A Charlotte Mason Education, Homeschooling, Paradigm Shift, personhood, Practical Application, Students with Special Needs
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Seeing Children as Persons by Melody Poli

Homeschooling my children is a humbling experience. It should be. I was brought low when reading Mason’s ideas about the Sacredness of Personality.   This idea slapped me awake, and I saw my shortcomings. But, what immediately followed the realization of my shortcoming was the hope that I could see coming by reading Mason’s words. I put my fist on these ideas and made them hold still while I understood what to change and slowly the shift in my understanding began.

In the case of my husband and me, homeschooling was not a glimmer of a thought until my firstborn was 5. For the conviction to be upon us both was confirming and we ventured forth in complete ignorance. Anyone can teach! The answer to that is NO! Thank God Charlotte Mason tells us to get out of the way and let the children sit with the masters; and this wise advice has probably saved my children from much stress and burn out.

Even so, we are home, together, a lot, and I am scaffolding children in many ways and in many lessons, because education is truly a life. What does that look like day in and day out in the rub of personality (difficult situations dealing with a child’s personality)? That is where An Essay Towards A Philosophy of Education has made all the difference, particularly chapter 5.   We have many ingenious, affectionate ways to maim, crush, or subvert a personality according to what Mason (1925a) says on page 80.   For me, the tendency to use pleasure or displeasure runs deep. When a task is impeded….displeasure! When a little person does not do as they are told….displeasure! When the lesson goes well…how pleased! And it goes on.

Let’s look at some other ways chapter 5 mentions.

1. A winning personality.   When I think of this personality I think of a person such as a drug salesperson who is very personable.   One who can pump everyone up to think positively and to move in the direction desired. If the teacher has a strong personality, she can wield this “personable” weapon with great accuity and effectiveness.

2. The power of suggestion. Mason suggests that it is not neccessarily lollipops and boogiemen of the nursery but spiritual prodes and scares. Or there is the “character trait of the month” studies like the statements seen on our local elemenatry school marquee: “The character trait of the month is Courage.” By the end of the month “That particular virtue becomes detestable; no other virtue is inviting; and he is acquiring no strength to stand alone but waits in all his doings for promptings from without” (Mason, 1925a, p. 83).   How much more inspiring is the walk through a life in the mind of a great character who makes mistakes and overcomes those mistakes. Many virtues are raised to light with no effort of the “teacher.”

3. Influence.   To influence someone’s morals is a good thing but too much influence can undermine a person’s character.   “We imbibe it from persons real and imaginary and we are kept strong and upright by currents and counter-currents of unstudied influence. Supineness before a single, steady, persistent influence is a different matter, and the schoolgirl who idolises her mistress, the boy who worships his master, is deprived of the chance of free and independent living. His personality fails to develop and he goes into the world as a parasitic plant, clinging ever to the support of some stronger character” (Mason, 1925a, p. 83). Ouch!

Then Mason begins to dive into the desires we might play upon that exist in all of humanity and invariably come into play to motivate us. When one chord is strummed too often, the result is to suppress and hamper intellectual and moral growth. The desire for approval, emulation, avarice, ambition/power, society is brought out and discussed one by one.   But there is one desire that is safe to play upon, the desire to know.   It is staggering how true her thoughts apply to our modern age of education as the quote below tells us.

“Each such desire has its place but the results are disastrous if any one should dominate. It so happens that the last desire we have to consider, the desire of knowledge, is commonly deprived of its proper function in our schools by the predominance of other springs of action, especially of emulation, the desire of place, and avarice, the desire of wealth, tangible profit. This divine curiosity is recognised in ordinary life chiefly as a desire to know trivial things. What did it cost? What did she say? Who was with him? Where are they going? How many postage stamps in line would go round the world? And curiosity is satisfied by incoherent, scrappy information which serves no purpose, assuredly not the purpose of knowledge whose function is to nourish the mind as food nourishes the body. But so besotted is our educational thought that we believe children regard knowledge rather as repulsive medicine than as inviting food. Hence our dependence on marks and prizes, athletics, alluring presentation, any jam we can devise to disguise the powder. The man who wilfully goes on crutches has incompetent legs; he who chooses to go blindfold has eyes that cannot bear the sun; he who lives on pap-meat has weak digestive powers, and he whose mind is sustained by the crutches of emulation and avarice loses that one stimulating power which is sufficient for his intellectual needs. This atrophy of the desire of knowledge is the penalty our scholars pay because we have chosen to make them work for inferior ends. Our young men and maidens do not read unless with the stimulus of a forthcoming examination. They are good-natured and pleasant but have no wide range of thought, lofty purpose, little of the magnanimity which is proper for a citizen” (Mason, 1925a, pp. 88-89).

