In the last post in this series, I discussed education as the science of relations. It is right to develop an interest in a wide variety of knowledge and hence to have many ways of knowing and loving God and His creation. But how are we to obtain that knowledge? How do we set a curriculum for ‘mother culture’?
Charlotte Mason’s next principle tells us that our ‘curriculum’ should include much knowledge, across varied subject areas, presented in living books.
We need a sufficient amount of knowledge.
As we think about what we need on our ‘mother culture’ plate, we first consider quantity. Our minds have an appetite for ideas, just as our bodies have an appetite for food. We need to take in enough ideas so that our minds can function well.
This will look different to what our children need. The amount my boys can eat, relative to their size, is astounding. Similarly, the intellectual feast I provide for my children through our homeschool curriculum is wide and generous. But while it is appropriate that my children spend two or so hours on school most days (he is six and in year one), I need something a bit different. I would have to neglect some important responsibilities to spend that much time in study!
So how much is sufficient? I believe this will be different for every person. It will depend on your stage of life, how many children you have, whether you have help around the house, and so on. But just as our bodies tell us when our stomachs are full, I believe our minds can give us a similar sensation.
As we pursue knowledge, we will become more familiar with living ideas. We will learn to pause when something catches our attention and demands our focus. As I’ll discuss at the end of this post, we’ll learn to select books that are high in ‘nutritional content’ for our minds.
We require knowledge from many areas.
What makes for a healthy diet? Broadly speaking, a varied diet, with lots of colors on the plate. The same goes for our intellectual diet. If it is good to have many interests, then we should trouble ourselves to learn about many different things.
One phrase I think about often is that ‘exposure breeds interest’. It is hard to have an interest in something that you know nothing about. It is hard to build a relationship, whether with a person, a hobby, or even a subject area, if you never spend time with it. Part of mother culture, and furthering our own education, is taking time for self-reflection.
Take a few minutes and write down the last five books you read, the last five podcasts you listened to, the last five videos you watched, and the last five articles or blog posts you read. What sort of variety have you had on your plate? Activities like this can help us evaluate how we’re doing. Are we building relationships with many ideas in many areas, or are we developing a one track mind?
I don’t think we have to give up our special areas of interest. However, I do think that learning about new things is a worthy goal. We should intentionally make this part of our self-education.
We should get most of our living ideas from well-written books.
Fairly regularly, I notice that non-reading activities get labeled ‘mother culture’. Sometimes it is crafting, watercolor, a nature walk, a handicraft, even a relaxed evening with friends. I think all of these things are wonderful, that they are restful, delightful, and contribute much to our general well-being and to our own education. However, the more I read Charlotte Mason and consider how her philosophy applies to myself, as an adult, the more I am convinced that these activities need to come alongside reading living books, not replace it.
Charlotte Mason used living books in her school because she believed that they capture a child’s attention. Children respond to them. I think adults are the same. Particularly in a busy time of life, when we have many responsibilities and activities, we need to capitalize on a means of learning that naturally arrests our attention. Beautifully written, inspiring books will do this.
As I mentioned in a previous post, a book is living when it is well-written and contains ideas that capture our attention and interest. In the same post, I also provided suggestions for putting together a ‘mother culture book stack’, one that includes excellent books which touch on a variety of subjects and include both fiction and nonfiction.
If we want to further our education, we should set out to choose wonderful books from a variety of areas of knowledge, and read enough of them to feed our minds with living ideas. In some ways, it is so simple. Yes, there are challenges in front of us, and seasons of life which are more difficult than others, but self-education begins with a simple stack of thoughtfully chosen books, and catching bits of time to spend with them.