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Diversity & Charlotte Mason

~ Is Charlotte Mason too British; too Victorian, too white to be relevant? Is her philosophy too centered on Western Culture to meet the needs of diversity in the 21st century? Maybe her ideas were for a time and place that no longer exist. Maybe it is time to move on- or at the very least, tweak and modify the parts we like to fit the pieces we need to add. ~

I wonder if, when in the crush of a fad you realize it or with the intensity of it all you genuinely think that this is a unique-to-me phenomenon. Ms. Mason often mentions the educational fads of her day and, as hindsight always provides clarity, we find it easy to agree with her assessments. But I sometimes wonder if it was as easy in the moment. There is, within us as human beings, the need to be wary of the temptation to be caught up in the newest great idea or movement.

I wonder if we are not in the swells of a fad. I see within the homeschool community an almost desperate push for “diversity” in the education we are offering our kids. In musing I am not saying that I don’t think these are good and sometimes noble goals- but I do think there is wisdom in stepping out of the wind, making decisions, and charting the future on disinterested analysis rather than first impulse.

In the conversation, I have heard Ms. Mason called into question. Living in Britain at the turn of the century is enough to make her suspect these days, and when you look at the PNEU schedules they do look a bit narrow in their emphasis of Western History, culture, and art in light of the global and diverse reality of our world today. Maybe her ideas were for a time and place that no longer exist. Maybe it is time to move on- or at the very least, tweak and modify the parts we like to fit the pieces we need to add.

I believe the temptation to paint Ms. Mason as irrelevant to our times shows a fundamental misunderstanding of her philosophy. I would like to explore the thoughts I’ve come to as I too have considered how these weighty and relevant issues should affect the future of my homeschool.

The first bit of clarity I came to was the remembrance of the fact that Charlotte Mason offers a philosophy; ideas of why backed by how. In CM circles we call this Method. We need to keep in mind that a Charlotte Mason education is not a specific curriculum or booklist, but a way of understanding how books are to be used and why. This is easy to forget in the myriad of lovely options available today. We think that this booklist or that application is the authentic “CM Education”, and suddenly the audience that that booklist was tailored for becomes our idea of the model Charlotte Mason family.

That so many amazing mamas and companies have made life easy for us can lead us to forget that some of the OG homeschool moms of the 90’s literally applied the CM Method to their local library books! That is all they had, and it worked.That makes sense with a Method. A Method, by definition, is diverse and can be applied to a wide range of people, places, cultures, and books. The trend of embracing British customs like “Tea Time”, while not harmful in the least if that is what you like (I am currently sipping English Tea from a blue and white chintz cup and saucer!) has led some to misunderstand Ms. Mason’s real goals.

She dedicated her life to facilitating a Living Education for ALL children regardless of class, race, place, or aptitude. If that isn’t inclusive, I don’t know what is! Because she offered a Method- not a specific curriculum, and a deep intuitive investigation of human nature and natural laws, this Philosophy of Education is uniquely suited to any culture or country or people group. I am thrilled to hear more and more stories of this education being offered in more and more countries with resounding success. Because she offers a Method not a specific booklist, Ms. Mason is relevant globally!

The second epiphany that I finally felt free to embrace was the PNEU’s emphasis of Western Culture… because they were, in fact, a product of Western Culture! My revelation came with the thought that it is right and fitting for my children to be grounded in the soil from which they spring. I write this as a person with a significant Native American heritage. While that native history and story are important, it is as an American citizen that I have the freedoms I have. The principles of Western Culture were passed to me in a chain of thoughts and actions from the Greeks through the Roman Republic, were sweetened by the message of the gospel of Jesus Christ, grew through groanings, successes and failures, passed through Britain, nurtured America’s founding, and came to me, writing here, freely expressing my thoughts, educating my children at home. My kids need to understand why they have what they have.

While it cannot be denied that Western Culture has passed through an adolescent superiority complex, I think that this truth can taint our perceptions today. In an effort at apology we can forget that for a Westerner to study and celebrate Western Culture is not to say it is superior- but that it is theirs. The ownership and cultivation of one’s culture is proper. The beauty of cultural diversity is that it IS diverse- that the cultures are intact- not mingled into some incoherent gray mass, but distinct. As an American, the part I can add to that beautiful symphony is my culture accurately represented and thoroughly understood.

There is no shame is following a history stream that leads me to myself so that I can first know myself. (“Know thyself” -Socrates-) In knowing myself I can then know others. This is the foundation that I want for my children. Identity is important, and that is what the PNEU understood. The music, art, and legends of a culture ground children in a unique and stabilizing way. It gives them a platform from which to reach the rest of the world. I think of Archimedes when, bragging about his lever, he said: “But give me a place to stand and I could move the earth”. A place to stand is vital. For people living in America, Canada, most of Europe and Australia- regardless of skin color or ethnicity, that place to stand is Western Culture. This is not a statement of superiority, nor is it a claim that it should be the dominant course of study for all countries- but it should be for Westerners! Ms. Mason was relevant to her time and still is in ours because she encouraged a home culture first approach.

The third and final piece that clicked into place was the pivotal thought throughout her books, schedules and talks that essentially asks us to trust that is not our job as teachers to teach and force connection on EVERY topic. In fact, she wants us to understand that connection cannot be forced at all. We are to open many doors for our children, offer many relationships to them and trust that they will develop and “go deep” with the ones they need and where the Holy Spirit leads. She says that to know- really know- even a single person or event from a time period will open the door of relationship to all of the other people and events around them. The goal is not all but some, with meaning and depth - a wide range of some, but most definitely not all. It is simply not within our power to give our children the full scope of history for the entire world. To attempt to do so would only give the kind of shallow, glossed over sweep that feeds stereotypes and even bigotry. Rather, referring again to the place to stand, - give them a firm place to stand, ideally their home country (another Charlotte Mason principle) and let them reach from there. The true beauty of a Charlotte Mason education is the preservation of curiosity so that they WANT to reach- and continue to reach. A fly-over of Chinese, African, or Pacific Island culture in your K-12 years does little good and possibly much harm. Are we willing to trust the Method with this one?

The times in which we live and the issues with which we are surrounded have challenged me as I am sure they have challenged us all. They have made me look hard at what I do and why - which is always a good thing. I'm afraid many have wondered if they were naïve and idealistic when choosing Charlotte Mason as the bedrock to what they do. For me, the answer is no. I think that we caught the ring of truth in the ideas she articulated. Far from damage that truth, times like these let us see just how far that truth runs. It ran deeper than I suspected. But isn’t that always the case with truth, its defining trait - it is immensely relevant for all times and all people. And that is what I see in a Charlotte Mason Education. It truly is an education for all people, in any culture and especially for our time.

There is a pressure to change what we do.

When in the midst of an Educational Fad do you know it?

May we be thoughtful beyond emotion, grounded due to principles, purposeful not manipulated.

S.Timothy 2021


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