Mum To Mom

Musings of an Aussie Mother Living in the USA

Half Way Around The World And Back Again


Growing up in Victoria, Australia, I had the opportunity to live among gum trees and wattles, admire the colorful rosellas, and laugh along with the kookaburras who had made their home in my back yard. In my early years, I went to school in the “bush.” The school was an hour from my suburban house, nestled in countryside thick with bushes and trees and lakes and wildlife. In later years, I moved school campuses to a farm boasting an equestrian program and land teeming with life. But I didn’t notice. Preferring to spend my time inside as much as possible, I didn’t pay attention. I didn’t see. I was surrounded by the beauty of God’s creation but spent my childhood with my eyes shut.

Fast forward to 2012. My husband, my then three small children (we now have four), and I moved halfway around the world to Florida, U.S.A. Everything was new and different. I had just discovered Charlotte Mason and Ambleside Online and was beginning to learn about a philosophy that would change my life. I didn’t know then all of her principles, but I had learned enough to know that we should go outside and notice. And there was so much to notice in a new country. The colors were brighter, the flora and fauna were different. We delighted to see squirrels for the first time in our lives! We began to keep Nature Journals. They were not pretty. They were spiraled lined cheap notebooks whose pages would tear easily and get soggy with paint. But they were our first experience of going outside and really seeing. We didn’t know the names for most of what we saw but it didn’t matter. We were looking and we were really seeing. For the first time in my life, my eyes were open. Little did I know that I was building what Charlotte Mason termed a “habit of attention.”

When we went back to visit Australia in 2016, it was as though I was seeing it for the first time. It’s fields, it’s trees, it’s grasses, it’s flowers, it’s hills and cliffs and beaches were captivating. How had I not noticed before? I was struck by how different the color palate was to Florida. Gum trees have smooth grey bark! Who knew? I drew my children’s attention to the kookaburras and magpies, the variety of gum trees and the wattle. I didn’t have a name for everything, but I saw it. We saw it. Our eyes were open. And it was beautiful.

Atmosphere: An Instrument of Education

Last time, I discussed Charlotte Mason’s 4th principle concerning the tools a teacher ought not to use in educating her student. The following four principles, Principles 5-8, discuss the three educational instruments that Mason identifies should be used by a teacher: “atmosphere of environment, the discipline of habit, and the presentation of living ideas.” Today, I am discussing the first of these.

(principle 5a&6) “Therefore, we are limited to three educational instruments–the atmosphere of environment…
When we say that “education is an atmosphere,” we do not mean a child should be isolated in what may be called a ‘child environment’ especially adapted and prepared, but that we should take into account the educational value of his natural home atmosphere, both as regards persons and things, and should let him live freely among his proper conditions. It stultifies a child to bring down his world to the child’s level.”

As I progress through my study of Charlotte Mason’s 20 Principle’s of education, it becomes more apparent to me how interconnected these principles are. Brandy, in her study guide “Start Here,” has helpfully paired the principles to discuss only one at a time, but it must be remembered that they are interconnected, and one does not work in isolation of the others.

Atmosphere of Environment, not Asthetic

To the moms who feel like they do not have it all together in their homes, whose decor hasn’t been updated since they got married because they have been knee-deep in diapers and dinner while teaching a tribe of kids, whose goal has been to just keep everyone alive and fed and happy and educated—be encouraged! When Mason talks about “atmosphere of environment,’ she is not talking about having the Pinterest perfect, spa-like, minimalist oasis that we idolize nowadays on TV and in magazines. In fact, she criticizes what she calls the “Cult of aestheticism” that she saw in her own day. It seems that the idea was that the right color schemes, with the right pictures on the wall, and the right sounds and right “gracious persons” would, by osmosis, furnace in a child a “high soul.” This kind of thinking can deceive us even today. But aesthetics do not a virtuous man make. Let me insert a caveat right here. Having a well organized and aesthetically calm and pleasing physical environment can be helpful in the preparation for learning. If you like a minimalist aesthetic with neutral colored walls and furniture made of natural materials with beautiful artwork on your walls (like I do), go for it. But the carefully constructed physical environment itself does not produce an educated virtuous person and is not required for education to take place.

When Mason talks of the atmosphere of environment she is also not talking about the modern day classroom aesthetic, “especially adapted and prepared,” with the ‘educational’ posters on the wall and primary colored decorations of fake paper trees or birds or fish etc. Mason criticizes the dumbing down of a child’s environment to something artificial then calling it “education.” She saw this as a betrayal of the personhood of the child.

“It is not an environment that these want, a set of artificial relations carefully constructed, but an atmosphere which nobody has been at pains to constitute. It is there, about the child, his natural element, precisely as the atmosphere of the earth is about us.” – Vol 6, p96

So what is Mason talking about? The atmosphere of the home is not primarily concerned with what it looks like. It goes beyond the physical space. It is about relationship.

Atmosphere as Relationship

Mason paints a beautiful picture of Atmosphere, “the natural conditions under which a child should live,” as relationships that a child develops with the people and things around him. It is a lengthy quote but well worth reading in its entirety.

“We all know the natural conditions under which a child should live; how he shares household ways with his mother, romps with his father, is teased by his brothers and petted by his sisters; is taught by his tumbles; learns self-denial by the baby’s needs, the delightfulness of furniture by playing at battle and siege with sofa and table; learns veneration for the old by the visits of his great-grandmother; how to live with his equals by the chums he gathers round him; learns intimacy with animals from his dog and cat; delight in the fields where the buttercups grow and greater delight in the blackberry hedges. And, what tempered ‘fusion of classes’ is so effective as a child’s intimacy with his betters, and also with cook and housemaid, blacksmith and joiner, with everybody who comes in his way? Children have a genius for this sort of general intimacy, a valuable part of their education; care and guidance are needed, of course, lest admiring friends should make fools of them, but no compounded ‘environment’ could make up for this fresh air, this wholesome wind blowing now from one point, now from another.” – Vol 6,p96-97

So, when your house is a mess and your children have all but neglected their math for a week because they have been caring for a sick baby goat who can’t nurse from his mama, you are utilizing the exact tool that Mason says is education. It is not sheltering them from the hard knocks by creating an artificial “child environment,” but cultivating relationships with people and the world so that they grow in virtue through the hard knocks.

