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The Teacher’s Role


“Such a doctrine as the Herbartian [traditional education], that the mind is a receptacle, lays the stress of education, the preparation of food in enticing morsels, duly ordered, upon the teacher. Children taught on this principle are in danger of receiving much teaching but little knowledge;” 

Charlotte Mason

The Truth of All Things

When Charlotte Mason was a young woman, she took a trip to Italy to be inspired by the art and history that is so abundant there.  She stood in the Spanish Chapel connected to the Santa Maria Novella and gazed at a fresco that had completely captured her attention. The fresco depicts God and his angels in heaven with inspirational men on earth below. There is a division between them, and in that division lies the Holy Spirit; the connection between God and man. Ms. Mason noticed that the Holy Spirit was bestowing knowledge from God to the seven figures representing the natural sciences: grammar, rhetoric, logic, music, art, astronomy, geometry, and arithmetic. While she studied this fresco, she had an amazing epiphany; an epiphany that would later be considered her greatest contribution to philosophy and education. This is what she says of her revelation that day:

“The Florentine mind… believed, not only that the seven Liberal Arts were fully under the direct outpouring of the Holy Ghost, but that every fruitful idea, every original conception, whether in Euclid, or grammar, or music, was a direct inspiration from the Holy Spirit, without any thought at all as to whether the person so inspired named himself by the name of God, or recognised whence his inspiration came.” ( v. 2, p. 271)

Heavenly Father has promised us that “And by the power of the Holy Ghost ye may know the truth of all things.”  He uses the same term in Doctrine & Covenants: 

“And I give unto you a commandment that you shall teach one another the doctrine of the kingdom. Teach ye diligently and my grace shall attend you, that you may be instructed more perfectly in theory, in principle, in doctrine, in the law of the gospel, in all things that pertain unto the kingdom of God, that are expedient for you to understand;”

He expounds on “all things” by saying, 

“Of things both in heaven and in the earth, and under the earth; things which have been, things which are, things which must shortly come to pass; things which are at home, things which are abroad; the wars and the perplexities of the nations, and the judgments which are on the land; and a knowledge also of countries and of kingdoms.” (Moroni 10:5 also John 14:26)

Astronomy, geology, biology, mathematics, the liberal arts, geography, history, politics, history, current news, and international affairs are considered “doctrine of the kingdom.” Heavenly Father commanded us to teach one another these things, and promised that the Holy Ghost will help us understand them and know they are true.

It may take some time to fully comprehend the magnitude of this principle because it is completely counter to what our culture. Charlotte Mason observed, “Many Christian people rise a little higher; they conceive that even grammar and arithmetic may in some not very clear way be used for God; but the great recognition, that God the Holy Spirit is Himself, personally, the Imparter of knowledge, the Instructor of youth, the Inspirer of genius, is a conception so far lost to us that we should think it distinctly irreverent to conceive of the divine teaching as co-operating with ours in a child’s arithmetic lesson, for example.” (v. 2, p. 270-271)

The Holy Ghost

“We allow no separation to grow up between the intellectual and ‘spiritual’ life of children, but teach them that the Divine Spirit has constant access to their spirits, and is their Continual Helper in all the interests, duties and joys of life.” (Charlotte Mason)

You may believe that as your child’s teacher, any information they encounter, any skill they master, or any knowledge they solidify is because you gave it to them, corrected them, and tested them. The fundamental belief in traditional education is that whether the child succeeds or not is determined by the teacher. In other words, we consider ourselves the “Showman of the Universe,” as Charlotte Mason so appropriately expressed. 

When I started teaching my oldest child I viewed myself as the sole presenter of knowledge. I was exhausted trying to execute elaborate lectures and activities, and discouraged when my son was not interested or engaged in what I was teaching. Then I read about Charlotte Mason’s revelation of the Holy Spirit, and in that moment of realization, a huge burden was lifted off my shoulders; I realized my role was not to know all things and implant it into my child. I am a fellow student, and my role is a mentor and guide. My children and I are learning from the true showman of the universe: the Holy Spirit.

In her article, On Questions and Questioning, Emily Kiser explains that “The result [of this principle] is a different perspective of the student and teacher relationship than what we have commonly experienced in our own educational settings. She [Charlotte Mason] placed confidence in the inborn desire and ability of the learner, and this altered the teacher’s role as a consequence. Instead of instructor and instructed as we have known, she believed it is not the teacher’s place to impart knowledge, impose knowledge, or impress knowledge upon the student from without. Rather, the teacher is the humble guide or presenter of ideas to the naturally inquisitive appetite of the learner. The student grapples with the living book and the student tells what he knows. Both teacher and student are persons equal in power to self-educate.”

A personal experience helped me understand this principle more fully and cement it in my mind. After a particularly frustrating incident with my son, I sat pondering how I could make him realize what he did was wrong. How I could help him understand the disconnect between his actions and what I taught him? Maybe a better lecture or asking more questions? Then it hit me: helping my son feel guilt and see the disconnect was not my responsibility. The Spirit knows my child better than I do. He knows how my son learns best and when his heart is open to learning. My responsibility is to present doctrine through stories and my example. The Spirit is the only being capable of reminding my son of truth and changing his heart when he is unreachable for me. But that truth needs to be placed in my son’s mind before he can be reminded of it. This is the role of the parent and teacher: to present the great ideas through books, experiences, and example. Jesus gave us two simple commandments, and both are vital to teaching children: love one another and feed my sheep.

