All posts by Karen Glass

Connections with Coleridge #3.5—A Speculative Detour

So, I’ve written this whole series in advance and scheduled it to post weekly. I usually do that with these blog series so I don’t panic about deadlines. But then, I often tweak them before they go live, so there is an element of freshness, too. I was working on the most recent post, trying to include some examples of how specific subjects fit into Coleridge’s concept of Law and Theory being the two kinds of relationships, when I started to notice something.

The chapter is called “Principles of the Science of Method.”

Coleridge says

We discover, that there is a Science of Method; and that that Science, like all others, must necessarily have its Principles.

And as I quoted before:

The relations of things form the prime objects, or, so to speak, the materials of Method.

Under the heading of Law, Coleridge tells us we find the “Pure Sciences” which also form the groundwork of the “Mixed Sciences.” Under the heading of Theory, we find the “Scientific Arts” (like medicine). In fact, after a while, it hurts my eyes to read all the words with Capital Letters.

But then, I noticed something. In addition to equating Method with relations, Coleridge uses the word Science a lot. And a light bulb with a question mark appeared over my head. (I’m pretty sure.) I started to wonder…

Relations. Science. Science of Relations?

I have read every word of the CM series over and over again, and I have never found a place where Charlotte Mason explains why she uses the word science in her principle “education is the science of relations.” She explains relations at length, but science not at all. I gave up long ago, and figured that science was just a Victorian buzzword that she used to call attention to the importance of relations.

But perhaps not? Maybe Coleridge and his Capital Letters so impressed the idea of a Science on her mind while she was reading about the relations of Method that she associated the two words in her own mind, and so the expression “science of relations” might have its roots here in Treatise on Method. Surely it’s possible? The idea itself, certainly, originated here, and Charlotte Mason made that fairly clear with her quotes and references to this work. But the expression “science of relations?” Did that also originate here?

We’ll never be able to say so definitely, because she didn’t say so, and I don’t think I encountered the exact phrase “Science of Relations” in this book. But maybe. Maybe. It’s not a huge leap to change “science of method” to “science of relations” when you’ve already defined method as relations.  It was an interesting speculation, and I thought I’d share it with readers of this series as a sort of “thinking-out-loud” bonus post.

I hope this little detour won’t break the train of thought linking one post to the next, and I hope you’re enjoying Coleridge-the-philosopher, and that the next time you read “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner,” you’ll remember him for more than just that poem. In the meantime, Coleridge, Coleridge everywhere.

Connections with Coleridge #3—Law and Order

Beginning with this post, we’re really going to dig into the book by Coleridge that Charlotte Mason quoted on so many occasions. The title is Treatise on Method, and in good rhetorical form, Coleridge jumps right into the topic by defining his term. This work was originally intended as the introduction to a new Encyclopedia (though it also appeared as a series of articles in his periodical, The Friend), so that context is considered as well:

As Method is thus avowed to be the principal aim and distinguishing feature of our publication, it becomes us at the commencement, clearly to explain in this Introduction what we mean by that word; to exhibit the Principles on which alone a correct Philosophical Method can be founded; to illustrate those principles by their application to distinct studies and to the History of the Human Mind; and lastly to apply them to the general concatenation of the several Arts and Sciences, and to the most perspicuous, elegant, and useful manner of developing each particular study. Such are the objects of this Essay, which we conceive must form a necessary Introduction to a Work, that is designated in its title from the place whence it originates, — Encyclopedia Metropolitana ; but claims from its mode of execution to be also called “a Methodical Compendium of Human Knowledge.”

(I include this lengthy quote in part to give you a taste for the flavor of this book. Consider yourself warned.)

Coleridge goes on to describe the Greek origin of the word “method,” which means a way or a path, which by extension includes the concept of progress or a transition from one step to the next step. This why Charlotte Mason asserted that “method implies a way toward an end.”

It’s tempting to quote Coleridge further, but you wouldn’t thank me, and even my self-proclaimed interested readers (more than three!) might decide they’d rather scroll through facebook than wade through Coleridge. So let me narrate.

Coleridge says that method implies a unity as well as a progression. The central working factor that actually supplies this unity is the human mind. Without method, there is chaos. The mind develops an orderly understanding out of the chaos by pursuing the relations that exist between things (does that sound familiar?).

Coleridge says:

We may, therefore, assert that the relations of things form the prime objects, or, so to speak, the materials of Method; and that the contemplation of those relations is the indispensable condition of thinking Methodically.

