Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Is Charlotte Mason Classical?

Is Charlotte Mason classical? Type this question into a search engine, and you will have lots and lots and lots of choices of articles and blog posts to read. You will find in depth analysis and a million opinions. You will encounter academic sounding terms like "trivium" and "synthetic thinking", and all kinds of people trying to sound very smart. Is that a catty statement to make? Maybe.

But here's the thing: I don't care whether she is or she isn't. This question has created a huge debate and a perceived "division" among Charlotte Mason home educators, a gap which many are trying to close in order to maintain CM unity (or for entertainment purposes). Basically I think it's all an enormous waste of time.

Some of you may remember my meandering journey around the idea of unschooling. I'm seeing a replica of the exact same kind of confusion and argument over terms and "philosophy" again, only now it is classical education at the heart of the cyclone. Eventually I said to myself, "Self, who cares?" And I walked away from unschooling. I said my peace and acknowledged that I can't control anyone else's choices. In a strange way it felt like breaking an addiction, as if there were a supernatural pull trying to lure me back to the dark side.

People get so wrapped up in identifying themselves according to homeschooling methods, to the point that it can become an idol. Recently I've seen the trap set again, but you can't fool me twice. Just like with unschooling, "classical" means different things to different people. The definition becomes a matter of personal interpretation to the extent of nearly losing any meaning entirely, and all kinds of "experts" come out of the woodwork. When I encountered Charlotte Mason, it was through an actual book that a fellow homeschooling mother that I physically knew placed in my real life hand. I also heard about unschooling from a flesh-and-blood source. But these avalanches of debates and direly passionate opinions only seem to happen in one place. And it's right here, on the internet.

I ask you, as you move and breathe in your own home with your own husband, children, dogs and goldfish, does any of this stuff really matter to you, personally, in your day-to-day life? Or is it in reality a monumental distraction away from your everyday joys and responsibilities?

I recently read Consider This: Charlotte Mason and the Classical Tradition by Karen Glass. She is one of these "authorities". Then I came across the article, "Reconsidering Charlotte Mason and the Classical Tradition" by Art Middlekauff, another expert, refuting Glass' thesis. I lean toward Middlekauff's evaluation of things, but that's beside the point. (You can view the article at Naturally Middlekauff's daring to defy Glass (nearly sainted in some circles) stirred a hubbub on Facebook, the ultimate bastion of time wasting, tomfoolery, and breathless emulsion of feelings...nothing more than feelings... (cue music).

But such writings and discussions are "important", right?! Both Glass' and Middlekauff's treatises are interesting, well-written, thoroughly researched, thought-provoking--and completely at odds. And oh the reactionary places we'll go! This classical dead horse is being beaten to death.

Here is what I think. We have the teachings of the Catholic Church on education; we have 6 long volumes written by Charlotte Mason herself (and other writings available from her and the PNEU); and we have Sacred Scripture. We have the Holy Spirit to guide us and teach us in all things true, good, and beautiful. Do we really need to force Charlotte Mason into the classical tradition, whatever that may mean? Do we, conversely, have to insist adamantly that she doesn't belong there at all? Can't we just let her be?

Evidently this stuff is important to some people. But I'm going to argue here and now that whether she is or isn't classical won't effect my homeschool or yours one iota. And if it doesn't, what's the point of engaging in the argument at all? It's like asking Dorothy if she's a good witch or a bad witch. Either way (and as she told us herself, she is neither), the Witch of the East has been crushed by her house, the ruby slippers are on her feet, and she's following the yellow brick road.

If you think CM is the best way to go for your family, within the brick-and-mortar walls of your domestic Church, then just get on with it. I give you permission to go directly to Charlotte yourself, where enough abundance exists for a lifetime, and shove the experts aside. Skip that whole field of poppies. The Emerald City awaits!

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