Charlotte Mason Summaries

Short Summary of Towards A Philosophy of Education - Volume 6 of the Charlotte Mason Series

Chapter 1 - Self-Education

The human mind, like the human body, is a growing, living thing that is designed to develop in its own time. Just as the body isn't helped by applying food to the outside, knowledge applied this way doesn't really nurture the mind. It is only ideas that the mind chews on, reflects on, makes 'its own' that are truly assimilated. Real education is what happens within a person's inner mind when he applies his own efforts, not what a teacher attempts to stuff in with lectures and worksheets. This is a truth, and has always been true. CM's methods aren't novel and new, they are just the realization of what has always been true.

Chapter 2 - Children are Born Persons

This chapter develops the first of CM's 20 Principles, which states that children don't become persons of capable reason after we get through with them; they already are little persons capable of reasoning because they were born that way. Children are born with curious minds, and all they need are things to wonder about, reflect on, imagine and experience in order for their minds to do their inner work and stretch their minds to capacity. All children, even those in the slums, are born with curious minds that only need material to digest.

Chapter 3 - The Good and Evil Nature of a Child

Principle 2 is developed in this chapter. Children are born pretty much like us, with the capacity to make wise choices, or selfish ones. Training good habits in body and mind will help children to tend toward good behavior and be less susceptible to unwittingly adopting popular opinion as their own. We tend to think that, as long as we act properly, it doesn't matter what goes on in our minds. But we are what we think, so it does matter. Children can be given beautiful thoughts and noble, inspiring characters to emulate by being exposed to great literature, art and music. They need to be allowed to reflect on these rather than encouraged to pick out trivial facts from them by being told what they should have learned from them.

The natural curiosity of children is enough to get them to learn, rewards and competitions aren't necessary and will replace the pure joy of knowing with second-rate desires. They don't need morality lessons and studies about what's just and what's not. These things are inborn in children, and they just need stories to provide examples. Their own minds can sort out the moral lesson of a story without a teacher having to spell it out for them. Children crave a relationship with their Creator, and the best way to help children in this is to let them hear and read Scripture itself. These things will help children make good choices.

Chapter 4 - Authority and Docility

Principle 3 is discussed. The concept of obeying authority is natural to man. Everyone obeys someone, whether it be police or king, and even anarchists obey someone--they obey themselves. It is best when children feel free to choose to obey because they want to and don't have to be co-erced against their will. It helps when they understand that there are laws of nature, such as gravity, that they can obey willingly, or disobey and suffer the consequences. They should understand that even their parents and teachers have a higher authority themselves, that everyone is under authority. Even a king must answer to God.

The child's role is to willingly submit to the authority over him, and the teacher does not abuse this trust, but uses the time she has with her students to do what's best for them in the long run. She gives them interesting books that will satisfy their curious minds and give them things to wonder about that will sustain their passion for learning all their lives.

Chapter 5 - The Sacredness of Personality

Principle 5 is the subject of this chapter. Teachers who understand that children are worthy young persons whose needs justify the most respectful care won't abuse their students by sinking to second-rate motives to get work out of their students. They won't pit students against each other to compete for the best grades, or get students to worship them so they can exert their own influence. Their role is to be children's guides and expose them to the best books, require students to pay attention the first time, and narrate the knowledge back.

Chapter 6 - Three Instruments of Education

Principle 6 says what teachers may use in their efforts to teach children. They may use the real-life atmosphere of the world the child lives in, not shielding him from the truth. They may use the discipline of good habits to help the child pay attention and act properly. They may use the life-sustaining ideas of great thinkers from ages past, which are found in books. This is what is meant by, "Education is an atmosphere, a discipline, a life."

Chapter 7 - How We Make Use of Mind

Principles 9 and 10 compare CM's view of the child as a living being with a capable, individual mind and Herbart's view that children are blank slates to be filled with facts that a teacher puts together by creating lessons for them, such as unit studies that sometimes become so contrived that they are ridiculous. A child's mind just needs ideas and can take them in and digest them in its own way without the interference of a teacher. Teachers have students for twelve years, and can make the most of that time by exposing them to the kinds of ideas that will make them better people, more noble and passionate. Letting students become merely mini-employees to be trained for vocational work is immoral. Governments have a responsibility to train up their citizens to be virtuous, broad-minded and fulfilled.

Chapter 8 - The Way Of The Will

Principles 16 and 17 discuss The Will, which is not to be confused with stubborn willfulness. Will is a resolve to follow through on a decision regardless of the sacrifice. Students should have plenty of noble examples of heroes who stuck to their convictions as an antidote to peer pressure.

