Education as Life

For the mind is capable of dealing with only one kind of food; it lives, grows and is nourished upon ideas only; mere information is to it as a meal of sawdust to the body; there are no organs for the assimilation of the one more than of the other.

Charlotte Mason believed that minds are nourished when they engage ideas —the best thoughts of the best minds. These life-giving ideas exist in the “thought atmosphere” that surrounds students; they breathe these ideas as their bodies breathe life-giving air.

Indeed, Mason wryly observed, “there is but one sphere in which the word idea never occurs, in which the conception of an idea is curiously absent, and that sphere is education!” Today much that passes as education is actually data and technique, assessed by quizzes and tests. 

Contemporary students only pass time in school. Day-to-day, week-to-week, even year-to-year, their minds find only scraps of ideas to feed on. But intellectual starvation is not the only option for this generation!

Real learning happens when students engage novelists, poets, philosophers, scientists, mathematicians, artists, musicians, historians, and explorers. Real learning happens when students wonder, ask why, and see how. Ambleside teachers foster this engagement using carefully chosen Ambleside curriculum.

For example, a student gleans from the Psalmist the idea that one knows God in stillness. From composition she receives the idea that silence—or sound associated with night—emphasizes solitude or peace. From composer study she learns that Mendelssohn copied St. Matthews Passion, without believing the work could be performed again. These ideas are seeds in the child’s mind. As they germinate, others emerge, and a whole crop springs up from just one morning’s sowing.

At Ambleside, children experience education as a life each day. They receive consistent intellectual nourishment via:

  • living books and living things.
  • “worthy thought and worthy work.”
  • times of silence and reflection.
  • narration and discussion that promote assimilation of ideas.