When Children Love to Learn: A Practical Application of Charlotte Mason's Philosophy for Today

When Children Love to Learn: A Practical Application of Charlotte Mason's Philosophy for Today


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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781581342598
Publisher: Crossway
Publication date: 04/07/2004
Pages: 256
Sales rank: 779,190
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 0.68(d)

About the Author

Susan Schaeffer Macaulay grew up in Switzerland at L'Abri Fellowship, which was founded by her parents Francis and Edith Schaeffer. She and her husband Ranald Macaulay established and led the L'Abri branch in England for several years. She is also the author of For the Family's Sake and contributed to Books Children Love and When Children Love to Learn.

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The Value of Charlotte Mason's Work for Today

By Susan Schaeffer Macaulay

Until a few years ago, the name of Charlotte Mason was largely forgotten. It almost seemed as if the vast educational network that had grown out of her ideas had disappeared like an English early morning mist when the sun rises. If she was mentioned, educators and parents would look blank.

This unfamiliarity seemed curious to me. But as I reflected on recent trends in education, I saw why her innovative philosophy, based on Christian values and faith, had declined. In English teacher training colleges over the last decades, A. S. Neil was read assiduously, and his one school, Summerhill, was held up as an example. "Progressive" education became the vogue. It was seen as liberating the child from the past constraints of a sure framework of knowledge and moral behavior. It was a sustained attack on the whole system of Western education. This ideology began to capture the minds not of the elementary school teachers, who were far too busy teaching classes of sixty or more, but rather of the educational establishment — teacher training colleges and the school inspectors. "Progressive" education developed in the wake of a change in teacher training from the apprentice-in-the-classroom model to a lecture-based course in colleges. Many of the new liberal ideas became the educational gospel that spread into primary schools in both Britain and the United States. The effect of these ideas has been cumulative; as we begin the twenty-first century, we see widespread results.

I was a young parent in London when the walls came down figuratively and actually in the 1960s and 1970s. At that time primary school teachers (for ages five to eleven) were discouraged from using any structured teaching at all. Textbooks were out; so were quiet "lessons." Teaching phonics or multiplication tables was definitely frowned on as being as passé as a dunce's hat or children working in rows on slates. Tables were pushed together with little groups sitting around them working on worksheets or projects, either as a group or individually. A hubbub of unfettered chatter made listening or concentration difficult for all except the most naturally "schoolish" child. This confusion was exacerbated as new schools ceased putting in classroom walls. The "open plan" was the liberated design.

In the various schools I visited, chaos reigned. As classes were large (between thirty-five and forty-two children), it was not surprising that parents were concerned. One of my friends was teaching five-year-olds who were meant to learn to read. She followed the liberating ideas that were de rigueur but felt guilty that no one in her class was learning the rudiments of reading by osmosis as the theorists had promised. She sat her class around her on the floor and started teaching them sounds and words as she had been taught as a child. These little sessions lasted fifteen minutes, and the children enjoyed them. They liked learning, they appreciated having the code cracked, and they did not seem to mind the order and discipline of sitting listening together. All went well until the headmaster walked by and caught her at the shameful act. She was soon called into his study to be strongly told: "I never want to see you with all the children listening to you again at the same time. They should not be taught any particular sequence of skills."

At that time one of my friends, a professional woman, became concerned that her two bright, eager girls, twins, had reached the age of eight without any literacy or numeracy rubbing off on them in spite of long days at school. She visited the teacher of their class, who paused trying to remember the children in question. "Mary? Rachel? I'm not sure that I know which of the children they are. This class is so noisy that I don't know the children, and it really is too confused to teach them specifics. They'll be able to learn when they move up next year."

In this context my husband, Ranald, and I began a search for an educational philosophy. Surely one existed that did not crush or brainwash children and yet would actually teach them certain things they needed to know step by step. Was it not possible that they could enjoy knowledge, books, and discovery? We didn't know it, but we were looking for Charlotte Mason and the historical PNEU schools that grew out of her philosophy of life and education.