Principle 1.   Children are born persons. I come back to this daily. I know I need to respect the child’s personhood but how can I implement this more clearly in our day to day life. In my deficits there is a heightened sense of awareness when confronted with the truths of Mason’s educational principles and the Holy Spirit. After all, Principle 20 states: We allow no separation to grow up between the intellectual and ‘spiritual’ life of children, but teach them that the Divine Spirit has constant access to their spirits, and is their Continual Helper in all the interests, duties and joys of life” (Mason, 1925a, p xxxi). There is a need for candour and respect as Mason brings out in her book Ourselves in Chapter 13, Justice to the Persons of Others. Why wait to read it together when they reach Ambleside Online’s House of Education Online for middle/high school. To mindfully model these ideas toward the childperson gains the advantage of familiarlity before ever studying the ideas. Many of us were not brought up on these ideas and must ask in the middle of a rub, “How can I love more?” When this happens, I turn to this chapter. In teaching the Learning Disabled I turn to this chapter. In my home we have a nice mix of Dyslexia, Apraxia, Sensory Processing Disorders (I have a low sensory child along with my combination of high and low sensory child which results from a combination of Autism Spectrum Disorder and Down Syndrome), which all give way to attention issues.   It is an undertaking to raise any child; to train them up in the way they grow, their bent, to follow the Lord.   These wild little shoots are challenging my every nerve fiber to tease out what needs scaffolding and what is just a stubborn sin, which most times I do not feel confident to actually KNOW. I ask, what does that look like? I come back to these ideas in Chapter 13: Gentleness, Courtesy, Not Free To Think Hard Things About Others, Justice To The Character Of Others, Candour, Respect, Discernment, Appreciation.

Whenever there is an attention issue I can say something impatient like,”Go look at your chore list again!” or repeat whatever it was. Displeasure.

Suspicion of sin is sinful.   Here is a quote from Formation of Character (Mason, 1925b) the section entitled, Young Crossjay. “Chivalry, honour, delicacy and obedience, impassioned obedience, to the divine law, these are the chords to play upon if we are to have pure youths and maidens. But we must believe that chivalry and chastity are there, and are not foreign ideas to be introduced by our talk; and this is where many parents fails. He is aware of evil in his child, and makes deadly allowance for it; and his suspicions create the very evils he dreads. We know how Helen Pendennis believed the worst of her son when the worst was not there, in order, one would think, that she might make occasion for self-sacrifice. It is well we should understand that suspicion also is sin, and begets mistrust and offence” (p. 397).

I know on more than one occasion I have treated an honest mistake, an undertrained skill as sin and I shudder. Our goal is to grow strong minds, that can accept and reject ideas. Therefore I turn again to Mason’s founding idea that a child is a person. I ask forgiveness and think about the scaffolding that is needed. I allow for natural consequences when appropriate and ask God to give me strength to rise above my source; to draw from His streams of wisdom and I thank Him for Charlotte Mason. Because I need her to spell these things out for me daily.


Mason, C. M. (1925a). An essay towards a philosophy of education. London: KeganPaul, Trench, Trubner and Co. Ltd.

Mason, C.M. (1925b). Formation of character. London: Kegan Paul, Trench, Trubner and Co. Ltd.

Mason, C. M. (1989). Ourselves. Wheaton, IL:  Tyndale House Publishers, IL.  (Original work published, 1905 London:  Kegan Paul, Trench, Trubner and Co. Ltd.)

© 2014 by Melody Poli


Carroll Smith has spoken on various topics related to Charlotte Mason. Currently he teaches at Gardner-Webb University and enjoys working with children, teachers, college students, and Charlotte Mason Institute. He was a teacher and a principal for 21 years before coming to Gardner-Webb University where he has been for six years. Having grown up in eastern North Carolina, he attended East Carolina University for his undergraduate degree and his master's in school administration. He completed his terminal degree and wrote his dissertation on Charlotte Mason at Virginia Tech. Carroll enjoys reading, gardening, and discussing ideas with friends. He and his wife, Andra, and their two young adult college-age children, Corban and Anna, enjoy living, working and playing in North Carolina.

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