As the mother of a special needs child, I appreciate those who are able to look past the differences and see the similarities. Yes, some children have special needs, but all children have many needs that are the same no matter their skill levels.
Though a child may seem to withdraw into her own little world, not looking at you or talking, or may pace back and forth over the same ten feet of carpet for 15 minutes, deep down inside she still has the universal need to feel loved and accepted. So when a friend makes it a point every Sunday at church to come over, greet my daughter by name, and even tickle the back of her shoulders to get a smile, my heart soars.
Recognizing those similar needs and finding ways to minister to them—in other words, reaching past or around the differences, which sometimes takes great consideration and creativity—is a key component in treating the child as a person. Each child with special needs should be treated as a person.
That’s another reason I value Charlotte Mason’s view of education. The focus is not on the academic level each child achieves or doesn’t achieve. Her focus was on effort and character. The goal was growth, and that’s a goal within reach of every child. Some may grow more slowly than others, but they can all grow—maybe by baby steps, but it is still growth.
You see, Charlotte recognized that one similarity between all children, special needs or typical, was effort. One child may put forth tremendous effort in order to perform a violin concerto with the area symphony orchestra; another may put forth just as much effort to drink from a glass. One child may work for weeks to understand calculus; another may work just as hard to remember 2+2. That similar effort should be recognized and esteemed, for it shows growth in both children.
In a little book called Charlotte Mason Reviewed, Jenny King, a graduate of the Charlotte Mason College in Ambleside and a Parents’ Union School teacher, reminded her modern audience of Charlotte’s foundational principles and methods. (The book was published in 1981.) The following paragraph speaks volumes to me:
“The achievement of a handicapped child who learns to speak or to move against tremendous odds is not less than the achievement of a gifted child who attains to the highest levels of performance. The discipline required and the personality developed in the process can be equal. Equality does not consist in the level achieved but in the effort of will and perseverance. This is the equality we should make available to the nation’s young by a philosophy of education which is the science of relations and demands a discipline, an atmosphere and living ideas for its practice” (Charlotte Mason Reviewed, p. 53).
In a Charlotte Mason education, the emphasis is not on the level achieved, the accolades won, the grades earned, or the number of pages in the book just read. A Charlotte Mason education is all about growth, taking the next step. That type of education is available to every child.
And so we surround each child—no matter her abilities or limitations—with an atmosphere that fosters learning and loving; we cultivate the discipline of good habits, one at a time; and we feed that child’s mind with good, noble, living ideas.
Skills play a part, yes; but skills are not the primary focus. The child as a person is the primary focus. And it is not the level of skill that defines the person; it is the heart.
A Charlotte Mason education cherishes the heart.