Saturday, March 23, 2013

Keeping It Catholic: Charlotte Mason Red Flag

“Every education teaches a philosophy; if not by dogma then by suggestion, by implication, by atmosphere. Every part of that education has a connection with every other part. If it does not all combine to convey some general view of life, it is not education at all” (G.K. Chesterton, The Common Man).

My Keeping It Catholic homeschooling guide, by Marianna Bartold, finally arrived! As I mentioned before, she red flagged both Charlotte Mason and Maria Montessori. I have read the whole CM portion (her objections to Montessori are basically identical), and the author makes what appears to be a fair argument for cautioning against some aspects of Mason's worldview. Her reasoning is based on the perceived evidence that Mason's philosophy is too laced with heresies such as rationalism and naturalism, and is inspired largely by the Enlightenment figure, Jean Jacques Rousseau. One should be aware of these issues, by reading Mason's own words, Bartold suggests. (Note: Having now read a significant amount of CM's writings, I have found none of those heresies suggested by Bartold nor any infatuation with Rousseau.)

The good news is that the methods used by Charlotte Mason which I like, such as living books, narration, and copy work, were actually borrowed from classical education. Bartold herself says that the classical method can be applied to any worldview, be it Catholic, Protestant, atheist, etc... In and of themselves, then, the educational methods used by Charlotte Mason are not problematic. Furthermore, she understood children and how to effectively teach them. Scholasticism is the Catholic philosophical application of classicism. Since this is all new to me, I'm going to have to read the whole volume and come back to distill what I have learned.

What about unschooling? It is not mentioned in this volume in the Red Flags section. However, Bartold does object to the idea she perceives in the CM method that the teacher is only a facilitator of the child's education, which is a belief embraced by some unschoolers. (I did not, however, get the impression that Mason actually thought this way in my own readings.) Child-led learning is said to be the inheritance of Rousseau's influence, so it is perceived negatively. The idea that children naturally desire to learn is denied, a point on which I vehemently disagree with Bartold. She understands John Holt to have been an atheist, but I have no idea whether that is true.  

My idea of Catholic unschooling, as I have put it forth, is that the parents must actively teach their children along with the child-led, auto-education (self-teaching). Merely "strewing" educational materials in the hopes that one's children will find them and be interested is simply not adequate. Radical versions of unschooling do not fit with the parental vocation. In my opinion, there is certainly room for interest-led learning and a relaxed, gentle approach, but the education of the child in every area of life, including academics, is the primary responsibility of Catholic parents. The child cannot be left largely to his own devices in that case.  

What I argue along with other unschoolers is that the "traditional" means used in public schools need not apply in acquiring an excellent education. So can I, in good conscience, be a "Catholic unschooler"? According to my definition, yes, I think so. This is true especially since Bartold thoroughly covers various learning styles and the four basic human temperaments and advocates that the parenting/teaching style should correspond to the child's individual needs. Custom-designing the education is thereby encouraged, which also fits in with an unschooling mindset.

On that note, look again at the quote by C.K. Chesterton. According to what he said, it logically follows that a child cannot get what qualifies as a true education, according to a Catholic conscience, in the public schools. The general view of life espoused in the schools is secular humanism, a religion at odds with any form of Christianity and many other faith traditions. For the Catholic parent, this leaves only the options of homeschooling or a Catholic school. If public schooling is absolutely unavoidable, then Catholic parents have to be even more diligent in countering the ill effects and in firmly establishing the Faith as central to the child's education. It seems to me that this would be a nearly insurmountable task, but with God all things are possible. The challenge for the homeschooler is to keep it Catholic, for the Faith to permeate the entire education.

Bartold lists St. John Bosco as a good source for Catholic educational philosophy and methods, who is also designated as an inspiration for Catholic unschoolers in Suzie Andres' books. So since I have much more reading to do, I think it's time to take a hiatus on the subject for now. Have a blessed Holy Week, everyone! Next time you hear from me I will be a bona fide Catholic!!

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