child by fence

A couple of weeks ago, for no compelling reason, I pulled off the shelf a historical fiction book that I first enjoyed about 25 years ago. I figured its 1400 pages would again give me many happy moments over the coming weeks and months. (There’s nothing quite like the feeling of looking forward to spending time with old friends in the characters of a familiar book!)

As often happens, a new nugget of wisdom jumped off the old page.

In that part of the story, two women were discussing a mutual friend who seemed to be very uncertain of herself. She rarely chatted with the others at their meetings, never volunteered for anything, and would not venture to give any opinions unless coaxed.

The one woman was inclined to call this friend incompetent and dull-witted, but the other saw it a different way. She knew the home life of their mutual friend, and the requirements and expectations that had been perpetually placed on her, and she made this insightful observation: “She hasn’t a chance in the world to be a person. It must be awful: to have what you aren’t equal to thrust upon you, and no chance at all to do what you are equal to.”

A chance to be a person by being encouraged to do what you are equal to.

That idea reminded me of Charlotte Mason’s foundation tenet: the child is a person.

“The central thought, or rather body of thought, upon which I found, is the somewhat obvious fact that the child is a person with all the possibilities and powers included in personality” (Vol. 1, Preface).

And it got me thinking, again, about the difference between traditional education and a Charlotte Mason education. How many of us know adults who did not excel in the traditional school system as children? They are very talented in many ways, but not in the particular skills that were required in that system. They weren’t wired to play the guess-what-the-teacher-is-thinking game and memorize the expected answers at the expected pace. Yet that system was thrust upon them. And when it became evident that they were not equal to those skills, they were sometimes made to feel less than a person.

But in a Charlotte Mason education, the child is respected as a person. He is expected to work, definitely! But he is encouraged to tell what ideas he assimilated and what relations he formed from the feast we spread before him, not guess what the teacher is thinking. He is given a wide range of subjects and a generously broad curriculum with the goal of encouraging him to love learning and to grow as a person, not just regurgitate the same expected facts as everyone else.

To be sure, the standard is held high; but it is a personal standard. Each child is held responsible for and then recognized for doing what he is equal to.

A chance to do what you are equal to.

“I am; I can; I ought; I will.”

Powerful and personal words.

A chance to be a person.


  1. Could you post, or let me know the name of the book you were referencing. Your story has left us most interested.

  2. I didn’t want to include the title because there are a few sections that I wouldn’t recommend. Overall it’s a great look at the time period, but I can’t make a blanket endorsement of it: And Ladies of the Club by Helen Hooven Santmeyer.

  3. I just posted this to facebook!! What a post!! Wish I could shout it to the world – I had to settle for fb 🙂 GREAT post!!

  4. I was just today talking with some mom’s and that creeping doubt came into mind as they explained all the things expected of their public school kids. I was thinking maybe I’m missing something, not pushing hard enough, failing them in some way. Thanks for pointing me back to my goal – my child is a person with a love for learning. P.S. Can’t wait to see you at my mom’s X2 groups later this month. Crystal and Melanie shared the good news!

  5. Thank you SOOOO much Sonya! This was encouraging for me in a specific situation. Wow – just what I needed to hear.

  6. Wonderful! I was just reading along these same lines in vol. 5 in Charlotte Mason’s series. What you’ve written here really resonates with me. Well said!

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