It is when you tell your child that they can’t do that activity today because dear Mrs. Smith is not well and you need to bring her a meal and make sure she is ok. Or, when they spend the whole morning in the garage with Grandpa as he shows them his tools, tells them his stories, and has them help him build his latest project. Or when you pray as a family for a church member who has a great need. It is the atmosphere of relationship with the real world that is “fresh air, this wholesome wind blowing now from one point, now from another..”

My son has a play kitchen that he enjoys playing with which satisfies his imagination for a short time. But it by no means fools him to thinking that it is anything like the real thing. He gains much more satisfaction in being in the real kitchen with real running water and a real oven and stove where he can help stir the evening’s meal. He is most satisfied when he knows that he has contributed to the house by helping cook our meal. It is this atmosphere of serving, contributing, and experiencing real life that is most formative. Because they know the difference.

“…no artificial element be introduced, no sprinkling with rose-water, softening with cushions. Children must face life as it is.” Vol 6, p97

Atmosphere as Love and The Common Pursuit of Truth

I have discussed before Mason’s belief that the love of knowledge ought to be the primary motivation for learning. This idea permeates her writings.

“We foresee happy days for children when all teachers know that no other exciting motive whatever is necessary to produce good work in each individual of however big a class than that love of knowledge which is natural to every child” – Vol 6, p98

This atmosphere of the love of learning diverges greatly from our utilitarian culture. Passing a test is now substituted for actual education. But this is a poor facsimile and does not attain to the goal of growing in godliness and virtue. Knowledge itself is worth knowing. Pursuing knowledge for its own sake teaches us to love what is lovely. And ultimately, if we think rightly about the knowledge we are pursuing, it leads us to worship God. He is the Creator of all things. All knowledge comes from Him for His glory. And we, His creatures, should delight in His world and glorify Him because of it.

When books and read-alouds, beautiful music and art, nature walks and enjoying the outdoors are part of your everyday family life; when working hard, diligence, kindness, gentleness, love and thoughtfulness towards others are a common pursuit in the atmosphere of your home; when worship and delight of God are part of the everyday conversation and vocabulary of your home, you are utilizing this powerful instrument afforded to us by our loving Creator: Atmosphere.

“… and this atmosphere in which the child inspires his unconscious ideas of right living emanates from his parents.” – Vol2, p37

Atmosphere is like the fresh air of life. It is not materials and a pretty classroom set up. It is developing relationships with real people in the real world. It is a home where parents have a love for knowledge and seek to grow in knowledge alongside their children.

“The bracing atmosphere of truth and sincerity should be perceived in every School; and here again the common pursuit of knowledge by teacher and class comes to our aid and creates a Current of fresh air perceptible even to the chance visitor, who sees the glow of intellectual life and “moral health on the faces of teachers and children alike.” – Vol 6, p97

 

If you’d like to join me in studying Charlotte Mason’s 20 Principles, get your copy of Start Here and see this post for details

A Journey Through Charlotte Mason 20 Principles Directory

Valderi, Valdera: Reflections on Ambleside Online Camp Meeting

I have just got back from spending a wonderful weekend at Ambleside Online’s 2019 Camp Meeting. On the plane ride home I endeavored to collect my thoughts and process all that I had learned from the conference. But as I attempted to reflect, the folksong, The Happy Wanderer, played over and over in my head. “Valderi, Valdera. Valderi, Valdera, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha…” Over and over and over. When Wendi Capehart taught us that song during the conference, she told us that we would be singing it whether we wanted to or not. She was right. At first, I found it irritating that this unwanted folksong persisted in pervading my thoughts. I wanted to be thinking of deep and meaningful things, not a frivolous folksong. But then I decided that instead of fighting with it, I would embrace it. I could not help but smile and even laugh as the song played round in my head.

You try singing, “…valdera, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha,” without laughing.

Do you know what? Once I embraced it, it was exactly what I needed at that moment. I was smiling, singing a funny song, and enjoying the moment. It reminded me of something that Cindy Rollins said this weekend. Moms need to be joyful. We homeschool moms, who take educating our children very seriously, can easily forget to be joyful in our work. We worry about doing enough. We worry about doing it right. We agonize over all the ways we aren’t living up to “The Perfect.” This weekend Lynn Bruce exhorted us to put away comparing and seeking the perfect Charlotte Mason education. Because there is no perfect education. There is your family’s education. We have these beautiful persons, given to us for such a short while, full of energy and life and wonder, who we forget to smile at because we’re busy looking at what others are doing and thinking we’re not measuring up. We unwittingly push away those organic Valdera, ha, ha, ha,ha,ha moments and miss out on the very joy that is there for us if we allow ourselves to see it.

This work that we are doing is hard, especially when you’re “in the middle” as Sheila Atchley reminded us. But it is joyful work. It is good work. It is kingdom work. We are not raising or educating careers; we are discipling our children and educating their moral imagination. Wendi taught us that through living books our children learn to imagine what it is like to be in someone else’s shoes. They learn to imagine what it is like to be in other cultures, other ways of life. Through living books, our children are developing empathy for the orphan, empathy for the downcast, empathy for the worker in a factory or a leader of a nation. Wendi explained that there was no need for the “goody goody” (as Charlotte Mason calls them) moralizing book that often hardens the hearts of our children instead of softening them. Because living books bring those character qualities worth emulating to the forefront in living, real characters and life situations. As Tim Laurio, from the progeny panel, told us: the characters become their friends who guide them through life. Their failings and successes and even their words of wisdom, set down in the pages of literature, serve as guideposts for life. This is why living books and narration are so integral to Charlotte Mason’s philosophy.

Mason understood the universal law that “Children are born persons.” Karen Glass taught us that this principle as well as “education is the science of relations” were the pillars from which all Mason’s other principles hinge. As Karen went on to explain, these were principles that Mason observed as already existing. She just wrote them down. Anne White said it well when she stated, “Simple principles simply stated are often the best.” Anne showed us that these principles aren’t for the purpose of serving ourselves, they are for the stewardship and service of others. When we realize that Mason’s education philosophy was in order to develop a character that loves God and loves people, we can be joyful in our work. We can smile and be content and hopeful, as Cindy encouraged us to be, because our work is not for us. And it is not for college. It is for others. And most importantly, it is for God. As Cindy reminded us, we are educating our children for the worship of God.

