Saturday, October 11, 2014

Do we teach thinking? (Harvard study meets Charlotte Mason)

by Anne White

Have you seen this Yahoo news article citing research by Shari Tishman at Harvard?  Tishman describes seven "thinking dispositions" that good thinkers not only have but actively use.
"1. The disposition to be broad and adventurous: The tendency to be open-minded, to explore alternative views; an alertness to narrow thinking; the ability to generate multiple options."
11. But we, believing that the normal child has powers of mind which fit him to deal with all knowledge proper to him, give him a full and generous curriculum; taking care only that all knowledge offered him is vital, that is, that facts are not presented without their informing ideas. Out of this conception comes our principle that, [Education is the Science of Relations.] ~~ Charlotte Mason, Philosophy of Education
"2. The disposition toward sustained intellectual curiosity: The tendency to wonder, probe, find problems, a zest for inquiry; an alertness for anomalies; the ability to observe closely and formulate questions."
12. "Education is the Science of Relations"; that is, that a child has natural relations with a vast number of things and thoughts: so we train him upon physical exercises, nature lore, handicrafts, science and art, and upon many living books, for we know that our business is not to teach him all about anything, but to help him to make valid as many as may be of––
          "Those first-born affinities
      "That fit our new existence to existing things." ~~ Charlotte Mason, Philosophy of Education

"3. The disposition to clarify and seek understanding: A desire to understand clearly, to seek connections and explanations; an alertness to unclarity and need for focus; an ability to build conceptualizations."

13. In devising a SYLLABUS for a normal child, of whatever social class, three points must be considered:
     (a) He requires much knowledge, for the mind needs sufficient food as much as does the body.
     (b) The knowledge should be various, for sameness in mental diet does not create appetite (i.e., curiosity)
     (c) Knowledge should be communicated in well-chosen language, because his attention responds naturally to what is conveyed in literary form.  ~~ Charlotte Mason, Philosophy of Education
"4. The disposition to be planful and strategic: The drive to set goals, to make and execute plans, to envision outcomes; alertness to lack of direction; the ability to formulate goals and plans."
17. The way of the will: Children should be taught, (a) to distinguish between 'I want' and 'I will.' (b) That the way to will effectively is to turn our thoughts from that which we desire but do not will. (c) That the best way to turn our thoughts is to think of or do some quite different thing, entertaining or interesting. (d) That after a little rest in this way, the will returns to its work with new vigour. (This adjunct of the will is familiar to us as diversion, whose office it is to ease us for a time from will effort, that we may 'will' again with added power. The use ofsuggestion as an aid to the will is to be deprecated, as tending to stultify and stereotype character, It would seem that spontaneity is a condition of development, and that human nature needs the discipline of failure as well as of success.) ~~ Charlotte Mason, Philosophy of Education
"5. The disposition to be intellectually careful: The urge for precision, organization, thoroughness; an alertness to possible error or inaccuracy; the ability to process information precisely."
18. The way of reason: We teach children, too, not to 'lean (too confidently) to their own understanding'; because the function of reason is to give logical demonstration (a) of mathematical truth, (b) of an initial idea, accepted by the will. In the former case, reason is, practically, an infallible guide, but in the latter, it is not always a safe one; for, whether that idea be right or wrong, reason will confirm it by irrefragable proofs.  ~~ Charlotte Mason, Philosophy of Education
"6. The disposition to seek and evaluate reasons: The tendency to question the given, to demand justification; an alertness to the need for evidence; the ability to weigh and assess reasons."
19. Therefore, children should be taught, as they become mature enough to understand such teaching, that the chief responsibility which rests on them as persons is the acceptance or rejection of ideas. To help them in this choice we give them principles of conduct, and a wide range of the knowledge fitted to them. These principles should save children from some of the loose thinking and heedless action which cause most of us to live at a lower level than we need.  ~~ Charlotte Mason, Philosophy of Education
"7. The disposition to be metacognitive: The tendency to be aware of and monitor the flow of one's own thinking; alertness to complex thinking situations; the ability to exercise control of mental processes and to be reflective."
5. Therefore, we are limited to three educational instruments––the atmosphere of environment, the discipline of habit, and the presentation of living ideas. The P.N.E.U. Motto is: "Education is an atmosphere, a discipline, and a life."
 ~~ Charlotte Mason, Philosophy of Education

Monday, September 15, 2014

Mysticism Unveiled: The Gentle Heart of Hildegard of Bingen

By Megan Hoyt

Our guest poster today is Megan Hoyt, a longtime Ambleside Online user and the author of Hildegard's Gift (see details below).  Hildegard of Bingen is the AO composer for this term.

When I first began reading about the early life of Hildegard of Bingen, twelfth century composer, artist, herbalist, visionary, and lover of God, I really began to identify with this mysterious, solitary child. Like other good Catholics of the Middle Ages, her parents sent her away to live as an anchoress in total isolation at an early age. As their tenth child, they considered her a “tithe to the church,” which seems like a beautiful and godly idea unless you are the frightened little girl being sent away.

I was a frightened little girl, too – I was almost scared of my own shadow for most of my childhood and constantly worried about the social norms of school life, which seemed so elusive to me. I was mystical, too, in the sense that I genuinely “felt” connected to God when I worshipped at church. Unlike my peers, I cried while singing anthems in children’s choir. Christmas and Easter services? I sobbed through them. My parents called me sensitive. My Aunt Gretchen said I was one of God’s special ones. Looking back, I now wonder if I had a form of clinical depression.

Perhaps that’s why I so strongly identified with young Hildegard’s first teetering steps into the cell where she would spend years of her life, praying alone. I could definitely see myself being happy in isolation like Hildegard. And that is the duty of an anchoress, in case you didn’t know – they must live a secluded life as cloistered nuns. I wonder. Did Hildegard WANT to join the convent at Disibodenberg? She was only eight years old, after all. Did she agree with her parents’ decision? She certainly embraced her new life. And the world is better for it. But where does our genuine responsibility for accepting the advice of our parents end? Where does it begin? I really don’t have any idea. It’s a new thought for me – do we have choices when we’re very young? Do we get to decide to love God or are we simply expected to? See, I told you I was mystical. I could sit and ponder these things all day and never accomplish anything else.

Hildegard was already experiencing brilliant visions by the time she was sequestered with only one fellow nun, Jutta, nearby. She was unable to write her visions down without the assistance of a scribe, but it was clear early that she was a gifted young woman with big ideas that she insisted came directly from God. Here are a few things God was saying to her:

The fire has its flame and praises God.
The wind blows the flame and praises God.
In the voice we hear the word which praises God.
And the word, when heard, praises God.
So all of creation is a song of praise to God.

God hugs you.
You are encircled by the arms
of the mystery of God.

Good People,
most royal greening verdancy,
rooted in the sun,
you shine with radiant light.

I have read two or three of Hildegard’s books now and even written one of my own about her, Hildegard’s Gift, available through Paraclete Press. The more I read, the more I love this little girl with a giant heart. She seems so intimately acquainted with God and so firm in her convictions about how we should live. Reading even a few excerpted quotes from her chant music refreshes my soul and gives me fresh hope for the future. Taking time to contemplate, to brood, to rest in the presence of our Lord is so important and also richly rewarding in this fragmented, hurry along culture of ours.

The child Hildegard grew up, of course, as we all must. Her adult years were spent as an Abbess, leading others, writing letters of conviction and encouragement to popes, bishops, and princes. She was a strong woman with the courage to confront those living in sin. She also wrote plays, operettas, and listened for God’s whispered design for herbal remedies. Here are a few of her thoughts. They may seem a little silly now, but when she wrote them, there was no medical care, no medicine at all really.

The head of a catfish should never be eaten—it lacks viriditas (greening power) and will cause headaches and fevers.

Spelt rectifies the flesh, produces proper blood, and creates a happy mind and a joyful human disposition.

The wood and leaves of the nutmeg tree are harmful, but nutmeg itself gives a person a positive disposition and calms bitterness of the heart and mind. (Physica, p. 21)

Hildegard was a remarkable and complex woman with many talents, but she considered herself merely “a feather on the breath of God.” May we all trust God so much that we float on the wind of the Spirit, on the very breath of our sustaining God.

