The Ideas of Charlotte Mason (as compiled by Ambleside Schools International)
Children as Persons
“We attempt to define a person, the most commonplace person we know, but he will not submit to bounds; some unexpected beauty of nature breaks out; we find he is not what we thought, and begin to suspect that every person exceeds our power of measurement. I believe that the first article of a valid educational creed - ‘Children are born persons’ - is of a revolutionary character… We must either reverence or despise children; and while we regard them as incomplete and undeveloped beings … rather than as weak and ignorant persons, (whose ignorance we must inform and whose weakness we must support, but whose potentialities are as great as our own), we cannot do otherwise than despise children, however kindly or even tenderly we commit the offence.”
No child is viewed as an “incomplete and undeveloped” being; like so much clay in the hands of a system, to be molded by various manipulative techniques. Rather, all children are viewed as persons, created in the image of God with a vast potential. Students are not classified according to strengths or weaknesses, but all participate in a broad, rigorous curriculum. All children calculate, solve, attend, explore, ponder, recite, paint, and sing. All children are held to a high standard in relationship to self, others, ideas, and work. All children are expected to have their ignorance informed and their weakness strengthened, but also to surprise and amaze with the wonder of their God-given potential.
Education as an Atmosphere
“The bracing atmosphere of truth and sincerity should be perceived in every school; and here again the common pursuit of knowledge by teacher and class comes to our aid and creates a current of fresh air perceptible even to the chance visitor, who sees the glow of intellectual life and the moral health on the faces of teachers and children alike.”
Released from the burden of competing for ranks, grades, or prizes, students are free to learn for the pleasure of learning. Teachers maintain an atmosphere that is both inspiring and rigorous. Students encounter real life and great ideas in a natural manner. They observe, explore, understand, and respond. They experience the guiding hand of a teacher that is both loving and firm, allowing the natural consequences of their actions to be experienced, be they enjoyable or somewhat unpleasant.
Education as a Discipline
“By this formula we mean the discipline of habits formed definitely and thoughtfully whether habits of mind or of body. Physiologists tell us of the adaptation of brain structure to habitual lines of thought, i.e. to our habits.”
Rather than placing primary emphasis upon performance on the next exam, teachers focus on the kind of student a child is becoming. Does he give focused attention to the task at hand? Does she put forth consistent effort? Is he thorough? Does she show proper respect to authority? Does he relate well to his peers? In cultivating the habits proper to learning, teachers equip students to master all areas of study to the fullness of their God-given potential. In cultivating the habits proper to mature living, teachers equip students to live full and satisfying lives, rich in devotion to God, service to others, and continuing personal growth.
Education as a Life
“For the mind is capable of dealing with only one kind of food; it lives, grows and is nourished upon ideas only; mere information is to it as a meal of sawdust to the body; there are no organs for the assimilation of the one more than of the other.”
Education properly understood is not merely the assimilation of data and technique; it is the mind feeding on ideas given expression in God’s creation, great art, beautiful music, and “living books.” Real learning occurs when students engage with novelists, poets, philosophers, scientists, mathematicians, artists, musicians, historians, and explorers; when they wonder, ask why and how.