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The Child in the Midst

The Child in the Midst

The Child in the Midst.––And first, let us consider where and what the little being is who is entrusted to the care of human parents. A tablet to be written upon? A twig to be bent? Wax to be molded? Very likely; but he is much more––a being belonging to an altogether higher estate than ours; as it were, a prince committed to the fostering care of peasants…

What is peculiar to the children in their nature and estate. "Of such is the kingdom of heaven." "Except ye become as little children ye shall in no case enter the kingdom of heaven." "Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?" "And He called a little child, and set him in the midst." Here is the Divine estimate of the child's estate. It is worthwhile for parents to ponder every utterance in the Gospels about these children, divesting themselves of the notion that these sayings belong, in the first place, to the grown up people who have become as little children. 

Next Part 5 The Education of a Person

The Education of a Person

The Education of a Person[1]

We take Children as Persons.––In the first place, we take children seriously as persons like ourselves, only more so; the first question that comes before us is––What do we understand by a person? We believe the thinking, invisible soul and acting, visible body to be one in so intimate a union that––

   "Nor soul helps flesh more now than flesh helps soul."

If the doctrine of the Resurrection had not been revealed to us, it would be a necessity, in however unimagined a form, to our conception of a person. The countenance of our friend with the thousand delicate changes which express every nuance of feeling; the refinement, purpose, perception, power, revealed in his hand, the dear familiar carriage, these are all inseparable from our conception of the person…

The Person Wills, and Thinks, and Feels.––…we believe that the person wills and thinks and feels; is always present, though not always aware of himself; is without parts or faculties; whatever he does, he does, all of him, whether he take a walk or write a book. It is so much the habit to think of the person as a dual being, flesh and spirit, when he is, in truth, one, that it is necessary to clear our minds on this subject. The person is one and not several, and he is no more compact of [compartmentalized into] ideas on the one hand than he is of nervous and muscular tissues on the other. That he requires nutriment of two kinds is no proof that he is two individuals. Pleasant and well-cooked food makes man of a cheerful countenance, and wine gladdens the heart of man, and we all know the spiritual refreshment of a needed meal. On the other hand, we all know the lack-lustre eye and pallid countenance of the well-fed who receive none of that other nutriment which we call ideas; quick and living thought is as necessary for the full and happy development of the body as it is for that of the soul…

Education the Science of Relations.––We consider that education is the science of relations, or, more fully, that education considers what relations are proper to a human being, and in what ways these several relations can best be established; that a human being comes into the world with capacity for many relations; and that we, for our part, have two chief concerns––first, to put him in the way of forming these relations by presenting the right idea at the right time, and by forming the right habit upon the right idea; and, secondly, by not getting in the way and so preventing the establishment of the very relations we seek to form.

For Consideration

  • What is the difference between a system and a method?
  • What are the advantages of “a few broad essential principles” that conform to human nature?
  • How to systems and systemic approaches to education distort the formation of right relations (ideas and habits) which are at the heart of education.

[1] Mason, Charlotte, School Education pp.  63-66 excerpts


Deceptive Brain Messages

At any given moment, our amazing brains direct our reactions to life circumstances by integrating current experience with past experience and doing so along habitual lines. Our brains are organs of habit, responding according to established patterns of networked nerve cells. With a little self-reflection, it is easy to recognize that our brain responses are at times less-than-helpful and can even be quite destructive.  In their book, You are Not Your Brain, Jeffrey Schwartz and Rebecca Gladding identify these brain responses as “deceptive brain messages.”

There are only a few true necessities in life, but for many of us, it doesn’t feel that way. A lifetime of habits, ingrained by repetition, can seemingly make us slaves to a not always beneficial master – our own brain. Nothing is more confusing, or painful than when your brain takes over your thoughts, attacks your self-worth, questions your abilities, overpowers you with cravings, or attempts to dictate your actions. Have you ever felt something is compelling you to “go” places, mentally or emotionally, where you don’t want to be? Do you find yourself acting in uncharacteristic ways or doing things you don’t want to be doing? The reason is simple: Deceptive brain messages have intruded into your psyche and taken over your life. Left to its own devices, your brain can cause you to believe things that are not true and to act in any number of self-destructive ways.

