Charlotte Mason’s 12th Principle tells us that “education is the Science of Relations”. What this means is that learning takes place when a child begins to see for themselves the relationships between various things that they have read or seen or experienced or studied. Note that these are the connections that the child makes for himself, not the connections that a teacher makes for him. One of the distinctives of Charlotte Mason’s methodology is that she places the bulk of the responsibility for learning on the student rather than on the teacher. The relationships and connections that a child makes for himself are not easily forgotten.
While the responsibility is primarily on the student to make these connections, the question was raised in our Forum discussion as to whether there are any ways we can help them along (without force-feeding or doing the mental work for them. Someone brought up this point, also found in one of our suggested readings:
“Occasionally when we finish a reading I have asked my children to tell me about anyone or anything that the story we just finished reminds them of. Sometimes they tell me they can’t think of anything. That’s okay. Sometimes they will come up with a connection I would never have thought of- that’s really delightful.” (from The Common Room)
So, I decided to give this a try a couple weeks ago. We had just finished reading a section from Dangerous Journey in which Christian’s travelling companion Faithful is sentenced to death by the court in Vanity Fair, and although he is put to death, the King brings him safely and immediately into the Celestial City. After her narration, I asked Michelle if this story reminded her of anything. She thought for a moment, and then said: “It reminds me of the story of those guys who were thrown into the fiery furnace even though they hadn’t really done anything wrong, and God brought them safely through it.” And although it had been several weeks previously that we had read about Christian’s battle with the dragon Apollyon, my tag-along 5 year old added: “And the dragon reminded me of the dragon from St. George and the Dragon.” (Another well- loved book around here...)
I was pleased and surprised by their responses. The story had described Faithful being taken safely to the Celestial City by a horse and chariot, so the connection that I had made had been to the story of Elijah. Michelle made a different, but still very good, connection of her own. And I was surprised that James added anything at all, since he is not actually required to participate in our school time yet (but for certain favorite stories, he often chooses to anyway!)
The more I think about it, the more I realize that as simple as it is, this is what Charlotte Mason education is all about. Each person heard the same story. Each person took in what they were ready for: notice that Michelle totally glossed over the fact that Faithful was burned at the stake before he was taken safely to the Celestial City; she emphasized the fact that God had delivered him. That was the part that was personally significant to her. Each person made a different personal connection with the story. Each person made their own mental effort in recalling the details of the story and comparing them with the details of other stories or experiences they had heard previously, and then putting those thoughts into words to share with the rest of us. Each person from age 5 to age 34 was intrigued and engaged.
We are still at the beginning of our CM homeschooling journey here, and sometimes it can get discouraging. CM education is so different from what ‘everyone else’ is doing, and as much as I love her methods, I am sometimes tempted to give in to that pressure that our homeschool needs to look more like a ‘school’. But seeing the little sparks like this excite me and encourage me that we are on the right track after all.