On “Education is an Atmosphere”

I’ve been taking a Saturday morning class with Karen Glass on In Vital Harmony, a book about Charlotte Mason and her 20 Principles, and which Karen authored. I really need to blog through each chapter of In Vital Harmony, but for now I want to share about the principle in this post title, as well as how good it is to revisit these ideas even after having studied Charlotte Mason for 17 years.

The subtitle of In Vital Harmony is “Charlotte Mason and the Natural Laws of Education”, and Karen explains in Chapter 1 that what is meant by Principle is natural law — ideas, like gravity, that just are by nature, unchangeable and out of our control. Of the 20 Principles, Karen has concluded that two of them, the first and the twelfth, Children are born persons and Education is the science of relations, are the chief principles from which the other 18 ‘flow’.

Through the first four weeks of our six week class with Karen we have covered those chief principles and 11 others, most of which are telling you that this is just the ways things are and work, as well as practices we ought not to do. In today’s class we discussed some principles which Charlotte Mason called ‘educational instruments’ — things we have at our disposal, things we can use and do.

We are limited to three educational instruments—the atmosphere of environment, the discipline of habit, and the presentation of living ideas.

Charlotte Mason, Philosophy of Education, p. xxix

Of those three ‘instruments’ — atmosphere, discipline, living ideas — it became clearer to me this morning, as Karen was describing what was meant by atmosphere, that it is strongly in the category of how things are, or natural law. I have known for many years that Mason did not mean that we should create some artificial classroom to appeal to children, full of plastic, flashy items; that we should not go out of our way to carefully construct some ‘child-friendly’, ‘educational’ setting; but that it is their natural environment, the one in which they (and we) daily live. I knew it wasn’t about the material things, but more about the ‘mood’, the ‘feel’ — you come up with some words. I really think that Mason was telling us, ‘Suck it up, buttercup, the kids are going to Do as you Do, and not just as you Say.’ It’s a fact. It’s a natural law. It’s just how things work for us humans. The Atmosphere of your home and your classroom will educate your children and students. It may not be in your carefully constructed lesson plan, but it will happen. Atmosphere is so closely related to the science of relations. Children (persons) are making connections everywhere. Character is forming from everything around them. Loves, affections, carings (yes, my word, and I like it!) are being ordered from their natural environment.

Our motto is,––’Education is an atmosphere, a discipline, a life.’ When we say that education is an atmosphere we do not mean that a child should be isolated in what may be called a ‘child environment’ specially adapted and prepared, but that we should take into account the educational value of his natural home atmosphere both as regards persons and things and should let him live freely among his proper conditions. It stultifies a child to bring down his world to the ‘child’s’ level.

It is not an environment that these want, a set of artificial relations carefully constructed, but an atmosphere which nobody has been at pains to constitute. It is there, about the child, his natural element, precisely as the atmosphere of the earth is about us.

The bracing atmosphere of truth and sincerity should be perceived in every School; and here again the common pursuit of knowledge by teacher and class comes to our aid and creates a Current of fresh air perceptible even to the chance visitor, who sees the glow of intellectual life and moral health on the faces of teachers and children alike.

Charlotte Mason, Philosophy of Education, p. 94, 96,97

So how’s your Atmosphere doing? Let’s be honest. For real!

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