Education: An Atmosphere

We had our monthly Charlotte Mason discussion group last week.  I came away a little dissatisfied… not with my friends, but with our preoccupation with methods.

It is February, after all– the month when I find myself wondering if we’ll make it through the year.  (We will.)  The month I wonder if this is the best thing for my children.  (It is.)  The month I want to chuck everything we’re doing and find something better.  (I won’t.) 

My friends who have their children in parochial, private and public schools are asking the same questions right now.  Have we accomplished enough for the year?  Why does it all feel so stale?  Would things be greener on the other side of the fence?  Will spring ever come?

Miss Mason wrote, "Education is an atmosphere, a discipline, a life."  So I’m trying to go back to the fundamentals, to get us through until the grass has greened, and spring is upon us.  Until then, we’re going to spend as much time outside as we can– to let the atmosphere and environment God made spur us on to want to know more.  We’re going to stick with our habits and daily routines, so that we can spend our mental energy contemplating ideas, instead of whether or not now is the right time to brush our teeth.  And we’re going to let great books and art and music fill us with ideas that inspire us.

"Education is a life. That life needs ideas to keep it alive. Ideas come from a spiritual place, and God has created us so that we get ideas in the same way we pass them on to others: by expressing them in talk, or printed words, or the text of Scripture, or music. A child’s inner life needs ideas in the same way that his physical body needs food. He probably won’t use nine-tenths of the ideas we expose him to, just like his body only assimilates a small part of the meals he eats. He’s very eclectic–he might choose this or that. We don’t need to be concerned about what he chooses, we just need to make sure that he has a variety of things offered to him, and in abundance. If we pressure him, he will be annoyed. He resists force feedings, and he hates predigested food. What works best is a mental diet presented in an indirect literary form. That’s the way Jesus taught when He used parables. What makes parables so wonderful is that they are unforgettable, every detail is remembered, yet the way they’re applied might pass and leave no trace in an unworthy person, no influence at all in the person. Jesus took that risk, and we must. too. We just might offer children a meal of Plutarch’s Life of Lysander, thinking that the object lesson will show what a good leader or citizen should avoid–but the child may love Lysander and think his ‘charming’ ways are admirable! But we have to take that chance, just like Jesus did when he told the parable of the Unjust Steward [Luke 16]. One note: it seems like we need ideas to be presented with lots of padding, such as the way we get them from novels, or poems, or history texts written with literary style. Neither a child’s body, nor his mind, can survive on pills, no matter how much research goes into formulating them. From a big, thick book full of living ideas, he may only latch onto a half dozen that speak to his heart and nourish his spirit. And there’s no predicting which ideas will ignite a spark in him; they tend to come from unexpected places and in forms we never would have guessed. No person can force a portion of Scott or Dickens or Milton to inspire him and feed his soul. It’s as the Bible says, ‘Stay busy and plant a variety of crops, for you never know which will grow.’ [Eccl. 11:6, NLT]

Charlotte Mason, Towards a Philosophy of Education, p. 110-111, Modern English Adaptation courtesy of

2 thoughts on “Education: An Atmosphere

  1. I just want to ditch my duties, and make things . We are trying this week to do science experiments out of a Bernie Zubrowski book to break up the routine – but the kids all have fevers, so it's kind of iffy.

    My real problem is that my creativity is finally in gear, and I don't really want to shift it into the kid's pursuits. I'm glad I know that February is the month of discontent – Susan Wise Bauer, Jesse Bauer, and Ruth Beechick all warn about it (November is the other one I've heard)

    The longer, sunny days are an encouragement though, that's for sure!



  2. I wish I could attend your CM group! What great encouragement. I just finished Vol 6 last night and loved these lines. Your "method" right now sounds delightful!
    Amy S


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