Both teachers and parents feel strongly the weight of responsibility on their shoulders in caring for and training their young charges. This feeling of responsibility seems to increase exponentially when the parent becomes the teacher of his own children. Though I have only been a parent for the last year and have taught in various capacities over the last 15 years, it is the group that answers to both parent and teacher that I feel I know the best. I’ve had endless conversations with homeschooling parents in my capacity as co-operator of our private lending library. And now I am one. Indeed, my son was only a few weeks old when terror struck me as I’ve never known—I was suddenly dubious of my ability to implement all the educational ideas I’ve studied for the past 10 years, and literally felt like I was suffocating from the weight of responsibility.
I don’t know why that fear surprises me. I often observe that homeschooling parents are the most insecure individuals on the planet. We second guess every decision we make, we are always striving for a better way of doing everything school related, all the while (no matter what educational training we may have) we realize how inadequate our efforts are. Thankfully, Charlotte Mason has some apt words of wisdom on this subject. I remember first reading the following words, joy filling my artist’s heart:
A great promise has been given to the world––that its teachers shall not any more be removed. 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. (Ourselves, page 102)
Little did I realize then how appreciative I would be that Mason took her own words to heart when she visited Florence, Italy. There, in the Spanish Chapel in Santa Maria Novella, she listened intently to the message that God had whispered in the ear of the fresco painter, and as she did so developed one of the captain ideas of her educational philosophy, what she referred to as “The Great Recognition,” which is summed up in her 20th Principle of Education:
We allow no separation to grow up between the intellectual and ‘spiritual’ life of children, but teach them that the Divine Spirit has a constant access to their spirits, and is their continual Helper in all the interests, duties and joys of life. (From the Preface to A Philosophy of Education)
In this statement is two-fold encouragement for parents and teachers who sometimes doubt their ability to fulfill their duties towards the children in their care. First, the Holy Spirit is truly the teacher of children. We, as God’s deputed authorities in their lives do have duties to perform, but we can take comfort knowing that One who cares infinitely more for these little ones is at the helm of their education. His infinite nature is especially equipped for the task:
Let this be the mother’s key to the whole of the education of each boy and each girl; not of her children; the divine Spirit does not work with nouns of multitude, but with each single child. Because He is infinite, the whole world is not too great a school for this indefatigable Teacher, and because He is infinite, He is able to give the whole of his infinite attention for the whole time to each one of his multitudinous pupils. We do not sufficiently rejoice in the wealth that the infinite nature of our God brings to each of us. (Parents and Children, page 273)
Mason reminds us of the important role we parents and teachers play in our children’s education. Just because all knowledge is taught by the Holy Spirit, does not mean we are let off the hook. Our duty is to cooperate with him in this work. Her first 19 Principles of Education spell out just how this cooperation works. By respecting the personhood of the child,
Jonah listens to Modigliani at the National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.
establishing habits for good living, and spreading a feast of living ideas in a wide and generous curriculum we cooperate. But in this charge there is an implicit warning for us—we can, and often do, hinder the Great Teacher. By too much talk, presenting “dead,” dry facts, lists, dates, rules, and definitions we can impede his teaching.
Our co-operation appears to be the indispensable condition of all the divine workings. We recognize this in what we call spiritual things . . . but the new thing to us is, that grammar, for example, may be taught in such a way as to invite and obtain the co-operation of the Divine Teacher, or in such a way as to exclude His illuminating presence from the schoolroom . . . the true, direct, and humble teaching of grammar, without pedantry and without verbiage, is, we may venture to believe, accompanied by the illuminating power of the Holy Spirit, of whom is all knowledge. (Parents and Children, page 274)
We are not to be the “Showman of the Universe;” it is not our responsibility to interpret every idea for our children. Instead, we work alongside the Holy Spirit by offering living ideas, striving for the living way to teach each subject.
“Wait!” says the reader. “I thought this was to be an encouraging idea for us parents and teachers!”
Which brings me to the second encouragement in Mason’s “Great Recognition.” The Divine Spirit is our helper too. Though we are parents and teachers, we are still His children. Most parents I speak with voice the hope that their children will be “lifelong learners.” We should always remember that this applies to us as well. Just as James reminds us that if we lack wisdom, we should ask God who gives liberally to all, Mason echoes this same thought. Quoting Psalm 31 she writes,
[O]nce the intimate relation, the relation of Teacher and taught in all things of the mind and spirit, be fully recognized, our feet are set in a large room; there is space for free development in all directions, and this free and joyous development, whether of intellect or heart, is recognized as a Godward movement. (Parents and Children, page 275)
In reading this I’m reminded of one of my favorite Mason quotes, from School Education:
‘Thou hast set my feet in a large room,’ should be the glad cry of every intelligent soul . . . 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? In fact, how large is the room in which he finds his feet set? and, therefore, how full is the life he has before him? (pages 170-71)
By remembering that we, each one of us, have a Divine Teacher ready to instruct us in all knowledge, who generously bestows wisdom on all who ask, we need not fear our inadequacies as parents and teachers. We should be rejoicing that we have our feet set in a large room, and realize that we have been given the great gift of a full life; that He who began a good work in each one of us is faithful to complete it.
You can find Emily Cottrill Kiser online at www.livingbookslibrary.com.
© 2015 by Emily Cottrill Kiser