Mom, What’s an ‘Education’?

A few years ago, my son really didn’t want to go to bed and launched into full lights-out-postponement tactics, grasping at any thread of conversation that would keep me talking. So when I mentioned that he needed sleep so that we could do school tomorrow, he quickly asked, ‘Why?’

‘Because it’s my responsibility to ensure you have an education.’

‘What’s an education?’

It’s like he knows exactly what I like to talk about!

Bedtime routines aside, isn’t explaining things to children one of the best ways to check your own understanding of a topic? It’s a simple form of narration – telling back, in your own words, what you know about something. I sifted back through my mind to select simple yet meaningful ideas to explain to my son why we spend time on reading and learning together. I wanted to inspire him, but not overwhelm or irritate him.

My mind went back to Charlotte Mason’s sixth volume. In this book, she lays out her principles of education and then discusses the curriculum and the knowledge children need to grow on. She uses three categories to organize the curriculum: the knowledge of God, the knowledge of man, and the knowledge of the universe.

I told my son, ‘Education is about learning to love and care about the right things. Those things are God, mankind, and the world God made us. That’s why we read the Bible, study history and literature, and spend time learning about nature and how the world works. When we learn about things, we are learning to care about them.’

This definition must have satisfied because my son soon let the conversation end, but I have held it close to my heart this week. In one of her volumes (the location eludes me), Charlotte Mason recommends that we don’t talk about education, philosophy, and principles with or around our children too much. It is a recipe for self-consciousness. Instead, our aim should be to practice Charlotte Mason’s principles, not expound on them. But that’s not to say that the topic is always off-limits, and casting a vision for our children, even in those sleepy moments of contemplation before bed, engages them in the idea that education is not something we do to them. Instead, they are the active agent, growing, learning, and participating in a process.

I don’t know if this conversation will linger with my son the way it has with me, but as I approach our lessons and my plans, I aim to keep this at heart: that it matters not what he knows, but how much he cares.

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