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“We hold that the child’s mind is no mere sac to hold ideas; but rather, if the figure may be allowed, a spiritual organism, with an appetite for all knowledge. This is its proper diet, with which it is prepared to deal; and which it can digest and assimilate as the body does foodstuffs.” – Charlotte Mason, British Educator.
I home educate my children utilizing the educational philosophies of Charlotte Mason. As I read her wise words, I am always considering how what she has written relates to my own education, an education that, in my estimation failed me. And that is coming from a nearly straight-A student who graduated with honors and a 4.2 GPA, who was accepted to every college to which I applied, and who did pretty well once in college. But even though it may appear that I received a successful education, let me explain why I don’t see it that way.
This particular idea had never even occurred to me prior to reading Mason’s words: that we can either fill a child’s mind with facts and call it an education, or we can facilitate an atmosphere in which an appetite for knowledge is fed and increased and nurtured and developed over time.
There is quite a difference between those two.
When I was a student, I was very good at doing school, but I wasn’t learning much of anything. And therein lies the difference. I understood very early on that in order to make the grade, all I had to do was learn the information, or as Mason describes it, I filled my mind as if it were a mere sac. After all, wasn’t that the point? The A on the test, my name on the honor roll, and the high class standing? I was always rewarded for those things! Certainly, it wasn’t about learning knowledge to keep and carry as my own. At least that’s not how it ever came across. I did this, filling my mind with facts, long enough to take the test and then I could dump the information that I cared nothing for, out of my mind, never to be re-consulted again.
And hence I graduated with prestige next to my name, but no knowledge and no understanding of my own to keep. I assumed all this work was so that eventually I could get to college. You know, that magical place where I could learn only about the things for which I truly cared. I was wrong about that too.
The truth is, I had it all wrong because the system through which I was educated had it all wrong.
When I consider the claim by President Biden and others that what we need in order for students to be more successful is simply more time, four more years of the same system, I can’t help but think about how wrong they are. We cannot simply add more years of dumping information into the minds of children and expect anything different than what we have now.
The real tragedy is not that children aren’t in school long enough, but that we aren’t actually teaching children how to think for themselves. We are only teaching them what to think. And as we can tell by looking around, what we’re teaching them to think has been damaging and dangerous. Four more years of it will only exacerbate the problem.
Instead, what we need to affirm, as Charlotte Mason did, is that children are born persons. They are not cogs in a machine, to be treated with a one size fits all system. They are each individual and valuable and each mind is born with a desire to learn and know and understand and grow. These minds must be nurtured rightly. These desires to understand must be fed correctly.
I am no expert in education, but I can tell you that as I endeavor to educate my own children by the principles that Charlotte Mason so profoundly and beautifully presented, I can say that watching my sons and daughters make connections in their own minds, all on their own, without being told what is the right thing to know, has been one of the most incredible things to witness. To see the science of relations occur in front of your very eyes, in the mind of a young and hungry child is something almost too wonderful for words. And knowing that my children are making connections, gleaning knowledge, and feeding on ideas that they will each get to keep and carry with them for a lifetime is unparalleled. Oh how wonderful it would be for all children to have such an educational experience and foundation for their lives.Published in