Megan Hoyt is a veteran writer with credits in television and print. Her children’s book, Hildegard’s Gift, illustrated by David Hill, was released by Paraclete Press in 2014. Recipes, a secret alphabet, and coloring sheets are all available at her website. For the Orthodox and Catholic among us, Hildegard’s Feast Day is September 17.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

From The Parents' Review: Only these days we do it on a phone?

"We see it in the smaller details of life. A man reads a paper while crossing a crowded thoroughfare. His forebrain is in full attention on the newspaper. He takes no heed of the traffic. But his sub-consciousness guides him. That is, his sight centre and ear centre announce the approach of a vehicle, and without telegraphing to the forebrain for directions, wire on to the walking centre on which side to move. This shows that a large amount of information and knowledge is acquired by the brain, and stored up there to be used in a quiet fashion, without always rousing the full intellectual activities. One can see what a saving of brain work there must be if the brain can act automatically, or sub-consciously, without calling on the forebrain for its aid."  --  "The Brain in Relation to Education Part 2," by A. Wilson, Esq., M.D., in The Parents' Review, Volume 14, 1903, pgs. 435-450

From The Parents' Review: Icky Bugs

 "Now, I labour under one great disadvantage in my present subject, namely, the prejudice which exists in the minds of some against beetles, nay, the very mention of the name produces in them a feeling of creepiness and horror. "What! collect beetles, cockroaches, and earwigs! ugh!" and, perhaps, some fair reader wrings her hands with dismay. She considers those ugly black beetles only fit to be trodden upon. Now, if I had time, I would set up a brief on behalf of these greatly maligned insects, which, I am sure, would lead you to respect them very much. However, at present, you must be content to learn that the cockroach and the earwig are not beetles. I admit, candidly, that both of our old friends just mentioned are very like beetles, and therefore, I must try to give you a good reason--only one out of many--why they are not put into the same class with the beetles. Suppose we had opportunities of watching the development of the eggs of the common earwig, and also those of some common beetle, say the cockchafer. Please don't confuse this with the cockroach. One morning we find that our earwig eggs have hatched; and what do we see? A number of little creatures very like the parent earwig from which they were derived. Just a few slight differences, and that is all. It is a very pretty, and not at all an uncommon sight, to see these little broods of baby-earwigs following their mother about, as chickens do a mother-hen. In a short time, also, our cockchafer eggs hatch, and we see resulting, a few little fat grubs, totally unlike their parent, and, indeed, possessing no resemblance to a beetle at all."  -- "Natural Science Recreations: Beetles," by Rev. A. Thornley, M.A., F.E.S., in The Parents' Review, Volume 3, 1892/93, pgs. 834-840

From The Parents' Review: When the children ask the questions

"Water Babies" is another favourite. As I wish to be veracious I must confess that our little ones like best the classics of the nursery - they have made few new discoveries in the literary heavens. Kingsley's satire is less natural and cheery than Thackeray's, and I don't think the small folk make much of it. But then they are, like all children, wonderfully patient of longueurs, and they wade through disguised sermons on over pressure, and on insanitary cottages, for the sake of the inimitable charm and grace of the story proper, with an impartiality which they will be happy if they maintain to maturer years. Our young philosopher's logical faculty is developing; and I well remember the chuckling glee with which he detailed to me the plausible but fallacious arguments by which Kingsley establishes the existence of the Water-baby. "What do you think about it yourself?" he added, with judicial gravity. -- "Our Children's Book Friends," by Their Sister, in The Parents' Review, Volume 3, 1892/93, pgs. 331-334

Saturday, August 16, 2014

More new Plutarch studies on the AO website

If you've looked at the AO Plutarch page lately, you may have noticed that we have changed the schedule of the Lives that we will be reading.  The schedule for the coming school year schedule will stay the same, but starting next year we will be adding a few new Lives to the rotation, and taking a couple out that don't have as much to offer the area of Citizenship.

There are revised study notes up now for this term's Life of Crassus, and for Aemilius Paulus in the spring term.  Both of these have Thomas North's text included.  Let us know how they work for you and your students!

Friday, August 1, 2014

New on the AO site: Plutarch studies and Westward Ho!

Recently added to the Ambleside Online site:

Study notes for Plutarch's Life of Marcus Cato the Censor (brand new!), with text included

Revised study notes for Plutarch's Life of Timoleon, with text included

Study notes for Charles Kingsley's Westward Ho!, used in Year 8 Literature.

Keep watching the Plutarch page...we are working on some more new things.

Friday, July 25, 2014

In which Ralph Vaughan Williams writes to the children of the P.U.S.

(posted by Anne White)

To the children of the Parents' Union School, Ambleside

February, 1951

A small girl was once having a music lesson.  Her teacher gave her a new piece to learn, which she explained was composed by a well-known musician who had lately visited the school.  'But,' said the little girl, in great bewilderment, 'I thought all composers were dead.'

Have we really been taught that all composers are dead? Then indeed our art is dead. Vital art must be creative.

It has been said that we should stand in the present with one eye on the past and one on the future.  Let us by all means build our house on the foundations of the great masters, but let us remember that the composers of our own time and of our own country have something to say to us which even the greatest masters of the past age cannot give us; that is the only way we can build a great future for our music.

We must not let let the dead lion swallow up the living dog.

R. Vaughan Williams.

From the Letters of Ralph Vaughan Williams, 1895-1958 edited by Hugh Cobbe.  Retrieved from Google Books.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

CM Philosophy--the Really Short Version

by Anne White

If you were making a Charlotte Mason t-shirt, what would it say?

Right away you have your choice of well-used CM mottoes.  I am, I can, I ought, I will. Education is an atmosphere, a discipline, a life.  Things, Books, Ideas.  Knowledge of God, Knowledge of Man, Knowledge of the Universe. Keep calm and CM on (I just made that one up).

If you had to use your own words, though, what would spell it out best?  I kind of like "Learning all the Time," but John Holt already used it.  Same with "Beyond Ourselves" (Catherine Marshall).

How about "Knowledge is Just One Idea at a Time?"

What's on your shirt?

Friday, July 11, 2014

Making sense of EVERYBODY'S learning

by Anne White

I've just started reading Making Sense of Adult Learning, by Dorothy MacKeracher.  In the first chapter, "Assumptions about Learning," she says:

"My understanding of learning is based on a learning-centred approach to learning-teaching interactions.  The learning-centred approach focuses primarily on the learning process and the characteristics of the learner, and secondarily on teaching and the characteristics of those who help the learner to learn.  Only when I focus my attention on the learning process and the learner do I understand more clearly what competent teaching, facilitating, training, planning, advising, and counselling processes would be like."

In other words, it's not about the teacher, and it's not even (primarily) about the content: it's about the meaning and connections that the student makes with that content.  The science of relations, self-education.

MacKeracher then contrasts the learner-centred approach with possible other views of learning.  She says that the focus could be on:

"the content (knowledge or skills) to be learned and how it is organized and presented...; the cognitive strategies and skills to be used and how these can be strengthened through training [Herbart rules!] ; appropriate learning behaviours and how these can be elicited and modified through selected stimuli and reinforcement; the technologies to be used as an aid to learning and how they limit or enhance learning; or the facilitator and his or her facilitating activities."  "In these approaches, learners would be perceived and assessed in terms of their competency to learn the content, how well they use cognitive strategies..." etc.

See where it goes?  We as teachers judge, assess the students based on our own focus.  If our focus is content-based, we will be satisfied if they can parrot back the content.  If we think it's all about behaviourism, we'll be marking them on what they do when we ring our little bells.  If it's all about the teacher...heaven help us.

Now all this is part of an approach to adult education, in all its possible situations and contexts.  And if you imagine a night school class, what she's saying seems like common sense.  You sign up for a class in computer skills or cooking or counselling, and you (the learner) have certain expectations.  You certainly have the right to hope that, in most cases, such a class will be as much about you, the learner, learning, as it will be about the content; to hope that the instructor, if it's a small enough class, will have at least some interest in who you are and what you bring to the course. (Clarification: I don't mean getting all chummy with the teacher, but more in the sense of how the course is designed.)   Most people will understand this naturally, because even if they never teach a class themselves, they will almost certainly have to, or choose to, sit through training sessions or upgrading courses or even sermons.  And although such courses might have some very specific content to be learned (like welding skills), it still makes a difference who's learning it and what they then go and do with it.

