Monday, September 24, 2018

Challenge 5

Previous challenges:

Challenge 4 is here.
This week's challenge: Read this post!  Scroll down to the end for a few more.=)

 If you have been following along these challenge posts, congratulations!  If all you have managed to do is to read the four previous blog posts in the challenge series, you have now read through the introduction and preface of volume six, which contain the principles as well as other gems.  

This week we'll start with about the first half of chapter 1, which is titled "Self-Education."  Mason begins by stating what she does *not* mean by self-education.  She does not mean self-expression.  She says there's no objection to training the body, hands, eyes, ears, and voice in various means of self-expression, and she agrees that "all these possibilities of joy in living should be open to every child."  However, she says, even though even the PNEU schools may themselves use many of the then-popular forms of training body, eye, and voice, etc. to creative forms of self-expression (dance, projects which give dexterity and precision to the hands, train the voice to interpret beautifully, and so on), she has a caveat:

"...yet is our point of view different; we are profoundly skeptical as to the effect of all or any of these activities upon character and conduct."


That's a pretty broad field, isn't it?  Basically she's saying what we're looking for is that education which effects who we are, and what we do.  It carries with it the connotation of a standard against which we measure- "Anything goes" is not compatible with the development of character and conduct, and neither is 'you do you,' or  'just be yourself.'  Neither are we seeking little clones of ourselves.  It is also important to remember that Miss Mason advocated respecting the children's personalities and personhood. We are educating our children (and by the way, ourselves) to 'Be a better version of ourselves.' No wonder this is the title of one of her six volumes on education.

This course of self-improvement does not focus on externals because "A person is not built up from without but within."

It does not seek a better self through shopping and external improvements because:
"...all the educational appliances and activities which are intended to mould his character are decorative and not vital."

Vital here should be understood as being used the same way we use it when we speak of the vital organs, necessary for, pertaining to life- we wish for living, inner change of the heart and life.

Next Miss Mason explains some logical propositions to us, 'corollaries' or related truths,  some if, then statements.  If  a child is a person, then that means...

"consider a few corollaries of the notion that 'a child is a person,'and that a person is, primarily, living...."

In other words, if it's true that a child is born a full person, then it follows that, as with other living creatures,  growth happens naturally given normal conditions. We don't have to do anything extraordinary for normal growth.  When we look at the physical body we understand that the most important material for growth is the stuff the physical body takes in and assimilates (digests), not the stuff that is applied from the outside.  There's nothing special you have to do for physical bodies to grow normally, although there are things you can do from the outside that will *hinder* proper physical growth.   All the attention in the world devoted to external development is irrelevant if nothing is *taken internally.*  The body must have food. Well, this is all so obvious that we wonder why she even bothers to explain it.  Her point is that the mind, too, is living.  Therefore, the mind must also have its food, and as the mind is a living organism that grows, "the life of the mind is sustained by what is taken in," what the mind digests, assimilates.

She says she believes this is the only analogy that helps us properly understand mind- comparing it to a living organism that must take in and absorb its own proper food in order to grow.  Now she's going to tell us about a different, but very popular analogy, and she has, for Charlotte, a quite scathing criticism of what she considers utterly wrong-headed about it:

"the well-worn plant and garden analogy is misleading, especially as regards that tiresome busybody, the gardener, who will direct the inclination of every twig, the position of every leaf; but, even then apart from the gardener, the child-garden is an intolerable idea as failing to recognize the essential property of a child, his personality, a property all but absent in a plant."

I confess, 'that tiresome busybody' always makes me laugh, every time I read it.  What is the well-worn plant and garden analogy she is talking about?  What is 'the child-garden?'  Everybody knew the 'child-garden' was simply the English translation of a popular movement which had swept across England and America and was promoted with zealous enthusiasm, the kindergarten (kinder is, of course, German for child, and garten is German for garden). CM is not being at all subtle here.  Children, says Charlotte firmly, are not to be compared to plants, not even pretty little flowers in a charming little garden.  They are persons, with their own personalities. We have no authority to direct the inclination of every twig of their being, and because they are persons and not topiaries, we won't be very successful at it even if we try (although we could do great harm).

 Charlotte points out that both bodies and minds need fresh air, must have food or there is no growth, require a balance of activity and rest, and both grow their best when their diet of food is 'wisely various,' that is, not all the same old thing. 
If you're in doubt as to what she means by mind, she isn't limiting this to the brain and knowledge- she says by mind she means 'the entire spiritual nature, all that is not body.'  "We go round the house and round the house," she says- I take this to mean the body, the case for the mind, but we never actually consider the needs of the mind, we don't even go in.   "we offer mental gymnastics, but these do not take the place of food, and of that we serve the most meagre rations, no more than that bean a day!"

There's a useful thought to hold onto at the next curriculum fair- is this shiny new thing going to feed the mind, or is it mental gymnastics?   

We are all about nutrition and diet these days, (and her day, too, human nature is a wonder in its unchanging sameness).  But we never stop, says Charlotte, to give the same attention to mind that we do to nourishing the body.  We need to be asking ourselves, "I wonder does the mind need food, too, and regular meals, and what is its proper diet?""

Can we look again at her definition of mind- 'the spiritual nature' basically, everything that is not the physical part of our lives.  

She addresses this in at least two of her principles as well- the 20th principle (as found in volume VI), which begins "We allow no separation to grow up between the intellectual and 'spiritual' life of children" and the 9th principle, which says, "9. We hold that the child's mind is no mere sac to hold ideas; but is rather, if the figure may be allowed, a spiritual organism, with an appetite for all knowledge. This is its proper diet, with which it is prepared to deal; and which it can digest and assimilate as the body does foodstuffs."  Knowledge, real knowledge, the stuff in living books, works on mind and spirit because there is truly a separation there.

If mental gymastics, dance, gymnastics, games, external applications and devices, and so on are not food for the mind, then What is food for the mind?  We'll look more at what Charlotte says about that next time. 

This is more than enough to think about this week.  So lets go to our challenges for the week!

1. Read this post and think about it.  Go to and read to page 25 (if you've been keeping up, this is only a couple of pages)- what strikes you?  Read ahead a little.  The best advice I ever got on reading CM or any other good book is to assign myself a set number of pages a day and just make sure I read them.  Make it one page if that's all you can do.  Start somewhere.  This week, read a little bit more than you did last week, and set yourself an attainable goal for how much to read- you can average it out over the week if need be.

2. Singing: have you been keeping up with the previous week's challenges? Sing a folk song or a hymn.   (or better yet, both!) at least 3 times this week.     Keep it up!

~Subscribe to Heather Bunting's Children of the Open Air youtube channel.  Listen to this one: or pick another one.  Do just one lesson this week.

3. Nature study: Did you pick a tree to look at?  There's a Kopok tree we pass on our way to church her in the Philippines, and I look at it every week.  Every week I notice something different.  Tie a ribbon around the branch of your tree and check that branch a couple times a month.  
What do the leaves on one of the trees near your house look like?  What do the leaves and petals on any other plants near your house look like?  Shape, size, how do they grow, edges of the leaf smooth or lobed or serrated?  Is it darker on top than underneath? Vein pattern? Just notice.
Draw one thing in a nature journal this week.  You can do it!
Do you have access to a pine tree to observe?  Read this thread in the forum and join in!

4.  The forum- If you have not joined the forum yet, give it a shot.  Once you've joined, you might dip your feet in at entry level by just looking at the most recent posts of the day- click on the button toward the top right of center that says 'View Today's Posts', then scroll down and see what people are talking about.