Donna-Jean Breckenridge emphasized that it is not our job to save our children, but to lead them to one who can. Lead them to His Word — His truth. She explained that we do this by being in His Word and praying. Pray, pray, pray, pray, pray because, as Donna-Jean said, “there is a King over ALL” and we can trust Him. He is faithful. And because He is faithful we can be joyful and sing with the Psalmist:

“This is the day that the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it.” Psalm 118:24

It’s All About the Motivation

“You need to get this work done now! Don’t you know that your future is at stake? If you don’t work hard now, you won’t get a scholarship to the best college, then you won’t get the best job at the best place, and you won’t make lots of money. You don’t want to disappoint me, do you? So memorize these multiplication facts, now!” 

A Journey Through Charlotte Mason’s 20 Principles: Principle 4

“These principles (ie., authority and docility) are limited by the respect due to the personality of children which may not be encroached upon whether by the direct use of fear or love, suggestion or influence, or by undue play upon any one natural desire.”

Throughout Charlotte Mason’s volumes, Mason is highly concerned with the development of character.  From her observations of children, she saw the biggest problem was that they were “incapable of steady effort, because they had no strength of will, no power to make themselves do that which they knew they ought to do.”  As homeschoolers, I think we often see the same problem. The children don’t seem to want to motivate themselves. They don’t have the strength of will to do what they ought to do without reminders and prods and motivation from us. This can be true, not just for children, but for many adults as well. It is comforting to know that Mason saw the same problems and thought long and hard to find a way to help children overcome this fault.

She does this keeping in mind that children are whole people. They have personalities, strengths and weaknesses, and minds capable of great understanding. They are made in the image of God and are to be respected. The personhood of children is not to be undermined or undervalued or encroached upon. It may not be manipulated or coerced. The development of a child’s character as God’s image bearer was of paramount importance to Mason. Children must grow up moral with their affections rightly ordered, and any method employed in the educating of children must not hinder, crush, or maim their character.  It was not worldly success that she saw as the purpose of education, but virtue. This is a classical idea.* Plato said, “Education is teaching our children to desire the right things.” In The Liberal Arts Tradition: A Philosophy of Christian Classical Education, Ravi Jain and Kevin Clark call it piety. Mason realized she was educating people. Not computers. Not factories. People.

Knowledge Is Delectable

Not only did Mason have a high view of children, she had a high view of knowledge. “Knowledge is delectable,” she tells us. Knowledge for its own sake should be the motivation. This is God’s world and we are His creatures — we should want to know. It reminds me of the shorter catechism question, ‘What is the chief end of man?”

The answer:

“Man’s chief end is to glorify God and enjoy him forever.”

This means our purpose is to glorify and delight in God. We delight in Him by delighting in His Word. We also enjoy and glorify God by delighting in His Creation and His people—learning from those who have gone before, the good and the bad, so that our character may grow to be more Christlike so that we may glorify Him.

This, of course, does not come easily. But there is much that we as teachers and parents can do, and NOT do, to lead our children toward desiring knowledge for themselves. It is because of her view of children as persons and the high importance she places on the development of their character as well as their intellect, that Mason’s fourth principle of education places limits on the methods appropriate to educating children.

“we act our parts and play in an unlawful way upon motives.” – Vol 6, p81

How Not to Motivate

Mason warns that any means a teacher might employ to compel a child to do what is required of them that draws their affections and motivations away from knowledge itself, is to be avoided. To compel a child to work by fear (fear of you, punishment, or failure), love (so that they would do anything for you like a pathetic little puppydog), undue influence and suggestion (which I would call manipulation), is to compromise their character so that they become, as Mason says, “flaccid.” In other words, weak.

“Bob or mary is losing that growing time which should make a self-dependent, self-ordered person, and is day by day becoming a parasite who can go only as he is carried, the easy prey of fanatic or demagogue.” – Quoted from For The Children’s Sake, p67

You will get willing obedience by utilizing these means, but at the expense of developing a strong character who can think for themselves and will do what they ought because it is the right thing to do. 

Mason identifies four “natural desires” that are good in their place, being neither good nor bad, but when overemphasized or manipulated, also shift a child’s affection away from knowledge itself. These are:

  • Approbation (approval or praise),
  • Emulation (desire to excel),
  •  Avarice (extreme greed for wealth or material gain), and
  • Ambition.

Each is a good servant, but when one is favored at the expense of others, it is to the detriment of the development of the character of a child.

“We have considered the several desires whose function is to stimulate the mind and save us from that vis inertiae which is our besetting danger. Each such desire has its place but the results are disastrous if any one should dominate.” – Vol 6, p88

Approbation

Praising your child is natural for any parent. They do something well and we say, “great job!” There is no harm in this, as long as you do it “in such a way that no one set of motives be called unduly into play to the injury of the child’s character.” It’s about balance. It becomes a problem when children do the work SO that they get praise or approval. It becomes especially problematic when they desire it from the wrong people or for the wrong things. Praise for virtuous behavior such as hard work is more desirous than praise for achievements. One of my daughters qualified to take the DukeTIP this year (this means she placed in the 95th percentile or higher in last year’s standardized test and can take the college entrance SAT along with high schoolers). It is tempting to praise her for high academic abilities. But really, she was born with a keen mind, which she had absolutely no control over. Yes, a Charlotte Mason education of reading living books and narration went a long way to help her to place well, but it is her character qualities of diligence and hard work that are worthy to be praised, more than the achievement itself. I have other daughters who work just as hard and have received the same education, that will not, in all likelihood, qualify for DukeTIP. They were not created with the same academic abilities (more to the point, our current education system tests only a certain kind of ability, but I digress). But they are equally hardworking. When children begin to work for approval, instead of the knowledge itself, it is at the expense of character. Too much praise and of the wrong thing can cause a child to become conceited, which is a definite blight to a person’s character.

Emulation

When high test scores become the goal of education, the child no longer cares what it is he is learning. He crams for the exam to get the marks, only to promptly forget a short time after. Mason was highly critical of the trend she saw in schools of her day where the desire to excel was manipulated by the school system through prizes and rewards to get results.

“Emulation, the desire of excelling, works wonders in the hands of the schoolmaster; and, indeed, this natural desire is an amazing spur to effort, both intellectual and moral…
…In the intellectual field, however, there is danger; and nothing worse could have happened to our schools than the system of marks, prizes, place-taking, by which many of them are practically governed. A boy is so taken up with the desire to forge “ahead that there is no time to think of anything else. What he learns is not interesting to him; he works to get his remove.” – Vol 6. p85

What has a child gained by getting a good score if they don’t care about the knowledge that they scored high in?

