Education Is Too Often Misunderstood

Have you ever listened to a debate rage—both sides championing their points in ever-louder voices and ever-longer speeches—and you suddenly realized that they’re both wrong?

It’s not a matter of which of the two sides is correct; it’s a matter of neither is correct. The correct view is something totally different. They both have missed the boat.

That seems to be the case with education.

One side argues that education is giving people a collection of information. The students must drill, drill, drill until they can quickly and consistently recall and recite the correct information.

The other side argues that education should emphasize practical life skills. The students must be equipped to earn their livings in the real world.

This week, as I followed the trail of a simple Charlotte Mason quote, I was once again reminded that both of those popular views miss the true meaning of education.

It Cannot Be Too Often Said

It all started when I found another “too often” statement in Charlotte’s writings: “It cannot be too often said that information is not education” (Vol. 3, p. 169). One side of the debate just went down; true education is not just giving my children a collection of information.

Then in my calendar journal this week, I read another reference to what education is not: “The function of education is not to give technical skill but to develop a person” (Vol. 6, p. 147). There went the other side of the debate. Both sides are wrong.

That got me thinking: If education is not about regurgitating information and it’s not about getting the skills to get a job, what is the focus of true education?

That’s when I started down the trail to see what Charlotte Mason said about education. What is real education? Buckle your seatbelts. This list is probably going to look vastly different from most definitions you’ve seen.

According to Charlotte Mason, education is

  • Developing your child as a unique person.

    “The function of education is not to give technical skill but to develop a person” (Vol. 6, p. 147).

  • An atmosphere, a discipline, a life.

    “Education is a discipline—that is, the discipline of the good habits in which the child is trained. Education is a life, nourished upon ideas; and education is an atmosphere—that is, the child breathes the atmosphere emanating from his parents; that of the ideas which rule their own lives” (Vol. 2, p. 247).

  • Mainly carried out within a family setting.

    “By far the most valuable part of education is carried on in the family” (Vol. 3, p. 94).

  • Not trying to teach your child all about anything, but rather giving him plenty of opportunities to form personal relations with people and things around him.

    “Education is the Science of Relations; that is, that a child has natural relations with a vast number of things and thoughts: so we must train him upon physical exercises, nature, handicrafts, science and art, and upon many living books; for we know that our business is, not to teach him all about anything, but to help him make valid, as many as may be of—

    ‘Those first born affinities
    That fit our new existence to existing things.’ ” (Vol. 1, Preface).

  • Giving your child vital interests in a wide variety of subjects.

    “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 inanition” (Vol. 3, p. 231).

  • Guiding your child to apply wisdom.

    “Some day we shall be told that the very word education is a misnomer belonging to the stage of thought when the drawing forth of ‘faculties’ was supposed to be a teacher’s business. We shall have some fit new word meaning, perhaps, ‘applied wisdom,’ for wisdom is the science of relations, and the thing we have to do for a young human being is to put him in touch, so far as we can, with all the relations proper to him” (Vol. 3, p. 75).

  • Encouraging useful living, clear thinking, aesthetic enjoyment, and the religious life.

    “We are empirically certain that a chief function of education is the establishment of such ways of thinking in children as shall issue in good and useful living, clear thinking, aesthetic enjoyment, and, above all, in the religious life” (Vol. 6, p. 100).

  • More about character than about conduct.

    “We who teach should make it clear to ourselves that our aim in education is less conduct than character; conduct may be arrived at, as we have seen, by indirect routes, but it is of value to the world only as it has its source in character” (Vol. 6, p. 129).

  • Feeding your child’s spirit with that which is good and wholesome and, especially, the knowledge of God.

    “Education is part and parcel of religion and every enthusiastic teacher knows that he is obeying the precept,—’feed my lambs’—feed with all those things which are good and wholesome for the spirit of a man; and, before all and including all, with the knowledge of God” (Vol. 6, p. 246).

So next time you hear the debate start to rage, next time you start to hyperventilate at the thought of upcoming standardized tests, next time that friend or relative starts to express his concerns about your priorities, take a deep breath and remind yourself of what is most important.

True education.

It’s too often misunderstood.


  1. Oh, this is so true! And so easy to forget! I’m so thankful that Miss Mason said it often and clearly, so I can be easily reminded of my main task as the main steward of my children’s education – that true education is my task, and it’s so much more than knowledge or skill alone. Thanks so much for the reminder.

  2. Thanks for a great article. It’s too easy to get concerned about ticking all the boxes and forget the deeper aims behind all our educational activity. I especially liked the point about ‘character rather than conduct’. Our good conduct must flow from a right attitude and a heart that seeks after God. I like to remember this verse from Proverbs, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge.”

Comments are closed.