Our Charlotte Mason study group has begun a new study. We are working through Consider This, Charlotte Mason and the Classical Tradition by Karen Glass. When Consider This was first published, I purchased it and downloaded the free Study Guide that Karen wrote to accompany the study. The guide is broken down by chapter and offers discussion questions or writing prompts, an applicable quote from an outside source, and suggested alternative reading for further study. We are using it to guide our monthly discussions.
I will be blogging through our Consider This study based on my notes and our group discussion. My thoughts, opinions, and words are certainly not final or authoritative. Rather, this is my way of working through the study, attempting to make sense of the Charlotte Mason method and the Classical Tradition in order to determine whether or not Charlotte Mason was in fact a classical educator, as well as whether or not it matters, and how it affects my homeschool. I will most likely be posting here monthly regarding our study.
Now to begin...In the Introduction of Consider This, Glass gives a very brief introduction of Charlotte Mason as well as Classical Education. She notes that "The very word 'classical' hearkens back to the ancient world of Plato - of Greece and later Rome." Glass asserts that it's not just enough to look back at what they did in classical education, but why they did what they did. Her assertion that it's more important to look at the principles behind the practices, put me in mind of a Schole Sisters podcast I recently listened to called Which Comes First? The Principles or the Practice?. You might consider listening to make your own interpretation.
In Chapter One, Glass explains that folks of Victorian England considered themselves "modern". Apparently, the buzzwords of that time were "science" and "scientific". Many of Charlotte's contemporaries were ready to be done with ancient ways of educating. The question of her day seems to have been, "Should education continue to focus on the classical languages and literature as it had for centuries, or should it become more scientific?" Why does this some how still seem relevant today?...ahem!
Anyway, rather than reinvent the wheel, Charlotte decided to take a look at these ancient philosophies and methods. She studied many schools of different thought and educated herself. Based on her studies, she grew to understand the principles behind the practices and then began to develop new ways of presenting old ideas. Charlotte then shared these ideas and knowledge with others at her teacher training school, House of Education, as well as the Parents' National Education Union (PNEU).
I have been studying and implementing Charlotte's methods of education in our homeschool for many years. I've always marveled at Charlotte's insight and her apparent wealth of knowledge when it came to children and education, wondering particularly how she could possibly know so much having never been a mother or rearing children of her own. I had an aha moment in reading Glass's words showing how seriously Charlotte took her teaching responsibility and how she made education a priority. Glass points out how well read Charlotte was....
Her books contain references to such thinkers as Plato, Plutarch, Erasmus, Comenius, Milton, Montaigne, Rousseau, Spenser, Locke, Herbart, Pestalozzi, Arnold, Ruskin, James, and dozens more by name, and indirect references to many more besides, such as Maria Montessori, psychologist Theron Q. Dumont, and scholar Benjamin Whichcote. She was familiar with a bewildering number of thinkers who span centuries.
She read and she read - widely, but with discernment. She would have discovered that modern reformers were not the only ones who sometimes worked in apparent opposition to each other, but that the same was true of the teachers of the past. In every age, in every generation, there is a sort of dissatisfaction with educational practices - a constant seeking to improve the methods and systems that were widely practiced. Wise and conscientious educators envisioned something better and shared their ideas. (p. 8)..."wise and conscientious educators", this is what I am aiming for. Charlotte Mason was a well-read, insightful woman who studied both ancient and contemporary writings in order to better understand the best methods of teaching children. I have personally read very little in comparison, but have been feeling convicted to begin. I am seeing the significance of reading multiple perspectives from different historical periods, including contemporaries, as well as ancient writings on education, in order to develop the best principles and practices in our homeschool. I realize primary sources are best, however, it's hard to find ample time to study and adequately understand so many individual works in our modern culture. After all, I am a wife and homeschooling mother first and foremost.
One book I've had in my Amazon cart for some time and am now more seriously considering is The Great Tradition: Classic Readings on What It Means to Be an Educated Human Being by Richard Gamble. The book holds original writings on education from the past 2000 years, organized chronologically all in one place. What a great way to dive in! It looks to be a good compromise. When I make the plunge, I will certainly be reading Mystie Winckler's The Great Tradition series of posts alongside.
To conclude, I don't think it's possible to read only contemporary musings on education and expect to get a complete understanding. Charlotte Mason was a well-read, insightful woman because she studied both ancient and contemporary writings in order to better understand the best methods of educating children of her time. If we are to understand the classical tradition and be wise, conscientious educators, we must do the same.
By the way, since initially drafting this post, I read Everything New is Old Again by Brandy Vencel and can't help but see the relevance here. I have not yet read Vittorino da Feltre and Other Humanist Educators, but look forward to Brandy's series of posts, as well as the Charlotte Mason's Mothers' Education Course she and company are preparing for Ambleside Online.
If you are interested in reading Consider This along with me, start by downloading Karen's free study guide. Our next reading assignment is chapters 2 and 3, in addition to reading p. 257-267 in Charlotte's Volume 2, Parents and Children. Feel free to begin a conversation in the comments section below.