The irony, for those familiar with Charlotte Mason's philosophy, is that this is old stuff for us.  That's what we do too.  That's how we teach children. As Cindy Rollins said in a 2013 Circe talk, it's not what we teach, it's what they learn.

So the question that it raises for me is--if that's how adult education is served up in the big world (and that's a good thing), are the kids still stuck with chicken nuggets and canned pasta?  Is some researcher or professor out there saying the same thing to elementary and high school teachers?

Oh, I hope so.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Why Elsie Kitching might like The Teaching Gap (Book Review)

by Anne White

The Teaching Gap: Best Ideas from the World's Teachers for Improving Education in the Classroom, by James W. Stigler and James Hiebert. Copyright 1999, Free Press (a division of Simon and Schuster, Inc.); new edition with Afterword, 2009.

In 1928, Elsie Kitching, a friend and associate of Charlotte Mason, wrote:

"It has been said, on the other hand, that the one effort of attention and the one narration implies that the child must never do anything a second time, which is again a very much mistaken interpretation of Miss Mason's teaching. The second time may, as I have said, come in the way of composition later on; it probably comes again in the end of term examination, and certainly, if the child is interested, frequently in after life. There are also in the upper Forms the interesting sidelights which one book or subject throws upon another, sometimes covering the same ground from another point of view.  This is a subject on which we need to think clearly, for we are all of us inclined to attack any point of view from the one point with which we have to deal, but we need to take a bird's-eye view of the whole ground covered by any problem, lest we should not see the wood for the trees."  -- "Concerning "Repeated Narration," by Elsie Kitching, The Parents' Review, Volume 39, no. 1, January 1928, pgs. 58-62; emphasis mine
In another PR article, Miss Kitching emphasizes that since the PNEU methods are methods, not systems, it is important that we begin with the philosophical principles behind the methods, rather than the other way around.  She says something that might surprise homeschoolers who have spent many hours trying to figure out "the CM way to do things": that there is no one, absolute, foolproof CM-approved way to teach any particular subject, to do any particular activity--and she refers specifically to the question of how to teach reading. Yes, the PNEU provided booklists and timetables, marked exams, organized meetings, and provided many years of Parents' Review articles to try to answer the many questions that parents asked.  Yes, Charlotte Mason wrote about how to keep a nature notebook and do a picture talk. But in the end, a good teacher, working on the right educational principles, providing a generous curriculum, respecting the minds of the students, will probably do a good job overall without having to have every last instruction spelled out.
I found that second article particularly interesting, because I just finished reading a much more recent book that agrees, in many ways, with the "big picture" that Elsie Kitching describes.  In the early 1990's, a project called the Third International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS) videotaped eight-grade mathematics classes in the United States, Germany, and Japan.  The book The Teaching Gap is not, as its subtitle might suggest, a collection of hints from teachers around the world, but a description and summary of what the researchers found out during that project.  There were a total of 231 classes chosen randomly and filmed during a "typical" lesson; then the videos were studied by an international team of researchers.  They looked for patterns within the three countries, and for differences between them that might account for generally higher math test scores, for example, in Japan.  Were the Japanese teachers doing something special that the German and American teachers had missed?  Were there things that the American educational system could incorporate into math classes?

To give a short answer, the researchers (at that point) found a number of differences between the three countries.  Not every Japanese or German teacher taught the same way, and not every teacher taught the same way all the time, but there were enough common factors to establish some patterns.  Much of the difference came down to the facts that the best teachers allowed students to engage directly with challenging mathematics problems, and that the best lessons seemed to be presented as a sort of story--not in a literary sense, but as something planned with an opening, a middle, and an end, and periods of seatwork or group activity were part of that story as well.  The researchers, in the original book, spent quite a bit of time discussing one particular, uniquely Japanese aid to teaching: teams of teachers would regularly meet together to plan specific lessons, from beginning to end, down to the last example. Since they had a national curriculum, this meant that a local method for teaching "grade 2 math, chapter 2" or whatever could be passed on to teachers in other areas.  As well as adding to what you might call the "lesson bank," this sort of activity seemed to be particularly important in teacher development and training.  The teachers were working together to improve the students' experiences in every subject, and they themselves were learning to be better teachers by participating in these projects.  Their own experience was valued, because they were the people on the front lines.

The final question of the book was not whether the Americans should just adopt particular Japanese or even German teaching methods, for instance, getting together to plan lessons.  The researchers agreed that it would not be enough for teachers in one country to attempt to superficially imitate, or to be told to imitate, exactly what was done in another place, without changing the whole structure of education first.  In other words, principles, not surface methods, were what mattered, and one needed to be in place before much change could be seen in the other.  They also agreed that the focus needed to shift from "teachers" to "teaching," and that teaching could improve only if there was acknowledgement that a country's cultural notions of schools and teaching--the "script"--needed to change.

But the real revelation is in the Afterword, included in the 2009 edition of the book.  In 1999, the researchers expanded their project, and filmed classes in six other countries.. They found out that those countries were also teaching math very well--but that they all did it differently!  "Teachers in the Czech Republic and Hong Kong spend much of their time teaching the whole class, whether through lecture or recitation.  Teachers in the Netherlands, on the other hand, have students work independently for much of the lesson."  What did the high achievers have in common?  "Their varied approaches all accomplished the engagement of students in active struggle with core mathematics concepts and procedures.  It was this feature of teaching that we found common to the high achievers and missing in the United States." (Stigler and Hiebert, page 186)

What does all this have to do with Elsie Kitching, with Charlotte Mason, and with homeschooling parents? As Elsie said, it's easy to miss the wood for the trees.  We can't do the how-to if we're missing the why-to; but if our why-to is firmly in place, we will often see the how.  It might not be exactly the same as somebody else's how.   We may be teaching in different places; even in different centuries.  We may stalk up and down overcrowded classroom aisles like Marva Collins, or sit on a couch with one child snuggled against us.  We may use this math program, or that one.  We may find that it works to put all the "seatwork" together in a bunch and to do several book lessons back to back; or we may have children who work better with a more varied timetable.

And, like the Japanese teachers, we can definitely improve.  We can support each other, we can work with each other to talk about what worked well and what didn't, we can discuss books that we (the teachers) are reading together, we can even write class notes and lessons for each others' benefit.  In some ways, I think online homeschoolers have some of the best of all worlds: we certainly are not working in isolation!
Although The Teaching Gap is specifically about large educational systems, public schools, and classrooms, there is much in the book for home educators to think about.  In addition, we are, like it or not, part of cultures that hold "scripts" about education and schools, and those expectations affect us even if our own children are not in those classrooms.

Overall, a very interesting book, particularly as a bit of inspiration to examine the teaching "scripts" that we find ourselves following--and to rewrite them when needed.

(Charlotte Mason might ask us to note what ideas of education we have inadvertently admitted, and encourage us to give the boot to those that are harmful or non-productive.)

Monday, June 16, 2014

Why, they say, we can't read books anymore

by Anne White

Have you read the Christian Science Monitor article about people being so distracted that they can't pay attention long enough to read anything demanding, even if they want to?  It popped up for me on Yahoo a few days ago, and I actually read it.  I do read things.  But then that's what I do.  And on the other end, there are people who really never did read much in the first place, so superimposing the distraction of technology on them isn't going to make a lot of difference.

I'm trying to put myself in the place of someone who used to read,  used to want to read, and who has actually changed that because of "digital distraction."  Is there really such a person?  Maybe, maybe not.  I'm more concerned about how this applies to children, learning or not learning.  If the office workers cited in the article were interrupted about every three minutes and took twenty-three minutes to get back on task-and these were adults--is it any easier for children who are constantly interrupted and distracted?  It sounds as if we're putting ourselves, or being put, into an ADHD experiment..  The question is, why would we want to do that to ourselves, and more so, to our children?

