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There’s a question that seems to come up regularly in homeschooling discussions. In fact, it might be niggling in the back of your mind right now. So let’s take a few minutes to turn around and address that question head on. Let’s get it out in the open and talk about it.
The question I am referring to is this one: “Is my child learning enough?” Sound familiar?
Sometimes it is asked by a homeschool mama who has recently discovered the Charlotte Mason Method. Perhaps that’s you. Maybe you’ve eagerly embraced Charlotte’s methods and started using them with your children. You’ve seen their enthusiasm return; they’re enjoying school again; and smiles are beginning to blossom in your home school. And you’ve realized how much more pleasant this method is than spending hours over tedious textbooks and workbooks. So you start to second-guess your decision.
Wait a minute. This seems too easy. I’m not stuffing facts into my child’s head anymore. And I can’t see those facts coming back out of his head onto a sheet of paper. How can I be sure he is learning enough from these living books and narration and all?
Or maybe you’re not new to Charlotte Mason’s methods, but you’re grappling with comparison: “My child’s not studying the same thing as my friend’s child.” Or maybe high school is looming on the horizon and you’re feeling some pressure to make sure your student has everything he needs to graduate and make his way in life.
When we ponder that question—”Is my child learning enough?”—we would do well to take a deep breath and back up a step and remind ourselves of the goal. Because that’s what we’re really asking, isn’t it? “Am I successfully reaching the goal?”
So, what is the goal? What are we aiming at?
In a Charlotte Mason education, the goal is to educate the whole person: to feed the child’s mind, to shape the child’s character and cultivate his habits, to strengthen his will in order to help him become the best person he can be. “I am, I can, I ought, I will.”
We can’t shape a person’s innermost being by giving him facts to memorize and regurgitate on a test. And yet that is what most educational standards hold up as the epitome of learning: How many facts can the child recall?
But that’s not how we define education. A recitation of facts does not touch a person on the inside and change his mind, will, and emotions. A person is shaped on the inside when he makes a personal connection, a personal relation, with an idea about someone or something. That’s when it truly affects him, changes him, educates him.
With the Charlotte Mason Method, we seek to spread a feast of many different opportunities to make those personal connections with people, with God, and with the world around us. It’s not about some list of random facts that the child is supposed to have memorized at a certain grade level. That is such a narrow focus! Charlotte took a much broader view. Here’s how she put it:
“Our aim in Education is to give a Full Life.—We begin to see what we want. Children make large demands upon us. We owe it to them to initiate an immense number of interests. ‘Thou hast set my feet in a large room,’ should be the glad cry of every intelligent soul. Life should be all living, and not merely a tedious passing of time; not all doing or all feeling or all thinking—the strain would be too great—but, all living; that is to say, we should be in touch wherever we go, whatever we hear, whatever we see, with some manner of vital interest. We cannot give the children these interests; we prefer that they should never say they have learned botany or conchology, geology or astronomy.”(School Education, p. 170)
What we don’t want is for our children to learn the required information, spit it back out on the test, and then turn their backs on “schoolwork” forever. “Yeah, I learned that” (meaning he passed the test on it) “now I’m done.” No, we are striving to instill in our children a love for learning that will continue their whole lives. We are seeking to shape a person who is interested in many things and eager to keep developing his personal relations with them whether he is in “school” or not. That’s our goal.
Of course he will learn facts; but they are not the focus. They should be clothed in those living ideas. It’s the ideas that will take up residence in a child’s mind and heart; and as they settle there, they bring along the facts, yes, but more importantly, they are constantly on the lookout for other related ideas. So wherever the child goes, whatever he reads or sees or hears, he has the potential to spark another relation and gain another vital interest. It is a ever-increasing network, forming more and more connections as he goes through life. That’s the goal.
So when we ask ourselves, “Is my child learning enough?,” Charlotte would gently remind us that we are asking the wrong question.
“The question is not,—how much does the youth know? when he has finished his education—but how much does he care? and about how many orders of things does he care? In fact, how large is the room in which he finds his feet set? and, therefore, how full is the life he has before him?”(School Education, pp. 170, 171)
Now, don’t for a moment think that the Charlotte Mason Method is all about warm-and-fuzzy-and-never-challenging-our-children-to-think. Far from it! The Charlotte Mason Method challenges our children to think deeply—about the things that really matter—and to allow those deep thoughts to shape who they are becoming.
And that is true education; education that goes much deeper than just parroting a bunch of facts.
So the next time you find yourself wondering, “Is my child learning enough?,” remember Charlotte’s wise counsel and ask yourself the harder questions instead: “What does my child care about?” and “Who is my child becoming?” For the answers to those questions will tell you much more about your child’s true education.