3 Jun 2014

Why do we educate with living books?

(C)hildren have not altered. This is how we find them––with intelligence more acute, logic more keen, observing powers more alert, moral sensibilities more quick, love and faith and hope more abounding; in fact, in all points like as we are, only more so; but absolutely ignorant of the world and its belongings, of us and our ways, and, above all, of how to control and direct and manifest the infinite possibilities with which they are born.
Charlotte Mason School Education p172

Do we underestimate our children? Do we look at Charlotte Mason's programmes and booklists and feel the panic rising up in our throats, suspecting that the standard is impossibly lofty, the bar much too high for our modern child? Our children can't understand the original Swiss Family Robinson, so we'll give them the children's version - at least they'll know the story - it's a classic. Only the story of The Swiss Family Robinson robbed of all its intricacies is soon stripped of all its value too, and the story alone is just plain weird. Family get washed up on unrealistic tropical island filled with plants and animals from every region of the world, which they then proceed to kill and eat. Or not to eat. Maybe just kill because they like to shoot. Ahem. So then we decide to look at the principles and we teach those instead, leaving out the story altogether, and taking just the morals. Shooting is good. Talking disparagingly of your children to their siblings is good. Treating your wife like an incapable child is to be encouraged. Yep. Great morals there. Okay, that book's out, on to the next one.

Charlotte Mason believed that this underestimating of children - the false impression that children take time to develop moral and intellectual being, and must therefore be spoon-fed pre-digested pabulum, was responsible for the the dumbing down of books that she was seeing in her day. How much more-so the literature of today!

I love the Charlotte Mason idea that children are born persons - the idea that children are born with intelligence, logic, powers of observation, moral sensibilities, love, faith and hope, but that they lack knowledge and experience of the world, of mankind, and above all, of themselves. Mason recognised that that our children need our guidance and control so that they can learn how to direct their lives and bring to fruition the amazing possibilities that God has prepared for each one of us, and she believed that it was the diet of ideas that would feed the child's soul. And where were these living ideas to be found? In the pages of books. Books written by authors who know and love their subject, who can barely contain their enthusiasm for the truths they're trying to impart. We call these books Living Books.

(W)e perceive that the great work of education is to inspire children with vitalising ideas as to every relation of life, every department of knowledge, every subject of thought; and to give deliberate care to the formation of those habits of the good life which are the outcome of vitalising ideas. In this great work we seek and assuredly find the co-operation of the Divine Spirit, whom we recognise, in a sense rather new to modern thought, as the supreme Educator of mankind in things that have been called secular, fully as much as in those that have been called sacred.
Charlotte Mason School Education p173

Once we grasp this important idea, we begin to realise why good books filled with inspiring ideas are so important in a child's education. We realise that we need to set before our children a feast of empowering thoughts and ideas. It's a daunting brief that we have before us, isn't it? Mason tells us that the responsibility for introducing an immense number of interests to our children lies with us. We owe it to them, she says. Notice that she doesn't say that we must give our kids these interests - ours is only to provide the introduction. And her criticism lies with those who fail to do this, providing their children not with food for the soul, food rich in living ideas, but instead with pre-digested compendia of facts.

I will be forever grateful to Ambleside Online for making this task a little easier for me. To have access to a curriculum filled with books expressly chosen for their quickening thoughts and ideas makes the task just that much easier for me. Every day my daughter is exposed to living knowledge through the eyes of those who really love their subject, and who treat their readers as intelligent, moral beings who just need to learn the possibilities that are set out for them. Mason tells us that the outcome of living ideas, and the formation of good habits will help our children along this good path. That's what I want for my daughter. In fact, that's what I want for myself.

Charlotte Mason's last sentence above, is what gives me hope when I look at the responsibility that is mine. I don't do this alone. I am joined by the Holy Spirit as the Supreme Educator of my daughter in all things. Not just spiritual things - all things. He will help her to know these things throughout her life, if only I will provide the introduction. With the help of living books, I'm doing my best.



  1. "" I don't do this alone. I am joined by the Holy Spirit as the Supreme Educator of my daughter in all things. Not just spiritual things - all things. He will help her to know these things throughout her life, if only I will provide the introduction. With the help of living books, I'm doing my best.""

    I love this thought. Thankyou for this post.

  2. Ditto! love it? it is my ideal? right on sister.

  3. They were supposed to be exclamation marks!

  4. Same here, I love your thought, we share goals.

  5. Had yet another conversation (with my niece this time) about the common idea that floats around that 'it doesn't matter what children read, as long as it gets them reading.' No, No, No!! My niece actually agreed with me but she'd heard the mantra and just wanted to know what I thought.

  6. Love it! Yes, I am full of gratitude for Miss Mason's God inspired philosophies, and to Ambleside Online and the team for placing together a curriculum to match.

  7. this is it, jeanne, and worded so nicely. :)


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