Meeting Mountains

“Great things are done when men and mountain meet: This is not done by jostling in the street.” (William Blake)

When you feed your children ideas,  remember that “you can lead a horse to water, but you cannot make him drink.” Blake said it more eloquently though; we need to do away with jostling our children while they try to grapple with mountains. We simply need to introduce our children to great ideas and let them climb. I know from experience that children have the power to do so, if we will only give them the chance. 

 Ms. Mason expounded on this by saying “We come across books on teaching, with lessons elaborately drawn up, in which certain work is assigned to the perceptive faculties, certain work to the imagination, to the judgment, and so on… this sort of doctoring of the material of knowledge is unnecessary for the healthy child, whose mind is capable of self-direction, and of applying itself to its proper work upon the parcel of knowledge delivered to it.” (v. 1,  p. 172)

Lesson preparation can be as simple as this: “The teacher’s part is, in the first place, to see what is to be done, to look over the work of the day in advance and see what mental discipline, as well as what vital knowledge, this and that lesson afford; and then to set such questions and such tasks as shall give full scope to his pupils’ mental activity.” (v. 6, p. 180-181) Once you have planned a basic idea of subjects, you need to refrain from too much talking, explaining, and questioning. When you quietly close the book after reading the Spirit can now start teaching. As ideas flow through your child’s mind they will most likely start talking. Listen intently to what they say and you will get a glimpse into what they are being taught.

In the Same Hour

The teacher’s role is similar to the students in that they need to be listening to what the Spirit teaches. Elder Bednar said in a training to CES teachers that the Spirit is always with you; instead of asking yourself “how can I invite the Spirit?”, he suggests asking  “how am I driving the Spirit away?”

One major way that we make it difficult to hear promptings is by overscheduling each school day. Scripted, detailed curriculum and rigid schedules make it difficult to hear the promptings of the Spirit because you are so focused on checking off boxes that you ignore promptings that deviate from “the plan.” You are so focused on mastering the learning objectives that your child is not free to learn what he personally needs at that moment. It is very difficult to plan for experiences that have not happened yet. When you are in the teaching moment and listen to your child you will know which questions to ask and what to invite them to do. Planning lessons months in advance or using a curriculum created by someone who doesn’t know your children will only result in teaching moments that feel stiff and artificial. 

Russel M Nelson said in a General Conference address, we need “women who know how to call upon the powers of heaven to protect and strengthen children and families; women who teach fearlessly… do you realize the breadth and scope of your influence when you speak those things that come to your heart and mind as directed by the Spirit?”

When we receive revelation it is usually in the moment that we need it. Like Nephi retrieving the plates, you will have an overall goal in mind, but you don’t know exactly how it will play until you are in the moment. When you are in the place and time you will be given the details. The Lord promised you that “the Holy Ghost shall teach you in the same hour what ye ought to say.” (Luke 12:12) Another experience we can learn from is when Nephi built the boat; he was not given the complete blueprint at the beginning; the plans were given “time to time” and not after the manner of men, but after the manner of God. When educating your children in partnership with God you will not be given the complete blueprints at the beginning of the year; you have an overall goal and the details will be given on a day-today basis. 

This style of teaching requires a lot of faith, but I know from experience that it works and God is waiting to pour out His knowledge to you. Planning too far in advance or becoming a slave to curriculums is the result of fear, not faith. Fear that you won’t receive revelation, fear that you must educate your children on your own, fear that you will fail. To become a master teacher, you must let go of that fear and have faith in your ability and your children’s ability to receive inspiration. 

Masterly Inactivity

Our society is full of overly-anxious parents and teachers. Fear and anxiety permeate how we interact with children, and it is greatly affecting their ability to learn. Edwin Friedman first coined the term “non-anxious presence” to describe an important skill that parents and teachers need to develop. Long before Friedman coined the term, Charlotte Mason called it “masterly inactivity.”  She described it as “the power to act, the desire to act, and the insight and self-restraint which forbid action.” ( v. 3,  p.28)

The underlying truth is that people (especially children) learn best when those around them are calm and collected. Christ was the perfect example of a non-anxious presence; when those around him were feeling strong emotions, such as fear, hatred, or anger he maintained a countenance of love and acceptance. He did not constantly correct people when they made mistakes; instead, he taught correct principles and let people govern themselves. More than anything else, parents need to learn to let their children act instead of always acting upon them. The consequences of an anxious parent are an anxious child who resents their parent and dreads school. Our job is not to stop them from making mistakes; our role is to teach, counsel, and comfort. 

At this point, you may be asking “how do I teach my children without bribing, coercing, testing, and lecturing?” Once again, Charlotte Mason has the answer: “We are limited to three educational instruments–the atmosphere of environment, the discipline of habit, and the presentation of living ideas.” In other words, children learn from your example and real-life experiences, and you educate children by providing living ideas in the form of books and real objects.  I will cover those three instruments in the next sections of this series.

“When we are filled with the Holy Ghost and we let it guide us as we teach others, it spreads from us to our students like the fire spreads across a dry hillside.”

Theo McKean



What can I do to be more receptive to spiritual guidance each day?

How can I let the Spirit guide my teaching?

What can I do to make sure I heed the Spirit’s promptings as I am teaching?

What is preventing me from following promptings I receive?

How can I invite the Spirit into all subjects?

What am I doing to drive the Spirit away?


Pray to know the needs of children and write down your impressions.

Write down the main goals and principles for your family’s education.

Follow the guidance of the Spirit as you teach daily lessons.

Record the impressions you have and the questions your children ask.

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