Reedy Creek: A Charlotte Mason Community   


Magnum Opus

Your family is your Magnum Opus. Your children are radiant, terrific, and humble (but not pigs). They are jewels, precious and pure. We don't want to give them a little tug here and a little tug there or train them like Pavlov's dog to salivate at certain signals and retreat in fear at others. These living, pulsating, passionate human beings in our care deserve more than that. I believe we should spend our lives loving, protecting, and nurturing our beloved children as they grow in the knowledge and love of God and His creation. 

With that in mind, please join us monthly for a celebration of Charlotte Mason's pivotal work -- her Magnum Opus -- the six volumes she produced on education. These are deep, thought-provoking, meaty books. It will take some time to go through them and really take in the ideas she presents. But it's worth the effort! We'll begin with Volume Four, Ourselves. I have never read this volume, although I assigned it to my daughters who read it without me. I think that was a mistake. I wish we had gone through this book together, since it covers so many heart-piercing issues and worldview perceptions. But Miss Mason covers them from the inside out, not the outside in. We often try to curb our children's appetites with outside disciplinary action or reward. Americans are especially adept at this. We don't teach them how to be patient, courageous, loving, or kind, yet we expect them to magically achieve these traits by molding and shaping them externally. And we become exasperated when they don't seem to "get it." Here, Miss Mason turns the hard effort over to the child. In fact, she turns the entire process upside down. I can't wait to get started. I can't wait to meet all of you and to breathe deeply and mine the veins of gold within this book. 

You can easily access Volume Four here, through Ambleside Online. Or you can purchase the book. Our evenings together will begin Friday, October 13, 2017 from 7-9 pm. We will also be memorizing some poetry together and there will be short, inspired readings from other literary sources to get our appetites whetted for the main feast. Bring your latest handicraft project if you'd like, along with an open heart and a willing mind. And if you have teenagers, bring them, too! 

Email me at [email protected] and let me know you're coming, so we can prepare a place for you at table.

Here are a few "notes and quotes" that I felt it important to meditate on as we begin this study:

From the Preface to the entire Series, we get a broad overview of Miss Mason's Philosophy. If this is your first study of her work, you may find it helpful to have this overview available to you, to keep in the back of your mind her reason for focusing on certain aspects of child-rearing and teaching. Within the preface, there are also 18 tenets that could be an entire study in and of themselves. You may want to read and study those, too. Here are the highlights. Don't be discouraged by the high level of the writing. Just read slowly and soak in each sentence. I have underlined the main points.

On Seeking a Philosophy of Education

Those of us, who have spent many years in pursuing the benign and elusive vision of Education, perceive that her approaches are regulated by a law, and that this law has yet to be evoked.

We can discern its outlines, but no more.

We know that it is pervasive; there is no part of a child's home-life or school-work which the law does not penetrate. It is illuminating, too, showing the value, or lack of value, of a thousand systems and expedients.

It is not only a light, but a measure, providing a standard whereby all things, small and great, belonging to educational work must be tested.

The law is liberal, taking in whatsoever things are true, honest, and of good report, and offering no limitation or hindrance save where excess should injure.

And the path indicated by the law is continuous and progressive, with no transition stage from the cradle to the grave, except that maturity takes up the regular self-direction to which immaturity has been trained.

We shall doubtless find, when we apprehend the law, that certain German thinkers––Kant, Herbart, Lotze, Froebel––are justified; that, as they say, it is 'necessary' to believe in God; that, therefore, the knowledge of God is the principal knowledge, and the chief end of education.

By one more character shall we be able to recognise this perfect law of educational liberty when it shall be made evident. It has been said that 'The best idea which we can form of absolute truth is that it is able to meet every condition by which it can be tested.' This we shall expect of our law––that it shall meet every test of experiment and every test of rational investigation.

