells, and when Jap arrived they had cut out for the wire. Stanley had made it into the perimeter, only to find that there was no sign of Wells. So he had slipped out again, without a word to anyone, when the fighting was at its height, into the Jap-infested dark, to look for him. By sheer luck he found him, near the o.p., dying of bayonet wounds; there was no way of helping him, but Stanley had stayed with him; he could have sought cover for himself, but he didn’t.

Stanley’s courage — his love — stuck with Fraser for the rest of his life: “Whenever I heard the word ‘hero’ loosely used, as it so often is of professional athletes and media celebrities and people who may have done no more than wear uniform for a while, I think of Stanley going back into the dark.”

Part III Chapters 3-6 : Many Virtues

This week I read about four more virtues, thoroughly explicated by Charlotte Mason:

1. Benevolence. “To be benevolent is to have goodwill towards all men.” There are many dæmons which obstruct this virtue, including Fastidiousness, Exigeance, Censoriousness, Selfishness, Slothfulness, and surprisingly, Tolerance. In our day, the only virtue embraced by the world is Tolerance. But for Charlotte Mason, tolerance is a vice. “To tolerate, or bear with, the principles and opinions which rule the lives of others is the part of Indifference and not of Goodwill. Candour, fair-mindedness to other people’s thoughts, is what Benevolence offers.”

2. Sympathy. “Sympathy is comprehension.” Since all children and all people are persons, we should expect them to be able to understand the music, art, and poetry that moves us. “We must give freely of our best, without the supercilious notion that So-and-so would not understand.” If we withhold a picture, poem, or story from someone, we actually denigrate that person. For Miss Mason, such is “giving Sympathy to all that is base in others, and thus strengthening and increasing their baseness: at the same time we are shutting ourselves into habits of hard and narrow thinking and living.”

3. Kindness. “The office of Kindness is simply to make everyday life pleasant and comfortable to others.” Acts of kindness should be without fanfare, ceremony, or thought of reward. It is humorous to read of “a movement to make children kind by counting up how many kind things they do in the course of each day.” Miss Mason says such a program “spoils it all.” Actually, it is not so far-fetched. I would not be surprised to hear of a similar contest nowadays. Charlotte Mason also stresses the importance of kindness in “Construction” or interpretation. We should give people the benefit of the doubt, always assuming the best motives rather than the worst.

4. Generosity. “The nature of Generosity is to bring forth, to give, always at the cost of personal suffering or deprivation, little or great.” For Charlotte Mason, real generosity is about having an attitude of trust rather than giving large gifts. “It is a certain large trustfulness in his dealings, rather than the largeness of his gifts, or the freedom of his outlay, that marks the generous man.” Charlotte Mason acknowledges that we are not generous to everyone equally. “He does not affect to love other countries as he loves his own, or his neighbour’s children as his own family.” This reminded me of a passage from C. S. Lewis’s Pilgrim’s Regress, which contrasted the love of man from the love of angels:

Out, little spear that stabs. I, fool, believed
I had outgrown the local, unique sting,
I had transmuted away (I was deceived)
Into love universal the lov’d thing.

But Thou, Lord, surely knewest Thine own plan
When the angelic indifferences with no bar
Universally loved but Thou gav’st man
The tether and pang of the particular.

I feel deeply “the tether and pang of the particular.” Though Charlotte Mason never married and never had children, she still seems to have such deep insight into the heart of the parent. I wonder how she was able to do this.

Recently, I was at a small gathering, and I reflected on my own lack of benevolence, sympathy, kindness, and generosity. I tried to have “Kindness in Construction”; I tried to remember that “the benevolent perceive that obvious and unpleasant faults are no more compared with the whole human being than his spots are compared with the sun.” In the end, my effort was not so successful. Had I not been reading these chapters, I would not have been so convicted. It would be easier to toss the book away — but then, I cannot teach what I do not know, and I cannot give what I do not have. The tether of the particular says, “Read on.”

Part III Chapters 7-9 : Fearless and Loyal

This week I continued to read Charlotte Mason’s catalog of virtues, which I again found to be both challenging and inspiring.

1. Gratitude. What I found most interesting about Miss Mason’s comments on Gratitude is that she directs the grateful person to rejoice in the character of the giver more than in the gift itself. “Joy in that other’s beauty of character gives more delight than any gain or pleasure which can come to us from favours.” This reminds me of Paul’s words in Philippians 4:17: “Not that I am looking for a gift, but I am looking for what may be credited to your account.”

2. Courage. Charlotte Mason points out that the English word “courage” comes from the French word coeur, which means “heart.” To have courage is to have heart, and in the Age of Chivalry, “Courage was the whole of character to a man; he who had not Courage, had no quality of manliness.” Most books published today that have anything to do with Charlotte Mason feature a picture of a mother and a daughter on the cover. Yet Miss Mason also speaks to father and son, for she points out the virtues of manhood. Charlotte Mason speaks of the courage of the draftee: “The Courage shown by men drawn by conscription is not less than that of our own army.” When I was in college, it seemed that students and faculty alike conspired to promote cowardice. Imagine what could be accomplished by a fearless generation of Americans.

3. Loyalty. Charlotte Mason esteems both patriotism and civic responsibility as positive facets of the virtue of loyalty. She also celebrates loyalty to friends, associates, and even storekeepers. Her words run against the grain of our culture which celebrates climbing the social and economic ladder by trading up and finding the best deal. She also tells a story that I think is a great model for the working world:

It is told of certain elegant young diplomats, who serve their several chiefs as private secretaries, that one, more superb than the rest, grumbled because his chief summoned him by ringing a bell; but another, who had learned the secret of ‘dignified obedience and proud submission,’ asserted that, if his chief asked him to clean his shoes, he would do it of course.

I go to work to support my boss and to help make his vision a reality. I do so with proud submission.

Whenever I read Charlotte Mason, I look for clues that might give insight into her doctrinal beliefs and spiritual principles. There were many interesting details in my reading this week.

A. I inferred that Charlotte Mason supported missionaries and rejected pluralism. She gives an example of someone remarking, “‘I think missionaries are a mistake!’ ‘The religions people have are those best suited to their natures.’” From the context, it seems that Miss Mason rejects this notion.

B. Charlotte Mason says that the “worst distress” is “when those dear to us fail us and fall away from godly living.” She follows this statement by pointing to the authority of Christ: “‘Let not your heart be anxious’ (R.V.) is the command of Christ.”

C. Miss Mason seems to see God’s providence behind opportunities that might otherwise seem coincidental. At least that is how I interpret this line (and the surrounding context): “Holding as Creed, That Circumstance, a sacred oracle, Speaks with the voice of God to faithful souls.”

D. Charlotte Mason even makes a statement about the purpose of life. Rather than citing any kind of temporal objective, she suggests that “the purpose of this life is our education for a fuller.” In other words, our work in this life is to prepare for the hereafter.

E. Finally, I was extremely intrigued by Miss Mason’s words about loyalty in religion. Here is a most interesting passage:

Perhaps highest amongst these principles is our religion—not our faith in God; that is another matter—but that form of religion which to us is the expression of such faith. A safe rule is, that Loyalty forbids our dallying with other forms and other ideas, lest we should cease to hold religious convictions of any sort, and become open to change and eager for the excitement of novelty.

As far as I know, Charlotte Mason was born Anglican and remained faithful to her denomination throughout her life. As a matter of principle, she refused to “dally with other forms and ideas,” or to be eager for any form of religious “novelty.” Stephen Kaufmann writes: “In general, Mason draws on nineteenth-century Anglican theologians and men of letters. Interestingly, I found no reference in her writings to the evangelical preacher Charles Spurgeon, who was also her contemporary.”

Perhaps here is a clue as to why Miss Mason did not quote Spurgeon. Perhaps for her, to dally with Spurgeon’s evangelicalism was to betray her loyalty to Mother Church. John Wesley loosely defined orthodoxy as “right opinions.” I am reminded of Wesley’s words:

Religion is, in other words, the love of God and man, producing all holiness of conversation. Now, are right opinions any more (if they are so much) than a very slender part of this? Once more: Religion is the mind that was in Christ, and the walking as Christ walked. But how very slender a part of this are opinions, how right soever!

I too was born Anglican (the American kind — Episcopalian). I left my father’s religion to find truth and life. Miss Mason chose to remain. Yet in her book I read chapter after chapter that describe “all holiness of conversation … the mind that was in Christ.”

Part III Chapters 10-12 : The Valley of Humiliation

I am reading through volume 4, and this week I read about Humility, Gladness, and Justice.

I think the section on Humility is especially relevant today, given the emphasis today in schools on self-esteem. Charlotte Mason does not encourage the student to esteem himself, but rather to forget himself. It seems to me that humility is difficult to define. Charlotte Mason bases her definition on Scripture, by citing two examples of humility:

Assuredly, I say to you, unless you are converted and become as little children, you will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven. Therefore whoever humbles himself as this little child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. (Matthew 18:3-4)

And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross. (Philippians 2:8)

Charlotte Mason points out examples of false humility, and identifies them as either cowardice or hypocrisy. True humility is found in the child: “Humility is perhaps one with Simplicity, and does not allow us to think of ourselves at all, ill or well. That is why a child is humble. The thought of self does not come to him at all; when it does, he falls from his child estate and becomes what we call self-conscious.”

While I thought Charlotte Mason’s perspective on humility was helpful, for me the best commentary I have seen on humility is from Pilgrim’s Progress. In the Valley of Humiliation, the shepherd’s boy sings:

He that is down, needs fear no fall;
He that is low, no pride:
He that is humble, ever shall
Have God to be his guide.
I am content with what I have,
Little be it or much;
And, Lord, contentment still I crave,
Because thou savest such.
Fulness to such, a burden is,
That go on pilgrimage;
Here little, and hereafter bliss,
Is best from Age to Age.

The section on Gladness was very helpful. Charlotte Mason again begins with Scripture: “Rejoice in the Lord always. Again I will say, rejoice!” (Philippians 4:4)

Miss Mason says that “there is a fountain of Gladness in everybody’s heart only waiting to be unstopped.” Gladness is not based on circumstances, but “Gladness [is] a Duty.” Her words have been with me this week and have challenged me to keep my own fountain of Gladness running clear.

This week I also read the first chapter on Justice. Miss Mason says that Justice is universal, existing in every Mansoul. Justice demands that “fair-dealing, honesty, integrity must govern our actions.”

On a side note, yesterday I again saw the falconer who I wrote about in my July 8 email. He has been doing demonstrations for several weekends now, so the hawks have been getting more practice. But there was a lot of rain in Wisconsin last week, so there has been no hunting for a few days. In the falconer’s discipline of habit-formation, there is either progress or regress. No coasting.

The falconer brought out Fire again. It turns out Fire is actually female. This time she was attentive and obedient to her master’s voice. Fire has a little brother named Duke who was also brought out. At first, Fire and Duke were pestering each other and bickering. The falconer scolded them, saying that such behavior would not be tolerated. The falconer brought out a fake rabbit on a string, and brother and sister set aside their differences to focus on the hunt. With precision and coordination, the hawks seized the rabbit and tore it to pieces.

As a father of a boy and a girl, I thought again of the many parallels between hawk and child.

Part III Chapters 13-15 : Truth

This week I read three very interesting chapters in Ourselves:

Chapter 13 is called “Justice To The Persons Of Others.” This chapter talks about how to treat others fairly. Charlotte Mason says, “To think fairly about the personal rights of others requires a good deal of knowledge as well as judgment. But we can all arrive at some right conclusions by calling in the help of Imagination.” She says to use imagination to think about how our behavior affects other people. My sense is that many elements of a CM education build imagination in a child, such as unmanaged play time and living books. A robust imagination can then lead to more thoughtful and courteous behavior.

In fact, according to Charlotte Mason, imagination should lead us to think about what we buy. A sense of fairness should “forbid us to buy at the cheapest shops; for most likely some class of work-people have been ‘sweated’ to produce the cheap article.” This is interesting (and neglected) advice. But perhaps if more Americans followed it, some dogs would still be living and some tests for lead would be negative.

In this chapter, Miss Mason says that we are not free to think of others as we wish. For example, she writes, “Most of us know that we are not free to think what we like about our parents or other Heads, of our school household, or office.” This reminds me of Ecclesiastes 10:20: “Do not revile the king even in your thoughts, or curse the rich in your bedroom, because a bird of the air may carry your words, and a bird on the wing may report what you say.” Indeed, this is a powerful principle and one which I certainly wish to teach my children.

Chapter 14 begins a discussion of Truth. In this chapter, Charlotte Mason discusses the last of the Seven Deadly Sins: Envy. “In the Middle Ages people were afraid of Envy, and counted it one of the Seven Deadly Sins. Now, we forget that there is such a vice.” If Envy was forgotten even in Miss Mason’s day, what has become of it today? I had been thinking about envy and wondering if it had a stronghold in my heart. Miss Mason’s examples of Envy assist in my self-examination: “when we allow ourselves in grudging thoughts about the possessions or advantages of others, we say, ‘It’s not fair’; that is, we cover our injustice to others with a mantle of what we call justice and fairness to ourselves.”

Chapter 15 discusses truth-telling and has some principles that seem to me to be distinct to Charlotte Mason. Miss Mason previews these topics in Volume 1 on page 165. In Volume 1, she talks about accuracy of statement and avoiding exaggeration. Now in Volume 4, Miss Mason gives a fuller set of guidelines for truth-telling. Her principles are immensely practical and actually confirm some techniques that I discovered from experience in the workplace. “But what are we to do, when, having said a thing, we begin to doubt if it is true? Words once spoken must be let alone: it is useless to unsay or qualify, explain or alter, or to appeal for confirmation or denial to another person.”

Besides being practical, Charlotte Mason’s ideas on truth-telling also connect to school training. Miss Mason writes, “by the indulgence of this manner of loose statement, we incapacitate ourselves for the scientific habit of mind—accurate observation and exact record.” So again I see the various elements of the CM approach link together. Through nature study the child learns the habit of accurate observation and record. This in turn leads to the habit of truthfulness, which is part of responsible living, and in turn reinforces scientific skills.

Finally, in this chapter Charlotte Mason explains the difference between Accidental Truth and Essential Truth. In several of my posts I used these terms, but now I think I have misused them. Charlotte Mason defines the terms as follows: “What we may call accidental Truth; that is, that such and such a thing came to pass in a certain place at a certain hour on a certain day; … The other, the Truth of Art, is what we may call essential Truth.” What interests me is that, for Miss Mason, accidental Truth is still Truth: “this is the sort of Truth we have to observe in our general talk.”

In this chapter, when she applies these concepts to the Bible, it is actually the critic who attacks the accidental truth, not herself. In the face of the critics, she is “not staggered.” In other words, she is “quite ready to wait the verdict of the critics” as she embraces the essential truths. In college, I learned the inductive method of Bible study: Observation, Interpretation, and Application. I would loosely say that Observation focuses on the accidental truth, and Interpretation is the bridge to Application, which is the essential truth. I will be more careful now as I use these terms. For Miss Mason, accidental truth is still truth. While she does not engage the critics, she does not become a critic herself.

Part III Chapters 16, 17 : Integrity

This week I read two more fascinating chapters from Ourselves. While Chapter 16 was what I would have expected, Chapter 17 held a few surprises.

Chapter 16 is called “Some Causes Of Lying” and in this chapter, Charlotte Mason explores why people lie. She includes the quotation, “all liars are an abomination unto the Lord,” which is perhaps a paraphrase of Proverbs 12:22: “Lying lips are abomination to the Lord.” She explains that people like out of malice (to slander others), cowardice (to escape punishment), boastfulness (to win admirers), and friendship (to protect buddies). Miss Mason says we must not lie even to our enemies, for “no one can wear ‘the white flower of a blameless life’ who is not known to friend and foe alike as one whose word is to be trusted.” All this is sound and direct ethical teaching.

Chapter 17 is entitled “Integrity: Justice In Action.” Interestingly, Charlotte Mason identifies integrity primarily with thorough and excellent work. Certainly, there is a biblical concept here; Colossians 3:23 says “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men.” (Miss Mason does not quote this verse.) Nevertheless, this is not what I normally think of as integrity.

To check my understanding, I looked at how my Dictionary of Synonyms differentiates between honesty and integrity. It says, “Integrity implies such rectitude that one is incorruptible or incapable of being false to a trust or a responsibility or to one’s own standards.” This does resonate with Miss Mason’s statement, “Now, everyone carries a similar standard measure in his own breast—a rule by which he judges of the integrity of a workman.” It seems again that Charlotte Mason knows her English better than I.

This chapter, like all those before, seem to me to be an excellent resource for true character training. Miss Mason shows that character is linked to success. In a wonderful analogy, she writes, “He has also another employer, who is apt to be lax while the work is being done, but visits the worker with heavy penalties in the long run.” Who is this employer that penalizes the lazy worker? Self! “Every person owes integrity to himself … it is he, himself, who will suffer most in the end for every failure to produce honest work in a given time.”

This is one example of how Ourselves advocates what Stephen Covey refers to as the “Character Ethic.” When Covey was working on his doctorate, he surveyed the history of “success literature.” He found that success literature from the 1920’s onward focused on tactical solutions to specific problems. Covey calls this the “Personality Ethic.” By contrast, before the 1920’s, success literature argued that success is linked to underlying character qualities such as integrity, courage, justice, patience … many of the very qualities that Miss Mason so thoroughly advocates in Ourselves.

Amazingly, Charlotte Mason even offers wise time management advice: “Do the Chief Thing.” Miss Mason explains the rule of “‘putting first things first.’ Now, the power of ordering, organising, one’s work which this implies distinguishes between a person of intelligence and the unintelligent person who lets himself be swamped by details… The power to distinguish what must be done at once, from what may be done, comes pretty much by habit. At first it requires attention and thought. But mind and body get into the way of doing most things; and the person, whose mind has the habit of singling out the important things and doing them first, saves much annoyance to himself and others, and has gained in Integrity.”

I am reminded of Covey’s book entitled First Things First. Sorry, Stephen — Charlotte Mason already laid out all the habits of effective people. She in fact called them habits, she focused on character, and she showed the link to success. Don’t bother reading The Seven Habits — read Ourselves instead. (Note that I also see the “first things first” concept in Scripture. Proverbs 24:27 reads, “Finish your outdoor work and get your fields ready; after that, build your house.”)

Later in the chapter, I was shocked to find that Charlotte Mason considers bargain-hunting to be a violation of integrity. Here’s how she puts it: “There is another failure in integrity which people do not realise to be as debasing as debt, though probably its effects are as bad; and that is the bargain-hunting in which even right-minded persons allow themselves.” Up until this point, I at least recognized all the virtues and vices that Miss Mason was outlining. But bargain-hunting? I have never heard that described as a vice.

In discussing bargains, Charlotte Mason refers to the “just price,” which I thought went out with the Middle Ages. In my experience, capitalism and all business practice are based on a rejection of this principle. But Miss Mason writes, “What we want is—not the best thing that can be had at the lowest possible price—but a thing suitable for our purpose, at a price which we can afford to pay and know to be just.” She says to shop locally, and to be loyal to the tradesmen of our own neighborhood. For her, this is a matter of integrity.

My question to the group: Is this an anachronism? Do we part with Miss Mason on this point? Or is Miss Mason actually arguing for an ethic that is valid but hidden to our generation?

Part III Chapters 18, 19 : Opinions

The two chapters I read this week are about Opinions, including special kinds of Opinions called Principles.

