We live in an information age – an age in which we want to (and, in most cases, can) obtain information in the easiest and most precise way possible. Measuring results is important to us. We love data. (I use it to make a point below.) Like pictures, numbers say a lot quickly. However, with regard to education, numbers do not always serve us.
True education is about ideas, relationships, and the growth of people and truly cannot be measured with standardized tests and data. Yet, we have become so obsessed with trying to make education fit our form of measurement, that we have made true education nearly impossible.
The enthusiasm, intelligence and self-sacrifice of most teachers are both evident and amazing. Most of them didn’t go into teaching for the pay or the accolades, but because teaching is their passion. Yet, according to the National Education Association (NEA, 2016), 20 percent of all new teachers leave the classroom within three years. In urban areas, close to 50 percent leave the classroom during their first five years of teaching. I personally know at least half dozen teachers who left the field within the past 5 years. Two of them lived with me.
What Charlotte Mason saw over one hundred years ago is still true today, “The real drawback to a teacher’s work and the stumbling-block in the way of a liberal education is the monotonous drudgery of teaching continually what no one wants to learn” (1989/1925b, p. 251). She referred to teachers as instruments of forcible intellectual feeding.
And what of those children who are being forcibly fed what no one wants to learn? In a number of her writings, Mason gives the reader examples of the enormous amount of knowledge children acquire by the age of 2 years, 5 years and 6 years, all without formal education. This they do because they are born with ‘the divinely implanted principle of curiosity.’ The young child desperately wants to know, asks all kinds of questions, and can spend hours exploring the world and asking “Why?” This “wanting to know” drives the child to learn and to love learning.
However, once she goes to school, she most likely won’t be asked what she wants to learn. She will be told what she must know. The teacher, her fellow prisoner in this system, will not depend on the child’s innate curiosity as the driving force for her to acquire knowledge. He or she will, instead, use the child’s desire to excel – to do better than the rest. He or she will employ praises, prizes and grades. Mason states that the desire to excel is not bad, in and of itself, but used continually, it maims the desire to know. The child then becomes a passive, rather than active participant in her education.
And the enthusiastic teacher who came out of college with visions of preparing his students to live rich, happy, and productive lives, what becomes of him? He becomes an administrator of scripted lessons, test preparation and standardized tests. Students in the nation’s big-city schools will take, on average, about 112 mandatory standardized tests between prekindergarten and high school graduation (Zernike, 2016)). Instead of exploring deeper with his students, discussing challenging issues, encouraging their creativity, and building community in his classroom, he and his students will be measured and, most likely, found wanting.
They have been set up for failure by people who do not know this teacher or any of his students, the rich contributions he has to offer, or the interests or needs of the children in his care. Mason claimed that education is a science of relations – with God, with people (both past and present), and with the world we live in, and its goal is the growth of a person. These cannot happen unless the child has time, opportunity and interest.
I find it sad and disheartening that over one hundred years after Mason wrote the quote below, it is still relevant. Not only is it relevant, but the issue has grown to such proportions that it is a burden our children and teachers can no longer bear. And, while the disillusioned teacher (who has invested years of study and a considerable amount of money) can leave the profession, our children must waste away on a steady diet of intellectual gruel and suffer excessive measurement and continual fear of failure.
“Probably the world has never seen a finer body of educationalists than those who at the present moment man our schools…. But the originality, the fine initiative, of these most able men and women is practically lost. The schools are examination-ridden, and the heads can strike out no important new lines. Let us begin our efforts by believing in one another, parents in teachers and teachers in parents. Both parents and teachers have the one desire, the advance of the child along the lines of character. Both groan equally under the limitations of the present system. Let us have courage, and united and concerted action will overthrow this Juggernaut that we have made” (Mason, 1989, p. 224).
Mason, C. M., (1989a). Parents and children. Wheaton: Tyndale House Publishers, Inc. (Original work published 1925)
Mason, C. M. (1989b). A Philosophy of education. Wheaton: Tyndale House Publishers, Inc. (Original work published 1925)
National Education Association. (2016, Feb 16). Research Spotlight on Recruiting & Retaining Highly Qualified Teachers. Retrieved from nea.org.
Zernike, K. (2016, Feb 16). Obama Administration Calls for Limits on Testing in Schools. The New York Times. Retrieved from www.NewYorkTimes.com.
Evelyn Hoey is a cofounder of the Charlotte Mason Association of Detroit and Charlotte Mason Community School (CMCS). She has been studying Mason’s philosophy and methods for over twenty years. Evelyn serves as principal of CMCS.
© 2016 by Evelyn Hoey