Sunday, April 21, 2013

A Jew in the Rain and a Song in your Heart

by Megan Hoyt

In my internet search on hymn study for last week's blog, like a crazed squirrel I followed many rabbit trails -- one of which led me to a blog called "A Jew in the Rain" and a post called "Judaism and Charlotte Mason." Did you know this blog existed? Did you know there were any Jewish educators who were even familiar with Charlotte Mason? I didn't.

Yeah. I know. This had nothing to do with hymns. But this Jew in the Rain blog is really interesting! Here's the link.

I think the author has a pretty solid understanding of the Charlotte Mason method. But their belief system tells them to seek Torah for character growth and not, as they perceive Charlotte Mason to have done, to go to ancient classical Greece and Rome for answers. I can see where this concept came from. Her recommendations to read Plutarch and the way her programmes always had an ancient history study going on at the same time as other history studies can lead one to believe her source for all things moral was the classics. It's assumed that a classical education does the same thing, but I've recently discovered that isn't true either:

So, also, in my opinion, are the folks over at A Jew in the Rain misunderstanding the true crux of a Charlotte Mason education, but I've invited them over here to learn alongside us as we study the Series and Parents' Review. Here's an excerpt from their blog:

"What Charlotte Mason has in common with Torah is the understanding that one's life as a religious individual is a whole into which certain general studies can be incorporated, without resulting in a religious-secular "double life."

 Off the top of my head, I would hazard that under rarefied conditions (and there is a spectrum of opinions on just what that means):

-Good science can help you to live sensibly and appreciate the wisdom and love of the Creator.

-Good humanities can also show you what is in a person or what is in the world, can illustrate poignantly and poetically principles of how to live or how not to live.

-It can be helpful for a person to be exposed to beauty, order, and genius.

Where Charlotte Mason and Torah part ways in general studies is on whether the arts and sciences are seen as an end in themselves.

Charlotte Mason's branch of Christianity, so far as I can make out, seems to have adopted the Classical Greco-Romans as its honorary forebears, and so to have inherited the Classical values of beauty, order, and genius for their own sake: of beauty as an end in itself. Thus, in CM it is an independent moral duty to study nature and to acquire discriminating artistic taste. ...

What I like about Charlotte Mason, then, is not why she teaches the arts and sciences, only how. I do think her methods are excellent, and a lot closer to Jewish ideas than a lot of educational theory out there. But one can't pluck the religion bits out of a CM education, tack a Judaic Studies curriculum on the CM general studies, and call it Jewish Charlotte Mason. Her reasons for studying secular studies inform her approach to them and her choices of material. If you want Jewish Charlotte Mason, you'll have to look into a truly Jewish approach to secular studies." 

From what I can gather through studying the Series and through reading the programmes and discovering (only a few months ago) how much time was devoted to studying theology each day, I believe she meant for students to dig into the Bible, commentaries, and other resources for themselves and to grow in various character traits by allowing the Holy Spirit to guide them. That is quite a different thing from what A Jew in the Rain presupposed!

Here's what I mean:

"We are probably quite incapable of measuring the religious receptivity of children. Nevertheless, their fitness to apprehend the deep things of God is a fact with which we are called to 'deal prudently,' and to deal reverently." (Vol. 1, Part V-- Lessons As Instruments Of Education, p. 248)

"But let the imaginations of children be stored with the pictures, their minds nourished upon the words, of the gradually unfolding story of the Scriptures, and they will come to look out upon a wide horizon within which persons and events take shape in their due place and due proportion. By degrees, they will see that the world is a stage whereon the goodness of God is continually striving with the wilfulness of man; that some heroic men take sides with God; and that others, foolish and headstrong, oppose themselves to Him. The fire of enthusiasm will kindle in their breast, and the children, too, will take their side, without much exhortation, or any thought or talk of spiritual experience." (Vol. 1, Part V-- Lessons As Instruments Of Education, p. 249)

"The method of such lessons is very simple. Read aloud to the children a few verses covering if possible, an episode. Read reverently, carefully, and with just expression. Then require the children to narrate what they have listened to as nearly as possible in the words of the Bible." (Vol. 1, Part V-- Lessons As Instruments Of Education, p. 251)

"The learning by heart of Bible passages should begin while the children are quite young, six or seven. It is a delightful thing to have the memory stored with beautiful, comforting, and inspiring passages, and we cannot tell when and how this manner of seed may spring up, grow, and bear fruit;" (Vol. 1, Part V-- Lessons As Instruments Of Education, p. 253)

