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Lessons in the Light

Learning in the Light

Book Review: For the Children's Sake

Jessalyn Hutto

Short Summary

In the much loved book, For the Children's Sake, Susan Schaeffer Macaulay shares how she became dismayed by the way her young daughter's natural joy and zeal for learning seemed to wilt in the traditional school environment she'd been placed into. That intense spark that is so characteristic of curious little children seemed to fade as she was educated in a manner that wasn't natural to her disposition, in a classroom where the children outnumbered the teacher 40 to 1. It wasn't until her family had the opportunity to join a small cottage school that made use of Charlotte Mason's philosophies that Macauley saw a change in her child's attitude toward education, and for that matter, life.

In this small cottage school, her children (by now she had more school-aged kids) had the joy of not only learning how to read and do math, but the joy of spending substantial amounts of time in nature, studying classical artists and composers, acting out Shakespearian plays, soaking in the beautiful language of good, living books, learning handicrafts, learning a foreign language, and so much more - all without their lessons ever becoming drudgery. Sounds a little too good to be true when compared to our modern educational system, doesn't it? And yet, in For the Children's Sake  Macaulay seeks to show her readers that it is not only possible, but essential that we offer our children more than our society currently settles for.

For the Children's Sake is a inspiring and thought-provoking journey through the main tenets of a Charlotte Mason education. It seeks to explain how modern students and teachers can benefit from Ms. Mason's classic ideas. And while the book obviously has a great deal to do with Charlotte Mason, Macauley (the daughter of well known Christian apologists Edith and Francis Shaeffer) contributed much in her own right. Her personal insights into a form of education that respects the personhood of each individual child and the practical applications of such a truth in our modern times will leave you with much to ponder.

My Impressions

Perhaps you are as unfamiliar with Charlotte Mason and her educational philosophies as I was before reading For the Children's Sake. To be completely honest, the only things I knew about Charlotte Mason were that she was a fan of nature walks and that a lot of her recommended reading material can be found online for free.

I am so glad that I didn't write off For the Children's Sake due to my lack of knowledge but instead took the recommendation of countless bloggers and authors who have found it so helpful. It has truly transformed my view of education.

What I mean is, Macaulay gave me a vision for what education could be - not what has become accepted in our culture. The ideas in this book resonated with my soul, because as a home educating mother, I want to understand how my faith in Christ and my belief in the Bible should influence - and in this case, transform - the way I teach and lead and raise my children.

Charlotte Mason - as classical educators of the past have done for generations - didn't treat her pupils as computers, but as human beings with souls that need to be nourished just as much as their minds need to be filled with ideas. Through For the Children's Sake, I was given a vision for a form of education that goes beyond memorizing facts and getting great SAT scores, but actually has at its aim the nurturing of children's souls.

I have no doubt that I will forever be indebted to this book.

My Critique

There is at least one point of contention I have with Charlotte Mason (from what I've read about her and from her so far) in terms of her view of children, and therefore in terms of her educational philosophies, and therefore in terms of this particular book. At times it seems as though Mason does not fully commit to the doctrine of total depravity. Mason was a Christian and did believe that children are born with a sin nature, but how deeply she believed the sin nature affects a child and his need for guidance and correction throughout his education is less clear.

In fact, when Macaulay gives a brief synopsis of Mason's philosophy, the second tenet listed is that children "are not born either good or bad, but with possibilities for good and evil." Now elsewhere, it is made clear that Mason believed children to be affected by the fall. However, this bold assertion that children are born with the possibility for good and evil indicates to me that Mason held more of a "blank slate" view of children than I'm personally comfortable with. I have gotten this impression from her book Habits: The Mother's Secret to Success as well (another great book, by the way). This belief that children are not born good or bad but with the potential for good and evil is one of the greatest underpinnings of her methodology (The greatest belief would be that children are born persons and therefore should be educated as such). 

Mason continually emphasizes the necessity of feeding children with the right soul and mind food in order for them to grow and mature into healthy, educated people. In this sense her view of the child having possibilities toward good and evil is clearly seen, as the results seem to be dependent upon what they are "fed" and what their souls do with that food. There is no sense, from what I've read thus far, that the Holy Spirit must bring about a new birth in order for the good things of this earth (the natural world, living books, wonderful ideas, etc...) to be seen as truly good and to have the desired sanctifying effect. This is where I personally diverge from the Charlotte Mason approach to education. My homeschool is currently heavily influenced by Charlotte Mason and the wealth of wisdom she has shared through her writings, but I do see more of a place for instruction and correction than I believe she would have.

Having said this, I don't want to give the impression that the insights found within the pages of For the Children's Sake are any less important or inspiring because of it. Each chapter is absolutely brimming with thought-provoking ideas on education that you do not want to miss. It is just something to be aware of as you read.

Who's It For?

Anyone who cares about children! Honestly, even if you have no children of your own and are not a teacher by profession. One of the things I loved the most about Macaulay's treatment of Charlotte Mason is that she encourages us to look for opportunities to serve the children around us in our communities. If you are an aunt, an uncle, a grandparent, a Sunday school teacher, or a neighbor to a child, you can be an agent of blessing to them by introducing them to good books, beautiful art, through teaching them a skill, etc.

Of course, those who are educationally minded, such as teachers or homeschooling parents will find the greatest enjoyment from For the Children's Sake's pages.

In my opinion, every parent should read this book. 

I'm certain it will be the first book I recommend to parents who are interested in homeschooling.

Buy, Borrow, or Burn?

This is definitely a book that you should buy. In fact, get a couple of copies because you will undoubtably want to share it with others. Find my favorite quotes from For the Children's Sake here.