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.)