Not having received the tables of our law, we fall back upon Froebel or upon Herbart; or, if we belong to another School, upon Locke or Spencer; but we are not satisfied. A discontent (is it a divine discontent?) is upon us; and assuredly we should hail a workable, effectual philosophy of education as a deliverance from much perplexity. Before this great deliverance comes to us it is probable that many tentative efforts will be put forth, having more or less of the characters of a philosophy; notably, having a central idea, a body of thought with various members working in vital harmony.

Such a theory of education, which need not be careful to call itself a system of psychology, must be in harmony with the thought movements of the age; must regard education, not as a shut-off compartment, but as being as much a part of life as birth or growth, marriage or work; and it must leave the pupil attached to the world at many points of contact. It is true that educationalists are already eager to establish such contact in several directions, but their efforts rest upon an axiom here and an idea there, and there is no broad unifying basis of thought to support the whole.

Fools rush in where angels fear to tread; and the hope that there may be many tentative efforts towards a philosophy of education, and that all of them will bring us nearer to the magnum opus, encourages me to launch one such attempt. The central thought, or rather body of thought, upon which I found, is the somewhat obvious fact that the child is a person with all the possibilities and powers included in personality.

One thesis, which is, perhaps, new, that Education is the Science of Relations, appears to me to solve the question of a curriculum, as showing that the object of education is to put a child in living touch with as much as may be of the life of Nature and of thought. Add to this one or two keys to self-knowledge, and the educated youth goes forth with some idea of self-management, with some pursuits, and many vital interests.

On Moral Training

Possibly we fail to give 'effective moral training based upon Christian principles' to young people because our teaching is scrappy, and rests mainly upon appeals to the emotions through tale and song. Inspiring as these are, we may not depend upon them entirely, because emotional response is short-lived, and the appeal is deadened by repetition: the response of the intellect to coherent and consecutive teaching appears, on the contrary, to be continuous and enduring. Boys and girls, youths and maidens, have as much capacity to apprehend what is presented to their minds as have their elders; and, like their elders, they take great pleasure and interest in an appeal to their understanding which discovers to them the ground-plan of human nature––a common possession.

The point of view taken in this volume is, that all beautiful and noble possibilities are present in everyone; but that each person is subject to assault and hindrance in various ways, of which he should be aware in order that he may watch and pray. Hortatory* teaching is apt to bore both young people and their elders; but an ordered presentation of the possibilities that lie in human nature, and of the risks that attend these, can hardly fail to have an enlightening and stimulating effect. This volume is intended as an appeal to the young to make the most of themselves, because of the vast possibilities that are in them and of the law of God which constrains them.

The more or less casual ordering of young people which falls to their elders might become more purposeful if it were laid down upon some such carefully considered ground-plan of human nature as this book attempts to offer. The scheme of thought rests upon intuitive morality, as sanctioned by the authority of Revelation.

The systems of morality formulated by authoritative writers upon ethics are, perhaps, expanded a little to include latent capacity for every kind of goodness in all normal human beings. Some attempt has been made to define certain limitations of reason, conscience, and the will, the disregard of which is a fertile cause of error in human conduct.

What is sometimes described as the 'immanence of God'; the capacity of man for relations with the divine; and the maimed and incomplete character of the life in which these relations are not fulfilled, are touched upon, because these matters belong to a knowledge which is 'the chief end of man.' The allusions and excerpts which illustrate the text have been carefully chosen from sources that fall within everybody's reading, because the object is rather to arrest the attention of the reader, and fix it, for example, upon the teaching of Scott and Plutarch, than to suggest unknown sources of edification. We are all too well content to let alone that of which we do not already know something.

*Hortatory -- urging course of action: urging, encouraging, or strongly advising a course of action to somebody.

Volume 4 -- Introduction:

"Self-reverence, self-knowledge, self-control--

These three alone lead life to sovereign power." TENNYSON

A Dual Self.––The whole question of self-management and self-perception implies a dual self. There is a self who reverences and a self who is reverenced, a self who knows and a self who is known, a self who controls and a self who is controlled. 

Our business at present is not to attempt any psychological explanation of the fact of the two selves of which each of us is aware; but, rather, to get some clear notions about that, let us call it, objective self, the conduct of which is the chief business of that other troublesome subjective self, of which we are all too much and too unpleasantly aware.