We are only up to page 3 of Treatise on Method, and here is already a startling thing. The idea that underpins Method is relations. As in,  “Education is the science of relations.” We’ve heard this before.

Coleridge goes on to say that the relations the mind will discover between things are of two kinds—one kind is Law, and the other is Theory, but Law = Truth (absolute Truth, with a capital T), and he is going to go on to say that Truth = Idea, in the purest sense of the word—Charlotte even quotes this bit:

“The idea may exist in a clear, distinct, definite form, as that of a circle in the mind of a geometrician.” (Parents and Children, p. 36)

So, a law is an absolute truth the mind perceives, and a theory is an idea that allows action to be taken upon the basis of the law, allowing for the relation of cause and effect.  Within these two kinds of relations—law and theory—all the different areas of knowledge can be placed. Things that are concerned with Law alone are “Pure Sciences”–morality, justice. “Mixed sciences” are founded upon Law, but include some Theory, and here you have things like Mechanics and Astronomy. Pure Theory includes studies that Coleridge calls “Scientific Arts,” among which we find things like Medicine and Chemistry, which are based on the cause and effect of certain actions taken with Law in mind. Coleridge explains at great length, with Shakespeare as Exhibit A, that the relations between Law and Theory include the Fine Arts, where we find things like the “law of taste.” I would be lying if I told you I understood it all, but I get glimmers. Reading through this section, I know that Charlotte Mason read and it understood it better than I do, because I keep bumping into familiar sentences that she has quoted. For example, “From the first, or initiative Idea, as from a seed, successive Ideas germinate.”

In the light of all this, Charlotte Mason’s principle that “education is the science of relations” is thrown into a new light—a wider, broader conception than is immediately evident.

Coleridge tells us that the “laws of mind” are analogous to the “laws of arithmetic and geometry.” That is precisely what Charlotte Mason thought.

The universe of mind, as the universe of matter, is governed by unwritten laws of God; that the child cannot blow soap bubbles or think his flitting thoughts otherwise than in obedience to divine laws. (Home Education, p. 39)

All of Charlotte Mason’s educational philosophy rests upon her premise that she is articulating laws that are inherent and perceivable within the universe, and developing methods with those laws as her starting point. This is why all of the principles work together as an integrated whole, and why I entitled my last book In Vital Harmony.

Charlotte Mason’s claim is that her work is based upon these laws that are Truth.

My endeavour in this and the following volumes of the series will be to sketch out roughly a method of education which, as resting upon a basis of natural law, may look, without presumption, to inherit the Divine blessing.  (Home Education, p. 41)

I do not think it is coincidental that Charlotte Mason urged “method” in her educational writing. She referred to this work of Coleridge at the beginning and the end of her long career, and I think we can safely say that this work had a strong influence on her thinking. It will be interesting to pursue some of the ideas that are contained in this treatise on “method,” so I hope you’ll stick with me through the rest of the series.

Connections with Coleridge #2—Introducing Treatise on Method

In the first post in this series, I mentioned that Charlotte Mason quoted Coleridge in several of her books. The book from which the quotes are taken is  Treatise on Method by Samuel Taylor Coleridge. Before I read Charlotte Mason, my exposure to Coleridge was limited to “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner” and “Kubla Khan.” I thought of him as a poet whose mind was somewhat addled by opium.

But Charlotte Mason called him a philosopher and “great thinker,” and until I read this book, I never knew why. Also, until I read the book, I never realized how profoundly his ideas informed Charlotte Mason’s thoughts about educational philosophy. He is there in Home Education when she urges method over system, and he is still there in Philosophy of Education, written over 30 years later. Coleridge, and this book in particular, fundamentally influenced her thinking.

It has long been an interest of mine to read the things that Charlotte Mason read, and a few years ago, I finally acquired a copy of Treatise on Method. I cannot recommend that you rush right out and buy a copy of your own to read immediately. I had to read it twice in the first place (thank goodness it’s not that long!) to understand what he was saying, and the fact that the book is full of untranslated Latin and Greek quotations (in the Greek alphabet) adds to the difficulty.

But because Charlotte Mason obviously thought so much of this book, I persevered, and in this blog series, I want to share some of the insights I gleaned. There are key ideas in this book that lie at the very heart of Charlotte Mason’s educational philosophy—many things that a student of Charlotte Mason will find interesting and enlightening.

