One problem with modern life is the difficulty we have with defining our terms. Some words become labels, and yet can mean vastly different things to different people. When people hear you’re a Christian, maybe they think you handle snakes. Or that you are a die-hard Republican who hates women and likes to judge people for fun. Or that you are a vaguely moral person who may be a hypocrite. And that’s not what you mean at all.
The same thing happens in the homeschooling community, and it has an unfortunate side effect of tripping people up. Labeling something as “classical” or “Charlotte Mason” can mean very different things. In my experience this has often resulted in expensive curriculum and co-op mistakes that don’t fit with my educational philosophy.
That’s why I think it’s really important to read carefully and define your own philosophy and standards. Then, when an opportunity comes along, you can evaluate it in light of what YOU mean by popular terms, rather than what anyone else says.
Karen Glass’s book Consider This: Charlotte Mason and the Classical Tradition is helpful in this regard. The book challenges readers to explore the ways that the classical tradition has changed over time, and how in fact many currently espoused “classical” education techniques and programs are actually grounded in modern invention. But not to knock the classical idea, Glass also gently takes CM fans to task for divorcing Mason’s educational philosophy from the classical tradition in which it is rooted. Ultimately, Glass upholds what Mason actually did, which was consider what was good and working out of the classical mold, and change what was not to fit the ideals–which ARE classical ideals–of pursuing truth, beauty, ideas and synthetic thinking.
A particular strength of the book is Glass’s articulation of the difference between synthetic thinking–“an approach to knowledge that places things together, comprehending the relationship of new knowledge to old knowledge, one discipline to another, and man to all things”–and the purely analytical approach which artificially separates facts from ideas, and disconnects subjects from the whole. Modern education–including, unfortunately, many neoclassical approaches–vaunts analytical thinking at the expense of the integrated, holistic continuing story of synthetic thinking. Glass points out that analytical thinking has its place, but that before we can take things apart, we need to understand how they fit together.
This had me shouting Amen at every turn, as it matches up with my own educational goals and with the reasons that I choose curriculum like Tapestry and use lots of Susan Wise Bauer’s materials–even though die-hard CM’ers often dismiss both resources as classical-not-Charlotte-Mason. I think the focus on synthetic thought and THEN analysis lends itself well to CM ideals and methods, even in materials that aren’t explicitly CM. And likewise I have found that many people who claim Charlotte Mason’s philosophy overlook the synthetic strengths of certain classical ideas.
Can’t we all just get along?!!
Of course not. What works for me won’t work for everyone. But if you are interested in educational philosophy, and especially if you’re homeschooling, I’d recommend reading books like Consider This to help clarify your thinking–whether you self-identify as classical, Charlotte Mason, or neither. Of course, read them with a critical eye, and sort them out for yourself, but I think it’s good to keep thinking through and refining your positions as you go.
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