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Lessons in the Light

Learning in the Light

20 Favorite Quotes from "For the Children's Sake"

Jessalyn Hutto


Susan Schaeffer Macaulay gave me my first delicious taste of what a Charlotte Mason education could look like for my children in her classic book, For the Children's Sake. And while I wouldn't say that I'm a by-the-book, die-hard Charlotte Mason homeschooler, let's just say, I walk the line.

There are only a few minor objections I have to Ms. Mason's philosophies (which I will seek to go into in a later post), but by and large I'm a huge fan of Ms. Mazon's ideas and practices and believe she has so much to offer Christian parents and traditional teachers who wish to educate the whole child. 

This post is not my book review of For the Children's Sake, but rather a collection of inspiring quotes that I wish to remember and implement in my children's education. There were so many things in this book that made me stop and think deeply about the nature and practice of education that I'm afraid of closing its pages and forgetting key concepts. So I've decided to collect as much of these tasty morsels here as I can. 

Perhaps they will be a blessing to you and your pupils as well. I've put in bold the parts of the quote that really struck me.

(Because Macaulay is summarizing Charlotte Mason's ideas and explaining how they influenced her own ideas on education, much of her book is direct quotations from Charlotte. For this reason I will add a parenthesis at the end of each quote to differentiate between Macaulay's words and Charlotte's.)

On the definition of "Christian education:"

"Christians can't develop a Christian view of education by accepting the usual aims and views of our society and then adding a 'Christian message' or interpretation. No, we start from a different basis. We have another world view - another people view!" (Macaulay)

On the individuality of the child:

"Look well at the child on your knee. In whatever condition you find him, look with reverence. We can only love and serve him and be his friend. We cannot own him. He is not ours." (Macaulay) 

On the nature of a child:

"We must know something about the material we are to work upon if the education we offer isn to to be scrappy and superficial. We must have some measure of a child's requirements, not based on his uses to society, nor upon the standard of the world he lives in, but upon his own capacity and needs." (Mason)

On the lifelong nature of education:

"When a baby is picked up, spoken to, and loved, he is starting his education as God planned it. For all our lives we are human beings, in an active state of learning, responding understanding. Educating extends to all of life. In fact, an educational system that says, one bright summer's day in the dawn of my youth, 'There. Now you are educated. This piece of paper says so,' is doing me a gross disfavor. The truly educated person has only had many doors of interest opened. He knows that life will not be long enough to follow everything through fully." (Macaulay)

On the roles of the teachers and students:

"The child is a person who needs to grow in knowledge. You have some of that knowledge. Not because you are an adult and adults are supposed to be wonderfully clever; the Bible is very clear in its teaching that there is a sense in which we must ourselves become like this little child on our knee if we are to inherit the kingdom of God. But we have knowledge because we have lived in God's world as persons, and that knowledge can be shared. Christians have the added perspective of God's Word from which to explain their experience and understanding of life." (Macaulay)

"...[a child's] mind is the instrument of his education and... his education does not produce his mind." (Mason)

"It isn't all as hard as the experts make out. We are human beings, persons, created to live. To have life more abundantly. Wonder together; grow together. Together share the struggles of knowing that we cannot perfectly follow God's law. We are fellow-pilgrims. We walk side by side as human beings under the love and authority of Him who made us." (Macaulay)

On a varied and deep educational diet:

"We put into the children's hand lesson books with pretty pictures and easy talk, almost as good as storybooks; but we do not see that, after all, we are giving them... little pills of knowledge in the form of a weak and copious diluent. Teachers, and even parents who are careful enough about their children's diet, are so reckless as to the sort of mental aliment offered to them, that I am exceedingly anxious to secure consideration for the question, of the lessons and literature for little people. [She is writing here about children under nine, but the principles are the same at any age.]... We see, then, that the children's lessons should provide material for their mental growth, should exercise the several powers of there minds, should furnish them with fruitful ideas, and should afford them with knowledge, really valuable for its own sake, accurate, and interesting, of the kind that the child may recall as a man with profit and pleasure." (Mason)

On the individuality of each child's mind and therefore their education:

"A child should never be made to feel that he is lagging behind others of his age. We don't harass babies of eighteen months to walk if they still crawl. Einstein only started talking at four years! By being allowed to learn at their own speed, the children taught by Charlotte Mason were happy with their mastery skills. They did not "fail" or "pass." They learned how to read and write accurately. A high standard was expected, but at a level appropriate to the child's ability. It was like climbing ones own private ladder. It was not to be like a race." (Macaulay)