Besides the concept of method (as opposed to “system”), Coleridge turns his attention to some things that a reader of Charlotte Mason will already be familiar with.

She made it a principle that “education is a life” and assured us that “the life of the mind is sustained upon ideas.” (Philosophy of Education, p. 25)  When reading her books, she refers explicitly to Coleridge to support her thinking on this—look at all these quotes:

Coleridge treats in more detail those definite ideas which are not inhaled as air but are conveyed as meat to the mind:—

“From the first or initiative idea, as from a seed, successive ideas germinate.” “Events and images, the lively and spirit-stirring machinery of the external world, are like light and air and moisture to the seed of the mind which would else rot and perish.” “The paths in which we may pursue a methodical course are manifold and at the head of each stands its peculiar and guiding idea. Those ideas are as regularly subordinate in dignity as the paths to which they point are various and eccentric in direction. The world has suffered much in modern times from a subversive and necessary natural order of science . . . from summoning reason and faith to the bar of that limited physical experience to which by the true laws of method they owe no obedience. Progress follows the path of the idea from which it sets out requiring however a constant wakefulness of mind to keep it within the due limits of its course. Hence the orbits of thought, so to speak, must differ from among themselves as the initiative ideas differ.” (Philosophy of Education, p. 107-08)

In this book, I’ve been startled to bump into some specific illustrations that I had found first in her volumes, but which she appears to have borrowed from Coleridge. For example, I’ve always been fascinated by this picture of mistaking movement for progress:

Do we not confound progress with movement, action, assuming that where these are there is necessarily advance? Whereas much of our activity is like the waves of the sea, going always and arriving never. What we desire is the still progress of growth that comes of root striking downwards and fruit urging upwards. And this progress in character and conduct is not attained through conditions of environment or influence but only through the growth of ideas, received with conscious intellectual effort. (Philosophy of Education, p. 297)

That passage immediate came to mind when I came across this paragraph in Treatise on Method:

Still less is to be expected, toward the Methodizing of Science, from the man who flutters about in blindness, like the bat; or is carried hither and thither, like the turtle sleeping on the wave, and fancying, because he moves, that he is in progress.

I was a little disappointed that Charlotte Mason left out the turtle! It’s just a little thing, but because the experience of familiarity was repeated again and again as I read Coleridge’s book, I could not help but see that I was reading something that had fed her mind and informed her ideas across many decades.

If you are interested in the way that Charlotte Mason was influenced by other thinkers, I think you will enjoy this blog series. I’m getting started slowly on purpose, because this may not be something you’ve seen before. If you want to know Coleridge as a philosopher—as Charlotte Mason understood him—and not just a slightly deranged poet, here is your chance. Just by reading this blog series, you’ll be joining The Great Conversation. That’s how it works. You’re reading this, and I’m writing about Charlotte Mason. Charlotte Mason shared some of Coleridge’s ideas, and she wrote about him. In his Treatise on Method, Coleridge wrote about some other thinkers and philosophers (I’ll tell you about them later), and so we are all linked together in a chain of thinking and learning. Glad to have you along for the ride!

Thank you for all the comments last week–that was wonderful. I’m delighted for the interest. Feel free to chime in with your thoughts or reactions any time!

 

Connections with Coleridge #1—A nod from Charlotte Mason

This is the first post of a blog series I have contemplated for a long time. I fear my topic is of great interest to perhaps three people, and if you are one of those three, I hope you will appreciate the effort I’m making. But if I am wrong, and the three are as many as thirty, I would be delighted to know it. I don’t know if even thirty people will be interested. But I have hope, because the ideas I’m going to write about are relevant to every person. They matter.

Here’s my hook: Charlotte Mason was interested in these ideas. Not only was she interested in them, but they shaped her life’s work. If you are interested in the educational philosophy and methods of Charlotte Mason, and are implementing her ideas in the education of your children, then these ideas of Coleridge’s are already swirling around you in some diaphanous form, and wouldn’t it be nice if they took shape and solidified, so you could get a firm hold on them?

On page 8 of Home Education—right at the very beginning of her writing about education—Charlotte Mason wrote:

Method implies two things—a way to an end, and a step by step progress in that way. Further, the following of a method implies an idea, a mental image, of the end or object to be arrived at. What do you propose that education shall effect in and for your child?

