Ties That Bind

Ties That Bind

Editor’s note: Lisa Osika lives near Omaha, Nebraska and is a homeschool mother of four children ages one to fourteen. She has homeschooled her children according to the principles of a Charlotte Mason Living Education since the beginning, but each year has brought new revelations and understanding. She organizes a Charlotte Mason book study in Omaha and has spoken locally on the Charlotte Mason method.

© Lisa Osika 2017

For a girl from Nebraska not accustomed to spanning wide bodies of water on a suspension bridge, crossing the Golden Gate Bridge a few years ago was, to say the least, thrilling. In Nebraska most of our waterways are crossed by a mere heave-ho and a jump. Before this ride across the Golden Gate, my only encounter with this bridge was through pictures. Frankly it never did look to me like the bridge could really hold anything up. But, since Nebraska is a long way from California, this disconnect between perception and reality never bothered me. I didn’t think I’d ever need to reconcile the two, so I never did – until that day.

©2010 Nic Nieuwoudt

As we headed down the hill and around the corner, all of a sudden I needed to reconcile. Sure, I’d done a popsicle bridge in school and learned the reasons why the bridge worked (supposedly). But as our vehicle approached the bridge, those cables looked ominously like the strings on my popsicle bridge. However, at 45 miles per hour I did not have the time to stop and examine the cables. If I had, I would have seen that the two main cables are massive cords of solid steel. Equally sturdy are the vertical hanging steel suspension ropes which are attached to the main cables every 50 feet. The bridge is solid, no doubt, and part of its stability is due to the 250 pair of vertical hanging suspension ropes.

These vertical suspension ropes give the bridge some of its elegance but serve a more practical purpose by taking the weight of traffic and transferring it to the main cables. Each of the vertical suspension ropes have a role to play. Should one go missing, the integrity of the bridge would be compromised. The day to day, hour by hour wear and tear on the bridge is a responsibility to be handled by the suspension ropes.

The suspension ropes… Could we transfer this image of the Golden Gate Bridge to an explanation of a Charlotte Mason Living Education? Could we, with imagination, picture each of the various parts of a Charlotte Mason Education as a strong and vital suspension rope? These suspension ropes are the things that a Charlotte Mason Education relies on and are quite often unique to a Living Education. They are part of the day to day, hour to hour workings of the CM educational life. Maybe in our Charlotte Mason bridge, narration would be one of the suspension ropes. Knowledge of God with Bible lessons as the child’s chief lessons might be another rope. The child as a personatmosphere, the habit of attention, and living books might all be ropes. You can probably think of others.

May I suggest to you one rope that like the others is vital but rarely given thought? It is a characteristic of a Charlotte Mason Education that doesn’t surface in the lesson plans of the day to day life of a CM educator. But without it the daily lessons yield to insecurity. It is taken for granted and overlooked, but it is vital because if it were gone a Charlotte Mason Living Education would lose a characteristic that gives it strength and dependability.

This rope is stability.

One of the most valuable characteristics of a Charlotte Mason Education is its stability. Where is this stability found? It is found in history. It is linked to the history of Charlotte herself. This stability comes from the fact that the CM philosophy and method have never changed and never will change. The nature of a Charlotte Mason Education is based on a fixed philosophy and method. The philosophy was laid out beginning with Charlotte’s first writings in the late 1880’s ending with her death in 1923. Her Twenty Principles summarize her philosophy and lay the basis for her methods. Her six volumes expound on the Twenty Principles, giving explanation and insight into the philosophy and method. A Charlotte Mason Education is consistently definable because it was established by one woman, it was written down at a definite point in history, it is finished and complete, and it is available it its entirety to readers. It has no additional contributors nor is it open to additional contributions. It is, therefore, unchanging; this is its nature.

If an educational system does not begin from a fixed point in history and have fixed authorship for its foundation but is, rather, a product of the timeline, it cannot claim this stability. If in its history it has allowed various contributors to add to the practices or philosophy, it is a fluid system that must continually be open to explore and implement new ideas and change. If it has been built allowing various ideas, this type of system will inevitably have subjective and changing definitions and practices. At any given point in time there will be various implementations of this type of educational system. If it has changed along the way, it will continue to change in the future. If interjecting new ideas and variations is its core, it is an unfinished, incomplete model. It will change; it must change to strive for completion; this is its nature.

The educator in this type of model is also vulnerable to new ideas and alterations. In this system, a conscientious educator must not only be willing to change but must be willing to search out the change to the current model. Indeed, some may find this pursuit of new ideas, learning of past theories, and reforming of models inviting. Using a system that by nature is one of change creates an undercurrent for the diligent educator to be a learner of various educational histories and theory and open for the next improvement to the model.

The stability suspension rope of a Charlotte Mason Education gives the educator a different outlook. This perspective is one that comes as a perk with a finished, unchanging, complete method and philosophy. It brings to the educator a solid steadiness – stability. It is not a closed-minded rigidity; but rather, security and confidence in a proven, successful method. In the day to day duties, Charlotte Mason’s stability means that the educator can rely on the method being complete and satisfying. While exploring other theories may satisfy curiosity, is not necessary and serves no practical purpose for a Charlotte Mason educator; nor would a CM educator need to import other ideas into the method because they are superfluous. The educational searching of other past or present sources – the drive to find more, teach more, do more, understand more – can be left behind, without wondering what the method might be missing. It is a successful, complete package for us today, just as it was at its first writing.

