Some of you might be going, “PUS what??” because you’ve never heard of it before. Briefly, then, that we all might be on the same page: PUS stands for “Parents’ Union Schools.” Charlotte Mason, as many of you know, was not just an educational philosopher. She was also (among other things) a curriculum designer for thousands of children. These schools were, when grouped together, called PUS schools. In a way, we can think of Miss Mason as the superintendent at a district office that grew to manage a number of schools.
It’s not an exactly comparable situation, but the analogy will do for our purposes.
Anyhow, in addition to curriculum, the schools were also sent time tables, which we would call schedules.
Here is where we run into our first problem: we only have one example of what the time tables were like*. We do not know if the time tables were always like 1908, or if they varied from year to year. While we have many, many years of examples of her curriculum (including the number of pages assigned to be read), we’re really working from ignorance when it comes to time tables.
Another problem we have is that the curriculum was not designed to fit the time table. Even though a CM school did not assign a lot of what we think of as homework, there was definitely reading that was assigned to be done at home. So, for example, we have Sunday Reading. For Miss Mason herself, Sunday was set apart. The reading done on Sundays, both for herself as well as her college students, was religious or devotional in nature.
In Formation of Character, she goes to great lengths to describe this:
Let the day be full of its own special interests and amusements. An hour’s reading aloud, from Sunday to Sunday, of a work of real power and interest, might add to the interest of Sunday afternoon; and this family reading should supply a pleasant intellectual stimulus.
A little poetry may well be got in: there is time to digest it on Sunday; not only George Herbert, Vaughan, Keble, and the like, but any poet who feeds the heart with wise thoughts, and does not too much disturb the peace of the day with the stir of life and passion. The point in the Sunday readings and occupations, is, to keep the heart at peace and the mind alive and receptive, open to any holy impression which may come from above, it may be in the fields or by the fireside. It is not that we are to be seeking, making efforts all day long, in church and out of it.
Another article notes that the tales which do not fit into the time table are read by the mother during the nightly Children’s Hour. So, again, we have the issue that the curriculum itself did not fit neatly into the limits of the time table.
Of course, the schools themselves had issues with following the time tables to the letter. In L’Umile Pianta, the alumni magazine of Miss Mason’s college graduates, there was an article called On the Possibility of Doing P.U.S. Work While Keeping Strictly to the Time-Tables. The article lists all sorts of obstacles to strictly following the time tables, from practical issues such as wanting the older and younger children to be able to play together during play time, to not having school on Saturdays (there were Saturday hours on the time tables), to school ending half an hour earlier than prescribed, to certain activities in neighboring rooms that cause too much noise to make exact implementation of the time table possible.
With this said, it is true that the time tables were even sent to the parents of children being homeschooled using Charlotte Mason’s PNEU curriculum. It is, however, doubtful that they always followed them. In The Story of Charlotte Mason, Essex Chomondeley writes:
Overseas there were many children working with their parents, following the programmes, mothers teaching some subjects, fathers tackling others at unconventional times of day.
No condemnation is made of this unusual arrangement. In fact, Chomondeley goes on to explain that when the children returned to England, they picked back up with their peers in a PUS school. It seems that fitting the programmes to the life involved in homeschooling wasn’t detrimental to these children, even if they were studying, say, science, after dinner with their fathers. Charlotte Mason often deferred to the wisdom of the mother, and I suppose this is one case of this. Her time tables work great for schools, but they aren’t always fitting for homeschoolers — at least, not exactly.
Am I Saying We Disregard the Time Table?
Absolutely not! The myth we are busting is that we ought to recreate the PUS time tables in a strict and absolute sense. It does not logically follow that the time tables therefore have no guidance to offer us. They can offer us a ton.
Here is where AmblesideOnline comes in. It is the only curriculum I’ve seen that truly seeks to recreate what Charlotte Mason was doing in her curriculum in terms of using the best books (not just good books) of high literary quality, with similar levels of difficulty, similar page lengths, and a million other details orchestrated together.
This year is the first year that I used the PUS time tables as a guide for scheduling our year. To do this, I first immersed myself in Nicole’s wonderful series. Nicole and Christy are two people who really understand the time tables and how they worked. Here’s the amazing thing: AmblesideOnline fit almost perfectly. In the few places where it varied, I was happy that it varied because it made perfect sense.
For example, Charlotte Mason spent a lot of time teaching her students three or four languages. That was a priority for her. I’ll be honest: that is not how I plan to spend our time. Yes, we do languages, but not to that extent. Moving 45 minutes per week from language study to science reading was something I did this year for some of my students, and I think it makes a lot of sense in our modern world.
Why This Matters
I’ve encountered a lot of women who are way overthinking the time tables. While I find them to be liberating and helpful, some women find them stressful and confusing. So I think it’s important that we hold them with an open hand. We can use them for guidance. For example, knowing what Miss Mason thought were reasonable lesson lengths at which ages is extremely helpful.
Here’s the deal: Miss Mason narrowed her philosophy down into twenty principles. This list is full of all sorts of goodies. You know what’s not on the list?
In my opinion, time tables are a great way to implement a Charlotte Mason education, but they are not its essence. The time tables are not the timeless part of Miss Mason’s philosophy. The 20 principles are an excellent litmus test to see if something is or is not at the core of what it means to be a CM educator. So if, for example, an educator is not putting an emphasis on conveying knowledge in literary form, or if an educator is teaching the same thing over and over, that educator is engaging in non-CM practices. Both of those things are on the 20 principles list, meaning they were part of the essence of the philosophy.
But time tables? Time tables can be very instructive, but they aren’t central. Learn from them, but don’t be in bondage to them.
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*I have found a couple more since I first made this statement, but they are rough drafts and it’s hard to know what the final looked like. What is interesting to me is how different these were from what is on the AO website, leading me to believe that the time tables were, in addition to all other considerations, also designed to fit the curriculum.
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