[This small section seems to be explaining that odd situation we all face: Who WE feel we are on the inside looking out and who OTHERS see we are from the outside looking in. They are not always the same. In fact, if we paid a bit more attention to what others see and hear of us and a little less to how we perceive ourselves to be, I believe we would be more apt to humbly repent of the sins that so easily beset us. Yet, we stand our ground. We insist that our true meaning wasn't understood or that whatever was perceived is not how we really feel inside or who we really are. But is that true? Why would those around us all see certain character traits while we, who reside within, don't see them at all? Bitterness for example. Or envy. It's an interesting discussion. I'm not sure one can ever really get at the heart of such things. But it's important, I think, to listen carefully to what our closest friends tell us they are seeing/hearing based on our actions, affinities, and words.] 

The 'Horrid' Self.––One of the miseries of thoughtful children and young people arises from their sense of the worthlessness of this poor, pushing, all too prominent self. They are aware that they are cross and clumsy, rude and 'horrid.' Nobody can like them. If even their mother does so, it must be because she does not quite see how disagreeable they are. Vanity, the laying of oneself out for the approbation of others, is very possible, even to children of generous temper. But I doubt if conceit is possible to any but the more commonplace minds, content to shape their opinions, even of themselves, upon what they suppose to be the opinions of those around them.

But for the uneasy young soul, whose chief business in life is the navigation of an unknown craft, some knowledge of the carrying and sailing powers of the vessel is not only beneficent in itself, but is a relief from the obsession of that tiresome other self––the subjective self, we have called it––of which we become aware in that day when we eat the fruit of the tree of knowledge, and leave the paradise of the unconscious child. This awakening must come to us all, and is not necessarily in our case of the nature of guilt, but it is the cause of uneasiness and self-depreciation.

[This section deals with that moment when a child ceases to be unconscious of his or her tendency toward doing wrong. It's like an awakening. One moment, a child is playing gleefully in the garden, with no sense of how bad he is. The next, a burst of brain development takes place and suddenly the child know in no uncertain terms that he is flawed -- "cross, clumsy, rude, and horrid," to use Miss Mason's words. This realization can cause a young child to be miserable. It makes me miserable even now. But it's the awakening of conscience, I think. We now see clearly our failings and tendencies toward selfishness. So now we can work on these areas. It's not an excuse to be depressed or mope about, but more of an awakening to the hard work that lies ahead.]

The Great Self.––Any attempt to define the limits of each part of the dual self baffles us. We cannot tell where one begins and the other ends. But after every effort of thought which convinces us that we are but one, we become aware again of ourselves as two. Perhaps if we say that the one is the unsatisfactory self which we produce in our lives; the other, the self of great and beautiful possibilities, which we are aware of as an integral part of us, it is all we can do towards grasping this evasive condition of our being. It may help us to regard for a moment the human soul as a vast estate which it rests with us to realise. By soul, I mean all that we are, including even the visible presentment of us, all our powers of thinking, knowing, loving, judging, appreciating, willing, achieving. There is only one authoritative estimate of the greatness of the human soul. It is put into the balances with the whole world, and the whole world, glorious and beautiful as it is, weighs as nothing in the comparison. But we lose the value of this utterance of our Lord's because we choose to think that He is speaking of a relative and not an intrinsic value. That the soul of a man is infinitely great, beautiful, and precious in itself we do not venture to think; partly, because religion, for the most part, teaches a self-abasement and effacement contrary to the spirit and the teaching of Christ.

