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Citizenship -The Role of History Knowledge and the Necessity of Individual Thought

Charlotte Mason felt strongly about citizenship -strongly enough that she gave it a regular place in the curriculum. And while children did not formally study “Citizenship” by its name until Year Four, it was expected that children would begin to develop ideas of right and wrong, just and unjust and freedom and slavery through stories, history and myth in the years before it. Children would then begin their formal study of citizenship with Ms. Beesley’s Stories from the History of Rome or Rouse’s Stories of the Old Greeks, which were excellent foundations for the following years when students began to read from Plutarch’s Lives. Later, students studied from Mason’s own work: Ourselves as well as begin to read and respond to current events.

In the spirit of the Fourth of July, here are two quotes which may be both inspiring and interesting.

Ms. Mason reminds students that one way to best honor your country is to study its history. And just as importantly, students should study world history, since this gives national history its proper context. True patriotism is not about judgment –about one’s own country or any other country. It is about understanding people and the past so that you are better positioned to make decisions about the future.

The honor due to our country requires some intelligent knowledge of her history, laws, and institutions; of her great men and her people; of her weaknesses and her strength; and is not to be confounded with the ignorant and impertinent attitude of the Englishman or the Chinese who believes that to be born an Englishman or a Chinese puts him on a higher level than the people of all other countries; that his own country and his own government are right in all circumstances, and other countries and other governments always wrong. But, on the other hand, still more to be guarded against, is the caitiff spirit of him who holds his own country and his own government always in the wrong and always the worse, and exalts other nations unduly for the sake of depreciating his own. (Ourselves pp. 120-121)

Educators must carefully guard against the imposition of our own opinions and ideas upon our students. A true Charlotte Mason education is one that is fully aware of the idea that real knowledge is gained by independent and individual thought.

Among those liberties which we in this Union claim for the child, due to him as a person, is freedom of thought, the function of right thinking,--the importance of which cannot be exaggerated. This is an article in his Bill of Rights which we should be most careful to safeguard and to establish for the child. All those who teach know how difficult it is not to violate this right. It is so easy to impose opinion, and so to create prejudice unless a careful watch be kept. All unawares we trespass on this right, and it is in this way that the world becomes filled with men and women whose minds run in grooves and work on conventional lines,--the stereotyped as opposed to the individual. Thought is, I suppose all will allow, the greatest force in the world, and of each world-citizen is required this duty: --to contribute to the thought of the world, if not in actual original ideas, at least in the power of original thinking, for on thought all action depends and all achievements are based. It is by the friction of mind with mind that thought is produced. The illuminating idea, the vivid suggestion, quicken our minds and awaken our latent powers of thinking. We consider that this liberty of thought is best secured for the child by supplying to him all that is good and most helpful in the way of mental foodstuffs; that is through the use of books, --and those the best books, --as well as through things: that he should know great men through the books and works of art which they have given to the world. By this means the child is able to form opinions for himself, the outcome of his thoughts and knowledge: a knowledge gained by himself in his reading, a knowledge gained for itself and not for any ulterior motives. His mind, thus fed, grows: the power of vision increases, and ardent and close communion exists between himself and the spiritual-forces that govern the world. Such growth, mental, moral and spiritual is, we all grant, the sole end of education. We in whose hands rests so high a life-service must see to it that we aid the children in the formation of those principles of conduct which shall guide the intellect, control the will and so govern action. (In Memoriam pp. 165-166)

These quotes inspire me and further champion my desire to shine a light on this amazing woman and her inspirational approach to children and education. She built her educational philosophy on ideas which encourage educators to ground children in knowledge, yet give them wings to think for themselves. If we can only accomplish this much, then we can rest assured that our children will keep our country and its future bright.

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