BY CAROL HUDSON
The reasons mostly commonly given for not using the Charlotte Mason method in high school are variations of the following:
- It is not rigorous enough. It is too laid back and casual and doesn’t stretch the student
- I’ll need to put together my own curriculum
- A traditional textbook method is needed to prepare students for exams and higher education.
These three reasons overlap in my mind and say something to this effect:
“CM is not rigorous enough for high school so I’ll have to use textbooks because I haven’t the time (knowledge, experience, confidence, etc.) to make my own curriculum.”
The number one reason for abandoning a CM education after using it with younger children, or for not considering using CM in high school, is a lack of understanding of CM’s methods. This is usually because we’ve only read what others have said about a CM education and have not gone to the original source.
My first introduction to the educational philosophy of Charlotte Mason was when I read For the Children’s Sake by Susan Schaeffer Macaulay in 1988 before our first child was born.
The ideas presented in this book inspired me and I thought, “This is the kind of education I want my children to have!”
There was very little available in Australia at the time for home educators but the ideas shared by Macaulay in her book stayed with me as I later began to teach our children.
By the year 2000, books on the Charlotte Mason method began to be available here. I bought them all and read and re-read them.
By this time my eldest child was 12 and she was familiar with narration, kept a nature notebook, worked on her handicrafts, enjoyed listening to classical music and loved Shakespeare. I continued in this way teaching our three eldest children with the knowledge I’d gleaned from my readings of other people’s interpretations of CM’s words up until they graduated.
Fast forward to sometime around 2010 when our fourth child was 16 years old. He was my late reader and I’d been panicking for nearly two years over what on earth I was going to do with him.
It wasn’t until he was around the age of twelve that reading really clicked. He began to love reading historical fiction but he seemed unable to absorb anything presented in a remotely factual form and he baulked at any kind of writing. I came to the conclusion that a CM approach was unsuitable for him.
So off I went on the rigorous route.
Facts! I needed to get some facts into him! I tried a variety of comprehension type books, drill, vocabulary workbooks, memory work and writing programmes but I didn’t see much progress and I felt I was short-changing my son.
Was a liberal education unattainable for him?
Was it only for the elite, the high achievers?
These thoughts troubled me.
Then one day – and I know this was an answer to prayer – I began to look closely at AmblesideOnline for my nearly seven year old daughter and I knew right away that she would love the books so I started her in Year 1 shortly afterwards.
It was at this time that I began to read Charlotte Mason’s own words starting with A Philosophy of Education:
Stability of mind and magnanimity of character … are the proper outcome and the unfailing test of a liberal education.p. 248
… We owe it to every child to put him in communication with great minds that he may get at great thoughts.p. 12
Like the body … the mind rejects insipid, dry, and unsavoury food … 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.p. 20
Within couple of months I took a step of faith and also started my boys in AmblesideOnline. I placed my 16, going on 17 year old in Year 8 where he was exposed to such books as The Faerie Queene, Utopia, the essays of Francis Bacon and Plutarch’s Lives. He developed in a surprising way. He developed capacity. It was like watching a miracle unfold.
Those who think a Charlotte Mason education is not rigorous are correct in one sense. The dictionary defines ‘rigorous’ as severe, strict, hard and mortifying. A CM education is more accurately described as vital, liberal or vigorous.
I’ve seen high school-aged children pressed by the rigours of their studies into giving up life-giving interests, exchanging them for deadening and insipid facts and exam preparation. Exams have their place but they are not meant to be the goal of education. A CM education is wide and generous and its ultimate aim is the development of virtue or character. It isn’t about filling up on facts.
… in the end we shall find that only those ideas which have fed his life are taken into the being of a child; all the rest is thrown away, or worse, is like sawdust in the system, an impediment and an injury …Parents and Children, p. 38
A CM education is not casual or laid back. Even a cursory look at the upper levels of AmblesideOnline (a curriculum that’s as close as possible to the curriculum that Charlotte Mason used in her own schools) will reveal this.
Up until I started using AmblesideOnline a few years ago, I’d put together my own curriculum. It was a great deal of work but I thought that was what you had to do. Now that I use AO, I only have to make substitutions to fit our Australian situation or if a specific book is too difficult to get here.
Using a curriculum has been freeing for me in that it provides a framework to build on. Brandy has written an article called Why I Don’t Design My Own CM Curriculum which addresses this more thoroughly.
The more of a person we succeed in making a child, the better will he both fulfil his own life and serve society.Philosophy of Education, p. 3
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