Best of Afterthoughts, Educational Philosophy, Home Education

Why I Don’t Design My Own CM Curriculum

April 2, 2014 by Brandy Vencel

Here is our excuse for offering our services to much-occupied teachers. There has been talk from time to time about interfering with the liberty of teachers to choose their own books, but one might as well contend for everyman’s liberty to make his own boots! It is one of those questions of the division of labour which belong to our civilisation; and if the question of liberty be raised at all, why should we not go further and let the children choose their books?
— Charlotte Mason (Vol. 6, p. 272)

Why I Don't Design My Own

I have noticed a theme in the advice being given out by some of the CM authorities out there. The idea in these circles seems to be that using a curriculum is good for newbies, but at some point, when you get really mature, you’ll be ready to design your own curriculum.

Sometimes, you’ll even be ready to design your own curriculum … with the help of people who get paid for assisting you!

Lucky you!

(And that’s all I’ll say about that, except that “follow the money” is always a good piece of advice, even when you’re homeschooling.)

So.

As I was saying.

Even if someone isn’t trying to make a buck off of you, they might try and tell you that a real Charlotte Mason homeschooler selects her own books.

Here’s the problem I have with this:

Charlotte Mason’s teachers did not design their own curricula.

This includes the PNEU parents using the curriculum to homeschool. Now, I’m not saying that, if you’re into that sort of thing, it’s wrong and I’m going to send the so-called CM Police after you.

Not at all.

I’m just saying that it is okay to use a curriculum that was designed by someone else, or a lot of someone elses. This is what the PNEU teachers did, after all.

Miss Mason and her friends at the House of Education ran what was akin to a district office. Every term, her office sent out the curricula that was used by all the PNEU schools and homeschools. At the end of the term, they sent out the exam questions (That’s right! Her teachers also weren’t writing their own exams!), and the answers to the exams were sent back to the district office. This was one way they had of gauging how well they had done in their curriculum design.

Now, I’m not going to say that the PNEU schools never, ever made substitutions. I don’t know that. If I ever learn for sure, I’ll share that in my series on becoming a CM teacher that is coming up.

What I am going to say is that her teachers were not focused on book selection and exam writing. There were people who did this for them, which freed them up to…

wait for it…

actually teach.

I Want to Teach, Not Plan Curriculum

Don’t get me wrong. I love a good AO project to work on. But let’s be honest: I do not have the time or money to go through eight books for each subject for each child and choose the very best.

I don’t mean “good enough.” I mean the best. That is what Miss Mason was looking for.

And it is only after many years of doing this that I have started to gain enough aesthetic discernment to begin to make that call.

We homeschoolers do better when we don’t waste time reinventing the wheel, but rather improve upon what we already have. So when we take a packaged curriculum containing the best books, which have then been considered in light of the PNEU annual page counts and time tables {so as to ensure the ample leisure time that Miss Mason thought was indispensable to a true education — choosing the best book is only the first of many factors that AmblesideOnline considers when designing curriculum}, and then tweak it the few instances we need to, we end up with something far better than if we were starting from scratch.

I want to spend my time becoming a better CM teacher. In the PNEU world, teachers were not curriculum designers, and that was okay. Division of labor is a good thing. Your time might be better spent honing your knowledge of local flora and fauna, making entries in your commonplace book, and all the other disciplines Miss Mason expected from her teachers.

You’re Still CM

What I want you to take away is not that it is evil for you to plan your own curriculum, but that it is okay if you don’t. Miss Mason’s teachers used a curriculum designed by someone else and focused on teaching their students well, and living well. If someone tries to tell you that when you “grow up” you’ll design your own curriculum, you need to know that CM never expected that of her teachers, and if you’re not interested in curriculum design, or don’t want to spend your time and energy that way, that’s okay.

In fact, it is perfectly CM of you.

Get the (almost) weekly digest!

Weekly encouragement, direct to your inbox, (almost) every Saturday.