Have you read Leslie's Patio Chats?  These are short vitamin bursts of CM information that will take less than 20 minutes to read.  You could subscribe to them at the forum: 

Once in, you might enjoy this thoughtful discussion about the role of the teacher in the high school years:
Or perhaps building fortitude to deal with hard topics:
There is a terrific discussion here on writing skills for the kids in years 1-3 and how that should or shouldn't happen:
Btw, did you know the forum has a special chat area for AO teens?  And we have special groups for families with special needs, for gifted, and for families in the adoption/foster care world.  

5. Feed your mind.

Monday, September 10, 2018

Challenge 4

Previous challenges:

Challenge 1 is here.
Challenge 2 is here.
Challenge 3 is here

Vocabulary words:
1.  Pabulum: "1. Food; aliment; that which feeds.  2. Fuel; that which supplies the means of combustion."
2. Magnanimity: Greatness of mind; that elevation or dignity of soul, which encounters danger and trouble with tranquillity and firmness, which raises the possessor above revenge, and makes him delight in acts of benevolence, which makes him disdain injustice and meanness, and prompts him to sacrifice personal ease, interest and safety for the accomplishment of useful and noble objects. (Websters 1828 Dictionary)

This week we are reading in volume 6 beginning on the bottom of page 9.  
Volume VI is free online here.    If you want to read the pages without my commentary, this was approximately pages 9-21.  If you prefer, you can print these pages out and highlight, underline, make notes in the margins, write out your disagreements or exclamation points, and also stop every other paragraph or two to jot down a quick narration or list of key points.  Staple the pages together or put them in a peechee folder you keep in your bathroom so you can snatch a minute or two of reading here and there throughout your days.  So let's begin!

Miss Mason explains how seeing a group of children in their own home challenged her notion of children and education.  Previously, what she knew of children came from reading and from her work with a church school and an elementary school.  But she says seeing these children in their natural environment at home showed her more of their character and true nature and she realized, "they were persons of generous impulses and sound judgment, of great intellectual aptitude, of imagination and moral insight."  Their ability to imagine particularly struck Miss Mason as illustrated by the reaction of a 5 y.o. girl who came home devastated by seeing a poor homeless man- in thinking of his condition the child grieved over the thought of "a poor man––no home––nothing to eat––no bed to lie upon..." 

Think about that.  Miss Mason, hunting for an example of the power of a child's imagination, used for her illustration this child's broken heart over a homeless stranger.  That's an interesting choice.   We usually think of examples of imagination in children as having something to do with creative story telling, painting, vast 'pretends' and dressing up and play acting the day away with imaginary friends in a living room that alternately becomes an enchanted forest, a seabed, a castle on a hill or a cottage in the woods.  Yet here Mason is demonstrating the value of imagination for enabling a comfortable, well fed, upper middle class 5 year old child to picture the life circumstances of a poor homeless man so clearly it moves her to tears.  This imagination that we want in our children leads not primarily to creative self expression, or to self anything- but to empathy.

Charlotte Mason continues to explain the impact her exposure to real children in their own home had on her philosophy.  She says had been reading philosophy and 'Education,' and studying 'children in large groups' at her elementary school and a pioneer church high school, and she expected "that Education should regenerate the world."  Through exposure to this family in their natural home setting she learned that all her reading and study of children in large groups was not as helpful to her as she had thought, because  "school children are not so self-revealing as at home."   She realized that there was far more to children than she had previously believed or realized- the biggest difference between them and the adults around them being that the children's "ignorance is illimitable."
I always think of that comment when somebody tells me that a Charlotte Mason education is child-led or too self-centered.  A woman who says that the ignorance of children is limitless is not a woman who designed a child-led education.

She attempted to teach abstract grammar concepts to the 7 and 8 year old children, and was unsuccessful- "their minds rejected the abstract conception just as children reject the notion of writing an "Essay on Happiness." 

Great Gravy.  Here she is in 1924 mocking the hackneyed essay on happiness topic already, and yet I was being asked to write an essay on precisely the same subject in an honours English class fifty years later!   I didn't like it any better than MIss Mason's students!
At any rate, she also made a more positive discovery.  She realized: "that the mind of a child takes or rejects according to its needs."  This observation served as a doorway into a hall of wonders, one discovery leading to another.

"From this point it was not difficult to go on to the perception that, whether in taking or rejecting, the mind was functioning for its own nourishment; that the mind, in fact, requires sustenance––as does the body, in order that it increase and be strong; but because the mind is not to be measured or weighed but is spiritual, so its sustenance must be spiritual too, must, in fact, be ideas (in the Platonic sense of images)."
 I soon perceived that children were well equipped to deal with ideas, and that explanations, questionings, amplifications, are unnecessary and wearisome. Children have a natural appetite for knowledge which is informed with thought. They bring imagination, judgment, and the various so-called 'faculties' to bear upon a new idea pretty much as the gastric juices act upon a food ration. This was illuminating but rather startling; the whole intellectual apparatus of the teacher, his power of vivid presentation, apt illustration, able summing up, subtle questioning, all these were hindrances and intervened between children and the right nutriment duly served; this, on the other hand, they received with the sort of avidity and simplicity with which a healthy child eats his dinner.The Scottish school of philosophers came to my aid here with what may be called their doctrine of the desires, which, I perceived, stimulate the action of mind and so cater for spiritual (not necessarily religious) sustenance as the appetites do for that of the body and for the continuance of the race. This was helpful; I inferred that one of these, the Desire of Knowledge (Curiosity) was the chief instrument of education; that this desire might be paralysed or made powerless like an unused limb by encouraging other desires to intervene between a child and the knowledge proper for him; the desire for place,––emulation; for prizes,––avarice; for power,––ambition; for praise,––vanity, might each be a stumbling block to him. It seemed to me that we teachers had unconsciously elaborated a system which should secure the discipline of the schools and the eagerness of the scholars,––by means of marks, prizes, and the like,––and yet eliminate that knowledge-hunger, itself the quite sufficient incentive to education.
Take a minute or two to review this in your mind.  If you have a chance, write down as much you can summarizing the above.  Then stop and consider- what does it mean?  If these things be true, then what should education look like?  Are the tools you are using to teach your children an accurate reflction of how you believe children learn?  Are they tools that are compatible with what you are trying to do, or are the tools that do the very opposite of what you mean to do? Mason continues:
Then arose the question,––Cannot people get on with little knowledge? Is it really necessary after all? My child-friends supplied the answer: their insatiable curiosity shewed me that the wide world and its history was barely enough to satisfy a child who had not been made apathetic by spiritual malnutrition. What, then, is knowledge?––was the next question that occurred; a question which the intellectual labour of ages has not settled; but perhaps this is enough to go on with;––that only becomes knowledge to a person which he has assimilated, which his mind has acted upon.Children's aptitude for knowledge and their eagerness for it made for the conclusion that the field of a child's knowledge may not be artificially restricted, that he has a right to and necessity for as much and as varied knowledge as he is able to receive; and that the limitations in his curriculum should depend only upon the age at which he must leave school; in a word, a common curriculum (up to the age of say, fourteen or fifteen) appears to be due to all children.

We have left behind the feudal notion that intellect is a class prerogative, that intelligence is a matter of inheritance and environment; inheritance, no doubt, means much but everyone has a very mixed inheritance; environment makes for satisfaction or uneasiness, but education is of the spirit and is not to be taken in by the eye or effected by the hand; mind appeals to mind and thought begets thought and that is how we become educated. For this reason we owe it to every child to put him in communication with great minds that he may get at great thoughts; with the minds, that is, of those who have left us great works; and the only vital method of education appears to be that children should read worthy books, many worthy books."

