Christian Classical Education and Charlotte Mason

I had someone ask about the Classical form of education recently. They told me they were going to homeschool and seemed drawn to it. They asked how it worked, what they needed to do to be a “Classical homeschooler”. They also mentioned Charlotte Mason and said it appealed to them as well. They were torn between the two. I realize I have seen this a lot online. People talk about being torn between these two “systems” or melding the two of them together. It makes sense that these two methods would attract a similar crowd because Charlotte Mason is Classical.

When I was first drawn to Classical I thought it was a specific method or plan. Initially I thought it was the “Trivium”, or at least the Trivium as we have changed into levels of learning: Grammar, Dialectic, Rhetoric. This seems to be the most prevalent way of thinking of it. Dorothy Sayers espoused this and it has been carried on in sources like The Well Trained Mind. There is nothing wrong with this form as a road map but it doesn’t go deep enough. It doesn’t really get to the heart of what Classical aims to do.

Next I thought it was all based in Socratic discussion. I thought it was less about a rigid system of learning and testing, and more a free flowing discussion about the big topics in life. Socratic discussion is great, a good tool, but it isn’t the totality of Classical education. It is simply one way.

The more I read, the more I study the ideas of what makes up Classical Education, the more I see it isn’t one system or another. Instead, it is a goal. Classical education was about instilling virtue and wisdom, about living up to an ideal. It was about teaching students to love the ideal so they would strive after it the rest of their lives. There were different schools of thought as to the best way to do this. The main two were the Rhetorical and Philosophical. In the Rhetorical schools teachers guided their students to contemplate great texts and works of art, believing that such contemplation would enable them to grow in wisdom and virtue. In the Philosophical schools teachers guided their students through analysis of ideas via Socratic dialogue, believing that insight into the heart of things would enable students to grow in wisdom and virtue. The philosophers and rhetoricians had different methods but the goal was the same, wisdom and virtue. So it should be today.

The Christian Classical philosophy of education takes this idea and acknowledges that God is the source of the ideal, everything good flows from Him. So the goal shifts from chasing the ideal to chasing Him. Students are still taught to love the true, good and beautiful, but the goal is to know Him better. So a Christian Classical education should be a normative experience not just a utilitarian collection of lists of knowledge. It should not be limited to a pragmatic exercise of accumulating skills for a career. It should teach the student to evaluate the world by God’s standard by asking the right questions. It should teach students the ideal embodied by Christ that they are to strive after. It should instill in them a love of the true, the good, and the beautiful so that in Christ they are better able to know, enjoy, and glorify God. I talked about this more here.

There are different ways to accomplish this, but that should be the goal.

Practically speaking, you can use a lot of different resources or curricula to help guide you. You can read to find out more about the ideas behind this philosophy. Some really good resources are Norms & Nobility by David Hicks, The Liberal Arts Tradition by Clark & Jain, The Abolition of Man by C. S. Lewis, Beauty in the Word and Beauty for Truth’s Sake by Stratford Caldecott, Wisdom and Eloquence by Littlejohn and Evans, and The Great Tradition by Richard Gamble.  Consider This: Charlotte Mason and the Classical Tradition by Karen Glass, which shows that Charlotte Mason is indeed a conutination of the Classical tradition, is forthcoming.

The Core by Leigh Bortins, The Latin-Centered Curriculum by Andrew Campbell, and Simply Classical by Cheryl Swope are more instructional and less philosophical. Look at Veritas Press, Memoria Press, Ambleside Online (which I believe got a lot of inspiration from Norms & Nobility), Tapestry of Grace, My Father’s World, Heart of Dakota, Simply Charlotte Mason, Epi Kardia, WinterPromise, An Old Fashioned Education, Sonlight, and Classical Christian Homeschooling. Truthquest History (which I talk about more here, under History/Literature) is also a wonderful program that you could add to whatever else you are doing for the other subjects. There are a ton of choices out there. In truth, many different curricula can be used and adapted, as long as the goal of nourishing the student’s soul toward a love of the true, good, and beautiful, ultimately God, is kept in mind.

The goal is the thing, the method is secondary. As long as you are prayerfully working on inculcating a desire for the goodness of God, teaching your children to run after Him, He will take care of the rest.


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