Science of Relation-ships

 “He who loves practice without theory is like the sailor who boards ship without a rudder and compass and never knows where he may cast.” – Leonardo da Vinci

Every moving thing needs a steering mechanism. Whether it be a steering wheel, a rudder, a torso with attached legs, arms and handle bars- movement needs to be directed in the desired course. What happens when something is moving and it is not steered? Chaos, wreckage, destruction, possibly loss of life.

Here is the way we go about education: one finds the curriculum, uses it, teaches it, or learns it. This process cycles again with new curriculum year after year until the student is educated. The things that must be learned are laid out in grade ‘packages’ for convenience and efficiency to make sure no child misses out on what they need to know. Students are tested on the material (or this was the case in the near past- I’ve been noticing that testing standards are lowering or non existent…but… this was the practice.) The students may know the material in varying degrees and measurements of their knowledge are taken through testing. A grade represents their comprehension and competency. It’s as simple as open the box, inject the curriculum, and education happens. Of course there are goals, standards, objectives, focus groups… but, generally, this is how education happens.


If we go back to my original presentation – moving things need something steering them. The moving thing in our educational system is what? Could we say it is high test scores resulting from the curriculum input? The better the input the better the test output (hopefully). This means that everything the educational system does will be steered by the rudder of good test scores. Everything becomes dependent on this rudder. Decisions are made, curriculum purchased, school schedules written, subjects are offered all dependent on the steering wheel of good test scores. Good test scorers make everyone happy – school boards, tax payers, property/home valuations, parents, students looking for scholarships – all happy when the schools rank rises due to good test scores.

But what if we use something else as a rudder. Maybe there is a different steering wheel. Maybe….something better?
This is what Charlotte Mason set out to do. And she describes it clearly and thoroughly in her volumes.

What did Charlotte say is the rudder that steers a Charlotte Mason Education? What are the handlebars that guide us to where we want to go? (which is knowledge)

A Living Education starts with a rudder, and her rudder is the Science of Relations.

Not exactly the big finale, pivotal answer you expected?
Science of Relations. Who ever heard of that? What in the world does that mean?

I asked that myself for years I think. It just didn’t match anything I knew as education. I couldn’t picture what she meant. Charlotte can be wordy, and I got lost in the forest. I couldn’t form an exact, precise definition. I always came back asking the question, “Is she saying relations – like,… my relatives?” And then I’d turn the page and move on, never really pin pointing what she meant clearly or accurately. But eventually with persistence I found my way out.

In the Volumes, the phrase Science of Relations appears in the preface and Principles of Volume 1, 2, 5. In Charlotte’s Principles, Science of Relations is number 13. Volume 6 has a few references to it. Volume 3 has an extensive discussion of Science of Relations in Chapter 17. In this Volume, titled School Education, it is the pinnacle point of Charlotte’s build up to the definition of a Living Education. Charlotte tells us, we need a unified educational philosophy so we do not become “educational faddists” working with our own defined course. Her answer to “each man doing what is right in his own eyes with regard to the education of his children” is to present and work under a common, universal idea – a Captain Idea- Science of Relations.  (School Education Volume 3 pp.160-161 )

My first fumbling attempts to define Relations to myself never seemed comprehensive. Relations = like, my relatives? seemed inadequate and missing the point. I came up with this definition of sorts, out of a desperate search to form a picture in my mind, something I could relate to.

 Ah! and there it is…A picture. Relate to.

Relations = yes! like our relatives.

Maybe my definition wasn’t so lacking. Something we are related to is something we … are bound to, are inseparable from, understand in essence, can picture, have spent time with, can visualize in our minds eye, can see with sympathetic eyes. This is the picture that Charlotte’s Science of Relations brings to my mind.

Maybe the picture is better conveyed to our minds if we think of the word relationships rather than simply relations. When we think of relationships we think of family, friendship, bonds, lives that are inter twined. Relationship comes from a personal interaction. This is the key to understanding Charlotte’s term Science of Relations. It IS Science of Relations— Relationships.

“What we are concerned with is the fact that we personally have relations with all that there is in the present, all that there has been in the past, and all that there will be in the future—with all above us and all about us—and that fulness of living, expansion, expression, and serviceableness, for each of us, depend upon how far we apprehend these relationships and how many of them we lay hold of.” School Education Volume 3 pp.185-186

Notice, we “personally have relations”. This is a personal interaction. My interaction with the subject at hand is my own, it is personal, specific to me. It will not look like yours.  Relationships, friendships, and companions have personal interactions and their own unique characteristics.

