In the Neal household, there are children who are approaching school age. While we are still undecided on the homeschooling vs. public school vs. private school options (and fortunately we don’t have to decide for a year or so—and some decisions are best made last-minute), we’ve been reading up on various and sundry aspects of education. Most recently that has included Consider This: Charlotte Mason and the Classic Tradition by Karen Glass.
An important note: Charlotte Mason ≠ Charlotte Bronte. They are different old-timey female authors. Or are they?
Glass, drawing on the writings of Victorian Educational philosopher Charlotte Mason, argues that modern education has vastly over-emphasized “analytical” thought, while what we ought to be doing is beginning with “synthetic” thinking. That is, we teach the nuts-and-bolts details in the various (math, language, etc), but fail to begin with instruction in an appealing picture of a whole vision of a mature life. We teach students to memorize multiplication tables (or whatever the Common Core is doing these days), but don’t teach them what “math” is and where it fits into the whole spectrum of a liberal education. As you might expect, the classical liberal arts are at the core of Charlotte mason’s approach, with a heavy emphasis on “literature” in the widest sense.
To put this in Christians terms: our current education system is teaching exclusively systematic theology while what we really need is to begin with a foundation of Biblical theology. Or, to put it in the terms of my own discipline: our current education system is teaching exclusively how to take a poll and balance a budget, but teaching nothing about the big picture of how government works or why budgets and polls matter in the first place.And as far as it goes, I agree with Glass. I mean, I don’t know a whole lot about schools in contemporary America–though if the trends I’ve seen in college are typical they’re undoubtedly struggling. But assuming she’s right about the state of American education, I certainly don’t disagree with her conclusions. Both synthetic and analytical approaches are necessary, and the former ought to come before the latter.
With all that said, I still have some serious questions about what this difference means practically. To some extent, this is going to happen automatically regardless of whether children are homeschooled or sent to public school. Even if a purely analytical approach is used, it will still be done with an assumed synthetic whole. In this case, the primary application of this book is that we should intentionally be clear about that whole, rather than just leaving it assumed. (This is of course something homeschoolers have been saying for years–and something that as Christians we should always be working towards.)
A quick tangent: I was recently part of a discussion group that raised the question of whether Christians ought to send their kids to public schools. One side of the discussion said “no, they’re too far gone.” The other side said “yes, Christians should send their kids in to be salt and light.” My objections to both arguments were that 1) the “schools are too sinful” argument assumes too much about the sanctity of the home and the sinlessness of parents; but that 2) my kids aren’t “missionaries”, and it’s not the job of a five year old to stand as a faithful Christian against an institution that is increasingly hostile to Christianity. End tangent.
Anyway, all that to say that Consider This is worth reading and mulling over, though it leaves unanswered the question of what to actually do if one is convinced by the argument. Then again, I’m fairly new to reading these kinds of books and undoubtedly there is a wealth of materials out there which I just haven’t been exposed to yet.
Dr. Coyle Neal is co-host of the City of Man Podcast and an Assistant Professor of Political Science at Southwest Baptist University in Bolivar, MO.