When ideals don’t match reality, discouragement and grief can easily take root. Over the past several years, God has slowly been teaching me to submit to His sovereign plan for my family, which means accepting the difference between my ideals and my reality. I am an idealistic person. Perhaps that is one of the reasons why I am drawn to implement a Charlotte Mason philosophy of education in our home. There is so much beauty and truth to be found in her methods. I find them very life giving, person respecting, and inspiring. I truly believe in her methods and am seeking to apply them to our lives to the best of my abilities and understanding.
Yet, my heart grieves daily as I see my daughter struggle with her lessons. In a Charlotte Mason education, language is often the predominate gateway through which ideas about the knowledge of God, man, and the universe are fed to the student’s soul. In her philosophy, “living books” are the conduit through which these stories, histories, and knowledge of the world are painted for the observer. Unfortunately, due to my daughter’s battle with Epilepsy, she has very poor receptive and expressive language skills. This makes any language based lesson simply a struggle for her.
To look at her or spend time with her, one wouldn’t necessarily pick up on the academic challenges she faces. Yet it is there, a subtle silent struggle that prevents her from being able to access much of the feast laid before her in a Charlotte Mason education. I realize that we all have some God given limitations that impede our learning through various means such as blindness, deafness, various medical challenges, or even our own pride and lack of motivation to learn. I am encouraged to hear testimonies of the deaf person who enjoys music through felt vibrations or of a blind woman who can still enjoy a description of a landscape or piece of artwork in a museum. But I still grieve because I see my beautiful daughter missing out on so much of the beauty of the ideas and truths presented to her through these living books.
Does this mean a Charlotte Mason philosophy of education has failed her? No, not at all! In fact, I am all the more thankful for a philosophy of education that invites the Holy Spirit to be the true instructor and one that values and respects each individual as a person. Through this philosophy we are able to move according to my daughter’s pace in all subjects. From copywork, to math, or music lessons, we accept where she is at and work slowly and diligently trying to build up a succession of successful lessons. The act of narration itself, though tremendously difficult for my daughter, due to both her receptive and expressive language struggles, allows my daughter to be taught by the Holy Spirit, in a sense, as He guides her in both understanding the material being read and seeing the interconnectedness of those newer ideas with previously learned ideas. Spreading a wide and generous feast of subjects before my daughter provides her with the opportunity to excel and even take delight in certain subjects while she is simultaneously being stretched in other subjects. Even the structuring of our lessons by alternating the strenuous lessons from the lighter lessons breathes life into her soul while providing her mind with a respite. What a relief it was to read from various “experts” in the field, that these types of methods are exactly what are suggested to help a child with receptive and expressive language deficiencies.
Lately, I have taken encouragement from the reading of those who have gone before us and overcome incredible odds, whether they be survival tales, the making of “great” men, or biblical characters who were still used by God despite their deficiencies. I trust that God has a perfect plan for my daughter’s life that He promises to fulfill. She will have her own seemingly impossible giants to slay, just like we all have. My role, as her mother and teacher, is to aid her in the development of skills that will equip her to work for His purposes, whatever they may be. I have to surrender my own plans and desires for her and accept His plan for her, even if that means she rarely gives me an accurate or thorough history narration.
I have taken much comfort from the following quote by Dr. Downes found in The Parent’s Review Vol. 8 Nov. 4, 1897
“ Only let us have patience; let us make allowance for their difficulties; let us begin with concrete rather than abstract ideas; let us develop their games and recreations; let us try to find some portal to the slumbering intellect; above all, let us watch over their moral nature with even greater jealousy than we do in the case of ordinary children. If we cannot teach the sciences, we can, at any rate, employ the dim twilight of the slow developing mind in pressing home the value of truth, honesty, and purity; let us tell of the love of God, the Salvation of Christ, and the guidance and comfort of the Holy Spirit. Let us do this conscientiously, and await the dawn of the mind’s sun; when that sun rises, it may be more beautiful, more lovely than we ever could have imagined. Our toil will be a thousand times repaid, not perhaps by the successful result of a competitive examination, but by a useful, loving, and healthy life. “
So, I press on. I patiently continue to find ways of presenting material to her in a way she can understand through short and varied lessons, picture books, hands on experiences, and field trips. I continue to prioritize character development and faith building over academics, because character and faith far outweighs academic success. And I trust God to work it all out in His timing, for His plans for my daughter are far higher and greater than my plans.