Competitive Examinations aren’t helpful because the motivation isn’t knowledge. It is the “getting on”, achieving scholarships and the like. It doesn’t make them a better person.

Avarice

Closely connected with Emulation, is Avarice. When greed for wealth or material gain is played upon as a motivation for children to do their work, then we have a big problem. What happens to the child who works so that they can get good grades so they can get a scholarship, so they can go to the best college and get the best job so they can have lots of money and the best car and live on the best street… You get my point.  Having these things is not the problem. It is the unhealthy desire for them as the motivation for doing what ought to be done that is the problem. Where is the love of learning? Where is the love of doing the right thing because it’s the right thing?  Where is the human?

Ambition

Ambition hardly needs to be discussed. I think most of us know the difference between Ambition as a servant, that keeps us from stagnation, and Ambition as a master, which is an all-consuming tyrant.

Mason does not say that these “natural desires” are bad in and of themselves. They are good servants when in their place. It is when they are out of balance that it can be a detriment to character.

“… because the balance of character is destroyed by the constant stimulation of this one desire at the expense of the rest.” – Vol 2, p221

Mason’s goal is to see children self-dependent and self-ordered, who grow to love what is lovely and pursue what is good for themselves and for its own sake.

The coming principles will address what can be done toward that ideal, but for now, let me suggest that it is through gentle leading, not coercing, that we guide our children to delight in knowledge—because “knowledge is delectable.”

 

If you’d like to join me in studying Charlotte Mason’s 20 Principles, get your copy of Start Here and see this post for details

A Journey Through Charlotte Mason 20 Principles Directory

*For more on Education as a virtue, I really like this post by Mystie Winkler.

Sovereign over Every Moment. God’s Grace in the Returns Line

“Mom! The light on my favorite new toy I got for Christmas doesn’t work!”

This exclamation during a fight between two siblings, another telling me all about a book she was reading, all while I tried to get checklists done and order art prints for school to begin next week, and write a list of birthday cards, presents, and groceries I forgot to buy when I shopped yesterday.

Sigh.

“Do you have the box?” I ask, frustrated. She produces torn up cardboard that once resembled the bright shiny box that housed the beloved toy.  A bit of gorilla glue and the box is almost passable.  I concede to add another stop to my errands list and return her toy so we can reorder and hopefully receive one whose light does work.  We arrive at the store and wait 20 minutes in the returns line, but there are no issues and the toy is returned and we move on to other errands.

It is now 1.30pm. We have not eaten. Children and mom are getting hangry and all my errands are not complete. I wish we didn’t need to eat because I really don’t want to buy food out and I did want to finish all my errands before going home. There is only one choice. We go home. I immediately get online to re-order the toy and get that job out of the way. Except, to our horror, the toy is out of stock! Who knows when or if it will come back in stock. I try Amazon. $73.00! WAY more than was originally paid and we returned it for.  My heart sank. I have a to-do list a mile long, it’s halfway through the afternoon and I haven’t even achieved a quarter of it, and now my daughter has just returned her favorite toy that is no longer available. My frustration increases. I look at my daughter. There was only one thing for it. We go back to the store in the hopes that we can retrieve the toy.

On the way, I hold little hope that we will be able to get it back. I tell my daughter to pray. She prays a simple sweet prayer, “Dear God, please help me get my toy back. Amen.”

Once again we are in the returns line. This time we only wait 10 minutes. We explain the situation to the sweet lady at the counter. She looks in the bins behind her. Our toy is not there.

“If it was an online order I don’t know what I can do.” She sees the disappointment and sadness in my daughter’s eyes and says, “there is one other place I can look.” She is back a few minutes later with the news we didn’t want to hear. “I’m sorry, but because your return was an online item, it has already been processed and labeled. Once it is labeled to go on the truck back to the warehouse, there is nothing we can do.”

“Has it left yet on the truck? Where is it right now?” I ask. She knows that I suspect that it is still in the building but due process says I can’t have it back now because it will mess up the system. She looks to see if we can buy the item in the store. We can’t. She really wants to help but knows she can’t. She takes me to her supervisor, asking her if anything can be done to get the item back. The supervisor reiterates what we’ve already been told. Once the item has been labeled, it’s bad luck. As I am talking with the supervisor, the sweet lady from the counter walks away to try another idea. She turns the corner. When I finish with the supervisor we attempt to follow her. She is nowhere to be seen. All hope seems lost now. Our one advocate trying to help us has disappeared. Maybe she went to the online order pick up area. We go there. I ask the two men working if they’d seen the sweet lady. She was helping me. They have not. My daughter’s eyes begin to well up. Her beloved toy is lost to her now. One of the men asks if he can help. I don’t think he can but to indulge him I tell him the very short version of our story. Enough for him to say, “I’m sorry, I can’t help.” But he doesn’t say that. He goes out the back and brings back a box. Our box! It’s our toy! He rips off the label and asks what I paid for it. I tell him. He manually puts the amount in the register and it is ours again!

As we leave the store with a skip in our step and tears of relief in my daughter’s eyes, I reflect to her,

“God answered your prayer today.”

She looks up at me with wonder and awe. “Yeah, I guess He did!”

“Twice we had been told that we couldn’t have it back,” I tell her. “If we hadn’t lost the lady, we wouldn’t have found our way to the man at the back. In God’s providence, when it seemed it was gone and there was nothing to be done, God directed us to the very person who could help.”

I realize that this story is pretty trivial as far as life stories go. It is just a toy. It would have been disappointing but not that important. But what seemed small and insignificant to me meant everything to my daughter. She learned that her God cared for her and was gracious and loving and kind and she could trust Him, even when our actions are unwise.   If it had turned out that in God’s providence we couldn’t get the toy back, God would still have been caring, gracious, loving, and kind. The lesson would have been to be content with what we have and perhaps think and consider all options before making a decision that could potentially be unwise.

But that wasn’t the lesson God wanted to teach us on this day. Today, my daughter learned that God always answers prayer.

“I’m glad God said yes.”