When we did discover her, the ideas and the school did not seem extraordinary. For us, encountering the PNEU was like finding and recognizing a friend. Many others since have had the same experience. When they read about Charlotte Mason's ideas, they find that she has articulated many of their own thoughts and given form to their experiences and their children's. This has been as true for parents as for professional educators and others intimately concerned with children's lives.

People are often amazed at the apparent simplicity and yet clarity of this educational approach and think, Why, yes, of course. Elsie Kitching (18701955) put this quality of Miss Mason's philosophy into words for me. She talks of the Wise Men finding Jesus in "a most unroyal place" as an example of finding the truth in an unexpected place:

[W]hen they had arrived they had no doubt. They recognized the truth when they found it.

When we meet the truth, we notice I think, three things. First, that like a jigsaw, the pieces fit into place unexpectedly. Lesser truths dawn, and are seen to be connected; it all ties up. Then, we shrink in size as we see ourselves and our problems from a different and strange angle and like those algebraical numbers with recurring indices, more and more dawns on us. This might be a depressing process but it is not so because truth is always bigger than man and independent of self.

Yet — and this is what strikes me most — although alien in this sense, strange and surprising, truth is always a friend; the stranger is recognized, the surprise is joyful. An old acquaintance!"

This quote emphasizes a key point in what was happening in the "freed-up" education of the 1960s and 1970s. Our culture has abandoned the framework that had undergirded our shared view of the human being and life. Our Christian-based heritage gave us a worldview in which people acknowledged certain truths. They did not hope that there was a reasonable pattern to life; they knew it.

This framework meant an assured infrastructure for educational thought and practice. Certain facts were true. To understand reality, children and students needed to know these facts. Students were equipped to pursue various fields of knowledge by acquiring the three R's first of all. In European educational history, this meant knowing Latin and possibly Greek so as to have access to the heritage and culture shared by all European scholars. Latin was the lingua franca, much as English is becoming today.

In the past, academics were a small number of the total population. Most children were not considered academically inclined. Responsible growth into adulthood resulted from living with adults who taught them the code of behavior and accomplishments in different areas of a civilized society. For most children this process took place in the home and then the village or town — a rich enough tapestry of life. They developed discipline, skills, and self-esteem as they were handed a small area of knowledge and/or expertise to master. Usually their learning had a direct bearing on what they would do as their work for the rest of their lives. Everyone agreed that there was one true moral code that could be known for sure. They all agreed that it is wrong to take life, to steal, and to commit adultery. Even nonreligious people felt guilt, shame, and possibly remorse. Things were right or wrong, true or false, a duty or a waste of time. It was accepted that God existed in truth, not as a personal projection or hopeful fantasy. This clear outline gave a map for life.

Children were loved dearly or cruelly treated — as they are today. Human beings have always been much the same. Some are good and love and serve the children in their care; others are indifferent, harsh, dictatorial, and hand out unfeeling punishments. In all centuries some people have treated children as things rather than as unique persons — adults seek to make use of them.

Most of the progressive schools wanted really good things for children. But it is impossible to achieve such aims without the realism of the truth, at least to a certain extent, as a framework. Ideals cannot be reached by wishful thinking alone. Again and again in history hopes have been disappointed because people have not faced reality.

For instance, you cannot give people of any age the license to do whatever they feel like doing, even though it is right and good for them to make free choices. The constraints of what a person ought to do and should do may not be removed. Also knowledge fits into a hierarchy according to what is most worthwhile to know. It is reckless to destroy the distinction between the worthwhile and the trivial, to lose what is of enduring quality. As the century progressed, doubt prompted an exodus from the infrastructures, the core, that held our society together.

For quite a long time educators and theorists naively assumed that the fruits of a "decent society" would continue to grow on a tree whose roots had been cut away. This is romanticism. How can fruit be produced without roots, a trunk, branches? As the infrastructure becomes an increasingly dimly remembered idea, lawlessness and antisocial behavior have resulted. These problems in turn trigger the demand for stronger and stronger measures of control from governments and any in authority. We are trading in freedoms for controls that threaten to bring on the nightmare envisioned by George Orwell: "Big brother is watching you."