Charlotte Mason defines Opinion as follows: “The thought we have about person or thing is our opinion.” She analyzes the word by saying, “The word opinion literally means ‘a thinking’; what I think, with modesty and hesitation, and not what I am certain-sure about.”

Charlotte Mason says that some opinions are worth having. These are opinions based on knowledge, reflection, and objectivity. Opinions formed in any other way are not worth having. Charlotte Mason says that the development of right opinions is one of the chief activities of life. “It is a great part of our work in life to do our duty in our thoughts and form just opinions.” Furthermore, it is also critical that we develop the ability to spot bad opinions. “We must learn … to recognize a fallacy.”

Since 1) the development of right opinions is a key life activity, and 2) the development of right opinions requires knowledge, Miss Mason concludes that 3) the acquisition of knowledge is an urgent task for young people. But do young people work in school for the attainment of knowledge? No, their focus is cramming for tests:

That we may be able to do this, we spend a good many years, while we are young, in getting the knowledge which should enable us to think. When we are grown-up, also, it is still necessary to spend time in getting knowledge, but few can give the chief part of the day to this labour, as we all have the chance of doing while we are young. This chance is, however, wasted upon young people who read to learn up facts towards an examination. The lectures we hear, the books we read, are of no use to us, except as they make us think.

Once again Charlotte Mason emphasizes the importance of motivation in education. The love of knowledge is the highest motivation. Lord, grant that we can cultivate this motivation in our children!

In these chapters on opinions, there is a gem that applies generally to education:

As a fact, the books which make us think, the poems which we ponder, the lives of men which we consider, are of more use to us than volumes of good counsel. We read what boys call ‘good books,’ thinking how good they are, and how good we are to read them! Then it all goes, because the writer has put what he had to say so plainly that we have not had to think for ourselves; and 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.

I think that this idea is central to understanding a Charlotte Mason education. People question that my eight-year-old is reading the King James Bible. People wonder at the difficulty of the books in the PNEU programmes. Yet “we do not get anything for our own unless we work for it.” I have a long drive to work, so I often listen to an audio Bible. I find that the easier the translation, the less I engage with the text. I found the most value listening to the King James Version, until recently I started listening to the New Testament in French.

Charlotte Mason defines principles as a special kind of deeply held opinion: “These opinions rule our conduct.” Charlotte Mason describes how principles try to get into our minds and hearts: “Good principles are offered to us in an unobtrusive way, with little force and little urging. Bad principles are clamorous and urgent, drowning the voice of conscience by noisy talk, inviting us to go the way we are inclined and to do the thing we like.”

This reminded me of the personification of Wisdom and Foolishness in Proverbs 9. Wisdom is “unobtrusive,” with “little force and little urging”:

Wisdom has built her house… She has sent out her maids to call from the highest places in the town, “Whoever is simple, let him turn in here!” To him who is without sense she says, “Come, eat of my bread and drink of the wine I have mixed. Leave simpleness, and live, and walk in the way of insight.” (Proverbs 9, RSV)

By contrast, Foolishness is “clamorous and urgent”:

A foolish woman is noisy; she is wanton and knows no shame. She sits at the door of her house, she takes a seat on the high places of the town, calling to those who pass by, who are going straight on their way, “Whoever is simple, let him turn in here!” (Proverbs 9, RSV)

I was told that my son should start bringing a Bible to Sunday school. So this evening we went to our bookshelf to get a Bible for him. I asked him which kind he wanted. His reply: “A King James.”

Part III Chapters 20, Part IV : Vocation

This week I finished my study of Volume 4 Book 1. Chapter 20 is entitled “Justice To Ourselves: Self-Ordering” and retraces some of the ground of earlier chapters. Part IV is on “Vocation” and presents career advice in a wonderful way that (in my opinion) cuts against the grain of today’s conventional thinking.

In the chapter on self-ordering, Charlotte Mason stresses the importance of soberness and temperance in all areas of life. There is much great advice and instruction here, but I was especially struck by her story about prisoners of war in the era of gentlemen. The prisoner is granted much liberty, but must give his word that he will not try to escape. “There is an invisible wall, confining him which he cannot pass beyond, and this wall is no more than his word—he is en parole.”

Charlotte Mason says that this is an analogy for how God treats us in this life. We too are “en parole.” “This is very much the way that God treats us in the matter of self-indulgence. The way is open to us down the Broad Road, but we are hindered by our parole. We may not have given our word out loud, but the word is only a sign, it means ‘on my honour’; and we are all on our honour to safeguard ourselves from ruin, however easy and inviting may be the way thereto.”

For Charlotte Mason, soberness includes freedom from addiction to excitement. She says that if you develop good interests in life, you will not feel the constant need for excitement: “Have interests and give them to others, and you are fairly safe from the desire for excitement which leads to drunkenness.” These words are wonderfully applicable today.

This chapter again reveals that Charlotte Mason recognizes God’s role in the process of sanctification. Right behavior is not just the physical matter of habit formation. Charlotte Mason writes: “‘Watch and pray, that ye enter not into temptation,’ says our Lord and Master; watch, that is, look at the thoughts you let in, and shut the door upon intruders. Pray every day and every night with the confidence of a child speaking to his father,—’Our Father which art in Heaven, lead us not into temptation’; and then, think no more of the matter, but live all you can the beautiful, full life of body and mind, heart and soul, for which our Father has made provision.”

I often hear people refer to Charlotte Mason’s teaching that 1) habit leaves a physical mark on the brain and 2) God does not do for us what He expects us to do for ourselves. But that is only part of her teaching. I hope that all Charlotte Mason advocates will point out that she also teaches us to “pray every day and every night” that God would “lead us not into temptation.” Miss Mason did not forget the spiritual!

I enjoyed the chapter on vocation because Miss Mason placed the emphasis on being of use, rather than on finding enjoyable work. The focus is on others, not on self. In fact, she seemed to accept the notion that for some people, career is pre-selected: “Some boys know, at an early age, that they are being brought up for the navy, for example.” I think this cuts against the grain of today’s conventional wisdom.

Charlotte Mason offers fine words on how to sense God’s calling: “God, who fixes the bounds of our habitation, does not leave us blundering about in search of the right thing; if He find us waiting, ready and willing, He gives us a call. It may come in the advice of a friend, or in an opening that may present itself, or in the opinion of our parents, or in some other of the quiet guidings of life that come to those who watch for them, and who are not self-willed; or it may come in a strong wish on our own part for some particular work for which we show ourselves fit.”

I felt chills on my spine when I heard her final words on this topic: “But this, I think, we may be sure of, that his call comes as truly to a ploughman as to a peer, to a dairymaid as to a duchess.”

Volume 5 : Formation of Character


The believers at the church in Corinth were uneasy about many things, so they wrote a letter to the Apostle Paul with several questions. One of their concerns was the problem of mixed marriages, between believers and unbelievers. Were the children of mixed marriages defiled in some way? Were they disqualified from the Christian community?

The Apostle Paul replied with these words from 1 Corinthians: “For the unbelieving husband is sanctified by the wife, and the unbelieving wife is sanctified by the husband: else were your children unclean; but now are they holy” (KJV). This answer put their questions to rest. Think of it: the children of believing parents are holy.

In the Christian homeschool family, the child’s primary relationships are with those who love the Lord. In this context, “children are persons of good will, with honest desires toward right thinking and right living.” This is because the activity of the Holy Spirit, and the bond of love between parent and child, awaken in the child the desire for good things.

In this context, given “opportunity, and wholesome occupation, [the child’s] character will take care of itself” The Apostle Paul also assigns to “atmosphere” — real life — an active role in the formation of character: “More than that, we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character” (Romans 5:3,4, RSV).

Nevertheless, Charlotte Mason points out that there are times when the homeschooling parent must supplement the agency of atmosphere by helping the child with a particular character problem. “All we can do further is to help a child to get rid of some hindrance—a bad temper, for example—likely to spoil his life.” This same notion is advocated by Dr. Scott Turansky and Joanne Miller from the National Center for Biblical Parenting. In their 2005 book Home Improvement, they write:

But no matter how hard we work … with our children, from time to time, deep-rooted patterns of behavior still need to be addressed. Normal day-to-day plans aren’t enough to handle these big issues. We need to exert some concentrated effort in order to influence and, hopefully, change deeper issues of the heart. (p. 165)

Although Turansky and Miller probably have not read Charlotte Mason, they reach the same conclusion as she: there are times when a parent should devise and follow a plan to help “a child to cure himself of tiresome faults.” In Part I of Volume 5, Charlotte Mason provides several case studies to demonstrate how to employ the “laws of habit” to address such specific issues of the heart.

But in following these examples, we are not “forming character.” As Charlotte Mason says, “character is not the outcome of a formative educational process.” As homeschooling parents, we are in a tremendous position to “direct” and “expand” our children’s character. But our efforts are secondary to “the supreme agency of the Holy Spirit, even when that agency is little suspected and as little solicited.”

Part I : Some Studies in Treatment
I : The Philosopher at Home

I never thought of myself as a particularly angry person until I listened to the message “Freedom from the Spirit of Anger” by S. M. Davis. This message opened my eyes. In his message, Dr. Davis teaches that:

  1. For the Christian, anger is sin. Dr. Davis argues from Colossians 3:8 and many other passages.
  2. Even if a man does not act out in anger, if he harbors the spirit of anger in his heart, it will be detected by those near to him.
  3. The spirit of anger in the father arouses the spirit of rebellion in the child.

Mr. Davis tells the powerful story of a rebellious teenager who did not return to the Lord until her father finally confessed and renounced his own spirit of anger.

The Holy Spirit then began to reveal to me how often I allow anger to burn in my heart. I began to see how many of my words and actions proceed from a spirit of anger. I began to confess specific events of anger to the men in my small group. I began to apologize to family members whenever I acted in anger. I asked them all to hold me accountable.

And yet it all seemed to no avail. The Holy Spirit was certainly faithful in showing me when Cross-man was near. But the Holy Spirit did not seem to be so faithful in delivering me from Cross-man. Day after day, week after week, month after month, I pleaded with the Lord, “Please, cleanse my heart of the spirit of anger.”

In The Pilgrim’s Progress, Christian and Hopeful waste away in the dungeon of Giant Despair. Day after day they seek deliverance but find none. I once read a critique of Pilgrim’s Progress where the writer criticizes this particular episode. He says that the answer for Christian turns out to be too easy, too simple; it detracts from the story when Pilgrim finds deliverance by the key of hope — a golden key which has been in his pocket all along. All the time that Christian was wasting away, the key of deliverance was upon his breast.

A few months ago I read “The Philosopher at Home.” Charlotte Mason tells us how Guy needed only to “change his thoughts.” By this means alone, Guy was delivered from the spirit of anger, and his parents “forgot their early troubles with their [now] sweet-tempered, frank-natured boy” (p. 23). Isn’t this too easy and too simple? Surely deliverance from anger — and escape from the giant’s prison — must be more complicated than that.

It is interesting to note that Dr. Davis does suggest how to handle the situation when Cross-man arrives. He says (in my words) to cognitively reframe the situation. He says to make a choice of the will to intellectually grasp the current situation from an alternate paradigm, perspective, or set of facts. In other words, the answer is to change your thoughts.

Similarly, Turansky and Miller write that children should “step back when anger starts”:

Children learn that stepping back may just involve looking away or taking a deep breath. Other times, it may mean changing the activity or walking away. During the most intense moments, it may mean leaving the situation or getting alone. The child who is frustrated with a puzzle, for example, may choose to work on something else for a while. (Home Improvement, p. 109)

In other words, the answer is to change the child’s thoughts, sometimes by suggesting another activity, such as … helping father in the garden.

Could it be that simply “changing my thoughts” is the answer for me? As I contemplated this, the following words from Charlotte Mason exploded into my heart (p. 16):

[Mrs. Belmont:] “Pampered himself! Why, you surely don’t think those terrible scenes give the poor child any pleasure. I always thought he was a deal more to be pitied than we.”

[Mr. Belmont:] “Indeed I do. Pleasure is perhaps hardly the word; but that the display of temper is a form of self-indulgence, there is no doubt at all.”

I had always thought of myself as the victim. It was as if anger — Cross-man — was some kind of sinister figure who would drag innocent little me against my will into angry words and actions. But I am not the victim, I am the instigator. Anger is my “form of self-indulgence.” It is my hot fudge sundae with whipped cream and a cherry, and I wallow in at the expense of those around me.

To my shame, I confess that I am most likely to speak in anger when I am frustrated with my son during his math lesson or his narration of the Bible. How do I change my thoughts? I began to think how these school lessons are a feast of God’s riches for my son. I am to lead him to a banquet, a table, filled with many wondrous things.

A banquet, a table … kind of like the table the Lord invites me to every Sunday. “And he took bread, and when he had given thanks he broke it and gave it to them, saying, ‘This is my body which is given for you.’“ When I come to the table, the Lord has every reason to be frustrated and angry with me. But every time He receives me with love and mercy.

We sat down at the school table. Cross-man was approaching. I changed my thoughts. “Do this in remembrance of me.” Receive my son like my Father receives me. Cross-man vanished.

At the end of the week I asked my son, “Did you notice me getting angry at all during school this week?”

“No, Dad.”

I could almost see the gold key in my pocket as I felt a sweet measure of peace. Just as it was for Christian. The key was right here, all along.

II : Inconstant Kitty

I like this chapter because it is very practical and because the habit of attention is so important. How we have advanced in the past 100 years! In Charlotte Mason’s day, the thought was, “if [a] child has no faculty of attention, how can we give it to her? It’s just a natural defect.” In our day, the thought is that attention deficit is a disorder. How can we give the gift of attention? The right drug at the right time, and “brother body” is no longer the “inferior partner.” We of all people need to hear that attention is a habit of the soul and not a chemical of the brain. Let us seek help from the wisdom of Charlotte Mason rather than from the prescription of the pharmacist.

I believe that the habit of attention is central to a Charlotte Mason education. She writes in Volume 6, page 6, that “These read in a term one, or two, or three thousand pages, according to their age, school and Form, in a large number of set books.” How can this be possible? “The quantity set for each lesson allows of only a single reading; but the reading is tested by narration.” This can only be achieved when students have the habit of attention.

The story of “Inconstant Kitty” provides a valuable and practical illustration of how to develop the habit of attention in children. It is important to note that the first step is with the teacher, not the student: “In the first place, her lessons must be made interesting. In the case of Kitty, the mother is advised not to force Kitty to attend to rows of sums. Rather, she should start with “dominoes or the domino cards.” How wonderful and encouraging to consider that “two, or three thousand pages” per term can begin with dominos.

However, it is clear from this chapter that interesting lessons (however important) are insufficient in themselves to elicit the full habit of attention. Active guidance from the teacher-parent is also required. It is perhaps surprising to hear that in this case Charlotte Mason actually advocates negative reinforcement. For Inconstant Kitty to learn the habit of attention, she must experience “the loss of some small childish pleasure which the day should have held” when she dawdles through a lesson.

Even very young children can begin to learn the habit of attention. We read in Volume 1 about the importance of unstructured play time. But the wise parent will find opportunities to encourage the habit of attention even in play time. “What! The doll’s tea-party over! That’s not the way grown-up ladies have tea.” (Or, perhaps, “How can you call off the invasion now? The Americans have not yet captured Carentan!”)

Finally, this chapter reinforces Miss Mason’s teaching about the nature of the child. Charlotte Mason’s declaration that “children are not born bad” causes many evangelicals to be wary of her philosophy. But I think many people miss what she is really saying. In this chapter she writes, “Nature, left to herself, produces a waste, be it never so lovely.” The moral nature of the child is not clean and pure! The Anglican doctrine of original sin teaches that man “is of his own nature inclined to evil.” Unless God intervenes, “our little Kitty’s [will] become a wasted life.”

Creation Ministries International (CMI) recently posted a fascinating (short) article on the good and evil nature of man. No one would seriously suggest that CMI denies the doctrine of original sin. Yet author David Anderson writes:

Atheists not only can, but must be (at least to some extent) good without believing in God. If they are really made in the image of God as the Bible teaches (Genesis 1:28), then that fact must have some results. If atheists were generally able to throw off all the shackles of morality and live their lives consistently with atheism, . it would put a serious question mark over the record given to us in Genesis. It would be evidence that maybe they weren’t creatures made by God after all, and that atheism might actually be true.

Quite simply, the doctrine of original sin cannot be reduced to the statement, “Children are born bad.” As Anderson points out, “When society comes across someone who really does seem to have mostly wiped out the ideas of right and wrong from their mind, we label them as insane and lock them in padded cells.”

Charlotte Mason declares that children are born “with possibilities for good and for evil.” When we stand with Miss Mason on this point, we stand with Scripture. As CMI points out, if we abandon this truth, we call into question the record of Genesis itself.

III : Under a Cloud

I found this chapter to be somewhat mysterious. I understand the basics: the chapter tells the story of Agnes, whose character problem is a habit of sullenness. For Agnes, a relatively minor disappointment causes her to be depressed for the rest of the day. She does not complain or react in anger; instead, she turns inward and appears “under a cloud.”

Agnes’s parents realize that they must take responsibility and help Agnes overcome her problem. They understand that “a childish fault, left to itself, can do no other than strengthen.” They reject the teaching of Jean-Jacques Rousseau that children are born good and are only then corrupted by society. Agnes’s parents realize that Agnes’s habit of sullenness comes from within.

Rousseau wrote that “everything is good as it comes from the hands of the Maker of the world but degenerates once it gets into the hands of man.” For Rousseau, the goal of education is to protect and preserve the original good nature of the child. The child is born with inclinations (or tendencies) towards good, and “everything ought to be in conformity with these original inclinations.” How does the teacher achieve this? “What can be done to produce this very exceptional person? In point of fact all we have to do is prevent anything being done.” (Quotes from Emile, translated by William Boyd.)

Rather than “prevent anything being done,” Agnes’s parents devise a plan to interfere with the course of nature. They determine to “watch the rise of the sullen cloud, and change [Agnes’s] thoughts before she has time to realise that the black fit is coming.” This plan was effective as long as the parents where at hand when the cloud was forming. Their tactics “helped so far as they went.” But this plan alone could not “nullify the habit” of sullenness.

The parents agree that they must confront Agnes directly. After allowing a day of sullenness, Agnes’s mother begins a sorrowful and direct confrontation: “So my poor Agnes has had a very sad day?” Here is where the mystery comes in. This one conversation so powerfully impacts Agnes that she never grows sullen again. From that point on, when the parents see a “a sulky face,” all they have to do is “turn and look upon our child, and the look melts her into gentleness and penitence.”

How could this one conversation have such an impact? I am not sure. But the gentle nature of the mother’s intervention with Agnes is an inspiring model for us.

IV : Dorothy Elmore’s Achievement

In this chapter, the eldest daughter of the Elmores returns from school. Dorothy is a young lady now, some years older than her fifteen-year-old sister. The parents, George and Mary, are delighted with the many graces exhibited by their daughter. Indeed, this young lady is quite impressive, who never runs, but almost floats “with a quick noiseless step.”

The grace that most impressed me about Dorothy is this one: “After all, she liked best to be at home, and was more amiable and lovely with father and mother, brothers and sisters, than with the most fascinating strangers.” What a great challenge for me as a father. Do I like best to be at home? Am I the most amiable and lovely with my wife and children? Or do I save my best for the many fascinating strangers who cross my path?

