One thing I wouldn’t really have expected to find in In Memoriam, but did, is an appreciation for classical thinkers.
In Parents and Children, Mason presents an interesting argument, contrasting naturalism with idealism. She asks outright “Is our system of education to be the issue of naturalism or of idealism, or is there a media via?” (p. 120)
Her argument is convoluted, but a few pages later, she answers her earlier question: “There is no Middle Way Open.” (page 126). We have to choose between naturalism (nothing but the material world exists) and idealism (acknowledging that there is a spiritual world, which has an impact on the material one). Miss Mason does not reject either one, recognizing that both philosophies are right, but not wholly right.
… we made some attempt to show that the two schemes of philosophy, which have hitherto divided the world, have done so because both are right, and neither is exclusively right.
This is such a position of wisdom–of recognizing the inherent truths in seemingly contradictory ideas, and being able to take advantage of the truths found in both. In fact, Charlotte Mason favored the position of the idealist (without rejecting the truths of the naturalist) because she knew that thought and ideas and religion are all spiritual in nature. Her colleagues knew where she stood.
Miss Mason was an idealist; unperceiving persons might even call her a “mere visionary.” All of us who try to follow in her steps are idealists too, and yet on every hand we hear that what the world wants is a sound, practical, useful education; it has “no use” for the idealist. But, looking back through history, it is inspiring and immensely cheering to notice who it is who have most greatly influenced the world. Is it not always the idealist? The man who attempts the impossible? What practical man of affairs or politics or war or commerce can stand alongside Plato, Socrates, Dante?
For Spirit is stronger than matter and we who know even but a little of Miss Mason’s teaching, know that it rests on eternal truth.
One of those “eternal truths” is the essential unity and wholeness of knowledge (education is the science of relations). This understanding is one of the hallmarks of those who understand classical education. One of Miss Mason’s co-workers compared her thinking and teaching to that of Plato:
She taught the teacher to love teaching and the child to love learning. Her students learnt too that education is not, as in some Universities, a departmental subject; rather, that all life is education, and all education that deserves the name is life. Plato taught, in the Republic, that the theory of education is the theory of life (Philosophy) and its message the message of life (Religion). So likewise taught the wise and noble teacher whose life-work we commemorate, in reverence and thankfulness, to-day.
One reason for pursuing education in this way—with an understanding that all knowledge is connected, or that education is the science of relations—is that it gives us a balanced perspective. We keep in mind that each truth we encounter is always going to be a part of a larger truth. We do not myopically mistake parts for wholes.
And that’s a very easy mistake to make. Miss Mason warns us against it: “we sometimes err, I think, in taking a part for the whole, and a part of a part for the whole of that part.” (School Education, p. 148-49) The antidote is to take a step back and try to see a larger picture.
I have heard philosophy defined as the quest of man for Truth. A study of the great philosophers of all ages (who each discovered part of the truth, he himself thinking he had discovered all,) shows us that the right outlook on life needs the points of view of all of them. Truth must be followed along every line, with all the faculties which we possess; and the sanity of the conclusions we reach will depend proportionately on the number of avenues leading up to the conclusions.
Our conclusions are more certain and secure when we understand that they can be reached from different angles or avenues. This is how universal truths can be recognized! Miss Mason’s colleagues and friends admired her never-ending search for further understanding. She was reading and learning right up to the end of her life, and she understood that classical principle of scholé, which allows time for processing and thinking and the integration of all those things we are learning.
Miss Mason considered leisure to be as important as work, for it is during leisure that ideas are sifted and grow; moreover “leisure out of doors, with all the wild things of Nature, is soothing and restful to the tired mind; it gives a time when ideas can grow.”
Reading In Memoriam makes me a little sad that I didn’t have the opportunity to know Charlotte Mason personally, but I’d rather live in my time than in hers (I wouldn’t be sharing my thoughts with you in this medium if I didn’t!), and I suspect she’d feel the same, so I’ll just be thankful that I have the privilege of “knowing” her at second-hand, through her writings. Let’s follow her example—let’s read and gather the ideas and ideals that will enrich our lives, and let’s give ourselves leisure to think and process, so that the ideas have an opportunity to germinate and bear fruit in our educational endeavors. I hope you have found time, during these summer months, for a little bit of that leisure-and-reflection time that will refresh you before the start of the next school year. If you’re reading something interesting, I’d love to hear about it. My to-be-read list always has room for another excellent book.
This is the last in my “Insights from In Memoriam” series, but I have done no more than skim the surface of all the insight you can find there. If you haven’t already purchased the book, I hope you’ve at least made plans to read it sometime in the future, when time and opportunity allow. I hope you’ll find time in the busy new school year for some of that scholé which will allow you time to process and continue growing and learning yourself. It will make you a better teacher in every way.
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.