The Bible: Better than Any Curriculum
"But among all books to be learned for ourselves, or taught to our children, one Book, the most important book in the world, still stands supreme."¹
Charlotte Mason believed the Bible should be a central part of a child's education. She saw immense value in reading from the Bible directly - not only as a spiritual discipline, but as a source of rich literary value. She goes so far as to say that "a child might, in fact, receive a liberal education from the Bible alone, for The Book contains within itself a great literature."² However, the habit of reading the Bible begins at home, with his parents. She states, "The habit of hearing, and later, of reading the Bible, is one to establish at an early age." Yet, "many parents fall back upon little collections of texts for morning and evening use...We may believe that the narrative teaching of the Scriptures is far more helpful to children, anyway, than the stimulating moral and spiritual texts picked out for them in little devotional books."³
Charlotte cautions us that when we read a paraphrase or abridgment of any book to our children, including the Bible that, "we water their books down and drain them of literary flavour, because we wrongly suppose that children cannot understand what we understand ourselves; what is worse, we explain and we question..."⁴ When we do read to our children directly from scripture, we usually feel the need to summarize or ask pointed comprehension questions in order to drive the point home to ensure that our children get it.
Instead of allowing the Lord to speak to their hearts through His Word, we often spend so much time moralizing that our children aren't given the opportunity to apply their minds to the passage. In other words, we despise them. Charlotte Mason says this is wholly unnecessary. The familiar verse from 2 Timothy (3:16) comes to mind, "All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness." This is true for all persons - regardless of age; Timothy doesn't end this verse by saying for adults only. As hard as it is, most of us could probably afford to put more of our relianbe Holy Spirit to do the work of capturing our children's hearts.
Regarding the power of the Bible in education, Charlotte Mason says this:
"The Bible, as a mere instrument of education, is at the very least, as valuable as the classics of Greece or Rome. Here is poetry, the rhythm of which soothes even the jaded brain past taking pleasure in any other. Here is history, based on such broad, clear lines, such dealing of slow and sure and even-handed justice to the nations, such stories of national sins and national repentences, that the student realises, as from no other history, the solidarity of the race, the brotherhood, and, if we may call it so, the individuality of the nations. Here is philosophy which of all the philosophies which have been propounded, is alone adequate to the interpretation of human life. We say not a word here of that which is the raison d'être of the Bible, its teaching of religion, its revelation of God to man; but to urge only one point more, all the literatures of the world put together utterly fail to give us a system of ethics, in precept and example, motive and sanction, complete as that to which we have been born as our common inheritance in the Bible."⁵
It's clear Charlotte Mason believed that the Bible is an indispensable tool for the educator across subjects. Take poetry, for instance. One P.N.E.U. (Parents National Education Union) article describes the poetical value this way: "As to the poetic and literary value [of the Bible], little need be said. Such books as the Psalms, Job, and many portions of the Prophets would stand pre-eminent amongst books even if they had not the seal of divine authorship to set them apart. No one, having learnt what poetry means at such a fountainhead, can have a vitiated taste."⁶
The same P.N.E.U. article argues that the historical value the narrative the Bible provides cannot be overstated. All other texts pale in comparison to the way in which the Bible takes the reader through the history of mankind. The reason, the article states, is "because the Bible is a perfect history, whereas the great majority of text books dealing with history are but more or less indifferently composed. Consider the art with which the salient points of Jewish history are brought into prominence, how the political and religious growth of the people is indicated, how the aspirations, the errings, the heroism, the fall of the nation - how all these successive stages are vividly described in the various historical and prophetic books. What a delightful history book we might have if some great writer were to conceive the idea of compiling a history on the same lines of the bible."⁷
Finally, the stories of the Bible are ripe for igniting the imagination of children. Children are naturally drawn to stories of all kinds, but how much more impactful is it when the stories themselves are true! This is the very nourishment that Charlotte Mason says serves as rich food for the mind; no feast is nourishing for the mind than that of His Word! And this, "food, it is certain, which cannot give a mind any but an exquisitely spiritual conception of all that lies in or beyond our mortal ken."⁸
When we view the Bible through this lens, we begin to see how it applies not only to our children, but to ourselves as well. After all, we too, are born persons. For "how can we help loving a book which gives so deep and loving a solution to all our yearnings and difficulties? And how secretly familiar to us all is the desire to build a tower, whose top may reach unto heaven; and yet, can we ever feel that longing 'let us make us a name' without remembering the startling information that 'the Lord came to see'?"⁹ It's a welcome epiphany to realize how utterly relatable the characters of the Bible are to ourselves. We see our own depravity and how God uses His people for His good in spite of it.
In the end, "ere we can teach the Bible intelligently, we must learn it intelligently ourselves."¹⁰ In other words, we cannot give our children something that we do not have. It doesn't take a fancy family devotional or curriculum to provide a love or understanding of the Bible. The reality is that we live in a world that is super-saturated with Bible resources, podcasts, and family devotionals of every kind. The question is: do our children see us reaching for those things in place of the actual Bible? Let's prioritize His Word above all the other shiny things out there! It is enough. Not only that, the Bible can (and arguably should!) be applied across a variety of disciplines and contexts to provide a deeply rich and meaningful education to our children.
Using the Bible in this way is applicable regardless of how we choose to school our children. Whether your kids are in public school, (or even a private school!), it’s likely that the Bible isn’t a core part of their curriculum. Let’s challenge ourselves to use the Bible in our homes in ways that go beyond the obligatory Bible reading checklist. Why not try using the Bible for daily copywork or dictation passages? Or maybe as a means to reinforce grammar concepts or explore the style and structure of various forms of writing (e.g., poetry, expository, or historical first-hand accounts, etc.)? The options are practically limitless! As we go through our week, let’s ask ourselves: How can we use the Bible as an educational tool in our unique home and schooling situation?
¹,¹⁰ Petrie L.G., Mary, "Bible Teaching Old and New", The Parents' Review, vol. 4, p. 241-249. https://www.amblesideonline.org/PR/PR04p241BibleTeaching.shtml.
²,³,⁴, Mason, Charlotte, School Education, p. 235, p. 143, & p. 304.
⁵ Mason, Charlotte, Parents and Children, p. 105.
⁶,⁷,⁸,⁹ Brigstocke, W. Osborne, "The Educational Value of Great Books: The Bible", The Parents' Review., p. 489. https://www.amblesideonline.org/PR/PR14p489TheBible.shtml.