But after about a month or so, the first cloud appears. Several words are used to describe Dorothy’s problem: “cloud” (p. 44), “under a cloud” (p. 52), “sullen” (p. 49), “fit of sullenness” (p. 50), “sulky” (p. 49), and “depression” (p. 49). In the previous chapter, many of these words were used to describe Agnes’s problem: “sullenness,” “sulky,” and of course the title, “Under a Cloud.”

As with Agnes, Dorothy’s cloud comes when she does not get what she wants. Instead of the larger slice of pear, Dorothy is concerned about carriages and flowers. Perhaps the key difference is age. Agnes was only a few years old, but Dorothy had become a woman. Should she have known better?

But Dorothy does not admit that she nurses resentment. “I’m very well, thank you; but I am tired.”

Mother Mary initially attributes Dorothy’s strange symptoms to fatigue: “You look tired and cold enough.” The problem is “late hours… We must take better care of her, that’s all.”

Father is convinced that Dorothy is suffering from some physical malady. “Don’t you see she is beginning to lose flesh, and how the roses she brought home are fading! She has no appetite and no spirits.” He believes that the common 19th century prescription of travel will be the simple cure: “The child is out of sorts; we must take her abroad for a month or two; she wants change of air and scene.”

Dr. Evans, the family physician, examines the pale Dorothy and “said she wanted tone; advised, not physic, but fresh air, exercise, and early hours.” That’s actually not bad advice. I think many of the bad tempers we adults struggle with would be mollified by exercising daily outdoors, retiring early in the evening, and rising early in the morning!

The youngest child is the first to identify the real cause for Dorothy’s problem. That is because “the children were quicker-eyed; children are always quick to resent unevenness of temper in those about them. A single angry outbreak, harsh word, and you may lay yourself out to please them for months before they will believe in you again.” Oh my. These words smote me, a man who struggles with anger. A single outburst of anger and trust can be shattered for months? Dear Heavenly Father, let me never forget the golden key that frees my heart of the spirit of anger.

But George Sr. will have none of it. Mary tries to convince him: “Each attack of what we have called ‘poorliness’ has been a fit of sullenness, lasting sometimes for days, sometimes for more than a week, and passing off as suddenly as it came.” George seems to be personally offended that Mary would suggest that Dorothy is actually at fault. George’s reaction reminds me of the words J.C. Ryle wrote in 1888:

As a minister, I cannot help remarking that there is hardly any subject about which people seem so tenacious as they are about their children. I have sometimes been perfectly astonished at the slowness of sensible Christian parents to allow that their own children are in fault, or deserve blame. There are not a few persons to whom I would far rather speak about their own sins, than tell them their children had done anything wrong.

To begin to convince her husband, Mary must unveil her own private battle with sullenness. She must show him that she too has nursed resentment. But George is slow to understand. When Mary confesses that her sister Esther had the better temper, George cries out, “I have never for a moment rued my choice!” In this, George is a good model for us all. (Oh sweet beloved: I have never rued my choice either!)

To me, the most precious sentence in these three chapters is Mary’s explanation of what finally changed her heart: “The fact is, your love made me all it believed me to be, and I thought the old things had passed away.” Oh that it might be said of me, that my love made my dear ones all that I believe them to be! Whether for she who is flesh of my flesh, or for they who bear my image, may my love cause the old things to pass away.

In the final two chapters of “Dorothy Elmore’s Achievement,” Charlotte Mason provides what seems to me to be her clearest presentation and defense of her doctrine of habit and character. Not surprisingly, the section focuses on mind and brain, spirit and flesh, and how they interact in the phenomenon of habit. What makes these chapters unusual, however, is the extent to which Charlotte Mason analyzes and explains the balance between these forces.

Although the section focuses primarily on habit, I actually think the deeper and stronger theme is the preeminence of spirit over flesh:

1. Charlotte Mason implies that bad habits of disposition and temper originate not in the physical realm but in the spiritual realm. On page 59, Dr. Evans says that “every fault of disposition and temper, though it may have begun in error of the spirit in ourselves or in some ancestor, by the time it becomes a fault of character is a failing of the flesh…” This suggests to me a progression where an error begins in the spirit and becomes locked in a physical pattern.

2. Charlotte Mason does not completely absolve the person of his bad habits. Rather she refines the sense of responsibility:

a. The person is not responsible for inherited traits: “Dorothy has, perhaps, and conceivably her mother has also, inherited her peculiar temperament; but you are not immediately responsible for that.” (p. 56)

b. The person is not responsible for instinctively following these inherited traits: “She, again, has fostered this inherited trait, but neither is she immediately responsible for the fact.” (p. 56)

c. The person is not responsible for habits of temper which, by definition, are done without a conscious act of the will: “We, my child and I, are not so much to blame now for our sullen and resentful feelings, because we have got the habit of them.” (p. 57)

d. The person is responsible for bad habits once he becomes aware of them, especially when he becomes aware of how to replace a bad habit with a good habit. “Ah, once we begin to see that, we are to blame for them.” (p. 57) “You are not a very wicked girl because these ugly thoughts master you; I don’t say, mind you, that you will be without offence once you get the key between your fingers.” (p. 64)

This may seem like Charlotte Mason is writing off too much moral responsibility. However, I think her approach can be understood by considering John Wesley’s two-level definition of sin. For Wesley, the broadest sense of sin is “deviations from the perfect law,” whether voluntary or involuntary, intentional or accidental. In this sense, people are morally responsible for their tempers and dispositions whether inherited, habitual, or otherwise. However, Wesley defines a second level of sin which he referred to as “sin, properly so-called.” This is a “willful transgression of a known law of God.” For Charlotte Mason, habit is acting without will and thus is not “sin, properly so-called.” However, once a person becomes aware of a bad habit of temper, then the person is morally responsible to choose whether to accept or change the habit.

3. Although Charlotte Mason teaches that habits of temper are basically physical, the physical serves only as a guide, channel, or “rut” for the spirit. The thoughts themselves remain immaterial:

a. Both Mary Elmore and Dr. Evans agree that physical medicine is for the body and not the spirit: “[Mary:] the ills of the flesh fall within the province of man, but the evils of the spirit within the province of God. [Dr. Evans:] I’m not sure but that I’m of your mind; where we differ is as to the boundary-line between flesh and spirit.” (p. 59)

b. Mind (soul) is fundamentally a spiritual and immaterial entity that acts in the physical world via the brain: “here is the curious point of contact between the material and the immaterial.” However, patterns of thought lead to patterns in the brain: “the nervous tissue is modified under the continued traffic in the same order of thoughts” (p. 60) This, I think, is the modern concept of neural plasticity.

c. Once patterns are set in the brain, they must be dealt with as a physical phenomenon. Dr. Evans says, “by the time it becomes a fault of character is a failing of the flesh, and is to be dealt with as such—that is, by appropriate treatment” (p. 59). Even so, two important differences are noted between ills of the brain and ills of the body:

i. In contrast to, say, setting a broken limb, this kind of treatment cannot be done from outside: “The doctor is only useful on the principle that lookers-on see most of the game. Once understand the thing, and it is with you the cure must lie.” (p. 55)

ii. Dr. Evans says to “re open to treatment on the same lines, barring the drugs, as a broken limb or a disordered stomach.” I can guess at what “barring the drugs” refers to.

4. The practice of dealing with habits of temper is of less importance than true spiritual warfare:

a. George Elmore say: “That we have still to engage in a spiritual warfare, enabled by spiritual aids, Dr Evans allows.” (p. 59)

b. When habit is not involved, the battle is all spiritual: “Observe, I am not speaking of occasional and sudden temptations and falls, or of as sudden impulses towards good, and the reaching of heights undreamed of before. These things are of the spiritual world, and are to be spiritually discerned.” (p. 59)

c. The high calling of the soul is to pursue the knowledge of God, not struggle with habits of temper: “Why embarrass ourselves with these less material ills of the flesh which are open to treatment on the same lines, barring the drugs, as a broken limb or a disordered stomach. Don’t you see how it works? We fall, and fret, and repent, and fall again; and are so over-busy with our own internal affairs, that we have no time to get that knowledge of God which is the life of the living soul?” (pp. 59-60)

5. The immaterial soul has the power to replace a bad habit with a good habit:

a. The physical does not have complete dominion over the spirit. The spirit always has the power to change one’s thoughts. “But that is exactly the only thing you have power to do!” (p. 65)

b. George Elmore seems to indicate that it is the regenerate who have this ability, through the divine grace of redemption: “It is we who lose the efficacy of the great Redemption by failing to see what it has accomplished.” (p. 59)

Dr. Evans’ talk with Dorothy reminds me of Viktor Frankl, holocaust survivor and author of Man’s Search for Meaning. Frankl writes, “Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms-to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.”

The Apostle Paul indicates that our thoughts or attitude about sin is key to overcoming sin: “So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus” (Romans 6:11, RSV).

Indeed, we are commanded to change our thoughts: “Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is gracious, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things” (Philippians 4:8, RSV). When we do this, brother body will truly be the inferior partner, and bad habits of temper will be replaced.

V : Consequences

“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such there is no law… If we live by the Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit. Let us have no self-conceit, no provoking of one another, no envy of one another.” (Galatians 5:22-23, 25-26, RSV)

I think it is important to remember that we are Christians first and parents second. As Christians, we must “walk by the Spirit,” and when we do so, the “fruit of the Spirit” will be evident in our lives. We must walk by the Spirit in every role and context of our lives, including in our relationship with our children.

In this chapter, Charlotte Mason provides some examples where parents deal impetuously with their children. A father (Mr. Lindsay) is angry with his little son and says, “Go to the nursery, and don’t let me see you here again!” Miss Mason offers some discussion about the impact of such behavior on children. But what about the impact of such behavior on parents?

In what sense was Mr. Lindsay’s heart filled with the Spirit of peace when he spoke these words? Were his words the outcome of the gentleness that the Holy Spirit cultivates in all hearts in which He dwells? If Mr. Lindsay knew true joy in his heart, perhaps he would not have been so affected by the turning of the corners of his books.

Miss Mason links harsh words and attitudes to a general abuse of parental power. “This mother errs,” she writes, “in believing that her children are hers—in her power, body and soul.” Indeed, we are the custodians of our children, not their owners, for they are possessed by the Lord of heaven and earth. We do deeply err when we think we can do with our children as we wish.

Of course we must not confuse gentleness with indulgence. Charlotte Mason points out the horror of the mother who says, “My children shall never have it to say that their mother refused them anything it was in her power to give.” But our motivation to “call a spade a spade” and to enforce standards should never be the goal to make our lives as parents more comfortable. Rather, we strive with our children and disciple them because they too must render an account to the Great Judge for their every thought, word, and action.

The doctor says, “You are ruining the child’s teeth with all this pappy food.” So by analogy it is suggested that “the butter and honey of soft speeches” will ruin the child’s “moral ‘teeth.’“ But I think we can safely say now that hard or soft food is not what makes teeth strong. In the same way, I don’t think hard words from the parent is what builds up the child. My goal has been to provide for my children an anchor of security and love. If hard words are needed, the world will provide them soon enough. That is why in our family we practice “attachment parenting.” I hope we made the right choice — it’s too late to start over.

VI : Mrs Sedley’s Tale

In this chapter, Charlotte Mason provides guidelines on how to do deal with the problem of lying. The first step is to address “moral cowardice” which causes the child to lie in order to avoid a punishment of some sort. The parent should show the child that lying is worse than the original crime: “the one fault which hurts you most is, not to hear the exact truth.” This prescription reminds me of what Susanna Wesley wrote about raising children:

It had been observed that cowardice and fear of punishment often led children into lying, till they get a custom of it which they cannot leave. To prevent this a law was made, that whoever was charged with a fault, of which they were guilty, if they would ingenuously confess it, and promise to amend, should not be beaten. This rule prevented a great deal of lying and would have done more if one in the family would have observed it. But he could not be prevailed on, and therefore was often imposed on by false colors and equivocations, which none would have used (except one), had they been kindly dealt with. And some, in spite of all, would always speak truth plainly.

It is interesting that Susanna Wesley also regards the power of habit, which she calls “custom.” The “one in the family” is most likely her husband Samuel. This illustrates the importance of both parents developing and implementing a common plan together, which is what the parents in this chapter do.

The second step is to feed a neglected imagination: “An imperious imagination like Fanny’s demands its proper nourishment… The child wants an opening into the larger world where all things are possible and where beautiful things are always happening. Give her in some form this necessary food, and her mind will be so full of delightful imaginings that she will be under no temptation to invent about the commonplaces of everyday life.” For this appetite, a good Charlotte Mason curriculum provides a double portion.

The third step is to provide basic training in truth-telling. The common mistake of parents is that “they think their children are capable of loving and understanding truth by nature, which they are not.” Miss Mason advocates daily lessons in truth-telling, focusing primarily on accurately narrating observations of a scene.

The story of Fanny reminds me of my own childhood. I don’t recall lying to avoid punishment. However, I do remember telling my friends’ parents that I was allergic to carbonation. Finally one mother challenged me about the absurdity of such a statement. I never made the fallacious claim again. However, I had no sense that my lies were sin. Jesus said that when the devil “lies, he speaks his native language, for his a liar and the father of lies.” Even after Babel, Adam’s children seem to share this native language as well.

VII : Ability

“Any failing of mind or body, left to itself, can do no other than strengthen.” (p. 92)

In this chapter we read the story of Fred Bruce, a young man who is attentive and responsible in all things pertaining to cricket, but who is otherwise inattentive. The chapter covers familiar ground, but still offers several insights related to topics we have been discussing in this group.

For me the greatest takeaway is the reminder that a character problem in my children “left to itself, can do no other than strengthen.” I have caught myself at times thinking, “He will grow out of this.” But after weeks of studying Charlotte Mason’s Formation of Character, I realize the foolishness of such a notion. “Behold, now is the accepted time; behold, now is the day of salvation” (2 Cor. 6:2).

Fred’s character problem is irresponsibility, both at home and at school. “School life is a record of forgets and penalties.” (p. 90). The irresponsibility is linked to a lack of attention. But Fred pays attention to his cricket team. “Because his interest is excited; therefore his whole attention is fixed on the fact to be remembered.” (p. 92)

In Home Education, Charlotte Mason implies that the best way to develop the habit of attention is to use lesson material that arouses the child’s interest. However, ultimately the child must learn to “have the habit of paying attention, so that he will naturally take heed to what he is told, whether he cares about the matter or not.” (p. 93) For Charlotte Mason, attention is a character issue, and at times the teacher must focus on the bad habit itself.

When children are older, they must be involved in the habit formation process. Apparently, in younger children, Miss Mason does not always require this. It is interesting that the doctor advises bringing Fred “on board” by appealing to his manhood:

Fred must train himself, and you must feed him with motives. Run over with him what we have been saying about attention. Let him know how the land lies; that you cannot help him, but that if he wants to make a man of himself he must make himself attend and remember. Tell him it will be a stand-up fight, for this habit is contrary to nature. He will like that; it is boy nature to show fight, and the bigger and blacker you make the other side, the more will he like to pitch in. (p. 96)

Here Charlotte Mason says “it is boy nature to show fight.” One would not guess this by looking at the covers of books written about a Charlotte Mason education! Almost all of them show the docile image of a mother and a daughter.

In this chapter, Miss Mason again reveals her almost messianic view of education:

The educational use of habit is to correct nature. If parents would only see this fact, the world would become a huge reformatory, and the next generation, or, at any rate, the third, would dwell in the kingdom of heaven as a regular thing, and not by fits and starts, and here and there, which is the best that happens to us. (p. 93)

I don’t think this sentiment is necessarily problematic, considering Miss Mason’s view that “education is the elected handmaid of religion.” Taken in that light, her view is hardly different from the postmillennialists of the 17th and 18th century (or even of today). She sees the “huge reformatory” as secondary to the higher issue of the knowledge of God. As she wrote in a chapter 4:

Why embarrass ourselves with these less material ills of the flesh which are open to treatment on the same lines, barring the drugs, as a broken limb or a disordered stomach. Don’t you see how it works? We fall, and fret, and repent, and fall again; and are so over-busy with our own internal affairs, that we have no time to get that knowledge of God which is the life of the living soul? (pp. 59-60)

VIII : Poor Mrs Jumeau!

This chapter is interesting to me for two reasons. First, the chapter deals with the impact of habit in adults, rather than in youth. Second, the chapter deals with habit that is unconscious. Charlotte Mason delves into psychosomatic illness, which is undoubtedly a real phenomenon. The chapter includes some fascinating (and humorous) stories, such as how a preacher gains his voice and a paralytic learns to walk.

Why does Miss Mason devote a chapter to conditions that affect adults? If her volumes are in fact the “home education series,” then is it her intent that we apply the ideas of this chapter by analogy to our children? Or is the “home education series” really an apologetic for a lifestyle of learning that brings riches to young and old?

Certainly in this chapter there are reminders for us parents. How man of my physical ailments can be traced to conditions of my soul? I had a co-worker who said that his perennial back aches were finally healed when he learned to let go of worry and tension. And there is the fascinating set of tips from the American Heart Association, imploring people to deal with their anger problems so that their hearts will not suddenly stop.

But beyond all this the part of this chapter that smote me was this:

Women, through the very modesty and dependence of their nature, are greatly moved by the desire for esteem. They must be thought of, made much of, at any price. A man desires esteem, and he has meetings in the market-place, the chief-room at the feast; … But the good woman has comparatively few outlets. The esteem that comes to her is all within the sphere of her affections. Esteem she must have; it is a necessity of her nature: ‘Praise, blame, love, kisses, tears, and smiles,’ are truly to her, ‘human nature’s daily food.’

In my “market-place” there are many meetings indeed, and (at least for now) many opportunities for me to feel esteem. But my beloved spends her days pouring her life into her three children, with no committee to reward her or recognize her for her efforts. Oh my love, please believe that to me, your work is greater than any other. Forgive me for the meager diet I provide of praise, love, kisses, and smiles. May the Lord enable me to serve you a feast.

IX : “A Happy Christmas to You!”

Charlotte Mason concludes the first part of volume 5 with a beautiful essay on love. After eight chapters on the formation of habit and character, it is reassuring that Miss Mason closes her “Studies in Treatment” with the reminder that “the greatest of these is love” (1 Cor. 13:13). Her theme in this chapter is that children long to know their parents’ love.

Charlotte Mason explains this craving of children by pointing to their dual nature: “There is nothing more pathetic than the sort of dual life of which the young are dimly conscious” (p. 112). We know that children, though fallen and alienated from God, are nevertheless born a mixture of good and bad. This is the witness of the Scriptures, the Fathers, and the Reformers. And so first the good:

On the one hand, there are premonitions of full and perfect being, the budding of those wings of which their thoughts are full, and for which their strong sense of justice demands credit. Mother and father ought to know how great and good and beautiful they are in possibility, in prospective. (p. 112)

And then the bad:

The … young persons … are alike in this—every one of them is ‘horrid’ in his or her own eyes. Now, if you know yourself to be horrid, you know that, of course, people do not love you; how can they? (pp. 112-113)

Miss Mason thus suggests that since children somehow know that they bear the divine image, they feel that they deserve love; and yet since children know that they are rotten sinners, they feel that no one could possibly love them. And so children go through life seeking the elusive love they both crave and resist:

For the youths and maidens—remember, they would sell their souls for love; they do it too, and that is the reason of many of the ruined lives we sigh over. (p. 117)

For Charlotte Mason, the remedy is for parents to communicate love to their children in meaningful ways:

  • “no sign short of absolute telling with lip and eye and touch will convince them they are beloved.” (p. 115)
  • “he must feel it in your touch, see it in your eye, hear it in your tones, or you will never convince child or boy that you love him, though you labour day and night for his good and his pleasure.” (116)

My first reaction is that this sounds like attachment parenting. But some feel that “attachment parenting” is just a euphemism for “permissive parenting.” In this chapter, Charlotte Mason seems to speak to this exact concern:

But is it not more common, nowadays, for children to caress and patronise their parents, and make all too sure of their love? It may be; but only where parents have lost that indescribable attribute—dignity? authority?—which is their title to their children’s love and worship; and the affection which is lavished too creaturely-wise on children fails to meet the craving of their nature. (p. 115)

So Charlotte Mason apparently advocates “a strong attachment,” but with “obedience and order.”

