Why Educational 'Systems' Fail
“[Parents] absolutely must weigh principles and adopt a method of education for themselves.”
- Charlotte Mason, Home Education, p. 6.
In her first volume, Charlotte Mason makes a distinction between a system versus a method of education. Too often we are tempted to adopt a system of education. A system can be thought of as a check the box sort of mentality; or the idea that if we input XYZ then we will achieve a precise result - it’s reliable, calculable and more than anything else, it’s comforting. Charlotte admits, “Though a system is highly useful as an instrument of education, a ‘system of education’ is mischievous as producing only mechanical action instead of the vital growth and movement of a living being.”¹
Systems certainly have their place in our lives. Learning new skills such as baking, dancing, or even how to become a good accountant can all be learned through a system; but to rest our entire philosophy on a system of education is extremely limiting - if not detrimental. This is one of the reasons that I’ve posted so much regarding the importance of the big picture when it comes to educational philosophy. We crave systems because systems give us the peace of mind that if we do certain things, in a specific way, that the output will be commendable. But our children are not machines and their education should not be thought of in such a way.
“It is worthwhile to point out the differing characters of a system and a method, because parents let themselves be run away with often enough by some plausible ‘system,’ the object of which is to produce development in one direction - of the muscles, of the memory, of the reasoning faculty - and to rest content, as if that single development were a complete all-round education. This easy satisfaction arises from the sluggishness of human nature, to which any definite scheme is more agreeable than the constant watchfulness, the unforeseen action, called for when the whole of a child’s existence is to be used as the means of his education.”²
Even Charlotte Mason herself advises against taking the books lists she used in her schools and turning them into a checklist to be completed. She exhorted this was because “there is always the danger that a method, a bona fide method, should degenerate into a mere system.” So, what is a method of education? A method of education is having a firm grasp on the principles that comprise your philosophy of education while understanding the end goal of education. “Method, with the end of education in view, presses the most unlikely matters into service to bring about that end… The parent who sees his way - that is, the exact force of method - to educate his child, will make use of every circumstance of the child’s life almost without intention on his own part, so easy and spontaneous is a method of education based upon Natural Law.”³
Are you naturally more drawn to a system or a method of education? How could you move from a system to a method?
¹, ², ³ Charlotte Mason, Home Education, pgs. 9-11.