She goes on from there to discuss the concept of method at some length, and to differentiate between a method and a system. It’s quite important to her.

In A Philosophy of Education (p. 334), she wrote:

The mind demands method, orderly presentation, as inevitably as it demands knowledge; and it may be that our educational misadventures are due to the fact that we have allowed ourselves to take up any haphazard ordering that is recommended with sufficient pertinacity.

But no one can live without a philosophy which points out the order, means and end of effort, intellectual or other.

In the same book (p. 107-08), she quotes extensively from a particular book by Samuel Taylor Coleridge:

“The paths in which we may pursue a methodical course are manifold and at the head of each stands its peculiar and guiding idea. Those ideas are as regularly subordinate in dignity as the paths to which they point are various and eccentric in direction. The world has suffered much in modern times from a subversive and necessary natural order of science . . . from summoning reason and faith to the bar of that limited physical experience to which by the true laws of method they owe no obedience. Progress follows the path of the idea from which it sets out requiring however a constant wakefulness of mind to keep it within the due limits of its course. Hence the orbits of thought, so to speak, must differ from among themselves as the initiative ideas differ.”

She had referred to this same passage and concept much earlier in her writing, in Parents’ and Children (p. 279):

It is unnecessary to go further into details; every subject has its living way, with what Coleridge calls ‘its guiding idea’ at the head, and it is only as we discover this living way in each case that a subject of instruction makes for the education of a child. No neat system is of any use.

In other words, both early in her writings and again at the very end of her life, Charlotte Mason called attention to a particular book written by Samuel Taylor Coleridge. I think we can be fairly certain that the book influenced her thinking about education, and particularly about the relationship between ideas and the mind. I’ll share the title of the book and begin talking about those ideas next time, but in the meantime, remember—method matters.

There are ten parts to this series—look for them on Thursdays!

Listen to Consider This as an audiobook!

I have a couple of fun things that have been percolating on the back burner, waiting for prime time, but this is probably the most exciting one. Did you know that Consider This: Charlotte Mason and the Classical Tradition was published in October of 2014? What that means is that as of October 2019, Consider This is five years old. This book is a little bit like a first-born child—one that I carried for some fifteen years before bringing it into the world, because unlike babies, books have to walk on their own two feet from day one. Your first baby makes you a mother (or father!), and your first book makes you an author. I’ve been nothing but grateful for the overwhelmingly positive response I’ve received from the book, the most gratifying of which has been, “Your book helped me so much.” That is why I wrote it.

And that is why my friend and colleague Donna-Jean A. Breckenridge has narrated it. She and her Technical Producer (aka, her husband Bill) have invested many hours in bringing the audio edition of Consider This to fruition. This is what she  wanted to share with you:

“Ever since reading Karen’s book Consider This: Charlotte Mason and the Classical Tradition five years ago, I’ve thought about sharing it with others.  So when my two married daughters read the book recently, I got to discuss with them the timeless principles of education it contains. It was a thrill to be able to talk with them about Charlotte Mason’s educational philosophy, and to see how they can implement it in their homeschool and their teaching career. 
I’ve read aloud to my four children—and now my three grandchildren—for all their lives. In my work in church ministry, I’ve done public speaking and dramatic portrayals. And all along, I’ve studied Charlotte Mason’s works, first as an interested homeschool mom, then as an AmblesideOnline Advisory member, helping put together a curriculum. And now I’ve found a way to put those interests together. 
 
It’s been one of the joys of my life to work with Karen and our beloved AmblesideOnline Advisory members. Getting to create the audiobook for Karen’s Consider This has been an adventure! It’s my first foray into audiobooks, my husband Bill has done the editing magic, and now I’m excited to be able to bring Karen’s work into a new format.”

 

There have been quite a few bumps along the way, but they have brought us to this moment when we can finally say, “Look at this!”

That’s an audio book! It’s immediately available from Amazon and  iTunes. You can click on cover to view the book on Amazon, where a sample of the audio is available to hear. Can you tell I’m excited? I’ve been asked over and over again if this was available as an audio book, and now I’ll be able to answer yes! If you’re wondering about my other titles, Donna-Jean has plans for those, too.

I’ve got promo codes (free audiobooks!) to give away this week on Facebook and Instagram (@karenglassreads). I’ll also give away two codes from the blog here. Leave a comment through midnight Friday telling me why you’d want to listen to the audio version of this book (just to hear Donna-Jean read is a legitimate reason) and I’ll announce the winners on Saturday.

