about Charlotte Mason, Jewish Homeschooling

Children are born persons.

I have recently been reading 12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos by Psychology Professor, Jordan Peterson. One of his 12 rules is “Compare yourself to who you were yesterday, not to who someone else is today.” Probably the single greatest travesty in education today is our stubborn adherence to measurable standards. 19th century British educator, Charlotte Mason, was fighting against the very same thing we are today. Society had become so scientifically motivated, that people really believed they could educate their children in the same way they might organize an assembly line or, in our case, program a robot. But Charlotte Mason knew from her careful observation of children and her broad reading in science, philosophy, education, and many other subjects that education could not be about programming the best worker bee or the most successful high school graduate. It had to be about encouraging the children to grow into the people they were already! In fact, of the 20 principles that guided Charlotte Mason’s educational philosophy, #1 is “Children are born persons.”

Charlotte Mason blogger, Leah Boden, described the difference between our modern system of education and a Charlotte Mason education in this way:

The difference between using Mason’s philosophy as a guiding principle in our homes as opposed to a traditional educational pedagogy is that we’re not seeing our children as a topiary project, clipping away when the growth doesn’t look like it should and trying to shape them to fit our family garden. What we’re doing is mixing ingredients for compost, we’re preparing soil to plant in, we water faithfully and watch our seedlings germinate and grow – as wild as the flower may look!

I would personally take that a step further. I would say that our children ARE the compost! We do our best to provide for their needs in the balance that they need, and then we see what happens!! If you have a compost pile at home, then you know just how often volunteer plants will pop up. Our children already have the seeds within themselves, we just have to continue tending the compost pile and then wait and see what was there all along hidden from our view.

But how does this look in an actual homeschool?!? Well, it looks different in each home because each family and each child are different. But, what it means is that when we sit down to copywork, we are not constantly comparing our child to objective national standards. We are looking at who they were yesterday and providing them with what they need to grow today….not in ten years at graduation! No one begins parenthood thinking, “How in the world am I going to manage to feed my child 2000 meals before they graduate high school? I better start early in case we don’t manage to get around to them all!” That would be ridiculous! You end up feeding your child approximately 2000 meals before they graduate high school by simply taking it one meal at a time.

Charlotte Mason is trying to tell us that feeding our children’s minds is just like feeding our children’s bodies. It happens by setting them before a variety of food one meal at a time. For example, with regards to foreign language, if your family has  recently converted to Judaism and is consequently learning an entirely new vocabulary of “Jewish” words, then perhaps that is all the foreign language your family needs at this point in your life. If your family has dual citizenship in Israel and the United States, then you likely already know English, Modern Hebrew, and “Jewish,” so you might want to consider learning another language. Perhaps you have a child with Dyslexia or Autism, and you just want them to be able to communicate effectively in their home community, so you work heavily in their native language, supplementing with “Jewish,” or perhaps sign language.

A tweet on Twitter today stated that “In the US we lack ‘fluency’ in soccer because we spend little time in the beauty, joy, and cooperation of the acquisition phase. Instead, from the earliest ages, the focus is competition, skills, and techniques of the more deliberate learning phase.” It’s not about developing the right skills and techniques in a foreign language, music, art, etc. in order to out perform others. It’s about learning to appreciate the beauty and joy of those subjects. As David Hicks wrote in Norms and Nobility:

The paideutic man’s attitude toward such activities as painting, drawing, violin playing, dancing, and acting is amateurish, not professional. He knows that one cannot learn the culture defined by these activities passively. Since culture is the unique property of the participant, not of the spectator, the classical academy resists the modern tendency to select only the most talented for participating. The modern school, to the contrary, frequently regards culture as entertainment, and the educator’s cultural mission is taken up with exposing his students to an assortment of entertainments. He hopes to arouse their uncritical appreciation of art without attempting to sharpen their habits of discrimination or to develop their participatory skills.

Give yourself, and your homeschool, the freedom to “compare yourself to who you were yesterday, not to who someone else is today.”

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