Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Charlotte Mason is inclusive

by Anne White

A brief exchange on the AO Forum left me wondering if there was something about CM philosophy I'd never grasped. Or maybe I knew it and never realized that I knew it. In any case, putting it out there in words seemed to shine one of those Renaissance-art halos around a half-acknowledged truth:

When we say "Children are born persons," we are acknowledging not only their individuality and their own value as individuals, but also their personhood, their inclusion as human beings.  As Mortimer J. Adler said in his book on philosophy, human beings have several features that make us undeniably more than just a concatenation of atoms or members of some other species.

Those of us who have ever been mildly or wildly startled by a noticeable family resemblance on a prenatal ultrasound, or right after a baby's birth, understand that. Even when ultrasounds weren't quite as distinct, about fifteen years ago, we were surprised to see how much the face of our soon-to-be youngest already looked like her sisters. She was already, recognizably, one of us, part of a family. And each new person (like a Cabbage Patch Kid) also comes with a status certificate marking him or her as a genuine member of the family.

In Wendell Berry's books, the character Burley Coulter calls his circle of close family and friends "the Port William membership." The membership did not apply for inclusion or have to swear a loyalty oath; they just made themselves responsible for the well-being of each other.

It's like the other side of the coin. As a human being, you are valuable and loved because you are you, but you are also valuable and loved because you are us. It's not only what makes each one distinct, it's what draws us together.

Monday, September 7, 2015

Charlotte Mason is permissive

by Anne White

I recently finished reading Susan Cain's book Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking.

One of the ideas that struck me the most was Cain's assessment of cultural extroverted expectations. Raise your hand if you (or your children) were ever told by a teacher that you (or your children) needed to "speak up more in class." Raise both hands if you were told this by almost (to punctuate it currently) Every. Single. Teacher. Even if you thought you were "speaking up in class." Raise both hands and a foot if, on top of that, you were frequently told to "stop reading, go and play with the other children."

When this goes on for years and years, it's no wonder that introverts feel like they're not good enough, don't belong. Even good grades don't quite make up for not fitting into the General Agenda for Normal.

According to Cain, a great deal of this started about a hundred years ago, with Dale Carnegie, personal confidence, and the belief that success in the new century was as much about public face as it was about hard work or intelligence or personal honour. Those who could present well, be sufficiently aggressive or persuasive, got the job, got the client. Think advertising agencies.

With the new demands for common standards, education for many children is, more than ever, the demand that they measure up, academically and socially. Private schools and homeschools can reduce that pressure, to some extent, but we can still find ourselves pushing children to meet our own agenda or someone else's. It might be a required standardized test. It might be one of Charlotte Mason's lists of "attainments," which I personally think have taken on more weight than they should have; they were not intended to be timetables, just potentials if everything else was in place.

Charlotte Mason's philosophy of education is radical. Like Christ's "yoke that is easy," it removes burdens of expectations. It is about training in character, but without demanding a perfect result. It is about drawing in notebooks rather than colouring in the lines. It gives us permission to grow and learn freely, without standing against a measurement chart. Introverts, extroverts, slow learners, fast learners, those who excel in one thing or another, can all belong. Each of us has value because we are made in God's image.

We have permission to be us.

(Did you think I was referring only to the students?)