It struck me the other day how much time and effort we homeschooling parents put into teaching. We spend hours discussing strategies, learning techniques, and evaluating materials, striving to improve our presentations as teachers. All of that is good. We should be dedicated to doing the best job we possibly can in this calling to home school.
But there are two sides to the coin. The teacher is not the only one who should put forth effort. Charlotte Mason held her teachers to a high standard, but she also reminded them that
“The children, not the teachers, are the responsible persons; they do the work by self-effort” (Vol. 6, p. 6).
Charlotte talked a lot about self-education. She held that self-education is one of the prime benefits of using her methods. In fact, she believed that
“There is no education but self-education” (Vol. 6, p. 26).
And so I began to dig into this idea of self-education and discovered some fascinating things that I’d like to share with you.
Over the next few weeks let’s try to answer this question: What does self-education look like? If we should expect our children to be doing it, we need to wrap our heads around the concept.
In other words, rather than focusing on how to teach, let’s take some time to focus on how to learn. For if our children (and ourselves) know how to do that, we’re well-equipped to keep on learning our entire lives.
This week let’s look at the first of six tools for self-education.
Tool #1: Read a Worthy Book
The first tool is familiar to most Charlotte Mason homeschoolers: living books. A person can self-educate by reading or hearing worthy books—in literary style is best.
Now, keep in mind that, as with any tool, the book does not do the work itself. There must be an engaged person using that tool in order for it to accomplish anything.
My father has a woodworking shop full of an impressive array of tools. But the tools do not turn out beautiful furniture on their own. They are instruments that my father can use to accomplish his objective.
And so it is with a worthy book (or any of the tools for self-education). Just moving the eyes across the words and turning the pages to the end does not guarantee that the reader is learning. A key to self-education is to be actively engaged. When we read, we must come to the book with a mind that is on the lookout for ideas, and especially ideas that relate to other ideas we already have taken possession of.
As Charlotte so aptly stated:
“We must read in order to know or we do not know by reading” (Vol. 6, p. 13).
But the advantage of a well-written book in literary style is that it makes it easy for the reader to engage, to pay full attention. Well-told stories are powerfully attractive. The mental pictures they paint are not easily ignored or dismissed. They usually entice the reader to want to know, and the ideas they present can find a ready home in the reader’s mind and heart.
Textbooks, on the other hand, are much more difficult to engage with. They require more effort to use and are usually void of any powerful living ideas that can take up residence and feed the mind and heart.
We’ve all been in a situation where we put forth a lot of effort to accomplish a task, but for some reason—maybe the people we shared it with or the environment in which we toiled—the work was so pleasant that the time flew by, and upon reflection we realized that it had been enjoyable labor.
That’s what the tool of worthy books can do for self-education. The reader must put forth the effort, but the labor is enjoyable.
And isn’t that the best kind of tool?