Education is the Science of Relations
“When we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the universe.”
John Muir, My First Summer in the Sierra, p.157
Charlotte Mason’s twelfth principle is: Education is the science of relations. This type of knowledge is sometimes described as poetic or synthetic knowledge. The science of relations is where students form deep, meaningful relationships with knowledge. This type of learning is “not simply a matter of acquiring information but of encountering knowledge and allowing it to change us. As we learn to care about various things - things of the natural world or personal virtues, such as honesty - our feelings will motivate us to act because of what we know. In this way, knowledge becomes virtue in a person’s life.”¹
When we initially begin to consider this principle, often our initial reaction is to attempt to manufacture an artificial environment where we create superficial connections for our children. This is in contrast to letting them uncover their own, personal connections, thus allowing students to do the work of their own education. In many ways, this should relieve the pressure parents and teachers feel. The truth is, we we are not to be the "showman of the universe" for our children. In other words, we do not have to pretend to be the gatekeepers of all the important information children should know. Our role is to present inspiring ideas through quality literature, God's creation, daily living (hello Mother Culture!), poetry, music, and so much more!
Miss Mason tells us “...self-education is the only possible education; the rest is mere veneer laid on the surface of a child's nature.”² This is why we spread a broad and generous feast of living ideas. We feed their minds with food that is worthy of being digested because, “mere information is to it [the mind] as a meal of sawdust to the body.”³ Just as a body cannot be sustained upon sawdust, children’s minds cannot grow into all God intended if we consider a regurgitation of facts or information (which are what most tests - and grades are typically designed to measure) to be a satisfactory sign of their education.
This often-quoted paragraph from Charlotte Mason’s third volume, School Education drives our point home:
“Thou hast set my feet in a large room; should be the glad cry of every intelligent soul. Life should be all living, and not merely a tedious passing of time; not all doing or all feeling or all thinking - the strain would be too great - but, all living; that is to say, we should be in touch wherever we go, whatever we hear, whatever we see, with some manner of vital interest. We cannot give our children these interests; we prefer that they should never say they have learned botany or conchology, geology or astronomy. The question is not, - how much does the youth know? When he has finished his education - but how much does he care? In fact, how large is the room in which he finds his feet set? And, therefore, how full is the life he has before him?”⁴
¹ Karen Glass, In Vital Harmony: Charlotte Mason and the Natural Laws of Education, p. 28.
², ³ Charlotte Mason, Towards a Philosophy of Education, p. 240. & p. 105.
⁴ Charlotte Mason, School Education, p. 170.