Sunday, April 17, 2005

More on Charlotte Mason

See earlier blog entry on Seeking Wisdom site

This is from Pius XI, Divini Illius Magistri -- he remarks that Catholics have liberty to use vernacular literature and even the methods of modern teachers, as long as a discerning process is going on. This has been the tradition of our Church ever since St Paul's time. Pope Pius does also caution care and discretion and we must be prudent.

"In such a school moreover, the study of the vernacular and of classical literature will do no damage to moral virtue. There the Christian teacher will imitate the bee, which takes the choicest part of the flower and leaves the rest, as St. Basil teaches in his discourse to youths on the study of the classics.[51] Nor will this necessary caution, suggested also by the pagan Quintilian,[52] in any way hinder the Christian teacher from gathering and turning to profit, whatever there is of real worth in the systems and methods of our modern times, mindful of the Apostle's advice: "Prove all things: hold fast that which is good."[53] Hence in accepting the new, he will not hastily abandon the old, which the experience of centuries has found expedient and profitable."

An article I wrote a long time ago about whether you can use Charlotte Mason and still "Keep in Catholic":

I've heard similar comments in the past, and in fact I think you
might find some threads in the archives of CCM on this subject. I
personally don't find the evidence I've heard very convincing. I
don't have the book you mention, but I have read through most of
Charlotte Mason's books at one time or another. Here are some

Charlotte Mason's style is not always easily understood by those of
us who live in this century and don't have a good sense of the
context of her times. When faced with a popular philosophy which
has had a heavy influence on the people of her time, her strategy is
to depict the philosophy quite sympathetically, listing points of
agreement and almost "making a case" for the opposing side, before
going into detail about her points of difference. This dialectic
technique was quite common in previous centuries -- cf Socrates and
St Thomas Aquinas.

For example, in Parents and Education, she writes as she is summing
up the impact Rousseau has had upon parents of her time: "Rousseau
succeeded, as he deserved to succeed, in awaking many parents to the
binding character, the vast range, the profound seriousness of
parental obligations. He failed, and deserved to fail, as he
offered his own crude conceits by way of an educational code." Her
whole section on Rousseau is in this tone. You can find it at the
Ambleside website, in the first section of Volume 2 of her works.
Ambleside Online

There is nothing wrong with finding points of agreement even with
someone in ideological opposition to oneself, as Charlotte Mason does
throughout her books. In fact, it is an excellent strategy and
discipline. That is basically what we ourselves are to do when we
are sorting through Charlotte Mason's works, or the works of anyone
in our imperfect world. I think that when people "rumble" about
CM's "atheism", or "humanism", or "anti-Catholicism" they are often
taking a few phrases of her books out of context, much as some
fundamentalists take Catholic writings out of context to "prove" that
we worship Mary or whatever. It would be better to start as CM
does, by fairly pinpointing the *real* areas of difference (assuming
there are any) rather than setting up a straw man to beat down.

Of course Charlotte Mason's books are not to be taken as gospel or
the Magisterium, and of course she did not intend them that way. She
meant them to be read thoughtfully and critically by fellow educators
and intelligent, sincere parents of her time. I think it was CS
Lewis who said that every century and era has its blind spots and
over-emphases on certain ideas; for this reason it can be very
beneficial to read the works of past ages, because we don't
necessarily share the same blind spots and are more likely to be able
to read discerningly and sort out universal truth from temporal
confusion and error.

Rousseau is still with us, I believe -- we just aren't as conscious
of his shadow nowadays as CM was back then. So I think that what
she writes about him and about other educational philosophers of her
time is valuable source material and can shed some light on some of
the issues we deal with even a century or so later. However, it is
important to read historical material in context and not "project"
our own present struggles and conflicts onto it -- I think perhaps
some of CM's critics do a little of this, or perhaps, hold her to an
impossibly high standard of infallibility that few of us could
achieve ourselves even informed by the mind of our Church.

I hope this helps a little. Again personally, I find a lot in CM's
writings that is wise and practical, a little that seems sort of
timebound and less applicable, and very little indeed that I would
put a red flag next to, meaning that it is unequivocally harmful. I
could see where some of her ideas, like "children are born neither
good or evil" could be misunderstood and misapplied, and seem to ally
her with secular humanism, but I take that to be in context of
opposition to the Calvinist conception that children are born
corrupt with no goodness, rather than weakened and compromised by
original sin but free from actual personal sin. cf ccc 405 "Although
it is proper to each individual, original sin does not have the
character of a personal fault in any of Adam's descendants. It is a
deprivation of original holiness and justice, but human nature has
not been totally corrupted: it is wounded in the natural powers
proper to it, subject to ignorance, suffering and the dominion of
death, and inclined to sin - an inclination to evil that is called

No comments: