In Memoriam #4–“Education is not creative.”

I just want to look at one quote today. Of course, it’s from In Memoriam, but it is also part of the “Draft Proof”—the material drawn up at the founding of the PNEU. Charlotte Mason and her colleagues were very thorough and thoughtful. They were aware of the dangers that lay in certain misunderstandings and fallacies, and they took care to be very, very clear about a few of them.

One of the things that is easy for  students of Charlotte Mason to misunderstand concerns the relationship between education and religion. Education is a topic of its own, and educational principles are not necessarily theological principles, as their sphere is confined to another realm. Charlotte Mason was a Christian, and fully intends her Christianity to inform her ideas about education, but she drew a clear distinction between religion and education. Education can support spiritual development (education is still the science of relations!), but it is not a sure path to a spiritual life.

Education is not creative, it acts upon that which is. For the life of the spirit it does no more than offer two or three helpful suggestions. For instance, reasoning from analogy the science of education teaches that if the spiritual life is to be vigorous it must be daily and duly nourished and daily and duly exercised, but it knows nothing of the “living bread” which is the sustenance of the spirit; nor yet of the spirit’s functions of praise, prayer and adoration. Again, it is by revelation and not by education that man may know God; again, education hardly touches the sad mysteries of sin and temptation, nor the mystery of God manifest in the flesh–of the Birth of Bethlehem, the Sacrifice of Calvary. These things are spiritually discerned. Education can only water and dig about the garden of the soul and sow the seeds of the higher life.

This makes the point clear: “it is by revelation and not by education that man may know God.” That statement strikes me as being particularly relevant, because it seems as if it were designed to be a counterpoint to the opposite teaching, somewhere in the air. I don’t know exactly what that might have been or where it might have been coming from. However, I do know that the clear point Mason and her fellow founders wanted to make was that “education can only water and dig about the garden of the soul”—education is a matter of mind and body, and cannot give spiritual life.

That’s what the first sentence means: “Education is not creative.” It does not create something that is not already there. This is consistent with the principles that were later articulated more completely. “Children are born persons” is the first principle, and part of what Mason wants us to understand is that they have minds already—alive and active and ready to learn. Education “acts upon that which is.” That’s why she says “his mind is the instrument of his education and that his education does not produce his mind.” (Philosophy of Education, p. 36) It can’t do that, because it is not “creative.”

This is why Mason gives education a subordinate role when she describes the relationship between education and religion: education is the “handmaid of religion.” It is a servant, and can perform a servant’s role, but it is not the same thing as “religion,” and educational principles are not theological statements.

Of course, one of the reasons for recognizing  what education can’t do is that it makes the role of what it can do clearer and more definite. And that’s what the PNEU was really all about.

I think the material from the “Draft Proof” is one of the little gems in In Memoriam that make it well worth reading!

If you are interested in reading In Memoriam for yourself—and I hope you are!—you can read the text for free. (That’s where I read it.)

I’m also excited to share that Brandy at Afterthoughts has made a clean, good-quality physical copy available, and included some additional material that will make it more useful for study. I’ll be adding this one to my library! If you want a copy of In Memoriam: A Tribute to Charlotte Mason in your hands, this is the one.



(aff. links)