 

Books and Reading 2019

I like reading other people’s “year in review” and reading lists about this time each year, so I usually post one, too. I was looking over my post from last year, where I commented that I certainly don’t post these things to make myself look good. That’s for sure! My happy news is that I read more books than last year, when I read more books than the year before. My grand total is 51 full books, although I read some other things (a Shakespeare play, portions of many books that were not read in full) that I’m not listing.

Once again, my first category is Elizabeth George, who gets a whole category to herself just because I’m in the process of rereading her books. There wasn’t a new one this year—I have hopes for 2020! (Word of advice: read them in order. The first one is A Great Deliverance. )

Elizabeth George

In Pursuit of the Proper Sinner
Traitor to Memory
A Place of Hiding
I, Richard
With No One as Witness
Careless in Red
Believing the Lie

Classic and Literary Fiction

Cancer Ward by Alexander Solzhenitsyn
The Bone Clocks by David Mitchell
Come Rain or Come Shine, by Jan Karon
The Razor’s Edge by Somerset Maugham
Cousin Phyllis by Elizabeth Gaskell (audio)
Coromandel Sea Change by Rumer Godden
Gaudy Night by Dorothy Sayers (reread)
To Be Where You Are by Jan Karon
Hannah Coulter by Wendell Berry
Esther Waters by George Moore
Persuasion by Jane Austen (reread)
News from Thrush Green by Miss Read (reread)
Northanger Abbey by Jane Austen (reread)
Emily Climbs by L.M. Montgomery (reread)
At Home in Mitford by Jan Karon (reread)

I averaged more than one of these per month, so I’m pretty happy about that. On the other hand, about a third of them were rereads. I don’t think I mind—rereading is a good thing. Of the books that were new to me on this list, I think The Razor’s Edge was probably my favorite. I’ve wanted to read it for so long! But Jan Karon is up there pretty high, too. Having finished all the Mitford books at long last (I dawdled over the last few, knowing they were coming to an end), I decided to go back to the beginning and reread them all. Jan Karon will probably get her own category in 2020.

Elbow-chair Reading

(If you’re not sure what I mean by that, be sure to check out my reading post from last year.) There are a few here that perhaps should be on my literary fiction list, but I suppose that’s balanced by a few on that list that should perhaps be on this one. If I haven’t provided a link, it’s because I don’t think you should bother.

The Orphan Sisters by Shirley Dickson
The Virgin in the Ice by Ellis Peters (reread)
The Unknown Ajax by Georgette Heyer (reread)
A Civil Contract by Georgette Heyer
What Alice Forgot by Liane Moriarity
Finding Sage by Logan Judy
Doomsday Book by Connie Willis
To Say Nothing of the Dog by Connie Willis
Turbulent by T.L. Payne
An Unwilling Guest by Grace Livingston Hill
Aunt Crete’s Emancipation by Grace Livingston Hill (reread)
The Obsession of Victoria Gracen by Grace Livingston Hill
The Stand by Stephen King
The Reckoning by John Grisham (No link—I like Grisham, but this is his worst.)
The Scorch Trials by James Dasher
The Death Cure by James Dasher
The Reluctant Widow by Georgette Heyer
Masquerade by Nancy Moser
Matilda by Roald Dahl (reread)
Cold Flat Junction by Martha Grimes
Stolen Son by Cole Baxter

Most of these would fall into the “guilty pleasure” category, and there is a fair representation of some themes and genres that appeal to me—playing with time, post-apocalyptic, mystery/detective fiction, and whatever category Grace Livingston Hill belongs in.

I probably read a little too much in this category in 2019, but I did a good bit of traveling which included some long plane and train rides, and that’s when I read most of these. Actually, I think all the Georgette Heyers and Grace Livingston Hill titles represent a few days when I was pretty sick. (These average out to nearly two per month, but that’s not how I actually read them.) Connie Willis is my hands-down favorite in this category, but I will also say unabashedly that The Stand was amazing. I don’t read a lot of Stephen King, but he is a good story-teller, and this was a good book. I would call it a post-apocalyptic struggle between good and evil.

Nonfiction

I read a lot of nonfiction this year, far more than this list suggests. However, only books that get finished make this list, and my stack of books-in-progress is something else altogether. If I keep working at it, my finished list for 2020 will probably look a lot more impressive.