And check out this observation: "I see people of all ages around me abandoning the moment they're in to search for something better."  The author blames this, again, on the intrusion of technology, claiming that a friend found a miraculous cure by abandoning a fancier phone for a flip phone.  Wow, if that was all it took...the funny thing is, I don't even have a flip phone, and I still get distracted.  Not enough not to read, but just trying to keep all the usual balls in the air.  But this friend, apparently, could not bring himself to read books as long as he felt enslaved to his do-everything, don't-abandon-me piece of technology.  (Doesn't that remind you a bit of those Japanese electronic "virtual pet" toys, popular about fifteen years ago, that demanded to be fed and coddled hour on the hour?  Is it possible that those were just training wheels for "SmartBerries" and the rest?)  Well, anyway, there we seem to have our Exhibit A, somebody who would have read, could have read, but who was too busy to stop and seriously look a book in the eye. Well, good for him, at least.

But again, he's an adult. He knows better and he can make his own choices.  What concerns us are the children, our own and those around us.  Are we allowing them a great deal time free of distractions?  We may have to deliberately create that--I don't mean sabotaging the devices, but at least going places where they're not wanted or not allowed, and that can include "unplugged" places and times within our own homes.  If education is an atmosphere, a discipline, and a life, we need to be vigilant about guarding all three.

With young children, we can play with them, with our own gadgets turned off of course.  We can do as Charlotte Mason suggests in "Inconstant Kitty," and encourage them to finish the game, play with the same toy a bit longer, go a little slower and more carefully at building something.  We can provide toys with many possibilities.  We can even do as the mama in All-of-a-Kind Family did with chores: she hid buttons (and occasionally pennies) when the little girls were dusting, so that they had to do a very thorough job to find them all.

If we homeschool, we can practice the disciplines, create the habits that do teach them to concentrate, pay attention, observe--and then record observations non-electronically.  If we teach classes or work with groups of children, we can provide books and activities that absorb them, that make them suddenly come up for air and ask for another chapter, more time to keep working or watching something.

Some will say that is not exactly cutting-edge.  But in a world where distraction is the new normal--maybe it is.

Ages and Stages

by Karen Glass

Charlotte Mason's methods are not (thank goodness!) associated with stages.  However, she did in fact talk about two stages of education.  It isn't the focus of her principles, but her methods are worked out to serve the needs of the stage that was most relevant to her pupils.

Charlotte Mason tells us that "education is the science of relations."

The idea that vivifies teaching in the Parents' Union is that Education is the Science of Relations; by which phrase we mean that children come into the world with a natural 'appetency,' to use Coleridge's word, for, and affinity with, all the material of knowledge; for interest in the heroic past and in the age of myths; for a desire to know about everything that moves and lives, about strange places and strange peoples; for a wish to handle material and to make; a desire to run and ride and row and do whatever the law of gravitation permits. Therefore we do not feel it is lawful in the early days of a child's life to select certain subjects for his education to the exclusion of others; to say he shall not learn Latin, for example, or shall not learn Science; but we endeavour that he shall have relations of pleasure and intimacy established with as many as possible of the interests proper to him; not learning a slight or incomplete smattering about this or that subject, but plunging into vital knowledge, with a great field before him which in all his life he will not be able to explore.
What does that have to do with stages?  Well, we see that Charlotte speaks of "the early days of a child's life."  The first stage, obviously, begins at the beginning, and the work of this stage is to develop relations with every area of knowledge.

Charlotte Mason mentions her stages in volume 5 of her educational series, Formation of Character,  which is not often read because it is less practical, and it is probably for this reason that we have been spared a rigid system forming around these stages. 

There is also a time for sowing the seed of this knowledge, an intellectual as well as a natural springtime; and it would be interesting to examine the question, how far it is possible to prosecute any branch of knowledge, the sowing and germination of which has not taken place in early youth. It follows that the first three lustres belong to what we may call the synthetic stage of education, during which his reading should be wide and varied enough to allow the young scholar to get into living touch with earth-knowledge, history, literature, and much besides. These things are necessary for his intellectual life, and are especially necessary to give him material for the second stage of his education, the analytic, which, indeed, continues with us to the end.
The "first three lustres" is fifteen years, so all the years prior to our high school, and even the first year or two of high school, may be considered part of this "synthetic" stage.  This is a time for gathering first-hand knowledge, developing relationships with every area of learning, and establishing that affection for knowledge that is the foundation for what Charlotte Mason tells us is the vital question about education--not "how much does the youth know?" but "how much does he care?"

After he has learned to care, his maturer mind is ready to analyze what he knows.  For most educators in the 21st century, analysis is the first object, and we expect children to analyze what they learn as soon as they trot off to kindergarten.  Charlotte Mason understood that analysis was the work of a mind "throughly furnished" with much knowledge, and the first stage of education--a long one, allowing plenty of time for relationships to develop--was a time to synthesize knowledge.  Most of us know what analysis looks like, and how to approach knowledge analytically, because this is how we are taught in institutional schools.  The idea of synthesizing knowledge might be confusing, but Charlotte Mason has distilled the idea in her principle that "education is the science of relations."  If we pursue the idea of developing a relationship with every area of knowledge, we are well on the way to making the most of that first stage of education--the synthetic stage--which lays the foundation for the later work of a mature mind.

Monday, April 21, 2014

Narration Through the Ages

by Karen Glass

One of the hallmarks of a Charlotte Mason education is narration. Everyone who inquires into the method bumps into narration almost from the very first, because it is so central. Read and narrate, read and narrate. Because narration is not a widely-used technique today in any other method of education, it is easy to imagine that it is an invention of Charlotte Mason, something particularly her own, but in fact, the practice of narrating goes back for centuries. The preliminary exercises of classical rhetoric, the progymnasmata, include narration as one of the first things young learners would do, beginning with fables or relating simple historical events, and these early rhetorical lessons were sometimes begun even with children. But even narration in the form that Charlotte Mason recommends it--retelling immediately what has been read or heard--is not an invention of her own, but was recommended centuries before by some of the Renaissance educators (and I believe Charlotte gleaned a great deal from them). Consider this advice from Erasmus:
The master must not omit to set as an exercise the reproduction of what he has given to the class. It involves time and trouble to the teacher, I know well but it is essential. A literal reproduction of the matter taught is, of course, not required - but the substance of it presented in the pupil's own way.
Perhaps, reading that advice, or something like it, Charlotte Mason decided to give it a try and found it very effective! Other teachers from the same era, perhaps influenced by what they knew of rhetoric, recommend the same practice. Comenius outlines similar guidelines in his Great Didactic:
Every pupil should acquire the habit of acting as a teacher. This will happen if, after the teacher has fully demonstrated and expounded something, the pupil himself is immediately required to give a satisfactory demonstration and exposition of the same thing in the same manner. Furthermore, pupils should be instructed to relate what they learn in school to their parents or servants at home or to anyone else capable of understanding such matters. This practice will serve various useful purposes: In the first place, pupils will be more attentive to every part of the teacher's exposition if they know that presently they will have to repeat the same matter and if each one fears that perhaps he will be the first to be asked to do so. Second, by restating exactly what has been taught, everyone will imprint it more deeply in his understanding and memory.
So what does it mean? Did Charlotte happen to stumble by chance over an ancient practice or did she discover it in the course of her wide reading on the topic of education? She doesn't tell us, but those of us who make narration an integral part of our educational efforts are not just following the advice of an obscure 19th-century British schoolteacher. We are sharing in a traditional practice of the past, and giving our students a share in the education of Quintilian, Erasmus, and well as Charlotte Mason!

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Blueprint for a Charlotte Mason term

by Anne White

This is a "composite term" that I distilled from a number of Parents' Union School term programmes for Form III (grades 7-8).  I chose Form III partly because it is the level my own daughter is using this term, but also because it's not too far off from the programmes for Form II (grades 4-6) and Form IV (grade 9). Form II is organized slightly differently and has fewer books; Form IV adds a few new subjects.   It is not prescriptive in the sense that every single person and family who following Charlotte Mason's methods should organize their work in exactly this way; certainly if we've learned anything, it's that even in Charlotte Mason's own descriptions of schoolwork there could be variations.  

It is also not identical to the Ambleside Online yearly booklists, although AO is based largely on programmes like this one.

What it is, is what the Parents' Union School asked their parent/teachers to do each term, between about the years 1922-1930.  And they did basically the same thing, year after year.  So I feel fairly safe in saying that this is a generic but accurate Charlotte Mason-style, liberal arts, classically-inspired term.  Use it as you will. (Where specific books are named, they appeared on almost every term programme.)

