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 From the outside, it looks too small to be of practical value; technologically outdated; not even from this country.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.)


  1. Oh yeah, I'm excited! I can't wait for part two.

  2. Whole cookie approach - spot on illustration. I was terrified of the Daleks when I was a kid.

  3. You had me with the picture of the TARDIS. LOL

    I like the whole-cookie analogy.


    I apply CM in an afterschool program at church (once a week) and I tell the VBS people that I will have conversations with the kids about the Bible lessons taught elsewhere but I do not do the points or the workbooks. They still ask me back. LOL

    I really like community in the name of our school. God keeps sending people our way and finding ways for us to network within the community. It truly is a community!