If you move in the same online homeschool circles I do, you are well aware of the debate on whether a “Charlotte Mason” education, popular among homeschoolers, is a type of the coveted Classical education. Karen Glass, one of the founders of Ambleside Online, recently wrote a book attempting to prove similarities between the two. I read her book titled Consider This and wrote a review elsewhere online and thought it might be of interest to some of you.
I feel like I understand Charlotte Mason for the first time. I have only read secondary sources on her (namely When Children Love to Learn, For the Children’s Sake, Real Learning, and Pocketful of Pinecones) and always sensed I was probably missing something by not going straight to the horse’s mouth. My general impression of CM was vintage books, frequent narrations, making nature notebooks, and doing picture studies (all with Victorian warm fuzzies!). I didn’t do much of these outside of the LA so I was reluctant to call our school CM. I had done a “CM-inspired” curriculum once and our days were packed with just too many subjects and books and projects. I then came across the Circe Institute and Christopher Perrin, who were a breath of fresh air, and I decided I must be “classical” after all. But then I discovered that Circe highly valued CM and that was puzzling to me.
After reading Consider This however, I had a different picture of Charlotte Mason. I was always turned off by CM’s Victorian prose and long, rambly sentences and so never read her books. Karen Glass uses frequent snips and gives context and explanations to the excerpts which was very helpful.
What I liked:
The focus on the end goal– a person of character who is well-read, loves learning and is able to make connections with his knowledge.
Her insight on the meaning of “grammar.”
Her perspective on Latin
Her explanation of the trivium
Her explanation of what “education is a life” means. (I never could figure that one out.)
Her explanation of “spreading a feast.” It is much more about creating holistic, relational core knowledge and love of learning than a crazy schoolday packed with subjects. In fact, it isn’t about subjects at all. Spreading a feast is really about creating self-learners with a solid foundation before the tough years start.
What I wasn’t sure about:
How strong the case to equate Classical and CM. And I say this as one who considered CM a type of Classical before I read the book. Karen’s view of true Classical is pre-Enlightenment. She feels that what existed afterwards, including in CM’s time, was a distortion of the original tradition. She suggested that CM reached into the past and sought to restore the original goals and practices of Classical ed.
Even though there were quotes of CM citing ancient writers, it seemed to me that she read widely, and took nuggets of wisdom wherever she could, including among her contemporaries. Then she meshed it all with her experience in the classroom. She was broad-minded and pragmatic, and was not afraid to point out when the emperor had no clothes on.
After reading this, I would consider CM perfect prep for a classical education (or any other one for that matter). There is a huge emphasis on “synthetic” thinking, which I took to mean as whole-to-part learning. CM herself states that this prepares for the second stage of education, the analytical, classical one. Sometimes I have felt that people want to take the adult disciplines of higher learning and impose them on young children, and then they wonder why their school is not flying. CM ed is carefully designed according to what she observed about children’s development and with the end (adult disciplines) in mind.
I heard echoes of Hirsch’s Core Knowledge concept, the Waldorf and Montessori concept of young children, lots of Ruth Beechick, and of course Circe all over the place. A lot of her ideas are not as distinctive as you might think. I found that reassuring.
So if you want to learn more about Charlotte Mason this is definitely a good read. And if any of you are laboring under a heavy load, trying to give younger children a classical education with Latin and lots of sentence diagramming, you may find this book lifting your burdens while offering you reassurance.