Close your eyes and review this section in your mind.  Spend a minute or two writing out as much as you can remember for your own summary.  Question for today:  Have we left behind the feudal notion that intellect is a class prerogative?   Is it possible we really do still believe that the books and thoughts historically called the works of great minds are only for one class of people,  only now we think they not worth the time of ordinary people, but they are only for useless elites who have little to do with real life?  

Is this disparaging of book knowledge really an improvement?
How do we stunt a child's appetite for knowledge? 

"It will be said on the one hand that many schools have their own libraries or the scholars have the free use of a public library and that children do read; and on the other that the literary language of first-rate books offers an impassable barrier to working-men's children. In the first place we all know that desultory reading is delightful and incidentally profitable but is not education whose concern is knowledge. That is, the mind of the desultory reader only rarely makes the act of appropriation which is necessary before the matter we read becomes personal knowledge. We must read in order to know or we do not know by reading."

As for the question of literary form, many circumstances and considerations which it would take too long to describe brought me to perceive that delight in literary form is native to us all until we are 'educated' out of it.It is difficult to explain how I came to a solution of a puzzling problem,––how to secure attention. Much observation of children, various incidents from one's general reading, the recollection of my own childhood and the consideration of my present habits of mind brought me to the recognition of certain laws of the mind, by working in accordance with which the steady attention of children of any age and any class in society is insured, week-in, week out,––attention, not affected by distracting circumstances. It is not a matter of personal magnetism, for hundreds of teachers of very varying quality, working in home schoolrooms and in Elementary and Secondary Schools on this method (in connection with the Parents' Union School) secure it without effort; neither does it rest upon the 'doctrine of interest'; no doubt the scholars are interested, sometimes delighted; but they are interested in a great variety of matters and their attention does not flag in the 'dull parts.'
It actually really does matter what they are reading.  It's not true that it doesn't matter, so long as they are reading.  This is not snobbery, this is valuing the minds of children as precious and worthy of the best. This is how our minds work- what we labour at and think about is what we retain the longest and deepest. 
It is not easy to sum up in a few short sentences those principles upon which the mind naturally acts and which I have tried to bring to bear upon a school curriculum. The fundamental idea is, that children are persons and are therefore moved by the same springs of conduct as their elders. Among these is the Desire of Knowledge, knowledge-hunger being natural to everybody. History, Geography, the thoughts of other people, roughly, the humanities, are proper for us all, and are the objects of the natural desire of knowledge. So too, are Science, for we all live in the world; and Art, for we all require beauty, and are eager to know how to discriminate; social science, Ethics, for we are aware of the need to learn about the conduct of life; and Religion, for, like those men we heard of at the Front, we all 'want God.'

