TOP 5 Reasons for Educating Charlotte Mason Style

We have homeschooled for seven years. Our oldest graduated June 2015. Our son is a high school junior this year. We were late to the homeschooling experience with our own kids but my husband was homeschooled K-12. It’s interesting that many who homeschool in the younger years begin to get nervous for the high school years. We were the opposite I suppose. We started, with my daughter, in middle school and were determined to see it through to graduation. I do think that following a Charlotte Mason, or relational education, method was key in that determination. The following is something I penned in 2013 that I have revisited a time or two with adjustments and clarifications.

I still love a CM education.

How do I love thee? Let me count the ways. My favorite poem begins that way. Today I am going to count the ways that I love homeschooling but more specifically the ways I love a Charlotte Mason education. In absolutely no particular order other than what came to me as I sat to write this.

1. Science of relations. This took me a while to understand when I first heard the term.
“Education is the Science of Relations”; that is, that a child has natural relations with a vast number of things and thoughts: so we train him upon physical exercises, nature lore, handicrafts, science and art, and upon many living books, for we know that our business is not to teach him all about anything, but to help him to make valid as many as may be of–
“Those first-born affinities
“That fit our new existence to existing things.”
-Charlotte Mason, Volume 6, page 154, (Principle #12)

“Our deadly error is to suppose that we are his showman to the universe; and, not only so, but that there is no community at all between child and universe unless such as we choose to set up.”
-CM, Volume 3, page 188

At first I thought this meant that simply they would realize that one book mentioned a person that we’d read about in another book. And in a way this is true; they do and will recognize names and events from one book to another, especially with the books that have been chosen in a CM curriculum branch from history. But it means more than that. They will realize and recognize how these things, –the events, the attitudes, the personalities, the successes and failures- all can be associated with our own lives. Not just our own lives but the world around us. At least that is what I take ‘science of relations’ to mean.

It took me awhile to understand that I am a companion on this educational journey. Teacher, to a point. Facilitator could be a better word. I offer the best that I find, and indeed, shelter from what I consider harmful. But it is up to them to grasp that it is all connected. We joke, half-way, that I raised them wrong; I always gave them the answer when they asked “why”. It’s taken us a couple of years to look for the relationship rather than to just wait for the answer to be given.

2. Freedom. I think that homeschooling offers a lot of freedom. We can choose what we use for our curriculum, what method we use, when we do school, how often we study a subject, and we can do it all in our pjs if we want. We don’t do that last one, by the way. Well, not that often anyway. But a huge ‘freedom’ I find in Charlotte Mason’s education philosophy is the freedom to have God at the center of it all.

“Of the three sorts of knowledge proper to a child, the knowledge of God, of man, and of the universe,––the knowledge of God ranks first in importance, is indispensable, and most happy-making.”
-Charlotte Mason, Volume 6, page 158

Many think that homeschooling because of religious beliefs is ridiculous. And to that I say, I don’t homeschool because of my religious beliefs (but will add if one feels that it is ridiculous to homeschool for that reason, that means their ‘religion’ doesn’t mean much to them). I relish the fact that we can incorporate our beliefs into our school. Charlotte Mason did not have the same ideas that our household holds (she didn’t argue with evolution) but spoke of the importance of God in the lives of children, and their parents. Everything she did was filtered through her belief of God and man’s place in God’s order.

Religion –a set of beliefs concerning the cause, nature, and purpose of the universe, especially when considered as the creation of a superhuman agency or agencies, usually involving devotional and ritual observances, and often containing a moral code governing the conduct of human affairs.

“We allow no separation to grow up between the intellectual and ‘spiritual’ life of children, but teach them that the Divine Spirit has constant access to their spirits, and is their Continual Helper in all the interests, duties and joys of life.”
-Charlotte Mason, Principle #20

Public school or another educational method wouldn’t prevent me from instilling ‘religion’ into my children but having a mentor that puts such importance on it is a wonderful thing.

3. Living books. Not just ‘books’ but ‘living’ books. The difference is amazing. A textbook relays facts and information. Learning can most certainly happen with a textbook. It just isn’t as fun, it doesn’t connect with the reader, and the information may only live in the mind long enough to take a test or finish the task for which the text was assigned.