Top 5 Books of 2018


As we begin 2019, I’d like to do as I did last year and share with you the top 5 books I read this past year.  2018 was a good year for reading books. As in previous years, much of my reading list was taken from my children’s school lists on Ambleside Online. There isn’t much time for other reading if I am to keep up with the Year 7 booklist alongside my daughter, as well as the Charlotte Mason 20 Principles Study that I am still in the middle of and will get back to, Lord willing, this month.

Also, for the first time, I kept a log of all the books that I finished during the year. It was fun to look back on books that I’d forgotten I’d read. And, yes, audiobooks count. (The copious picture books read aloud are not included.)

Top 5 Books of 2018

David Copperfield by Charles Dickens.

Since reading Oliver Twist a few years ago, Charles Dickens has become one of my favorite authors. This year, I had the delight of enjoying another of his novels, David Copperfield. A-Age-12 and I listened (separately) to it on audiobook performed by Richard Armitage. I say performed because it really was a performance. Armitage is a master at capturing the personality of the characters, complete with their accents and dialects. He brought this book to life more than any other audiobook I have heard. His portrayal of the aunt and Mr. Micawber were superb. Mr. Murdstone was chillingly cold and my daughter and I find ourselves impersonating the voice Armitage gave him whenever we discuss the book.

The audiobook performance aside, the story itself is so good. As with all Dickens novels that I have read (and I have only read a few), Dickens highlights societal problems that he saw in his day. David’s mistreatment is frustrating and upsetting, yet this book feels more hopeful than Oliver Twist, as David experiences success despite a miserable upbringing. There are characters that are endearing despite their obvious flaws and there are characters that you despise. There is the folly of youth and it’s consequences, friendship, and the overcoming of difficulties with forgiveness and grace. But what surprised me most was the conversations that this book prompted between my daughter and me about the women in the story. This topic was by far our most discussed subject. The women that I felt sorry for because I saw them as oppressed, she disdained because she saw them as weak. This is the power of a living book. That two people can read the same book and have completely different reactions to it says a lot about the reader as well as the skill of the author. It is the conversation that the reader has with the author when the book is well written. The discussions that we had were about the role of women. What is a virtuous woman? How did our view or Dickens’ view of women line up with Scripture? What traits, both weaknesses and strengths, did we each share with the various women in the story? Why did David’s mother particularly, respond the way she did? How should she have responded? How should a godly woman conduct herself? Some of our answers to these questions were VERY different from one another. But by discussing our points of view we learned to see the issue from a wider perspective and, hopefully, grow in thoughtfulness and compassion. If you and your daughter like Dickens, I highly recommend reading and discussing David Copperfield together. It has been very rewarding for us.

Know and Tell by Karen Glass

“It is our part to see that every child knows and can tell, whether by way of oral narrative or written essay” —Charlotte Mason.

An integral part of Charlotte Mason’s philosophy of education is the child narrating what they have read. In this book, Karen Glass explains what narration is and why we should use it, how to encourage and develop it, how and when to move from oral to written narration, and how to develop written narrations into the art of writing. This book is what the Charlotte Mason community had been waiting for and I know it is one I’ll continue to come back to again and again as I educate my children.

Learning to Love The Psalms by W. Robert Godfrey

This book was my companion for the better part of the year. I read it slowly, 1-2 pages a day with plenty of time for reflection. I have gained a deeper understanding of the structure of the Psalms (Did you know that the order is not random?), it’s connection to historical narratives in the Bible, and have learned to see how the Psalms speak of Christ. I feel like this is a book I need to read over and over because I know that I have already forgotten half of what I had learned.

Robinson Crusoe by Daniel DeFoe

Robinson Crusoe has made it to my top 5 list again this year. It was my third time reading it and the first time reading it aloud to G-Age-9. She loved it. It is interesting, in last years post I talked about how this book discussed “rebellion against God, feeling sorrow for our sin, the continual need for repentance, the joy and lightness we feel when we ask for forgiveness, [and] God’s providence in our circumstances.” What stood out to me this year was the importance of gratitude to God in your circumstances. Because God is sovereign, whatever circumstance we are in He means it for our good. Life could have been worse. [SPOILER ALERT] As Crusoe comes to realize, God was actually gracious to him by stranding him on an island for 24 years. Because the alternative was that he could have died with the rest of the ship’s crew. He realized that all his complaining about his circumstances displayed a lack of gratitude for God’s preservation of his life. He not only found himself on an island after being shipwrecked, but that island was filled to abundance with all he needed to survive. This is a lesson we can all do with remembering.

Beowulf translated by Burton Raffel

This was my first introduction to epic poetry and it did not disappoint. In many ways, this story points to Christ. A hero who slays the monster. Sound familiar? Yet it also points to Christ in another way. In the end, there was an end for Beowulf. A mere man, no matter how brave and heroic, cannot be the Savior. Man needs a Savior who will always slay the monster. With lots of battles and chest beating speeches, if you have never read epic poetry, this is a good one to begin with.

Books I read 2018

Non-Fiction

1. Women of the Word by Jen Wilkin
2. Know and Tell by Karen Glass
3. How To Be Your Own Selfish Pig by Susan Schaeffer Macauley
4. Learning to Love The Psalms by W. Robert Godfrey
5. Are My Kids On Track by Sissy Goff, David Thomas, and Melissa Trevathan
6. Augustus Caesar’s World by Genevieve Foster
7. The Story of the Greeks by H. Guerber
8. The Story Of The Romans by H.A. Guerber
9. The Mystery of The Periodic Table by Benjamin Wiker and Jeanne Bendick
10. Archimedes and the Door to Science by Jeanne Bendick
11. It Couldn’t Just Happen by Lawrence Richards
12. Galileo and the Magic Numbers by Sidney Rosen
13. The Story of David Livingstone by Vautier Golding
14. The Brendan Voyage by Tim Severin
15. Whatever Happened to Penny Candy by Richard Maybury

Fiction

16. The Scent of Water by Elizabeth Goudge
17. Animal Farm by George Orwell
18. The Road to Gundagai by Jackie French
19. The Austen Escape by Katherine Reay
20. Beowulf translated by Burton Raffel
21. Watership Down by Richard Adams
22. The Life And Adventures of Santa Claus by L. Frank Baum

School book re-reads to younger kids

23. Poor Richard by James Daugherty
24. Of Courage Undaunted by James Daugherty
25. The Landing of The Pilgrims by James Daugherty
26. Secrets of The Woods by William J. Long
27. Abigail Adams: Witness to a Revolution by Natalie S. Bober
28. Robinson Crusoe by Daniel DeFoe
29. The Legend of Sleepy Hollow by Washington Irving
30. Rip Van Winkle by Washington Irving
31. Kidnapped by Robert Louis Stevenson
32. The Jungle Book by Rudyard Kipling