Bible Lessons.
Resources for formal, consecutive Bible study, including Old Testament history, the Gospels, and the Acts of the Apostles. Supporting resources such as a Bible atlas.
Resources for personal daily reading (separate from schooltime work).
Books(church history, missionary or other inspirational biographies) andappropriate activities for Sundays.

Choose a model or method for handwriting, and practice or review as needed. Choose and transcribe passages (in beautiful writing) from poetry, plays, or other books. (Calligraphy kits may be useful.)

Dictation (also in best handwriting)
Two or three pages or a passage to be prepared first from a newspaper, or, from the prose and poetry set for reading; a paragraph to be then dictated.

Refer to a textbook or online source for lessons in meter.
Read on Tuesdays some subject in "Literature," or on the news of the week, or, on some historical or allegorical subject, etc. Write on Thursdays an essay on the subject.  Write narrative poems that must scan on events that have struck you. Write letters to friends on general news (or similar descriptive writing assignments).

English Grammar.
Choose a grammar book and continue to work through it. Parse and analyse from books read.

Literature (including holiday and evening reading).
The History of English Literature for Boys and Girls, by H. E. Marshall, pages appropriate to the history being studied. One Shakespeare play, can be chosen to correspond with history or Plutarch, (or one of the comedies). One worthwhile novel, usually related to history. Possibly a second book, essays or another novel. Poetry: know the poems of six poets.

Reading. (including holiday and evening reading).
Books set under Literature, History, Geography, Recitations, should afford exercise in careful reading and in composition. Poetry should be read daily. Chapters from Bulfinch's Age of Fable.

Learn two Bible passages of about 20 verses each. Two hymns, two Psalms. Two modern poems, or a scene from  Shakespeare, or two ballads.

English History.
Chapters from main history book, and possibly a secondary source. Make a Century Chart of the time being studied. Read the daily news and keep a calendar or notebook of events.

French and General History.
Corresponding pages from a book of French history. Study of ancient cultures and artifacts, using The British Museum for Children. Keep a Book of Centuries, putting in illustrations from all history studied.  Possibly add another book of general history or about another culture. (Van Loon's Story of Mankind was included here.)

Ourselves (Book I), by Charlotte Mason; about 25 pages/term. Plutarch's Lives: usually one life per term, North's translation preferred. Reference materials such as a classical dictionary (for Plutarch and mythology). Books on government, economics, or other aspects of citizenship.

Books describing the student's own country and other countries, both physical geography and other points such as economic and social life. (Map questions to be answered from map and names put into blank map (from memory) before each lesson.) Books describing historical aspects of geography such as famous sea battles. Books or essays on travel. (Usually drawing on three different books per term.)
Know something about foreign places coming into notice in the current newspapers. Map drills on the student's own country.
Include the practical, "outdoor" type of geography (such as finding direction by the sun or stars), e.g by completing Scout/Guide badges. 

Natural History and Botany.
1. Main book about plant life (ongoing)
2. A second book relating to natural history.
Keep a Nature Note-Book, with flower and bird lists, and make daily notes.  For out-of-door work choose some special seasonal study.

General Science.
1. First book on some area of science such as astronomy

2. Second book, usually on a different topic. (Architecture counted as science.)
3. (In the ninth grade they added human physiology.)

Certain subjects that were covered by textbooks or by literature to be read and narrated: Arithmetic, Geometry, Languages (French, German, Italian, Latin)

Drawing and Picture Study.
Books or other materials for drawing instruction (if there is no teacher available). One special topic for the term such as animal studies. Illustrations of scenes from Literature. Study, describe (and draw from memory details of) six reproductions of pictures by one (sometimes two) artists.

Musical Appreciation.
Follow the work of the term's composer, including biographical and other helpful material.

Folk songs in English and in any other languages being studied. Technical work (sight singing).

Drill, etc.
Physical activities and games.

Home economics skills (including gardening, cooking, clothing design and sewing, laundry, mending), and general handicrafts. "Take the (Girl Guide) First Aid and Housecraft Tests."

(Adapted from Parents' Union School programmes posted on the Ambleside Online website (the corresponding exams are helpful too), and retrieved from the Charlotte Mason Digital Archives at Redeemer University.)

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

All the things I wanted to say, Part Four (last one!)

by Anne White

How do you keep resources and time organized in the upper years?

Charlotte Mason supplied her students with a carefully thought out timetable.  It made sure there was variety in the day, that a subject heavy in writing was followed by something different, and so on.  This also helped to keep things running smoothly when there were different ages working together,  needing the teacher's attention at different times. But since we want to encourage our students to take some responsibility for their own learning, we may decide to just give our older students a schedule or a list of things to be accomplished in the day or in the week, and let them figure out what to do when. At our house we are using a modified workbox system, where I load a row of magazine holders with the books we need for the day's school; but I also have a "teacher's binder" with lists of the chapters to be read and other ideas for the term. There are all kinds of ways to keep things on track, but which ones work best for you are going to depend on the particular needs and styles of you and your students, as well as whether you have your "courses" divided up into just a few major credits or not.  It's not hard to provide a few drawers or folders marked "Math," "Science," "Literature" and so on; but some parts of a CM education don't fit perfectly into those categories, and you may prefer to keep things a bit looser.

Cindy Rollins, longtime keeper of the Ordo Amoris blog, has a ritual called Morning Time, where all the students (and mom) get together and read things like poetry and Plutarch, do memory work, whatever works well as a group; and then they go off to do their invidual work. When I was homeschooling a middle schooler and a third/fourth grader together, we did a lot of combined readalouds and even things like science study together too; for those two years I tried to pick resources that would work for mixed grades.  Again, you may have to try things out; some students work well together, some work best with a parent, and some want to do it all on their own.

What are the possible pitfalls and problems of using CM in the upper years? What Daleks may try to exterminate your homeschool?

1.  Don't compare, don't worry about what everyone else is doing (or how well they're doing it).

2.  Don't underestimate the children, focusing on limits rather than possibilities.  One pitfall might be to overdo everything, overload and burn out; but the other might be to assume that certain subjects or books are too long, too difficult, or not relevant to today's world. Charlotte said not to drop whole subject areas just because we ourselves think they're too dry or too hard; it is important to open as many doors as we can, do as much exploring as possible.

3.  Even older kids need some variety, some surprises.  Charlotte Mason criticized people whose dinner menus were too predictable; I think she would have said the same about lessons that were always the same. Unless you have one of those students who gets severely stressed by mom's attempts to mix things up (there are some of those too), it's good to include some little twists and surprises.  Do some math or grammar orally.  Play a math game.  Spend some science periods looking through the microscope, or otherwise learning the material in a different way.  Find something different or interesting to do on Tuesday mornings or Friday afternoons--that might be when you check out nature trails, or discount times at the museum, or visit an elderly neighbour.

4.  Don't forget the whole-cookie analogy.  In our family, we tend to take a relaxed approach towards writing, including essay writing; we do use some commercial resources, but it's not very "programmed." Sometimes I've wondered if I'm shortchangiing my students by not making as big a deal of the formal, five-paragraph essay as other homeschoolers do; or by not giving them enough creative writing assignments. However, our older girls who have gone on to public high school have frequently had their papers picked out of the pile as exemplary.  And our youngest won a place in a student poetry anthology this year.  So the whole (cookie) is not made up of trying to glue a whole lot of unconnected crumbs together; the "top down" method of teaching writing largely by example seems to be just as effective.  (We use a few formal resources as they get older; it's not all osmosis; but I still think CM has given us an appreciation of what it is to learn these things naturally.)

To switch from Dr. Who to Star Trek for a minute, I like the ending of "The Undiscovered Country." Captain Kirk is heard in a voiceover saying:
Captain's Log, Stardate 9529.1: This is the final cruise of the Starship Enterprise under my command. This ship and her history will shortly become the care of another crew. To them and their posterity will we commit our future. They will continue the voyages we have begun and journey to all the undiscovered countries, boldly going where no man - where no one - has gone before.  
You are the worldshakers, the innovaters, the ground-breakers, the brave ones. You may have to fight off a few Daleks on your journey through the galaxy, but the adventure will be worth it.

