There’s an idea popular in some homeschooling circles that the classical model and Charlotte Mason homeschooling are very different things. The first is for serious scholars, the second is a less rigorous course of study.
In her book Consider This: Charlotte Mason and the Classical Tradition, Karen Glass clarifies both the historic tradition that Charlotte Mason writes out of and the sometimes limited understanding of the classical tradition.
Central to her project is highlighting the fact that grammar, dialectic, and rhetoric are often misunderstood in contemporary discussions of the classical Christian tradition. They do not refer to different ages and stages or even to different subjects of study, but rather to different arts.
If we can get a vision of grammar, logic, and rhetoric not as subjects to be studied but as arts to be practiced and refined in the process of reading, narrating, and writing, we can see how beautifully Charlotte Mason’s methods may be considered a synthetic implementation of the trivium of classical instruction, more especially when the ultimate goal of forming character and virtue is recalled (86).
Notice that Glass uses the term synthetic implementation. She is using the term in contrast to analytic thinking that would seek to separate things in order to master them. Instead, Charlotte Mason is interested in a synthetic approach, bringing disparate parts into a coherent whole. This absolutely intriguing idea is worthy of contemplation. It seems to me that it might be used as an organizing principle for all our work. How does this new area of study fit into a holistic understanding of the world? How can we help our children develop a framework that makes synthesis possible? Glass points out that
all of Charlotte Mason’s practical methods–narration, nature notebooks, history notebooks, making notes in the margins of schoolbooks–are intended to contribute to synthetic thinking. These methods encourage children to making knowledge their own.
Consider This makes it clear that Charlotte Mason and classical Christian models are not in opposition, that Charlotte Mason knew and understood the classical tradition, and that her aims answered deficits that had developed in the classical model. A Charlotte Mason education seeks to breathe life into deadening practices. Echoing the Psalms, Charlotte Mason asks,
How large is the room in which he finds his feet set? and therefore, how full is the life he has before him? (quoted 35).
Karen has created a study guide for deepening your reading available for free at her blog. This would be ideal to use in a book discussion group. And if you’d like to spend a year learning with Karen Glass, she is hosting a free book discussion study of Norms and Nobility by David Hicks at the Ambleside Forums. I highly recommend this group! Karen is an engaged and charitable reader. Her methods of inquiry are a wonderful model in action of synthetic thinking.
If you are curious about the intersection of Charlotte Mason and classical models, Consider This is a rich feast that will deepen your understanding and give you much food for thought.
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