A New Way of Seeing

I realized it would be irresponsible to toss a new blog out there and go off yammering about method and philosophy as though everyone was already familiar with Charlotte and her ideas.

I’m not the best at explaining things. I ramble. You’d want to smack me and run off screaming if I told you everything. So I’ll tell you some.

A Charlotte Mason (CM) education is a new way of seeing life. Does that sound trite? It’s true though. Mason sets herself apart from other homeschool methods because her philosophy encompasses all of life. Her motto for teachers is:

Education is an atmosphere, a discipline, a life.

Her philosophy of education is wide, generous, and rich. It gives you something “more” to think about when life seems ugly, or when you seem to be drowning in mundane responsibilities. She reminds us to look at truth, beauty and goodness, when it’s easy to look at evil, gloom and darkness.

Michael likes to remind me that this is a very unique way of learning in an already unique group of people (home educators). (I think he’s secretly calling me a crazy.) So even within my own group, these ideas tend to be a little radical and not what is normally done!

So. A few distinctives of a Charlotte Mason education:

Mason has an overarching philosophy that children are actually people, to be treated with respect.

This affects how we teach them, train them and live life with them every day. This is one of my favorite things about her method! She reminds me that each child is created in God’s image and should be treated with that in mind.

Charlotte Mason is a deeply christian education. She doesn’t separate faith from education. Instead, she encourages us to think seriously about our faith, to own it, and to see how faith and education fit perfectly together.

Last week one of my children came across a book that expressed an evolutionary idea, but later shared a clear proclamation of faith in one God who created this world. This was confusing to that child. The child may prefer the box that is comfortable for many of us. Later as the discussion grew to involve the rest of the family, it became clear that minds were being stretched beyond what is comfortable in a way that even many adults do not appreciate. Our entire worldview is Christian, but within that view, there is great freedom to wrestle and wonder. We read, discuss and learn together. It isn’t pretty sometimes, but it is meaningful.

We use “living” books instead of textbooks. This can be confusing. “What the heck is a living book”, you might be muttering to yourself. Most of us learn best through story. The Bible is full of incredible stories. A living book is one that is carefully chosen (only the best), and has deep thoughts and ideas. The child can relate to the people in the stories, and it becomes personal.

“The life of the mind is sustained upon ideas.”

We narrate what has been read in the living book. Narration has been shown to be a powerful tool to recall and summarize the information just read. It takes a mental effort to intelligently retell what you have heard in your own words. Watching their brain work through details, assimilate, and then express them aloud is fascinating to me. Naturally, the older the student becomes, the more written narrations are done. This becomes quite extensive and prepares them well for more rigorous writing.

We do things well and slowly in small amounts of time. Therefore, you may conclude that we might not get a whole lot done. Wrong. I will explain this more later.

We spend a lot of time outside, becoming familiar with the world God created. We begin to love what God has given us to enjoy outside through this time. It can seem pointless and silly at times, but it is the beginning of wondering about the deep mysteries of science. This isn’t some cop-out that checks off the daily science requirement. This is in addition to all that we read and write about science and nature throughout the week.

Since we use difficult books, there is concern with other educators that not all children will be able to comprehend what is being read. But Charlotte says to “spread the feast” for all children, no matter how much it seems that they might not “get it”, and each will take from it what he is able to digest.

She says that once the feast is spread, the teacher should get out of the way. (Not as in “unschooling”.) We are still physically present, but we shut our mouths. This is contrary to common reason, but I have watched it work time and again. Let the child wrestle with the ideas presented. He is a person. He has been given the capacity to think. If we will be quiet, they will do the thinking. Mason says that the responsibility is on the students to do the hard work of thinking…

“No one know[s] the things of a man but the spirit of the man which is in him; therefore, there is no education but self education, and as a young child begins his education, he does so as a student. Our business is to give him mind-stuff, and both quality and quantity are essential…we know where to procure it, for the best thought the world possesses is stored in books; we must open books to children, the best books.”

There is tremendous freedom in this way of learning. I have been able to see and to show my children that we don’t need to be afraid to ask questions, and even question our faith at times. God can take it. He can help us understand the world around us. He created this world, and it is marvelous.

Well, now I’m even ready to smack myself and run off screaming! Time to go. If you made it this far, I’m impressed!

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