In the nature of things then the unspoken demand of children is for a wide and very varied curriculum; it is necessary that they should have some knowledge of the wide range of interests proper to them as human beings, and for no reasons of convenience or time limitations may we curtail their proper curriculum.Perceiving the range of knowledge to which children as persons are entitled the questions are, how shall they be induced to take that knowledge, and what can the children of the people learn in the short time they are at school? We have discovered a working answer to these two conundrums. I say discovered, and not invented, for there is only one way of learning, and the intelligent persons who can talk well on many subjects and the expert in one learn in the one way, that is, they read to know. What I have found out is, that this method is available for every child, whether in the dilatory and desultory home schoolroom or in the large classes of Elementary Schools.Children no more come into the world without provision for dealing with knowledge than without provision for dealing with food. They bring with them not only that intellectual appetite, the desire of knowledge, but also an enormous, an unlimited power of attention to which the power of retention (memory) seems to be attached, as one digestive process succeeds another, until the final assimilation. "Yes," it will be said, "they are capable of much curiosity and consequent attention but they can only occasionally be beguiled into attending to their lessons." Is not that the fault of the lessons, and must not these be regulated as carefully with regard to the behaviour of mind as the children's meals are with regard to physical considerations? Let us consider this behaviour in a few aspects. The mind concerns itself only with thoughts, imaginations, reasoned arguments; it declines to assimilate the facts unless in combination with its proper pabulum; it, being active, is wearied in the passive attitude of a listener, it is as much bored in the case of a child by the discursive twaddle of the talking teacher as in that of a grown-up by conversational twaddle; it has a natural preference for literary form; given a more or less literary presentation, the curiosity of the mind is enormous and embraces a vast variety of subjects.
How much attention do we pay to our children's physical meals? How many articles do we read about healthy nutrition, when and how to feed babies solid food, what they should eat, the best methods of food preparation and food preservation?  How many of us know which foods are high in potassium or vitamin C, and what to give our children if we want to improve their calcium levels?
Now, how much time do we spend learning about the mind and how the mind works?  Do we give kids multiple choice, true/false tests and word search puzzles as part of their studies because we have studied the subject ourselves and believe that is how we learn, or isn't this rather the default position because that's what we are used to?  The mind concerns itself with thoughts, imaginations, reasoned arguments- it declines to assimilate bare facts unless in combination with the proper food- literary form.  Stories.  Ideas.  
I predicate these things of 'the mind' because they seem true of all persons' minds. Having observed these, and some other points in the behaviour of mind, it remained to apply the conclusions to which I had come to a test curriculum for schools and families. Oral teaching was to a great extent ruled out; a large number of books on many subjects were set for reading in morning school-hours; so much work was set that there was only time for a single reading; all reading was tested by a narration of the whole or a given passage, whether orally or in writing. Children working on these lines know months after that which they have read and are remarkable for their power of concentration (attention); they have little trouble with spelling or composition and become well-informed, intelligent persons. (The small Practising School attached to the House of Education––ages of scholars from six to eighteen––affords opportunities for testing the programmes of work sent out term by term and the examinations set at the end of each term. The work in each Form is easily done in the hours of morning-school. )
This enthusiastic claim often causes much worry and discouragement to busy moms trying to do many things at home without another adult to help. Please take a deep breath.  I quibble a bit with CM here- the programmes we have include work taken home to be read on weekends and for Sunday readings or for family reading on holidays, and one of the Parents' Review articles summing up the work of the PNEU schools plainly says
"Miss Mason chooses a book, in whatever subject, for its literary value as well as for what it contains. All lessons in which the child uses good, well-written books are teaching him form, style and polish in composition and also such books teach him to think—what we ponder over, we remember.
A great deal of time is given to Literary Subjects in the Parents' Union School, and as it is not always possible to read the books in school hours, the father or mother may help much by reading to the children at home.... "
 So give yourself a bit of a break here.  Mason goes on, now addressing a probably criticism which she has probably heard more than once:
But, it will be said, reading or hearing various books read, chapter by chapter, and then narrating or writing what has been read or some part of it,––all this is mere memory work. The value of this criticism may be readily tested; will the critic read before turning off his light a leading article from a newspaper, say, or a chapter from Boswell or Jane Austen, or one of Lamb's Essays; then, will he put himself to sleep by narrating silently what he has read. He will not be satisfied with the result but he will find that in the act of narrating every power of his mind comes into play, that points and bearings which he had not observed are brought out; that the whole is visualized and brought into relief in an extraordinary way; in fact, that scene or argument has become a part of his personal experience; he knows, he has assimilated what he has read. This is not memory work. In order to memorise, we repeat over and over a passage or a series of points or names with the aid of such clues as we can invent; we do memorise a string of facts or words, and the new possession serves its purpose for a time, but it is not assimilated; its purpose being served, we know it no more. This is memory work by means of which examinations are passed with credit. I will not try to explain (or understand!) this power to memorise;––it has its subsidiary use in education, no doubt, but it must not be put in the place of the prime agent which is attention.
In case you missed it, this is pretty much what I have not so subtly been asking you to do during these challenges, and in this very post- stop,  narrate. Go over what you have read.  If you've been doing this, did you notice the way your mind worked and reworked the material? Did new ideas, questions or points you had previously missed come to mind?  Are you getting a better idea of the big picture through these small exercises in narration? 
Long ago, (says Miss Mason) I was in the habit of hearing this axiom quoted by a philosophical old friend: "The mind can know nothing save what it can produce in the form of an answer to a question put to the mind by itself." I have failed to trace the saying to its source, but a conviction of its importance has been growing upon me during the last forty years. It tacitly prohibits questioning from without; (this does not, of course, affect the Socratic use of questioning for purposes of moral conviction); and it is necessary to intellectual certainty, to the act of knowing. For example, to secure a conversation or an incident, we 'go over it in our minds'; that is, the mind puts itself through the process of self-questioning which I have indicated. This is what happens in the narrating of a passage read: each new consecutive incident or statement arrives because the mind asks itself,––"What next?" For this reason it is important that only one reading should be allowed; efforts to memorise weaken the power of attention, the proper activity of the mind; if it is desirable to ask questions in order to emphasize certain points, these should be asked after and not before, or during, the act of narration.Our more advanced psychologists come to our support here; they, too, predicate "instead of a congerie of faculties, a single subjective activity, attention;" and again, there is "one common factor in all psychics activity, that is attention." (I again quote from the article on Psychology in the Encyclopedia Britannica.) My personal addition is that attention is unfailing, prompt and steady when matter is presented suitable to a child's intellectual requirements, if the presentation be made with the conciseness, directness, and simplicity proper to literature.
You should review this in your mind before reading what I have to say about two observations of my own.:-D
1.   Mason previously referenced Platonic images to explain what she meant by ideas, and here she admits the value of 'Socratic questioning for purposes of moral conviction.'  Hmmm. Those who have ears to hear...
2. You may ask your children questions and draw their attention to points you want them to see- keep this moderate.  Overmuch talking dilutes the attention and the value of what you have to say.  And make sure it comes *after* the children have narrated- narrating focuses the attention on the meaning, the ideas. Rote memory and fill in the blank type stuff redirects the attention from the things that matter, from the ideas and the meaning. 
Another point should be borne in mind; the intellect requires a moral impulse, and we all stir our minds into action the better if there is an implied 'must' in the background; for children in class the 'must' acts through the certainty that they will be required to narrate or write from what they have read with no opportunity of 'looking 'up,' or other devices of the idle. Children find the act of narrating so pleasurable in itself that urgency on the part of the teacher is seldom necessary.
What is *your* moral impulse, implied 'must' in the background? 
Here is a complete chain of the educational philosophy I have endeavoured to work out, which has, at least, the merit that it is successful in practice. Some few hints I have, as I have said, adopted and applied, but I hope I have succeeded in methodising the whole and making education what it should be, a system of applied philosophy; I have, however, carefully abstained from the use of philosophical terms.
This is, briefly, how it works:–– 
*A child is a Person with the spiritual requirements and capabilities of a person.*Knowledge 'nourishes' the mind as food nourishes the body.
*A child requires knowledge as much as he requires food.
*He is furnished with the desire for Knowledge, i.e., Curiosity; with the power to apprehend Knowledge, that is, attention; with powers of mind to deal with Knowledge without aid from without––such as imagination, reflection, judgment; with innate interest in all Knowledge that he needs as a human being; with power to retain and communicate such Knowledge; and to assimilate all that is necessary to him.
*He requires that in most cases Knowledge be communicated to him in literary form; and reproduces such Knowledge touched by his own personality; thus his reproduction becomes original. 
*The natural provision for the appropriation and assimilation of Knowledge is adequate and no stimulus is required; but some moral control is necessary to secure the act of attention; a child receives this in the certainty that he will be required to recount what he has read.  
*Children have a right to the best we possess; therefore their lesson books should be, as far as possible, our best books. 
*They weary of talk, and questions bore them, so that they should be allowed to use their books for themselves; they will ask for such help as they wish for.*They require a great variety of knowledge,––about religion, the humanities, science, art; therefore, they should have a wide curriculum, with a definite amount of reading set for each short period of study.*The teacher affords direction, sympathy in studies, a vivifying word here and there, help in the making of experiments, etc., as well as the usual teaching in languages, experimental science and mathematics. 
*Pursued under these conditions, "Studies serve for delight," and the consciousness of daily progress is exhilarating to both teacher and children.

The reader will say with truth,––"I knew all this before and have always acted more or less on these principles"; and I can only point to the unusual results we obtain through adhering not 'more or less,' but strictly to the principles and practices I have indicated.
To which practices?  She tells us herself-  those she has just indicated.  If you have time, this is a good place to stop and go over the material in your own mind, thinking about it and trying to organize it. If you were going to tell somebody else what you had been reading, how you would you explain it? 
I suppose the difficulties are of the sort that Lister had to contend with; every surgeon knew that his instruments and appurtenances should be kept clean, but the saving of millions of lives has resulted from the adoption of the great surgeon's antiseptic treatment; that is from the substitution of exact principles scrupulously applied for the rather casual 'more or less' methods of earlier days.Whether the way I have sketched out is the right and the only way remains to be tested still more widely than in the thousands of cases in which it has been successful; but assuredly education is slack and uncertain for the lack of sound principles exactly applied.  

The moment has come for a decision; we have placed our faith in 'civilisation,' have been proud of our progress; and of the pangs that the War has brought us, perhaps none is keener than that caused by the utter breakdown of the civilisation which we have held to be synonymous with education. We know better now, and are thrown back on our healthy human instincts and the Divine sanctions. The educable part of a person is his mind. The training of the senses and muscles is, strictly speaking, training and not education. The mind, like the body, requires quantity, variety and regularity in the sustenance offered to it. Like the body, the mind has its appetite, the desire for knowledge. Again, like the body, the mind is able to receive and assimilate by its powers of attention and reflection. Like the body, again, the mind rejects insipid, dry, and unsavoury food, that is to say, its pabulum should be presented in a literary form. The mind is restricted to pabulum of one kind: it is nourished upon ideas and absorbs facts only as these are connected with the living ideas upon which they hang. Children educated upon some such lines as these respond in a surprising way, developing capacity, character, countenance, initiative and a sense of responsibility. They are, in fact, even as children, good and thoughtful citizens.

I have in this volume attempted to show the principles and methods upon which education of this sort is being successfully carried out, and have added chapters which illustrate the history of a movement the aim of which is, in the phrase of Comenius,––"All knowledge for all men." As well as these I have been permitted to use the criticisms of various teachers and Directors of education and others upon the practical working of the scheme.It is a matter of rejoicing that the way is open to give to all classes a basis of common thought and common knowledge, including a common store of literary and historic allusions, a possession which has a curious power of cementing bodies of men, and, in the next place, it is an enormous gain that we are within sight of giving to the working-classes, notwithstanding their limited opportunities, that stability of mind and magnanimity of character which are the proper outcome and the unfailing test of A LIBERAL EDUCATION.I shall confine myself in this volume to the amplification and illustration of some of the points I have endeavoured to make in this introductory statement."

