Anne is long-time friend and colleague, and it’s been very great privilege to work with her as part of the Advisory at amblesideonline.org . I’ve visited her home and chatted with her in person on a few wonderful occasions as well. She was one of my earliest readers, and asked me to share this review here.
Review of Consider This
by Anne White
It has been my privilege to have worked with Karen Glass as a fellow CM homeschooler and friend for many years. During that time, she became our “go-to person” on questions of classical education, and she often shared interesting parallels to Charlotte Mason’s writings that she had found in her own wide reading and research. Many of us hoped that she would someday be able to put her insights together in a book. I was delighted to be able to preview a copy of Consider This, which gets its title from Charlotte Mason’s response to a request for educational advice. Miss Mason responded, “The answer cannot be given in the form of ‘Do’ this and that, but rather as an invitation to ‘Consider’ this and that; action follows when we have thought duly.” It is a good title for a book that asks us to consider the deep foundations and traditions behind Charlotte Mason’s philosophy, and then (as Charlotte Mason and the classic educators would thoroughly approve), challenges us to put those ideas into practice. Karen considers the classical ideal of the unity of knowledge, reflects on what happened to that ideal, and offers (with Mason) suggestions on how we might attempt to reclaim it.
The ideas of the book are developed logically through each chapter, and though there is an occasional stop for review, the author does not often need to retrace her steps. She begins with a few fundamental questions such as what a person is, and whether character is born into children (a large concern in Mason’s time). If children are meant to develop character, if it is something that can be taught, then the classical goals of education become clear: that “the development of the intellect was meant to serve in the formation of good character, and good conduct was the desired end of wise thinking.” Along with the goal of virtue, Karen discusses two other important components of a truly classical education: humility (teachableness) and synthetic thinking, “an understanding of the unity of all knowledge which was well understood….in the past but has been all but obliterated in the present.”
And it was on my second or third reading of this book that my understanding of “synthetic thinking”…synthesized. I suddenly got a much clearer understanding of why Charlotte’s famous quote about the “small boy in Japan,” who got excited about realizing that everything fits into everything else, was so vitally important, and also why she felt so strongly attracted to a particular fresco in an Italian chapel (described in this book as well) that showed a unity of all learning under the Holy Spirit. Yes, I had read these before and thought I understood them well enough. But in terms of classical education wanting to teach not only virtue BUT the unity of knowledge as a goal in itself–there was something there I had missed. More than once Charlotte Mason suggests that the essentials–the real essentials–of education can be achieved by the age of twelve to fourteen; but we assume she meant merely that you could become reasonably literate, have somewhat of a grasp of history and science, and be able to handle everyday mathematics by that time. But what she meant was that she wanted that period “for the establishing of relations.” Her thought was that a student taught by her methods–which reflected the classical traditions–would, by that point, not only have begun to exercise her “Way of the Will” (relating to the “action that follows when we have thought duly”), but would also have grasped “the universe as a whole…understanding that all things are connected to other things, and ultimately to God, and to yourself.” It was that understanding, in combination with virtue and humility, that she expected an educated person to emulate.
Karen Glass spends some time comparing this almost-lost idea of synthetic thinking with its modern-day antithesis, analysis. She uses the metaphor of eating an apple vs. ingesting its separate parts, and reminds us that we each have to develop those relationships for ourselves. The later chapters consider the classical approach to reading and language, the use and misuse of terms such as “the trivium,” and the place of science in a classical education. She also points out that even narration, so closely associated now with Charlotte Mason, was actually drawn from much earlier works by Erasmus and Comenius. And although this form of learning may be older than we realize, it is also radical. If we emphasize synthetic thinking in the elementary years, we are going against much of what contemporary educational practice takes for granted. If we have considered these points, we will almost certainly be looking at a very different orientation for our classrooms and homeschools.
If what we or our children have experienced in school has left us unfulfilled, or if it seems to be only head knowledge, that may be because education has forgotten its classical roots, or because we have attempted to apply its practices without understanding its thought. Karen’s book offers parents, educators and other interested thinkers the chance to build a few of those needed “relationships” for ourselves. As Mitford’s Father Tim says: “Well done.”