What I desire to set before the reader is a method of education based upon natural law. (Mason, 1955, p. 3)
Last year at the CLUSA conference during a lecture on education models, the speaker mentioned that Mason’s curriculum is based on natural law. The woman next to me leaned over and whispered, “So, what exactly is natural law?” I quickly whispered back something about natural law being the set of laws not necessarily written down anywhere, but that people everywhere would acknowledge. She looked at me quizzically. I resolved to look into it.
Mason writes about natural law in the physical and the moral/mental sense. In the physical sense, she speaks of the importance of good health, nutrition and atmosphere. Everyone would acknowledge that these things are important whether they adhere to them or not. Mason (1955) states,
“In the first place, we have considered some of the conditions to be observed with a view to keep the brain in healthy working order; for it is upon the possession of an active, duly nourished brain that the possibility of a sound education depends.” (p. 95)
A curriculum based on natural law in this sense will utilize short, varied lessons and will pay attention to how a child learns best, taking heed that the child’s physical being and surroundings are optimal in order for him to learn.
Mason talks about natural law within the curriculum. Of mathematics she (Mason, 1954) says, “that two straight lines cannot enclose a space is a fact which we can perceive, state and act upon but cannot in any wise alter, should give children the sense of limitation which is wholesome for all of us, and inspire the sursum corda which we should hear in all natural law” (p. 6). Sursum corda is Latin for “to lift up your hearts”. There is something in natural law that should cause our hearts to soar!
As for the moral/mental area of natural law, here Mason has so much to say. Ideas! Relationships! Behavior of mind! Image bearers! Duty! Authority! Habits! C.S. Lewis, a proponent of natural law principles called this “universal morality”. He (1952) says:
“These then are the two points that I wanted to make. First, that human beings, all over the earth, have this curious idea that they ought to behave in a certain way, and cannot really get rid of it. Secondly, that they do not in fact behave in that way. They know the Law of Nature; they break it. These two facts are the foundation of all clear thinking about ourselves and the universe we live in.” (p. 21)
Mason recognized these universal principles (or universal morality, as Lewis calls it) and framed her curriculum around them. As Lewis states, you can know about natural law but ignore it. She says, “We labour under the mistake of supposing that there is not natural law or inherent principle according to which a child’s course of studies should be regulated” (Mason, 1989, Vol. 6, p. 156). In fact, if we don’t subscribe to natural law, the curriculum will end up in the one of the following camps which are either utilitarian or materialistic in nature:
- The three Rs – reading, writing and arithmetic
- Class etiquette – those things proper for a gentlemen to know
- Vocational work – training for an occupation
- Latest fad or theory – children as experiments
- Achievement tests and scholarships – test prep
Mason calls for a curriculum based on natural law – a complete curriculum that is suggested in the very nature of things. Her basis for natural law is found in Truth. Perhaps this is why so many of us experience sursum corda when we study her writings and apply her philosophy.
Lewis, C.S. (1952). Mere Christianity. New York: MacMillan Publishing Company.
Mason, C.M. (1954). An essay towards a philosophy of education. London: J.M. Dent & Sons LTD. (Original published in 1925).
Mason, C.M. (1955). Home education: The education and training of children under nine. Oxford: The Scrivener Press, LTD. (Original published in 1886).
© Nancy Kelly 2011