Stability of mind.
Magnanimity of character. 


If you listened to my possibly annoying interruptions and suggestions, you have already narrated this long passage.  Well done!!  If not, or if you just want some ideas for alternative types of narration to use with your own older students,  consider the following:

1. Spend just three minutes narrating- grab a paper and pen or use the comments below or grab a child or a spouse nearby and spend 3 minutes writing or telling as much as you can remember as fast as you can, either orally or in writing.  This is not the only way to narrate, but it is one of my favourites, especially for busy students who may otherwise be reluctant to narrate.

2. This is another one of my favourite narration questions- Does this remind you of anything else?  Tell me about it.

3. Here's another good option for older students- if you were going to write a quiz about the material from one of these challenge posts, what are five questions you would ask? 

Papaya Tree, Philippines
Challenges for this week:

~SING!  What is the subject each day that leaves you and/or your students feeling most frazzled, fractious, and irksome, or just brain-weary?  This week, conclude that subject each day by singing a folk song or a hymn.   

~Subscribe to Heather Bunting's Children of the Open Air youtube channel.  Listen to this one:
Try this: Three days a week, sing a folk song together.  On the fourth day at the same time you usually sing a folk song, watch the next Children of the Open Air video together. On the fifth day, watch it again, or practice without the video, or sing the folk song together- whichever you prefer.  This is only a suggestion of one way to do this. You are not more or less of a homeschool mom  if you choose a different folk song, a different schedule, or you need to defer solfa lessons until a more opportune time.

~Nature Study: AO Recommends the use of the Handbook of Nature Study by Anna Comstock as a resource and reference for parents.  We also have a recommended line up to help parents go through the book and topics in an organized way. You can see that here.  You do not *have* to follow it. We offer this just as a helpful framework for those who want it.  The line-up for the 2018-2019 school year is:

     summer/fall: Trees/shrubs/vines
     winter: Stars/sky
     spring: Amphibians
(That's why I chose pictures I've taken of the local trees for this post.)

Look out the windows of your home.  Look for a tree you can see easily and comfortably.  Loosely  tie a bright coloured ribbon around one of the branches, preferably one that you can see from the window.  Throughout this winter try to look out the window at that particularly branch at least twice a month (once a week is better) and notice in changes.
Read this post on the easiest and best way to approach a nature journal (short answer: Just do it!)
             - Challenge: Draw something in your nature journal this week.  Anything at all.

~Level up in your reading standards- Read this post. Pick a meatier book to read than you usually choose.  Assign yourself a set number of pages you commit to reading each day. Don't set yourself up for failure. Make it realistic, doable.  Tell yourself you must read that many pages a day in that book before you can watch a K-drama, a Netflix movie, read your favourite elbow chair for the mind book, or fritter time away on facebook.  This is an aspirational goal and we take it seriously, but we don't get legalistic about it, either. Life circumstances matter.  Do not berate yourself for failure. Do not call yourself a loser and drown yourself in a carton of ice-cream and a youtube binge.  Just pay attention to the habits you are building.  If the weekend comes and you didn't meet a single day's goal, then you know you should revise your target page down, make an effort toward some progress forward over the weekend, and try again.  Do not decide to start this tomorrow.  Make some progress today. 

Here's a little gift: Free printable bookmarks with quotes from Miss Mason on 'reading to know'vs desultory reading. Print them and write your name and contact information on the back and leave them in a Charlotte Mason book at the local library. Maybe you could be the start of a friendly, encouraging support group.  Don't want to use your printer for color printing? Just write some info on a sticky note and put it in the library book.  You can also post to the FB or forum looking for other moms in your area.  

Having others in real life for mutual support and encouragement in our homeschooling and mothering journey is something most of us long for.  But make sure it is encouraging and not discouraging.    This is a helpful read on what to look for in your CM community- and we can apply this inwardly, as well, and consider how to *be* that support and encouragement to others.    Here's an excerpt:
"... I should not like to apply your word “unpermissible” to what you have considered it well to do in your school. Miss Mason would not have used the word herself, but in her work with those with whom she came most into contact here she always took any debated point back to the principle at issue, and made us decide whether or not a certain practice could bear the final test of the principle. No doubt able and thoughtful teachers will always interpret Miss Mason’s writings in their own way; but this should not prevent close cooperation between those who are immediately concerned in carrying out a trust which has been left to them, and those who are endeavouring to carry out Miss Mason’s Method in wider fields of action from their reading of her books.

Bamboo, which is technically not a tree

Additional reading suggestions and digging deeper for those who can:

Be sure to read Karen Glass' excellent article on what a Charlotte Mason teacher does. It will inspire you.  After reading, try narrating it to yourself, or use one of the three methods above.  

Kopok tree, Philippines

The neuroscience of reading great literature- this is a good explanation about why it matters so much that the children read living books rather than twaddle.  

This is not because we are pretentious or elitist, unless it is pretentious or elitist to say that children should have a diet rich with delicious, attractive, nourishing fruits and vegetables and rather sparing of cotton candy, jawbreakers and McDonald's Happy Meals.  More about what sorts of books Mason recommended for moral instruction, and also what sort of books she pointedly did *not* recommend.

Flame Tree, Philippines

Here's a good forum post on not being elitist.  Remember that you need to be signed in to the forum for that link to work.  Joining the forum and navigating it is  a challenge and a learning curve, but if you can do it, it's worth it. Consider it part of an ongoing challenge from week to week.    

Mango tree, Philippines

Digging Deeper Still:

I linked this above, but if you want to know more about Charlotte Mason and Comenius, you need to start here and read Karen Glass's series about those connections. 

Unconvinced about nature study?  Here's a short topical collection of Miss Mason and others on why we study botany.

A very thoughtful forum discussion on this section of volume VI

Enobling the masses, and a liberal education for all, a forum post (you need to be signed in to the forum for the link to work for you)

More discussion on a liberal education for all

When you are ready to choose a nature study notebook, this thread in the forum might help you pick one. But first be sure you did some sketching using what you have, even if it was just a 3 ring binder or a ragged index card stuck in the back of your purse because you jotted down an old shopping list on it once.

More help from the forum on the study of trees.  Also here.

Not strictly Charlotte Mason, but there are corollaries:

How American education became an education that is really not for all, and consequently makes us wary of seeming to be 'elite' because we read Shakespeare.


Mortimer Adler on what is a liberal education

Monday, September 3, 2018

A Charlotte Mason Teacher

By Karen Glass

Not long ago, a homeschool mom on our AmblesideOnline Facebook group (link is in the menu above) was struggling with all that a Charlotte Mason education entails. She is not alone in feeling a bit overwhelmed! This is part of her dilemma:

“"Now I've signed on to CM's philosophy of education. So this means I simultaneously believe ON TOP OF TEACHING ALL BASIC SUBJECTS I need to:
•Secure AT THE LEAST a half day a week in a rural setting, and even in this I’m failing my younger children who ought to have 4 hours a day or more.
•Sustain constant vigilance in habit training
•Feed my own knowledge of wildlife so I have something to pass down
•Feed my own intellectual life so I have something to offer my children as they grow
•Constantly be modeling good habits in everything
•Lead my children in daily devotions

While teaching my 6yo:
•A foreign language
•Art appreciation
•Watercoloring painting
•To play an instrument
•Music appreciation
•A purposeful handicraft
•Folk songs

This is on top of the basic responsibilities of caring for my 4 yo and infant son."