This chapter also made me think about a question that many have asked as they start to read Charlotte Mason’s own writings. Mason’s writings don’t “feel” like modern books on homeschooling. They aren’t filled with Scripture references as are so many evangelical books today.

I don’t think this is because Mason didn’t see her work as theological. Nor, however, do I think that frequent Bible quotes are just a modern convention. I think there were plenty of writers in Mason’s day who peppered their works with Scripture. I suspect that Charlotte Mason believed that her philosophy of education had broad application and that she intended her writings to be appreciated by more than just evangelicals.

That being said, there is no doubt that Charlotte Mason’s starting point was orthodox Christian theology. (Unlike another popular homeschool method which is based on Greek tradition.) While she may not quote Scripture so often, she certainly makes reference to the living ideas of Christian theology. She concludes her chapter on parental love with her most important point. The answer to the “pathetic” dual nature of the child is found in the incarnation of the perfect Child:

The Son came—for what else we need not inquire now—to reinstate men by compelling them to believe that they—the poorest shrinking and ashamed souls of them—that they live enfolded in infinite personal love, desiring with desire the response of love for love. And who, like the parent, can help forward this ‘wonderful redemption’? The boy who knows that his father and his mother love him with measureless patience in his faults, and love him out of them, is not slow to perceive, receive, and understand the dealings of the higher Love. (p. 116)

Part II : Parents in Council
I : What a Salvage!

“What a salvage! The long holidays, which are apt to hang on hand, would be more fully and usefully employed than schooldays, and in ways full of out-of-door delights.” (pp. 125-126)

With “What a Salvage!”, Charlotte Mason begins Part II of her fifth volume, Some Studies In the Formation of Character. In her preface to this volume, Miss Mason warned us that the material to follow would be somewhat eclectic: “In editing Home Education and Parents and Children for the ‘Home Education’ Series, the introduction of much new matter made it necessary to transfer a considerable part of the contents of those two members of the series to this volume, Some Studies In the Formation of Character.” Evidently, “Parents in Council” was one such part selected for transfer.

This chapter tells a story that is “ancient history now; a forecast fulfilled in the formation of the Parents’ National Educational Union” (p. 130). I wonder if this is really how the PNEU began. Did these six couples really meet one evening to discuss their “desire … for reform”? Or is this a fiction, designed to evoke the thoughts and hearts of diverse parents who came together for the Union?

Whether fact or fantasy, we in the homeschool movement are also caught up in a desire for reform. Or, as this chapter proclaims, “We veritably desire to be reformed!” (p. 121) Indeed, families that begin to homeschool, particularly with Charlotte Mason, find themselves reformed in the process. I am reminded of a wonderful talk by James McDonald (formerly of Homeschooling Today magazine) entitled “Homeschooling: The Catalyst for Family Reformation.”

In this chapter, the parents discover a new way to educate. They realize that “what [children] see and delight in you may pin endless facts, innumerable associations, upon, and children have capacity for them all.” (128-129) This is one of the foundational ideas of a Charlotte Mason education, where “children love to learn.” When the “long holidays” are spent encountering living ideas, children learn more than during their “schooldays.”

The first objection is raised by the specialist. He thinks that teaching should be systematic. But “that is just one of the points where the line is to be drawn; you specialists do one thing thoroughly—begin at the beginning, if a beginning there be, and go on to the end, if life is long enough.” (p. 126) This reminds me of the 1939 Publisher’s Foreword to Comstock’s Handbook of Nature Study:

But the nature-study approach has been preserved. The kernel of that method of treatment is the study of the organism in its environment, its relation to the world about it, and the features which enable it to function in its surroundings. This study takes the individual organism, rather than an abstract phylum or genus, as the point of departure. Mrs. Comstock believed that the student found in such a study a fresh, spontaneous interest which was lacking in formal textbook science… it might be said that nature-study is natural science from an ecological rather than an anatomical point of view.

Anna Comstock shared Charlotte Mason’s belief that education begins with what the child can see and discover for himself. The child then builds the internal relationships himself. “A fact comes under your notice; you want to know why it is, and what it is; but its relations to other facts must settle themselves as time goes on, and the other facts turn up” (126-127).

The section objection is raised by the pragmatist. We hear it today: “This kind of education is too idealistic. Children will never love to learn. Children — especially nowadays — simply don’t care.”

“To skim over all creation in an easy, airy way, is exciting, but, from an educational standpoint, it is comic to the father with a young swarm at home who care for none of these things.”

“Of course they don’t, Withers, if they have never been put in the way of it; but try ‘em, that’s all.

Isn’t that the best apology for a CM education? “Try’em, that’s all.”

One reason I enjoyed this chapter is because I heard a father’s voice, which I rarely encounter in Charlotte Mason’s writings. Mr. Henderson, a father like me, was struck as I was by this idea of homeschooling:

From that moment I had a new conception of a parent’s vocation and of my unfitness for it. (p. 123)

My unfitness. The demands are so extraordinary. “Every one should know something about such facts of Nature as a child is likely to come across” (p. 123). But the demands are not optional. “We must learn what we should teach” (p. 130).


“Well, let us form ourselves into a college, or club, or what you like” (p. 130). Or what if we set up an online community, where we can network with like-minded parents around the world? We could share questions, answers, insights, and tips. We could have a web site. We could have an email group. We could have… Oh yes, that’s “ancient history now.”

II : Where shall we go this Year?

In this chapter, Charlotte Mason explains how to make the most of a vacation. She compares a well-spent holiday to classroom work: “A month spent thus in gathering the lore of a single county is more educative than five terms of vigorous school work” (p. 135). So how does one unleash this potential for education?

(I must admit that I was amused by the premise of the chapter: “We want to make the most of that delightful holiday month when we need do nothing but ‘enjoy ourselves.’“ (p. 131) A holiday month when I need do nothing but enjoy myself? I think I remember having a month like that, say, twenty-some years ago…)

Anyway, “here is the whole secret of a successful holiday—the mind must be actively, unceasingly, and involuntarily engaged with fresh and ever-changing interests” (p. 132). One way to achieve this is to travel to a foreign land. But what if we can’t afford to take our family overseas? “Can we stay at home, and, with the minimum of expense, and the maximum of convenience, get all the stimulus of foreign travel?” (p. 132)

Charlotte Mason explains that it is possible, and she gives the example of a well-planned visit to Hampshire, which would be a short trip to her original readers. In the example, she shows how the family can learn about these topics by touring Hampshire:

  • Archeology
  • Ornithology
  • Botany
  • History
  • Literature
  • Patriotism

The reference to patriotism was interesting. Elsewhere, Charlotte Mason emphasizes how important it is to be able to speak foreign languages and to show respect to foreign countries. But does she reduce this to simply being a “citizen of the world”? Not at all. She asserts that “enlightened sympathy with other nations can coexist only with profound and instructed patriotism” (p. 135).

The reference to literature was also interesting. She mentions “Miss Austen” and the Christian Year. Miss Austen is presumably the beloved Jane Austen, who grew up in Hampshire. The Christian Year is a “series of poems for every day of the year for Christians written by John Keble in 1827.” John Keble was a parish priest in Hampshire.

I am delighted by this reference to Austen and Keble. These are two authors that I love, and I can now assume that Miss Mason loved them too. The Christian Year has been called “the most popular volume of verse in the nineteenth century,” and for good reason. I will share two stanzas that have touched me, and which are actually a call to nature study. From Keble’s meditation on “consider the lilies of the field, how they grow”:

Sweet nurslings of the vernal skies,

Bathed in soft airs, and fed with dew,

What more than magic in you lies,

To fill the heart’s fond view?

In childhood’s sports, companions gay,
In sorrow, on Life’s downward way,
How soothing! in our last decay

Memorials prompt and true.

Relics ye are of Eden’s bowers,

As pure, as fragrant, and as fair,

As when ye crowned the sunshine hours

Of happy wanderers there.

Fall’n all beside—the world of life,
How is it stained with fear and strife!
In Reason’s world what storms are rife,

What passions range and glare!

But cheerful and unchanged the while

Your first and perfect form ye show,

The same that won Eve’s matron smile

In the world’s opening glow.

The stars of heaven a course are taught
Too high above our human thought:
Ye may be found if ye are sought,

And as we gaze, we know.

III : The A-B-C-Darians

In a one-room schoolhouse, the “A-B-C Darians” are the children who are just learning the letters and sounds of the alphabet. They are at the very beginning of their formal education. Charlotte Mason applies this term by analogy to the group of parents in her narrative who are just forming the PNEU. They are just beginning to understand a new way of education, and they must begin with principles and building blocks as fundamental as the A-B-C’s.

And what a challenge it is to form (or choose) a philosophy of education: “The mother of even two or three little ones has a sense of being at sea without rudder or compass. We know so little about children, or, indeed, about human beings at all!” (p. 136) Miss Mason tells a story to illustrate the rudderless mother that would be humorous if it wasn’t so tragic — and so applicable to Christian parents in our day and age.

The parent does not trust the child-rearing methods of the previous generation. So the parent jumps from one expert and fad to another, and both then and now, the parent “is for ever changing the child’s diet, nurse, sleeping hours, airing hours, according to the last lights of the most scientific of her acquaintances” (p. 138).

The “A-B-C Darians” realize that to escape this vicious cycle, they need to discover a reliable set of foundational principles that can guide them through the maze of education. They arrive at two statements which I think are extremely important for understanding the mind of Charlotte Mason:

1. “We cannot make a child ‘good’; but, in this way, 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” (p. 142).

There is so much that education can do! But alas we can’t make a child “good”! Wouldn’t it be nice if there were some magic formula that could guarantee that our children could hear the voice of God? But the formula eludes us.

Once I saw a blue-winged warbler calling out from the top of a tall tree. It was a moment of indescribable beauty. I pointed it out to my daughter. “There it is, don’t you see it?” But though I tried so hard to make her see it, she could not. Likewise once I heard the voice of God, when He “shone in [my heart] to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ.” (2 Cor. 4:6) I point it out to my daughter. “There it is, don’t you hear it?”

But I know the path through the woods which leads to the place where the warbler visits. And I can return each spring with my daughter. On these paths, one day Lord willing, she will see this lovely bird. And I know the path where the Lord Jesus Christ comes to visit His children. And I can return there every day with my daughter. And one day, Lord willing, she will hear His voice.

2. “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.” (p. 143)

We attend an Anglican church and I have shown my children that “The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not a participation in the blood of Christ? The bread which we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ?” (1 Cor. 10:16) The night before my son’s first communion, I did my best to explain that in the Lord’s Supper we receive “the strengthening and refreshing of our souls by the Body and Blood of Christ, as our bodies are [strengthened and refreshed] by the Bread and Wine” (Book of Common Prayer).

Normally I hold the chalice and serve the wine during communion. But not that Sunday. So I anticipated my son’s “second communion,” when I could serve the wine to my son at the Lord’s Supper.

When the day came, I lifted up the chalice. I recalled these words from Charlotte Mason: “Spirit, like body, thrives upon daily bread…, and it is our part to set before the child those ‘new thoughts of God …’ which should be his spiritual diet.”

This is the language of sacraments. Miss Mason shows us how to teach our children such that we “have new conditions—the impact of the Divine upon the human, which generates life, ‘without which there is no living’“ (p. 142). G. Stephen Blakemore wrote this about John Wesley:

He speaks even more forcefully in another passage about the spiritual duty of parents, saying that, for the child, the will of the parent is ‘in the place of the will of God.’ Rather than merely observing a developmental model for child rearing, Wesley was, I believe, speaking once again in a sacramental vein. He is, is essence, imploring his Methodist families to see themselves as ‘means of grace,’ as ‘sacramental gifts’ and not just social units or blood relatives. All holiness is social holiness because even our lives, lived in social interaction, are meant to become a sacramental presence to each other.

When I set before my children those “new thoughts of God,” then I am a “sacramental presence” to them. Yes indeed, for us this was his second communion. The first communion began the day I began to teach my son at home.

IV : A Schoolmaster’s Reverie

In this chapter, a school-master contemplates the place of religious education in the school. The chapter begins with several excellent statements about the overall purpose of education. Through the voice of the school-master, Charlotte Mason says that “education is not merely a preparation for life, but the work of the lifetime” (p. 145). As I have said in previous posts, for Charlotte Mason, education is discipleship; education is spiritual formation. Therefore, “like religion, education is nothing or it is everything—a consuming fire in the bones” (p. 145). Since “education is the elected handmaid of religion” (p. 156), the ultimate aim is the fullness of Christ.

Soon, however, the chapter moves on to its primary concern, which biblical authority. Charlotte Mason acknowledges that religious education cannot avoid the question of whether or not the Scriptures are God-breathed. “‘Yea, hath God said?’ is the question of the hour” (p. 151), and also the question of the chapter. Or, to put it another way, “What think ye of Moses? Is the crux” (p. 148). Or even more simply, “Moses or Darwin?” (p. 149).

In this chapter, as in similar chapters in other volumes, Charlotte Mason’s own personal beliefs about the historical reliability of Scripture are somewhat veiled. It seems to me that she employs a least-common-denominator type of argument. She apparently wants to show that her ideas about education are valid regardless of one’s position on biblical authority. She shows that her ideas are applicable to liberals and conservatives, without revealing explicitly whether she herself is liberal or conservative.

An example of the least-common-denominator argument is found on page 153: “Suppose we concede for the moment, and for argument’s sake, all that is attacked, and then see where we are.” The implication is this: if Miss Mason’s ideas are valid even when one accepts the criticisms of Scripture, then how much more when one rejects the criticisms of Scripture? But… does Charlotte Mason herself accept or reject “all that is attacked”?

Now we evangelicals might find this ambiguity to be a cause for concern. But despite Miss Mason’s apparent reticence on the point of historical reliability, she fills the chapter with strong and truthful assertions about the Bible. Let us join Miss Mason in celebrating these truths:

TRUTH #1: The Bible is given by inspiration of God.

Charlotte Mason leaves no doubt on this point: “We must know with absolute certainty that here is revelation” (p. 151). Every verse of sacred Scripture is the true word of God. “We are prepared to yield no iota of the Sacred Scriptures, while of the obscurities of the Old Testament, as of the Apocalypse, we say only, ‘Lord, I believe what herein I do read, But, alas, I do not understand.’“ (p. 153) Internal evidence alone causes the honest seeker to confess, “Whence is this, if not by the inspiration of God?” (p. 155) No mere human could invent the narrative about Moses. “Here is essential truth; here is a twofold inspiration; first, to produce the man Moses; next, to portray him.” (p. 155)

TRUTH #2: The Bible must be the cornerstone of education, and the knowledge of God is the most important thing.

The Bible leads to the discovery of God. And “no soul, once laid open to the touch of the divine tenderness, can go away and forget” (p. 150). Through the Bible “only, is it possible to live joyfully, purposefully, diligently. Without this—madness!” (p. 150) No other book has such transforming power. Miss Mason says about the biblical narrative of Moses: “Truly this one character is enough to stimulate us to the bringing up of godly and manly youth” (p. 155).

TRUTH #3: The teacher (or parent) must have a strong personal conviction about the inspiration of Scripture and he or she must be prepared to defend this conviction.

“We who teach must hold unalterable convictions in this regard” (p. 151). The teacher must instill the same unalterable convictions in her students: “We must fortify the boys against attack, and arm them for a chivalrous defence” (p. 153). Our faith is not a blind faith, but is “true and reasonable” (Acts 26:25 NIV). “Oh, ‘the sweet reasonableness of Christianity,’ the most sober sanity of that great company elected to hand on to us the counsels of God!” (pp. 155-156).

TRUTH #4: The student must learn to handle criticism of the bible with calm dispassion.

We should teach our children about the reality of unbelief that is all around us. We can calmly face the arguments of the unbelievers because we know Him who has “overcome the world” (John 16:33). “It is most interesting to hear what the world says, but, for him, he knows where the world guesses” (p. 150).

TRUTH #5: Science is inherently limited and cannot offer reliable guidance in the realm of philosophy.

Charlotte Mason shows a healthy skepticism of science: “as for science, when science has a definite utterance to make about the facts of life under her eyes, we shall be willing to hear what she says about these other mysteries” (p. 153). Often science is used to justify a modernistic bias. “We are intolerant of the assumption of infallibility in a teacher who is ever (and this is her glory) smearing out with wet finger some lesson of yesterday, because it is not the truth of to-day” (p. 154).

In volume 4 book 2, Miss Mason also points out that science has no say regarding the validity of miracles:

As for the incredibility of the Gospel miracles, so fit and precious as evidences of the mind of Christ, all that scientists can say against them is that such a circumstance as the turning of water into wine, for example, has not come within their experience. They can no longer say that such acts are impossible, nor that they are contrary to the laws of nature. (p. 92)

TRUTH #6: The Bible cannot be judged on moral grounds.

It is a fallacy to sit in judgment on the justice of God. God’s acts of judgment are not a flaw in the Bible. We are in no position to evaluate the Bible morally because we have a finite perspective. “Perhaps, life and death are less momentous than we suppose” (p. 152).

Although Charlotte Mason affirms these six wonderful truths, she does in this chapter make assertions which in my opinion are invalid.

ASSERTION #1: The historical reliability of the biblical narrative is not essential to its underlying truth.

According to Charlotte Mason, a passage of Scripture contain an “essential” truth that is applicable to our lives and is the message from God to us. Charlotte Mason says that this essential truth is not dependent on the validity of the narrative itself. “Whether men choose to regard the story of the Fall as a record, a poem, a fable, a parable, a vision, its inherent teaching is the same” (p. 151). Again: “Here we have, whether by way of historic fact or luminous fable, parables of our lives to be spiritually discerned, … this is by inspiration of God” (p. 152). As another example, she suggests that the miracle of the long day in Joshua contains a truth irrespective of whether the sun actually stopped moving in the sky.

In this chapter, Charlotte Mason does not say whether she herself believes that the sun really did stop for Joshua, or whether a woman named Eve really ate a real forbidden fruit. She merely says that the essential truths are the same either way. However, in Volume 4 Book 2, Miss Mason provides some hints to suggest that she really does accept the historicity of Scripture.

A. She says that it is safest to accept Scripture at face value and to assume that the accounts are factual: “No doubt God instructed his people by figures; but also, no doubt, he instructed them by facts; and when the simple fact carries its own interpretation, let us beware how we seek for another” (p. 89).

