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The Humility of a Broad Education

Be humble. How many times have we wanted to say this to someone! How many rough situations might this balm have soothed? What lovely change would take place in our world if this attribute were the norm rather than the exception? How do we nurture humility in our own hearts and in the little lives over which we have been given temporary charge? I think the answer lies in the kind of education we offer. What is this broad education we hear spoken of when Charlotte Mason’s philosophy is discussed and why was it so important to her?

For Charlotte Mason formal lessons included History, but also Solfa. Science, but also Picture Study. Grammar, but also Nature Study. Mathematics, but also Handcraft. From sloyd to dancing, from composers to poetry; the schedule of a Charlotte Mason week is as diverse as life itself. It is not just about educating the mind- but also the hands. Not just the intellect but also the heart. It is not about mining the one or two things you are gifted towards and focusing on them to the exclusion of all else, but in casting ourselves into wide channels and being challenged in a wide range of pursuits. It is here that humility is born. It is in the nursery of a broad education that we grow beyond our giftings and develop the ability to appreciate the giftings in others.

There is a certain timidity that can come when faced with a new challenge or skill. Ironically enough, it can often strike the most capable among us. Those who typically succeed are accustomed to success and it is uncomfortable to give it up. No one likes to fail, and part of our coping mechanism can be avoidance of new opportunities. To stick ones neck out, try and fail; or, to have to try and try again for only mediocre results is humbling. This doesn’t mean that we are prideful or flawed, it is part of our genetic make-up, to want to succeed. This is normal. But it does mean that an education tailored to pinpointing our strength and honing it to fine point can breed a lack of humility and even arrogance. That narrow focus and sharp point, more than help, can hurt. When we recognize that education is about the whole person, we see that to narrow the educational field is to narrow the person as a whole.

I am blessed nowadays to offer this broad education to many different kinds of children beyond my own family. In all cases the students have thrived as if at last given their birthright. But in the beginning, there is always an uncomfortable squirm when we began to explore some of those “off topic” CM elements that they have not been used to in the past. There is a reluctance to try- to be seen trying, almost like a primitive survival instinct; to face an open ended challenge and the possibility of failing. I have learned to persevere, to push them over the hump; to continue to encourage with optimism. To explain to them- just as I do to the adults in their lives- that, “This isn’t necessarily about creating a wonderful, frameable masterpiece or perfect execution of skill. But rather about trying something new.” Honestly, sometimes the most valuable part of what we take away is the knowledge that, “This is difficult!” Sometimes the lesson is, “There are people out there who are smarter and/or more talented than me!” Sometimes in the end, our effort only serves to make us properly appreciate what someone else has done well. Humility.

Humility is important, that is why a broad education is too. Of course it is important to know what we can do well, but it is also important to be able to recognize giftings and skill in others and that is hard to do when our vision is full of ourselves. We need to see properly, that means our strengths and our weaknesses. We need to be challenged to stay humble. The nuanced balance of success and failure necessary for constructive humility to develop is something I don’t think modern education is equipped to offer.

Of course in this broadness we will find our giftings and hone them out of love. But even in that, the broadness must continue, must be consistently steered towards because it is always deceptively easy to drift towards narrow. This is what we need in our lives, this is what we need to offer our children. This is what a Charlotte Mason education offers us all.

After our most recent handcraft project at Red-Brick, as kids were grabbing up supplies to continue their projects at home, I asked one Form 5 student if he wanted to take any. He smiled, held up his crooked and wobbly attempt and said, “No thank you. I don’t think I will ever do this again. But I am glad I tried it at least once.” I couldn’t have been more pleased. He had tried- and failed and was thankful for and happy about it. He is on his way to being the kind of humble person who will make the world a better place.

S.Timothy 2020


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