Charlotte Mason Volume I Part I.VII The ‘reign of law’ in education

Charlotte Mason argues that all education should be conducted by an “orderly, regulated progress under the guidance of Law” (38). I love order, at least in some ways. I like to have things neatly and accessibly organized. I like clear expectations and a harmony between stated rules and actual practice in a workplace. And undoubtedly certain things go more smoothly, more efficiently, when done with a well-organized method — a good knitting pattern is a fine example.

On the other hand, the idea of all education being subject to relentless organization and rules bothers me. How much kids learn through free play without interference or any agenda… or how sometimes the messiest process yields the most beautiful and meaningful results. Things learned haphazardly, carelessly, through seemingly chance encounters and re-encounters, may well settle more deeply and usefully than the same things learned through someone else’s careful and concise summary.

And yet, I suspect that Mason does not intend quite the connotation her phrase brings to my mind. Or at least I have an impression that in some ways she appreciates the value of some spontaneity and freedom, and of the priority of principles, what she calls “method,” over against systems of orderly and specific instructions or steps.

She goes on to mention that the divine laws are sometimes more likely to be inferred by observing life than explicitly stated in the Bible. The Bible, wonderful book that it is, containing all we need to know concerning God and salvation, is not a manual or textbook for any other subject.

Mason notes a danger, not from the wickedness of the godless, but from their goodness, arguing that sometimes those who disbelieve in God nevertheless are more law-abiding, more moral, more ethical, more good in their living than some religious folks. She argues that her approach to education can help mitigate this danger.

I’ll note again that she seems rather classist in this; she describes the danger as not so great after all, because it is “one that parents of the cultivated class are competent to deal with, and are precisely the only persons who can deal with it” (38-39).

The next paragraph seems contradictory. On the one hand, matter and mind alike cannot do anything in disobedience to divine laws — on the other hand, those who ascertain and obey a divine law receive the particular blessing associated with obeying that law, and those who disregard or fail to ascertain and obey a divine law, miss that particular blessing. So… some divine laws of mind cannot be disobeyed any more than the divine law of gravity, whereas other laws of mind can be? Or is it that in some general sovereignty / common grace sense, all things are in obedience to general divine law although not every person at every moment is in obedience to all particular divine laws?

Her main point, at least by the end of the paragraph, seems to be that those who obey God’s laws without regard for God still receive the blessings of obedience, while those who love God but disregard God’s laws receive the blessing of the relationship with him but miss out on the blessings of obedience.

While the blessings of grace and relationship with God trump everything else, Mason argues that it is wrong to therefore dismiss everything else. Christians ought to endeavor to know what can be known about all kinds of things, including how the brain works, and how best to foster truthfulness, diligence, and any other virtue we desire to see in our children. It’s not fair of parents to expect and pray that their children develop such virtues, without making the effort to learn how best to help them do so.

I suppose I have seen something of this; some Christians do think that “grace alone” means to not ask questions, not look too deeply into certain matters, not read or trust or glean anything from any secular source (or from another denomination). Some rely solely on what they consider to be common sense and tradition and whatever interpretations of the Bible seem so obvious as not to be interpretations at all, instead of looking to learn how best to parent, educate, or do anything else. Sometimes it works just fine; sometimes it would benefit from more knowledge; sometimes the allegedly common-sense approach can be downright dangerous.

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2 thoughts on “Charlotte Mason Volume I Part I.VII The ‘reign of law’ in education

    • Karyn, a friend of mine who home schools using Charlotte Mason introduced me to her. The main tenets of the approach — short varied lessons, nature study and lots of outdoor time, narration, quality real whole literature, appealed to me. I figured I ought to read her own writings if I want to use some or all of her approach in our own homeschooling. I am finding some things good, some outdated, some potentially challenging to a gentle parenting philosophy.

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