On my bookshelf I have a copy of a book from the early 1900s that was used in Charlotte Mason’s schools. Many books like this contain an introduction full of helpful comments, but the introduction to this book is so refreshing that I want to share a portion of it with you.
Of course, it stands to reason that the comments would dovetail with Charlotte’s philosophy, since she recommended and used this book. But I often find it helpful to read the same ideas put into different words.
This little book is a resource for teaching beginning reading and writing. It’s called The Happy Reader by E. L. Young, and the introduction is titled “Hints to Young Teachers.”
Now, even though these comments are addressed specifically to teachers who are dealing with beginning reading, I think they contain timeless Charlotte Mason wisdom that would be good for all of us to be reminded of—young or old, new or veteran homeschooler.
Here’s the paragraph I want to share with you:
Do not forget that the education of the child’s mind is of infinitely more importance than the acquirements of reading and writing; these may be put off for years without injury to the child’s career, but the cultivation of reason, imagination, observation and sympathy, cannot be put off without injury to its moral and intellectual development. Therefore, do not trouble yourself at all about the child’s progress, but be very careful of its growth. Never treat its mistakes as faults, nor scold it for forgetting, but if it appears dull or inattentive revise your own method and redouble your efforts to interest it. Haphazard methods, hurry and worry, are the worst enemies of progress, but give the child a logical method and sympathetic attention, and it cannot fail to make as much progress as its intelligence is capable of.
There is a lot of wisdom packed into that one paragraph, but let me just point out three key ideas that stood out to me.
First, education is more important than acquirements.
It’s easy to think that those two concepts are equal: education and acquirements or skills. But Charlotte would remind us that
“It cannot be too often said that information is not education.”School Education, p. 169
Acquiring facts or skills is not true education. Yet it is easy for us to forget that fact when we are surrounded by requirements and tests and checklists that focus on how many academic facts and skills our students have acquired.
We need to remember that
“The function of education is not to give technical skill but to develop a person.”A Philosophy of Education, p. 147
True education is feeding the mind and heart on ideas; true education is guiding the student’s growth as a person. Which brings us to the second idea that stood out to me.
Focus more on growth than on progress.
That’s hard to do. Let’s face it, we are often judged by how much progress our children have made in every area of life. And when others focus on progress, we can get our sights shifted in that direction too.
Instead, Charlotte encouraged us to keep our eyes fastened on the truth that
“Children learn, to Grow”; not just to know.Home Education, p. 171
She also said,
“We must bear in mind that growth, physical, intellectual, moral, spiritual, is the sole end of education.”The Story of Charlotte Mason, p. 231
Are we focusing on growth or on progress? How do we know? I think one way we can tell where we are focusing is whether we fret at the pace at which our children are learning—if we feel ourselves panicking and pushing. If we’re fretting at the pace, we’re probably more focused on progress—moving from A to B the quickest way possible. Progress.
But if we find that we can rest content in the knowledge that they are learning and growing in many areas, that they are becoming the best persons they can be in all areas of life, then we are focusing on growth.
Which brings us to the third idea.
A logical method and sympathetic attention work better than haphazard methods and hurry and worry.
Rather than running hither and yon, switching curriculum every few months, and losing sleep over where Johnny “should be” in his math book or Susie “should be” in her reading skills, sometimes we simply need to be perceptive and patient.
The Charlotte Mason method works; we can trust it. And because it is a method, rather than a rigid system, we can tweak it as needed to fit our individual children and situations. In other words, we can teach the child, not the curriculum.
We are not tied to any particular set of lesson plans, any contrived timetable, or even any specific books. We are free to apply Charlotte’s wonderful methods, spread an appetizing feast of ideas, and encourage each child to partake and grow as the unique person that he or she is.
The key is to be faithful. Keep feeding each child’s mind and heart. Keep encouraging growth in each individual. Keep developing the whole person.
In other words, keep educating.
Quite a collection of wise ideas from these hints to teachers.