Children are Born Persons

Charlotte Mason begins her philosophy of education with this simple and profound statement: "Children are born persons." For some such a statement might border on the obvious. After all, it is a basic Christian belief that humans are created in God's image and by virtue of that image are invested, from the beginning, with person-hood. While this is part of what Charlotte Mason meant, the full impact of her statement is much greater.

You see, Miss Mason also meant that children are born with fully active and fully engaged minds. She did not, as was popular with educational theorists of her day, believe that the child was born a blank slate on which a mind slowly became imprinted through the accumulation of experiences. She saw that even in the newborn or the toddler there is a rich, beautiful, interesting personality that lacks only nourishment in order to grow.

The food metaphor is one that she often used to describe the minds of children. Just as every parent knows a child need a nutritious and plentiful diet to grow healthy and strong, so also must the mind of the child be fed a steady, plentiful and healthful diet of mind-food. And it is ideas that are the food of the mind.

The Charlotte Mason method (and the RiverTree method) involves ensuring that every child receives the best ideas available and receives them in quantity, for that is what they both need and crave. The four year old who incessantly asks "why?" (I speak here from experience) is simply ravenous for ideas, and good ones at that.

Too often, however, instead of good mind-food we feed our children intellectual pablum. We read them ridiculous, dull stories from a phonics reader because it includes the sounds from that week's lesson. Or we give them "age-appropriate" history lessons complete with review questions that stifle the imagination. Charlotte Mason had a word for such stuff: twaddle. The sad fact is that our schools, especially our Christian schools, are full of it. Just pick up a reader from ABeka Books or Bob Jones University Press (the leading publishers for Christian schools) and ask yourself: "could I stand reading this stuff for a whole school year, or would I go batty with boredom?" I'm pretty sure I know the answer.

What children need is not a dubious system of instruction, but rather a method of education that respects them as people, one that steadily feeds them good ideas. Of course, very few people are capable on their own of providing enough mind-food to satisfy a child, let alone a classroom of 15 or more. I know I am not. Fortunately, though, we know where we can find it: books. The teacher who opens the world of books to a child has brought him to a source of knowledge and ideas which he will never exhaust. Such an approach to books will be characteristic of the RiverTree classroom. But not just any books. We have no use for the boring, drivel filled textbooks of the modern school. We want our children to read (or be read) real living books that were written to be enjoyed, that hold their interest and cause them to want more. We want this for our children because we know they are people, hungry for knowledge.

We will not allow ourselves to be guilty of the sin of boring children.