B. She strenuously defends the possibility of miracles: “They fix their minds upon certain incidents, and lose sight of the fact that the Christian life is altogether of the nature of a miracle. That God should hold intercourse with man; that we may pray, knowing, with full assurance, that we are heard and shall be answered; that at our word the hearts of princes will surely be refrained; that the fit and right desires of our hearts will be fulfilled, though always in simple and seemingly natural ways—these things, which come to all of us as signs, are they not of the nature of miracles?” (p. 93)

C. She specifically endorses the miracle of the incarnation and resurrection of Christ: “No one is prepared to say that the Incarnation could not be, nor the Resurrection; but, if these things were not as they are described, then are we indeed, as St Paul says, without hope. Christ is not. For, if He were a man like other men, then, indeed, would the charge brought against him by the Jews have been correct; and, ‘This man blasphemeth,’ would deprive us of all inspiration from the life of Christ, from the peace of his death, and from the hope of his resurrection.” (p. 94)

If I am right in assuming that Charlotte Mason does in fact accept the historical narratives of Scripture as fact, then why does she say that such conviction is not essential? Why does she not simply say that since God created the heavens and the earth that it is a small thing indeed for Him to stop the sun in the sky? Unfortunately, she did not see that the essential truths of Scripture are meaningful precisely because they are truths about the real world. The essential truth of the Fall is that my real father is Adam and that from him I inherit a real sin nature.

ASSERTION #2: The authorship of Scripture is not essential to inspiration.

Miss Mason specifically states that “the instruction in righteousness is not less or more, whether Moses or another, Isaiah or another, wrote the words” (p. 154). Note that here also Charlotte Mason does not deny apostolic authorship; she simply says that apostolic authorship is not essential to inspiration. But in this she parts ways with the church fathers. In this chapter, Charlotte Mason’s test for inspiration is based on internal evidence: “We must know with absolute certainty that here is revelation—its claim to be so resting upon internal evidence alone, the quality of that which is revealed” (p. 151) By contrast, the fathers accepted books into the canon if and only if they could be shown to have apostolic authorship. The books are authoritative because of their authors.

Furthermore, the incarnate and risen Lord Himself affirms the authorship of the books of the Old Testament. “Well did Isaiah prophesy of you” (Matthew 15:7). The instruction in righteousness is actually altogether gone if another than Isaiah wrote these words.

ASSERTION #3: Science is a revelation from God

In this chapter, Miss Mason does seem to yield too much to science. She seems to put forth a moderate position: “We yield, not the Scriptures, but one or other of the old canons of interpretation, as Science shows it to be untenable” (p. 154). But in my view, even this is too far. She says, “I receive both [Moses and Darwin], not by way of compromise, but in faith, believing that each, though in differing degree, speaks a revealed word” (p. 149). These are the words of Hugh Ross, who says that nature is the 67th book of the Bible. With all due respect, my Bible ends with Revelation.

It is not pleasant for me to write this post. Charlotte Mason is a hero to me, and I have entrusted the education of my children to her ideas. Miss Mason has left her mark not just in my school room, but in my life. Her words have awakened my soul, as I wrote about here. I have written hundreds of words in defense of her views. Do I then relish in explicitly showing where she and I part ways?

I am reminded of these words of St. Vincent of Lerins:

with profane breath, as though fanning smouldering embers into flame, they blow upon the memory of each holy man, and spread an evil report of what ought to be buried in silence by bringing it again under notice, thus treading in the footsteps of their father Ham, who not only forebore to cover the nakedness of the venerable Noah, but told it to the others that they might laugh at it, offending thereby so grievously against the duty of filial piety, that even his descendants were involved with him in the curse which he drew down, widely differing from those blessed brothers of his, who would neither pollute their own eyes by looking upon the nakedness of their revered father, nor would suffer others to do so, but went backwards, as the Scripture says, and covered him, that is, they neither approved nor betrayed the fault of the holy man, for which cause they were rewarded with a benediction on themselves and their posterity.

Let me not spread an evil report of what ought to be buried in silence. Oh that I might neither approve nor betray the fault of this holy women. Let me speak of this matter no more.

V : A Hundred Years after

In this chapter, Charlotte Mason employs a surprising literary device to convey her philosophy of education. She tells a story that takes place in 1990, six years after For the Children’s Sake was published by Susan Schaeffer Macaulay. But Miss Mason describes a future in which her ideas have been faithfully practiced for 100 years, rather than merely recently rediscovered.

The chapter focuses on two of the three “educational instruments” from point 5 of her 20 points — “two lines Dr. Brenton emphasizes” (p. 171). In Miss Mason’s vision of her future, these two instruments have resulted in “a most remarkable change, upon which society is to be congratulated” (p. 163). The first “line” is “that Habit is ten natures,” and the second line is “that the spiritual life must flourish or decay as it is duly nourished and exercised, or allowed to lie idle and unfed” (p. 171).

First, the realization that education is a discipline has led parents to cultivate habits in a more systematic and effective manner. “Now, don’t you see that this is a very different thing from the desultory way in which a child was allowed to try off and on for a habit all his days, and never got it?” (p. 170) The supreme habit that is cultivated is the “power of attention… which makes all the difference between the able and successful man and the poor lag-last” (p. 164).

This new generation that possesses the power of attention is able to learn lessons faster in school (“four hours a day instead of six or seven”, p.165). These children appear smarter, but their real advance has not been in intelligence but in habit. Note that this habit of attention is nurtured by parents “at home” (p. 167). And children brought up in this way have “a real appetite for knowledge” (p. 164).

Second, the realization that education is a life has led parents, teachers, and pastors to present young people with living ideas (instead of “husks”, p. 171), and to train them in “the spiritual exercises of prayer and praise” (p. 172). In the previous 100 years, society has learned more about the “immaterial life” (p. 170) and the ontology of the idea, which is “a living thing, that it feeds, grows, multiplies” (p. 170).

In this vision, a hundred years of scientific and philosophical advances has reinforced the fact that this life is only possible through Christ. “Every other avenue towards perfection leads you, after weeks or months or years of delightful going, to a blank wall… You try through Christ, and find yourself in the way of endless progress, cheered by perennial hope” (p. 163). Amen!

But of course we know what really happened in the 100 years from 1890 to 1990. It was a century of world wars, genocides, and purges. Instead of studying the immaterial life, society has tried to deny that the immaterial even exists. Instead of turning to Christ, society has gone again and again to a blank wall.

This tragic disconnect between Miss Mason’s vision of the future and the bleak reality of history might lead one to despair. But it does not lead us to despair. We carry on the legacy of discipline and life because we do so “through Christ.” We are “cheered by perennial hope” which will sustain us for 1,000 years to come.

Part III : Concerning Youths and Maidens
I : Concerning the Schoolboy and Schoolgirl

“All Children Homeschool” — Katharine Trauger

In the January 2005 issue of Home School Enrichment magazine, Katharine Trauger wrote about an interesting conversation she had with a mother of children who attend school. The mother was tired. She itemized to Ms. Trauger “all the duties that she undertook for her children’s education,” including extensive help with homework and sports activities. After listening attentively for several minutes, finally Ms. Truager said:

Sandra, I know you are tired; anyone could see it in your eyes… The reason you are tired is that you are homeschooling. For most home educators, it is not so tiring, though, because they homeschool from 8:00 a.m. until sometime in the afternoon. You are homeschooling a lot, during those hours, but also during the hours from 3:00 until midnight and beyond. Add to that the fact that you are worrying, and you could not HELP but be tired. You are working at the worldly schools, and then conducting your own homeschool afterwards.

I remember when I first read this article, I was struck with the notion that “everyone homeschools.” But then I was surprised to notice Charlotte Mason acknowledge the same fact:

… the training of the school is so far defective that, left to itself, it turns out very imperfect, inadequate human beings. The point for our consideration is, that the duty of the parents to educate their child is by no means at an end when he enters upon school life; because it rests with them to supplement what is weak or wanting in the training of the school. (p. 193)

Ms. Trauger used the exact same words as Miss Mason: “duty … children … education.” And so in this chapter Charlotte Mason itemizes the responsibilities of parents to homeschool their children who attend school. But why is this necessary? Can’t a good Charlotte Mason school in and of itself provide children with a good education?

First, Miss Mason lists the inherent limitations of school:

1. Moral Training

According to Miss Mason, school cannot provide fundamental training in morals. “This brings us to the consideration of that education in morals which the young people must get at home, or not at all” (p. 197). All parents are responsible for the moral training of the children. All children require “careful moral training which it is the bounden duty of their parents to afford, throughout school life, at any rate, and through the two or three years that follow it” (p. 198).

2. Intellectual Culture

By “intellectual culture,” Charlotte Mason means, “not so much the getting of knowledge, nor even getting the power to learn, but the cultivation of the power to appreciate, to enjoy, whatever is just, true, and beautiful in thought and expression.” And this intellectual culture, says Miss Mason, “the young people must get at home, or nowhere” (p. 212). “Parents will have to make up their minds, not only that they must supplement the moral training of the school, but must supply the intellectual culture” (p. 213).

In addition to the limitations of school, Charlotte Mason also points out one of the key dangers of school. School children begin to derive their basic identify from their peers rather than from their parents. This introduces tension in the parent-child relationship:

But there are times when the ‘relations are strained’; and of these, the moment when the child feels himself consciously a member of the school republic is one of the most trying. Now, all the tact of the parents is called into play. Now, more than ever, is it necessary that the child should be aware of the home authority, just that he may know how he stands, and how much he is free to give to the school.

When children begin to identify primarily with their peers (peer dependency), they begin to look to their peers for guidance and direction. “The parents gradually lose hold of them… Then, the young people set up a code of their own: ‘Oh, nobody does so!’ ‘Nobody thinks so!’ ‘All the boys’ or, ‘All the girls’ say so-and-so, is supposed to settle most matters of discussion” (p. 186).

The children also begin to derive their beliefs and convictions from their peers rather than from the parents. Usually this comes as a surprise to the parents: Parents “are scandalised when the young folk air audacious views picked up from some advanced light of their own age and standing” (p. 228). For the child at home, “‘Mother says’ is his law, ‘Father told me’ his supreme authority. But when he goes to school, all that is changed” (p. 177).

I confess that I would ponder these insights very carefully before I would attempt to start my own Charlotte Mason private school. But is there a deeper underlying reason for these limitations and dangers of school life? I believe that in this chapter Miss Mason provides the answer. I quote at length from page 199:

Parents … are invested with an official dignity; it is in virtue of their office, not of personal character, that they are and must remain superior to their children, until these become of an age to be parents in their turn. And parents are invested with this dignity, that they may be in a position to instruct their children in the art of living… If [the parent] forego[es] the respectful demeanour of his children, he might as well have disgraced himself before their eyes; for in the one case as in the other, he loses that power to instruct them in the art and science of living, which is his very raison d’être in the Divine economy.

If parents put it to themselves that their relation to their children is not an accident, but is a real office which they have been appointed to fill, they would find it easier to assume the dignity of persons called upon to represent a greater than themselves. The parent who feels that he has a Power behind him,—that he is, strictly, no more than the agent of Almighty God, appointed to bring the children under the Divine government, does not behave with levity and weakness; and holds his due position in the family as a trust which he has no right to give up.

Parents have a divinely appointed office. According to Charlotte Mason, the reason for their divine commission is simply this: so they can better instruct their children in the “art and science of living.” In other words, home education is the basic reason for parents in the divine economy. “Everybody homeschools.”

Through this chapter, though, Miss Mason is obviously assuming that children will be attending school. But is this really the best choice, given the sacred office that parents hold? “If the parents’ highest functions are to be fulfilled by outsiders, what is left for father and mother to do?” (p. 192) In this chapter, Miss Mason does make a brief allusion to children who never attend school: “Girls often fare well when their fathers have a hand in their education. The home-taught girl may, in happy circumstances, excel in intellectual keenness and moral refinement.”

Much of the chapter is given to explaining to parents how to provide moral training and intellectual culture to their children. For homeschoolers, this is activity which must be layered on top of the other academics that are taught at home. I would like to highlight just two items that I thought were particularly helpful:

1. Sunday Activities

Charlotte Mason advocates enhancing religious education in the home by making Sundays special. She does not advocate a legalistic approach — “do not let the young people feel themselves straitened by narrow views” — rather she advocates that we “make the practice pleasant” (p. 211). She suggests the following activities for the family for Sunday afternoons:

  • Read aloud together a book “of real power and interest.”
  • Read poetry together. (She mentions Keble, who’s Christian Year provides a separate poem for each Sunday of the year.)
  • Listen to sacred music together.
  • Read the collect and readings for the day from the Book of Common Prayer.

I hope to install this practice in my family. (Although I am running out of time to do so today…)

2. Shakespeare

In the sub-chapter on poetry, Charlotte Mason makes an interesting statement about Shakespeare:

He, indeed, is not to be classed, and timed, and treated as one amongst others,—he, who might well be the daily bread of the intellectual life; Shakespeare is not to be studied in a year; he is to be read continuously throughout life, from ten years old and onwards. But a child of ten cannot understand Shakespeare. No; but can a man of fifty?

Indeed, Shakespeare must be a constant companion in a Charlotte Mason education.

Now it would be a mighty challenge to apply all of the advice in this chapter. And that is speaking merely of Miss Mason’s advice on how to supplement a school education. What then for we who have chosen to impart both “intellectual training” and “intellectual culture” at home? Does that not move from the realm of the challenging to the realm of the impossible?

And yet what appeals to me more as a man than to attempt the impossible? Sometimes I wonder how it has turned out for me, a man, that my two inspiring lights are women — Charlotte Mason and Susanna Wesley. But in educating my children in this way, I do not choose the easy path. I choose the path that, if done right, will cost me all I have.

I recently watched an episode of The Planet Earth by BBC. The production opens with these words:

Imagine our world without sun. Male emperor penguins are facing the nearest that exists on planet Earth. It’s continuously dark and temperatures drop to minus seventy degrees centigrade. The penguins stay when all other creatures have fled because each guards a treasure: a single egg rested on the top of its feet and kept warm beneath the downy bulge of its stomach. There is no food and no water for them, and they will not see the sun again for four months. Surely no greater ordeal is faced by any animal.

God chose one animal in all of his creation to face four months of unspeakable darkness and cold. And that animal is a male. And the reason for this sacred office is simple: to protect the child. The world around me seems increasingly dark and cold. And I see in the emperor penguin a model for my own calling. However cold and dark it may be, I pledge myself to keep my young ones nourished, guarded, and loved.

In four months the light will appear. The Sun of Righteousness will appear and carry me to my own springtime. Until then, I pray the words of Susanna Wesley:

Help me to know, too, that it will be certainly no little accession to the future glory to stand forth at the last day and say, ‘Lord, here are the children which you have given me, of whom I have lost one by my ill example; nor by my neglecting to instill into their minds, … the principles of your true religion and virtue.’

II : Concerning the Young Maidens at Home … 235

The premise of the chapter is that when a child leaves school at age eighteen (p. 263), we find that “the schools have not finished, but begun the education of the girl” (p. 238). The parent is responsible at this point to teach the young man or woman about the “culture of character.” Miss Mason recommends using her own Volume IV (Ourselves) (p. 241) as the basis for “a course of moral and mental science” (p. 140). Volume IV is my favorite in the series and I would heartily recommend such a use for the book.

But the parent must approach the grown-up child with a new style. “It is only as her daughter’s ally and confidante she can be of use to her now” (p. 243).

Charlotte Mason points out that the young adult (as well as the mature adult!) is responsible for his or her own health. She lists some specific disciplines that are good reminders for us (young and old) today:

regular and sufficient exercise in the open air; … exercise of moderation in diet and in sleep; … the necessity for active habits, for regular and hard, but not excessive brain-work; the resolute repression of ugly tempers and unbecoming thoughts—all of these are conditions of a sound mind in a sound body. (p. 246)

The parent should help the young person find a balance between “pleasure and duty.” “The thing then is, to draw the line wisely. Either extreme is mischievous” (p. 253). One duty is the responsibility to be informed about matters of politics and the public sphere. Especially in our democratic society “we are not free to say, ‘Oh, these things are beyond me; I leave such questions to the gentlemen’” (p. 255).

There is an interesting section where Miss Mason discusses the fact that “Christianity is on its trial” (p. 256). How much more so now. There is no doubt at all where Miss Mason stands on this critical question. “For the sake of the children yet to be born, let the girls be brought up in abhorrence and dread of this black offence of unbelief” (p. 258). Belief must embrace the distinct truths of confessional Christianity: “On questions that trench on the being, nature, and work of Almighty God, Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, and our relations of love and service towards Him, there is no room for toleration of adverse opinions” .(p. 258)

How does a parent protect young people from the black offense of unbelief? The approach must include the use of apologetics. “Let them not grow up with the notion that Christian literature consists of emotional appeals, but that intellect, mind, is on the other side” (p. 257). She recommends reading Paley’s Natural Theology (p. 258). I have wanted to read William Paley since hearing William Lane Craig state that “Paley’s View of the Evidences (1794) constituted the high-water mark of the historical apologetic for the resurrection.” Perhaps I will study these books with my children when they reach this age.

One final idea that I found helpful was Charlotte Mason’s case for providing young women with special training in a valuable skill. I think this is beneficial even for the “daughter who wants to get married and raise a family, and isn’t planning for a career.” Miss Mason lists two specific benefits. One is that “amateur work is at a discount; nobody is wanted to do what she has not been specially trained for” (p. 266). The other benefit is that “she has increased in personal weight, force of character, and fitness for any work” (p. 266-267). Even in this, “education is a life,” and learning is its own reward.

PART IV “It Is Written”
I : Two Peasant Boys

This first chapter opens Part IV of Volume 5. In Part IV, Charlotte Mason derives insights about education from various works of literature. In this chapter, she focuses on two books:

  1. Jörn Uhl (1901) by Gustav Frenssen (1863–1945)
  2. Sartor Resartus (1832) by Thomas Carlyle (1795–1881)

The “Two Peasant Boys” are the two main characters from these books:

  1. Jörn Uhl
  2. Diogenes Teufelsdröckh, also known as Gneschen.

But Sartor Resartus is partially autobiographical. So Diogenes (Gneschen) is essentially Thomas Carlyle. (According to one source, “a number of incidents in Sartor Resartus are directly traceable to Carlyle’s life. The issue is not whether Sartor Resartus is autobiographical; rather the issue is just how much of it actually is.”)

This chapter mentions a third book entitled Wilhelm Meister (1795) by Johann Wolfgang Goethe (1749–1832). However, that book is the focus of the next chapter.

Charlotte Mason compares the story of two peasant boys:

It is instructive to compare the beginnings of Jörn Uhl with those of another peasant boy of a rather lower class. How did Diogenes Teufelsdröckh begin the world in the village of Entepfühl; or rather, to look through a transparent veil, how did Thomas Carlyle begin in the village of Ecclefechan? (pp. 279-280)

Miss Mason finds some of her basic principles illustrated in these books. First is the notion that “education is an atmosphere.” Charlotte Mason says that life itself teaches a child, and so we “should let him live freely among his proper conditions.” This is illustrated by the early life of Jörn Uhl:

Here is a matter which sometimes causes uneasiness to parents: they are appalled when they think of the casual circumstances and chance people that may have a lasting effect upon their children’s characters. But their part is, perhaps, to exercise ordinary prudence and not over-much direction. They have no means of knowing what will reach a child; whether the evil which blows his way may not incline him to good, or whether the too-insistent good may not predispose him to evil. Perhaps the forces of life as they come should be allowed to play upon the child, who is not, be it remembered, a product of educational care, but a person whose spiritual nurture is accomplished by that wind which bloweth whither it listeth. (p. 277)

Second is Miss Mason’s notion that “education is a life.” She writes that “the mind feeds on ideas, and therefore children should have a generous curriculum.” Children are born with the capacity to understand ideas. This is not an ability that is acquired through education. Since children have this capacity, we have a responsibility:

It would appear that nature opens to all children, one way or other, a perception of time past, History, and of space remote, Geography, as if these ideas were quite necessary nutriment for the mind of a child; and what is to be said for a school education that either eliminates this necessary food altogether, or serves it up in dry-as-dust morsels upon which the imagination cannot work? (p. 283)

As I read through this chapter, I couldn’t help but think of the “classical method” of education. In the classical method, children progress through three stages. In the initial stage (the grammar stage) they focus only on facts. Or as one web site puts it, “they are focused on concrete information – just the facts, ma’am.” But Diogenes realizes that the living mind needs more than dry facts:

He complains that his teachers were hidebound pedants with no knowledge of boys’ nature or of anything but their lexicons. “Innumerable dead vocables (no dead language, for they themselves knew no language) they crammed into us, and called it ‘fostering the growth of mind’; “ and he asks how can a mechanical gerund-grinder foster the growth of mind, which grows, not like a vegetable, by having ‘etymological composts’ laid upon it, but like a spirit, by contact of spirit, ‘thought kindling itself at the fire of living thought.’ (p. 292)

The next stages focus heavily on analysis and critical thinking. But again, does this foster life? Diogenes thought not. Charlotte Mason comments:

This malady of unbelief, again, is common to serious minds, educated to examine all things before they know the things they criticise by the slow, sure process of assimilating ideas. If we would but receive it, we are not capable of examining that which we do not know; and knowledge is the result of a slow, involuntary process, impossible to a mind in the critical attitude. Let us who teach spend time in the endeavour to lay proper and abundant nutriment before the young, rather than in leading them to criticise and examine every morsel of knowledge that comes their way. Who could live if every mouthful of bodily food were held up on a fork for critical examination before it be eaten? (pp. 294-295)

Today my family had lunch with a young homeschool graduate. The topic of Charlotte Mason came up. The graduate asked how we got interested in Charlotte Mason. I told the brief story of how we got a copy of For The Children’s Sake, how I begin to read Charlotte Mason’s original series, how I learned that Charlotte Mason is about a way of life, not just a way of education. It was a story of how an “idea we get is quick within us as a living thing, that it feeds, grows, multiplies.” The two peasant boys increase my conviction that we’ve chosen the right path.

II : A Genius at “School”

In this second chapter of Part IV of Volume 5, Charlotte Mason continues to derive insights about education from various works of literature. In this chapter, she focuses on the life of Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749-1832), as told in the semi-autobiographical novel Wilhelm Meister (1821). Goethe is the “genius,” and his childhood is his “school.”

The chapter was especially interesting to me because Goethe was, for the most part, homeschooled. (By his father, no less.) Miss Mason writes that “[Goethe] never seems to have gone to school, except on one occasion.” “Young Goethe’s father, who delighted in teaching, instructed his children himself” (p. 306). And this father was particularly conscientious, often learning side-by-side with his gifted son: “The father, who held that nothing was so stimulating to young pupils as for their elders to learn with them, also laboured at … copying” (p. 335).

This chapter is divided into eleven sub-chapters. The first sub-chapter discusses the propensity for (properly nourished) children to act out what they are learning. Miss Mason considers this to be essential: “Indeed, it might be safe to go further: the child who does not dramatise his lessons, who does not play at Richard and Saladin, who does not voyage with Captain Cook and excavate with Mr. Flinders Petrie, is not learning” (p. 305). A child will only want to act out what he is learning if he is properly nourished with living ideas. But in our day, as in Miss Mason’s, the prevailing view is that the purpose of education is to enhance the child’s usefulness, rather than to feed the child’s soul. Charlotte Mason writes:

We have been brought up to believe in what is ‘useful’ in education: it may help us to gain a living if we can read and write and cast accounts; may help us in society if we can play and sing and chatter French; or in a career, if we can scrape up enough classical and mathematical knowledge to win a scholarship. But where’s the good of knowing what happened in the past, even at the next streetcorner! What’s the good of having an imagination furnished with pictures that open out in long perspective, and enrich and ennoble life? It is the old story; utilitarian education is profoundly immoral, in that it defrauds a child of the associations which should give him intellectual atmosphere. (p. 313)

People often think that the manner of education is a matter of preference or style. But here Miss Mason asserts that some forms of (useful!) education are actually immoral.

In the fifth sub-chapter, Miss Mason discusses how political and sectarian struggles affect children. Goethe’s father and grandfather chose different sides in a political issue. The father and grandfather constantly argued these points in young Goethe’s parents. This division affected the boy: “My affection, indeed even my respect, for my grandparents was lessened” (p. 319). Charlotte Mason suggests that we as parents should shield our children from these kinds of struggles:

How far, we are inclined to ask, should children be allowed to share in the party spirit and party strife on questions of Church and State which agitate their elders? Probably we are all agreed that young children should be kept out of this sort of turmoil. We keep the little ones in the kingdom of heaven; and, certainly, the virulence and bitterness of party do not belong to the blessed state. (pp. 319-320)

My father-in-law is my son’s grandfather. Do my conversations with my father-in-law emphasize our common faith, or do we dwell on our differences? I should ensure that my children feel united to father and grandfather, without having to choose sides.

Later in sub-chapter ten, Miss Mason returns to her recurring topic of Scriptural authority. Young Goethe approaches the Bible with skepticism and asks many questions: “I had put my tutors in many a corner as to the sun which stood still for Gibeon, and the moon which did likewise in the valley of Ajalon, to say nothing of other improbabilities and inconsistencies” (p. 342). Charlotte Mason says that argumentation and debate is the worst way to address these kinds of doubts:

Of all ways of attempting to arrive at truth, perhaps discussion is the most futile, because the disputants are bent upon fortifying their own doubts, and by no means upon solving them. The will unconsciously takes a combative attitude, adopts the doubt as a possession, a cause to be fought for; and reason is, as we know, ready with arguments in support of any position the will has taken up. But, give the young sceptic a good book bearing on the questions he has raised, let him digest it at his leisure without comment or discussion, and, according to his degree of candour and intelligence, he will lay himself open to conviction. (p. 343)

This is good advice to parents who wish for their children to have a strong faith in the Bible. Rather than waiting for skepticism to take root, the wise parent will feed their children with living books that make a firm and positive case for faith.

For Goethe, however, skepticism won in the end. But when someone denies the Bible, he opens himself to all kinds of absurd beliefs and folly. According to Charlotte Mason, late in life Goethe “tells us of the astrological influences under which he was born” (p. 301). How ironic. It is supremely rational to believe that the God who stretched out the heavens could stop the sun in the sky. But to give credence to astrological influences is madness.

In the first sub-chapter, Miss Mason says that Goethe is too great to be white-washed. “He has offered himself as a beacon to mankind, indicating not only harbourage but rocks ahead; and we do not dishonour a great genius by considering why, in certain aspects, he was less than other men; how he might have become greater all round.” (p. 303) In an earlier post, I suggested that I should not call attention to what (in my opinion) is Miss Mason’s primary weakness. But is that white-washing?

In the final sub-chapter, Charlotte Mason points out that many adults recall almost nothing from their education:

If we look, on the other hand, at the records of most English men of renown, we find their school studies have passed into oblivion, as matters that had no serious effect upon their after career. The random reading that they do for themselves becomes a power in their lives, but their set studies simply do not count. This is a point that invites reflection. Goethe’s education … enriched him with the seed thoughts which produced his after development in every kind. (p. 359)

We as homeschooling parents applying Charlotte Mason’s ideas have the possibility of providing a true, enduring education to our children, by planting seeds of living ideas that will mature for a lifetime.

But this requires that we abandon any thought of a “utilitarian” model of education. And to do so we must also abandon our chronological snobbery. We must avoid this fault:

We are cocksure that we know all that is to be known, that we do all that is worth while; and we are able to regard the traditions and mementoes of the past with a sort of superior smirk… There are few things more unpleasant than to see the superior air, and hear the cheap sneers, with which well-dressed people … disport themselves in the presence of any monument of antiquity they may make holiday to go and see. We have lost the habit of reverence. (p. 313)

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow wrote:

All houses wherein men have lived and died

Are haunted houses. Through the open doors

The harmless phantoms on their errands glide,

With feet that make no sound upon the floors.

My tiny Anglican parish meets in a campus that was once an Episcopal girls’ school run by the Sisters of St. Mary. For over a hundred years, these halls and rooms hosted girls and women devoted to study and contemplation. But since 1975, the campus (Kemper Center) has been a museum owned by the county. It is a “monument of antiquity” as far as it goes, but it is regarded by the community with a collective sneer devoid of “reverence.”

And yet early on Friday mornings, when I meet my friend for Morning Prayer, Kemper Center ceases to be a museum. It once again becomes a place devoted to God. We sit in the brightly-lit study hall, while darkness shrouds the rest of the place. We say our prayers, in the same manner as the sisters and students who were there before us. Perhaps the house really is haunted. Holy voices once inhabited this hall. When there is a quiet moment between our prayers, I can almost hear their whisper.

III : Pendennis of Boniface

In this third chapter of Part IV of Volume 5, Charlotte Mason discusses Pendennis, a novel by William Makepeace Thackeray (1811–1863). In this chapter, Miss Mason surveys the story of Arthur Pendennis and draws insights and lessons. I will highlight three lessons that were especially meaningful to me, and then mention a section that caught me by complete surprise.

The first lesson convicted me greatly as a parent:

It is well for those who have the bringing up of golden lads and girls, to bear in mind always that the leopard does not change his spots. Our facile faith in a regeneration to be brought about somehow, at school; at college, by a profession, by family ties, by public work, is really born of our laziness. That which will be done somehow for young people, we do not take the trouble to do ourselves; we shift our responsibility, and the young bear our sins and their own till the end of the chapter. (p. 366)

As a parent, I must accept responsibility for the development of my children! I cannot wait and hope for someone else to train my children. The seductive whisper of laziness (sloth) tempts me to lean on church or pastor or college to do the hard work of changing my children’s hearts. But the path of the cross is to take the trouble to do the work myself.

The second lesson is a reminder of how we should teach religion to our children:

And this pious mother did her son a greater injury yet—she taught him religion, it is true, but the religion she taught was a sentiment, and not a duty. The boy loved the sound of the church-going bells, the echo of psalm and canticle, as he loved to watch the sunset from the lawn. Sacred poems and hymns, too, he loved to learn at his mother’s knee. All holy associations were with him. But what Helen failed to teach him was his duty towards God; and is not this just where many a tender mother fails? (p. 379)

My primary aim in religious education should not be to convince my children that the Christian life is fun, fulfilling, beautiful, and enjoyable. Instead, my aim must be to inspire my children to take up their cross and follow Jesus. Pastor Joseph P. Cammilleri wrote:

Yet for the true Christian only when he loses his life can he find it. We bring our children under a system of ‘two masters,’ one of servitude and self-denial (the Christian life), the other of fun, self-fulfillment, lights, noise and all the attractions that go along with it. After years of bombarding our children with these activities we are surprised when they cling to the master of ‘self’ and despise the master of ‘denial.’

The third lesson is a reminder to me about how I approach books in my own life. This is a lesson to me as a person. Miss Mason writes, “desultory reading affords entertainment, and perhaps an occasional stimulus to thought. Casual reading—that is, vague reading round a subject without the effort to know—is not in much better case.” (p. 382)

John Wesley expands on this concept and provides very practical instructions:

Let your reading be continued and regular, not rambling and desultory. To taste of many things, without fixing upon any, shows a vitiated palate, and feeds the disease which makes it pleasing. Whatsoever book you begin, read, therefore, through in order: Not but that it will be of great service to read those passages over and over that more nearly concern yourself, and more closely affect your inclinations or practice; especially if you press them home to your soul, by adding a particular examination of yourself upon each head.

I commit myself again to finish the book I am reading now before starting a new one!

My final observation from this chapter is a concept that caught me by complete surprise. Miss Mason writes:

It follows that the first three lustres belong to what we may call the synthetic stage of education, during which his reading should be wide and varied enough to allow the young scholar to get into living touch with earth-knowledge, history, literature, and much besides. These things are necessary for his intellectual life, and are especially necessary to give him material for the second stage of his education, the analytic, which, indeed, continues with us to the end. It is in this second stage that the value of the classical and mathematical grind comes in. (pp. 380–381)

She touches on this again on the next page:

In this way, what I have called the two stages of education, synthetic and analytic, coalesce; the wide reading tends to discipline, and in the disciplinary or analytic stage the mind of the student is well nourished by the continued habit of wide reading. (p. 382)

Stages of education? Synthetic and analytic? This is shocking indeed. Did I accidentally pick up a book on classical education when I got halfway through this chapter? How could a child who is born a person, with a mind and not faculties, somehow proceed from a synthetic stage to an analytic stage? Someone help me please!

IV : “Young Crossjay”

This next chapter in Volume 5 discusses The Egoist by George Meredith. Charlotte Mason finds in this book “a study of boys and of the way to handle them; and [Meredith] has set forth in big letters so that they who run may read, … how not to handle them” (p. 388). This chapter then becomes Miss Mason’s “study of boys,” and I think it should be required reading for anyone who wants to understand “CM for boys.”

Most of the books I have seen about a Charlotte Mason education feature girls and women on the cover. I know of only one or two minor exceptions. The title of one popular book suggests that CM education is “the gentle art of learning.” Perhaps. Yet one cannot read this chapter without being struck by the martial theme that pervades its pages. The art of learning may be gentle, but young Crossjay is training for the Navy. His knowledge is “ready as the guns of a good ship” (p. 393).

Crossjay in this chapter is the prototypical boy. I would summarize his interests in two words: warships and wild-flowers. It seems that nowadays boys must choose one or the other. Either they wear camo and play football, or they make music and watch birds. But authentic manhood encompasses both of these dimensions. We do a disservice to boys when we deny them outlets for either their hunger for combat or their hunger for beauty.

Nowadays we are told that a CM education is not boy-friendly because of its emphasis on literature. Crossjay “the boy was not only idle, but he hated knowledge as it was to be got out of books; and ‘but I don’t want to’ was his answer to all persuasions. He had to be dug out of the earth, with a good deal of it upon him, when his lesson-hours arrived” (p. 391). Such is the way with all boys, right? We’d better continue to market those CM manuals to moms and daughters!

And yet we find mysteriously that Crossjay is a reader:

A few pages back we have been told that Crossjay was steadily ‘opposed to the acquisition of knowledge by means of books.’ But a few questions about Nelson, and he produces knowledge got out of books promptly, ready as the guns of a good ship. He has not been told or taught the knowledge of naval history he shows; ‘he’ (that is, Vernon) ‘bought me the books’ is all the account he gives of it. (pp. 392-393)

The bottom line is that boys will naturally love books, if given the right books:

He wants to know about other lands and other times, about great persons, and, in fact, about everything we want to teach him. He would rather get his knowledge out of books than have it poured into him by speech; the book is more terse, graphic, satisfying to the mind than the talk of any but very rare people. The boy has really an immense appetite for knowledge, and when he does not want to learn, it is because he does not get the right books. (p. 394)

Crossjay loved not only Nelson; he also “loved wild-flowers, … birds and all living things” (p. 397). In nature study, there is a way to feed this love, and there is a way to destroy it:

We are not content that children should know the things of nature as we know our friends, by their looks and ways, an unconscious comprehensive knowledge which sinks in by dint of much looking, but we set them to fragmentary scraps of scientific research… The child of the future will feel no thrill at the disclosure of the red under the tail of a little brown bird. (p. 395)

Isn’t that future hour upon us?

Finally, this chapter includes wonderful insights about the good and evil nature of the child. I have already written and said a lot on this topic, but let me again insist that Miss Mason is wise and orthodox in her call to recognize both dimensions in our children. First, the evil nature:

For the sake of popularity we make our appeal to a boy’s lower nature; and because he has that lower nature also our appeal is very seldom in vain. If we trust him as a creature who is to be won by tips and toffee, we find him as we treat him, and in the end it will be our turn as well as his to reap as we sowed. (p. 400)

Charlotte Mason does not deny that all boys have a lower nature. The reality of original sin cannot be avoided. But what do we expect if treat our children like animals (or devils)?

Then the good: “I think we should have the Utopia our hearts desire if we realised what springs of good are in our children waiting the right touch” (p. 397). Uh oh! “Springs of good”? The discernment police are ready to add Charlotte Mason to the ever-growing list of liberals and heretics… But read on:

Chivalry, honour, delicacy and obedience, impassioned obedience, to the divine law, these are the chords to play upon if we are to have pure youths and maidens. But we must believe that chivalry and chastity are there, and are not foreign ideas to be introduced by our talk; and this is where many a parent fails. (p. 397)

A devil will never learn chivalry and chastity. No parent or school or church can impart chivalry, honour, delicacy, or obedience into a child. These qualities can only grow in our children because the seeds were already there. Even John Calvin knew this, when he wrote:

In every age there have been persons who, guided by nature, have striven toward virtue throughout life. For they have, by the very zeal of their honesty, given proof that there was some purity in their nature. These examples, accordingly, seem to warn us against judging man’s nature wholly corrupted, because some men have by its prompting not only excelled in remarkable deeds, but conducted themselves most honorably throughout life.

V : Better-than-my-Neighbour

My former pastor would often speak of how carefully he avoided “hobby horses.” Wikipedia defines a hobby horse as “someone’s favorite topic, to which he constantly reverts.” As a pastor, he would frequently encounter church members who relentlessly advocated one particular cause, such political activism, homeschooling, or young-earth creationism. To the dismay of these people, he would consciously refuse to take up any of these causes himself.

In this chapter, Charlotte Mason speaks of the “crank.” Merriam-Webster defines a crank as “one who is overly enthusiastic about a particular subject or activity.” Miss Mason enumerates several traits of the “crank”:

  1. “He allows one aspect of a subject to fill his mind.” (p. 407)
  2. He accepts one “foolish little piety … as the whole duty of man.” ( p. 404)
  3. “He takes his own absolute conviction to be synonymous with absolute truth.” (p. 406)
  4. “[He] is narrow, one-sided, illiberal.” (p. 403)

Perhaps my former pastor’s aversion to hobby horses was essentially an aversion to crank-ism. This is a cause for self-examination. Perhaps I am a crank.

Charlotte Mason allows for an exception:

Those who enlist for offensive attack upon some fortress of iniquity—intemperance, unchastity, ignorance, godlessness—are of course, occupied before all things with the duty of their calling: a fighting soldier is not required to fulfil all the claims made upon the peaceable citizen. (p. 408)

So then, presumably, Ken Ham is not a crank. He is a professional. He is an example of those who are “occupied before all things with the duty of their calling.”

That’s where it becomes a bit gray for me. I have developed certain deep convictions over the years. Are these hobby horses or are these real? Charlotte Mason points out that crank-ism is related to faddism. People are inherently bored, so they are looking for the next big thing to get excited about:

Being bored becomes a habit; we secretly look forward with longing to the end of every occupation or amusement, and are ready to take up with any ‘crank’ that promises distraction and fuller living, for however short a time. When we have used up that interest, another may occur. (pp. 409-410)

I suppose one mark of genuine conviction is that it endures.

In any event, Charlotte Mason says that we turn our own children into cranks when “we magnify a single good quality or a single conviction until there is no room for anything else” (p. 407). The antidote is to give our children “a wide and generous curriculum. We try to put them off with a parcel of ready-made opinions, principles, convictions, and are astonished that these do not stick to them; but such things each of us has to get by his own labour” (p. 407). Similarly, the “teaching of the Bible [that] is … the full, exhaustive, progressive kind … should issue in a balanced character” (pp. 408-409). It seems that we should expose our children to the full range of Christian tradition and help them to develop real convictions based on truth.

