Children are Born Persons

A Philosophy of Education ~ Chapter 2

Children are Born Persons

“His mind is the instrument of his education and his education does not produce his mind.”  Pg 36

From birth and through the ages counted in months, a child devotes himself to learning by touching, pulling, tearing, throwing, and tasting. He will explore until he knows and then he will go on to something new. He reasons with his unending questions of “Why?”  He has imagination and the knowledge of the difference between right and wrong.

At school-age, “A child comes into their hands with a mind of amazing potentialities.”  Play, environment and motion are all good in education, but ideas are what connect the minds.

“Education, like faith, is the evidence of things not seen.” Pg 39

An idea is born of the spirit and desires to be explored and confirmed. The mind, like the body, begins with the business to grow. The body grows on food and the mind grows on ideas, appearing in stages of life. An idea is presented; we take it in, accept it, and for days after the idea will present itself in various ways, through what we read, people we talk to, and things we will see. This is how adults process ideas and children are no less. Therefore, as educators, it is our business to present the great ideas of life, clothed with facts but released to the child to do with as he chooses, for he knows what to do.

“History must afford it’s pageants, science it’s wonders, literature it’s intimacies, philosophy it’s speculations, religion it’s assurances to every man, and his education must have prepared him for wanderings in these realms of gold.” Pg 43

Every one of these subjects has a purpose, a value to the student.  A good education is broad to touch on many subjects and also equips a child for their exploration of them.

But what of motivation? Can we trust children to seek knowledge on their own accord?  Children hunger for knowledge, not information. The constant barrage of questioning only interrupts a child’s train of thought as they process ideas. It is not the requirement of a teacher to manipulate and control stimulation and attention from the student. If we understand the capacity and requirements of a child’s mind, these things come quite naturally.  They are due the dignity we give ourselves and those around us; children are born persons.


Self Education

Philosophy of Education ~ Chapter 1

Self Education

“A person is not built up from without but from within, that is, he is living, and all external education appliances and activities which are intended to mold his character are decorative and not vital.” Pg 23

 Charlotte Mason had a respect for people that is unprecedented in most educational methods I’m aware of. She insisted that children were not gardens and we, the educators, not the gardeners. How brazen we are to assume we have that level of power and influence over another human being that we can manipulate and form them to our liking.  Education comes from within.

“Life is sustained on that which is taken in by the organism, not by that which is applied from without.”   Pg 24.

We cannot impose our will on another to any level of success more than their willingness to submit to it. Let us consider individuality, personality and independence; hallmarks of our Creator’s fingerprints; To disregard these, is a dishonor.

 Education comes from within. As the body is sustained by food, care and exercise, the mind is sustained upon ideas. Many are out there to be conceived and pondered but let us consider the ideas that influence character and conduct. Charlotte Mason believed these passed from mind to mind and outside educational efforts could not influence them.

 “We feed upon the thoughts of the mind; and thought applied to thought generates thought and we become more thoughtful.” Pg 26.

Just as no one teaches us how to digest food, but that we are born with the ability and desire, so our minds are born with the ability to reason, compare, and imagine and the drive to do it comes from within.

Education comes from within. It is a matter of the spirit; it is and can only be self-education. Our business then becomes to provide these ideas in quality and quantity through books and many of them. The information (facts) from these books hang on a principal, inspired by an idea, and remembered because of the created relationship.

Education comes from within. What are the advantages to this theory? Self-education fits all ages and all levels of aptitude. It secures interest and attention without effort from the teacher. Children learn to express themselves well and develop excellent vocabulary. Parents remain invested in the education. Children delight in books and grow a love for knowledge.  This desire to know is to be differentiated from a student motivated by good marks but failed to consider self-application to the information.

 “I am. I can. I ought. I will.”  Pg 29.

This communicates the power that belongs to the person. We would do right to remember this and respect it if we should hope to encourage a desire to learn for a lifetime in others. That desire is already there but needs to be protected from being extinguished by our own poorly directed intentions.  Education comes from within. 

“The teacher who allows his scholars the freedom of the city of books is at liberty to be their guide, philosopher and friend; and is no longer their instrument of forcible intellectual feeding.”  Pg 32

The Philosophy of Education by Charlotte Mason ~ The Introduction

The Brain vs the Mind

                Charlotte Mason uses the Introduction to address some broader concepts of education and define her purpose and goal with this volume.  She begins with the role of the brain in education.  Is thought just a function of the brain?  How do we define the brain versus the mind?  What part does the brain play in education?  And as education goes, what are our goals?  Do we want an education that “qualifies for life or earning a living”?  Won’t the first make a better person and a better service for society?

In an attempt to define the brain and the mind, she looks at the role of Darwinism in the utilitarian schools of Germany that had become so popular prior to World War I.  She points to their attempts at removing the mind and training only the brain, using natural selection and survival of the fittest to accomplish Germany’s goal of a “super state”.  She concluded when we derive our code of ethics from the laws of science instead of spiritual laws, we get the manifestation of brutality and an emancipation from moral restraint.

Science would define the brain as a mass by which electric pulses travel, emitting chemical ergo chemical reactions to create a series of thoughts, memories and emotions.  But what of the mind?  Could it be, if we dare to consider, that we are made of more than matter but spirit as well?