And to add one thought for Christians who are listening or reading:  I heard this week from a pastor (and former homeschool mom) who has organized a series of short-term missions trips to Asia, focusing on children's ministries.  Being a person who likes order and organization, she always plans ahead as much as possible.  On this particular trip, she felt unusually un-organized; her team was much smaller than originally planned, she had fewer ideas written down, and so on.  However, she committed the trip (and her anxiety) to the Lord, and they went ahead, working in co-operation with a local church.  Can you guess what happened?  An unusually large number of children not only came for the programs, but committed their lives to Jesus Christ.  When we are weakest, He is strongest.  (Or to put it as the pastor did--when our binders are the emptiest, He has the most room to fill in the details.)  This is not to discourage planning ahead!--but rather to remind us all of God's faithfulness.  If He has called us to this journey, He can carry it out as well.

Monday, April 7, 2014

All the things I wanted to say, Part Three of Four

by Anne White

We have not homeschooled any of our children all the way through high school.  There were a variety of reasons for this, including the always-present question of "what will they do without a diploma?" Outside pressures may not matter in some homeschooling families, but for us they were at least a partial reason for the decision to take on public high school.

I don't think it was that different during Charlotte Mason's lifetime, especially for middle to upper class boys who would have had to go to some kind of outside school to prepare for university. If you look at the study programs for her oldest senior high students, it is assumed that those students would be mostly girls. I think that there was an understanding of the school and university requirements at that time, and a need to work with the realities of that system; to give both the upper and lower-class students whatever they could for whatever time was available to them, before they had to go on to work or some other form of schooling. For us today it may be much the same; what seems to cause the most anxiety for homeschooling parents in the high school years is first of all teaching higher-level math and science and possibly English, and second, getting that work validated so that our students can move on to whatever post-secondary study or job or business they are planning for. I think Charlotte Mason would understand those kinds of outside expectations, although in her time they wouldn't have applied to so many students.

In a perfect world, we might be able to provide CM-style education for everybody, all the way through, in small schools or in our homes; and in fact, it's getting really interesting to see what's happening now with the next generation of CM babies coming along, hearing about homeschooling parents who were brought up themselves to love good books, and who are just as likely as their kids to be interested in a bird on the lawn or a bug on the window. (You know the ads that say it's even more important to invest in girls' education than in boys', because the girls will be better parents and so on? I think Charlotte Mason would have totally agreed with that.) Anyway, yes, it can be hard trying to set up a whole science lab in your house, to teach senior math and literature especially if you're also teaching younger children at the same time; so if your students really are at the point where they need that kind of study and they also need to be credited for it, there are points where you may have to say, we've gone as far as we can; it's time for outside school.

(It's not that math and science aren't important, only that a) maybe not everybody needs to learn them in the same way or in the same amount that the public schools require, and b) they have a way of taking over, and you can't do everything at once.)

But if we can extend our children's CM opportunities by even a couple of years, maybe through grades nine and ten, and then let them take on whatever seems necessary in our culture and economy, they will still be that much the better for it.

So if they are still at home, what should their schooling look like?

In The Living Page, Laurie Bestvater refers to the "CM trinity":
a rich curriculum,
the habit of narration,
and teacher standing aside.

This is a good description of Charlotte Mason principles in general; but I think, more than anything, that this is what you need to put in place for the upper years.  If those three are in place, it doesn't matter so much whether you use science textbooks or not, how many languages you include, or even whether you read Plutarch.

Rich curriculum:  well, you can look at Ambleside Online as an example.  You can look directly at what the Parents' Union School did in the upper years (via the original Progammes posted on the AO site).  You can look on your own shelves, at library sales, at reviews of new books and other resources, at whatever's around you.  Charlotte Mason referred regularly to having students complete Scout or Guide tests in areas of geography, First Aid, and homemaking.  Where things come from is not so much the question as what we do with them.

Habit of narration:  Obviously this includes both oral and written narrations. But t
he upper years are a time when you get to try new "paper graces" (notebooks); for example, my seventh-grade daughter has been keeping a Book of Centuries, and this term we will add in a Century Chart.  I might also note that when when of my other children, now in high school, went through some of the "homeschool relics" of her younger years, the only things she was really interested in keeping were the notebooks that she had really had a hand in designing or writing or illustrating.

Teacher standing aside: We develop "trust", meaning trust in each other, in ourselves, in the student's mind.  Trust in the process, trust in the general principles of CM. Trust in the work of the Holy Spirit.

More to come in Part Four.

Sunday, April 6, 2014

All the things I wanted to say, Part Two

by Anne White

More on the subject of Charlotte Mason and the upper years of school...

One hesitation at this point might be that if you've followed Charlotte Mason methods with your family through elementary school, you may also feel, or feel like you're being told, that all that time travelling was fun ,but that now it's time to come back down to earth; time to get down to a more serious view of education. Sometimes people will say this simply because they're not really aware of how challenging some of Charlotte Mason's upper level books and assignments were.

But for others, it is a problem more of philosophy and educational models. We may feel we're being told that the seemingly simple, subjective, mythos or poetic viewpoint is something we should outgrow; that as our children's minds stretch towards adulthood, we have to cut all that out of their schooling and replace it with a big, heavy dose of logos, of reason, of efficiency, of "life is real and life is earnest."  (I think of the mythos and logos as kind of like Ernie and Bert on Sesame Street.  Bert is all "be sensible, behave yourself," and Ernie is all about imagination.)  

David Hicks in his book on classical education, Norms and Nobility, says that "where distrust of connotative language...that is, language that is subjective and emotional, words like 'truth' or 'beauty' or 'home'...invades the modern school, there is a methodological tendency to exclude myth and to encourage detached analysis at the expense of the imaginative mind." Hicks says that the "mythos" side of our consciousness is our imaginative, spiritual effort to make our world intelligible; it gives meaning to human feelings, gives them significance and beauty, and allows us to communicate and share those experiences and ideas with each other. The upper years are about new ways of thinking, the Way of the Will, the great conversations. There is a lot of important stuff happening there beyond the book list, just as there is more to the TARDIS than the control room.

And the other problem with thinking that Charlotte Mason is good for young children, but not practical for older ones, is that we start to expect that when they reach a certain age, they just won't have time for all those books, all the fancy or fun stuff, because they're going to be so busy doing hours of math and science or maybe Latin and Logic, because when you get to that age, you start to focus so much of what you're doing on the next step, whatever lies beyond, like college. The lifetime of learning is going to have to wait until after high school, or maybe until after university. But by that time the key to the TARDIS may have been lost.

In much of today's education, there is the danger of too much specialization too soon; we need to enjoy generalizing (in its positive sense), provide the generous curriculum, while there is still time. In fact, time itself is one of the gifts that we can give our older students: Laurie Bestvater (in The Living Page) quotes from a book by Quentin James Schultze, Habits of the high-tech heart, where he warns that we need to "slow down enough to discover moral wisdom."

The logical, reasonable, "normal" view of education tends to focus on limits--much like looking at the outside, police call box view of a TARDIS. A couple of years ago I opened up a box of some school stuff I had saved from the years when our oldest was about eight through eleven, the first few years we really followed CM, and even I was a little bit shocked at how much I seemed to have expected of almost seems impossible that we were getting that much done in a term, even with a preschooler and a new baby. But I don't remember those school times as being especially hard or unhappy; the truth is that in our daily round of school, my daughter and I (and later her sisters) took those books, and the other parts of a CM education, a bit at a time, day by day, lesson by lesson, term by term; and it worked. We learned to trust the process, to believe in the unknown universes, the places in time and space to which this "travelling phone booth" could take us.. And while I'm speaking here mostly about our own experiences in the elementary years, the same thing can apply to the middle school and high school years.

More in Part Three.

Saturday, April 5, 2014

All the things I wanted to say, Part One of Four

by Anne White

I recently had the opportunity to talk to an Ontario workshop group about the challenges of teaching Charlotte-Mason-style in the upper grades.  The time went too fast and after I got home, I realized that I didn't even get to some of the most important things I wanted to say.

Doesn't that always happen?

So here are some of the notes I had as I would have liked to present it...ironically, it begins with a reference to time travel.  

