The Stress of Education

Once a month we meet for our Charlotte Mason Book Discussion Group.  I'd call it a support group, but that makes it sound like we have a problem.  Hmmmm.  Anyway, almost every time we meet, someone mentions that Mason's philosophy differs from their teacher training.  Sometimes the paradigm is the complete opposite of how we were taught to teach children.

In chapter 7 of Vol. 6, Mason writes about Herbartianism and how its effects are seen in the classrooms of her day.   Herbart's influence can be seen today in classrooms of all sorts, from the Extreme Unit Study homeschooler to the teacher that teaches with bells, whistles and ingenious techniques to help the students prepare for the test. I hope to explore this subject over a series of posts, so stay tuned. 

Mason states the following in Principle 11:

"Such a doctrine as the Herbartian, that the mind is a receptacle, lays the stress of education, the preparation of food in enticing morsels, duly ordered, upon the teacher. Children taught on this principle are in danger of receiving much teaching but little knowledge; the teacher's axiom being 'what a child learns matters less than how he learns it.'" (Vol. 1 p. 6)

One of the dicey ideas of Mason for many teachers in homes and schools is that the onus of a child's education lies with the child and not the teacher. Contrarily, with Herbartianism, the idea "..that the teachers are compendiums of all knowledge, that they have but, as it were, to turn on the tap and the necessary knowledge flows forth."  is fundamental. (Vol. 6 p. 118 )

Well, ask the critics, what of it?  Eventually, perhaps when they hit the college years, they'll eventually "own" their education.  Perhaps, but consider the high schooler who has taken ownership of this responsibility.  Better yet, how about a middle school student who realizes it.  Mason knew that a child as young as 6, regardless of socioeconomic status or sex, could be prepared to embrace with enthusiasm the responsibly for their education.

Unfortunately, most school environments have it backwards with the teacher as the master and commander of all learning that will take place.  After all, we enjoy the glory and praise and have worked so hard to pull together all the lessons that we know the children will enjoy.

I think that for many of us, either because of our own school experiences  or because of how we were trained to teach, applying Mason's methods involves a huge paradigm shift - a letting go if you will.  In the end, it comes down to viewing the child (and his mind) not as an empty receptacle waiting to be filled, but as a human being created in the image of God.

What do you think?


(The photo is of the children on a recent visit to the Minneapolis Institute of Arts taking in this Chuck Close painting.  Read more about it here.)


  1. I think that I am very relieved that the whole burden is not laid upon my shoulders. I think that I am grateful that I am a steward, humble and inept; yet God has honored me with a position I can handle. That is; one of offering a full platter, of seeking out those books which have life in them, and watching them form their own unique relationships. How sweet to get a second chance to learn; but this time alongside my children as we enjoy our days together.

    They are His children. How can I know all God has for them to experience? Charlotte's burden is as Christ's. It is light and easy, and in it we find rest for our souls.

  2. Nancy, you've touched the 'heart of the matter' with this post.
    That's exactly what enticed me from CM, her view of the teacher, knowledge versus ideas, and her understanding of children.
    I remember once I was substituting after being a school teacher for 6 years first, and one day I experienced how my view had gone from thinking I was a 'fairly good teacher' to thinking it was such a pantomime to stand or sit in front of a bunch of children (persons) and put up a show, lecture them, make them go through some automated steps, and call that 'learning'.
    But those who hold dear the old paradigm misunderstand Mason or fear her (there is a lot of faith involved and not everybody has the courage and conviction to believe in what she highlights), they equate her with lavishness, complacency, lack of discipline, they are very scared about letting go of the wheel. Many undermine the importance of us, the parents or educators, who guide them and who are responsible for providing a steady and appropriate diet (feast) of ideas for them to connect, to relate, to build up their own learning. I'll go back to those selections from Mason's own writings and continue learning this amazing view of education.
    And Pam, yes, I agree, it's such a relief to know that He is in control and despise of our roll and duties, their education doesn't rest entirely in our shoulders.

  3. argh...."on our shoulders"
    I also meant "accumulation of knowledge versus ideas"

  4. Nancy, I've translated your entry here http://charlottemasonsp.blogspot.com/ and I've added my comments on this. I thought it was a great 'getting to know Mason' point for those who can't read her originals.
    I'll wait for more of your writings on this.
    Thanks for inspiring and educating us.

  5. We saw a Chuck Close exhibit a few years ago.
    Amazing art when you understand what he does!

    I think about Lewis' childhood of reading with noone pointing the way and he just got filled.
    I wonder what happens with a child with learning disabilities with this. Does CM address that anywhere? Does the same philosophy apply to all levels of intelligence I wonder? I agree that it spans social classes.
    Wish I had learned this way!


  6. Thanks for adding this to the upcoming CM Carnival!

  7. "One of the dicey ideas of Mason for many teachers in homes and schools is that the onus of a child's education lies with the child and not the teacher." My high school aged son, out of public school only a few months, has encountered the fact that I do not necessarily want to do his work for him and no, his little bag of annoying tricks won't get him out of the work!! Don't understand something--think about it, look it up, try to work out the meaning--don't ask me! lol... I cannot imagine having 20 or more of "him" to teach each day! I am enjoying seeing the "habits" of Miss Mason creep into his "being"..
    I also envy you your discussion group!

  8. What a relief it was when I discovered that my childrens education did not rely solely upon me. It is a true blessing that there can be 'little teaching with much knowledge!'

  9. I held onto this quote when I was planning the current school year. It is a little uncomfortable at first to hand over the reins but it works!

    I am living the validity of this thinking.

  10. I am just finding your post about three years after you write and the ideas you speak of are still true for us in our lives as we educate our three boys at home today. It is scary to let go but as I have done so, I have never regretted it. CM's methods always pan out when her ideas are put into practice as she describes them herself. I have not yet found one that did not bear fruit. I began letting go in small ways at first by restructuring our school more to be more like what CM writes about. These changes come a few every year. And as Sylvia said it requires faith in CM and the HS in your child. Then, more letting go as I see the boys taking hold of ideas and expressing the person they are becoming inside. There is weeding of character along with encouragement of successes that needs to happen as well. We begin a new school year in a few months time and I am already pondering ways to let go of more and invite my boys to follow the ideas the living books stir up within them. I am listening for their voices of creativity to emerge, observing skills developing that I can encourage and enjoying the Masterly inactivity of coaching, nourishing and spreading the banquet. I do so love the banquet!
    Thanks for the reminder to trust in CM once agin and let the HS lead our children into the future He can see is theirs.