Some Practices are Principles—Part 3

We’re looking at the practices that Charlotte Mason considered important enough to make into principles. Basically, these are the practices that define what is and what is not “a Charlotte Mason education.” If your educational efforts line up with these educational practices, you can feel confident that you are giving your students a “CM” education. (In my introductory post, I abbreviated the principles for the sake of space, but in the course of the rest of the discussion, we’ll be looking at them in full.)

Before we begin, remember #12—Education is the science of relations!

Today, we’re going to look at principle #13, which has three parts.

13. In devising a SYLLABUS for a normal child, of whatever social class, three points must be considered:

These are the guidelines for “devising a syllabus” which I think probably corresponds to “designing a curriculum.” You don’t have to design your own, of course, but these are the guidelines you can use to evaluate your curriculum choices if you want to follow a CM education. (I have used AmblesideOnline with all my children, and I can recommend it as an excellent CM curriculum, but it is not the only one that will meet these criteria.)

Okay, the first point:

(a) He requires much knowledge, for the mind needs sufficient food as much as does the body.

Your curriculum needs to offer “much knowledge.” No stingy, starvation diet will do, because you are feeding a growing mind. Charlotte Mason elaborates on this principle when she divides knowledge into three categories—Knowledge of God, Knowledge of Man, and Knowledge of the World. She measured the “quantity” of knowledge by page counts, telling us that:

These read in a term from one thousand to between two and three thousand pages, according to age and class, in a large number of set books; the quantity set for each lesson allows of only a single reading. (Philosophy of Education, p. 241)

(There were three terms in each year, so multiply the numbers by three to see how many pages were read in a year.)

You don’t have to make your page counts match hers exactly, and I hope you realize that isn’t the point. These are a “plumb line” against which we can determine whether or not we are acting in accordance with the principles. A difference of 100 pages per term is probably of no great import, but doing half as much, or twice as much, is probably straying from the “best practices” of a CM education. Give your students sufficient food, but don’t overwhelm them so that they lose their appetites, and above all, don’t leave them hungry and unsatisfied.

The second point dovetails closely with the first:

(b) The knowledge should be various, for sameness in mental diet does not create appetite (i.e., curiosity)

I’ve already mentioned the three-fold division of knowledge. When you take it altogether, it makes a long list of “subjects” that get covered. This is the list from a sample programme (for a child of 12) in Appendix IV of School Education:

Bible, Recitation, French, German, Italian, Latin, English History, French History, Roman History, Geography, English Grammar, Singing, [Hand]Writing, Drill, Dictation, Drawing, Natural History, Botany, Physiology, Arithmetic, Euclid, Reading, Composition, Handiwork

For whatever reason, this one doesn’t even mention picture study, but it was included under “drawing,” and it is interesting to note that three options for picture study were given. This note is included, too: “Children who are beginners or have just been moved up from [a lower class], or who find the work difficult, may omit three subjects.” (emphasis added)

The principle/practice of a “wide and generous” curriculum is the standard, but do you see how flexible it could be? The needs of the child—because the first principle that “children are born persons” is always at work as well—allowed the practices to be flexible for them.

Maybe a child couldn’t handle all the foreign languages, so those would be reduced. Maybe he is struggling in math, so Euclid could be set aside this term. Ideally, you’d work it in later, when the child was ready to tackle it. Maybe a child reading below grade level would be given fewer books, or a child recovering from an injury would omit Drill (PE). Or maybe, the student would dive in with gusto and do it all, and the teacher would be on the lookout for an extra book or two to challenge him.

But what you wouldn’t do, if you were following this principle, is to cut out a whole realm of knowledge, or straighten the program to utilitarian subjects, or just the ones that a child liked. “Education is the Science of Relations” is at work here, too, so we labor to form relations in as many areas as we can.

The third part of our curriculum-building principle is extremely pertinent:

(c) Knowledge should be communicated in well-chosen language, because his attention responds naturally to what is conveyed in literary form.

Living books. Need I say more? It’s one of those things that lies at the heart of a CM education and permeates all our thinking on the subject. Whatever books we choose should be living and literary, so we won’t choose dry textbooks, or magazine-style books with lots of graphics and little text (no more than snippets of information). I’ll just tell you now that tomorrow’s principle is going to be about narration, and narration can only be done well from well-written books.

I don’t feel the need to belabor this point, because most of us—CM educators—are inveterate book collectors at the same time, and shelf space is always at a premium. Wherever you are, reading this, I’d be willing to bet you can glance up at a well-filled bookcase. Some principles are just so easy to comply with, aren’t they?

Part 1
Part 2
Part 4
Part 5

(Pictures are used with permission and are found on Instagram in the community @charlottemasonirl [Charlotte Mason In Real Life]. I’m sure they’d love to have you join in.)

This blog series is now available as a short digital book in the “Encore” series for Kindle. The original material from the series, plus bonus content, is collected in one place where you can easily refer to it. Read the Kindle version of Some Practices are Principles or purchase an epub version to read on a platform of your choice.

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