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!