A Thousand Miles to Freedom by Eunsun Kim
How to be Unlucky by Josh Gibbs
Spilled Milk by K.L. Randis
A Jane Austen Education by William Deresiewicz
An Experiment in Criticism by C.S. Lewis
Educated by Tara Weston
Maybe You Will Survive by Aaron Goldfarb
Home Education by Charlotte Mason (reread, but you knew that)

My favorites were definitely A Jane Austen Education and Lewis’s An Experiment in Criticism which I read along with others for the podcast group The Literary Life.  And Charlotte Mason. I’m not sure it’s obvious from this list, but if my nonfiction books aren’t about books and education, they are probably memoirs.

This represents, as I said, 51 books which is almost one book per week. I don’t honestly aspire to more, because if I did read more, they would just be fluff. However, perhaps you will grant me an indulgence because there is actually one more book that I read in full this year, and I read it more than once. I’m talking about In Vital Harmony: Charlotte Mason and the Natural Laws of Education. If we can agree that I can count this as a “book I read in 2019,” then I’ll have a nice, tidy 52.

Well, that’s settled then. Thanks. I wish you a happy year of reading in 2020! I have no plans, other than to read whatever I feel like reading on any given day, and that’s usually enough to cover a good bit of ground during the year.

 

 

 

 

(Links are affiliate links, unless I messed that up. You’ll pay nothing extra if you use them, but I will get a small premium which I will apply to the purchase of still more books.)

 

In Vital Harmony now available!

I really am in awe of the privileges we enjoy thanks to technology. I wrote a book. I sent a digital copy to my editor, and she edited it and sent it back. No paper changed hands. I refined the text and my talented, tech-savvy husband did the very professional layout on the computer. Generous margins, a clean and accurate table of contents, and straight text edges do not happen by accident. But still, no paper was consumed in this process. I clicked a virtual “publish” button yesterday, and after waiting a whole twenty-four hours, everything is set up to go. You can go order a copy of this book and Amazon will have a paperback copy at your door within a few days, or a digital Kindle version on your device within minutes. I am in indie author, meaning I self-publish my books, and I am proud of it. I think it goes hand in hand with being a homeschooler. We believe that we can do things, and we go ahead and do them. Sometimes, technology helps.

So, I’m releasing In Vital Harmony (also the Kindle version) into the world to find its own way.  I hope it will contribute to your understanding, not just of Charlotte Mason but of education—what its purpose is and how it operates. I really hope reading this book will ground you in the principles of education in such a way that you go forward with more confidence than before. You know how to manage fire, you know how to live with the law of gravity, and you can be sure that you are teaching well when a few simple principles govern what you do.

Would you be so kind as to consider leaving a review for me at Amazon after you’ve read the book? It’s helpful for future readers to see what others have gotten out of a book, and Amazon is kinder to books that have been reviewed by real readers.

Most of all, I hope In Vital Harmony will be a blessing and encouragement. If it is, I would love to hear from you. Nothing encourages me more than to hear that one of my books made a difference, even a small one. Thank you for being with me on this journey.

 

 

 

(Links are affiliate links–thanks!)

In Vital Harmony for all

As I was writing In Vital Harmony, I had  younger moms in mind—mothers still early in their homeschooling journeys, still thinking about how they want to teach and trying to find time to learn for themselves while caring for young children. Who else has to address phonics, fractions, and potty-training on the same day, while also doing laundry and providing meals? I wanted to write In Vital Harmony  for you, to give you a one-stop overview of the important principles that will lighten your load as a teacher and ease the burden of decision-making when you are confronted with a bewildering array of educational options.

At the same time, I wondered if there would be anything here for the Charlotte Mason veteran—someone who has already read her books and immersed themselves in her methods for a long time? As I said earlier, I’ve never been interested in just rehashing and translating Charlotte Mason. This book also goes a step or two beyond—my deliberate attempt to articulate her message for our time and our culture. While Charlotte Mason has always been my educational mentor, I have not focused as much on her as a person as I have on her life’s passion. Education was her topic of interest, and so I made education my topic of interest as well—the principles or laws that govern it, and how those could best be adhered to. This book began because of some questions I asked myself, and it grew as I found the answers to those questions.

My fundamental question was: Since all knowledge is connected, how are these twenty principles related to each other? And another aspect of that was: Can I represent the relationships in a graphic form?