We have all seen how the promise of law and order will gain votes. As predicted, precious freedoms are being exchanged for surveillance and control that try to promise a certain safety.

This trend has also been evolving in schools. Without a framework — an inner skeleton of truth, knowledge, and moral "bones" — and a clear aim, society is trying to rescue the younger generation by slapping on an exoskeleton. Through rapidly increasing iron-fisted rules, regulations, and proscribed behavior requirements, some people think we can resolve the difficulties.

As we have passed the millennium mark, we exhibit a confusion of educational ideas perhaps never before seen in history. Who is the child? A person in a life and reality created by God — or an accident in a cosmic, computer-like machine that itself developed entirely due to random chance?

What are the aspirations that still beat in the human heart? Are these mechanical and an illusion as so much of the twentieth-century literature suggested? Can we know anything for sure? Does anything matter? Is there anything worth living for? These are the questions most people have no answers for. The general atmosphere weakens even those who do think they know.

Education must have an aim, a focus, a raison d'être. Many now seem to have settled on education for utilitarian reasons only — that is, when you get to the bottom line, how much money will the student be able to earn later, what status will he or she be able to achieve? Below that, for society's underclass, we simply would like to condition them to law-abiding lives.

Complicating the educational picture are several problems. The decrease of family stability (another fruit of that societal tree), disappearing communities with strong neighborhood relationships, and fears about safety hinder children's healthy development. Then families who aren't secure tend to either overregulate children or to lack clear boundaries at all. This situation has brought confusion and pressure to bear on schools and teachers. They used to be able to begin with a few hours of teaching the three R's. Cultural extras were thrown like lettuce and tomato into this sandwich. This method worked because the family and community actually directed and nurtured its children.

The situation has now changed right across the socioeconomic spectrum.

Children arrive at school without breakfast, sometimes pulled out of bed before they are awake. It is not unusual for parents to go to work before the school bus comes. Rarely do children enjoy the comfortable ease of a short walk to school in their own neighborhood.

Children arrive at school lacking more than a good breakfast and a warm send-off hug. They may never have been consistently taught how to live according to a "root-trunk" system of morality. As we now say, "values" differ. A teacher of five-year-olds is typically confronted with children who have not learned to listen or concentrate. No one has treated them with much respect, and they don't respect each other. It is typical to find them at war with any authority at all, with no idea of cooperation or obedience. They may be glassy-eyed because they've emerged from hours and hours parked in front of a TV set.

And there are other difficulties. As marital stability declines, in the average group of children a high proportion suffer emotional turmoil, pain, and confusion. This state of mind obviously affects the quality of their lives and hinders their education.

We don't have the space here to consider all the problems teachers face. More and more children come to school whose parents did not read to them regularly. Many are no longer part of a family that even has a routine of eating daily meals together. When both parents work, stressful schedules may exclude the leisurely conversations so dear to a little child's heart and so necessary for their thoughts and language development. Older children often never experience a discussion of ideas. These things are a great loss. Children emerge all too often undernourished both emotionally and mentally. They have not been given the basic tools of education: language, self-expression, questioning and answers, exploration and discovery, stories and imaginative development. They aren't used to listening to others or having anyone listen to them. Often they've also been deprived of free play in the beautiful out of doors. Their eyes are closed to the wonder of the world around them, and they have missed the joy of being drawn into a lifelong love affair with nature. They may lack exploratory curiosity and initiative. Such children are hard to teach. Some professionals feel depressed about it all. There is such a gap between the romanticism and ideals in some teacher training colleges and the reality teachers face every day in the classroom.