The need for “a wide and generous curriculum” does not end with the school years:

The writer knew a man of ninety who then began to study Spanish. We know how our late Queen began the study of Hindustani at seventy, and we all know of work of great value accomplished by aged persons. (p. 410)

Let us not kid ourselves that desultory reading is the same thing as self-education. Miss Mason writes:

But this highly varied intellectual work must not have the passing character of an amusement (is not this the danger of lectures?). Continuation and progression must mark every study, so that each day we go on from where we left off, and know that we are covering fresh ground. (pp. 410-411)

Another cause of crank-ism is pride: “The prig and the crank appear to have one thing in common—the desire to be remarkable, distinguished in one way or another” (p. 414). Parents and children should strive to replace vanity with simplicity, which leads to the peace of God. “This peace comes to all simple, natural persons who have faith in God” (p. 416).

This struck me because the one word that I keep hearing from God is “simplicity.” I want to be simple and transparent. But the more transparent I am, the more apparent it is that I have “favorite topic[s], to which [I] constantly revert.”

VI : A Modern Educator: Thomas Godolphin Rooper

The final chapter of volume 5 is a memorial by Charlotte Mason about an inspirational associate named Thomas Godolphin Rooper. Mr. Rooper held the position of Inspector of Schools, and he interacted with Charlotte Mason “from the first inception of the idea” of the Parents’ Union. His example and his ideas were an inspiration to Miss Mason for about twenty years.

Of all of the positive remarks about Mr. Rooper, what impressed me the most was his love of knowledge. Note that Miss Mason uses the phrase “in love with knowledge” rather than the phrase “in love with learning.” We are told that a Charlotte Mason education is where children love to learn. But learning is a process, and knowledge is a result. I’m not sure whether Mr. Rooper loved the process of learning. But he did love the subject matter itself. “Whether … making buns or working problems … the subject was excessively interesting in itself and for itself” (p. 426).

I see this as a challenge to homeschool parents. Could the following be said about us:

The charming thing to both mistresses and students was his keen, inquiring, and personal interest in the subject taught. He had a way of leaving the household more in love with knowledge than before—now galls, now weaving, now local geography would excite his curious interest; now a passage in a French or German author, now Italian or mathematics. (p. 426)

When I present math or French to my children, I must do so with a sincere interest that is contagious. I must love knowledge.

Mr. Rooper had very high regard for schools. However, he still had “a special interest in the education of children brought up at home, and therefore in the work of the House of Education” (p. 427). I appreciate that he could maintain a dual concern. This reminds me people today whose hearts are large enough to show sincere concern for both Charlotte Mason schools and Charlotte Mason homeschools.

Charlotte Mason closes her memorial with a few quotes that summarize her regard for Mr. Rooper. He “left play for work, grappled with the world, bent on escaping the common life… A great work will require a lifetime, and its payment will never be received this side the grave” (p. 428). To me, that is the great challenge to homeschool parents. We must leave play for work.

I was with a good friend last night and I heard about so many activities in his life. The work he does on his house, the games he plays with his friends, the books he reads. The list seemed to go on and on. “How does he have time for all this?” I thought. But then I remembered that my ever-present concern about lessons and reading and progress was not something he needed to worry about. “A great work will require a lifetime, and its payment will never be received this side the grave.” So be it. My hobbies and amusements can wait twenty years. But my children will never be young again.


Charlotte Mason concludes her fifth volume with a set of short book reviews. These book reviews give us a glimpse into Charlotte Mason’s academic context. We find hints of some of her twenty principles in these books. Charlotte Mason was evidently not the originator of all of her ideas, but she certainly did offer a unique synthesis of several very powerful principles.

The most interesting book to me was the first, entitled Pastor Agnorum: A Schoolmaster’s Afterthoughts by J. Huntley Skrine:

The book is a witty and even worldlywise apologia for Christianity, for the high chivalry of Christianity among masters and scholars; and we earnestly commend it to those other pastors who have but a few sheep to tend in that little fold which they call home. (pp. 432-433)

That sounds quite interesting and perhaps I should try to get a copy of this book. I am intrigued by author’s insight that the teacher “must learn his method by the study of the Incarnation” (p. 431). We also see an echo of Miss Mason’s first principle when it is said that the teacher “must seek, not to reproduce himself, but to produce the pupil’s self” (p. 432).

Another interesting book is Thoughts on Education by Mandel Creighton, D.D. He illustrates the role of discovery in how children apprehend Christian truth:

You must try and make them feel that Christ is knocking at the door of each of their little hearts, and you must realise with reverent awe that it is your work to help the little trembling fingers to undo the bolt and lift the latch to admit that gracious and majestic visitant. (p. 435)

Notice also how the following quote from the book conveys the thought that “education is the science of relations”:

That is just what the good teacher does; he brings knowledge and his pupil into a vital relationship; and the object of teaching is to establish that relationship on an intelligible basis… The acceptance of knowledge is an internal process which no external process can achieve… A child is much more idealistic than a grown-up person, and readily responds to an ideal impulse. (p. 45)

The last book reviewed is entitled Knowledge, Duty, and Faith: a Study of Principles Ancient and Modern by Sir Thos. Dyke Acland. One topic in this book is the contrast between the real and the ideal. In our day, the real has all but eclipsed the ideal in academics. But “the limitations of the real, with its one possible outcome, that man himself is a congeries of regulated atoms—that there is nothing in the universe but atoms and regulating laws—this doctrine is oppressive to the spirit of man, and there is a strong rebound towards the Platonic conception of the Idea” (p. 450).

Indeed, Charlotte Mason helps us to get beyond the reductionism (the “real”) that pervades society today. Hopefully as we in the CM community read and promote her writings, we will contribute towards a “strong rebound towards the Platonic conception of the Idea.”

And with that, I conclude my thoughts on Volume 5. For those of you who have read along with me, thank you for joining me in this journey. Please keep on reading, studying, and discussing the series!

Volume 6 : Towards a Philosophy of Education


I am very happy that this group will be studying volume 6. I am looking forward to reading it for the first time. This week I read the preface (pages xxv – xxxi). I was very pleased by Charlotte Mason’s story of “the awakening of a ‘general soul’ at the touch of knowledge.” Oh that the souls of our children would be awakened as well.

Miss Mason says that she offers this volume to us in order to “urge upon all who are concerned with education a few salient principles which are generally either unknown or disregarded; and a few methods which, like that bathing in Jordan, are too simple to commend themselves to the ‘general.’”

I loved this reference to the story of Naaman and his washing in the Jordan River. Naaman came to Elisha, but Elisha only sent him a messenger. They did not meet face to face. So too we only meet Miss Mason through her messages, never in person. But her message points the way for us. Do we prefer the rivers of Damascus? One might think that the science of education has advance so far in the past one hundred years that the advice of one Charlotte Mason is no longer relevant.

Or instead, we may trust that the simple methods she offers are the means that God has provided to awaken the souls of our children. Let us gather our living books and listen to our children’s narrations, once, twice, seven times. And perhaps like Naaman they will be made new.


This week I read the Introduction to Charlotte Mason’s Volume 6. I had already read Volumes 1–3 and Book 1 of Volume 4. This was my first serious foray into Volume 6. The text struck me in many ways.

To me, the earlier volumes seemed to be products of the 19th century. But in the Introduction to Volume 6, Charlotte Mason speaks squarely from the 20th century. Her observations and perspectives don’t seem so distant anymore. This is the Charlotte Mason who has experienced World War I, and who ominously foreshadows World War II. This Charlotte Mason seems to know my world.

But this 20th century Charlotte Mason is a romantic and not a cynic. So many modern writers look back to the horror of the Great War and see only the horror. Our postmodern culture sees only the death and destruction, and not the enduring qualities of justice and truth. Does Miss Mason rehearse the staggering tally of the death and destruction of the first industrial war? No, she rehearses the greatness of the person. She speaks of “the fortitude, valour and devotion shown by our men.” She speaks of “the heroism of our officers.”

In this Introduction, Charlotte Mason insists that education demands the highest goals. It is not enough that we train our children to have great intellectual skill. For Miss Mason, education that imparts intellectual skill without also imparting character has failed. It is not enough that we train our children for gainful employment. We must provide “an education which shall qualify [our] children for life rather than for earning a living. As a matter of fact, it is the man who has read and thought on many subjects who is, with the necessary training, the most capable whether in handling tools, drawing plans, or keeping books.”

Charlotte Mason also takes a strong stance about the method of education. She insists that the best education does come from books. “Our journals ask with scorn,—’Is there no education but what is got out of books at school? Is not the lad who works in the fields getting education?’ and the public lacks the courage to say definitely, ‘No, he is not.’” The public may lack this courage, but Miss Mason does not.

She also attacks the notion that all we need to do is teach our children how to think. She attacks the notion that “‘it does not matter what a child learns but only how he learns it.’ If we teach much and children learn little we comfort ourselves with the idea that we are ‘developing’ this or the other ‘faculty.’” I have heard a proponent of the Classical method of education say that the goal of education is to teach children how to think, and that it does not matter so much what content is presented in the process. To me, this seems to mark a significant difference between a CM education and a Classical education.

We don’t need to teach children how to think, because their minds (their undying souls) inherently have this mysterious ability. “Children no more come into the world without provision for dealing with knowledge than without provision for dealing with food.” In a CM education, the content we present is so very important. We must provide our children with knowledge.

When I was studying Volume 3, I noticed that Charlotte Mason means more by the word knowledge than we might suppose. In Volume 3, she contrasts knowledge and information. I tentatively suggested the following interpretation of these terms:

Knowledge: Living ideas understood and incorporated by a knower.

Information: Facts or experiences recorded in documents or remembered in the mind.

That is why living books and narration are so fundamental to a CM education. The books (and the method) are how knowledge is imparted, and knowledge (not information or technique) is the sine qua non of education.

Also when studying Volume 3, I struggled with Charlotte Mason’s favorable words about evolution. How relieved I was to read this Introduction. In fact, no one should read Volume 3 Chapter 14 without reading this Introduction at the same time! The 20th century Charlotte Mason recognizes the evil that flows “as naturally out of Darwinism as a chicken comes out of an egg.” She sees that “in Germany, … the teaching of Darwin was accepted as offering emancipation from various moral restraints.” In fact, she ominously foreshadows the Second Great War with her references to the superman and the super state.

The Darwinist believes that matter is all there is. And so the predominant view in our culture today is that “all the faculties which we include under the name of Psychical activities are only functions of the brain substance.” But Charlotte Mason knows that this is not true. She finds her proof in the Great War. “If the War taught nothing else it taught us that men are spirits, that the spirit, mind, of a man is more than his flesh, that his spirit is the man, that for the thoughts of his heart he gives the breath of his body.”

Children are born persons. And what is the noblest mark of personhood? For “the thoughts of [the] heart” to give “the breath of [the] body.” After all, the greatest Person of all did just that. “Greater love has no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.”

Another thing I pondered from these pages of the Introduction is Charlotte Mason’s insistence on narration after a single reading. Charlotte Mason’s insistence on this is so strong that she devotes two points (14 and 15) specifically to this topic:

14. As knowledge is not assimilated until it is reproduced, children should ‘tell back’ after a single reading or hearing: or should write on some part of what they have read.

15. A single reading is insisted on, because children have naturally great power of attention; but this force is dissipated by the re-reading of passages, and also, by questioning, summarising. and the like.

Most of you are probably familiar with the annual ChildLight conferences. At the last conference, I attended a session on narration. The presenter compared Charlotte Mason’s method of narration to modern documented techniques of “re-telling.” The presenter, who was a teacher in a Charlotte Mason school, said that Miss Mason is unique in her strict insistence on narration after a single reading. All other modern “re-tell” techniques require the student to carefully study the passage several times (often in several ways) before finally re-telling it.

The presenter raised the possibility that perhaps Miss Mason was wrong on this point. Perhaps the insistence on a single reading is a nonessential element of a CM education. Perhaps the “system” works even better with the modern enhancement of multiple readings before retelling.

This situation raises the broader question of what constitutes a CM education. How much of Miss Mason’s method must be implemented to be “really” CM? What elements are optional? Are we free to take a “cafeteria” approach to education, where we stroll through the line, picking up a little CM here, a little Classical there, and adding a little innovation on top? It seems that to even ask this question is to run the risk of being labeled a CM “fundamentalist.” One might even be seen as sort of educationalist Luddite, an antiquarian soul who closes his mind to all education research conducted after the death of Charlotte Mason.

Well, Charlotte Mason herself speaks to my cafeteria question. In the Introduction to Volume 6, she writes:

I can only point to the unusual results we obtain through adhering not ‘more or less,’ but strictly to the principles and practices I have indicated. I suppose the difficulties are of the sort that Lister had to contend with; every surgeon knew that his instruments and appurtenances should be kept clean, but the saving of millions of lives has resulted from the adoption of the great surgeon’s antiseptic treatment; that is from the substitution of exact principles scrupulously applied for the rather casual ‘more or less’ methods of earlier days.

So it was not enough for surgeons to wash their instruments some of the time, or even most of the time. It was only when they washed their hands all of the time that they achieved “unusual results.”

I can think of many systems that only work when all the elements are present. Remove only one element, and the system breaks. For example, the mouse trap is “irreducibly complexity.” If one piece of the device is not present, the trap is not sprung. The anatomy of the woodpecker is another example. Remove just one of its special traits, and all of its other special design features are worthless. The trendy Atkins diet only works (so they say) when you follow all of his directives scrupulously, not just “more or less.”

In the Introduction, Charlotte Mason describes a halcyon world where real children discover that “studies serve for delight.” It is almost unbelievable to me when I read her descriptions of what her students actually achieved. I freely confess that I do not see such results in my home school! Why not? Is Charlotte Mason guilty of hyperbole? Or are such achievements impossible in our day and age? But then again I hear stories about children who were taught using the Charlotte Mason philosophy, and these stories are almost as hard for me to believe.

Perhaps I need the lesson of Lister. Perhaps the key to unlocking the results of the PNEU schools is to be found not in adapting and molding and shaping and correcting and updating and editing Miss Mason’s techniques. Perhaps the insistence on a single reading is one of the irreducible elements of the system without which the unusual results cannot be obtained. Perhaps insistence on a single reading is required in a CM education because… gasp… Miss Mason said so.

I have heard it said that we do not need an educational pope. Fine. But in Chapter 1 Miss Mason writes:

When we consider that … there happens to be no other comprehensive theory in the field which … fits every occasion, might it not be well to try one which is immediately practicable and always pleasant and has proved itself by producing many capable, serviceable, dutiful men and women of sound judgment and willing mind?

If I want to follow an Atkins diet, I will follow it to the letter. That does not make Atkins my dietary pope. I will do my best to insist on a single reading. Not because Miss Mason is my pope. Rather, because it is presumption to think that I can achieve her unusual results without following her unusual rules.

Chapter 1 : Self-Education

Last year I attended the ChildLight conference for the first time. As I said before, it was one of the high points of my year. The previous two years, my beloved went by herself. Both times she ordered the cassettes for me. I listened to every single cassette from the first year, back when the conference was called CME3T.

One of the breakout sessions that year was on the topic of narration. The teacher asked the group to explain what narration is. She then gave her answer. Narration, she said, was telling back what the author wrote, “in the author’s words.” She emphasized this point. She then did a demonstration of narration. She read from a book, and the attendees were asked to say it back, in the author’s words.

I must say that this surprised me. This was the summer of 2005, and we were just about to start Ambleside Online Year 1. The author’s own words… Had I missed the point on narration?

Well, it is now 2008, and I have never asked my son to narrate using the author’s words. I have been delighted by his narrations, regardless of whose words he uses. I have been especially fascinated by his narrations of the King James Bible. He seamlessly moves between Elizabethan and modern English, sometimes apparently simplifying for his audience, sometimes retaining the majestic archaic language.

In Chapter 1, Charlotte Mason comes to the rescue and leaves no doubt that narration is retelling using the listener’s own words. In fact, using the author’s exact wording is said to be defective: “he may become letter-perfect, but the spirit, the individuality has gone out of the exercise.”

Charlotte Mason makes this point in several ways, once with her own italics:

  • “they give perfect attention to paragraph or page read to them and are able to relate the matter point by point, in their own words”
  • “the child will relate what he has heard point by point, though not word for word, and will add delightful original touches”
  • “a remarkable power of reproduction, or rather, of translation into his own language”

I especially like that last phrase. Narration is “translation into his own language.” It is not repetition. Repetition is when words have gone from one mind to another. Translation is when ideas — living ideas — have gone from one mind to another.

In 2005 we had just started implementing a Charlotte Mason education. I had read Susan Schaeffer Macaulay’s book in 2003, but the turning point for me came during Christmas of 2004, when I received Charlotte Mason’s six volumes. That’s also when I discovered Ambleside Online. The decision to embrace Charlotte Mason was solely based on the perceived benefit to our children. I was not aware of the wondrous benefits I would receive as a parent.

Charlotte Mason herself saw these benefits. He method, “like the quality of mercy, it is not strained; certainly it is twice blessed, it blesses him that gives and him that takes, and a sort of radiancy of look distinguishes both scholar and teacher engaged in this manner of education.” I do testify that “here is Education which is as interesting and fascinating as a fine art to parents, children and teachers.”

How important it is to a homeschool family that “parents become interested in the schoolroom work, and find their children ‘delightful companions.’” Delightful companions indeed, my teaching partner and my students, we are all best friends.

Chapter 2 : Children are Born Persons

“‘What is mind?’ says the old conundrum, and the answer still is ‘No matter.’” Charlotte Mason quotes this pun and it captures a fundamental truth about children and persons. A person — a child — has a mind. He has “a brain too, no doubt, the organ and instrument of that same mind, as a piano is not music but the instrument of music.” The great fallacy of modern thinking is to equate mind with brain, to say that persons are merely physical beings. To the world today, the piano is the music; the person is a machine.

What does this mean for education? Is this just idle philosophy, or does it have practical implications? In this chapter, Charlotte Mason shows that this truth has deeply practical implications! Any system of education that is based on a wrong conception of mind and person will be fundamentally flawed. Since most modern thinkers deny that mind is a spiritual entity, most modern systems of education are ineffective. We must reach back to Miss Mason, who built her system on a true model of personhood.

What then does this mean for education? If we wish to reach the brain, we may use physical means. “That which is born of the flesh, is flesh,” says Miss Mason. The “play way,” the “environment,” and “beautiful motion” are physical means to physical ends. But if we wish to reach the mind, we must leave off physical means and use spiritual. “That which is born of the spirit, is spirit… Mind must come into contact with mind through the medium of ideas.”

To put it another way: worksheet, drill, memorization, and technique — these are physical methods to reach the physical in people. One can reproduce answers on a worksheet without life or spirit. But to reach the mind — this can only be done through ideas! Ideas are themselves spiritual, and feed our eternal spirits. And then the order or education is right: “That which was born of the spirit, the idea, came first and demanded to confirm and illustrate.”

The miracle is that each child — each person — is born with a mind. This God-given mysterious mind is beyond our ability to create or comprehend. I work in software and I promise you that no computer will ever have a mind. God alone creates mind, and He does so in each and every child. For the child, we know “that his mind is the instrument of his education and that his education does not produce his mind.”

