Earlier this year I had the privilege of reading Karen Glass’ new book, Consider This: Charlotte Mason and the Classical Tradition. From the very beginning I couldn’t put it down!
Her work cuts deftly through the confusion swirling around this topic. She clarifies what true classical education is and how Charlotte Mason related to it; she explains the differences between the classical tradition and the newer models of classical education that you see today; and best of all, she presents those ideas in a simple, understandable way wrapped in a spirit of grace.
Consider This is a gem, and I wanted you to meet the author. I hope you enjoy the following interview with Karen Glass.
An Interview with Karen Glass
Sonya: Tell us a bit about yourself and your family.
Karen: My husband is in the ministry, and we have lived and worked in Krakow, Poland since 1997. My oldest was six years old when we came here, so my children have grown up bilingual. I had already committed fully to a Charlotte Mason education before we came here, and one of my biggest challenges has been providing a feast of living books for them. We didn’t have digital books way back then, but we’ve used mostly Ambleside Online with occasional substitutions. I have four children all together. Jonathan is 24. He has finished college, gotten married, and most recently become a US Marine. His long-term goal is to be a military chaplain. Elizabeth is 21 and in her junior year as a graphic design major at a Christian college. Katherine is 17 and will be graduating this year and heading off to college next year, leaving me with only Clarissa, age 10, at home, so my homeschooling days are far from over. The joy of it now is that I know how well it can turn out, and it’s much easier to be relaxed and feel confident about what we are doing.
Sonya: How did you get started with homeschooling and the Charlotte Mason method?
Karen: Knowing that we were planning to live overseas, I knew that homeschooling would be a part of our life. I was very blessed when I visited my first homeschool convention in 1993 (with my two tiny children), and met Bob Farewell of Lifetime Books and Gifts. He handed me a copy of For The Children’s Sake and impressed me by saying, “THIS is the book you need to read.” He was right, of course. I read it and purchased the full homeschooling series soon after. I had a few years to read and learn before it was really time to begin school. Something happened when my oldest was six and we started homeschooling officially that had an enormous impact on me. We were only a few months into it, reading and narrating as Charlotte prescribes. One day, a friend called with a lament about her son’s writing assignment (he was a year older than my son and they were using a standard curriculum). He had had to write two sentences about the first Thanksgiving, and she was disappointed in his effort. He had produced: “The Pilgrims are nice. The Indians are nice.” We had been reading Alice Dalgliesh’s book The Thanksgiving Story that week, narrating as we went. Out of curiosity, I asked my son what he could tell me about the first Thanksgiving. He narrated a very full account, which would have filled a page and a half—if he could have written it (which he could not). That single example of the power of oral narration motivated me to commit to a Charlotte Mason education to the end, to see where it would take us. I have never regretted it.
Sonya: Why did you write Consider This?
Karen: As the classical education movement grows in popularity, I see an increasing amount of friction between those who call themselves classical educators, and those who call themselves “CM” educators. I have known for nearly fifteen years that Charlotte Mason belongs to the classical tradition, and I’ve written about it, but much of that writing has disappeared into internet history. Another generation of homeschoolers has grown up. I realized that the only way to make a permanent statement about the connection between Charlotte Mason and classical education was to write a book that wouldn’t get lost the way my older articles and discussion group posts (naturally) did. Also, although I knew the connection existed fifteen years ago, that conviction is stronger now than it was then, and I am more certain than ever that this is so. I truly hope that by writing Consider This, I will draw Charlotte Mason into an accepted way of practicing classical education, and give those CM educators more confidence that they are giving their children the very best education possible. Of course, I’m not suggesting that Charlotte Mason belongs to the modern classical movement, but the historical, traditional understanding of classical education, and I would like to see some of the spirit of that tradition rekindled in our modern applications.
Sonya: We often get asked, “Was Charlotte Mason a classical teacher?” How would you answer that question?
Karen: Well, she wouldn’t have identified herself that way, because in her lifetime, a classical education was fairly narrowly defined. However, I would say with confidence that she was, indeed, a classical educator. She was extremely well-read in the educational literature of history, and she ties many of her ideas directly to Plato, Plutarch, Milton, Montaigne, and Comenius. She was much more interested in the philosophy that they held, however, than any specific practice they might have used, and it is there that her connection with them exists. They share a few important, common ideas—classic ideas—that place their educational efforts on the same team. She wrote “In some ways the Greeks had a more adequate view of education than ourselves.” I think she was diffident about it at times, as the concept of looking backward, rather than forward, wasn’t particularly popular in Victorian England, but she wasn’t afraid to affirm her appreciation of the educational philosophy of older times. For example, she reminds us that the Medieval church preserved “the classical traditions” and one of the most important was the socratic inquiry into what we “ought” to be doing in pursuit of virtue.
Sonya: What would you say are the three biggest differences between the Charlotte Mason approach and the form of classical education that is popular today?
Karen: Bearing in mind my own distance from what is actually happening in the homeschool movement in America, I think the most vital difference has to do with our view of a child. Charlotte Mason’s first educational principle is “children are born persons,” and a great deal of her writings are devoted to explaining what she means by a person and what kind of educational practices are appropriate for a person. Much of the modern classical movement is based upon Dorothy Sayer’s essay The Lost Tools of Learning in which she uses words like “poll parrot” and “pert” to describe children. I recently read a book which asserted “you are a human data machine.” Even if those concepts do not represent the whole of the individual’s understanding of a child, those one-sided and incomplete descriptions of a person are a poor foundation for building an educational philosophy that will be best for a whole person. That fundamental difference is probably the most profound, and other differences, such as an emphasis on rote memory of facts rather than living ideas grow out that philosophical difference. A very real difference, as well, is that much of today’s classical education looks no further back than the twentieth century for its understanding of the philosophy, while in fact there are centuries of educational writings to drawn from that give a much deeper understanding.
Sonya: Thanks so much, Karen. I highly recommend your book and encourage all my readers to find out more about Consider This: Charlotte Mason and the Classical Tradition on your website.