A Generous Curriculum

In The Liberal Arts Tradition, Clark and Jain suggest that early education should be founded upon music and gymnastic, in accordance with the  education described by Plato and others who followed him. The words are not defined narrowly, but broadly. Music refers to everything inspired by the “muses.” This is how the authors envision such an education:

This aspect of education includes what we now call music, but also poetry, drama, the fine arts, and literature. As the Muses Clio and Urania suggest, history, geography, and even astronomy are “musical” subjects as well.… In classical antiquity a major portion of the education of children (throughout many of the years we devote to our pre-K through 12th grade programs) consisted of physical training, singing, memorizing poetry, acting/imitating, drawing, sculpting, learning of the deeds of the great men of the past, reading great literary works, and experiencing and observing the natural world. This, we think should cause us to consider these oft-forgotten elements of classical education.

If you compared that description to what is encompassed by a Charlotte Mason education, I think you would find that her proposed curriculum hits every mark, and even exceeds some of them. This sounds very much like the “generous curriculum” that Miss Mason urged as the right of every child.

Like Charlotte Mason, Clark and Jain emphasize that children have innate abilities. Education need not be focused on trying to give them what they already possess, but on refining what they can do with their assets.

The whole vision for education in the classical tradition can be summarized in the proposition that education is directed at perfecting inherent human abilities. Human beings are able to do things simply because they are human. Education trains and directs these things; it does not produce them.

Children are born persons, right?

That quote reminds me of this one:

If we have not proved that a child is born a person with a mind as complete and as beautiful as his beautiful little body, we can at least show that he always has all the mind he requires for his occasions; that is, that his mind is the instrument of his education and that his education does not produce his mind. (Philosophy of Education, p. 36.)

I want to pause and make sure to notice the connection between the music-and-gymnastic education and what might be called “poetic knowledge,” such as James Taylor writes about. I’ve mentioned before how “CM” this approach to learning is. I love this:

Musical education is soul-craft: carried out properly it tunes the soul, and makes one receptive to truth and goodness.

What does that look like in practice? Well, it is made up of the songs we sing, the stories we hear, the art we admire. These things are not intellectual exercises alone—they also touch our hearts. We learn to appreciate art and artists because we have a favorite picture. We have favorite stories and songs that bring us joy, and pleasure, and we learn to perceive goodness because we have learned to love. Our “moral imagination” is stocked with examples to which can compare new things and ideas that we encounter. I think another way of viewing this would be Charlotte Mason’s idea of “educating the conscience.” She discusses it at length in Ourselves, devoting many chapters to the way poetry and history, among other things, give us stability of mind.

Clark and Jain refer often to The Abolition of Man by C.S. Lewis. If you are familiar with that book, you will understand what is meant by “men with chests”—that is, men who have developed heart as well as intellect, who feel as well as think. This, they tell us, is the business of education in the early years.

On page 28 of The Liberal Arts Tradition, they envision what such an education might look like.

History would not be so many facts to memorize, however creatively we do it, but an opportunity to use stories from the past to build up a child’s moral imagination—a possibility that, if followed, instantly unlocks the significance of ancient historians. Literature as musical education would resist the modern encroachment of critical reading in order to awaken the same imagination. Science as musical education has perhaps the greatest potential of all, especially in our context. Imagine if the foundations for all future science were a wonder and awe of God’s creation and sympathetic love of the created world.

I told you that Clark and Jain never mention Charlotte Mason—possibly weren’t aware of her educational contributions at all. They merely imagine this approach to education, but I hope you have gone further.

Charlotte Mason developed these very ideas and lived them out, and if you’ve been following a “CM” education in your homeschool, so have you!

If this idea intrigues you, I highly recommend reading what Brandy of Afterthoughts wrote about this topic.

Leave a Reply