I can clearly remember when I first discovered Classical Education. As the recipient of a full scholarship for prospective teachers, I had intensely studied educational philosophy and methodology for four years in college. However, it wasn’t until after I graduated college that I finally encountered the pedagogy of the ancients. I recall hearing a radio advertisement for a local Classical school that piqued my interest and caused me to begin my research. I remember thinking, “Classical Education? What in the world is THAT?” It wasn’t long before I was drinking deeply from the well of Dorothy Sayers, Susan Wise Bauer, and the Trivium as developmental stages. Shortly after I began my research, I also discovered the CiRCE Institute and Andrew Kern, with their focus on Christian Classical Education as a means to cultivate wisdom and virtue. It was then that I felt as if I had finally come “home.” After years of immersion in the dry, progressive ideas of modern education, it seemed as if I had finally discovered a philosophy of education that could quench my thirst for Truth. I knew that when I had my own children, I would be giving them a Classical Christian education at home.
I cannot recall at all, however, when I first learned of Charlotte Mason. I am sure that it was a link within a link within a link on the Internet somewhere that I first encountered her name. When I read about how she was a 19th Century educator who had labored to recover sound educational ideas and practices in response to the Progressive English schools of her time, I felt as if I had encountered a kindred spirit. I began perusing blogs that advocated for a Charlotte Mason philosophy of education. I bought and devoured her six-volume Original Homeschooling Series. I began to collect books from the Ambleside Online reading lists.
At no point in my research did it ever occur to me that Mason’s ideas and practices were at odds with a true Christian Classical Education, so I was shocked when I began homeschooling my oldest son and encountered so many people who proclaimed that the two philosophies were in conflict. I had difficulty communicating why I felt that Charlotte Mason’s ideas were not counter to traditional Christian Classical Educational philosophy, and I began to wonder if I was missing something. There were so many arguments from the various “camps” that I began to doubt my own intuition that Charlotte Mason and Christian Classical Education were just two sides of the same ancient coin. Instead of trusting my instincts, the ones that told me I could draw from one philosophy without compromising the other, I became confused. I was excited, then, when I found Karen Glass’ book, Consider This: Charlotte Mason and the Classical Tradition. I was hopeful that Glass could explain what I believed intuitively but could not articulate—that a Charlotte Mason education IS, in fact, a Classical Christian Education.
Karen Glass is a founder of Ambleside Online and has homeschooled her children for over twenty years. She uses her personal experience and her many years of study of educational history and philosophy to make the case that Charlotte Mason actually developed her philosophy of education by harvesting from the traditions of the Classical past.
In this concise but rich little book, Glass does an excellent job of explaining how, although ancient educators did not always agree on the method, they did agree on the purpose of education, which was the cultivation of wisdom and virtue through the pursuance of Truth, Goodness, and Beauty. Like the ancients, Mason was also explicit in her advocacy for a moral education. Glass states that
“[Mason] defined virtue in much the same way [the Ancients] did, as the actions that result from acquiring wisdom.”
In that sense, Glass makes the case that Classical Education and a Charlotte Mason education have the same overarching goal: the formation of character and right actions by means of right thinking.
Glass traces the history of education and the major shifts in pedagogical thinking, and quotes frequently from the writings of ancient educators like Plato, Aristotle, Quintilian, and Augustine. She shows how Mason was steeped in these classical works and how Classical thinkers directly influenced the development of her philosophy of education. She contrasts the methodology of modern, progressive education, and convincingly demonstrates how Mason was firmly camped in the principles and methodology of Classical Education.
Glass does make important distinctions between some of the methods advocated by a few modern Classical Educators and the methodology of the ancient educators. She respectfully calls into question some of the practices that are often implemented without full understanding of the underlying Classical principles. But, overall, she makes a convincing case that a bridge does not need to be built between Classical Education and Charlotte Mason’s philosophy; they are already standing firmly on the same ground. I came away from the book solidly convinced that Charlotte Mason’s philosophy of education was a modern application of thoroughly Classical principles.
It is typical in these times to see homeschool parents segregate into various camps depending on educational practices and methodology. Whether one is Classical, Charlotte Mason, eclectic, traditional school-at-home, or an unschooler, it seems to be common practice to stand firmly on “our way” and be suspicious (or outright acrimonious) toward those who adhere to a different philosophy. Glass’ book is a breath of fresh air in a conversation that is sometimes polluted with vitriol. Instead of focusing on the differences, Consider This does exactly as the title suggests: it asks us to consider the rich educational traditions that we have in common, and the ways in which they have evolved and influenced our modern day philosophies. Regardless of the educational camp in which you may find yourself, this book is one that will enlighten and encourage you as you labor to cultivate wisdom and virtue in your students.