Earlier this week a dear friend showed me her 100-year-old house. We tread on the original wood floors, admired the multiple fireplaces, and talked about the people who had lived there before. The house has a rich history, and my friend has been able to spend some time with one of the women from years gone by who, together with her sister, rented out some of the rooms and ran it as a boarding house for many seasons.
As we stood in the backyard beside the garden, my friend commented, “I feel like we’re just passing through here too. We’re taking care of it for the next people who will live here.” In the meantime, she has made that house a comfortable and welcoming place for her family, and indeed, for everyone who spends time there.
My friend has formed a personal relation with the past, present, and future of that house—more specifically, with the people who have lived, are living, and will be living in it. I appreciate the richness of her perspective. It reminds me of Charlotte Mason’s perspective on the past, present, and future. She, too, emphasized those person-to-person relations:
“This moral relation of person to person underlies all other relations. We owe it to the past to use its gains worthily and to advance from the point at which it left off. We owe it to the future to prepare a generation better than ourselves. We owe it to the present to live, to live with all expansion of heart and soul, all reaching out of our personality towards those relations appointed for us” (Vol. 3, p. 85).
Charlotte was writing in the context of education: “If we receive it, that the whole of education consists in the establishment of relations, then, the relations with our fellow-beings must be of the first importance.” What does that have to do with our home schools? May I suggest three ways to live with a relation perspective on the past, the future, and the present.
The Past: Focus on the lives of historical people.
In our history studies we should place the emphasis on getting to know the people who have lived—their character and the ideas that ruled their lives. Memorizing a list of dates and events isn’t the same thing. To truly understand the moral gains of history and accurately discern gain from loss in those areas, we must know the persons who lived it. “We owe it to the past to use its gains worthily and to advance from the point at which it left off.”
The Future: Prepare children for life by educating the whole person.
Education is not just about recognizing information; it is about shaping and nourishing and growth in all areas of life. It is about respecting the child as a person and helping him become the best that he can be as a person. Charlotte was not focusing on head knowledge when she said, “We owe it to the future to prepare a generation better than ourselves.” We need to keep that big picture in mind and teach the child, not just the curriculum.
The Present: Nurture and model a love for learning and a love for life!
This is why we spread a feast of art and music and poetry and handicrafts and nature study and living books for our children. We have the privilege of introducing some of the wonder and beauty that is in this life, of cultivating their hearts and souls to be on the lookout for more opportunities to expand, to form new relations. We get to teach them, not just to exist, but to live! “We owe it to the present to live, to live with all expansion of heart and soul, all reaching out of our personality towards those relations appointed for us.”
So take a lesson from an old house and a wonderful mother living in it. We are here on earth during this time, but we are not unconnected from the past and the future. When we see the potential for relating in both directions, we gain a foundational perspective: learn from past lives, shape future lives, and live the present life to the full!