[This section is mind-boggling to me. I never really thought of myself as anything but horridly sinful based on the fact that Jesus' sacrificial death on the cross was much needed to purchase holiness for me! And all that is true. But the Bible also teaches us that we are intrinsically valuable to God. That is such good news! He values us simply because of who we are -- not the cleaned up, showered and fresh-smelling us. The ugly us. He sees us with the eyes of love, just as we see our own children through the eyes of love. Self-abasement is not what God requires of us, I don't think. He requires us to do justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with Him. He requires us to believe, to pray, to repent of our sins. But does He require that we despise ourselves? I used to think so. But Miss Mason seems to be suggesting that such thoughts are based on religion and not on a true relationship with the living God. I'll need to let this sink in and do some Bible study before commenting further.}

Emily Bronte.––We are indebted to the Belgian sage, M. Maeterlinck, for his vindication of the greatness of the soul, a vindication the more teIIing because he does not approach the subject from the religious standpoint, but brings, as it were, an outside witness. He has probably added nothing to the content of philosophy; but we have great need to be reminded, and reminded again, of the things that belong to our life; and to do this for us is a service. His contention, that in Emily Bronte we have an example of the immeasurable range of the soul, seems to me a just one: that a delicate girl, brought up almost in isolation in a remote parsonage, should be able to sound the depths of human passion, conceive of human tragedy, and gather the fruits of human wisdom, is a very fair illustration of the majesty of the soul; all the more so because she was not among the great as regards either virtue or achievement. When we turn from an obscure Emily Bronte to a Shakespeare, a Newton, a Rembrandt, a Dante, a Darwin, a Howard, we begin to discern the immensity of that soul which contains a measure for all things, capacity for all men; but we leave off too soon in our appreciation of our Great; we are too shamefaced to acknowledge to ourselves that it is in our own immensity we find some sort of measure for theirs. Are there any little men? Perhaps not. It may be that all the properties of the soul are present in everyone, developed or undeveloped, in greater or lesser degree. So Christ seems to have taught; and many a poor and insignificant soul has been found to hold capacity for Him.

But here is a case in which the greater is blessed (or cursed?) of the less. The realised self of each of us is a distressfully poor thing, and yet upon its insight and its action depends the redemption of that greater self, whose limitations no man has discovered. It is, to use a figure, as the relation between a country and its government. The country is ever greater than the governing body; and yet, for its development, the former must depend upon the latter.

[In this section, Miss Mason further explores the idea that our souls are worthy of great things, though in some the soul is less developed and we find less capacity for greatness.]

The Governing Powers.––What are these central governing powers, or officers, upon whose action the fulfilment of a human being depends? I cannot, as yet, go to Psychology for an answer, because she is still in the act of determining whether or not there be any spirit. Where I appear to abandon the dicta of our more ancient guide, Philosophy, it is only as I am led by common intuition. That which all men perceive to be true of themselves may be considered with a view to the conduct of the affairs of the inner life, just as it is wise to arrange our outward affairs on the belief that the sun rises at such an hour and sets at such an hour. The actual is of less immediate consequence than the apparent fact. 

As I do not know of any book to recommend to parents which should help their children in the conduct of life in matters such as I have indicated, which are neither precisely ethical nor religious, I venture to offer an outline of the sort of teaching I have in view in the form in which it might be given to intelligent children and young people of any age, from eight or nine upwards.

[I put the above sentence in bold because I think it's so important. We sometimes rely too heavily on Psychology to explain how we think and act. Miss Mason is hesitant to do that because Psychology had not, in her time, decided whether or not we have a spirit within. Of course, now we know Psychology decided against it. I love that she placed such a high value on this!]

How to use this Volume.––I think that in teaching children, mothers should make their own of so much as they wish to give of such teaching, and speak it, a little at a time, perhaps by way of Sunday talks. This would help to impress children with the thought that our relations with God embrace the whole of our lives. Older students of life would probably prefer to read for themselves, or with their parents, and the more advanced teaching which is suitable for them will pass over the heads of their younger brothers and sisters.

And now, we are ready to continue our study of The House of Heart together from Volume 4! If you want to begin at the beginning, click the links below:

Book I. -- Self-Knowledge
      Chapter 1. The Country Of Mansoul . . . pg. 1
      Chapter 2. The Perils Of Mansoul . . . pg. 5
      Chapter 3. The Government Of Mansoul . . . pg. 9

(All excerpts and links to volume 4 are copyrighted in full by  Ambleside Online.)