Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Charlotte Mason & the Catholic Conundrum, Part 1

O Angelic Doctor St. Thomas, prince of theologians and model of philosophers, bright ornament of the Christian world and light of the Church; O heavenly patron of all Catholic schools, who didst learn wisdom without guile and dost communicate it without envy, intercede for us with the Son of God, Wisdom itself, that the spirit of wisdom may descend upon us, and enable us to understand clearly that which thou hast taught, and fulfill it by imitating thy deeds; to become partakers of that doctrine and virtue which caused thee to shine like the sun on earth; and at last to rejoice with thee forever in their most sweet fruits in heaven, together praising the Divine Wisdom for all eternity. Amen.

Here is today's question: What would happen if I simply dropped Charlotte Mason from my homeschooling philosophy? Why am I asking this question? I think it's the fault of St. Thomas Aquinas. After reading a couple of internet articles yesterday, I started wondering what had gotten me on the St. Thomas path in the first place. I could not remember. It just seemed as though his name kept mysteriously popping up. But then I realized the obvious reason. I had been praying ardently over my homeschooling vocation. Remember when I was saying that I just want to be a Catholic homeschooler and quit obsessing over methods? Evidently the answer is Thomas Aquinas.

Finding any information on what would constitute an Aquinas-based homeschooling method, however, is like looking for the proverbial needle in a haystack. The most one will typically find is the term "traditional," usually meaning having text/workbooks for every subject, with the Catholic Faith running through everything. It seems rather dull to many people, and to Charlotte Mason homeschoolers in particular, who contrast living books with the dry dust of textbooks. But from my studies so far, Aquinas was not all about uninspiring textbooks which merely give summaries and facts, and copious fill-in-the-blank questions. He did indeed write textbooks, but as a university professor, his teaching method focused upon sincere dialogue. His scholasticism of the 13th century reconciled the reason of Aristotle with the Catholic religion--no easy feat! If he had not accomplished this miracle, the Church would have experienced an extreme crisis, a massive loss of Christian faith, so popular were Aristotle's ideas taking hold.

What I fear I've discovered is that Charlotte Mason pitted herself philosophically against the teaching authority of the Catholic Church that St. Thomas so clearly represents. For right now I'm just going to present you with the trail of my reading yesterday, the articles which led me to see the Catholic conundrum in regard to CM more clearly. First I read "The Formation of the Catholic Mind" by Dr. Ronald P. McArthur, which clearly illustrates the primacy of Aquinas in Catholic philosophy, theology, and education ( As Catholic homeschoolers we are most certainly concerned with the formation of the Catholic mind in our children. That must be our first priority.

Then I found Art Middlekauff's article, "Thomas Aquinas and the Great Recognition" ( You may remember that I had suspected some connection between Charlotte Mason and the scholasticism of St. Thomas, wondering if she had indeed been inspired by it. Middlekauff has shown that there is a connection, but his conclusion is that CM intentionally chose to distance herself from Aquinas and the Catholic Church. He refers to chapter 25 in CM's Vol. 2, Parents and Children, which addresses a certain Dominican fresco and the "great recognition" that CM says is imperative for parent-teachers. My reading of this chapter confirmed Middlekauff's conclusions. (You can find a link to all CM's volumes on Ambleside Online's introduction page.)

Now, Middlekauff has argued against the idea that CM's method is "classical," in opposition to Karen Glass' linking of CM to the classical tradition of antiquity in her book Consider This. I've written about this before and decided that it didn't matter whether or not CM is "classical," that it didn't affect how I homeschooled my child one way or another. But it seems with this Thomas Aquinas article that his concern may be that putting CM in the Classical Christian category would necessarily associate her with the Catholic scholastics of the Middle Ages.

What I suggest is that you read the two articles I mentioned and then read chapter 25 in Parents and Children, and we can come back to discuss the details in Part 2.

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