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.


  1. Yes! I think this is an important reason why a CM education goes in such a different direction from unschooling, even though it would seem like both philosophies believe strongly that "Children are born persons." I think that unschooling emphasizes the individuality of children, while Charlotte Mason balanced that with an emphasis on the humanity of children. Children are born persons, therefore they are due a generous, liberal arts education. This common humanity is also why we give them living books, why "mind appeals to mind." ("...mind appeals to mind and thought begets thought and that is how we become educated. For this reason we owe it to every child to put him in communication with great minds that he may get at great thoughts; with the minds, that is, of those who have left us great works; and the only vital method of education appears to be that children should read worthy books, many worthy books." -Vol. 6, p. 12)

    (Sorry for the long comment...just got a little excited there!)

  2. Anne!! Such a thought. Very helpful and so Lewisish.