Powered by ConvertKit

15 Comments

  • Reply Ashleigh Taylor March 23, 2019 at 3:37 pm

    Thank you for this informative post! I thoroughly enjoyed it. As an ENTJ 2w3 that is reading CM books for the first time and selecting curriculum for the fall- the idea of formatting my own curriculum is not appealing! I had a hard time with researching cloth diapers and that was a seemingly simple decision in comparison. The thought of having to to that for years on end for multiple children is tiresome. It’s not so much that it’s daunting, as much that i fear I could put too high of expectations for my child or self and end up sucking the joy out of our experience. Also, as an ENTJ i find it inefficient and that irks me. Thank you for your quotes and history on CM. I found your post quite helpful and it made me feel much more comfortable with my choice. 🙂

  • Reply momshie August 29, 2018 at 8:09 am

    Thank you for this! A part of me is sometimes worries that I might be missing out on what books other CM moms are using and substituting for the books provided in AO. But my plate is full and i really do not have the time and energy to look for other books. Thank you for this. I will channel my energy and time in homeschooling my children

  • Reply Rose Barnett (@mRoseBarnett) December 6, 2017 at 12:29 pm

    I know this was written years ago but thank you for writing it. I have struggled so much with this until this year I decided I wasn’t doing CM but just buying already put together packages bc I just couldn’t handle doing it all, figuring it out and finding the books. This part of CM is hard to deal with and it seems inevitable. But I am being drawn back to CM bc of the freedom in how to school, time availability and emphasis on outside time (plus I’m a book nerd). I’m going to look into what’s already setup for you. AO has that but it wasn’t quite what I wanted. Thank you again bc Momma’s dont’ have time!

    • Reply Brandy Vencel December 6, 2017 at 3:49 pm

      ♥ I’m glad you found this helpful. I know I loved it when I was at a conference and I heard one of the founders of AO say, “We did this so that you don’t have to.” ♥

      • Reply Diana January 19, 2018 at 12:26 pm

        I say “thank you” (in my head) just about every day to the AO founders.

  • Reply S October 24, 2016 at 12:27 pm

    I normally don’t comment on blogs, but wow, this seems a little harsh. I understand the intent is to give freedom to those feeling bad about following AO or another plan, but I don’t see the need to attack anyone wanting to assist those in making their own plan. Disappointing.

    • Reply Brandy Vencel October 24, 2016 at 1:32 pm

      When I wrote this post over two years ago, I kept meeting moms who had paid SO much money to get consulting, and it was just so sad to me. After that, they were struggling to pay for the actual books! So it was a response to that. 🙂

      You’re right, though. In our local community, there are a number of moms quite willing to help others who don’t charge a dime; it’s just moms helping moms. I’m sure that holds true in other communities. I think my reaction was to the fact that the same people charging the high fees were the ones telling these moms that designing their own curriculum was the only way they could be “true” CM homeschoolers. That doesn’t hold water, historically speaking.

  • Reply Helen Swavely July 21, 2016 at 6:24 am

    Hey Brandy, really am intrigued by this blog post. This comes up often with the group I run. What is a good suggestion for CM curriculum that is already written that I can turn moms toward? Mater Amabelis, AO, …Thanks so much for your help.

    • Reply Brandy Vencel July 21, 2016 at 12:47 pm

      I love AmblesideOnline. I am really not familiar enough with other CM curricula to give a definite opinion of them, but I have heard good things about Mater Amabilis and Simply Charlotte Mason. 🙂

      • Reply Helen Swavely July 21, 2016 at 2:22 pm

        I have not used AO, but have looked at it a few times. Would you recommend AO for those who would like a CM curriculum, but do not want to write their own?

        • Reply Brandy Vencel July 21, 2016 at 4:09 pm

          Absolutely! 🙂 Of course, if they choose to use it and have questions, they have a free help Forum that is invaluable.

  • Reply UKCMMummy May 28, 2016 at 2:17 pm

    An answer to prayer for this 34 week pregnant mum of soon to be 4! So sensible… a weight has been lifted off from my shoulders. Thank you!!

  • Reply Rebecca May 23, 2016 at 7:04 pm

    I know this was written awhile ago, but found the link through your low energy series and have to say “OH. MY. GOODNESS. THANK YOU!”

    That’s all for now. ?

  • Reply Aimee August 28, 2015 at 3:07 pm

    I just googled “how to design my own CM curriculum” and this is the first thing I read. I am on the hunt for the “perfect” CM curriculum and am having a terrible time making a decision. What in the world was I thinking? How long would it take me to put together an entire curriculum on my own? Thank you. You may have just saved my sanity.

    • Reply Brandy Vencel August 28, 2015 at 5:18 pm

      Welcome back from the asylum. 😉 Glad you’re here. 🙂

    Leave a Reply