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Six-Word Saturday: 25 Teves, 5771

Why the weird dates? Click here to find out! 

Happy Birthday!  Wondering whose it is?

imageCharlotte Mason was born on January 1st, 1842.  Around here, she seems to have little influence outside of a fringey group of homeschoolers, most of whom, like me, are merely “Charlotte-inspired” and not “full-Monty” CMers.

Her motto for students was "I am, I can, I ought, I will."  CM schooling emphasizes nature study, narration to “cement” the child’s experience and the use of “Living Books” – full versions of quality literature as opposed to abridgements and “twaddle” – kids’ books of no literary value. 

This is one fundamental difference between CM and modern “classical education,” a la Susan Wise Bauer’s The Well-Trained Mind, which is quick to recommend easy-reader adaptations of classics for the lower grades.  More about Great Literature in a second, though, because I frankly sometimes need “easy-reader” versions.

Unlike many modern educational experts, Charlotte Mason emphasized that the years before age 6 are to be spent mostly in developing healthy habits and outdoor play.  I like this, but haven’t been able to stick to it very well, I admit.  I’m an indoor bunny, and I think Charlotte Mason’s England was perhaps a more conducive to year-round nature study. 

Even when formal education begins, around age 6, she believed strongly in keeping lessons short and meaningful.  I do tend to agree with her that most textbooks are “twaddle” – non-beautiful writing created by committee – and that most worksheets are time-killers:  busywork, pure and simple.

Reading up on Montessori methods and philosophies in the last few weeks (which are also not big into textbooks and busywork) has made me appreciate Charlotte Mason’s ideas in a different light. 

First, it seems like CM concepts translate more readily to a home setting, though there are many Montessori principles that are valuable in the home.  I’m sure Charlotte Mason would agree that children need a peaceful learning environment where their “tools” for learning are real, functioning and accessible.

Second, while Montessori is all about (though it isn’t always or entirely, but I’m not going to go there) its gorgeous materials, CM requires very little by way of equipment, at least to get started at the elementary level.

CM doesn’t demand many manipulatives beyond fine literature.  However, I admit that as a reasonably literate, well-educated person, I have trouble with Great Literature, with capital G and L. 

Most of the time, overworked and exhausted, I want my reading to be “fun,” not some Thomas Hardy snooty-snobbery.  Can I really maintain a double standard, great literature for them and “twaddle” chick lit for myself???

I also have trouble with the White Male European Christian focus of most Charlotte Mason education.  As a non-Christian, something like “hymn study” doesn’t necessarily feel as relevant as it could, and I wonder why the artists and composers are predominantly NOT of my demographic. 

There’s also the Eurocentric focus of the recommended literature, including Charlotte Mason’s own excellent Elementary Geography primer.  (I downloaded this modern PDF version and had it printed and hole-punched at Kinko’s).

Still and all, I think this philosophy comes closest to what I believe, educationally:

  • Respect kids’ natural inclination to learn. 
  • Kids understand more than most people give them credit for
  • Set them free, preferably outdoors
  • Draw attention to what they’re seeing
  • Validate their own perceptions and experiences through narration
  • Nature is the key to anything they will ever learn about science
  • Demand excellence; they just might deliver!

For more information about Charlotte Mason, try the following links:

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  1. I think it's fine to have a double standard about literature. The kids have energetic little minds that are hungry for good, nourishing thought. Your mind and mine, however, are just exhausted and want the equivalent of a nice warm bath - soothing, undemanding, easy to get into.

  2. Hmm, very interesting. I do think kids don't get enough time learning to play and experience. Learning is very important too but life lessons can be just as important as book lessons.

    Happy 2011!

  3. ESP? Thanks for commenting on my CM thoughts. I agree, I wonder why her ideas are not more mainstream, there is really nothing radical about her ideas and it should suit most children to follow her program to an excellent secular education.

  4. Nice post about kids and their learning


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