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Thursday, March 30, 2017

A Scholastic Charlotte Mason Education



The topics on this blog for the current Lenten season have been all about giving up distractions, and I've focused quite a bit on homeschooling methods and resources. But reducing our distractions does not mean that we stop learning and growing. One way of simplifying matters is to go more deeply into an idea to achieve a clearer focus.

I've been pulling together some ideas that I've been exploring this entire school year, along the lines of applying certain principles of classical education to Charlotte Mason, as well as incorporating traditional Catholic curricula to insure that the Faith permeates the curriculum. I stepped back from the CM label for awhile in order to focus on the particularly Catholic elements in our homeschooling, and to explore the Catholic educational tradition of "living books through eyes of faith." I think I've discovered a missing link to connect these various facets; that is, the philosophy of scholasticism. 

I'm only beginning to explore what scholasticism is and will continue with my research, but I'll lay out the basics as I understand them. First read this article from New World Encyclopedia: http://www.newworldencyclopedia.org/entry/Scholasticism. What I'm gathering is that scholasticism is the meeting of ancient classical philosophy (Greek and Latin) with Catholicism. It's the marriage of faith and reason. The Scholastic Method of education originates in the Middle Ages and is based upon the theology of St. Thomas Aquinas. In short, it's the Catholic interpretation of classical. This was the traditional method used in Catholic schools up until the burgeoning confusion following Vatican II. Seton Home Study employs the Scholastic Method, and I think Catholic Heritage Curricula incorporates it as well. Read the history of Seton and the use of the Scholastic Method here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Seton_Home_Study_School.

I've discussed my opinion that Charlotte Mason is not a form of classical education as it's presented in the neoclassical movement (with the Trivium allegedly corresponding to stages of child development), despite the similarities that can be found between them. However, I have suggested that it may be edifying to explore how certain classical principles can be applied to CM, to provide one with a deeper formation and crystallizing of her unique philosophy and method. Or in other words, to explore how Charlotte Mason's interpretation of a liberal arts education is rooted in classical antiquity. I think we can do the same with scholasticism.

Charlotte was an Anglican Christian, and during her time there was a revival of medieval scholasticism, known as neo-scholasticism (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Neo-Scholasticism). Though she was not Catholic, I am wondering if she took some inspiration from the neo-scholastic revival, considering her foundational idea, Education is the handmaid of Religion. While Protestant and disconnected from the papacy, the Anglican Church retains a strong degree of Tradition.

It has been argued that CM is clearly not classical, because it is specifically based upon the Bible, the current psychology of her era, and CM's personal observations of children (see Art Middlekauf's article at https://www.charlottemasoninstitute.org/reconsidering-charlotte-mason-and-the-classical-tradition-by-art-middlekauff/). Though clearly not scholastic either, there is that similar sensibility in CM of the marriage of faith and reason. The Scholastic Method is a form of classical learning. We might conclude that CM and scholasticism both have their roots in the classicism of antiquity, though they each represent a unique divergence.

While the Catholic CM homeschooler would not have to incorporate books from a scholastic provider such as Seton in order to make sure that the Faith permeates the curriculum, I think there is great appeal in connecting with our Catholic educational heritage in such a way. There is also the matter of convenience. Rather than gathering Catholic books from various sources as you would do with the Mater Amabilis curriculum, you can simply visit one website and find books that are solidly Catholic and that are designed to be used together. This may also benefit the parent who can use such books to increase a child's independent work, especially as he or she gets into the middle school years (6th through 8th grade). Also, if the parents want their child to receive a diploma from an accredited school, using a number of books from Seton would help facilitate the transition to high school.

So am I advocating a blending of the Scholastic Method with CM? I'm not entirely sure. I have advocated for choosing one method and sticking to it, and I would still say that we are substantially Charlotte Mason homeschoolers in my family. But considering that we are Catholic, that right there puts us into a niche that is not "pure CM." Charlotte Mason's writings do not give us a guide to providing a particularly Catholic education, and as Catholics faith formation must come first.

Where I'm at right now is in a process of thinking about the classical principles, as laid out by Christopher Perrin in his webinar videos on youtube, as informing our central Charlotte Mason method; and exploring how the Scholastic Method fits into the big picture as well. As I have done before, I'm using the model of the fleur-de-lis as a visual representation:



The base of the symbol is Catholic Faith Formation, and I think of the lower prongs as representing Jesus, Mary, and Joseph--the Holy Family. The central petal above the base represents Charlotte Mason as the primary method. The left and right petals represent Perrin's classical principles (and the idea of schole found in Sarah Mackenzie's book, Teaching from Rest), and the Scholastic Method of traditional Catholic education. The supporting petals are corollaries to the primary method.

My idea is not about mashing together a hodgepodge of methods and just calling it "eclectic," but rather about creating a holistic approach to a Catholic education, putting together elements that though distinct, are intrinsically related. Another variation on the fleur-de-lis model could be to put the Scholastic Method in the center, using books from a traditional Catholic program as a "spine" on which to hang the classical principles and particulars of the CM method. It's all about what makes the best organizational sense to you, what will make your efforts all come together and bring you to the end goal. Whatever the methods we choose to put together, we want to be clear about our aim. What's needed is a synthesis, an integration that brings a sense of wholeness to our efforts.

What do you all think about the connections I've drawn between the Classical, Scholastic, and Charlotte Mason traditions? Does it make sense? Does anyone else use a similar approach? As always, I welcome a discussion!

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