Charlotte Mason Community School began as Ambleside Community School in Detroit in 2002, with 18 students. The founders first spent a few years studying Charlotte Mason and researching how to start a school. This fall, God willing, we will begin a new school year, with 70+ students, in a building that we lease from a church in Detroit. Attrition, from teachers who are choosing to stay home with new babies, and from retirement, has thinned our ranks, and we hope to hire new teachers who will join with us in this mission work in Detroit. It will be my pleasure to train and oversee the new teachers.
Therefore, I recently set myself the task of reading Towards a Philosophy of Education once more, from the beginning. I thought I would be going over familiar territory, not realizing that I most often refer to some well-read pages in this volume, and have not read it from cover to cover in some time.
The first topic that caught my attention was Mason’s reference to the Great War. She reflects in the Introduction about how Germany came to be in the place in which they would allow what she calls a “breakdown in character and conduct.” The reason soon follows:
“the symptoms have been duly traced to their cause in the thoughts the people have been taught to think during three or four generations (p.1).”
Our school in Detroit is adjacent to Wayne State University, my alma mater, where I truly hope great thoughts are still encouraged and expected. However, surrounding us are casinos and sports venues that won huge tax concessions from the city so that they could be built. At the same time, funding for the education of the minds and souls of the children of this city is in question. Give us three or four generations more of these sad priorities and injustices, and where will we be? Not being a public school, our school must charge tuition or close our doors, but we depend on every dollar given to us to make up for the tuition fees the parents cannot in any way afford to pay. The public schools are similarly endangered.
The bright spot in all of this worry: our present students are being allowed to think, to question, to delve into great works, and not only that, but to become persons, because Mason also says in this Introduction,
“the more of a person we succeed in making a child, the better will he both fulfill his own life and serve society (p.3).”
A few years ago, I took a few days off from school to visit my son and daughter-in-law in Oakland, California, as they were moving from a loft apartment into a tiny house that they had purchased. Oakland is a city undergoing many changes. The homeless gather in parks and under highway bypasses, even as young people, like my son, are moving into their neighborhoods and bringing with them the usual gentrification signs: bike lanes and coffee shops.
I stepped outside their loft apartment one morning, waiting for them to come down, when suddenly I felt a person touching me, surrounding me from the back. I turned quickly, and a tall man was behind me. He never spoke, but followed me as I backed away. I headed for the front door of the building to be let back in. I felt threatened, but I wasn’t hurt. My son said, when I pointed him out, that he most certainly was a heroin user, because of the telltale signs on his face. I kept thinking of the man, wondering how he came to be homeless, and whether anyone had ever shown him kindness or opened up the world to him as a child. When I returned to Detroit, Evelyn, our principal, told me that a woman was asking if we would take her son as a student. It was March, and late in the year to be taking new students. She said the woman was a bus driver who drove past our school every day, and wanted something better for her son. He was being bullied at school and was behind in reading. I thought of the homeless man, and told Evelyn: we must take him.
Our little child, we saw immediately, needed all of the nurturing and care we could give him. We provided an atmosphere that fosters growth as persons. We provided the discipline of habits, formed “definitely and thoughtfully”. We provided life: “intellectual and moral, as well as physical, sustenance”. (Preface)
These three educational instruments are the backbone of the methods we employ to teach students to think, to narrate back what they read and hear, and to make connections and form relationships with the world around them. We will continue our commitment to help them become persons who will both fulfill their own lives and serve society. If we are diligent, perhaps there will be future generations in this city and this country who will be thinking great thoughts about the problems of society, whose characters and conduct reflect the great minds and hearts of our most admired leaders, not the wishes of those who would prey upon the weaknesses of others.
I am going to continue my re-reading of Towards a Philosophy of Education, but I am amazed at what I have already gained from the first few pages.
© 2017 by Therese Racklyeft