Recently, after three particularly dark and difficult years, the writings of Charlotte Mason took on a whole new level of meaning and depth in my personal life.
I had just walked through great loss and was fighting hard against depression. I needed to feed my soul, to be inspired by the heroic, and the beautiful and to rediscover hope through the lives of others. I began reading to myself, reading for the sheer pleasure of reading, and reading to nurture my heart and soul. I was also drawn outdoors and I began taking more outdoor walks with my kids and soaking in the sun, feeling the wind in my hair, observing a world alive with new life and exquisite beauty. Many times this beauty was a stark contrast to the dark emotions that I was battling.
This is not to say that I went on a mothering vacation, although that would have been lovely. There were still normal daily mommy duties, and homeschooling responsibilities didn’t evaporate, however all extra outside activities and responsibilities were cut to a bare minimum.
I desperately needed to slow down long enough to feed my own famished person. I do not remember a moment that I decided upon this method of action. It seems that it was much more like a drowning person grasping for a life line than a well considered decision. It may have possibly come as a quite natural result of the years I had spent studying Mason’s works in order to feed my children. It was now my turn to experience life in this way. Days turned to weeks, and then blurred into months and slowly hope crept back into my heart. With the light of hope, healing began and inspiration followed.
Something very special and unexpected happened during this time; I finally internalized this philosophy. I was so busy trying to use Mason’s methods that I missed the part that they were for everyone, including myself. I did know, in my head, that this applied to everyone but in reality I had no idea what that would look like in my own life.
I learned by experience that Mason’s philosophy is so much more than a way of educating my children. It is not just which school books I choose to use for my kids (or for myself), but it is also how I view life and living in its entirety.
I submit that this way of living is a holistic approach to life and to education. It is the overlapping, interlocking experience that connects the physical, emotional, and spiritual.
To live life like this, drinking in beauty and inspiration with eyes wide open, requires slowing down rather drastically.
Slow can be a very good thing, and has been championed by many advocates of the Slow Movement, some of the most well known are “Slow Food,” “Slow Travel,” and “Slow Living.” These movements prize holism and integrity over speed, and mass production. I have been fascinated and have enjoyed aspects of some of these movements through firsthand experience. In a way, Mason’s philosophy has a great deal of similarity to each of these and I have come to think of a Charlotte Mason education as a very holistic education. This word is deeply meaningful to me, though I realize that overuse has dulled its beauty. It is also a word that, like ideas, can be a bit difficult to define.
I believe that there are many different areas of a Mason education that have this particular holistic quality. The education of a whole person requires direct attention to soul and spirit care and Mason writes about this repeatedly. Soul and spirit care is something that is infrequently addressed in our relationships as parents and/or teachers of children and yet it is so incredibly important. This is something that is brought out beautifully in Mason’s final principle.
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, 1925,1989, p. xxxi)
I also hear this echo of holism as Mason repeatedly addresses what education is and is not. I have always particularly loved her statement that education IS a life. Education is not something that I do in order to “graduate” and “succeed in life.” It is life. There is no box and no checklist because we are each made in the image of a triune God, persons of great value who encompass a vast array of interests, duties and joys.
“Our job is to seek a greater understanding of what the person is. What we do grows out of what we think, and which foundational concepts we adhere to” (Laurio, 2005, p. 80).
Mason (1900, pp. 448-464) says:
Our educational aim is expressed in a sentence of Coleridge’s concerning the methods of Plato:–
He desired not to assist in storing the passive mind with the various sorts of knowledge most in request, as if the human soul were a mere repository or banqueting-room, but to place it in such relations of circumstance as should gradually excite its begetting and germinating powers, to produce new fruits of thought, new conceptions and imaginations and ideas.
Perhaps the main part of a child’s education should be concerned with the great human relationships, relationships of love and service, of authority, of obedience, of reverence and pity, and neighbourly kindness, relationships to kin and friend and neighbour, to “cause” and country and kind, to the past and the present. History, literature, archaeology, art, languages (whether ancient or modern), travel and tales of travel; all of these are, in one way or other, record or expression of persons, and we, who are persons, are interested in all persons, for we are all one flesh, and we are all of one spirit, and whatever any of us does or suffers is interesting to the rest.”
I love the sense of vastness that is wrapped up in these lines, along with the simplicity that comes from the gradual continuous building, as Coleridge says, of “circumstances which gradually excite begetting and germination.” I know that there are many times that I have tried too hard, and have been far too impatient for tangible results. There is a peacefulness that settles as I internalize these concepts of growth and life, and a shining joyfulness seems to be lurking at the corners, surprising me over and over.
More than ever before I am a student of Charlotte Mason and I have gladly embraced this holistic way of life for myself, as well as for the lives of my children. I am overwhelmingly grateful! It is true, good things can come out of times of darkness, and hope can be born anew, displacing disillusionment.
Laurio, L. N. (2005). Towards a philosophy of education in modern English. Self published at www.lulu.com. Paraphrase of Mason’s book, An essay towards a philosophy of education.
Mason, C.M. (1900). Schoolbooks and how they make for education. Parents Review, 11, 448-464. http://www.amblesideonline.org/PR/PR11p448Schoolbooks.shtml.
© 2015 by LeAnn Burkholder