Chapter 9 - The Way of the Reason

Principles 18 and 19 are developed here. Charlotte explains that our reason, though useful in some situations, is a dangerous final authority because, once we've decided to do a thing, our own reason is capable of coming up with all kinds of logical reasons to justify it. Students should pick apart such things as the Communist Manifesto to see the flaws in its reasoning and see how faulty reasoning led to bad results. This will help them see through flawed reasoning when they are faced with it themselves.

They should be taught to rely on faith, to reserve final judgment about scientific theories that seem to disprove the Bible until more information is in. Science changes, but Scripture doesn't. Our understanding of its minor details may change, but the central meaning and purpose isn't dependent on scientific discoveries.

Chapter 10 - The Curriculum

Principles 12-15 are specifically curriculum-related, and Charlotte details each specific school subject. Rather than 'teaching the test,' students should learn about everything they wonder about--God, people and the world around them. Living books about many topics read once and then narrated provide the bulk of the curriculum.

Section I: The Knowledge Of God--Use the Bible, require narration, and provide a good role model.

Section II: The Knowledge Of Man--Students learn about mankind (and the world) from the study of history, literature, morals, economics, composition, foreign languages, art. She details her recommendations for each of these, but the gist is generally the same: living books read once and then narrated.

Section III - The Knowledge of the Universe--Science geography, math, physical development and handicrafts teach students about the wonders of the world around them. Once again, she recommends living books read once and then narrated.

Book II: Theory Applied

Chapter 1 - A Liberal Education In Elementary Schools

An education that teaches children what they really want to know, that gives them real knowledge about God, mankind and the world, is every child's birthright. Children's minds are capable of thinking for themselves, and, with exposure to the best books, they will learn. The main element of this kind of education is living books read once and then narrated.

Chapter 2 - A Liberal Education In Secondary Schools

Students of this age learn best by using living books read once and then narrated. With perfect attention, children need only one reading, so less time is spent re-reading, summarizing, and reviewing. More time is available for more subjects. The end result is that students have a more varied education. If students in all schools read the same classics, it would create a bond amongst citizens because of their common experience shared from reading the same books.

Chapter 3 - The Scope of Continuation Schools

Countries like Germany that stress productivity and train students to work at vocational schools suffer a loss of morality and integrity in their people. Countries like Denmark that teach their people all kinds of things to broaden their minds have citizens who are happier and show better judgment--yet are easily trained to do any trade. Utilitarian education is bad for nations, but any country benefits from a varied education that helps its people develop their full potential.

Chapter 4 - The Basis of National Strength

I - Knowledge--Although teachers are dedicated enough, students are becoming adults whose minds stagnate after school. If they had been taught to love knowledge for its own sake instead of looking at it as something to be crammed to pass a test, they might have developed a love for learning that would have sustained their inner spirits into old age.

II - Letters, Knowledge and Virtue--With correct habit of attention, even average students can fit quite a few great books into their school career, and narration will help their retention. All students from all social and intellectual backgrounds should have a generous education in humanities for their own personal growth. Such educated persons are a benefit to any nation because they are well-rounded thinkers. The few true advanced scholars can read books in original languages, but the rest can read them in English.

III - Knowledge, Reason, and Rebellion--All students should learn the limits of their own reason, and should be inspired to noble integrity by reading classics that give worthy characters to reflect on. A country who makes this kind of education available to everyone will have citizens who are less likely to be discontented and less prone to revolt and rebel.

IV - New and Old Conceptions of Knowledge--We tend to think religion is more sacred than secular subjects like math and science, but in past ages, it was thought that religious and secular knowledge both came from God, regardless of the sinful vessel He gave it through, and that they were too intertwined to separate. Other educational concepts said that children needed to have their minds primed to learn by focusing on one subject exclusively, or that children could only learn what they experienced first-hand, or that they could only learn when lessons were fun. But all children really need is good books covering lots of subjects, a single reading and narration.

V - Education and the Fullness of Life--A life continued in the expectation of years of learning new things will be a life that doesn't grow stale. A CM education teaches students how to be self-taught by reading books. Everyone, no matter what station in life, should have the field of knowledge opened to them while they're in school. They should be taught to be self-learners.

VI - Knowledge in Literary Form--People are inspired by the power of words. A utilitarian education that merely trains a vocation will not offer students the spark of life they need. People need to connect with minds from the past by reading their words in books.

Supplementary - Too Wide a Mesh--Schools focus on the very best students and try to prepare them for higher education, but the masses are neglected. All students should have their minds awakened with classics, not just the top ones. Schools that don't instill a love of learning that will enable graduates to continue learning on their own are doing a great disservice to them.

Read the complete chapter-by-chapter summary of Volume 6


2004 Leslie N. Laurio
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