I couldn't put my finger on it at first, but then it hit me. There is a philosophical problem here, and I'm writing this is because I hope it will help bring things into focus for this mom and others like her. The problem (I think) is the word "teach." That implies a certain picture, in which you, the teacher, are imparting knowledge to your student, and that he is receiving it from you. That’s not the relationship between teacher and pupil in a Charlotte Mason paradigm.

Let me recast your question in a different context. Suppose you were feeling conflicted in a different area, and you felt like this:

“You mean in addition to providing seasonally appropriate clothing, shoes and outerwear for my six-year-old 365 days of the year and maintaining a safe shelter adequate to protect him and keep him warm, I also have to insure that he grows taller and heavier? That his hands and feet grow, and his bones? That his blood supply increases as he grows to meet his larger size? That his heart and lungs develop greater strength to support his larger body? How am I supposed to do all that for him, and my two younger children as well??”

Do you see the problem? You aren’t responsible for insuring that your child grows larger, let alone looking after specific details like making sure his blood supply increases. He will do those things for himself—all of them—under the right conditions, and the condition is that you provide him adequate and nourishing meals. And yes, several times per day, 365 days per year, and if you think of it all at once, it’s overwhelming. But you do it one day at time and one meal at a time. You consider what kind of food will make the most nutritious meals, and you will even take your child’s taste into account, but you’ll also make it a point to introduce him to a wide variety of things and give him a chance to learn to like all the best kinds of food. And it’s a big job—it takes time and money—but it’s done in small increments and one “off” day in appetite or indulging in extra junk food doesn’t ruin the long term effect. Your child is fed and grows physically, as he is made to do.

Now, that is the right picture for a Charlotte Mason paradigm. You aren’t going to “teach” your child all those things, any more than you are going to eat and digest your child’s meals. You are just going to put that food in front of him—you might insist that he eat, but hunger is on your side—and he does all the rest himself. You are going to spread a wide feast for your child—an intellectual banquet—and make him sit down to the table. His natural appetite for knowledge works in your favor, but you don’t force-feed him. He’ll take what he needs, intellectually, and he’ll grow—oh, how he’ll grow. Long before he is old enough to leave home, you will come face to face with a situation in which your child knows more than you do about something, and how did that happen? Because that’s how this works. You feed them; they do the growing themselves.

In that context, a Charlotte Mason education becomes no more complex than some basic meal planning. You aren’t making your child’s liver function properly—you’re just making him a sandwich. You aren’t “teaching art appreciation”—you’re just looking a painting. Or a tree. Or reading an interesting bit of history or singing a song or enjoying a great story.

Education is the science of relations is the principle that lies underneath what we do, and ties everything together. When you break it down into all its component parts—as you must do when  put it on paper with labels like “history” and “science” and “art”—it can feel a bit overwhelming,  just as it would if you had to break down all the necessary vitamins, minerals, phyto-nutrients, etc, that your child needs to grow properly. But what it still looks like, on a day to day basis, is breakfast, lunch, and dinner, and healthy snacks (most of the time). When we talk about the theory and philosophy of what we do—nutritional science or educational philosophy—it sounds more complicated than it actually is.

You can over-complicate anything. Suppose you approached the making of a single meal with the same analytical micro-focus. You have to make sure that you have 20 separate ingredients, as well as bowls, pans, knives, and other utensils. You have to wash and chop carrots AND onions AND celery. You have to peel eight potatoes and cut them into pieces. You have to measure five different seasonings; you have to keep the heat at the correct temperature, etc, etc, etc, and that’s just the soup course. In practice, it’s far less complex than it sounds on paper, and that’s true for education, too. When we talk about it and look at all the different bits individually it feels like a huge, overwhelming job, but when you get in there and start doing it, it all falls into place. You feel how forgiving some things can be. You have two carrots instead of four? It will be okay. Throw in some extra celery or onions, or half of a chopped bell pepper. Some things are less flexible. Don’t mess with the baking powder measurement if you’re making a cake, but experience will teach you (quickly) which things are flexible, and which things needs to be firmly adhered to.

This is firmly embedded in the principles. The twelfth principle is “Education is the science of relations.” That’s a little bit like “Hungry growing children need to be fed meals.” You absolutely can do this if you keep “education is the science of relations” firmly in mind and don’t let yourself get bogged down or overwhelmed by the details.

“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.” (Principle #12)

Did you catch that? Our business is not to teach him all about anything. That’s a principle (or part of one). Just fix the plate and set it in front of him. Encourage him to take a bite. Take a bite yourself and let your children know it’s delicious. Listen to music. Read a book. Talk to each other about it. Observe the ants on the sidewalk. Take delight in a sunset. You don’t really remind yourself every day that your children are hungry and need to be fed—that becomes a part of your life and you live it. If you can embed “education is the science of relations” that deeply and intuitively into your educational life, you will be a Charlotte Mason teacher.

Challenge 3

Challenge 1 is here. We read about Undine and a bit about the difference between interest in lessons and ardour for knowledge.

  Challenge 2 is here. We read about some of Miss Mason's principles.

Here we are with Challenge 3!  We will continue reading from volume VI:
 Miss Mason is writing shortly after WW1 and several years before WW2. Just as she previously used the story of Undine as an illustration for one aspect of her philosophy, now she compares and contrasts German and English approaches to education and the human mind.

 She is particularly concerned that education not be made utilitarian- a word I do not think we understand as Miss Mason understood it. So forgive me if I digress a moment to give some historical background:
 "a tradition stemming from the late 18th- and 19th-century English philosophers and economists Jeremy Bentham and John Stuart Mill according to which an action is right if it tends to promote happiness and wrong if it tends to produce the reverse of happiness—not just the happiness of the performer of the action but also that of everyone affected by it. Such a theory is in opposition to egoism, the view that a person should pursue his own self-interest, even at the expense of others, and to any ethical theory that regards some acts or types of acts as right or wrong independently of their consequences"

 "Bentham and Mill both believed that human actions are motivated entirely by pleasure and pain, and Mill saw that motivation as a basis for the argument that, since happiness is the sole end of human action, the promotion of happiness is the test by which to judge all human conduct."
  taken from here. 
 Keep that definition of utilitarianism in mind as you read the next section from Mason's sixth volume:

 "We fail to recognize that as the body requires wholesome food and cannot nourish itself upon any substance so the mind too requires meat after its kind.(emphasis added)  If the War (World War 1) taught nothing else it taught us that men are spirits, that the spirit, mind, of a man is more than his flesh, that his spirit is the man, that for the thoughts of his heart he gives the breath of his body. As a consequence of this recognition of our spiritual nature, the lesson for us at the moment is that the great thoughts, great events, great considerations, which form the background of our national thought, shall be the content of the education we pass on. The educational thought we hear most about is, as I have said, based on sundry Darwinian axioms, out of which we get the notion that nothing matters but physical fitness and vocational training. However important these are, they are not the chief thing. A century ago when Prussia was shipwrecked in the Napoleonic wars it was discovered that not Napoleon but Ignorance was the formidable national enemy; a few philosophers took the matter in hand, and history, poetry, philosophy, proved the salvation of a ruined nation, because such studies make for the development of personality, public spirit, initiative, the qualities of which the State was in need, and which most advance individual happiness and success. On the other hand, the period when Germany made her school curriculum utilitarian marks the beginning of her moral downfall. History repeats itself. There are interesting rumours afloat of how the students at Bonn, for example, went in solemn procession to make a bonfire of French novels, certain prints, articles of luxury and the like; things like these had brought about the ruin of Germany and it was the part of the youth to save her now as before. Are they to have another Tugendbund?" 