In this chapter, Charlotte Mason gives many examples to show that the child comes “out of the box” with a mind fully-functional and powerful. These examples include:

  • Young children learn language much better than adults and with no formal instruction.
  • Children have an innate comprehension of and hunger for God. “Is [not] a child able to comprehend as much of the infinite and the unseen as are his self-complacent elders?”
  • Children have the inherent capacity for reason. “As soon as he can speak he lets us know that he has pondered the ‘cause why’ of things and perplexes us with a thousand questions.”
  • Children by instinct know how to plan and scheme to achieve their goals. “How soon the little urchin learns to manage his nurse or mother, to calculate her moods and play upon her feelings!”
  • From the moment that children express their emotions, we know that they sense the difference between right and wrong, innocence and shame.

We as teachers (parents) do not give these gifts to our children. God has already given them. We do not create the spiritual organisms. We feed them. “Now place a [parent] before a [family] of [children] the beauty and immensity of each one of whom I have tried to indicate and he will say, ‘What have I to offer them?’”

When I was in college, I looked to the future with a desire to change the world. My fear was to have a life of insignificance. I wanted to do something great. It seemed to me that great meant big. If I could touch the world in some lasting way, then my life would have meaning.

But then Charlotte Mason says to me: “The beautiful infant frame is but the setting of a jewel of such astonishing worth that, put the whole world in one scale and this jewel in the other, and the scale which holds the world flies up outbalanced.”

I looked on the wrong side of the scale. My ambition no longer looks out on the world. Instead, I see three pairs of eyes that stare back at me, and I know that behind each set of eyes is a jewel of more worth than the entire world. There are more than six billion souls on planet earth, but only three of them call me father. Oh Lord Jesus, let me take up my cross and lay down my life for them.

Chapter 3 : The Good and Evil Nature of a Child

“Children are not born bad but with possibilities for good and for evil.”

Evangelicals who first learn about Charlotte Mason get as far as principle 2 to find their first stumbling block. Does Charlotte Mason deny original sin? Because this chapter is a detailed exposition of principle 2, I read through it several times with great interest. In this post I would like to explore two questions:

  1. Is Charlotte Mason making a theological statement?
  2. Does this chapter have any relevance to homeschooling parents? Is there a practical application of the theory?

I believe the answer to both questions is a resounding “Yes,” but perhaps not in the way you might expect.

Dean Andreola rescues Charlotte Mason from heterodoxy in A Charlotte Mason Companion (1998):

“They are not born either ‘good’ or ‘bad’” (in relation to their family’s blood line, wealth or social rank), “but with possibilities for good and evil’ — (not in regard to their eternal or spiritual condition, but rather in regard to their potential for good or bad behavior and character).

In other words, principle 2 is not a theological statement, but rather a sociological one.

Perhaps Mr. Andreola is right. After all, in this chapter Miss Mason writes, “The service that some of us (of the P.N.E.U.) believe we have done in the cause of education is to discover that all children, even backward children, are aware of their needs and pathetically eager for the food they require.” Perhaps Miss Mason is simply saying that even lower class children can be taught good behavior and good character.

But I personally think it is more likely that Mason is making a theological statement, for the following reasons:

  1. All throughout her books, Charlotte Mason stresses the spiritual, theological, and philosophical foundation of education. It seems uncharacteristic of her to use “bad,” “good,” and “evil” in only a restricted sense.
  2. This chapter opens with a reference to the accusation that “we bring up children as ‘children of wrath.’” This must be a reference to God’s wrath, so it is by definition a theological statement.
  3. She says that the alternative to the “children of wrath” theory is the “little angel” theory, which also implies a spiritual sense.
  4. Her statement, “born … with tendencies, dispositions, towards good and towards evil” sounds similar to the statement in the Anglican Articles of Religion that man “is of his own nature inclined to evil.” The words “tendencies” and “dispositions” seem to convey the same sense as “inclinations.”

But if Charlotte Mason teaches that we have tendencies and dispositions to good, does that mean she denies original sin? I don’t think so. I think a nuanced reading of this chapter reveals an orthodox theology.

First we must acknowledge that man is created in the image of God. I think that is the biblical expression of Charlotte Mason’s idea that “children are born persons.” While the fall corrupted this image, it did not erase it completely. John Calvin himself states, “There is no doubt that Adam, when he fell from his dignity, was by this defection alienated from God. Wherefore, although we allow that the Divine image was not utterly annihilated and effaced in him, yet it was so corrupted it, at whatever remains is but horrible deformity.”

Although we are born sinners, we are also born persons. When we are regenerated, the Holy Spirit takes the Divine image already present and infuses it with grace. For example, at regeneration, God does not create a new conscience in us; rather, He heals the conscience that was already there. In this chapter, Charlotte Mason seems to teach that all aspects of our personhood (Divine image) have been corrupted by the fall:

In the same way all possibilities for good are contained in his moral and intellectual outfit, hindered it may be by a corresponding tendency to evil for every such potentiality.

Note that Miss Mason says that every potentiality for good is hindered by a tendency to evil. In other words, the corruption is complete.

So how do we overcome the tendencies for evil and unleash the possibilities for good? At first glance, it seems that regeneration (new birth in Christ) is the only way. But Charlotte Mason seems to be saying that education is the way.

In fact, Charlotte Mason seems to say that education can unleash the good not only in the individual but in the race. In this chapter she writes:

We find ourselves in open places breathing fresher air when we consider, not the education of an individual child or of a social class or even of a given country, but of the race, of the human nature common to every class and country, every individual child. The prospect is exhilarating and the recognition of the potentialities in any child should bring about such an educational renaissance as may send our weary old world rejoicing on its way.

(Many have said that volume 6 is less idealistic than the other volumes, but I just don’t see that when I read quotes like that.)

I pondered this at length. If education can overcome the curse of the fall, will not “the cross of Christ be emptied of its power”? In struggling with this idea, it finally began to dawn on me that what Charlotte Mason means by “education” is what we call “discipleship.” For her, education is not an activity taken up by human effort. Rather, education is nothing less than the spiritual formation of the Christian. This way of thinking is so foreign to me that it took me a long time to finally see it. Notice how it compares to our conventional thinking:

  1. The common notion today is that education is divided into the secular and the sacred. Secular topics are taught from secular materials for secular ends, and sacred topics are taught by religious people for spiritual ends.
  2. The more “advanced” notion is that no education is neutral. Rather, all material must be taught from a Christian worldview. So history and literature must be reviewed and interpreted by Christian teachers to make sure it harmonizes with a Christian framework. However, the secular subjects still serve primarily secular ends.

But Charlotte Mason teaches something much more radical. She teaches that all education is sacred! In other words, all subjects – history, geography, literature, math – have a role in the spiritual development of the believer. Here are some of the ways she expresses this:

  • She says that “we [must] put Education in her true place as the handmaid of Religion.” In other words, education is a servant or tool of Religion (spiritual life and development).
  • For moral education, children require spiritual food. “But they want a great quantity of the sort of food whose issue is conduct, and that is why poetry, history, romance, geography, travel, biography, science and sums must all be pressed into service.” Just think: lessons in travel are part of moral education.
  • To properly awaken the quality of love in the child, we must look to “the best that we have in art and literature and above all to that storehouse of example and precept, the Bible.” Just think: art awakens love.
  • We use spiritual things to educate our children: “Here we have one more reason why there is nothing in all those spiritual stores in the world’s treasury too good for the education of all children.”
  • In short, all education aims at the knowledge of God: “In such ways the great thoughts of great thinkers illuminate children and they grow in knowledge, chiefly the knowledge of God.”
  • “By degrees children get that knowledge of God which is the object of the final daily prayer in our beautiful liturgy—the prayer of St Chrysostom—’Grant us in this world knowledge of Thy truth,’ and all other knowledge which they obtain gathers round and illuminates this.”
  • This subject is presented at length in Volume 4, Book 2, chapters 12–16. In these chapters, she insists that subjects we normally think of as secular are instrumental in educating the conscience. “History and biography are full of instruction in righteousness; but what is properly called literature, that is, poetry, essays, the drama, and novels, is perhaps the most useful for our moral instruction.”

This notion that education is discipleship is actually the complement of the “Great Recognition” of volume 2 chapter 25. The Great Recognition is that “Holy Spirit is Himself, personally, the Imparter of knowledge, the Instructor of youth, the Inspirer of genius.” Or as Calvin put it, “The knowledge of all that is most excellent in human life is said to be communicated to us through the Spirit of God.” Calvin includes “physics, dialectic, mathematics, and other like disciplines” among the subjects taught by the Holy Spirit.

Might I suggest that the reason the Holy Spirit is the imparter of all knowledge is because all knowledge directs our minds and hearts to God?

I believe that is why Charlotte Mason had an almost messianic view of education. It is because, for her, education is the handmaid of religion. From religion, we receive the rebirth of regeneration. Once Christ has rescued us from the curse, education is the discipleship of spiritual formation. Even after regeneration, the tendency to evil persists. “So I find it to be a law that when I want to do right, evil lies close at hand” (Romans 7:21). “That is why poetry, history, romance, geography, travel, biography, science and sums must all be pressed into service.”

It is like the Portrait of Arnolfini by Jan van Eyck. On the surface of it, we have what appears to be a secular painting: a man and his wife. So too history, science, and sums: they seem to be secular. But look closely at the very center of the painting. In minute detail, visible only to the careful observer, are ten scenes of the Passion of Christ. So too with history, science, and sums: in the center, visible only to the careful observer, is Christ. Not a Christian worldview, but Christ Himself. His death and resurrection shine through all the branches of knowledge. Education is not about content and facts; it is about relationship — with Christ.

Seen in this way, there is actually a messianic view of education that is alive and well today. It is seen in the homeschool movement. Many believe that by training our children at home, we can ultimately change the world. Doug Philips of Vision Forum sounds a lot like Charlotte Mason when he writes, “A true homeschool vision of victory will encompass a much greater goal: “That our sons may be as plants grown up in their youth; that our daughters may be as corner stones, polished after the similitude of a palace.’” It is because Mr. Philips sees homeschooling as (essentially) spiritual formation.

Does this chapter have any relevance to homeschooling parents? Is there a practical application of the theory? Yes, there is an application. The elements of a Charlotte Mason education — picture study, composer study, poetry, living books, etc. — are necessary not because we think it is nice to do things the way Charlotte Mason did. They are necessary because all believers need these to grow into the fullness of Christ.

Parents, do you believe that? Do you read poetry? Do you read history? Is your soul burdened with the love of knowledge, because you know that in knowledge you will find Christ? Do you pray with St. Chrysostom, “Grant us in this world knowledge of Thy truth”? If not, then why do you think your children will develop a love of learning? You can only give what you already have. If you only read poetry to your children during school, then it is a chore, and it will be a chore for your children as well. But if you read poetry on your own because you love to learn, then your children will do the same.

Chapter 4 : Authority and Docility

We evangelicals find it easy to accept the premise that “the principles of Authority on the one hand and Docility on the other are natural, necessary and fundamental.” We comfortably teach the “stack” of submission found in, say, Ephesians:

“Children, obey your parents” (6:1)
“Wives, submit to your own husbands” (5:22)
“Servants, be obedient to them that are your masters” (6:5)
“Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ” (5:21)

At the same time, there seems to be a trend to divide the virtues into the “masculine” virtues and the “feminine” virtues. So, qualities like gentleness and tenderness are considered feminine, while qualities like courage and endurance are considered masculine. Or so we are told. The problem with this (false) dichotomy is that “docility” ends up in the “feminine” category. This is a serious problem, because, as Charlotte Mason points out, docility is fundamental. Docility is essential to manliness.

I think that Charlotte Mason speaks prophetically to our generation about this exact issue. She says that our children must “learn that habit of ‘proud subjection and dignified obedience’ which distinguishes great men and noble citizens.” “Proud” subjection and “dignified” obedience is manly docility and this is what we must develop in our boys. Miss Mason says it again in a slightly different way: “There must be subjection, but it must be proud, work as a distinction, an order of merit.”

In our society where everyone is clamoring to be the leader and no one wants to be the follower, this seems to be an oxymoron. How can subjection be proud? How can docility be a distinction? How can submission be an order of merit?

To find the answer, we must look to a previous age. I am enjoying reading Men of Iron with my son. The King asks the young Myles Falworth if he will face a veteran in the joust.

“Hast thou in good sooth the courage to face him? Knowest thou what a great thing it is that thou hast set upon thyself — to do battle, even in sport, with him?”

“Yea, your Majesty,” answered Myles, “well I wot it is a task haply beyond me. But gladly would I take upon me even a greater venture, and one more dangerous, to do your Majesty’s pleasure!”

This, I believe, is proud subjection.

Similarly, Myles’s friend and peer Gascoyne voluntarily submits to his equal:

Gascoyne shook his head and looked away, swallowing at the dry lump in his throat. Suddenly he turned to Myles. “Wilt thou grant me a boon?”

“Yea,” answered Myles. “What is it?”

“That thou wilt choose me for thy squire.”

“Nay,” said Myles; “how canst thou think to serve me as squire? Thou wilt be a knight thyself some day, Francis, and why dost thou wish now to be my squire?”

“Because,” said Gascoyne, with a short laugh, “I would rather be in thy company as a squire than in mine own as a knight, even if I might be banneret.”

Gascoyne’s manly choice is to serve. I think Charlotte Mason implies that we teach proud subjection by being in proud subjection ourselves.

Chapter 7 : How We Make Use of Mind

I just finished chapter 7, which is an exposition of Charlotte Mason’s 9th and 10th principles. In this chapter, she explains that the mind is like an organism that consumes ideas. It is not merely a sack that holds ideas. I think her argument is compelling and it aligns with what we intuitively know about how the mind works.

One big surprise for me in this chapter was her comment on World War I. Her remarks about the War always surprise me, but this one especially so:

To secure this same splendidly devoted voluntary service from all classes is the task set before us as a nation, a task the more easy because we have all seen it fulfilled in the War when every man was a potential hero. Now is it not the fact that the Army proved itself an unequalled University for our men, offering them increased knowledge, broad views, lofty aims, duty and discipline, along with the finest physical culture? … We cannot afford another great war for the education of our people but we must in some way supply the ‘University’ element…

Miss Mason here shows reverence and respect for the heroes of the War and the training the army provided. Certainly the Great War was a horror and a tragedy. “We cannot afford another” one. And yet with clear conscience we may celebrate the heroism and the character which it inspired.

In any event, I am not looking for a “great war for the education of” my children. I turn instead to living books. Miss Mason explains:

As I have said elsewhere, the ideas required for the sustenance of children are to be found mainly in books of literary quality; given these the mind does for itself the sorting, arranging, selecting, rejecting, classifying, which Herbart leaves to the struggle of the promiscuous ideas which manage to cross the threshold.

Grandpa has been reading living books lately to my son and recording the narrations. Grandpa is enjoying it, and he commented on the quality of the books. I think he is enjoying himself because the books in the curriculum have such literary quality. I am sure that the teacher, just as the student, is doing his own “sorting, arranging, selecting, rejecting, classifying” of the living ideas.

Why has grandpa picked up a share of school in our house? Because tragedy has struck our home. In January my beloved was diagnosed with cancer. In the two months since, there have been tests, doctor visits, and surgeries. She began chemotherapy yesterday. Her condition is very serious, but we are also filled with hope. Indeed my heart can only hope, because to me she is life incarnate. No one in the world is so alive as she. Only in her have I ever known true happiness. For the past fifteen years my prayer has always been that I would never spend a day without her in this world. Would you please pray this prayer with me?

Though each day is filled with hope, I also carry a sorrow and a grief with me wherever I go. I face the demands of my job. I see the faces of my 9-year old, my 6-year-old, and my 1-year-old. I see their needs. Many times I think I have nothing left to give. I start to say in my heart, “I can’t.” But every time that word crosses my mind, I remember the motto. “I can.” Not only this, but “I ought.” And “I will.” Thank you, Miss Mason, for showing me the way of the will. Yes … I will.


Dear Friends,

Thank you for asking about how we are doing. And thank you to everyone who has been praying for us. Last year in January my wife Barbara was diagnosed with stage IV cancer. This led to surgery followed by six months of chemotherapy. That season was extremely difficult for me and the nine poems I wrote over those six months chronicle the struggle I experienced.

By the grace of God, at the end of the chemotherapy, a CAT Scan revealed no sign of cancer in Barbara’s body. Subsequent scans every three months continue to show no sign of cancer. Barbara has been gradually recovering from the stress of chemotherapy and now she is filled with life and strength. Our family has been touched by God and I have been changed into a different person.

During Barbara’s treatment, she was unable to homeschool. But her father came to our house every day and carried on a Charlotte Mason education with our children. My children used a digital recorder to record their narrations, which I listened to on my long drive to and from the office. By God’s grace, I was able to continue teaching them math, Bible, and French in the evenings. Through all of this I tried to be faithful to Charlotte Mason’s principles.

In the months before Barbara’s cancer, I experienced a personal awakening as a result of reading Charlotte Mason’s books. Miss Mason gave me much more than a method for education my children. She opened my eyes to beauty. I was touched by art and nature. I wrote about my awakening here.

I created a blog which I called Le Jardin Féerique (The Enchanted Garden). A painting by Monet was featured on the front page. That was because my life felt like an enchanted garden. Everywhere I was surrounded by beauty.

But when the cancer came, I was changed again. Those things which once filled me with such pleasure now seemed dry and empty. Gone were Monet and Ravel and opera and poems. It was like waking up to discover that my sense of taste had vanished, and that all food had become bland.

Instead, I drank deeply of the words of a medieval saint and I found that Christ’s sufferings overflow into our lives. My Savior wore a crown of thorns and now He was sharing His crown with me. Christ on the Cross became my exquisite comfort. His blood was still warm and His blood was fresh for me.

I discovered the renaissance music of Francesco Guerrero. It was all I could listen to. When I heard the choir sing his music, I found a light that could penetrate darkness, and in this light I saw the face of my Savior.

Through an unexpected turn of events I was able to visit Florence with Barbara and together we went to the Church of Santa Maria Novella. There we saw the famous fresco by Andrea di Bonaiuto. In front of that fresco I prayed that God would make me faithful to teach my children. And in the church I saw the crucifix by Giotto. There was my Savior who shared His sufferings with me.

Once per month I went to a plant identification class with my son. It was on Saturdays. Invariably the next morning as we sang the Hosanna, images of the sunlight and flowers from the day before would flash into my mind. When I sang that the whole earth is full of His glory, there could be no darkness or doubt.

This second transformation made me doubt the reality of my first Charlotte Mason awakening. Did Charlotte Mason speak only in Le Jardin Féerique? What happens when dark clouds hover over the Garden Path at Giverny?

These questions troubled me until the ChildLight conference this past June. There I began to see that beauty is found not only in sunlight and magic. And I realized that art is best when it is not opaque. The best art is a window. The demon of cancer revealed to me that I did not want art. I wanted Christ. Guerrero and Giotto showed His face to me.

When I looked back at Mason’s writings, I noticed this:

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.

Not all literature gives us life. Mason wrote, “but not the works of every playwright and novelist are good ‘for example of life and instruction in manners.’”

I finished reading the six volumes just before January of last year. In the months that followed, I found little solace in Mason’s writings. At the conference in June, I confided about this to a friend. “Perhaps I was expecting too much from Charlotte,” I said. Perhaps Miss Mason could only be my guide during the day, but not at night.

But after the conference it finally dawned on me: what was the light that did shine on me during my struggle? It was a medieval saint, a renaissance composer, an Italian artist, an American flower. How would I have discovered any of these, if not for Charlotte Mason? Without the relationships she established, how could the Spirit of God have ever used them to breathe life into me?

I now understand that Charlotte Mason is not my living water. But thank God, she showed me where I could find it.

Blessings in Christ,