Feed Them on Things Worth Caring For

If you are familiar at all with the writings of the 19th Century educator, Charlotte Mason, you will know that one of her signature ways of illustrating a liberal education is to compare it to that of a feast that is spread before the child.

As educators we are responsible for choosing the food for the feast. If we provide a variety of excellent food and allow the child liberty to choose what appeals to their taste, nourishment will take care of itself.

I think the feast metaphor is very apt. A child’s food preference can change over time and they can acquire a taste for things they rejected in the past. One of my sons would have lived on bread alone if I’d let him, but it wouldn’t have been a healthy diet. His tastes in food developed much more diversity as he grew, as did his intellectual tastes and appetite, because he was served nourishing food – literally and metaphorically.

The Glimpses of the Moon by Edith Wharton was published in 1922 a year before Charlotte Mason died. I read it recently and was impressed by a couple of passages that touched on education as they shared a close similarity to Mason’s educational ideas.

Wharton was American but she spent much of her time in Europe (The Glimpses of the Moon was set mostly in France). During WWI she remained in Europe and established schools for children escaping from Belgium after the German occupation. She had a ‘gift for languages and a deep appreciation for beauty – in art, architecture and literature:’ Edith Wharton | The Mount | Edith Wharton’s Home

Merry Family by Jan Steen, 1688

‘Take care of five Fulmers for three months! The prospect cowed her.’

The Fulmers were an artistic couple living in a cramped cottage and both Susy and her husband to be, Nick Lansing, had spent time with them and their noisy family before they had considered marriage. They couldn’t understand how the Fulmer’s lived as they did – bad food and general crazy discomfort –  but they had more amusement in their company than they had with any of their rich friends and their opulent house parties.

The Lansings married some time afterwards after hatching a scheme whereby they’d live off their wedding gifts of money and accommodation but with the understanding that if either of them found a way to climb the social ladder, the other would not stand in the way but agree to a divorce. Barely a year later their plans had unravelled and out of desperation Susy agreed to look after this ‘uproarious tribe’ while their parents were in Italy.

‘But in these rough young Fulmers she took a positive delight, and for reasons that were increasingly clear to her. It was because, in the first place, they were all intelligent; and because their intelligence had been fed only on things worth caring for. However inadequate Grace Fulmer’s bringing-up of her increasing tribe had been, they had heard in her company nothing trivial or dull: good music, good books and good talk had been their daily food, and if at times they stamped and roared and crashed about like children unblessed by such privileges, at others they shone with the light of poetry and spoke with the voice of wisdom.

That had been Susy’s discovery: for the first time she was among awakening minds which had been wakened only to beauty. From their cramped and uncomfortable household Grace and Nat Fulmer had managed to keep out mean envies, vulgar admirations, shabby discontents; above all the din and confusion the great images of beauty had brooded, like those ancestral figures that stood apart on their shelf in the poorest Roman households.’

Charlotte Mason believed that children should be given the best going on the subject – really good books; that we should try, however imperfectly, to make education a science of relationships. These thoughts from Edith Wharton on education – feed children only on things worth caring for – were an unexpected surprise to me and echoed the ideas that I’ve been reading in Charlotte Mason’s writings.

The tentacles of the science of relationships are far reaching.

We’re using The Glimpses of the Moon instead of The Great Gatsby for Literature in AO Year 11.

8 thoughts on “Feed Them on Things Worth Caring For

  1. Glimpses of the Moon sounds truly lovely. May I ask if you replaced The Great Gatsby with it simply because you like it, or because you *dislike* The Great Gatsby? I am not familiar with either book and will be planning Year 11 before too long, which is why I'm asking!


  2. Hi Laura Jeanne, I haven’t read Gatsby either but I’d read some reviews and thought that as many of the books used in Yr 11 are a bit bleak and without much hope because of all that happened in the 20th C that I’d skip it for now. Glimpses was a free read in Yr 10 but my dd hadn’t read it. Interesting that the book I have (Library of America – Four Novels of the 1920’s by Wharton) the flyleaf said that the book was believed by some to have been an inspiration for Gatsby. I would like to read Fitzgerald’s book at some stage myself. I started it awhile go and it didn’t grab me but it might be different next time. 🙂


  3. Thank you Carol, that's helpful! If Gatsby is bleak, I may wish to skip it as well so I will keep this in mind. The son I will be planning for (not for Year 11 quite yet, he's going to soon be starting Year 10) is very sensitive and anxious and as he is already feeling tense about everything going on in the world and uncertain about his future, I am keeping in mind while doing school planning that it may be best to avoid materials that are depressing. Interestingly, I was just having a conversation with my husband the other day, about how depressing and lacking in hope every single book I read in highschool English class was. It was ALL so bleak – it's almost like they were trying to teach us nihilism. Thank God we have the opportunity to make our children's education into something different, and can give their minds truth, beauty, and goodness.


  4. It's a juggle sometimes and what one child can handle well another doesn't. I try to bear in mind that they need to grow in their capacity for hard books and ideas without being crushed in the process.


  5. Wow, that's powerful! I must get a copy of Glimpses of the Moon. I love Wharton's writing and I'm sure I'd love this book. I wonder how many people nowadays try to structure their lives in a way that's meaningful. Perhaps many go through the motions of each day without thinking about it. Sometimes people do luck into meaningful work but I think for the majority, we have to think about it and try to obtain meaning as so much modern culture lacks it. The Great Gatsby I've read twice and it is bleak and in my opinion meaningless. It sounds like it was an excellent decision to switch.Have you ever seen this list: https://biblicalhomeschooling.org/1000-good-books/ ? I used it when homeschooling and there hasn't been one book on it that I didn't like. In a time where it's difficult to find good books for children, it's helpful to find lists like this one.


  6. Hi Cleo, it was such a surprise to read what she said. I enjoyed the whole book.I have seen that list but she had it on a different website and I wasn’t aware it had moved. 🙂You may have heard of Reshelving Alexander?? They have an online literary catalogue. I don’t have a membership but follow their posts on FB.


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