 Note: The Tugendbund was a semi-secret society, loosely connected with a Masonic lodge, formed in response to the Napoleon empire for the purpose of reforming German society and freeing parts of what is now Germany from French control. According to Sparknotes,

"In June 1808, professors in Konigsberg started an anti-French, Prussian nationalist movement called the "Moral and Scientific Union", or Tugenbund (League of Virtue). Prussian national pride soared, the nation increased its resolve to fight Napoleon, and Prussia became a focal point for German nationalism." The members of the Tugendbund sought physical and military superiority in order to fight the French and win back the land they believed was rightly Prussia's. Toward that end it was utilitarian in nature, as the goal of all reforms and improvements was ultimately military strength as a nation.)
So Mason is concerned that this might be the direction Germany is heading again, and she does not want this for any country, and especially not for her own.  Rather than a 'Tugenbund,' she says,

 "We want an education which shall nourish the mind while not neglecting either physical or vocational training; in short, we want a working philosophy of education. 

I think that we of the P.N.E.U. have arrived at such a body of theory, tested and corrected by some thirty years of successful practice with thousands of children. This theory has already been set forth in volumes [The Home Education Series] published at intervals during the last thirty-five years; so I shall indicate here only a few salient points which seem to me to differ from general theory and practice,––
 (a) The children, not the teachers, are the responsible persons; they do the work by self-effort. 
 (b) The teachers give sympathy and occasionally elucidate, sum up or enlarge, but the actual work is done by the scholars. 
 (c) These read in a term one, or two, or three thousand pages, according to their age, school and Form, in a large number of set books. 
The quantity set for each lesson allows of only a single reading; but the reading is tested by narration, or by writing on a test passage. 
When the terminal examination is at hand so much ground has been covered that revision [review] is out of the question; what the children have read they know, and write on any part of it with ease and fluency, in vigorous English; they usually spell well.

 Much is said from time to time to show that 'mere book-learning' is rather contemptible, and that "Things are in the saddle and ride mankind." May I point out that whatever discredit is due to the use of books does not apply to this method, which so far as I can discover has not hitherto been employed.

 Has an attempt been made before on a wide scale to secure that scholars should know their books, many pages in many books, at a single reading, in such a way that months later they can write freely and accurately on any part of the term's reading?"

Another editorial comment here- it is my opinion that she is rather specific about which part of her method has not hitherto been employed- it's not the whole approach, it's not the books used, it's not the subjects- it's the single reading and the method that ensures they can call to mind the material from that single reading months later.
 She continues with the parts of her approach which she believes differ most sharply from the educational practices more common in schools in her day:

 "(d) There is no selection of studies, or of passages or of episodes, on the ground of interest. The best available book is chosen and is read through perhaps in the course of two or three years. 

 (e) The children study many books on many subjects, but exhibit no confusion of thought, and 'howlers' are almost unknown.

 (f) They find that, in Bacon's phrase, "Studies serve for delight"; this delight being not in the lessons or the personality of the teacher, but purely in their 'lovely books,' 'glorious books.'

 (g) The books used are, whenever possible, literary in style. 

 (h) Marks, prizes, places, rewards, punishments, praise, blame, or other inducements are not necessary to secure attention, which is voluntary, immediate and surprisingly perfect. 

 (i) The success of the scholars in what may be called disciplinary subjects, such as Mathematics and Grammar, depends largely on the power of the teacher, though the pupils' habit of attention is of use in these too.

 (j) No stray lessons are given on interesting subjects; the knowledge the children get is consecutive." 

You might pause a minute or two here and try to narrate.
 One easy but effective idea is to set a timer for 3-5 minutes and write down as much as you can remember as quickly as you can.
You could make a list of the points that seem to you most important to remember, that you want most to apply.
 Or you could make a list of anything that stood out to you as quite surprising.
 Make a note of questions you have or things you want to think about more.

 Don't spend too long on this.   I don't want you to get bogged down.  I just want you to practice applying Mason's methods and to think about some of the key ideas in this method.  Come back and read more when you've written down some thoughts (you can jot them in the comments below if you like!) and when you have time to read more.

  Mason continues, pointing out the advantageous results she's seen with this method:

 "The unusual interest children show in their work, their power of concentration, their wide, and as far as it goes, accurate knowledge of historical, literary and some scientific subjects, has challenged attention and the general conclusion is that these are the children of educated and cultivated parents. It was vain to urge that the home schoolroom does not usually produce remarkable educational results; but the way is opening to prove that the power these children show is common to all children; at last there is hope that the offspring of working-class parents may be led into the wide pastures of a liberal education. Are we not justified in concluding that singular effects must have commensurate causes, and that we have chanced to light on unknown tracts in the region of educational thought. At any rate that GOLDEN RULE of which Comenius was in search has discovered itself, the RULE, "WHEREBY TEACHERS SHALL TEACH LESS AND SCHOLARS SHALL LEARN MORE."

That's quite an impressive list of results, yes?
For those wondering, " Who was Comenius?" A Czech educator and churchman born in 1592 According to Wikipedia, "was a Czech philosopher, pedagogue and theologian from the Margraviate of Moravia and is considered the father of modern education. He served as the last bishop of Unity of the Brethren and became a religious refugee and one of the earliest champions of universal education, a concept eventually set forth in his book Didactica Magna. As an educator and theologian, he led schools and advised governments across Protestant Europe through the middle of the seventeenth century. Comenius was the innovator who first introduced pictorial textbooks, written in native language instead of Latin, applied effective teaching based on the natural gradual growth from simple to more comprehensive concepts, supported lifelong learning and development of logical thinking by moving from dull memorization, presented and supported the idea of equal opportunity for impoverished children, opened doors to education for women, and made instruction universal and practical. Besides his native Bohemian Crown, he lived and worked in other regions of the Holy Roman Empire, and other countries: Sweden, the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, Transylvania, England, the Netherlands and Hungary." Comenius was searching for an educational principle or method by which the students did more of the learning and teachers did less teaching- and Charlotte says she's found it.

 She read widely and deeply and did not develop her ideas without reference to these who went before her. She continues, further distinguishing the touches that she thinks are unique to her method:
"Let me now outline a few of the educational principles which account for unusual results.  

III PRINCIPLES HITHERTO UNRECOGNIZED OR DISREGARDED I have enumerated some of the points in which our work is exceptional in the hope of convincing the reader that unusual work carried on successfully in hundreds of schoolrooms––home and other––is based on principles hitherto unrecognized. The recognition of these principles should put our national education on an intelligent basis and should make for general stability, joy in living, and personal initiative." 

There is a somewhat silly notion passed about recently that Mason intended volume VI to be read only by those who were already familiar with her methods and who had already read all of her previous five volumes on education. There are many reasons why we can see this isn't so from her own words. The above section is one of them- she wouldn't need to explain these educational principles or convince the reader that 'unusual work is being carried out successfully' if her intended audience was only those who had already read the previous volumes.

 That last sentence is quite the high standard, isn't it?  When I am reading for personal study, that is the sort of thing I like to underline, highlight, or make a note of in the margins.