Audiobooks

33. Jack and Jill by Louisa May Alcott
34. Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain
35. Ben Hur by Lew Wallace
36. The Horse and His Boy by C.S. Lewis
37. The Magician’s Nephew by C.S. Lewis
38. The Last Battle by C.S. Lewis
39. David Copperfield by Charles Dickens
40. Uncle Remus: His Songs and His Sayings by Joel Chandler Harris
41. A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens
42. In Freedom’s Cause by G.A. Henty
43. Ivanhoe by Sir Walter Scott

When The Ideal Meets The Real

As I study principles of education, I am reminded that there is a gaping chasm between the ideal and the real. I study educational philosophy because it is my vocation. Educating my kids is what God has called me to do and I want to do it to the best of my ability for the glory of God. But I do not measure up to the ideal. Education in my home is not always joyful, happy, or peaceful. I do not always treat my children with care for their emotions and personalities. I am often times met with bad attitudes (including my own), children who do not want to read the books I have given them to read, and who resist any kind writing with every fiber of their being. But I must not grow weary in doing good. I will never attain the ideal in my home. But I continue to work diligently toward it, knowing that anything that is achieved is not my own achievement but is a result of God’s grace. Educating is humbling. It requires leaning on the Lord for His strength, His help, His comfort. I cannot live the ideal. But He did. And only by His grace can I go forward. He is trustworthy when I fail. He is true when I am false. He is good when I sin. He is beautiful when my best is filthy rags. He is strong when I am weak. He is faithful when I am not. So whether I measure up to the educational standard set by philosophical thinkers that have come before, I can rest in the knowledge that, “all I have needed thy hand hath provided, Great is thy faithfulness, Lord, unto me!”

To God be the Glory.

We Are Made To Know

Last week, I discussed Charlotte Mason’s principle of authority and obedience. I chose to focus on her exploration of parental authority. This week, I am continuing the discussion by considering the other side of authority: self authority.

Parents have authority in the home, but we need to recognize that our children have been given a certain degree of authority too. Their authority, like ours, has been given by God. Their authority is the responsibility they have for their own learning.

Education Is a Feast

Throughout her philosophy of education, Mason uses the analogy of a feast to describe what education ought to be. Imagine Christmas dinner. When you sit down to share this celebratory meal with your family, you do not expect to be served only one kind of food. If all you got served was meat that was two days old and had already been chewed up for you, you would feel pretty disappointed and would likely not want to eat at all. The expectation is that the Christmas dinner table will be full of all kinds of food—rich, delicious, nourishing food that will feed your body the nutrients that it needs while tasting amazing. There will be plenty and there will be variety. And being a special meal, it will be the best food that the cook is able to produce for such a special occasion. This is the analogy that Mason has in mind when she discusses education. The teacher/parent supplies a well-ordered, varied, and nourishing feast of living books filled with living ideas. Mason explains over and over that ideas are the food for the mind. And ideas themselves are found in living books. These living books should be of the best quality that will nourish the mind with ideas of history, science, geography, art, music, and all areas that touch humanity. Since children are born persons, made in the image of God, their mind has the same capabilities as yours to deal with these ideas for themselves.

Learning Is Their Responsibility

“All school work should be conducted in such a manner that children are aware of the responsibility of learning; it is their business to know that which has been taught.” Vol. 6, pg. 74

Self-authority means that it is up to the children to “deal with these educational offerings in their own way and for themselves.” This is where Charlotte Mason’s philosophy of education diverges greatly from the traditional school/teacher mindset of how to educate children. It is tempting to want to hand feed them to make sure they ‘know’ all the facts. To drill them to oblivion to make sure they ‘get’ it all. We, in a sense, want to chew up their food for them. But what does that say about how we view the child? Do we believe that they are capable of dealing with ideas for themselves, or is it necessary to chop it all up and pre-package it with nice little fill-in-the-blank worksheets and comprehension questions? When we chop it all up we have decided for them what their minds should take away from a lesson. Instead of predigesting knowledge for them, the role of the teacher is to provide the best and most nourishing “food” through living books and allow the children to digest the food (ideas) and take what nutrition their mind needs for themselves. Teachers are to give the children the best books and let them do the work of knowing.* This is how they learn to think. Children need to be allowed to develop their own relationships with history, science, geography, and especially God. Lets not deprive their minds of the food’s nourishing properties but instead allow their mind to do its own work.* It is their responsibility to know.

We Are Made To Know

“But to make yourself attend, make yourself know, this indeed is to come into a king-all the more satisfying to children because they are so made that they revel in knowledge.” Vol 6. pg. 77

Remember when you went to the zoo and the children got excited seeing “Prickly Porky” the porcupine and proceeded to tell you all about their quills and their diet because you had read about them with delight in The Burgess Animal Book? Remember when you read Robinson Crusoe to your daughter and she earnestly interrupted you to tell you why Robinson shouldn’t have been complaining, but should have been grateful? Remember when you read that chapter in the history book about the steam engine being built, and she became excited as she remembered reading about the steam engine in her science book, making a beautiful connection between the invention and the time period for herself, while telling you all about it? We are made to know. We are made to revel in knowledge.

Mason’s lofty vision for education is “that children grow to revel in knowledge. That knowledge for its own sake is satisfying.” This might sound idealistic, but if we consider that children are creatures that bear the image of the Creator, isn’t it possible that these children, born with capable minds, are able to know and be satisfied in that knowledge?

It is true that children will not always want to know everything that is set before them. But why should that alter what is offered to them? They should want to know. The responsibility for knowing should be kept with them. Their minds have been created by God for the work of knowing. So as parents, we need to make it clear that this is what God requires of them. They will also learn the habit of wanting to know through a continual offering of the feast. We can hinder our children’s love for learning by repeating lessons instead of requiring them to pay attention the first time around. We can aid this growth by reducing the effort of their decisions through developing routines and habits as part of their school day.* This also removes the constant negotiating of the child to do what he wants to do rather than what ought to be done. This training in “mechanical obedience will set them in good stead for reasonable obedience later.”