To many people, CM looks like this. Dr. Who's time-travelling spaceship is permanently disguised as a 1960's British police call box. From the outside, it looks too small to be of practical value; technologically outdated; not even from this country. Interesting as a museum piece, but not that relevant or useful.

However, when you open the door, you get a surprise. You see that the inside has very large proportions; how can this much inside could fit into such a small outside? It is fact a TARDIS, which stands for Time And Relative Dimensions in Space. It is a machine that can take you anywhere and any time, all at once. The TARDIS on Dr. Who has been rearranged and redecorated (or re-Doctorated) over time, but it still works essentially in the same way, for the same purposes. And on Doctor Who, those purposes can range from casual jaunts through time, to saving the entire universe from Daleks and Cybermen; in every episode there is a certain amount of risk. You also are taking a risk not only by homeschooling; not only by homeschooling through middle school and maybe high school; but by doing it CM style, which puts you really "out there." At times, you may feel like your Tardis has dropped you on some weird forsaken planet with no other signs of human life around. But there is good news there too: that you are not alone. The landscape of the upper years may not be densely populated, but it's not completely empty, not untillable. We're Canadians, after all—we're used to appreciating big underpopulated landscapes.

In our own family we have used several of the Uncle Eric books on economics and government by Richard J. Maybury, and in his first book he begins by talking about models, like my (cardboard) model TARDIS. It's only a model, but models are a useful way of showing people what something looks like or explaining how something works. Uncle Eric says that everybody has certain mental models or ideas of how things work; and that if you see something or are told something that doesn't match up with the model you already have, you either have to reject that idea, or alter your model to fit the new information, and when you change your model, you experience a paradigm shift. For instance, when you see what's in the TARDIS, that challenges your belief that a big inside can't fit into a small outside. In the same way, we can allow ourselves to be astonished first at the large room that is a CM education, and further when we realize its potential for connecting us with other people of other times, with our earth and with the rest of the universe, cutting across the limits of time and geography. To use a favourite Scripture quote of Charlotte's, we have put our feet into a really large room.

There are educational models that, over time, have become the accepted way to do things in our culture, that have made us forget sometimes what learning is about or that it can happen outside of a school, or without fitting into a box called the first or fourth or ninth grade. You might say that some contemporary approaches to education are about picking the chocolate chips out of cookies, examining them, and then trying to put them back in again; CM is more of a whole-cookie approach. It is definitely different from the "industrial model," the "brick in the wall" or piling-up-information model of education. It emphasizes respect for the individual, process over product, context over unconnected facts. It is a way of learning that is both innovative, cutting edge, stretching to the future, and also very much part of the classical tradition, reaching back towards the past.

Charlotte Mason said that the only real education was self-education, which does not mean there is no place for a teacher but rather that each mind has to do its own learning. When you're sitting looking at a painting together, or drawing forget-me-nots in nature notebooks, or singing a folk song, or listening to a really interesting story together, there's a human rhythm, a natural drawing together that happens, there's no exclusion based on children vs adults, or younger children vs older ones; it is very much like a family. Charlotte Mason educators tend to like the word "community" rather than "co-op" to describe multi-family, group activities. This model is one that seems to naturally include people with disabilities and differences. It's not even limited to homeschoolers or those in private CM schools. I have seen articles written by people who learned their CM basics by homeschooling their children, but who are now reaching out and finding ways to use these ideas in Sunday Schools, Vacation Bible Schools, and with other groups of children, teenagers, and families. For instance, they might incorporate living books plus individualized notebooks. They might find ways to include art or music, or nature study, or gardening, or handicrafts, and they are finding that the same kids who were always bored with worksheets and colouring pages are getting engaged and excited about what they're learning.

Are you excited yet? Can you imagine an education that looks like that?  Doesn't it make sense that our creative Creator God would want us to approach education in a way that awakens our sense of wonder, that emphasizes close observation but also beauty?

(Part Two still to come.)

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

The Spring of the Year, by Dallas Lore Sharp (Book Review)

By Anne White

After a winter like we've had, browsing through an online book called The Spring of the Year sounded like a tonic for the dirty snow banks still heaped outside my window.  For some reason, the author's excitement over his blossoming shad bush got my curiosity up too.  What is a shad bush, and do we have any around here?  A few minutes of Internet searching came up with other names--service berry, bilberry, Saskatoon--Saskatoon? like the Saskatoon berries out west?  Gotcha.  And there were some photographs of white flowering trees, plus the assurance that yes, serviceberries (or shad bush as the author called it) certainly do grow in Ontario.  After beating back the usual guilty I-didn't-teach-that-to-my-kids reaction, I kept reading and recognized many of  the bird and plant names--just not, in most cases, their faces.  Violets and dandelions we get in abundance, right in our yard; but to see bloodroot and trilliums, you have to put your boots on, so to speak, and go out to the woods.  We see robins every day, sometimes cardinals and jays, crows, flickers in fall--but bluebirds?  I never see them in my own neighbourhood.  More Internet and local-bird-guide searching...yes, there are bluebirds, and warblers, and Brown Thrashers.  I suddenly found myself picking my husband's brains for likely trails and parks...and this was just after reading the first chapter.

Early in the last century, Brown University professor Dallas Lore Sharp had begun publishing collections of his nature essays, such as The Lay of the Land.  A number of those same essays were then re-used in a series of seasonal books, with extra practical material aimed at young students.  Although I don't have any of the actual details on how that happened, I can imagine Professor Sharp's editor (in a collar up to his chin) coming over one day, maybe having to wait while Sharp returned from the woods, and launching the idea he'd had to boost sales: a new series, aimed at schools.  I imagine him saying something like, "You won't really have to do all that much work...we can re-use a lot of your earlier stuff, with a little editing here and there...we just want you to come up with some hands-on ideas for the nature clubs, maybe a couple of extra chapters in each book.  Oh, and some notes for teachers would be good.  What do you think?"

Not so surprisingly, Sharp agreed.  More surprisingly, these books do not read like re-packaged adult material with a few sidebars for the children (as might have happened with other writers).   Knowing their previous publishing history does explain their slightly episodic format; that is, why they aren't necessarily books you must read through from beginning to end, no skipping.  But that's almost a contemporary approach, isn't it?--seeing each of the volumes as a sort of nature package, that can be unpacked at different points.  Each of the four volumes in the series has "Things to See" and "Things to Do" chapters interspersed with essays. A teacher or homeschooling parent might read or assign the essays, but present the hands-on material in a less formal way, using Sharp's suggestions as a basis for field study.  There was just one chapter in Spring of the Year that I did not like as much, or rather, I felt my squeamish student might not appreciate, about predators and prey, and whether small animals experience a "life of fear."

These are not books that will give you detailed information about exactly where to find bobolinks, or what colour certain types of eggs are; they are meant more to get the reader excited about discovering nature in his own region.  Of course, since Sharp lived in New England, most of the plants and animals he describes are native to the northeastern United States, and, to some extent, to the surrounding areas such as southern Ontario.  I found that most of the birds mentioned in the Spring volume also appeared in our local nature guides, as did several of the wild flowers such as Jack-in-the-Pulpit.  That doesn't mean they're in every back yard, just that if you live in the northern hemisphere, east of the Rockies, and if you put a bit of effort in, you might have a chance of seeing them.

The lists of things to see, do, and listen for in spring are useful, and sometimes humorous, such as "listen for grass growing.". In fact, that's one of Dallas Lore Sharp's strong points: besides being practical, his style is friendly and not overly serious.  These are good books for families to read together, and then to go out, find things, draw them, write them down.  You can start any place in the series, but Spring seems like a particularly nice opening point.  Go find a shad bush, or whatever marks the seasonal turning point for you; start there, and then use Sharp's "bucket lists" (or make your own), and enjoy the spring together.

(Scanned and plain-text versions of Sharp's nature books are available on various websites including Project Gutenberg.)

Monday, March 17, 2014

Dallas Lore Sharp on the problems of nature writing

"Insincerity is the mother of all the literary sins. If the writer cannot be true to himself, he cannot be true to anything. Children are the particular victims of the evil. How often are children spoken to in baby-talk, gush, hollow questions, and a condescension as irritating as coming teeth! They are written to, also, in the same spirit....

