27 Nov 2013

Education for a full life

I mostly don't buy from those book display boxes that are delivered to my work, along with many other Australian businesses once every month.  I mean, there's a limit to the number of cookery books even I can justify, and Jemimah is too old now for all those glossy children's books.  Sigh. This month, though, my eye was caught by this box of books entitled The Education You Wish You'd Had. You can see the titles listed above, and I think I'd have bought it for A Classical Education alone, even though the box was sealed, and there wasn't even a blurb on the outside for me to read.

Anyhow, the books were delivered last night, and I have had an opportunity to have a bit of a gander today.  They're pretty good! The first book, An Apple a Day by Caroline Taggart,  covers proverbs, their meanings, where they come from, and their relevance today. I Think, Therefore I Am by Lesley Levene teaches us about the origins of philosophy and the next two and a half thousand years. If it is possible to cover the whole of philosophical thought in a slim 190 page paperback, this book does it.  I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud by Ana Sampson is a nostalgic tour of the half-remembered lines and phrases of schooldays. For me, this includes Coleridge's The Rime of the Ancient Mariner and Kubla Khan; Robert Frost's Birches, , Lewis Carroll's Snark and Jabberwocky, and The Three Ravens, which is really a song, but I learned it first as a poem. Most are in the book. Opening Pandora's Box by Ferdie Addis tells us the ancient Greek and Roman stories, both historical and legendary behind common expressions.  Finally, A Classical Education, again by Caroline Taggart, covers the rest - classical languages, religion, mythology, history, literature, architecture, maths, science and inventions, and philosophy. All in a little boxed set.  Phew!

Now the purpose of this blog post is not to review these books.  Although I am pleased with my purchase, there is nothing too marvellous about them except the price I paid. What I do want to reflect upon is that when I leafed through them, I found myself saying, "Jemimah knows that".  Here is a section on Latin expressions.  Tick, she knows those, I say. All that stuff of Greek and Roman myths and religions - she's done years on those.  The Roman Republic with its patrician rulers and plebeian citizens - yes, done that. Consuls, lictors, praetors, assemblies, tribunes, triumphs - all common vocabulary. She is familiar with classical literature - Aesop, Homer, Sophocles, Euripides.  Sappho, maybe not quite so much, but she's only 11, after all, and even I don't bother much with Sappho. She can distinguish between Corinthian and Ionic columns - and she knows that the capital on the obverse of the Israeli five shekel coin is typical of those from the Israelite period, because she's seen them in situ. She even knows the rooms of a Roman house - triclinium, atrium, vestibule.

When I think upon the title of this set, The Education You Wish You'd Had, I can't but help thinking that this is the type of education my daughter does have. It is broad, and it is rich, and it is full of connections.  It is the stuff that adults wish they knew. It is the stuff I wished my daughter to know.

For centuries, a liberal education was education. Students learnt languages - Greek, Latin and modern. The studied philosophy, science, literature, history and art;  grammar, Euclid, logic and rhetoric.  Then came the scientific age. And with it came the lop-sided emphasis on the technical, the mechanical, the useful, the vocational, the illiberal, the banausic. Now, the incorporation of science into the curriculum merely broadens it, but when the liberal is dismissed for the vocational, what we end up with is the premature specialisation and over-specialisation of today's schools.  When we learn solely to pass a test, to get into a good university, to get a great job, we lose the idea of education for fun, for knowledge, for interest. We lose sight of the fact that education improves us; it makes us better people. We forget that education is for life.

There are two reasons for learning about something like genetics.  One is because it is interesting and because it makes us more knowledgeable about 'stuff'.  The other is because it allows you to get a job as a geneticist. When you learn about genetics because it is interesting, it forms part of a liberal education.  When you learn it to become a scientist, it becomes vocational.  Liberal education improves our characters.  It cultivates our minds.  It makes us more interesting as people. As my daughter reads challenging texts she improves her vocabulary, her spelling, her grammar, sure, but she also strengthens her knowledge of the universe.  She increases her breadth of information, and she deepens her understanding of mankind. She learns what makes us tick.  She learns how to reason.

It doesn't matter if you get through school without having learnt any poems by heart.  If you know no proverbs or classical expressions, if you don't learn Latin, the world will not end. After all, they say that ignorance is bliss; 'tis folly to be wise.  What does matter is that we learn to make ourselves better people. We learn to make our homes better places to live in.  We learn to value our countries.  We learn just to learn.  We learn because we can.

Our aim in Education is to give a Full Life.  We begin to see what we want. Children make large demands upon us. We owe it to them to initiate an immense number of interests. 'Thou hast set my feet in a large room' should be the glad cry of every intelligent soul. Life should be all living, and not merely a tedious passing of time; not all doing or all feeling or all thinking - the strain would be too great - but, all living; that is to say, we should be in touch wherever we go, whatever we hear, whatever we see, with some manner of vital interest... The question is not, - how much does the youth know? when he has finished his education -- but how much does he care? and about how many orders of things does he care?  In fact, how large is the room in which he finds his feet set? and, therefore, how full is the life he has before him?

Charlotte Mason, School Education p170-1

I am not foolish enough - nor conceited enough - to imagine that Jemimah will have no gaps, that there will not be a plethora of things to put into a box entitled The Education Jemimah Wishes She'd Had. ( I wrote a whole blog post on gaps, if you're interested.)  It is my hope, though, that in giving her a liberal Charlotte Mason education, one that avoids premature specialisation and over specialisation, that I will have initiated an immense number of interests, and that she will have formed a number of relationships with things that she wants to pursue later on. It is not my job to present her education complete at the end of Year 12. My job is to ensure that she cares, and that she goes on to live her life fully, and well.


  1. We did not, as you know, do a specifically Charlotte Mason education but....& it is a big but because we did in fact begin specialising early because that was my child & she already knew what she was passionate about, I am continually surprised how deep & wide & encompassing her education has been non~the~less. What she knows on almost anything is deeper & makes more connections than her peers ~ or, horror of horrors ~ the teachers & aides she now works with. As she said the other day, rolling her eyes in her Caitie way as she blathered on about some historical topic that I knew did not particularly interest her, I live with you, mum! A~hem. *cough* *cough* Caught, not taught. lol

  2. Living the life is far better than reading about it in books! Go, Caitlin!

  3. What a beautiful, inspiring post!!


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