Mason explains,

“The man who can make himself do what he will has the world before him, and it rests with parents to give their children this self-compelling power as a mere matter of habit.” Vol 3. pg. 20

Obedience

Parental authority (discussed in this post) and a child’s self-authority are the two conditions which Mason believed were necessary to secure the willing obedience of the children.

“Two conditions are necessary to secure all proper docility and obedience and, given these two, there is seldom a conflict of wills between teacher and pupils. The conditions are,—the teacher, or other head may not be arbitrary but must act so evidently as one under authority that the children, quick to discern, see that he too must do the things he ought; and therefore that regulations are not made for his convenience… The other condition is that children should have a fine sense of the freedom which comes of knowledge which they are allowed to appropriate as they choose, freely given with little intervention from the teacher.” Vol 6. pg.73-74

Children will not always obey all of the time. They are sinners just as we are. We live in a sinful world. Just as we sin and fall short of the glory of God, so too children sin and fall short of the glory of God. They will disobey. There will be times when discipline is required. But Mason believed that the establishment of this principle of authority will give surer footing for both teacher and taught. We will help our children toward obedience when they observe and are taught that parents are under the authority of God just as they are. They are to obey because parents are to obey. We will also help the children by showing them that the responsibility for learning is on them. They will come to understand that if they do not attend, if they do not give their full attention, if they do not make themselves know, they will not know. There is also joy in learning for the child who knows that they have freedom to deal with the educational offerings themselves. They more happily obey because of this freedom. These two principles will help to establish a right thinking of what the role of the parent and the student is and what God has created them for. We have been created to know. We have been created to know Him first, and then to know about what He has created. The responsibility for learning is on each individual for themselves. When this self authority is established, it is more joyfully attended to as we spread the educational feast fit for the minds of these persons.

*how to do this will be discussed in later principles.

If you’d like to join me in studying Charlotte Mason’s 20 Principles, get your copy of Start Here and see this post for details

A Journey Through Charlotte Mason 20 Principles Directory

Don’t Abdicate Your Parental Authority

A Journey Through Charlotte Mason’s 20 Principles: Principle 3

The principles of authority on the one hand, and of obedience on the other, are natural, necessary and fundamental…

The ideas of authority and obedience in Charlotte Mason’s 3rd Principle probably seem obvious to most parents. Of course parents are in authority over their children and children ought to obey their parents (although to look at today’s culture, perhaps that is not so obvious anymore). Mason speaks thoughtfully and at length about this principle. She discusses what authority is for both parent and child, what it looks like in homes and schoolrooms, and how to gain the obedience of the child. For the sake of length, I will restrict my discussion today to considering parental authority, and next week, Lord willing, I will discuss authority as it relates to the child.

Parental Authority Is God-Given

Our authority as parents is given to us by God. This is foundational and central to Mason’s principle of authority. Your authority finds its source in God. Stop and think about that for a minute. This is profound. When we truly understand where our authority comes from, it informs and affects everything else that comes out of our parenting. As a gift from God, our authority is to be used wisely for the good of the children and for His glory. Because it is from God, it is not absolute authority. We are not an authority unto ourselves. Mason describes our authority as deputed, meaning it is delegated. We are, in a sense, made His representatives in our homes. We have been deputized to fulfill the duty of raising our children in “the fear and admonition of the Lord.” Our children are not ours, but have been entrusted to us for a time to love and disciple and “train up in the way he should go.” It is for a purpose that God has entrusted this role to us. He has given us this authority as ones also under authority. Mason urges parents to make known to our children that our authority is given by God and we are under His authority just as they are. Mason stresses the importance of this because she believed children will more readily accept and understand their role to submit to our authority when they know it comes from God.

Parental Authority Is Not Arbitrary

Since we are under God’s authority and our authority comes from Him, it should not be arbitrary. This means our authority should not be wielded on a whim or without reason. It should not be unrestrained authority for its own sake, ruling from a height with no intimacy with the children, like some authoritarian dictator. We should not bark out orders like a sledgehammer, with a harshness that shows no care for the hearts and minds of these precious images of God, or encroach on their personhood.

Instead, we should parent in humble recognition and obedience to the God whose authority we are under. Our authority is to be born out of love for God and love for our children.

“Authority is that aspect of love which parents present to their children; parents know it is love, because to them it means continual self-denial, self-repression, self-sacrifice: children recognise it as love, because to them it means quiet rest and gaiety of heart.” Vol. 3, pg.24

Parental Authority Serves

Our role as ones in authority is one of service. Our authority is not self-seeking. It is “…neither harsh nor indulgent,” but is an authority that is “gentle and easy to be entreated in all matters immaterial, just because [it] is immovable in matters of real importance.” (Vol. 1, pg.17)

Mason paints a wonderful picture of how biblical authority in the home provides the best atmosphere for a child to thrive.

“Authority is just and faithful in all matters of promise-keeping; it is also considerate, and that is why a good mother is the best home-ruler; she is in touch with the children, knows their unspoken schemes and half-formed desires, and where she cannot yield, she diverts; she does not crush with a sledge-hammer, an instrument of rule with which a child is somehow never very sympathetic.” Vol. 1, pg.23

Parental Authority Is Not To Be Abdicated

Not only is our authority not to be arbitrary, it should not be abdicated. Parents can be tempted, for the sake of ease or the favor of their children, to abdicate their authority in the same way that a king might abdicate the throne. They can be tempted to give over their God-given authority and obligation to another. This could be by expecting the school to deal with all aspects of raising your child, beyond their education, or defaulting your authority to another family member, or worse still, leaving the child to themselves. We must remember that it is our duty to be good stewards of the authority deputed to us by God, out of loving obedience to Him, for the good of the child.

Parental Authority Is For The Good Of All

Biblical authority is necessary for the good of the child. Our authority is integral to the development of character in children and instruction in right living. If a child is left to themselves to pursue the way that seems right in their own eyes, folly is sure to follow. It is good for the children to “…’faithfully serve, honour, and humbly obey’ their natural rulers”(Vol. 2, pg.14). It is an example of how we are to serve, honor, and humbly obey God.

“parents hold their children in trust for society.” Vol. 2, pg.15

Parental authority is also necessary for the good of society. It is necessary for raising good citizens. When parents abdicate their authority, the result is not only disastrous for the children, but also to society.