The brain thinks and reacts as it is accustomed to think and react. It is an organ of habit. When habits are destructive, we follow a line of reasoning justifying ourselves, alleviating responsibility for the desired outcome. As Charlotte Mason points out in Parents and Children, it is a particularly pernicious habit.

We get into the way of thinking such and such manner of thoughts, and of coming to such and such conclusions, ever further and further removed from the starting-point, but on the same lines. There is structural adaptation in the brain tissue to the manner of thoughts we think––a place and a way for them to run in.

Charlotte Mason recognized that both parents and teachers were far too often content to leave the children to their nature, to leave them to their deceptive brain messages and unhealthy behaviors. Any significant growth in virtue begins with the recognition of bad habits and their underlying deceptive brain messages (both conscious and unconscious).  These prevailing messages are sowed into lives through relationships, both in verbal and non-verbal ways.
Adults must ask themselves the following questions: What are the deceptive messages that hold ground in the lives of those in my care? Am I a voice that communicates deceptive brain messages verbally or non-verbally? What are the life-giving messages that I wish to communicate to my child or student? How do I challenge the deceptive messages and relationally manifest the life-giving messages?
We are always training in habit, whether habits of mind or body. Charlotte Mason gives us a potent reminder of how subtly these habits are formed:

Thus we see how the destiny of a life is shaped in the nursery, by the reverent naming of the Divine Name; by the light scoff at holy things; by the thought of duty the little child gets who is made to finish conscientiously his little task; by the hardness of heart that comes to the child who hears the faults or sorrows of others spoken of lightly.

The Value of the Knowledge of Nature

The other day my husband and I were called to my uncle’s farm to help him with his peach harvest. At the age of 89, he had faithfully tended and harvested from his Red Haven peach trees since they were planted 60 years ago, and it was clear that he counted them as friends. He was no longer able to climb into the trees, nor mount a ladder to pick off the fruit, so he had arranged a fork-lift mechanism onto his tractor to get higher up into the tree. My uncle ran the lift while my husband was raised into the loaded branches, and I picked fruit from the ground. As he noticed the weight of the fruit in the trees and as we relieved them of their burden, my uncle said several times quietly to himself, “There, old trees, that will lighten your load and make it easier for you.”

As I pondered these intimate words, I couldn’t help but think of Charlotte Mason’s admonition that all children, (as well as adults,) develop relationships with their outdoor environment. She states in Home Education,

“It would be well if we all persons in authority, parents and all who act for parents, could make up our minds that there is no sort of knowledge to be got in these early years so valuable to children as that which they get for themselves of the world they live in. Let them once get touch with Nature, and a habit is formed which will be a source of delight through life. We were all meant to be naturalists, each in his degree, and it is inexcusable to live in a world so full of the marvels of plant and animal life and to care for none of these things.1

Sown in the life of a child at an early age, a knowledge of trees, wild flowers, crops, garden vegetables, fruiting plants, and even weeds grows into a kinship with local flora. Relationships are developed which last a lifetime. Friends are made, and the joy of being connected to nature and the earth becomes embedded in the soul of a person, creating a place of peace within oneself where one may go for relief, refreshment, renewal, and reverence.

As summer winds down, and the preparations and details of the school year increase, I have resolved to create time for opportunities to become reacquainted with my surroundings. I want to develop the habit of observing and delighting in the world around me. I desire to store within my memories those beautiful and quiet places which revive my spirit. My elderly uncle’s love of and bond with the natural world around him has challenged me toward this end, and Charlotte Mason’s words of a century ago ring as true now as when they were written:

“For we are an overwrought generation, running to nerves as a cabbage runs to seed; and every hour spent in the open is a clear gain, tending to the increase of brain power and bodily vigour, and to the lengthening of life itself.2

1 Mason, Charlotte, Home Education pp. 61
2 Ibid, pp. 42
* Peach Trees in bloom Anthony Dunn Photography

A System easier than a Method

A System easier than a Method

(Part 3 of 5)

A System easier than a Method.––A 'system of education' is an alluring fancy; more so, on some counts, than a method, because it is pledged to more definite calculable results. By means of a system certain developments may be brought about through the observance of given rules. Shorthand, dancing, how to pass examinations, how to become a good accountant, or a woman of society, may all be learned upon systems.