I reread the series, looking for the answers, and they were there. I found the relationships, but representing them in a graphic form turned out to be … challenging. I hope readers of In Vital Harmony will appreciate the simplicity of the final design, which bears no resemblance at all to my initial chaotic attempts.

I asked a few knowledgeable friends to beta-read the book, and I’m pleased to say that one of them, Cindy Rollins—popular podcaster and author of Mere Motherhood—has written a foreword. I’ll save that for readers of the book, but I want to share the thoughts of another friend who has been using Charlotte Mason’s methods for over ten years:

I was recently asked, as a “veteran” CM user, to give my impression of Karen Glass’s new book, In Vital Harmony. The main question was whether veterans would find it boring. That is, would it elicit the response, “Yeah, yeah, I’ve heard all this before—many, many, times!”? As it turns out for me, absolutely not! Now, perhaps it is because I can’t get enough of Charlotte Mason philosophy, but as I read Karen’s book, delightful feelings of clarity and confirmation and conviction followed me all the way through.

Even veterans who know that their knowledge needs to be constantly renewed and refreshed do not wish to get bogged down in a heavy tome, and Karen Glass has provided for them, as well as new CMers, a resource that is both wonderfully light and rich. (Kay Pelham, experienced Charlotte Mason homeschooler and music teacher)

I really appreciated hearing that! So, as it turns out, In Vital Harmony isn’t just a book for those getting started with Charlotte Mason—it’s for everyone. No matter how well you already know her philosophy, you’re probably going to find some new insight in this intensive dive into her principles. Another CM veteran told me:

In short, you asked if I think this book has appeal and something to offer to both newbies and veterans, and my answer is a resounding YES. Hard to hit this nail on the head, but you have done so. (Dawn Duran, Charlotte Mason homeschooler, organizer of several CM conferences and co-ops, and author of Swedish Drill Revisited)

One thing I’m really excited about is the infographic of the twenty principles. I drew a few dozen versions, all of them clunky and ugly beyond belief (it might be amusing to share them sometime but I’m probably too vain–they’re pretty bad). It was a process, though, that helped me to refine my understanding and to show the relationships between the principles. It’s been the work of over a year to develop the graphic with the indispensable assistance of a real graphic designer (who also happens to be a Charlotte-Mason educated person raised in my own home), and the final version is clean and clear and tucked into the final chapter of In Vital Harmony on one single page. It looks so simple, but it represents some of the hardest thinking I’ve ever done, and I hope it will make Charlotte Mason’s twenty principles feel cohesive and harmonious for many, many future educators.

That’s all I’ve got by way of introduction. I hope this series has whetted your appetite for what I hope will be a very helpful book. The next time I post here—it won’t be long—it will be to tell you that In Vital Harmony: Charlotte Mason and the Natural Laws of Education, with a foreword by Cindy Rollins!—is ready for purchase.


If you haven’t yet signed up for the newsletter I’ll be launching in 2020, I hope you will. I’ve got some exciting projects underway and this will be the best and earliest way to hear about them. I’ve also prepared a free printable for you–a two-sided bookmark with an abbreviated version of the 20 principles that will be very useful as you read In Vital Harmony or the CM Series itself. (Please click “email” to give me permission to send you the newsletter, in compliance with GDPR.)

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Practices are linked to Principles

Just a note–I’m going to let the sale of Principles at the Helm run through the end of the week, so there’s still time to grab it at 50% off if you want to.


In the first post in this series, I mentioned that all educational practices are based on educational philosophies. This is always true, but it is pointedly true in Charlotte Mason’s case, because she was trying on purpose “to sketch out roughly a method of education” which rested “upon a basis of natural law.”

What that means is that the specific practices of a Charlotte Mason education—narration, the use of living books, nature study, her approach to art and music, and much more—are firmly grounded in the principles. In Vital Harmony is divided into two parts—the first part of the book covers the natural laws of education that Charlotte Mason included in her principles, and the second part of the book is devoted to the methods and practices.

However, this isn’t a “how to” book. I have not merely described Charlotte Mason’s approach to every area of the curriculum, because you can find that elsewhere. Maybe you’ve been using the methods already for a while, and could explain them yourself just as well as I could. I’m not really interested in writing books that simply rehash what Charlotte Mason already said.

