Tuesday 3 May 2016

Consider This: Charlotte Mason and the Classical Tradition by Karen Glass

Consider This has helped to fill in the gaps in my understanding of Classical Education and to affirm my own 'discoveries' in implementing a Charlotte Mason education. There are ideas on both sides that seem to be in total agreement on the one hand, or diametrically opposed on the other, and this has confused me at times. In recent years the Circe Institute has been instrumental in helping me to better understand classical education and now Consider This, in exploring the roots of Charlotte Mason's ideas, has provided a link between the two approaches.


Glass starts out with the question, 'What is the Classical Tradition?' before looking at whether or not Charlotte Mason has a place in it. She explains that we cannot fully understand classical education by looking only at what they did in the past. We must discover why they did it. We must understand the principles behind their teaching in order to make it serve us today.
Virtue was the goal of a classical education and all areas of education were brought into service to this end. The guiding motivation for classical educators was that right thinking would lead to right acting.
Glass discusses the "classical ideal" - the pursuit of virtue, humility, and synthetic thinking (poetic knowledge) that motivates to right action. Ancient thinkers believed that the universe was orderly and understandable, and that all knowledge was interconnected. Charlotte Mason's insistence that 'education is the science of relationships' is consistent with this classical understanding of the world.

In a brief overview of Charlotte Mason's background and life, Glass shows that Charlotte Mason read widely, but with discernment, and gleaned ideas from the classical world because they represented universal truths about education:

Her ability to see the "big picture" and draw out common principles from various philosophies was her particular genius.


* Humility is Necessary to Education - pride of knowledge closes the door to further instruction. Humility keeps us teachable. It is an intellectual virtue as well as a spiritual virtue. At the time I was reading these thoughts on humility, I came across John Ruskin's observation on Lilias Trotter related in the book, A Passion for the Impossible:

...she had a teachable spirit, that mark of humility often missing in the very talented. "Not seeing or feeling the power that is in you is one of the most sure and precious signs of it," he writes, "and that tractability is another. All second-rate people, however strong, are self-conscious and obstinate."

* In Chapter 5, Finding the Forest amid the Trees, the synthetic and analytic methods of learning are explored. Synthesis is the word Charlotte Mason used to describe what many of us would know as poetic knowledge. (I've also heard this described as 'analogical.')

Poetic experience indicates an encounter with reality that is nonanalytical, something that is perceived as beautiful, awful (awe-full), spontaneous, mysterious… Poetic knowledge is a spontaneous act of the external and internal senses with the intellect, integrated and whole, rather than an act associated with the powers of analytic reasoning… It is, we might say, knowledge from the inside out..

The Civilized Reader

Analysis should not be our primary approach to knowledge, especially in the early years. Augustine called education the "ordering of the affections," - every object is accorded that kind of degree of love appropriate to it (C.S.Lewis). Synthetic knowledge speaks to the heart, the seat of the affections, and not just the intellect.

*  The synthetic process of narration lays a firm foundation for analytical thinking later. Modern education jumps into the analytical, examining the parts, before it has experienced the whole.

Once the unity of all knowledge is comprehended and many relationships formed, we are able to employ analytical thinking without harming those relationships.

* Grammar, logic, and rhetoric are not subjects to be studied but arts to be practiced and refined in the process of reading, narrating, and writing (synthetic learning). It is possible to learn both grammar and rhetoric through exposure to correct speech and eloquent writers and speakers i.e. the classical practice of mimesis or "imitation."

*  The concept of the trivium as stages of child development can be found only in materials written within the last few decades, but the trivium, properly understood, is applied in every teaching moment at every stage of our learning and growth.

Consider This, besides being an encouraging read for those using a Charlotte Mason approach, is a valuable addition to anyone interested in a classical model of education. For those who think that Charlotte Mason works well in the younger years but isn't suitable for older students, or that your child doesn't have the intellect for a classical education, this book will be a breath of fresh air. If  home education has lost its joy and you feel you're in a 'classical grind,' Consider This just might be the tonic you need.


Unknown said...

Loved this review, Carol! I enjoyed this title also. :) I like the way you defined poetic knowledge from your reading...I confess, I'm still trying to wrap my brain around many of these things. :)

Carol said...

Amy, Re wrapping your brain around these things - when I'm in the middle of reading & writing about such things, I feel I've got a grip on them but I always find it so difficult to articulate them at other times!

Alison said...

I've got Consider This on my list of books to read! It seems to me that the more I understand about education, and classical education in particular, the more I realize that I've barely scratched the surface.

Carol said...

Yes! Many of us didn't have the education we want to give our children so we're starting at page one.

Amy Maze said...

I definitely have to read this book! I love the shift in thinking that has come to classical education over the past few years. I have been thinking about virtue so much lately and how it ties into education. I am so glad that so many of these great thinkers/learners have figured out that classical education is about so much more than the 'stages' of the trivium and how it and Charlotte Mason fit together so well. I know that I am enjoying learning about it! Thanks for sharing about this book!

Carol said...

Thanks, Amy!

Heather said...

I've loaned my copy to a very good friend who has little children yet, but this is one of those books that I kind of always want to have my copy close by. I need a 'loaner copy'. :)
Your highlights covered the book well.