Charlotte Mason’s first ten principles cover a lot of ground. In a few sentences, she covers the nature of a person, the role and limitations of authority in education, and the tools of education that respect personhood. She asserts that children are not sacs to be filled, but have living minds. They cannot be produced to a specification based on the teacher’s wishes.
With this in the background, we come to her eleventh principle, which serves as a ‘summing up’ of Charlotte Mason’s philosophy so far:
But we, believing that the normal child has powers of mind which fit him to deal with all knowledge proper to him, give him a full and generous curriculum; taking care only that all knowledge offered him is vital, that is, that facts are not presented without their informing ideas.Charlotte Mason’s Eleventh Principle
Let’s review what she says, but as it relates to mothers.
A mother’s mind needs knowledge.
What does it mean that a mother is born a person? The answer is here, in the eleventh principle: she has a mind capable of taking in knowledge. Because we are people, we are able to learn.
This theme comes up repeatedly when discussing the first half of Charlotte Mason’s principles. But the repetition helps us to see its importance. All of Charlotte Mason’s philosophy hinges on the fact that the ability and desire to learn is present in all people. Sometimes we lose this desire. But I believe it is recoverable.
A mother should choose to take in a broad array of knowledge.
A living, healthy mind needs an appropriate diet of ideas to sustain it. This is what Charlotte Mason means when she says education is a life. And like any healthy diet, a mind needs a wide variety of healthy, nourishing ‘foods’.
The practical application is this: we need to challenge ourselves to read and learn broadly. It is so tempting to only read that which has practical value to us. We have toddlers so we read about how to raise toddlers. We struggle to keep our house clean, so we read books on how to manage our time better.
But this isn’t sufficient for a mind. It’s only reading from one ‘food group’. And so we must stretch ourselves beyond what we view as our immediate needs.
A mother needs informing ideas.
It’s not enough that we read broadly. We are pursuing knowledge, not facts. That means that we must seek out and read living books, books that present facts with ‘their informing ideas’.
In terms of mental food, facts are dry sawdust. Our minds cannot live upon them. It is ideas that capture our interest, enliven our imaginations, and set us thinking. That central idea allows us to put facts into context and breathes life into them. Only when our minds come in touch with life-giving ideas will our minds be stretched, grown, and enlivened.
We’ve considered what it means to be a person and what a person’s mind needs in order to live and grow. From this, we set the foundation for a definition of education. And that is Charlotte Mason’s next principle.