Wednesday, April 28, 2010

A Month with Charlotte Mason, #25

Where does CM advice become the most nitty and gritty?

Is it in the general comments, the principles and philosophy, given in her six volumes...which transition into the later parts of those volumes, describing specific work and practices of the PNEU schools? Or the technical details of the Form III Programme #90 for 1921? Is it only in CM's own books, or in the more diverse viewpoints given in the Parent's Review articles? Is it in Eve Anderson's video appearance (which I've never seen), or PNEU teacher Mrs. Norton's taped interview (available from Sound Word Associates)? Is it in the array of books by various parents and educators that have attempted to bring CM principles into the 20th and now the 21st centuries?

In other words, is it more meaningful for me to track down Selfe's Work of the Prophets (used in 1921), in hopes that I can either use it as is or learn from it as a comparison...or to read suggestions from thoughtful CMers who have found new books that meet the same needs? How much should I worry if the nature notebook or Book of the Centuries doesn't get off the ground? How come we're talking about "leisurely" and then realize that, according to the Form III schedule, our twelve-year-old is supposed to be narrating Dumas in French and starting German as well? If we want to have the "whole CM package" as she described it, what stays and what goes? (I assume that relatively few of us are doing Sloyd and Swedish Drill as they were practiced a hundred years ago.) What if our circumstances or the children we're teaching are very unusual? How long will Kipling and Kingsley continue to be meaningful? Where does old CM meet new CM, and your CM meet my CM, and become timeless CM, CM without boundaries?

What, you're expecting me to have answers to all that?

I do not think it's quite as simple as saying that none of the specific books are integral to CM methods and we really don't need that emphasis on Victorian literature; or that since there was nothing particularly amazing about pulling bits of yarn through canvas with a crochet hook, we can dismiss CM's recommendation of making "Smyrna rugs" and find something else we'd rather be doing; or that since children's needs in science and math have changed so much, we have to rework the whole thing, while still trying to respect students' intelligence. Did CM herself succumb to a few late-Victorian educational fads, or was she simply selecting the best of the new ideas that had come in at that time? (Like Scouting.) Is that what we should be doing--pulling the best from our own educational time? Is there anything now worth pulling from? (Perhaps we might include computers, websites, software and DVDs when we ask that last question.)

One instructive book, that I brought as "Exhibit A" to the conference workshop, is Melissa Wiley's Down to the Bonny Glen, from the Martha Years series. (The uncut original version.) If any of you don't know, the author is a homeschooling parent with a deep understanding of Charlotte Mason's philosophy. Her "Miss Crow," Martha's new governess, anticipates CM by about a hundred years in her handling of Martha. Go through the book and you'll pick out the principles: masterly inactivity (seeming not to be watching, but aware of everything), concern for hygiene, interest in Martha's natural environment and in her wool-dying skills, bringing in new books such as Burns' poems, and showing both respect and firmness. Miss Crow fills the same needs as Anne Shirley's Miss Stacey and Clara's grandmother in Heidi. She doesn't preach or nag; she expects diligence but encourages a love of learning. She teaches Martha to care more deeply, not only about lessons but about the world, about life.

So Miss Crow, though she's created from Melissa's post-CM imagination, can serve as a model of CM principles in a pre-CM world. With that in mind, perhaps our own imaginations can create equally wise and creative educators from other time periods. What might an enlightened tutor have done in Elizabethan times? Or in Colonial America? Even Charlotte Mason did a little imaginary time-travelling, in her "dinner table a hundred years from now." What do you imagine a CM education might look like for your own great-grandchildren? Will they have found any better English plays than Shakespeare, or anything more necessary than the Bible? (Assuming Bibles are still legal.) Will they still be studying Plutarch, Mozart, Mary Cassatt? Will they still skip the first chapter of Ivanhoe, laugh at Wamba's impersonation of a priest, and sit up straight when Robin Hood makes a sudden appearance? Will they still feel the excitement of the final contest with Brian de Bois-Guilbert? Will they still learn to love the first childhood classics, the Pooh stories, the Garden of Verses, Jeremy Fisher? (What a mercy that was not a pike.)

More tomorrow.

1 comment:

Queen of Carrots said...

I think of Mma Ramotswe's remembrances of her caretaker (an aunt?) in the No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency series. In a completely different cultural setting and with books almost nonexistent, she taught her young charge to attend, to observe, to remember, and to form connections with the things around her.

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