Lesson 2 from the Exhibit Hall: Recognizing vs. Knowing

SCM convention booth conversation

As we’ve been traveling this homeschool convention season, two repeated scenarios have come to the forefront of my mind because they have reinforced basic Charlotte Mason principles. In other words, I’ve made a couple of mental connections that I’d like to share with you.

Last week we talked about the first of those lessons: savoring vs. shoveling. Today let’s look at the second: recognizing vs. knowing.

We see many of the same speakers and exhibitors at the various conventions, and it doesn’t take long to recognize those familiar names and faces across the exhibit hall. But the other day, as I was having a conversation with one of them, it struck me that there is a vast difference between recognizing someone and knowing someone.

It is the ones that I have spent extended time with—getting to hear what is on their hearts and going on in their lives—those are the ones that I feel I know. The ones that I merely wave to across the hall or smile at in passing, I only recognize. There is a difference.

And that difference holds true in education too.

Recognizing vs. Knowing

You see, we can give our children a line-up of individuals from history along with a snippet of who they are—this guy was a president; so-and-so was a general; that guy was a scientist—and our children can memorize the list and spit it back on the test at the end of the week. But they are only recognizing the names; they don’t really know those persons. They have no relation with them.

These past few weeks I’ve been honored to spend time with Cyndy, who shared some of the same struggles I have with a special needs child along with some ideas that are working for her; with Shirley, who told me about her dreams and challenged me about priorities and staying focused on what is most important during each season of life; with Denise, who was seeking to balance traveling schedules with family and encouraged me to cherish the time I have with my older children; with Becky, who demonstrated true hospitality and understanding even amid rough times.

Now, I may not know them as well as some others do, but I have benefited from our time together. I have grown as a person by getting to know each one better—learning what motivates her, what intimidates her, what successes and failures she’s had, what joys and sorrows she has seen—and then pondering what we have discussed and gleaning life lessons from those ideas. And you can be sure that when I see their faces across the room, I no longer merely recognize them; I feel like I know them.

That’s what Charlotte Mason had in mind for our children: spending time with a person through a living narrative of his or her life, gleaning living ideas from their experiences and words. Not just memorizing their names and factoids and moving on. She drew a dividing line between information and true knowledge.

“The distinction between knowledge and information is, I think, fundamental” (Vol. 3, p. 224).

“Learning is merely acquired information to which the memory gives entertainment but does not influence the life” (The Story of Charlotte Mason, p. 253).

“The effect of knowledge is not evidenced by what a person knows, the store of acquirements he possesses, but only and solely by what a person is” (The Story of Charlotte Mason, p. 252).

“Sympathy, tenderness, cultivated perceptions, a passionate sense of the beauty and duty of service, are among the equipments for life required in these exacting days; and all of these we aim at imparting by slow degrees, by more and more reading, through the words of the wise, which the children learn to delight in.

“We are hardly aware how children lap up lessons of life like a thirsty dog at a water trough, because they know without being told that their chief business is to learn how to think and how to live” (The Story of Charlotte Mason, p. 252).

Gleaning ideas. Truly knowing. Growth as a person. These are foundations of a relationship. And Charlotte held that Education is the science of relations, not just recognizing.


  1. Ahh, again you’re spot on. This is one thing I love about CM and one thing that my classically driven friends do not understand. They see our slow, laid back forming relationships with fewer people/things/places/events to be a bad thing. I see their fast, meet as many people/things/places/events in a year as you can approach to be a bad thing. Facts without understanding or knowledge without understanding does no good.

  2. I am enjoying this post and the one before. I wish I was more comfortable in balancing between my children savouring and getting to know a book and needing to cover material. Is there some clue or guidelines to this in a practical sense when choosing books for the coming year?

    • A couple of suggestions come to mind, Caralee. Make sure the books you choose present living ideas, not just facts. Be careful not to use only a history spine that gives an overview, but schedule other living books along the way that will let your children spend some time with a certain historical person, getting to know that person and the ideas that ruled his or her life. On a practical note, I try to schedule no more than one chapter per day in those books and schedule them only a couple of days per week. Spreading out the readings gives your children time to ponder on what they have read.

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