Crossing the Educational Rubicon: Charlotte Mason Through High School
- Thursday, September 16, 2010
Choosing the path of home education is challenging at any time, but it becomes downright daunting when facing the academic rigors of high school. For those committed to a Charlotte Mason approach to education, high school seems to present the proverbial Rubicon, whereby upon crossing one enters into an entirely new, frightening, and unpredictable current. Faced with the swirling rapids of lab sciences, foreign language requirements, algebra, and geometry, stepping by faith into those icy waters seems, well, not so enticing. But it is arguable that in crossing this Rubicon, the greatest benefits of the Charlotte Mason approach are possible.
Albert Einstein's notions of the modern tendency to cultural myopia—seeing the world only through the narrow constrains of our own contemporary lens—seem particularly apropos at this juncture:
Somebody who only reads newspapers and at best books of contemporary authors looks to me like an extremely near-sighted person who scorns eyeglasses. He is completely dependent on the prejudices and fashions of his times, since he never gets to see or hear anything else. There are only a few enlightened people with a lucid mind and style and with good taste within a century. What has been preserved of their work belongs among the most precious possessions of mankind. We owe it to a few writers of antiquity (Plato, Aristotle, etc.) that the people in the Middle Ages could slowly extricate themselves from the superstitions and ignorance that had darkened life for more than half a millennium. Nothing is more needed to overcome the modernist's snobbishness.1
Students of history also know that it was the painstaking work of dedicated monks in abbeys and monasteries across Europe—copying those timeless works—that made them available to the world emerging from the Dark Ages. How tragic if, in this generation, their labor is lost on us because we simply fail to include them in our studies! Because the Charlotte Mason approach advocates a curriculum richly based upon literature, history, biography, and original source documents, it is particularly in high school that students have achieved the academic maturity and skill sets required to read, enjoy, and be enlarged by the great works of history. Without this exposure at the most critical time in a student's academic career, students are subject to the same cultural myopia that is pervasive in our society. The study of the great works, the philosophical questionings, and the dramatic writings of the most "lucid minds" of history is the special purview of the high school student following the Charlotte Mason paradigm.
The rigors of a college preparatory course of study necessitate the adoption of standardized texts in the areas of math, science, and foreign language study. While these courses require focused concentration on the materialist/scientific world, a curriculum balanced with a rich selection of the humanities provides perspective and the very raison d'être. If we apply the maxim of Socrates, that "the unexamined life is not worth living," so, too, the un-philosophical quest for knowledge is not worth pursuing.
As an example of how one might approach high school while keeping a rich literature and history-based approach as the goal, let us consider a typical freshman year of ancient studies. Assuming a student has been well versed in history and literature in his grammar school years, a course of study might look like this: Beginning with ancient Sumer, students will read The Epic of Gilgamesh* by David Ferry. As the first recorded epic in human history, students will have an opportunity to realize how world literatures reflect and resonate with one another in their pursuit of wisdom. Literary components that form the foundation to many classic works are evident here—the heroic quest, the road of trials, the seductress, apotheosis, and so on. Students can compare and contrast the Utnapishtim story of a worldwide flood with the Biblical story of Noah and redemption typology. Upon learning the elements of the heroic quest—so clearly depicted in The Epic of Gilgamesh, a literary analysis of the Biblical Joseph will provide the close reader with the narrative of a heroic journey so sublime that Gilgamesh will pale by comparison. In addition, not only does the story of Joseph's road of trials provide literary moments of profound pathos, but the story also operates as a foreshadowing and a typology of the life and ministry of Christ.
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