Charlotte Mason and the Classical Tradition (Part II) - The Whole Child
“The entire object of true education is to make people not merely do the right things, but enjoy the right things—not merely industrious, but to love industry—not merely learned, but to love knowledge—not merely pure, but to love purity—not merely just, but to hunger and thirst after justice.” -John Ruskin
While we moderns are often prone to see education as only molding and training the intellect, classical educators like Charlotte Mason believed that the education of our intellect serves the greater purpose of informing our conduct. We learn to know in order that we may know how to act rightly, not merely to perform well on tests.
The Greeks believed that the goal of education was to pass on a Paideia, a culture. To use contemporary language, the Greeks would say that education creates a meta-narrative (or worldview) for children which helps them understand the world and live rightly within it.
This worldview, this Paideia, must touch on every aspect of their lives. How should we use our free time? (This was actually the focal point of education for Aristotle.) How should we spend our money? What does the wise care of our bodies look like? How does one act as a good friend? We don’t think of schools being built around answering these types of questions, but our ancestors did. They thought that schools must pass on a comprehensive view of the world that helps children find their places in it and gives them guidance as to how they ought to act in any and every situation that they find themselves. This is how they would have viewed educating the “whole child.”
Before Christ, teachers used to look to “ideal” men and women, people like Achilles and Socrates. These teachers all agreed that we should be shaping our children in the mode of ideal people, but they couldn’t agree as to what that ideal looked like. It wasn’t until Christ came that the ideal was realized and schools (as they Christianized) began to set Him up as their model.
The key virtue of Christ that all students must have, according to Charlotte Mason, is humility. It is a valuable thing to be able to approach every person or object or book with the view of learning something from them. What might be learned from an infant? Or from a tree? What does a worm have to teach us, or a homeless man in the street? This we will never find out, unless we place ourselves in that attitude of teachableness which makes learning possible.
At Charis we desire that our children grow in knowledge—we want them to score well on exams and gain admittance to selective colleges. But we also know that they are more than their intellect and that there is more to education than teaching them to understand, analyze, and reproduce information. More than knowledge we want them to grow in wisdom and virtue. The books we select, the essays they write, the discussions they have—in all of these we want to help them to grow in wisdom and apply wisdom in all areas of their lives. The end goal is a student educated in the whole of life, a student that knows how to apply wisdom and live virtuously no matter what situation or challenge he finds himself in.