The Christian and classical aspects of Clapham’s guiding beliefs and assumptions provide a solid basis for classrooms that promote joyful discovery. Yet it is the consistent pedagogical method at Clapham School which forms students who are prepared to learn effectively. Classrooms are centered on the subject at hand and students are taught to do the work of learning for themselves. This is the heart of what we see as diligence and joy; it is not necessarily that the children are playing at school or happy with their entertaining teacher, but it is the deep satisfactions that come from applying oneself to learning: the solving of a tricky math problem, the completion of a beautiful picture imitation, the identification of a Maple tree by its bark, or hearing the ABA pattern in a piece of music.
Much of Clapham School’s pedagogy is derived from the philosophy of Charlotte Mason, an 18th century Christian educator who wrote extensively and taught and trained teachers across England. As she saw it, “All education is self-education.” Here are some of the guiding beliefs and assumptions that Clapham School embraces:
All children are created in God’s image and therefore have the capacity to know and to learn regardless of their age, ability, or social status. In addition, even at early ages, children can be inspired by deep ideas and touched by the intangibles of genuine knowledge.
Joyful discovery comes from living texts. Charlotte Mason said that ideas feed a child’s mind, and therefore texts should be carefully chosen to reflect what is true, good and beautiful. At Clapham School we use works of literature that have been recognized over time as classic; we choose books which are rich in ideas that have not been abridged or dumbed down to a “child’s” level. We study the art and music of the masters. Students not only narrate (tell back) these stories or pieces, but are given time to engage with and discuss the ideas they discover in them.
Joyful discovery springs out of the science of relations. Charlotte Mason advocated a liberal education, meaning that she thought every child capable and deserving of a vital relationship with many subjects. Her curriculum provides this, but her pedagogy enhances it, as children are given the opportunity to go deep, to meet mind-to-mind with an author in a deep discussion of the themes of a text, or to meet mind-to-mind with an artist as they paint an imitation. The relations between subjects become clear as students engage with historical conflicts and see how they influenced those same writers or artists. Students are constantly encountering ideas that relate to themselves and others and fit within the great sovereignty of God.
Joyful discovery is realized through the disciplines of education. If a student is to do the learning for himself, he must recognize that there is training to be done. At Clapham School we emphasize habits that contribute to effective learning: the habits of attention, careful execution, and imagination, for instance. Added to these are habits that affect the heart attitude toward learning: the habits of respect, reverence, kindness, and service. These provide the backbone for lifelong learning habits and for a posture of expectation and humility in the classroom.
Joyful discovery is realized in an atmosphere of beauty that is free from artificial distraction. At Clapham School our classrooms are decorated simply, with beautiful and vibrant items. Artwork by master artists hangs on the walls. Flowers or other items gathered during Nature Study may be placed around the classroom. Good books fill the windowsills. What is seen is meant to inspire the work of learning and not to distract, providing a space that is both comfortable and beautiful.
Joyful discovery in this pedagogy becomes a way of life. Charlotte Mason’s deep belief in knowledge as enlivened by the Holy Spirit becomes key to inspiring students with a counter-cultural joy and maturity. At Clapham School they are encouraged to be life-long learners; to seek after knowledge; to grow in their knowledge of God, His love for them and His truth, which is the basis for all knowledge. Lastly, her pedagogy attracts teachers who are learners themselves and who are eager to inspire the same in their students. The classroom fosters a contagious excitement that has a profound effect on students, parents and whole families.