I love being a pupil of Charlotte Mason. Learning from her has changed me and my life for the better. I am not alone in this. A number of my friends claim she has changed their lives as well. My friend, Anna Marie, became a nature lover and artists through studying Mason’s works and teaching at Charlotte Mason Community School (CMCS). My friend Chris discovered his love for Japanese art and furniture, after his niece made him a table covered with Hokusai postcards. She learned about Hokusai in her picture study class at CMCS.
There are a lot of us out there – adults who have discovered beauty and relational living after reading Mason’s writings or learning of her philosophy of education through the words or actions of others. I have begun to slow down and experience nature. Overcoming my fear of making childish pictures, I keep a nature journal filled with tiny pencil drawings and watercolor paintings. Teaching Picture Study got me interested in art. Now, I can easily identify a Renoir or Jacob Lawrence painting. I now know that the easiest way for me to remember what I have read is to narrate it to myself. All thanks to Mason!
As much as I appreciate this richness Mason has brought into my life, it is her belief that children are born persons that I consider her most precious gift to me. During the twenty years that I have been reading and discussing her writings and putting her methods to practice in our home school and at CMCS, I have come to appreciate that this is how we should view everyone. The fact that children are born persons connotes that we should treat them as persons. The questions this brings up are:
What do we believe about personhood?
How should we treat a person?
As Mason points out in A Philosophy of Education, “The consequence of truth is great, therefore the judgement of it must not be negligent”(p. 33).
In telling us how we know that a child is born a person, what does she tell us about personhood? She states that a person is born with a mind that is complete and beautiful, with a God-hunger, and able to comprehend something of the infinite and unseen. She reminds us that a person enters this world with imagination, hope, expectation, reason, a will, and a conscience. This person is capable of dealing with knowledge and of making choices, both good and evil.
In the synopsis of her philosophy of education, Mason calls education a Science of Relations. Later, she states that humans are made for relationships – with God, man, and the universe. In her discussion on the sacredness of personality, she says, “All action comes out of the ideas we hold and if we ponder duly upon personality we shall come to perceive that we can not commit a greater offense than to maim or crush, or subvert any part of a person” (p. 80).
She continues by stating that we are guilty of this subversion, when we encourage or press a person to do or believe something through the use of wrong motives. Whether the motive be love, suggestion, influence, vanity, emulation, or a desire for our society, we are forbidden to use it, out of respect for the sacredness of personality. In her chapter on the three instruments of education, she identifies the giving of opinions as another way we devalue a person. She says we are to offer persons ideas and not opinions. Ideas are vital and birth ideas. Opinions are crystallized, do not feed people, and do not give birth to new ideas. Since persons are capable of dealing with knowledge, we set ideas before others, leaving them to accept or reject them.
This attitude of acting toward people without examining what my actions say about the way I view them is one I struggle with. I think it is one most of us struggle with. Even though I have improved tremendously, I am not totally beyond behaving as though I think a child may be incapable of thinking deeply or of coming to intelligent conclusions without my help. Sometimes, I don’t give children the opportunity to struggle with something or fail and learn from their experience. I can see this same behavior cropping up in my interaction with people who are poor, people who have made bad choices, or people who don’t agree with me on big issues. Sometimes, I see it in the way I treat my spouse.
Mason sat at the feet of Jesus. She knew what God desires in our relationships with others:
that we love and respect one another,
that we don’t judge one another,
that we think more highly of every person than we do of ourselves.
Her writings overflow with respect for people – children, the poor, the uneducated, pagans, Christians, people of different cultures than her own, and people with whom she disagreed strongly. She believed that all persons are created in the image of God. We all have the capacity to deal with knowledge, live full, rich lives, and make positive contributions to society, but we don’t all have the same resources, experiences, or opportunities.
Mason’s concerns about education grew out of her respect for persons. She said that a poor education launches a person upon too arid and confined a life. Often, when I talk with others about a Charlotte Mason education, they refer to all the components of a CM education that they love – narration, nature study, picture study, outdoor play, etc. I love all of these as well, but they in themselves do not make a Charlotte Mason education. They are outgrowths of her philosophy and her desire, expressed in her quote of Matthew Arnold, that all people would “Think clear, feel deep, bear fruit well.” (p. 342).
Mason, C. M. (1989). A Philosophy of Education. Wheaton Illinois. Tyndale House Publishers, Inc. (Original work published 1925 by Kegan Paul, Trench, Trubner and Co. Ltd., London).
© 2015 by Evelyn Hoey