“…the child who knows that he is being brought up for the service of the nation, that his parents are acting under a Divine commission, will not turn out a rebellious son.” Vol. 2, pg.17

This does not, of course, guarantee children will heed the instructions of their parents and live godly, productive lives in the service of others, but it gives them the best opportunity and fulfills our God-given role to teach them to love Him and serve others. This is certainly not the message of today’s culture to children, which seems far more concerned with personal happiness than instilling a willing service to others.

Parenting is a difficult yet rewarding vocation. It can sometimes feel like a battleground. But when we look to God as the source of our parental authority, knowing that we too are under His authority, we can be comforted. Because He is good and just, and because He has deemed it so and thus ordered it, He will give us the grace and means to fulfill His God-given purpose for us as parents.

If you’d like to join me in studying Charlotte Mason’s 20 Principles, get your copy of Start Here and see this post for details

A Journey Through Charlotte Mason 20 Principles Directory

Heredity, Total Depravity, and the Role of Education

A Journey Through Charlotte Mason’s 20 Principles: Principle 2

They are not born either good or bad, but with possibilities for good and for evil.

Before beginning my study on this principle, it was clear to me that I would need to place this statement in its historical context to properly understand Charlotte Mason’s meaning. On first reading, this statement appears to say something against the doctrine of original sin. I had been told and believed that this was not the case, but until studying this principle this month I had not spent any time investigating for myself.

Mason does not deny the doctrine of original sin. Karen Glass, author of Consider This: Charlotte Mason and the Classical Tradition and Know and Tell: The Art of Narration, has written a very helpful article on what it was that Mason was addressing, which I encourage you to read. In my own rudimentary Google searching into the subject I found historical explanations that will help set the context.

In the time of Mason, the beginning of the 20th century, the rise of Darwinism and the theory of evolution through natural selection led to a greater consideration of the role that genes play in the development of psychological as well as physical traits in an individual. The idea, now termed biological or genetic determinism, known then as heredity determinism, became an idea widely disseminated in society. “Most theories of biological determinism viewed undesirable traits as originating in defective genes” (Garland Allen)—that is, that the behavioral, as well as physical characteristics of a person, were solely determined by genetics. Mason saw that many parents and educators began to think that there was no point in trying to instruct a person in morals and right behavior because it was already determined by their genes. A bad egg will breed a bad egg and that was that.

In this principle, Mason argues that this is not the case and that education can contribute a great deal in training a person to right living and thinking. She says,

“There are good and evil tendencies in body and mind, heart and soul; and the hope set before us is that we can foster the good so as to attenuate the evil; that is, on condition that we put education in her true place as the handmaid of religion.” Towards A Philosophy of Education, p.46

As Glass points out in her article, Mason is not making a theological statement. She is commenting on the potential of all children to learn as an argument against the commonly held belief that some children, particularly the poorer classes, did not have any potential.

With this context in view, through my study of this principle, my mind has been occupied with considering the idea of the “possibilities for good.” Specifically, how much potential for ‘good’ do we really have outside of Christ in light of the doctrine of original sin and total depravity; and what role does education have, if any, in the training of good in our children.

The work of justification is the work of the Holy Spirit. There is nothing that education can do, in and of itself, toward the salvation of a person’s soul from being “dead in trespasses and sins” to “alive again in Christ.” Nor is sanctification a work that we alone can do. It is only with the Holy Spirit that we can grow in Christlikeness. Mason does not deny these truths. But she saw from experience that education is a servant to religion, a tool which ought not to be squandered, in leading children toward right thinking and living, and our ultimate hope, toward God. That all children, no matter what their station or economic status in life, no matter if their father is a poor alcoholic or a statesman in good standing, all have the possibility to learn what is good, just as much as they have of what is bad. This is directly related to Principle 1: Children are born persons. God has given all children His image and therefore, as discussed last month, His communicable attributes. He has given the ability to love, to be generous, to show mercy, kindness etc., and a mind with which to learn and grow in knowledge and wisdom.

As Christians, we acknowledge that it is only by God’s grace, common to all, that we can say or do any good. Any good we do in this life is still marred by sin. It is not the perfect good that is found in God alone, but it is a broken good that, by His grace of restraining our sinfulness, many, even non-Christians, achieve to some degree.

John Calvin explains.

“But here it ought to occur to us that amid this corruption of nature there is some place for God’s grace; not such grace as to cleanse it, but to restrain it inwardly… This God by his providence bridles perversity of nature, that it may not break forth into action; but he does not purge it within.” Institutes, p. 292-293.

Education is a tool that God can use to extend that common grace to us and restrain us from being as wicked as our hearts have the potential (and desire) to be.

I labor this point because of a great many discussions I had with my husband this month as I studied this principle. I struggled to articulate to him why Mason was not making an unbiblical statement. And each attempt at an explanation revealed that I did not hold rightly to, or at least could not articulate rightly, a biblical view of the sinful state of man’s heart. My husband took great pains to impress upon me how dire my heart really is without Christ. Yet my brain still wanted to say, “I have the ability in and of myself to be good because I choose to be.” But Jesus disagrees with me.

“No one is good except God alone.” Mark 10:18

Calvin expounds.

“Man’s understanding is pierced by a heavy spear when all the thoughts that proceed from him are mocked as stupid, frivolous, insane, and perverse.” Institutes, p. 290.

No. Without the work of the Holy Spirit, we have no possibility for good. And yet, God, because of His common grace, and out of His mere good pleasure, saw fit to endow to some a special grace that makes possible admirable and heroic actions for the blessing of mankind. These “special graces,” as Calvin calls them, are gifts from God and reflect His image. Education is used by Him as a tool to instruct all in what is right and be a blessing to mankind. Further, that through education some might be lead to know Him. “How are they to hear without someone preaching?” (Romans 10:14). Or, “Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it” (Proverbs 22:6). By the means of education, He can lead us to humbly accept our fallen state and our need of Him.

“Thus it rests with parents to ease the way of their child by giving him habits of the god [spiritual] life in thought, feeling, and action, and even in spiritual things. We cannot make a child ‘good’; but, in this way, we can lay paths for the good life in the very substance of his brain.  We cannot make him hear the voice of God; but, again, we can make paths where the Lord God may walk in the cool of the evening.” Formation of Character, p. 141-142

If you’d like to join me in studying Charlotte Mason’s 20 Principles, get your copy of Start Here and see this post for details.

A Journey Through Charlotte Mason’s 20 Principles Directory

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