Wednesday, January 24, 2007

A very large room

I've spent a lot of time on this blog writing about my own personal hobbies and interests. This has been a "fun" place for me, for the most part. Somehow, I've managed not to write very much about one of the things that is actually one of the most profound interests that I have--educational philosophy. I first read this book, School Education, as well as one or two others by Charlotte Mason in 1995. For those who aren't aware, Charlotte Mason was a 19th century British educator who devoted her life, from her teenage years until her death at age 83, to education.

She read widely in her subject, from ancient educational writings to everything that was contemporary. She taught children in the classroom, and later established a college for training teachers, where a practicing school was run for local children. She formulated a strong set of principles upon which to base educational practices, and she shared her ideas through lectures and articles. She developed a comprehensive curriculum which was used in her schools and by her graduates who taught as governesses. And she wrote out the essence of her experience and wisdom in six volumes on education, now called "The Original Homeschooling Series," although originally they were published as six different books.

As I said, I read this for the first time in 1995, and found much of it incomprehensible. I gleaned a great deal, of course, and have always implemented Charlotte Mason's methods in our homeschool. I read and reread her books over the years, and branched out in my reading to learn from some of the same people that she did. I also extended my reading to include material that gave me greater insight into the Victorian culture in which she lived.

I've just begun rereading this particular book with the CMSeries list. It is amazing to me that I can come back to this book and find new, fresh material and insights every single time. I once read an article in which it was suggested that it does not matter where you begin your educational journey. Each time you read a book, further reading is suggested. You may finish a book and be unsatisfied because you didn't know enough about one topic to grasp the material, so you branch out in that direction. Books on the new topic will shed light on the first topic, and lead into new avenues as well. When you read more material on your original subject, you will have a broader understanding, and may feel the need to pursue yet other sidelines, to advance your knowledge still further. And on and on it goes...all subjects intertwined and related in some way to your original starting point, and yet so much more than that.
Trying to find the start of a classical education is a little like trying to find where it would end. The worse thing to do is to set some outlandish goal for ourselves and then keep wallowing in guilt that we have not yet attained it. A classical education will probably be more surely acquired in spurts and starts than a well ordered plan. Because classical education fits the big picture together so nicely, it does not need to be begun in one place. Rather you will soon find that all roads seem to end up leading everywhere.*

Charotte Mason has been that starting point for me. In the dozen years that have elapsed since I read her books for the first time, I have read across centuries, discovered new people I never knew existed, and learned how people I did know about fit into the larger scheme of history and philosophy. I say my interest is educational philosophy, because that is where I started, but in reality, I am fascinated by philosophy in general now. I will never stop reading and learning. Charlotte Mason's writing dropped like a rock into my head, and the circles rippling out from that initial splash are still going strong.

It doesn't mean I worship her, or agree with her entirely on every point, by any means. My gratitude is the gratitude of a fortunate pupil toward an able teacher. A good teacher does not pretend to be the authority, but leads her students to seek out and learn for themselves--learn things that perhaps she does not even know herself.
Our aim in education is to give children vital interests in as many directions as possible--to set their feet in a large room--because the crying evil of the day is, it seems to me, intellectual inanation.

And from that I have been spared. How could I not be grateful?

*Post edited to add this quote. Read the article, which is actually an interview, here.


At 3:01 PM , Blogger Mama Squirrel said...

I feel like that too--that you can go back and not feel like you've gleaned everything. Last summer I went through the volumes FAST and tried to outline them as I went--that was a whole different experience from the usual bits and pieces.


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