Possibilities: Core Values of Charlotte Mason

The main message for today is “Don’t lose hope.”

We have embarked on a tour of the ideas and values that form the core of a Charlotte Mason education. When we have these core values clearly embedded in our hearts and minds, we can approach each day of homeschooling with clarity and with confidence. We know why we are doing things this way and why we are not doing things that way. And we can embrace the freedom that comes with that confident teaching.

We’ve already looked at the first core value—the one that Charlotte Mason considered revolutionary in her day—”children are born persons.” If you haven’t yet read that post, I encourage you to do so. We looked at how important it is that we view each child as a whole person—body, soul, spirit, mind, will, emotions—and keep that big picture as we seek to educate him or her.

Today we want to look at the second core value: possibilities. Do you believe that your child has possibilities? 

It is a core value of a Charlotte Mason approach that every child has possibilities for growth, for learning, and for loving. On the flip side, they also have possibilities for prejudice, for ignorance, and for hatred. 

It is those very possibilities—both good and bad—that motivate us to be faithful in educating our children. If we didn’t think that this child could learn and grow and change as a person, then why would we invest any time teaching him?

We must believe that every child has possibilities. Charlotte put it this way:

“They are not born either good or bad, but with possibilities for good and for evil.”

Now, this is not a theological statement about a sin nature; this is a correction to an idea that was popular in Charlotte’s day. You see, many parents in Charlotte’s day accepted the idea that children were born with either good character or bad character, and there was nothing a parent could do to change it. If Johnny had a bad temper, it was inherited from his parents or grandparents, and that was it. He would always have a bad temper. If Suzy was a perpetual liar, there was nothing you could do about it; she would always be a liar. It was part of her DNA.

I’m sure you can understand how that view of the children completely gutted any hope and drained any desire or responsibility of discipling that child. If you can’t change something, no matter how hard you try, you have no hope or motivation. 

But Charlotte wanted to give parents hope. She assured us that faults of character are not permanent nor unchangeable. A child’s character can be shaped and molded. 

Yes, some children may struggle with certain aspects of character. Maybe Johnny does have a natural tendency toward anger. Maybe Suzy does gravitate toward lying more than any other child you know. We all have certain struggles. Some are more visible than others, but we all have personal challenges in different areas. That’s because we are human and we are individuals. Each child is a unique person—the core value of personhood that we looked at before. You know your own strengths and weaknesses, your own tendencies and besetting sins. And it’s the same with our children. Every person has possibilities for good and for evil.

So our job as parents is threefold:

  1. We present ideas that uphold the good and noble as beautiful and worthwhile.
  2. We seek to understand each child as an individual and then help that child understand himself and his own tendencies for good and for evil.
  3. We come alongside that child and encourage him in his personal struggles by helping him form habits that will make it easier for him to pursue good and avoid evil.

And in all of this, we point that child to the only One Who can help him and change him in this struggle: the Lord. Charlotte said,

“The point of view it seems well to take is, that all beautiful and noble possibilities are present in varying degree in everyone, but that each person is subject to assault and hindrance in various ways, of which he should be aware in order that he may watch and pray.”

The Story of Charlotte Mason, p. 117, and Ourselves, Preface


So let me give you two applications of this core value. These are not the only applications, of course; but perhaps these two will get you started thinking along those lines.

1. Character is just as important, if not more important, than academic intelligence.

You’ll notice that we said nothing about a child’s aptitude for arithmetic or writing. That’s because those skills are not the main reason we educate our children; character is. When we talk about possibilities, we are talking about the child’s character—who he is, not what he can do.

Of course, we want our children to learn to read and write and do math, but that perspective of education is too narrow. Not every child has those possibilities. Some children have physical limitations that prohibit them from achieving those skills. But all children have the possibilities of growing in character. 

So make sure whatever curriculum you use supports that goal of shaping your child’s mind and heart toward what is good and noble. One reason we use living books is because the stories of a person’s life reveal that person’s character and the consequences for the path that person chose to take. Simply memorizing a list of dates and achievements—dry facts—doesn’t feed that growth in character that we’re aiming for. So living books are important for cultivating the possibilities within our children.

And as we choose living books, we should not shy away from presenting both personal strengths and weaknesses, a person’s unique struggles and triumphs. We want to give our children books that hold up a person’s good traits to emulate and flaws to avoid, just as the Bible does.

We want books that help our children understand human nature—the good, the bad, and the ugly—without sensationalizing the evil or making it seem attractive and without consequence, but also without sugar-coating the good and painting an unrealistic view of life.

You see, good living books do more than just make it easier to remember the story from history. Good living books instruct your child’s conscience and motivate his will toward good and noble ends. Good living books help shape your child’s character.

So make sure the books you are using accomplish those ends.

2. A word of encouragement: Never stop believing that your child can grow, can change.

No matter what struggles he has, no matter what limitations he is dealing with, no matter what challenges you are facing with him—don’t give up hope.

I love this statement from Charlotte:

“A child is a person in whom all possibilities are present—present now at this very moment.”

Parents and Children, p. 260

Yes, he may have tendencies toward what is bad, but always remember that he also has possibilities toward what is good. Right now. At this very moment. No one is beyond hope. 

The change may not come as quickly as you want it to. It may not swing in the good direction as far as you want it to, but never let go of your hope. Watch and pray for your child and with your child. Don’t give up.

“The child is born, doubtless, with the tendencies which should shape his future; but every tendency has its branch roads, its good or evil outcome; and to put the child on the right track for the fulfillment of the possibilities inherent in him, is the vocation of the parent.”

Home Education, p. 109

Do your best to put your child on the right track. Make the right path as attractive as possible; help your child grow in his relation with himself as an individual, understanding his unique challenges; and continue to encourage the habits that will help him become the best version of himself that he can.

Don’t lose heart in helping your child overcome his bad tendencies. Your child still has possibilities. Believe it!

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