Monday, June 21, 2010

Great Recognition

I attended Deani Van Pelt's workshop at the Childlight conference on Charlotte Mason's Great Recognition and its possible implications for education today and have been chewing on it ever since.

Here is a little background on Mason's Great Recognition in case it is new to you:

In 1893, the year following the opening of the House of Education as well as the death of a close friend, Mason takes a 3 month break and visits Florence with Mrs. Firth, an art interpreter. There, studying John Ruskin's exposition of the "Vaulted Book," i.e., the frescoes at the Spanish Chapel attached to the Church of Santa Maria Novella, in Mornings in Florence, she comes upon a Great Recognition. (links courtesy of AmblesideOnline.org)

In her own words, Mason describes this Great Recognition in her Original Homeschooling Series, Volume 2, Chapter 25:

Many Christian people rise a little higher; they conceive that even grammar and arithmetic may in some not very clear way be used for God; but the great recognition, that God the Holy Spirit is Himself, personally, the Imparter of knowledge, the Instructor of youth, the Inspirer of genius, is a conception so far lost to us that we should think it distinctly irreverent to conceive of the divine teaching as co-operating with ours in a child's arithmetic lesson, for example.

But the Florentine mind of the Middle Ages went further than this: it believed, not only that the seven Liberal Arts were fully under the direct outpouring of the Holy Ghost, but that every fruitful idea, every original conception, whether in Euclid, or grammar, or music, was a direct inspiration from the Holy Spirit, without any thought at all as to whether the person so inspired named himself by the name of God, or recognised whence his inspiration came.

and again in Vol. 3, Chapter 9:

This idea of all education springing from and resting upon our relation to Almighty God is one which we have ever laboured to enforce. We take a very distinct stand upon this point. We do not merely give a religious education, because that would seem to imply the possibility of some other education, a secular education, for example. But we hold that all education is divine, that every good gift of knowledge and insight comes from above, that the Lord the Holy Spirit is the supreme educator of mankind, and that the culmination of all education (which may, at the same time, be reached by a little child) is that personal knowledge of and intimacy with God in which our being finds its fullest perfection.

We hold, in fact, that great conception of education held by the medieval Church, as pictured upon the walls of the Spanish chapel in Florence. Here we have represented the descent of the Holy Ghost upon the Twelve, and directly under them, fully under the Illuminating rays, are the noble figures of the seven liberal arts, Grammar, Rhetoric, Logic, Music, Astronomy, Geometry, Arithmetic, and under these again the men who received and expressed, so far as the artist knew, the initial idea in each of these subjects; such men as Pythagoras, Zoroaster, Euclid, whom we might call pagans, but whom the earlier Church recognised as divinely taught and illuminated.

She writes in more detail of her thoughts on the fresco and the noble figures in a Parent's Review article made available by AmblesideOnline here if you'd like to read it:

Looking back, I found I'd written a post about it on the day after Christmas last year, you can read it here - interestingly, I mistakenly assumed the fresco Mason spoke of was the "Descent of the Holy Ghost", which is also used as the header of the Charlotte Mason Education site!

I believe one of the practical implications of this Great Recognition, which seems to harmonize with what Mason says throughout her writing, is that the teacher (we) are not the ultimate source of our Child's education. As much as we may fret over every minutia of what our children 'get' or 'don't get', their learning is in the hands of the Holy Spirit.

We are not the end-all and we do not control our children's learning. Think about it; isn't it true that we could read any amount of living books to them, follow every methodology and yet they still might end up not truly learning or worse, rejecting truth? And hasn't it happened that a child whose parent or teacher was aloof still managed to find truth and somehow manage their own education? Try as we may, no amount of 'doing' on our part produces a guaranteed result.

Mason's Great Recognition makes us, Mothers and Teachers alike, come to terms with the fact that God, not us, is sovereign over our child's education.

It is humbling, and freeing all at once.

We must diligently do our part, and trust the learning and direction of their mind and soul to the infinite wisdom of the Holy Spirit.

And now we are able to see this recognition weaved throughout her philosophy - less lecturing and filtering of ideas and more putting the child in contact with the source; narration instead of asking them to produce the 'right' answers; less fabricated lessons performed by the teacher and more grand conversations; less abridged, filtered, regurgitated twaddle and more substance - the list goes on. A philosophy grounded in scripture.

I think the hardest part for me at times is letting go of my importance in the matter of it all. Hearing from others at the conference that as they get older, I won't be able to keep up with all the reading they do was downright disturbing! I have this terrible desire to want to teach them all I know, or all I learned, or all I'm thinking about it to make sure they learn everything I know. Once not that long ago, during a fantastic talk I was giving my children on some character issue, my daughter plainly asked me to stop talking! That was painful.

But as I relinquish the reigns and come beside them, I find myself enjoying our school time more and more. And resting in the knowledge that the Holy Spirit is intricately involved in the process allows me a peace and a calmness that all is well with their education.


  1. Naomi, this is just so very good. I want to read it about 5 more times to really soak it in. And yes,it is humbling and freeing. Thank you so much for sharing this. It is a perfect end to my first year with Charlotte Mason and my very own "Great Recognition". It has been a year of changes in thought for me and this is really the most beautiful ending, and beginning.
    Love form,

  2. Yes, amen. We are merely stewards, and that for a time. The children are His. Is it not amazing that He would allow us to come between, knowing we are sinful; knowing we are fallable. Knowing even that many days go by and we do not even seek Him for direction and help as to what they need? It is indeed humbling that he entrusts us with so much...and I don't speak only of our children, but everything. He waits, doing His own masterly inactivity; there for us, yet not intervening. Awesome Naomi!