A Charlotte Mason Education creates an atmosphere of rest and peace for the educator. It has everything necessary and satisfies the demand of the learner. An educator can rely on its dependability. Stability gives the Charlotte Mason educator confidence to focus her pursuit on learning the implementation of the methods and assurance to internalize the philosophy. Stability is a most valuable and vital rope to a Charlotte Mason Education.

The Mighty Task is Done

by Joseph P. Strauss, Chief Engineer, Golden Gate Bridge and Highway District

Written upon completion of the building of the Bridge in May 1937

At last the mighty task is done;
Resplendent in the western sun
The Bridge looms mountain high;
Its titan piers grip ocean floor,
Its great steel arms link shore with shore,
Its towers pierce the sky.

On its broad decks in rightful pride,
The world in swift parade shall ride,
Throughout all time to be;
Beneath, fleet ships from every port,
Vast landlocked bay, historic fort,
And dwarfing all – the sea.

To north, the Redwood Empire’s gates;
To south, a happy playground waits,
in Rapturous appeal;
Here nature, free since time began,
Yields to the restless moods of man,
Accepts his bonds of steel.

Launched midst a thousand hopes and fears,
Damned by a thousand hostile sneers,
Yet ne’er its course was stayed,
But ask of those who met the foe
Who stood alone when faith was low,
Ask them the price they paid.

Ask of the steel, each strut and wire,
Ask of the searching, purging fire,
That marked their natal hour;
Ask of the mind, the hand, the heart,
Ask of each single, stalwart part,
What gave it force and power.

An Honored cause and nobly fought
And that which they so bravely wrought,
Now glorifies their deed,
No selfish urge shall stain its life,
Nor envy, greed, intrigue, nor strife,
Nor false, ignoble creed.

High overhead its lights shall gleam,
Far, far below life’s restless stream,
Unceasingly shall flow;
For this was spun its lithe fine form,
To fear not war, nor time, nor storm,
For Fate had meant it so.

4 Replies to “Ties That Bind”

  1. Lisa, this is excellent! What a wonderful analogy. Thank you for writing this post!

    Blessings to you,

    Mary Beuving

  2. I like your analogy about the bridge and the cables to show the importance of all the various components of Mason’s educational philosophy! I’ve certainly found that the better I understand her practices and principles and the more fully I implement them, the better our homeschool and family becomes.

    However, in reading your article, I’m wondering why she called her sixth book, “Towards a Philosophy of Education” if she meant that her philosophy of education to be something that was completely wrapped up and finished. Was it modesty, or was she implying that she was leaving the door open for further development of her educational philosophy?

    This was something that occurred to me as I was reading your article, and I was wondering if you had any thoughts on the matter.

    1. Amber,

      Yes agreed! It is always encouraging to hear that others find the same things – those principles and practices are so important. As I’ve gone along through the years I’ve had the same experience you have – it gets better the more I apply.

      I have a couple thoughts on Volume 6…

      One general thought on titles of books – the content of a book always trumps the title. One must absorb what is within the cover of the book in order to truly understand an author and her purpose. For example, related to CM, Charlotte’s volume School Education has a lot that is applicable to my situation even though I am not a school educator and my children are not in school. I should not skip reading and applying that volume because of the title. If the title Towards A Philosophy of Education seems to imply that the author is unsure of her footing or considering her work to be one of gaining a consensus or issuing an open door for other implementations, I find that in reading the whole of Volume 6 one could not come away with this as Charlotte’s intention.

      But more applicable, I think, (if I am hearing you correctly) to this situation is looking at the word Towards. When the term “Towards…” is used by an author in a title it is not as a matter of direction so to speak. The author is not saying she is moving toward a goal, or toward an end point, or toward completion. Often a work that uses a “Towards A…” title has in mind a question (or a set of questions) to be examined and answered, presuppositions that are often clarified to help with definitions, and analyses of theories and criticisms. It is often used as a bringing together and wrapping up of a body of work from someone who after long study has become an expert in a field – a culmination, a manifesto. Volume 6 would have all of these things included and therefore would make the “Towards A….” title appropriate.

      The overarching question she asks is obviously “How do we educate?”, with numerous offshoot questions like “How do we hinder the child? How is the mind fed?” She sets up the nature of a child – how he learns, what his mind will feed upon — and offers her conclusions as to how to educate according to his nature. She looks at criticisms and opposing systems. For example, she looks at some of the downfalls of the German system. Volume 6 is packed full of Charlotte’s theory and her conclusions, her view of other methods, and her answers. The text doesn’t offer any openings for insertions or invitations for variations. She states her goals and theory in solid yet gentle servings to the reader and learner.

      You mention her modesty. Yes, no doubt she was. I see her as really getting her feet solidly planted and in her gentle yet firm way saying “this is how it is” in volume 6. It being her last volume and her being of older age with years of experience under her belt, I think she gave it all she had in volume 6 and didn’t want to miss making sure she covered everything exactly as she wanted it. And again she is an example to us — a person can be solidly convinced due to knowledge and experience and can make their declaration, and yet do it with respect and a settled calm allowing the Holy Spirit to work as He will.

      And for fun, one of my favorite CM Vol 6 quotes — “they like lollipops but cannot live upon them; yet there is a serious attempt in certain schools to supply the intellectual, moral, and religious needs of children by appropriate ’sweetmeats’.”


      1. Hi Lisa,

        Thank you for your thoughtful reply! I appreciate it. As I’ve been re-reading Vol. 6 for a discussion group I’ve been struck by how she continues to touch on her long experience with children and her methods, subtly reminding us that she’s no armchair philosopher, positing possibilities. She is an experienced educator who is sharing her wealth of experience and what she’s seen grow and develop in the children through the PNEU.

        Thanks again for your response,

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