"Let all the circumstances of the daily Bible reading--the consecutive reading, from the first chapter of Genesis onwards, with necessary omissions--be delightful to the child; let him be in his mother's room, in his mother's arms; let that quarter of an hour be one of sweet leisure and sober gladness, the child's whole interest being allowed to go to the story without distracting moral considerations; and then, the less talk the better; the story will sink in, and bring its own teaching, a little now, and more every year as he is able to bear it." (Vol. 1 Part VI The Will--The Conscience--The Divine Life In The Child, p. 337)

"A word about the reading of the Bible. I think we make a mistake in burying the text under our endless comments and applications. Also, I doubt if the picking out of individual verses, and grinding these into the child until they cease to have any meaning for him, is anything but a hindrance to the spiritual life." (Vol. 1 Part VI The Will--The Conscience--The Divine Life In The Child, p. 348-9)

"The Word is full of vital force, capable of applying itself. A seed, light as thistledown, wafted into the child's soul will take root downwards and bear fruit upwards. What is required of us is, that we should implant a love of the Word; that the most delightful moments of the child's day should be those in which his mother reads for him, with sweet sympathy and holy gladness in voice and eyes, the beautiful stories of the Bible; and now and then in the reading will occur one of those convictions, passing from the soul of the mother to the soul of the child, in which is the life of the Spirit." (Vol. 1 Part VI The Will--The Conscience--The Divine Life In The Child, p. 349)

"Above all, do not read the Bible at the child: do not let any words of the Scriptures be occasions for gibbeting his faults. It is the office of the Holy Ghost to convince of sin; and He is able to use the Word for this purpose, without risk of that hardening of the heart in which our clumsy dealings too often result." (Vol. 1 Part VI The Will--The Conscience--The Divine Life In The Child, p. 348-9)

"The Bible, the great Storehouse of Moral Impression.--Valuable as are some compendiums of its moral teaching, it is to the Bible itself we must go as to the great storehouse of moral impressions." (Vol.3 Chapter 16 How to Use School-Books, p.175)

"A child might, in fact, receive a liberal education from the Bible alone, for The Book contains within itself a great literature." (Vol. 3 Chapter 20 Suggestions Toward a Curriculum, p.235)

Many, MANY thanks to a friend at Squidoo for lining up these quotes for me!

With these excerpts in mind, we can safely say that Miss Mason did not go back to Classical Greece and Rome to teach students how to be of strong moral character. She did, however, speak directly to parents about it being their duty to incorporate elements of study that will likely lead children to meditate on scripture, read stories of great moral value (tales of heroic behavior where courage, persistence, valor, and strong character are celebrated), and in all that they study to keep in mind that it is God who is the source of all knowledge, both secular and otherwise, and Who is the Creator of all the universe. Selah.

Is all this Bible study really important to a well-rounded education? Some might say, in an effort to bring this glorious way of learning to the public at large, that we ought to dismember it -- to cut away the christian bits and lay the rest of the feast out for public school consumption. Without a strong spiritual component to this fantastic way to soak in the broad, rich feast of living ideas we all enjoy, I don't believe its impact would be quite the same. Constant interaction with God turned my life from flat and empty to full and rich. It went from 2D to 4D in a split second. I can't recommend turning your life over to God highly enough. Without Him, I am nothing. With Him comes bliss.


Given the choice between not offering this beautiful education to children at all (because of the religious component) or  secularizing it, I would have to say, let's go ahead and try to bring what disjointed bits of it we can to a weak and dying populace, dry and dusty, desperate for some sort of meaning and sustenance -- desperate for some living thoughts with which they can wrestle. Click on the link for A Jew in the Rain above and you'll see just how much of a CM education IS possible without any spiritual component at all. I think it's worth doing. What do you think?


  1. Thank you very much for your kind words and the link!
    I didn't mean to imply that CM values are derived exclusively from the Greeks -- obviously, CM is a religious Christian program, with Christian values -- only that the particular value of Beauty for Its Own Sake is not a Jewish value, i.e. not from Sinai. I think it's pretty clear that that one made its way into CM Christianity (and western civilization as a whole) courtesy of the Greeks.

  2. Ah, okay. I probably reacted to that because I've heard so many people suggest that classical education methodology goes back to the Greeks. I thought it did, too, until very recently. In fact, it's one reason I turned away from classical curriculum. Thank you for your thoughtful post about Charlotte Mason. I was thrilled to discover it!

  3. Also, you have inspired me to look into where her belief in the importance of beauty for its own sake came from. I'll keep you posted! I suspect Comenius.