Seventeen years of Treehouse talk

Seventeen years of Treehouse talk

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Charlotte Mason and the Three Faces of Education

"And Ennui.––This notion, that education is included in environment, or, at the best, in atmosphere, has held the ground for a generation or two, and it seems to me that it has left its mark upon our public and our private lives. We are more ready to be done unto than to do; we do not care for the labour of ordering our own lives in this direction or in that; they must be conducted for us; a press of engagements must compel us into what next, and what next after. We crave for spectacular entertainment, whether in the way of pageants in the streets, or spectacles on the boards. Even Shakespeare has come to be so much the occasion for gorgeous spectacles that what the poet says is of little moment compared with the show a play affords. There is nothing intentionally vicious in all this; it is simply our effort to escape from the ennui that results from a one-sided view of education,––that education is an atmosphere only."--Charlotte Mason, School Education, page 150
Is education only environment, or atmosphere? Charlotte Mason points out, in the passage above, the danger of never applying ourselves to seek out ideas, but only letting them drop in our laps, hoping they'll just sink in (something like the current worries over the bits and bites of news that come shooting at us online). If we never make a serious effort to go out and Think, we might end up worrying only about nothing weightier than how to tie a cravat.
On the other hand, she says, the idea that Education is a Life can also be abused. If we're so obsessed with chasing down every last idea, and so busy Thinking that there is no joy in it (another kind of information overload), we will bore our friends and exhaust ourselves.
Miss Mason also mentions a third approach to learning: "mind as machine," or as she puts it, the belief that "Education is the Cultivation of Faculties, leads to Abnormal Developments." She points out that this idea is not so far removed from "Education is a Discipline," but that the difference is just large enough to cause real mistakes if we don't see it. You don't read Shakespeare with children by giving them long lists of vocabulary to be quizzed on; in fact, you don't read it with them to enrich their vocabularies, or to teach them about the life of Julius Caesar, or what blank verse is; or because you want them to show off (or to show them off?) in front of the grandparents or the public schoolers. You read it with them because you want to give them something that already belongs to them.  You read it because it's worth reading, because it's beautiful or true, because it gives you new understanding of God and people. You read it, as you look at paintings and stars and cathedrals, to gain some lasting "mind furniture."

To wind up: my ninth grader came home from the public library recently and complained that a lot of the "teenage books" there all seemed to focus on the same few topics, most of them inappropriate. She gets that; she's not asking to read them. She just wishes that more writers would realize that lots of young people have broader interests than vampires and whatever. What's the "real world," anyway, and who's to say who is or isn't living in it? Is education just what a teacher tells you to memorize, and information just what comes at you over whatever gadget you carry around? Do we have to rebel so hard, trying to get whatever knowledge is out there, that we frighten ourselves? Or do we allow the hard work of learning to turn us into computers wearing tennis shoes?

We can let education drive us, or we can allow it to humanize us. We need all three of its faces, but, as Charlotte Mason says--"in proportion."

Midnight oil graphic found on

Linked from the Charlotte Mason Blog Carnival: Education is a Life.


amy in peru said...

in the midst of the insanity of life right now, this is worth remembering...

"We can let education drive us, or we can allow it to humanize us."

thank you.


Lanaya said...

All things in proportion is a very wise truth that is easy to forget. Good reminder ~

Sarah said...

Right on..I remember a friend telling me when I told her we would be reading Shakespeare and other great writers in our homeschool This: "Don't forget it is about the story, and that is why we read them." I have never forgotten this. Thank you for this reminder again to enjoy the story and let it enrich us right where we need to be enriched and enrich us as we need it.