Charlotte Mason and Comenius #8–Conclusion

Now that it’s finished, I feel that this blog series went by in a hurry, but this is the 8th post in as many weeks, and it’s time for me to wrap this up and move on to other projects.

While reading The Great Didactic, there were just so many little things that reminded me of Charlotte Mason, in addition to the things I’ve already shared. I’m going to just make a few notes here.

(1)   In the history of education, many writers examine the questions of education beginning with “school age” children, jumping into the question of curriculum or order of studies as the first order of business. Both Charlotte Mason and Comenius recognized that education properly begins in infancy, and that habits of observation and correct speech, and the beginnings of all kinds of knowledge, are appropriate material for young children and lay the groundwork for more “academic” studies later.

(2)   Both Comenius and Charlotte Mason recommended that school work for children take no more than 4 hours a day, so that there would be plenty of time for outdoor nature study, pursuing interests, and…

(3)  …Handicrafts! Both of them also recommended that children learn to work with tools and materials, for a variety of reasons.

(4)   Both take a high view of man. Charlotte Mason’s first principle is, of course, “Children are born persons.” The title of the first chapter in The Great Didactic is “Man is the highest, the most absolute, and the most excellent of things created.” The first question addressed in any good philosophy is “what is man?”–and they both articulate their positions well.

(5)   Both recognize that children have a natural appetite for knowledge, a desire to learn. I smiled a bit at this quote from Comenius:

To whom is it not a pleasure to go to some new place daily, to converse with some one, to narrate something, or have some fresh experience? In a word, the eyes, the ears, the sense of touch, the mind itself, are, in their search for food, ever carried beyond themselves. (The Great Didactic, p. 195)

Comenius connects this idea to the ancient educator Aristotle: “As Aristotle says, the desire of knowledge is implanted in man: and the mind grows as the body does–by taking in proper nourishment, not by being stretched on the rack.”

(6)   Comenius and Mason, being so convinced of the value of every child, and of the natural appetite in each to learn, believed that education should be for ALL–not the privileged, the rich, the elite, the high-born, but literally for all–including girls as well as boys. In fact, Charlotte Mason herself quotes from The Great Didactic to underscore her point.

I have in this volume attempted to show the principles and methods upon which education of this sort is being successfully carried out, and have added chapters which illustrate the history of a movement the aim of which is, in the phrase of Comenius,–– “All knowledge for all men.”(Philosophy of Education, p. 20)

(7)   Comenius said, “All things that are naturally connected ought to be taught in combination,” and also, “It may be laid down as a general rule that each subject should be taught in combination with those which are correlative to it.”

It reminds me of the way that Charlotte Mason makes literature and citizenship ancillary to history. She liked to correlate subjects when it made sense, although she didn’t like to take it as far Herbartian-style “unit studies.”

I must commend any further study of the rationale of our syllabus to the reader’s own kind consideration; he will perceive that we have a principle of correlation in things essential, but no fatiguing practice of it in detail. (Philosophy of Education, p. 276)

I don’t want to leave the impression that Charlotte Mason and John Amos Comenius are carbon-copies of each other. They are not. Both of them were original thinkers, but because they begin from the perspective of Christianity, and because they purposed to seek out natural, universal laws of mind, teaching, and learning, they both tapped into the same vein of Truth about man, his purposes, and how education can best prepare him for those purposes.

Incidentals like 4-hour school days and handicrafts are interesting similarities, but the interesting point is less that they happened to propose the same things and more that basing their ideas upon universal principles led them to startling similar methods and conclusions.

I think I’ve probably said enough on this topic. I think Charlotte Mason, like Comenius, really stands out from among other educational philosophers because of her strong Christianity, her broad understanding of the humanities to include things like science and handicrafts, and her search for natural, transcendent laws of education–laws which were to be discovered, not manufactured–and above all, for offering practical, workable methods based upon those laws and principles.

I have one more thing to share about Comenius, but not pertaining to Charlotte Mason–a book review of sorts. Look for that in the next few weeks. I hope you’ve enjoyed learning about Comenius as much as I have!

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