I’ve mentioned before that one of my favorite authors about the subject of education is Ellen White; her words in the small book aptly entitled Education (published in 1903) merge with Charlotte Mason’s words in my mind, broadening my understanding of the heart of God, the responsibility of parents and teachers, and the capacity of children to learn. I read through White’s Education every summer, and refer to it frequently throughout the school year.
Ellen White herself is a controversial figure within Christianity, and sometime I might enjoy unpacking this a bit, but not now. I like to think God played a grand joke on me the day he had me pull Education off of the shelf; against all my prejudices, I met within the pages a friend, and her words in this book have ministered to me ever since.
I imagine that Ellen White and Charlotte Mason would have respected each other despite their theological differences (one, a founding figure in the Seventh-Day Adventist Church, the other a committed Anglican of the Church of England). They believed in the same God, were on fire to see children respected as persons and given an education that meets the demands of persons born with quick and ready minds; they were both confident that the Gospel was the catalyst for education, that the Holy Spirit was the supreme instructor (I think of Charlotte writing that “philosophy, the highest aim of the Greeks, could only instruct; but religion -” meaning Christianity with its Gospel and its Christ “- instructs and enables”). They each advocated in their way for lower class children, believing that all children are precious to God and are created in his image with minds to think and hearts to love: the true, the beautiful, the good, and the things of God. (Their messages were not for one class or another, for but for all.) Ellen White’s emphasis was much more on eternity and Charlotte’s much more on a practical working out of the here and now, but both seem to have been inspired by the same Wellspring of Life.
Both women have impacted my life deeply as a homeschooling mother. The following paragraphs are from the fourth chapter in White’s book Education, a chapter entitled “Relation of Education to Redemption.” I’d love to hear what you think, particularly if you are a Charlotte Mason homeschooler – don’t these words sometimes sound like Charlotte? I think this must be because, as Ellen White quotes below, “other foundation can no man lay than that is laid, which is Jesus Christ.”
Sin not only shuts us away from God, but destroys in the human soul both the desire and the capacity for knowing Him. All this work of evil is Christ’s mission to undo. The faculties of the soul, paralyzed by sin, the darkened mind, the perverted will, He has the power to invigorate and to restore. He opened to us the riches of the universe, and by Him the power to discern and to appropriate these treasures is imparted.
Christ is the “Light, which lighteth every man that cometh into the world.” John 1:9. As through Christ every human being has life, so also through Him every soul receives some ray of divine light. Not only intellectual but spiritual power, a perception of right, a desire for goodness exists in every heart. But against these principles there is struggling an antagonistic power. The result of the eating of the tree of knowledge of good and evil is manifest in every man’s experience. There is in his nature a bent toward evil, a force which, unaided, he cannot resist. To withstand this force, to attain that ideal which in his inmost soul he accepts as alone worthy, he can find helping but one power. That power is Christ. Co-operation with that power is man’s greatest need. In all educational effort should not this co-operation be the highest aim?
The true teacher is not satisfied with second-rate work. He is not satisfied with directing his students to a standard lower than the highest which it is possible for them to attain. He cannot be content with imparting to them only technical knowledge, with making them merely clever accountants, skillful artisans, successful tradesmen. It is his ambition to inspire them with principles of truth, obedience, honor, integrity, and purity — principles that will make them a positive force for the stability and uplifting of society. He desires them, above all else, to learn life’s great lesson of unselfish service.
These principles become a living power to shape the character, through the acquaintance of the soul with Christ, through an acceptance of His wisdom as the guide, His power as the strength, of heart and life. This union formed, the student has found the Source of wisdom. He has within his reach the power to realize in himself his noblest ideals. The opportunities of the highest education for life in this world are his. And in the training here gained, he is entering upon that course which embraces eternity.
In the highest sense the work of education and the work of redemption are one, for in education, as in redemption, “other foundation can no man lay than that is laid, which is Jesus Christ.” 1 Corinthians 3:11. “It was the good pleasure of the Father than in Him should all the fullness dwell.” Colossians 1:19.
Under changed conditions, true education is still conformed to he Creator’s plan, the plan of the Eden school. Adam and Eve received instruction through direct communion with God; we behold the light of the knowledge of His glory in the face of Christ.
The great principles of education are unchanged. “They stand fast for ever and ever” (Psalm 111:8); for they are the principles of the character of God. To aid the student in comprehending these principles, and in entering into that relation with Christ which will make them a controlling power in the life, should be the teacher’s first effort and his constant aim. The teacher who accepts this aim is in truth a co-worker with Christ, a laborer together with God.
–Ellen G. White, Education, 1903