"Just as strong to the story-writer is the temptation to blacken the shadows of the picture—to make all life a tragedy. Here on my table lies a child’s nature-book every chapter of which ends in death—nothing but struggle to escape for a brief time the bloody jaws of the bigger beast—or of the superior beast, man. 

"Neither extreme is true of nature. Struggle and death go on, but, except where man interferes, a very even balance is maintained, peace prevails over fear, joy lasts longer than pain, and life continues to multiply and replenish the earth. 'The level of wild life,' to quote my words from 'The Face of the Fields,' 'of the soul of all nature is a great serenity. It is seldom lowered, but often raised to a higher level, intenser, faster, more exultant.'

"This is a divinely beautiful world, a marvelously interesting world, the best conceivable sort of a world to live in, notwithstanding its gypsy moths, tornadoes, and germs, its laws of gravity, and of cause and effect; and my purpose in this series of nature books is to help my readers to come by this belief. A clear understanding of the laws of the Universe will be necessary for such a belief in the end, and with the understanding a profound faith in their perfect working together. But for the present, in these books of the Seasons, if I can describe the out of doors, its living creatures and their doings, its winds and skies with their suggestions—all of the out of doors, as it surrounds and supports me here in my home on Mullein Hill, Hingham, so that you can see how your out of doors surrounds and supports you, with all its manifold life and beauty, then I have done enough. If only I can accomplish a fraction of this I have done enough." --Dallas Lore Sharp, from the introduction to The Fall of the Year, 1911. 

(AO curriculum users who have read Year Seven's natural history option Lay of the Land will be familiar with Dallas Lore Sharp.  Stay tuned for a review of his seasonal nature books -- Anne White.)

Friday, February 28, 2014

Sunday Reading in the Parents' Union School

by Anne White
"The 'way' of this kind of teaching is very simple and obvious; read to him, or read for him, that is, read bit by bit, and tell as you read, Hartwig's Tropical World, the same author's Polar World, Livingstone's missionary travels, Mrs. Bishop's  Unbeaten Tracks in Japan––in fact, any interesting, well-written book of travel." ~~ Charlotte Mason,  Home Education
Trivia question: who is possibly the most famous owner of Hartwig's The Polar and Tropical Worlds (a bindup of the two books)? Give up?  Charles Ingalls.  It is otherwise known as "Pa's Big Green Book," the only book that Laura and Mary were allowed to look at on Sundays.

When we're examining the P.U.S programmes,  it's easy to miss "For Sunday Reading" squeezed between the books and commentaries for formal Bible study and the devotional reading just after it..  After all, it is "optional."  "Optional," when you're squeezed for schedule space already, is taken as the equivalent of "skip this."

But that's what Sunday is for, isn't it? A "stop right there" on the seventh day?  A refresher?  Some of us are stricter about Sunday-keeping than others, and I'm sure that Charlotte Mason's students would also have come from a variety of religious backgrounds where "Sunday reading" and "Sunday occcupations" were or weren't enforced, encouraged, or permitted.  But here it is in the programme: an invitation to pause in the week's schoolwork; an offering of refreshment.

Aside from a few heavily Bible-oriented and church history titles that come up repeatedly, the "Sunday Reading" category has room for different sorts of biography, books on exploration (especially those relating to missionary work), and occasionally poetry and fiction (such as Uncle Tom's Cabin).  One choice book that I'd never heard of, included one term shortly after Miss Mason's death, was The Roll Call of Honour, a new book of golden deeds, by Sir Arthur Quiller Couch, a book that refers to itself as not A Book of Golden Deeds but "a book of golden lives."  It includes chapters on Simon Bolivar, John Brown, Abraham Lincoln, Giuseppe Garibaldi, David Livingstone, Florence Nightingale, Louis Pasteur, (Major-General) Gordon, and Father Damien.  Similarly, a book called Adventures in Science by Arthur Maile includes short biographies of Pasteur, Lister, Perkin, Edison, Rontgen, and Marconi.  So Sunday reading seemed to include anything relating to heroism, character, and principles, although the subjects were not always specifically Christian.

A good number of the books mentioned, though, were published by the Society to Promote Christian Knowledge (S.P.C.K.) or the Religious Tract Society (R.T.S.); it was supposed to be Sunday reading, after all.

Here are some of the titles I've come across that were mentioned as Sunday reading for the different forms (grade levels).  Some are included in the Programmes currently on the Ambleside Online website, others came from the Charlotte Mason Digital Archives (some of those, as I mentioned, are books that were used throughout the 1920's after Miss Mason's death).

A small warning: I am including the publisher information because it does help to track down the right books online. Many of them are online; a search by title and author will bring up page images on sites such as  or Project Gutenberg.  However, and please take this seriously: not every book on this list will be a good choice for students' reading.  Some contain negative racial or other views that were typical of their time; others may not agree with your own religious beliefs.  Please preview before handing to children.

Form I (primary grades)

Sidelights on the Bible, by Mrs. Brightwen (R.T.S., 8/-).
The Child's Book of Saints (Dent. 9/6)
When I was a Boy in Serbia (Harrap, 3/6)
Mrs. Gatty's Parables from Nature (Dent. 2/6)
When I was a Boy in Japan (Harrap, 3/6). 
The Story of Stanley (Nelson, 2/-)

Form II (grades 4-6 or 7)

Sidelights on the Bible, by Mrs. Brightwen (R.T.S., 3/-).
English Church History for Children, Vol. II.  (Methuen, 5/-).  
Mackay of the Great Lake (Milford, 3/6)
The Children's Year (Church Seasons), by the Rev. G. R. Oakley (S.P.C.K., 8/6). 
St. George of England, by B. Hood (Harrap, 2/6). 
The Book of a Chinese Baby, by M. Entwhistle (U.C.M.E., 1/6).
How to Use the Prayer Book, by Mrs. Romanes (Longmans, 2/-). 
The Northumbrian Saints, by E. N. Grierson (Mowbray, 2/6). 
Lion-hearted (Bishop Hannington), by Canon Dawson (Seelay, 3/6).

Form III (grades 7-8)

Heroes and Writers of the Book of Common Prayer, by A. M. Forde (S.P.C.K., 8/6)
.Longfellow's Golden Legend (Oxford Press, 5/-).
Life and Voyages of Columbus, by Washington Irving
Africa and her Peoples (Walker) (not online)
The Roll Call of Honour, by A.T. Quiller Couch
James Gilmour of Mongolia (R. Lovett)
A Lady's Life in the Rocky Mountains (Mrs Bishop)
The Last Secrets, by J. Buchan
Ethics of the Dust, by John Ruskin
 Longfellow's / Tennyson's Poems
The Romance of Excavation (Masters)
Saints and Heroes of the Western World (Davies)
Adventures in Science (Arthur Maile)
The Story of My Life (Helen Keller)
George Washington (A. Russell)
The Firebrand of the Indies (Xavier), by E.K. Seth-Smith
Henry Martyn, Confessor of the Faith, by C.E. Padwick
The Holy War / The Pilgrim's Progress
Fight the Good Fight, by W.E. Frost (not online)
The Faerie Queene Book I
The Land of the Incarnation (Gertrude Hollis) (not online)
St. Elizabeth of Hungary (Canton)
Joan of Arc, by Mark Twain

Form IV (approx. grade 9)

Keble's Christian Year (Longmands, 10d.). 
Ruskin's Sesame and Lilies (Allen, 2/8, or Dent, 1/6). (f)
The Golden Legend, by Longfellow
The Quest of Nations, by T. R. W. Lunt (U.C.M.E., 2/6), pp.1-60. 
The Story of S. Paul's Life and Letters, by J. Paterson Smyth (Sampson Low, 5/-), pp. 1-75.  
The Fall of Constantinople, by J. H. Neale (Dant, 2/6).

Forms V and VI (senior high)
Stanley's The Eastern Church
Stanley's Sinai and Palestine (Murray, 4/-), pp. 304-364.
Moral and Religious Education, by Dr. S. Bryant
The Myths of Plato 
Browning's View of Life (with the poems referred to)
Westcott's Religious Thought in the West (Macmillan, 6/-): 
Benjamin Whichcote.
Sunday Collects, by Canon Masterman (S.P.C.K, 2/-).
John Inglesant (Macmillan, 4/6). 
George Herbert's Life and Poems (Oxford Press, 2/6).