 "Education built on an intelligent basis."   Some of the goals for that education include: general (i.e. national) stability, joy in living, personal initiative. Hmmm. I find that when I compile such lists it gives me new ways of assessing what I'm doing, and new ways of thinking about how to work toward those ends, a clearer understanding of Mason's own goals and ideas.  Isn't it sad that some people consider this elitist? How far we've fallen.

 Mason continues, and here's another section rich with ideas to list, highlight, enumerate, underline, and think about:

 "May I add one or two more arguments in support of my plea,–– The appeal is not to the clever child only, but to the average and even to the 'backward' child."

['backward' child is very jarring to the modern ear, and even hurtful. It was the best term they had at the time for the child who lagged behind his age-mates for reasons they didn't fully understand. Don't let the Victorianisms and Edwardianisms get in the way of understanding the timeless principles.]

 "This scheme is carried out in less time than ordinary school work on the same subjects. There are no revisions (reviewing), no evening lessons, no cramming or 'getting up' of subjects; therefore there is much time whether for vocational work or interests or hobbies. All intellectual work is done in the hours of morning school, and the afternoons are given to field nature studies, drawing, handicrafts, etc. Notwithstanding these limitations the children produce a surprising amount of good intellectual work. No homework is required. It is not that 'we' (of the P.N.E.U.) are persons of peculiar genius; it is that, like Paley's man who found the watch, "we have chanced on a good thing."

Paley was an anti-Darwinist who presented the idea that if we stumble on a watch on the moor, we know that a designer of that watch is involved, and the natural world is complex and intricate enought that it indicates enough evidence of a designer as well.  Charlotte seems to be saying that these ideas are not original to her, they already existed, they are part of the wisdom built into the world by its Designer, and she and her fellow PNEU persons have found what God has already placed- like discovering gravity or the gulf stream.

 "'No gain that I experience must remain unshared.'
 We feel that the country and indeed the world should have the benefit of educational discoveries which act powerfully as a moral lever, for we are experiencing anew the joy of the Renaissance, but without its pagan lawlessness." 

Educational discoveries which bring joy as well as act as a moral lever.   Wow!!  Think about that for a moment or two, at least.

 * Regarding my bad habit of interrupting your reading with my commentary, it's probably okay. “Van den Broek, Tzeng, Risden, Trabasso, and Basche (2001) studied the effects of influential reading comprehension questioning on students in the fourth, seventh, and tenth grades, as well as on college undergraduates. They found that questions posed during the reading of the text aided in shifting attention to specific information for older and more proficient readers. However, it interfered with the comprehension of the fourth- and seventh-grade students, who performed better when the questions came after, not during, the reading." (Fisher, Frey & Hattie, 2016, p. 38) Isn't that amazing? This is why we don't interrupt our students to have them answer questions in the middle of a reading- we read an episode, ask for a narration at the end, then,if we have any questions or comments we can add them. But for 'older, more proficient readers,' and I presume that includes all y'all, we can handle the little interruptions and can even benefit from them!

Well, that was a lot of reading.  What shall we do with it?

Here are a few questions- you can come up with your own questions (and answers), these are just suggestions for those who prefer to get a bit of a jump-start:

Mason talks about educating the poor Miners' children with these ideas.  who would be the equivilant of the Miners' children today? Are there any?

What are some of her claims for this method that you'd like to see in your families?

What does she mean by no selection on the basis of interest, and lessons in consecutive order?

Mason talks about each of these pieces of education (narrating, single readings, living books, etc) as part of the unified whole where teachers do less and learners do more of their own work of learning.  Homeschoolers are fiercely independent and we like to take things apart and put them back together in our own way- but sometimes, I think we take apart things before we fully understand their purpose and how they work together and what the parts are even supposed to do- so when we put things back together we end up with a different sort of whatcha-ma-callit that doesn't do everything we expected it to do.  If you are able to, consider putting back in something you've been leaving out and see how that works.  Ask some CM veterans if they know the purpose of this gear or that whats-it, and what might happen if you discard it.

Mason says the content of her education must be "great thoughts, great events, great considerations."  If this is true, what does it say for the notion that it doesn't matter what children read so long as they are reading?  Could we substitute Wisdom and the Millers for Pilgrim's Progress and expect the same results?  It's okay if something your child reads is obscure to him, if there are things he does not understand.  Elsewhere, she points out that we usually get far more out of a story we have to think about, ponder, and dig a bit in order to understand it. 

Keep in mind that Mason is talking about end results while many of you may be in your first year of homeschooling using her methods.  That could be discouraging if you expect to find these same pleasant results at the end of the first week rather than playing the long game and working toward them at the end of the year, or maybe even next year.

What do you think is meant by the following:  "The teachers give sympathy and occasionally elucidate, sum up or enlarge, but the actual work is done by the scholars?"  How might that look in one of your lessons?

If you have not joined the forum yet, give it a shot.  Once you've joined, you might dip your feet in at entry level by just looking at the most recent posts of the day- click on the button toward the top right of center that says 'View Today's Posts', then scroll down and see what people are talking about.

Have you read Leslie's Patio Chats?  These are short vitamin bursts of CM information that will take less than 20 minutes to read.  You could subscribe to them at the forum:

Continue singing at least twice this week- do you notice any change in the atmosphere of your school after singing?  Add singing to a third day of your week.  You could sing after a math lesson, while getting out the history or science books, or while transitioning from Bible to Literature.  It's a good way to clear the mind for the next subject.  Here's my folksong playlist for this year.

Go outside.  Pick any two plants you see and compare their: stems, leaves, and flowers if they have them.  Notice the shape of the leaves, as well as their placement on the stem- are they in opposite pairs, or do they alternate? Or do they sort of form a whorled pattern around the stem?  Are the leaves serrated at the edge, jagged like a saw or a steakknife?  Deep edges or small notches?  How many petals do the flowers have? What is their shape? What do the centers look like.?Only after you have noticed the different characteristics and the distinct characteristics of each plant should you attempt to identify it.  You can take a photograph of it and post it to our FB group, or there is a plant ID group on FB you could join.  Try and sketch them- remember the *process* is what is important here, not your artistic skill.  When you try to sketch them, see if you don't notice additional details you might have missed the first time.

If you are interested in or intimidated by Shakespeare and you have already joined the forum, you might want to read (and maybe join in!) the discussion of Twelfth Night!  You have to be signed in for this link to work

Mapwork help!  This thread is gold- how to create your own maps for your students using Google!

Digging Deeper, for those who want and have time for more:
Read Mortimer Adler on why we read great books.

Read more about the Prussian school model and how it compares to the American public school system today.

Parents' Review articles:

on Children and Books

Home-Training and Right Habits of Mind- starting from babyhood.

Parents as Inspirers

PNEU Principles as illustrated by teaching: ""We believe in an "open-door policy" for our children; the larger and nobler an idea, the more fit are the children to receive it, for their hearts and minds are like a great open porch, not yet bricked up by prejudices.
We therefore adopt a time-table calculated to give ideas and experiences in as many branches of our relationships as possible.
We don't want, for example, to teach children "all about Africa" in their geography lessons, we want to give them such ideas of the dawning continent as will send them to books of travel, and later to the place itself, to view its panoramas or take their share in its future destinies.... But the children are not to sit still and merely passively receive ideas.
No lesson is valuable which does not promote self-activity by making the child think, exercising its powers of narration or reproduction, or laying the ground-work for some future mental habit, making the idea given a well-spring of activity.
We can judge then of the value of a lesson by the amount of work which it gives the children to do.
There is therefore in a really good lesson only one place for the teacher, and that is the background.""

The Educational Value of Great Books: Homer