"The Bible teaches that we are like parts of a body. In other words, we are different from each other, we all have different gifts. How immoral to apply an arbitrary yardstick to the little child and expect him to progress at some 'norma' speed! we take from him the joy of accomplishing new skills which should be part of growing up." (Macaulay) 

On Christianity illuminating education: 

"The first task of education is a moral one, with the Judeo-Christian framework giving direction. In a fallen world, we would end up with hopelessness and depression if it were not for the glorious reality of God's revealed Word. We are not victims of despair, darkness, or the evil in ourselves or the world. There is righteousness, goodness, holiness, fairness, wholeness. This is an objective truth, the very substance of the infinite God who is indeed there and who has not been silent. And so we, the finite, can know. We don't have to search within our own selves to find the way. There is relief. We are sheep; we have been given a shepherd. We who sit in darkness have been given a great light." (Macaulay)

On habit training:

"Bad habits make slaves of those who have them. But good habits are like tracks along which our usual behavior runs. This frees us to concentrate on the important choices we have to make in life." (Macaulay)

On learning from living books:

"Share good books with children. It is a magic door of contact between a child and some of the most interesting and creative people our culture has enjoyed." (Macaulay)

"We don't have to chart exactly what a child has 'learned' from any of these sources to make it worthwhile using them. This is a different way of thinking about learning. Our job is to give the best nourishment regularly. The child takes what is appropriate to him at the time. A good example is when we enjoy a book together as a family. The nine-year-old enjoys hearing J.R.R. Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings. He extracts nourishment for mind and spirit. The fourteen-year-old also is fed, but extracts something different. The parents enjoy it in yet another way. There is no 'right' way to react, no list of items one has to remember. Living life isn't like that. We are individuals, and we leave it that way." (Macaulay)

"Literature can help children think about what life is like before they live it as adults." (Macaulay)

On over structuring a child's days:

"How do we shortchange the child of today? We coop him up like a battery hen in a gaudy plastic cage. We 'timetable' his day with 'improving' activities so that he is a foreigner to himself and to the great outdoors." (Macaulay)

On busywork:

"Many schools excel in wasting time. Time is like a fortune; it is wrong to allow it to be buried. Child are tired out with busy work. They are talked at until their attention habitually wanders, and maybe nine-tenths of their time is wasted."  (Macaulay)

On the end goal directing us:

"We have to look long and hard at the individual child, our home, school, and outside influences. Just because a home or school is 'Christian' does not mean that the child is being properly helped, grounded, educated as a whole person. We accept that nothing is perfect, but we try to get our priorities right. We are ready to take time and trouble to see that our children aren't swept off in a roaring tide. But we want more than that. We pray for a person who is like the individual mentioned in Psalm 1. He has grown like an ad tree by a stream. Storms may roar, a branch or two may snap, but the oak stands firmly grounded - so much so that small creatures seek shelter therein. 

There is no one method to achieve such a mature person. There is no perfect or complete situation. We must pray for the individual, pray for wisdom, open our eyes, choose priorities. We must not only talk. We have to serve, give, and be willing to live with the children. We nurture with life." (Macaulay)

On the importance of art in education:

"Children whose minds and spirits are nourished with these paintings will, in turn, look at the world around them with new eyes. They will comment on the quality of dappled light under the trees, or note that the storm clouds rid them of a Rembrandt landscape. It is a wealth that will remain with them for life." (Macaulay)

On a education as a feast:

"Children should have relationships with earth and water, should run and leap, ride and swim, should establish the relation of maker to material in as many kinds as may be; should have dear and initmate relations with persons, through present intercourse, through tale or poem, picture or statue; through flint arrow-head or modern motor-car: beast and bird, herb and tree, they must have familiar acquaintance with. Other peoples and their languages must not be strange to them. Above all they should find that most intimate and highest of all Relationships - the fulfillment of their being [their relationship with God].

This is not a bewildering program, because, in all these and more directions, children have affinities; and a human being does not fill his place in the universe without putting out tendrils of attachment in the directions proper to him. We must get rid of the notion that to learn the 'three R's' or the Latin grammar well, a child should learn these and nothing else. It is turfier children as for ourselves that, the wider the range of interests, the more intelligent is the apprehension of each." (Mason)