Ashli Babbit died for a lie. Only 35 years old, she served our country in the Air Force for 14 years and then gave up her future. She believed that Donald Trump was the true president, that he was the hope of America, and she believed that dark forces were holding the truth hostage. She believed she was part of an army that would change the course of history, somehow, if only she could get in to the Capitol building and get her hands on whichever “pedophilic, satanic” lawmaker she could find and force them to see things her way. She believed she was part of a revolution akin to the Revolution that started this country, and not akin to the sorts of revolutions that have been fought in Syria, Afghanistan, the Congo, Somalia, and such nations since the beginning of civilization. She believed it because Donald Trump and QAnon told her it was so.
As an educator, as a Charlotte Mason educator, I have to question what role her education played in this story. Ashli graduated from public high school in San Diego. I could say she didn’t have enough education, except many of her co-conspirators had more than a high school education. I could blame a substandard public school system for her willingness to accept without question the outrageous conspiracy theories she bought into, easily except for one thing: a handful of my Charlotte Mason counterparts believe these same kinds of lies. Those that don’t were willing to go along with it anyway, saying, among other things, that rhetoric and character don’t really matter in a secular leader if he does what they want him to do.
The homeschool community across the country is notoriously conservative, so for the most part, this is no surprise. I have struggled with how to respond. I have asked myself whether taking a stand for truth and against this man meant that I should let go of anyone and anything that might support him. When a Mason education has as its primary aim to turn young scholars into persons who read and think, it is astonishing to watch Mason educators elect a president who does neither merely to uphold a handful of conservative policy choices. A president whose use of rhetoric is abysmal and whose lies are well documented. Who treats nature as something to be exploited and immigrants as the enemy. A man who allows others to commit sedition, insurrection, and murder for his sake. I utterly fail to understand this.
I wondered, is there something about a Charlotte Mason education that I missed? Do we so value ancient and classic texts that we are blind to their role in perpetuating ideas that we now consider false? Is it possible that we have become so focused on teaching our kids to mirror our values when it comes to goodness and beauty that we have not prepared them at all to know what the truth is? Is that a weakness in her method? Is there something we, as educators, need to add to a Mason-based education in light of an age where information, and misinformation, flows literally at the speed of light. What role can a Charlotte Mason education play in helping our scholars choose to follow narratives that are not only lovely, but true?
Mason cautioned her readers that Reason can be used to defend just about any position that the mind has already accepted as true, but says little of how to arrive at a determination of what is true. Her 19th principle is stated thus:
Therefore, children should be taught, as they become mature enough to understand such teaching, that the chief responsibility which rests on them as persons is the acceptance or rejection of ideas. To help them in this choice we give them principles of conduct, and a wide range of the knowledge fitted to them. These principles should save children from some of the loose thinking and heedless action which cause most of us to live at a lower level than we need.A Philosophy of Education. Synopsis (p xxxi)
Mason repeatedly asserts that information without ideas is not knowledge. That children (and adults) feed upon ideas, not bare facts. Facts are forgotten without the emotional connection to ideas. However, she was also very clear about this: ideas must be clothed (today we might say “supported”) with fact, history, and story. Ideas without information are “naked generalizations,” she says, mere opinion. Of naked generalization, Mason says “neither children nor grown persons find aliment (nourishment) in these.” (pp 110-111) I would be willing to take this a step further. Ideas that are clothed with fabrication, fantasy, and lies are conspiracy. When fed a steady diet of this, children and adults face not just starvation, but poisoning. Ashli was poisoned.
We as educators need to address how we teach our students to know what is true, what should cause them to reject or accept certain ideas. I would like to challenge the larger Charlotte Mason community to weigh in on the teaching of truth in this age, if not the events of the past week, including Charlotte Mason Poetry, Simply Charlotte Mason, CMI and Ambleside Schools International. If anyone considers Charlotte Mason a mentor I think they should look closely at the resources they are using in the home and classroom and weigh them in the balance of what is Truth and not just for their literary and inspirational merit. Our aim is to equip students and teachers to be “capable of reading their newspapers intelligently, of considering questions from every point of view and forming their own judgments.” (From HW Household, Parents Review, 1944, found here.) It’s not just wide reading that does this, but also wise reading. We should never place the literary value of a work over its truth value unless we are prepared to help children confront and evaluate the ideas within, not just assimilate them.
Often, Mason educators will ask about sources for information for current events, because they no longer trust the mainstream media. In Mason’s day, they had less than a handful of newspapers, and some were less than scrupulous about getting their facts straight. Even today, media can leave out important context, use sensational terminology, focus video in a way that misrepresents events, and choose to quote only those persons with a certain perspective. These problems don’t magically disappear when you disavow mainstream media, these problems are present in fringe media as well. It is important to teach our youth to search for truth in what they read and see and hear, to ask themselves what is said, what is not said, why certain words might be used, why someone might be motivated to speak a certain way. Further, we have the advantage of instant access to full video and transcripts of speeches and legislative proceedings, the full text of bills and laws and executive orders and many scientific studies. We don’t have to depend on the press to filter everything for us. That said, we can evaluate the reliability of a news source when we compare its reporting to what we know is true, and then we don’t have to bury ourselves in the minutiae of every single issue or event.
In summary, Mason educators rely on the following to help students determine which ideas are true:
- We give them principles of conduct. When those principles are violated, we hope they ask hard questions.
- We give them knowledge over a wide range of subjects. The more background a student has, the better they are able to evaluate the significance and the plausibility of a given claim to truth.
- We get our information from as close to the source as we can get.
- We avoid passing off our opinions to our children as knowledge. Instead, we offer ideas supported by facts, history, and story.
We as educators of our children have the responsibility to always, always seek the truth, and we cannot just treat facts as dry, boring things that are irrelevant to the teaching of ideas. We owe our children nothing less. Truth has to be our aim, our highest goal, and we must be willing to revise what we hold to be true based on evidence and facts. Of all of the virtues I would be willing to die for, only Love comes higher than Truth.