Charlotte Mason and the PNEU arrived at a working theory of education based on her last 35 years of practice, five previous volumes she wrote, and her experience and observations of thousands of children in her schools.  This theory differs from current practice of the time in a few ways.

For one, the children are responsible persons and do their work by self-effort.  The teachers are available and offer guidance but are not responsible for the actual work.  Thousands of pages are read, according to age, skill and maturity, from a broad variety of well written books on many subjects.  Done well, each child is able, after only one reading, to narrate or write on the passage.  These children delight in their books and desire to learn without need for prizes or punishments, bribes or blame and with a well-developed habit of attention.  These methods work well for all children, clever or dull.  It takes less time than ordinary schoolwork without homework and leaves time for vocational work, interests or hobbies.

A Child’s Mind

                In CM observations, the child’s mind rejects abstract concepts.  It takes in only what it needs as a means to feed the growing curiosity they are cultivating.  Children are well equipped to process ideas with their appetite for knowledge, imagination and judgement, without the need of explanation, questions and summaries.  These practices actually inhibit the mind’s processing of these ideas.  “In fact, the Desire of Knowledge (curiosity) is the chief instrument of education and the use of prizes develops self-emulation (rivalry), avarice (a hoarding greed), ambition and vanity (excessive pride).”

How badly do we really need knowledge?  CM’s observations found the curiosity of a child is so insatiable that the whole world and all its history are barely enough to satisfy it.

What is knowledge?  “That only becomes knowledge to a person which he has assimilated, which his mind has acted upon.”  Consider this now.  All the information in the world can be put before me, but I will only take in what I notice and consider interesting.  At that point, my brain has acted upon it and I have made it mine.  If this be the case, is there anything within moral value that a child should be restricted from?  I would say no!  To withhold knowledge would starve the appetite for it!  Our responsibility is only to ensure the right portions so as to avoid a choking reflex.

“Mind appeals to mind and thought begets thought and that is how we become educated.”  Education is not achieved by what we see or do but by the connection of our spirit.  To put the spirit in touch with great minds is to beget great thoughts, we, the educators, open the doors to a vast array of worthy books for them to delight in.

Now, how do we secure attention from our students.  Charlotte Mason did not find the responsibility to rest in the teacher’s charisma or subject matter.  She goes back to the idea that children are persons like ourselves, with the same motives.  The desire for knowledge is a strong craving, natural to everyone and can be duly stoked to grow with the right encouragement or lack of discouragement present.  Again, we see the need for a wide and varied curriculum through reading… reading to know which is more than reading to complete.  It’s more than listening or even listening to tell back.  Reading to know requires assimilation of ideas which are expressed in a good narration, requiring the brain to work various places and parts.  If they are consistently expected, the habit of paying attention will quickly be established.

Children are perfectly equipped to process knowledge.  They have an intellectual appetite, a desire of knowledge, an unlimited power of attention and power of retention.  Therefore, if a lesson isn’t holding their attention, maybe the fault is in the lesson.  We must restrain ourselves from questioning throughout the lesson for it interrupts the processing of the brain.  We can question in the beginning for review and at the end for emphasis, but let us leave the center of the lesson for the child to listen and reflect on the great thoughts we are presenting.

Method Summarized

  • A child is a person with the spiritual requirements and capabilities of an adult.
  • Knowledge nourishes the mind like food nourishes the body
  • A child requires knowledge as much as he requires food
  • He is equipped with a desire for knowledge (Curiosity)
    • To grasp knowledge (Attention)
    • Powers to process knowledge without help from the outside using Imagination, Reflection and Judgement
    • Interest in all knowledge
    • And power to retain and communicate knowledge; all that is necessary to him.
  • He requires knowledge to be communicated to him, in most cases, in literary (book) form and reproduces the knowledge acquired, only that which touched his personality.
  • The child is naturally equipped to assimilate knowledge but moral control is necessary to secure attention.
    • This habit is developed when narrations are consistently and regularly required for each reading.
  • Children have the right to the best knowledge we possess, so the best books should be made available.
  • Lecture and questions are distracting. Allow the child to own their learning and seek your help if necessary.
  • They require a wide range of knowledge so a wide curriculum should be made available.
  • The teacher offers direction and support in the studies but does not necessarily lead the child in an educational conquest. The responsibility of learning remains with the child.
  • Pursued under these conditions “studies serve as a delight”

                 These ideas must be applied with consistency to expect positive results.  She uses the example of the knowledge of bacteria.  To know of the presence of bacteria or to understand the use of antiseptic is not enough.  Antiseptic treatment to the surgeon’s tools has to be complete and consistent to be effective.

Coming Full Circle

                Charlotte Mason concludes, education occurs in the mind.  It is in the mind, indelibly linked with the spirit, that craves knowledge and is able to receive or assimilate it with its powers of attention and reflection.  A child will learn only the facts it can hang on nourishing ideas.  The results of these methods seem to develop capacity, character, countenance, initiative and responsibility available to all, in varying capacities.

“The stability of mind and magnanimity of character which are the proper outcome and unfailing test of a liberal education” should be available to all men in all classes.