System––the observing of rules until the habit of doing certain things, of behaving in certain ways, is confirmed, and, therefore, the art is acquired––is so successful in achieving precise results, that it is no wonder there should be endless attempts to straighten the whole field of education to the limits of a system.

If a human being were a machine, education could do no more for him than to set him in action in prescribed ways, and the work of the educator would be simply to adopt a good working system or set of systems.

But the educator has to deal with a self-acting, self-developing being, and his business is to guide, and assist in, the production of the latent good in that being, the dissipation of the latent evil, the preparation of the child to take his place in the world at his best, with every capacity for good that is in him developed into a power. Though system is a highly useful as an instrument of education, a 'system of education' is mischievous, as producing only mechanical action instead of the vital growth and movement of a living being.

It is worthwhile to point out the differing characters of a system and a method, because parents [and teachers] let themselves be run away by some plausible 'system,' the object of which is to produce development in one direction––of the muscles, of the memory, of the reasoning faculty––as if the single development were a complete all-round education. This easy satisfaction arises from the sluggishness of human nature, to which any definite scheme is more agreeable than the constant watchfulness, the unforeseen action, called for when the whole of a child's existence is to be used as the means of his education. But who is sufficient for an education so comprehensive, so incessant? A parent may be willing to undergo any definite labors for his child's sake; but to be always catering to his behoof, always contriving that circumstances shall play upon him for his good, is the part of a god and not of a man! A reasonable objection enough, if one looks upon education as an endless series of independent efforts, each to be thought out and acted out on the spur of the moment; but the fact is, that a few broad essential principles cover the whole field, and these once fully laid hold of, it is as easy and natural to act upon them as it is to act upon our knowledge of such facts as that fire burns and water flows. My endeavor in this and the following chapters will be to put these few fundamental principles before you in their practical bearing. Meantime, let us consider one or two preliminary questions.

Next Part 4 -The Child in the Midst

A Method for Educating Human Persons: Not a System

A Method for Educating Human Persons: Not a System

(A five part series)

1st Principle: Excellence in education requires the consistent application of a congruent method that reflects the nature of a child, the nature of knowledge, and the purpose of education.

Method versus System[1]

Traditional Methods of Education.––Never was it more necessary for parents [and teachers] to face for themselves this question of education in all its bearings. Hitherto, children have been brought up upon traditional methods mainly…

That children should be trained to endure hardness, was a principle of the old regime. "I shall never make a sailor if I can't face the wind and rain," said a little fellow of five who was taken out on a bitter night to see a torchlight procession; and, though, shaking with cold, he declined the shelter of a shed. Nowadays, the shed is everything; the children must not be permitted to suffer from fatigue or exposure.

That children should do as they are bid, mind their books, and take pleasure as it offers when nothing stands in the way, sums up the old theory; now, the pleasures of children are apt to be made more account than their duties. Formerly, they were brought up in subjection; now, the elders give place, and the world is made for the children.

English people rarely go so far as the parents of that story in French Home Life, who arrived an hour late at a dinner party, because they had been desired by their girl of three to undress and go to bed when she did, and were able to steal away only when the child was asleep. We do not go so far, but that is the direction in which we are now moving; and how far the new theories of education are wise and humane, the outcome of more widely spread physiological and psychological knowledge, and how far they just pander to child worship to which we are all succumbing, is not a question to be decided off hand.

At any rate, it is not too much to say that a parent [or teacher] who does not follow reasonably a method of education, fully thought out, fails––now, more than ever before––to fulfill the claims his children have upon him.

Next Part 2 - Method a Way to an End

[1] Mason, Charlotte, Home Education pp. 7-11 (excerpts)


The Spiritual Mind

While reading A Philosophy of Education by Charlotte Mason this morning, I was struck by the relevance of Charlotte Mason's words to the work of Jeffrey Schwartz.  Jeffrey Schwartz, who ASI is hosting September 27th of this year, wrote a book titled You Are Not Your Brain.  I read it over a year ago and many ideas have taken root.  One overarching idea is that the mind is distinct from the brain and capable of changing the way the brain processes input and, therefore, output.  This has been a critical understanding for me as an adult as I seek to retrain certain brain pathways formed as a result of years of fearful thoughts as a child.  It is also critical for me in my role as a teacher.