Some of our favorite living books that we have used thus far:
English Literature for Boys and Girls by H. E. Marshall
Watership Down by Richard Adams
The Adventures of Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain
Mere Christianity by C. S. Lewis
This Country of Ours by H. E. Marshall
Tanglewood Tales by Nathanial Hawthorne
Washington: The Indispensible Man by James Thomas Flexner
Complete Book of Marvels and The Royal Road to Romance by Richard Halliburton
The Disappearing Spoon by Sam Kean
Character is Destiny by Russel Gough
Humilitas by John Dickson
Killer Angels by Michael Shaara

And although neither would agree without some hesitation, The Birth of Britain by Winston Churchill has been a great book. There are so many more that we’ve used and read through that have been, if not wonderful and joyous, at least enjoyable. The same cannot be said of most of the other methods and curriculums we’ve tried.

4. Challenging yet not crushing. A CM education is challenging. It isn’t easy and I don’t think it is right for everyone. Personally, I do believe that every one can follow and benefit from a CM education, but I am realistic enough to know that there are so many other methods that can be appealing to families, for a variety of reasons. In many public schools, the norm is –or used to be when I was going through it as well as my kids –to give the students text books, quizzes that are full of multiple choice and to feed the information to the students. Many excel in this atmosphere. I know I did; for majority of school, I was almost a straight-A student. It wasn’t until some of my classes in college required me to think outside the text book that I started to realize that spoon-feeding and multiple choice tests weren’t the only way to get an ‘education’. I’m not saying I received a poor education –wait, yes, that is exactly what I’m saying- I didn’t want my kids to have to go down that same boring path. I loved to learn, but hated how I was being taught. My memory was great; my comprehension, and subsequently application, not so great. I’m still working on that.

“…[W]e, believing that the normal child has powers of mind which fit him to deal with all knowledge proper to him, give him a full and generous curriculum; taking care only that all knowledge offered him is vital, that is, that facts are not presented without their informing ideas.”
-Charlotte Mason, Principle #11 (which is followed by “Education is the science of relations”, #1 of my reasons above)

CM advocates gauging how much the student knows through narration. That isn’t the only way, but it is a very integral part. If you cannot tell what you know, in an intelligible, organized, detailed manner, how well did you first, take in the information, and second, process that information? There is the saying that people who can, do; those who can’t, teach. But truly, if you can’t do it, how can you adequately teach it? I think that you can do it without being able to teach it but …how much better to be able to do both.
“As knowledge is not assimilated until it is reproduced, children should ‘tell back’ after a single reading or hearing: or should write on some part of what they have read.”
-Charlotte Mason, Principle #14

A CM education stretches the mind to focus more on connections. It goes along with “science of relations.”. When we read through the books that we do, the “living books,” we gain a connection with all that we are reading about; the atmosphere, the people, the emotions, the events, the results, etc. This is the ‘not crushing’ part. This connection is like a friend that we do not forget. It challenges us to reach farther than just the next mark on our test, the highest grade in the class; it challenges us to reach farther than we had before and beyond a grade. At first the kids, and I’ll admit I did too, had such a difficult time with the choices that came along with the CM method. The kids sometimes preferred fill-in-the-blank and multiple choice assignments! Because they were easy. I’m not giving them easy, but I am giving them tools that they can use to grow, without crushing them.

5. Individual responsibility for learning. I actually got this from my daughter. She appreciates the ‘self-teaching’ aspect; being able to take any article, book or other resource, whether written, visual or an experience, and find the pertinent bits as opposed to having the ‘answers’ supplied. My kids, being older, do a lot of their work independently. I set forth the books they will read and the resources they can use. By this time they have learned how to read what they know they need to and they know how to study for information. I see it as them taking a responsibility for their own learning.
“Children should be taught, (a) to distinguish between ‘I want’ and ‘I will.’ (b) That the way to will effectively is to turn our thoughts from that which we desire but do not will. (c) That the best way to turn our thoughts is to think of or do some quite different thing, entertaining or interesting. (d) That after a little rest in this way, the will returns to its work with new vigour.”

“We teach children, too, not to ‘lean (too confidently) to their own understanding’; because the function of reason is to give logical demonstration (a) of mathematical truth, (b) of an initial idea, accepted by the will. In the former case, reason is, practically, an infallible guide, but in the latter, it is not always a safe one; for, whether that idea be right or wrong, reason will confirm it by irrefragable proofs.”
-Charlotte Mason’s Principle #17 & 18.

Although it can apply to a multitude of circumstances, I’ve put it here because I think it goes well with having responsibility for one’s actions. Learning is definitely an action.

Those are my top 5 reasons for loving a CM method for educating. It’s not only for my kiddos and not only for ‘school’. It is for me as well and for life.