Another word I’ve used for a clear definition of Relations is friendship. And Charlotte does, in fact, use the picture of making friends with things being studied to describe what learning looks like in a Living Education.

In speaking of Nature Walks, Charlotte uses friends.

and, what is much more important, they learn to know and delight in natural objects as in the familiar faces of friends.” School Education Volume 3 p. 237

In speaking of Nature Studies, she uses friends.

Children should be made early intimate with the trees, too; should pick out half a dozen trees, oak, elm, ash, beech, in their winter nakedness, and take these to be their year-long friends.” Home Education Volume 1 p.52

In speaking of the Calendar of Firsts,

“Think of the zest and interest, the object, which such a practice will give to daily walks and little excursions. There is hardly a day when some friend may not be expected to hold a first ‘At Home.’” Home Education Volume 1 p.54

In keeping a Nature Journal,

“some day he will come across the name of the creature, and will recognise the description of an old friend.” Home Education Volume 1 p.58

Charlotte notes children forming relationships through architecture and fine arts studies. In this particular example, the children were delighted to visit the British Museum and the Westminster Abbey because they found familiar friends there.

“It will be noticed that the child is educating herself; her friends merely take her to see the things she knows about and she tells what she has read, a quite different matter from the act of pouring information down the throats of the unhappy children who are taken to visit our national treasure houses.” The Philosophy of Education Volume 6 p.77

At first glance, the following quote, might read as if these friends are real, live people-friends. But they are not real people, these friends are the paintings that the children have studied over the term during picture study.

“A lady writes,— ‘I was invited to a small village to talk about the P.U.School. Twelve really interested women came in spite of heavy rain. . . . I suggested introducing them to some of the friends their children had made and we had a delightful picture talk…” The Philosophy of Education Volume 6 p.215

Through every subject in the wide curriculum, the formation of relationships is attainable and it is a distinctive key to a Charlotte Mason Education. Friends are made as part of what we might call, the learning process. When one learns about something in a Charlotte Mason Education, really, one becomes its friend.

Maybe another way to picture relations in a Living Education is to watch our little ones. The favourite teddy bear, the cherished (falling apart) blankie, the little blue puppy that has been rubbed, sat on, snuggled with, and other things we won’t mention. It has been loved and cuddled to the point of becoming almost part of the child. Inseparable. Charlotte reminds us to watch the way a baby learns. This natural process is the same process that we want to use throughout our learning lives. The things, like baby’s blankie, are old friends, things we desire, things that bring joy.

“He bangs his spoon to try if it produces sound; he sucks it to try its flavour; he fumbles it all over and no doubt finds out whether it is hard or soft, hot or cold, rough or smooth; he gazes at it with the long gaze of infancy, so that he may learn the look of it; it is an old friend and an object of desire when he sees it again, for he has found out that there is much joy in a spoon.” Parents and Children Volume 2 p.181

Charlotte takes this idea to an even higher importance than mere human relationships and earthly friendships. She vaults this relationship process into the spiritual realm to an interaction with the Spirit of God.

 “Once we recognise that all thoughts that breathe and words that burn are of their nature spiritual, and appeal to the spiritual within us—that, in fact, all intercourse of thought and feeling belongs to the realm of ideas, spiritually conveyed, the great mysteries of our religion cease to be hedged off from our common experiences. If the friend who sits beside us deals with us, spirit with spirit, by means of quick interchange of ideas, is it hard to believe that just so is the intercourse between the Spirit of God and the spirit of man? The more perfect the sympathy between human souls, the less the need for spoken words. How easy to go on from this to the thought of that most intimate and blissful of all intercourse, the converse between the devout soul and its God.” Parents and Children Volume 2 pp. 131-132

So it is of utmost importance that we understand Science of Relations so our end result is truly a Living Education. This is the very thing Charlotte is giving us….a Relationship-built, Living Education. No one says it better than Charlotte at the close of Chapter 15 in Volume 3:

“Let us try, however imperfectly, to make education a science of relationships—in other words, try in one subject or another to let the children work upon living ideas. In this field small efforts are honoured with great rewards, and we perceive that the education we are giving exceeds all that we intended or imagined.” School Education Volume 3 p.163

Science of Relations is the steering wheel that points the car of a Living Education in the right direction. This type of education is not measured by test scores and performance, comprehension and competency. A Living Education is a relational education – relations, caring about, intimately knowing as much of this world and mankind as we can.

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