Monday, October 5, 2015

Consider This: Virtue, Humility, and Synthetic Knowledge

Consider This: Charlotte Mason and the Classical Tradition by Karen Glass

I have been reading about, contemplating, and imperfectly implementing Charlotte Mason's philosophy of education for more than seven years. This book is a delightful reminder that no matter how much I read and how many narrations I suffer through encourage, there is always more to learn.

Karen Glass is a member of the advisory of AmblesideOnline, a free online curriculum for today based on Charlotte Mason's philosophy. I recently read and reviewed her abridgement of Mason's sixth volume, Towards a Philosophy of Education, called Mind to Mind. I started reading this book earlier, but one of the disadvantages of reading through a library book slowly is the probability of another person requesting the book. A few of us were taking turns with it, I think, but I've finally finished reading it.

The author claims Charlotte Mason's philosophy of education is consistent with classical education.
We might understand character-training as a task that belongs to parents, or churches, but we tend to separate that kind of teaching from the teaching of school subjects such as math or grammar. The classical educators did not make such a distinction. All areas of education were brought into service for this single goal--to teach children to think and act rightly.
I don't know much about classical education, mainly just what I've read on blogs by those mostly interested in Charlotte Mason's methods, but it seems to me that Ms. Glass has smoothed Charlotte Mason's relationship with the classical tradition mainly by asserting that the modern idea of classical education (particularly the concentration on the trivium in sequence: grammar, logic, rhetoric) is a deviation from the original idea of a classical education. I'm tempted to agree, but I think someone educating using the trivium today would be less likely to be convinced by this book that Charlotte Mason was a classical educator. To do so, would they have to admit that they have strayed from the classical idea?
If we can get a vision of grammar, logic, and rhetoric not as subjects to be studied but as arts to be practiced and refined in the process of reading, narrating, and writing, we can see how beautifully Charlotte Mason's methods may be considered a synthetic implementation of the trivium of classical instruction, more especially when the ultimate goal of forming character and virtue is recalled.

Despite a title and main argument concerned with classical education, I most appreciated how this book inspired me anew in my dedication to my own education in reading widely and fostering humility and in my understanding of Charlotte Mason's philosophy in practice.
If virtue is the true goal of classical education, pride in intellectual achievement is the perfect stumbling block to ensure that the goal is never reached. In other words, we must not only become humble, but remain humble if we want to continue our pursuit of wisdom and virtue.
I have recognized my own lack of humility in the past year or so and have thought much on how to practice true humility.

Even after all these years, it is good to be reminded why we read so many books all at once, why we insist on composer study, piano, Latin, geography, history, and science.
We should not limit our children's exposure to knowledge, not because they need to acquire a great deal of information about everything, but because they need to develop relationships with every area of knowledge.
These relationships are the goal rather than the knowledge itself. Therefore, not only must students read widely, even in areas in which they do not feel an immediate affinity, but these lessons must be pleasant and inviting: living books.
Every child's mind will take what it requires, and we respect the personhood of children by not substituting our insights for their own needs. If they are to be nourished, they must take that nourishment for themselves. If one takes more or something very different from another, we accept this. If the feast is wide, various, and composed of only the best, there will be something for everyone.
Reading books on a variety of subjects slowly over time allows the student to make connections between them, recognizing the interwoven nature of science, discovery, and historical events.

Consider This encouraged me tremendously in our school's pursuit of virtue and poetic knowledge. A deceptively thin book, it's pages are thought-provoking and galvanizing for anyone interested in Charlotte Mason's methods.


  1. The modern notion of classical education as a trivium is really neo-classical and takes an essay by Dorothy Sayers literally. Having read other essays and writings of Sayers, I'm not the least bit convinced she meant to be taken that way. Traditional classical education and Charlotte Mason are very compatible. I recommend reading Fr. William McGucken's books on Jesuits and education. (My favorite is The Catholic Way in Education.) Charlotte Mason is a classical education for everyone, not just the elites. By the time that Charlotte Mason was educated, the educational movement had moved away from classical (which is about the soul) and had moved to a more utilitarian mode of education. In some regards it looked classical, but it wasn't really. Charlotte Mason saw that an education that didn't cultivate goodness, wisdom, and virtue, didn't treat the children as persons. Traditional classical education's purpose is cultivating all three and saving souls.

    1. Kelly, I think your points are exactly what the book is drawing out.


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