Instead, as I’ve discussed the methods and practices and areas of study, I’ve taken care to focus on the way that the practices are grounded in the principles. Why narration? Why chronological history? Why nature study? I think if we connect the practices to the principles, we’ll find them more easy and intuitive to implement. Charlotte Mason said:

Every subject has its living way, with what Coleridge calls “its guiding idea” at the head, and it is only as we discover this living way in each case that a subject of instruction makes for the education of a child. (Parents and Children, p. 279)

In the practical part of In Vital Harmony, I’ve called attention to some of the “guiding ideas” that should govern our studies of math and history and science and more. When you know why you’re including these things in the curriculum, you’ll find the answers to your questions about what to do are resolved as easily as deciding where to build a fire in your house or yard. It’s not really that hard when you understand the principles well, and it’s as easy and natural as Charlotte Mason promised it would be.


I’ve got a free gift for you!

Beginning in 2020, I’m launching a newsletter (to be sent out as frequently as I manage to create each one) which I hope will be an encouragement to you as you continue to learn and study the natural laws and principles of education, particularly as Charlotte Mason explained them to us. If you plan to read In Vital Harmony, you might find it convenient to have a list of the principles on hand for reference, as I refer to them by their designated numbers throughout the book. (Children are born persons is the first principles. Education is the science of relations is the twelfth principle.)

I’ve created a printable, two-sided bookmark with all twenty principles in abbreviated form for quick reference, and that’s my free gift to you for signing up for the newsletter. I think the newsletter will be a real encouragement to you as you learn and grow as a mother and teacher, so the bookmark is just a nice bonus.

To comply with GDPR requirements please just click “email,” which will give me permission to send you the newsletter. I don’t plan to mail anything to your home or target you for advertising. But I do hope you’ll subscribe to receive exclusive articles, news about what I’m reading and studying, and updates about new projects. I’ve got some interesting things in the works. (You’ll receive an email asking you to confirm that you want to subscribe—be sure to check your spam folder and add the newsletter to your address book.)

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Vitalizing Principles and a special offer

I’ve been talking about natural laws, and now it’s time to talk about the natural laws that govern education. There is another word we use to describe these natural laws, and that word is principle. Charlotte Mason used the words together to underscore the fact that they are essentially the same thing:

We labour under the mistake of supposing that there is no natural law or inherent principle according to which a child’s course of studies should be regulated. (Philosophy of Education, p. 156)

And there you have it. The simple statement that education—a child’s course of studies—should be regulated by natural law, which might also be called an “inherent principle” of the universe. Charlotte Mason listed twenty principles for us, but they do not carry equal weight. In The Story of Charlotte Mason by Essex Cholmondeley, Miss Mason raised the question:

What if those two or three vitalizing educational principles could be brought before parents?

Why, if there are only two or three vitalizing (life-giving) educational principles, did she give us twenty? The fact is, there really are two vital principles, and all the rest of the twenty can be understood as adjuncts or aspects of those two. I’m going to tell you what they are—it’s not a secret—but I don’t have room here to make a complete case for this, nor to explain how the rest of the principles operate in harmony with those two to form a unity of thought and purpose that underpins all of Charlotte Mason’s methods. That’s what In Vital Harmony is all about.

So, here are the two—Children are born persons and Education is the science of relations. (I discussed the idea of a principle and these two vital principles in the seminar Principles at the Helm.) If you are acquainted with Charlotte Mason, you may not be able to rattle off all twenty of the principles, but I am willing to guess that you have heard of these two principles.

I found it interesting that in the 1960s, long after Charlotte Mason’s death, the PNEU claimed exactly these two principles as the ones that guided all their work:

The educational principles of Charlotte Mason which guide us in our work are: the value and importance of a child as a person, and the fact that ‘education is the science of relations.’ ( https://www.amblesideonline.org/PR/PR74p213WorkinPUS.shtml )

Understanding how the rest of the principles support these two will make them stronger and clearer in your mind. You’ll be able to use these principles to support your educational endeavors in the same way you know how to use fire to grill steaks or heat your home. They are easy and natural, and the better you understand these principles in all their aspects, the easier it will be to spot them when they show up in other guises, being discussed in other terms. Perhaps even the ponderous academic ones.

I recorded the Principles at the Helm seminar last year because I knew In Vital Harmony wouldn’t be ready until now, and I wanted to share these ideas a bit sooner. If you want a sneak peak at part of what’s in the book, the seminar will be on sale for the next three days at the best price ever—50% off. Use the code LAUNCHDISCOUNT or just click on the title.