At pages 259-260 in A Philosophy of Education, Ms. Mason writes (*note that Ms. Mason uses the word materialism in this passage to mean the belief that all things originate in and are material):

"We are paying in our education of to-day for the wave of materialism that spread over the country a hundred years ago. People do not take the trouble to be definitely materialistic now, but our educational thought has received a trend which carries us whither we would not. Any apostle of a new method is welcome to us. We have ceased to believe in mind, and though we would not say in so many words that "the brain secretes thought as the liver secretes bile," yet the physical brain rather than the spiritual mind is our objective in education; therefore, "things are in the saddle and ride mankind," and we have come to believe that children are inaccessible to ideas or any knowledge.

The message for our age is, Believe in mind, and let education go straight as a bolt to the mind of the pupil. The use of books is a necessary corollary, because no one is arrogant enough to believe he can teach every subject in a full curriculum with the original thought and exact knowledge shown by the man who has written a book on perhaps his life-study. But the teacher is not moved by arrogance but by a desire to be serviceable. He believes that children cannot understand well-written books and that he must make of himself a bridge between the pupil and the real teacher, the man who has written the book."


In my understanding, one of the most pivotal overarching principles of Ms. Mason's philosophy is that a child is born a person in the image of God and as such is spiritual (as well as physical).  Therefore, education must provide spiritual nourishment via living ideas in rich literature.  Mr. Schwartz may agree with Ms. Mason that the brain is not the focus of education, rather the mind, because the mind directs the brain.  Spirit directs matter.  I will continue to let these thoughts direct the focus and efforts of school planning for this upcoming year.  

Oh Lord, may I truly be "serviceable" to my students (my children) in the development of their minds.


Method a Way to an End

Method a Way to an End

Method implies two things––a way to an end, and a step by step progress in that way. Further, the following of a method implies an idea, a mental image, of the end of object to be arrived at. What do you propose that education shall effect in and for your child [or students]? Again, method is natural; easy, yielding, unobtrusive, simple as the ways of Nature herself; yet, watchful, careful, all pervading, all compelling. Method, with the end of education in view, presses the most unlikely matters into service to bring about that end; but with no more tiresome mechanism than the sun employs when it makes the winds to blow and the waters to flow only by shining. The parent who sees his way––that is, the exact force of method––to educate his child, will make use of every circumstance of the child's life almost without intention on his own part, so easy and spontaneous is a method of education based upon Natural Law. Does the child eat or drink, does he come, or go, or play––all the time he is being educated, though he is as little aware of it as he is of the act of breathing. There is always the danger that a method, a bona fide method, should degenerate into a mere system. The Kindergarten Method, for instance, deserves the name, as having been conceived and perfected by large hearted educators to aid the many sided evolution of the living, growing, most complex human being; but what a miserable wooden system does it become in the hands of ignorant practitioners!

