Educational philosophy. I know—those words don’t really inspire anyone. They sound heavy and ponderous. If someone is holding forth on the topic, we may believe that we are (probably) capable of understanding it all perfectly well, but even if we are not entirely perplexed, we expect to be rather bored. Not too many people get excited about educational philosophy.
But they should.
If you are involved with children, you are involved in some aspect of education. Whether you understand and acknowledge it or not, you are operating according to some philosophy of education. Even if you tend to operate according to a set of rules or guidelines, those rules or guidelines were created somewhere, by someone, on the basis of some philosophy. Do you know what it is? Are you sure you agree with it? It is true?
And does it matter at all? Perhaps educational philosophies are much like socks, and one is pretty much as good as another, so long as they keep your feet warm. Dull gray, bright patterns, and even mismatched socks get the job done, so maybe it’s just a matter of preference. That’s a comfortable way to think, but is it the right way? Are educational philosophies as interchangeable and relatively unimportant as socks?
I don’t think so. And if you’re here, reading this, I don’t think you think that, either. Educational philosophy matters, and it matters because it is the foundation we have for teaching the most precious things in our lives, the most valuable resource for the future—our children. Nobody wants to mess that up, and the truth is, if we think about it too much, we can find ourselves paralyzed by fear which manifests itself in many ways. Maybe you’ve done one these things, or know someone who has:
Have you spent hours researching curriculum, hoping to find that comprehensive, all-in-one program that will fill every gap? Have you jumped from one curriculum to another or from one educational method to another within the same school year? Have you listened to speaker after speaker, lecture after lecture, podcast after podcast, convinced each time that you’ve found the answer, only to find yourself in doubt when you hear the next? Are you afraid to skip a lesson, substitute a book, take a year and half to finish a book meant for one year? Do you find yourself asking other people what you should do for math, or Latin, or which foreign language you should study?
There is an antidote to this fear and uncertainty, and it is knowledge. Not knowledge about which curriculum is best or which foreign language you should study, but knowledge of that ponderous thing, educational philosophy. The good news is, it’s much, much simpler than it sounds. Charlotte Mason wrote:
The fact is, that a few broad essential principles cover the whole field, and these once fully laid hold of, it is as easy and natural to act upon them as it is to act upon our knowledge of such facts as that fire burns and water flows. (Home Education, p. 10)
Educational philosophy doesn’t have to be ponderous and heavy. It should be “easy and natural.” And that’s what I’m hoping In Vital Harmony will make it—I want to take these ideas out of the rarified sphere of academic language so that we can discuss them as easily as we might discuss how to build or manage a fire. There are different ways to manage fire under different conditions, but there are some things we must never do and some things we must always do. You can wear any socks you want to, but you can’t put anything at all on a fire. There are principles to guide us. I’ll talk more about that over the next few weeks leading up to publication—before Thanksgiving!