Ambleside Blog

Educating for a Full Life

A first grader carefully adds three to four. Third graders diligently journey into ancient Egypt. A student shares with her parents insightful and detailed reflections on Robinson Crusoe.  These are characteristic of students who care.  When it comes to education, the first question parents and teachers must ask is not, “How much does the child know?”  But rather, “How much does he care?”

Inevitably, the student (like the adult) who cares little will fritter away the hours. She drifts from class to class, enduring one day after another, all in hopes of some afterschool or weekend thrill. Finding no joy in the ordinary, always looking for the exciting; days turn to weeks, weeks to months, and months to years. A young life is lost in passing time rather than in fully living.

Charlotte Mason spoke of a vast inheritance offered to all. We are offered the possibility of knowledge in all its varied dimensions; not knowing as mere information, but the knowing which implies relationship. Let us bring our students back to the wide room – read of the lifecycle of the frog, observe the vibrant purple of the American Beauty, digest the nature of exponents, and wrestle to understand why a blind girl sees more than we. Last week, I observed teachers doing all this and more!  

“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…. 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? (Charlotte Mason, School Education p.171)

Speaking of God


“Do not talk down to children.”

To a prior generation, the religious education of children consisted of indoctrination and memorization. Today, it’s likely to be silly games, treats, and a video of animated Bible stories. Our children are sold short. An insightful hearing of Scripture, a delight in the Creator, a deep communion with the living God, all are deemed beyond a child’s capacity or interest.

Perhaps we are the problem. By God’s grace, children have ears to hear. But, what do we have to say? Let us meet God in the depths of prayer, the revelations of Scripture, the wonder of creation, the kindnesses and the needs of a neighbor. And, let us hold a high view of a child's capacity. Then, we will have plenty to say. And, we will know not to say too much.

Consider the following quote:
We might gather from [misguided] educational publications that the art of education as regards young children is to bring conceptions down to their 'little' minds. If we give up this foolish prejudice, we shall be astonished at the range and depth of children's minds. And, we shall perceive that their relation to God is one of those 'first-born affinities,' which it is our part to help them to make good. A mother knows how to speak of God as she would of an absent father, with all the evidences of his care and love. She knows how to make a child's heart beat high in joy and thankfulness; as she thrills him with the thought 'my Father made them all,' while his eye delights in flowery meadow, great tree, flowing river. 'His are the mountains and the valleys, his the resplendent rivers, whose eyes they fill with tears of holy joy.' And this is not beyond children. (Charlotte Mason, Philosophy of Education)

The Gift of Hope

  “Without hope, we live on a low level, disturbing ourselves with petty cares, distracting ourselves with petty joys.” – Charlotte Mason  

Once again, it is ‘back to school’ for millions of students. Parents dutifully supply pencils, book bags, lunches, gym clothes and a dozen other needed things. Teachers assign seats and distribute books. The best will bring to their students the gift of hope.

Contrary to common use, hope is not the yearning to fulfill every chance desire (e.g., I hope to have ice cream tonight.) Not every chance desire is worth fulfilling. Any teacher will tell you that the child who always gets what he wants terrorizes both himself and others.

Hope is a complex thing, part idea and part emotion. There are truths to be named and passions to be flamed.

Created in the image of God, every person has a wonderful capacity to "appropriate to self the world as a great inheritance." All may learn and grow, serve and love, enjoy the good as the good is meant to be enjoyed, resist evil as evil is meant to be resisted. While there are perils which may lead to devastation and ruin; by God's grace, none of these perils are invincible. Darkness may come, but we may shine in the darkness. These are the ideas of hope.

But, hope is part emotion, and emotions are caught like the flu. To catch hope, we must be with people of hope. To spread hope, we must be infectious. Beware "sitting in the seat of scoffers." Beware being a "scoffer."

And, let us bring the gift of hope.


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