I mentioned last time that our fire-managing practices are guided by principles that we understand. Because fire burns, it has to be contained by something nonflammable. You can toss paper and scraps of wood on your fire safely, but not aerosol cans (they’ll explode) or plastic (it produces toxic fumes). Because fire burns, you won’t try to build a fire with wet wood and you won’t build a fire at all in a hot, dry climate currently experiencing drought.
Who made up all the rules about fire management? No one did, really. The guidelines grew out of the principles that we have learned about fire. That stuff is dangerous. But also useful. These universal principles about managing fire are based on “natural law.” The natural law is the simple fact that “fire burns” and the guidelines for good, safe practices are based on understanding how that principle works and all that it means.
Perhaps you live within the boundaries of a city or town which forbids you to build a fire in your yard. That is not a natural law, but a man-made law. It’s still within the possibility of natural law to build a bonfire to burn your leaves or toast marshmallows. But even the man-made law is grounded in the knowledge of natural law—fire burns and spreads easily—and was created in the interest of safety.
If you break a man-made law about fire, the consequences will be man-made consequences. You’ll pay a fine, go to court, maybe even go to jail. If you break the natural laws of fire, you risk the natural consequences of breaking that law. Property may be destroyed. Someone may be hurt or killed. Because fire burns. We might occasionally escape the consequences of breaking a man-made law, but rarely do we escape the consequences of violating natural laws.
I shared all that to focus our attention on the way that natural laws operate in the world. We must remember that physical laws are not the only laws of the universe. There are also natural laws that govern human behavior and thinking. There are natural laws that operate in the realm of education, and it was Charlotte Mason’s stated purpose to build educational methods (like fire-safety practices) that were in perfect accordance with the natural laws she perceived. In the first chapter of her first volume, she wrote:
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, emphasis added)
I want to add a few words about that “Divine blessing.” Just as there are natural consequences of defying natural laws, there are natural blessings as well. If you shape your behavior correctly according to the natural law that fire burns, you can warm your house, cook your food, and dispose of your trash. This is a divine blessing because it comes from following natural law, which originates with the divine Lawgiver. If you shape your educational methods correctly according to the natural laws that govern education, you will be rewarded with the blessings of education and what it is meant to effect in the life of a person.
Now that we’ve established that, the next question is—of course—what are the laws that govern education? And I’ll talk about that a bit next time.