Charlotte Mason: Ideas are Mind Food

Education, like faith, is the evidence of things not seen. We must begin with the notion that the business of the body is to grow; and it grows upon food, which food is composed of living cells, each a perfect life in itseslf. In like manner, though all analogies are misleading and inadequate, the only fit sustenance for the mind is ideas, and an idea too, like the single cell of cellular tissue, appears to go through stages and functions of a life. We receive it with appetite and some stir of interest. It appears to feed in a curious way. We hear of a new patent cure for the mind or the body, of the new thought of some poet, the new notion of a school of painters; we take it in, accept the idea and for days after every book we read, every new person we talk with brings food to the newly entertained notion.

‘Not proven,’ will be the verdict of the casual reader; but if he watch the behaviour of his own mind towards any of the ideas ‘in the air,’ he will find that some such process as I have described takes place; and this process must be considered carefully in the education of children. We may not take things casually as we have done. Our business is to give children the great ideas of life, of religion, history, science; but it is the ideas we must give, clothed upon with facts as they occur, and must leave the child to deal with these as he chooses.

As we’ve discussed teen writing, I reminded you to engage in multiple viewpoints, to look at a thing from a variety of angles. Our young children will be just as eager to think about a great idea as our older children. We need only expose them to such ideas.

Currently I am studying “black theology” in my graduate program. Black theology is a school of theological reflection that developed in response to the Black Power movement of the 1960s, drawing on both the black American experience and the Christian tradition. As I’ve studied for my courses, I talk about what I’m learning, I watch PBS specials about the Civil Rights movement, I notice the February black history month emphasis at our local library.

My kids have taken an interest in that part of our American history, as a result. Using last week’s freewriting prompt from a line of poetry that focused on “freedom,” my 13 year old wrote about all the ways that America is a place of freedom, but then added at the end that it hasn’t always been so for the black community and may even still not be a place of geunine freedom for them even today.

I had not known that he was absorbing the thinking and reading I’ve done. Yet his mind is feeding on a new idea, an area of complexity and depth that he returns to in his own mind, at his own pace. That’s what Charlotte is talking about.

Share some of the “new ideas” you are thinking about and that your kids are absorbing. I’d love to hear about them.


P.S. The British use semi-colons differently than we do. In good English fashion, Charlotte puts them before conjunctions. We Americans don’t. 🙂

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