Next - Part 3 A System easier than a Method

Charlotte Mason on the Bondage of Self-Preoccupation

Charlotte Mason on the Bondage of Self-Preoccupation1

The liberty of the person who can make himself do what he ought is the first of the rights that children claim as persons.  The next article in the child’s Bill of Rights is that liberty which we call innocence, and which we find described in the Gospels as humility.  When we come to think of it, we do not see how a little child is humble; he is neither proud nor humble, we say; he does not think of himself at all; here we have hit unconsciously upon the solution of the problem.  Humility, that childish quality which is so infinitely attractive, consists in not thinking of oneself at all.  That is how children come, and how in some homes they grow up; but do we do nothing to make them self-conscious, do we never admire pretty curls or pretty frocks?  Do we never even look our admiration at the lovely creatures, who read us intuitively before they can speak?  Poor little souls, it is sad how soon they may be made to lose the beauty of their primal state, and learn to manifest the vulgarity of display…  The principle is, I think, that an individual fall of man takes place when a child becomes aware of himself; listens as if he were not heeding to his mother’s tales of his smartness or goodness, and watches for the next chance when he may display himself.  The children hardly deserve to be blamed at all.  The man who lights on a nugget has nothing like so exciting a surprise as has the child who becomes aware of himself.  The moment when he says to himself, “It is I,” is a great one for him, and he exhibits his discovery whenever he gets a chance; that is, he repeats the little performance which has excited his mother’s admiration, and invents new ways of showing off.  Presently, his self-consciousness takes the form of shyness, and we school him diligently, “What will Mrs. So-and-So think of a boy who does not look her in the face?” or “What do you think?  General Jones says that Bob is learning to hold himself like a man.”  And Bob struts about with great dignity.  Then we seek occasions of display for children, the dance, the children’s party, the little play in which they act, all harmless and wholesome, if it were not for the comments of the grown-ups and the admiration conveyed by loving eyes.  By-and-by comes the mauvaise honte [impoverished shame] of adolescence.  “Certainly the boys and girls are not conceited now,” we say, and indeed, poor young things, they are simply consumed with self-consciousness, are aware of their hands and feet, their shoulders and their hair, and cannot forget themselves for a moment in any society but that of everyday.  Our system of education fosters self-consciousness.  We are proud that our boy distinguishes himself, but it would be well for the young scholar if the winning of distinctions for himself were not put before him as a definite object.  But “where’s the harm after all?” we ask; “this sort of self-consciousness is a venial fault and almost universal amongst the young.”  We can only see the seriousness of this failing from two points of view – that of Him who has said, “it is not the will of the Father that one of these little ones should perish,” and that, I take it, means that it is not the divine will that children should lose their distinctive quality, innocence or humility, or what we sometimes call simplicity of character.  We know there are people who do not lose it, who remain simple and direct in thought, and young in heart, throughout life; but we let ourselves off easily and say, “Ah, yes, these are happily constituted people, who do not seem to feel the anxieties of life.”  The fact is, these take their times as they come, without undue self-occupation.  To approach the question from a second point of view, the havoc wrought on nerves is largely due to this self-consciousness, more often distressing than pleasing, and the fertile cause of depression, morbidity, melancholia, the whole wretched train which make shipwreck of many a promising life.

            Our work in securing children freedom from this tyranny must be positive as well as negative; it is not enough that we abstain from look or word likely to turn a child’s thoughts upon himself, but we must make him master of his inheritance and give him many delightful things to think of: “la terre appartient à l’enfant, toujours à l’enfant, [the earth belongs to the child, always the child]” said Maxim Gorki at an educational congress held in Brussels years ago.  So it does; the earth beneath and heaven above; and, what is more, as the bird has wings to cleave the air with, so has the child all the powers necessary wherewith to realize and appropriate all knowledge, all beauty and all goodness.  Find out ways to give him all his rights, and he (and more especially she) will not allow himself to be troubled with himself.  Whoever heard of a morbid naturalist or a historian who (save for physical causes) suffered from melancholia?  There is a great deliverance to be wrought in this direction, and sentry duty falls heavily on the soldier engaged in this war.

1Charlotte Mason, “Concerning Children as Persons”, Part II

To Know God: Parents/Teachers – Gentle Prophets Turning Hearts to God

Parents/Teachers – Gentle Prophets Turning Hearts to God

A “devout musing upon the subject of the Godhead” is very different from the indoctrination and the rote memorizing of scripture which characterize the religious education of children in some groups and from the childish song and games characteristic of religious education in other groups. Right doctrine is invaluable as is the discipline of scripture memory. But demons too know right doctrine[1], and Satan himself is quite capable of quoting scripture.[2] Likewise, playful songs and games have their place, but the Holy One, while delightful, is not to be treated as a source of amusement. What then shall a teacher do?

Of the three sorts of knowledge proper to a child, the knowledge of God, of man, and of the universe,––the knowledge of God ranks first in importance, is indispensable, and most happy-making. Mothers are on the whole more successful in communicating this knowledge than are teachers who know the children less well and have a narrower, poorer standard of measurement for their minds. Parents do not talk down to children, but we might gather from 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 in favor of the grown-up we shall be astonished at the range and depth of children's minds; and 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 [bring to fulfillment]. A mother knows how to speak of God as she would of an absent father with all the evidences of his care and love about her and his children. 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 and the resplendent rivers, whose eyes they fill with tears of holy joy," and this is not beyond children. We recollect how 'Arthur Pendennis' walked in the evening light with his mother and recited great passages from Milton and the eyes of the two were filled 'with tears of holy joy,' when the boy was eight. The teacher of a class has not the same tender opportunities but if he take pains to get a just measure of children's minds it is surprising how much may be done. [3]

[1] James 2:19
[2] Luke 4:1-13
[3] Charlotte Mason, Philosophy of Education, pp 158-159



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