These are some of the reasons I believe we need Charlotte Mason's educational insights more than ever before. Those of us who have discovered her, and then seen fruits in actual children's lives, experience the "ah-ha" moments of enlightenment. And then the "of course, that makes sense. Yes. This is right." I would add, "This is truth." These are insights about who the child actually is, how he or she learns, why and what is worth learning, and the purpose of it all. Like a tree with sound roots in rich, watered soil, here is an educational theory and practice that has a clear, strong infrastructure and that allows for individuality, creativity, cultural differences, technological advance, and historical development.

Miss Mason's educational philosophy is not about what someone thought as a Victorian; it is not tied into the past, as if trying to hark back to a golden age. (That is why it is inappropriate to illustrate materials about Charlotte Mason with exclusively Victorian pictures.) These ideas, being true ones, have an unchangeable underlying pattern (form) and yet give freedom for individual life and practice. When the Christian worldview gives this form, there is much stability and also freedom for appropriate adaptation. That is what makes this way of educating children so exciting.

Charlotte Mason, and those like Elsie Kitching who worked with her and carried on after her death, used the canon of Western cultural heritage with an English perspective as the core of educational content. That was appropriate, for they were educating mainly British children from nations that were part of this stream of history.

However, even while Charlotte Mason was still living, other peoples recognized that they could use the core ideas while developing their own educational applications. Japanese aristocratic families sent a gifted teacher to Ambleside to study at Miss Mason's college. The principles then and now remain adaptable. Some Jewish students used many of the educational insights. Charlotte Mason's books were translated into German.

The Ambleside books by her on education were sent out to India to Amy Carmichael, who founded the Dohnavur Fellowship. She too recognized in the writings the "roots and trunk" she was looking for as she cared for and educated Indian children. Amy Carmichael was ahead of her time in that she tried not to impose British culture on the community. She respected India and wanted the children to be Indian. She quite rightly saw that as long as the "roots and trunk" were in place (which one cannot, must not change), then she could adapt the detail, the "foliage," so that it was truly Indian. For instance, instead of using English nursery rhymes or tales, she wrote amusing poems in Tamil about local subjects such as insects ("bugs") and flowers.


Excerpted from "When Children Love to Learn"
by .
Copyright © 2004 Child Light Educational Trust.
Excerpted by permission of Good News Publishers.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents

The Contributors7
Part 1
1The Value of Charlotte Mason's Work for Today19
2The Child Is a Person51
3Four Pillars of Education
Education Is an Atmosphere71
Education Is a Discipline87
Education Is a Life100
Education Is the Science of Relations113
4Distinctives of a Charlotte Mason Education
Living Books125
Reading and Literature142
Spelling and Composition147
The Teaching of Shakespeare158
Nature Study and Notebooks170
Picture Study176
Music Appreciation179
Bible Instruction181
Foreign Languages186
Physical Education188
5Broader Application of Charlotte Mason's Teaching Principles193
Part 2
6An Applied Philosophy209

What People are Saying About This

From the Publisher

"When Children Love to Learn is one of the better books I've seen on the Charlotte Mason approach. Elaine Cooper has done a phenomenal job of laying down the basic tenets parents of homeschoolers hold dear: a child must love to learn. Narration, living books, nature study-it's all here. Elaine covers a lot of ground to show how easy it can be to make learning enjoyable. Charlotte Mason fans will love this! Highly recommended for every homeschool reference library."
Gena Suarez, Publisher, The Old Schoolhouse Magazine

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When Children Love to Learn: A Practical Application of Charlotte Mason's Philosophy for Today 5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 1 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Many homeschoolers and schools are studying the works of Charlotte Mason, published in 6 volumes, and applying it to their education efforts. For those unable to take the time to wade through those pithy volumes, this book provides a summary of her ideas in a easy-to-follow format. It also contains a lot PRACTICAL general guidance in applying her principles to home or school for K-12. As a bonus, it includes a sample timetable and syllabus charts for 3rd grade so that readers can see how Ambleside School of Fredericksburg (TX) applied these principles. I wish that this had been available to me when I started homeschooling 4 years ago. I will use it to shape the education of my children this upcoming year.