Last week we started a discussion on whether Charlotte Mason’s approach should be described as “gentle.” We hear that description used a lot, but is it accurate?
Much of the answer depends on how you define “gentle.”
In the previous post we looked at reasons her methods would not be considered gentle; she expected a lot from the children. Studying with Charlotte was not a cake walk. But at the same time, it was not a harsh or tedious existence.
Charlotte Mason on “Gentleness”
In my search of Charlotte’s writings, I looked specifically for her comments on gentleness. Is there a place for gentleness in a Charlotte Mason education? Let’s go directly to the source and see what Charlotte herself said about “gentle.”
A pushy, domineering attitude can produce mental fret and discomfort in those around us.
“Persons hurt in Mind suffer in Body—Gentleness.—But there are other ways of doing bodily hurt to the people we have to do with than by overworking, underfeeding, or directly misusing them. If you hurt people in mind they suffer in body, and it is for this reason that we should not push in a crowd to get the best place—should not jostle others to get the best share of what is going, even if it be a good sermon, should give place gently in walking the streets, should make room on public seats or in railway carriages for others who wish to sit. If we are ungentle in such small matters, we may not do such direct hurt to the persons of others as would make a surgeon necessary, but we produce a state of mental fret and discomfort which is really more wearing. We all know how soothing is the presence of a gentle person in a room; a person whose tone of voice and whose movements show that he has imagination, that he realises the presence of other people whose comfort he would not willingly destroy” (Vol. 4, Book 1, p. 142).
Gentleness comes from honor. Respecting the child as a person should result in gentleness toward him.
“Honour begets gentleness to the persons of others, courteous attention to their words, however dull and prosy they may seem to us, and deference towards their opinions, however foolish we may think them. The person whose rash opinions are received with deference is ready to hear the other side of the question and becomes open to conviction” (Vol. 4, Book 1, p. 146).
Gentleness does not equal weakness or apathy. It is a supreme force that parents can use in shaping their children.
“It is in the force of all-mighty gentleness that parents are supreme; not feebleness, not inertness—there is no strength in these; but purposeful, determined gentleness, which carries its point, only ‘for it is right’ ” (Vol. 5, p. 201).
So, though I could not find the exact phrase “gentle art of learning” in Charlotte’s six volumes, we can piece together from her comments that a gentle attitude is important. But a proper understanding of gentleness is paramount.
Gentleness does not mean allowing the children to do whatever they want. It has a purposeful, determined strength that influences those around it to do what is right.
Gentleness does not mean depending solely on the educational atmosphere of the home and hoping the children will maybe learn something as they live and play there. Charlotte expected much mental effort from her students and carefully planned their full and generous curriculum.
Gentleness respects the child as a person. It is not harsh or abrasive even as it encourages the child to reach high, work hard, and appreciate beauty.
So is the Charlotte Mason approach gentle? I find it delightful that in this, as in so many areas, Charlotte’s ideas were well-balanced. What do you think? Leave a comment and let us know.
Karen Andreola: Our Guest Next Week
I’m so thankful for our readers’ comments and suggestions! Last week a fellow CM fan suggested that we ask Karen Andreola for her ideas on this subject of gentleness. Karen’s book, A Charlotte Mason Companion: Personal Reflections on the Gentle Art of Learning, has been so encouraging to many CMers over the years! It was one of the first books I read when I discovered CM 16 years ago.
Well, we were able to contact Mrs. Andreola, and she has graciously consented to share her thoughts in our post next week. We’re in for a treat!
And in the meantime, if you would like another treat, you might spend a little time on her Mother Culture blog. It is a peaceful, encouraging place. Enjoy.